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logo-10daychallengeIn early September I received an email newsletter from Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. It gave notice of the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that would begin in October. It sounded interesting and I was glad she was doing that, but I was over my head in work and barely had time to read the email, let alone act on it. I was away from home from September 12-23 and two more newsletters about the challenge arrived in my inbox during that time. I’m back now—at least until October 24 when I leave for the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas—and I am beginning to get caught up. Thinking the local food challenge would make a good topic for my blog, I took the time to look into it.

The guidelines of this challenge are to select 10 days in October 2014 when you will eat only food sourced within 100 miles or so from your home. You are allowed 10 exotics, which are foods not found in that target area. You can do it by yourself or get others to join you. You can make a formal commitment to this project by taking an online survey and joining the Facebook Group for the project. Or, you can only make a personal commitment if you don’t want to be public about it. That’s okay, but one of the reasons for this project is to gather information about our local food systems and come up with ideas about how to make them better. The survey results and the comments from the online community will help toward that end. If it turns out that you can’t fulfill your plan to do this, that’s okay, too. No one will come knocking at your door asking to see what is on your plate. It is an opportunity to learn more about what you eat and where it comes from. Maybe you can’t do it for the whole 10 days–so do it for 5 days–or 1 day. If you aren’t ready to make a commitment, but want to stay informed about the project, you can sign up through the website for that, too.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

The emails began arriving in early September to give participants an opportunity to begin preparing, but I was too busy to pay attention. With no preparation at all, I decided to jump into this and began my 10 days on Sunday, October 5. I say no preparation, but in reality I’ve been preparing for something like this for a long time. I have experienced my Homegrown Fridays when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only consumed what I had grown myself. No exotics allowed. This seems much easier than that. Sure, I have to stick to it for 10 days straight, but I have so many more options. On top of that, I have the luxury of 10 exotics!

Our dinner on October 5 included acorn squash, kale, and roasted radishes from Peacemeal Farm, homegrown peppers and green tomatoes sauteed in bacon grease that was saved another day when I cooked bacon from Keenbell Farm, and watermelon that I found hiding in the weeds when I cleaned up the garden. I made some cornbread that day from the recipe in The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. The salt, butter, and baking powder that were required are on my list of exotics. The cornmeal and eggs were grown right here by me. This recipe requires no wheat. I already have jam made from local and homegrown fruit sweetened with homegrown honey.

VA 100 mile map - BLOGBesides being an interesting challenge (and promising to be easier than Homegrown Fridays) I was also attracted to this challenge because I used to assign my students at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College a project to contemplate what it would be like if the trucks stopped coming to the grocery stores. I told them at the start of the semester in late August that this would happen on January 1 and they needed to plan now to source their food for the next year from within 100 miles. We had many good discussions over that 100 Mile Food Plan project. They received extra credit if they marked circles on a highway map showing 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles from their home. Actually, just that act of putting the circles on the map was a real eye-opener for most. They began seeing all the possibilities, rather than limitations. If you don’t know where the sources are in your area for local food you can begin your search with www.localharvest.org.

Another attraction to the 10-Day Challenge is to put into practice what I wrote about in Grow a Sustainable Diet. In this book I show you how to plan a diet around homegrown and local foods, while at the same time planning to grow cover crops that will feed the soil. When your food comes from sources other than your garden, take the time to question the farmers who grew it about their soil building practices. It is great to do as much as we can for ourselves, but we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It is in joining with others in our communities that we gain strength and resilience for whatever the future holds.

I hope I have encouraged you to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. If you have been following my work and thought that Homegrown Fridays might be a bit too much to do, give this a try. To my former students, now is the time to update that plan you made years ago and act on it. To the current JSRCC sustainable agriculture students, this seems made to order for you. Put your plan into action! If circumstances prevent you from actually doing this now, at least begin to think about it. You could plan one meal, maybe with friends, with all the ingredients being homegrown or sourced locally. To those who have read my book, taking this 10-Day Local Food Challenge is an opportunity to reinforce what you have learned and expand your thinking.Homeplace Earth When you take the survey to join, there will be space to write additional information. Please take that opportunity to say that Cindy Conner sent you. That way they can track how people learned about he challenge. Best wishes to all who join this adventure!

 

Cornstalks and Machete

Use a machete to cut corn stalks into manageable lengths for the compost pile.

As you harvest the last of your summer crops, realize that the steps you take now are the beginning of next year’s garden. You could just leave everything as it is, looking not so good through the winter. Mother Nature likes to keep things green, so will provide her own seeds to fill in the space if you don’t. That’s where the unwanted weeds come from. The spent plants from your summer crops are actually valuable compost material at the ready. Harvest them for your compost pile as you clean up your garden. Next year this time the compost you make now will be available to spread as fertilizer for your garden. If you have grown corn and sunflowers, those stalks are wonderful sources of carbon for your compost. Some folks till all their spent plants, including cornstalks, into the soil. However, since I advocate managing your garden with hand tools, I chop the stalks down and cut them into manageable lengths with a machete, as shown in the photo. The cornstalks then go into the compost pile with all the other harvestable plants, plus some soil. You can see me in action chopping cornstalks and adding them to the compost in my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. When you look at the plants in your garden, make sure to recognize their value as a compost material.

Winte killed oats in late February.

Winterkilled oats in late February.

After you clean up the garden beds by harvesting compost material, you will need to plant cover crop seeds. If you have beds producing food through the winter, that’s great. It’s the rest of the garden I’m talking about. The crops you plant now will determine how each bed is to be used next year. If you intend to have bed space devoted to early season plantings, such as peas, lettuce, greens, and onions, you want the cover crops to be finished by then. Cereal rye, often called winter rye, is a great cover crop for winter. However, it is not so great if you are managing it with hand tools and you want to plant those early spring crops. The rye will have put down a tremendous amount of roots and be growing vigorously in early spring. Options to plant now in those beds destined for early spring crops are oats or Daikon radish, two crops that will winterkill if you get severe enough winter weather. Here in Virginia in Zone 7 we usually have weather that will cause these crops to winterkill, however I remember a few mild winters when they didn’t. I also remember a winter I planted oats in a bed that had compost piles on the bed just to the north of it. The compost provided enough protection to keep the oats growing into the spring.

If you choose the route of planting crops to winterkill, you need to get them planted early enough so that they have a chance to produce a large volume of biomass before the weather turns cold. If you don’t already have these crops in the ground, the time to plant them is NOW. Actually, anytime in the past three weeks would have been better. Another alternative for that space for early spring crops is to mulch it with leaves for the winter. The leaves will protect the soil over the winter and when you pull them back in early spring you will find a fine layer of compost where the leaves meet the soil. The worms would have been working on those leaves all winter. Pull the leaves back a couple weeks before you intend to plant to allow the sun to warm the soil.

Rye and vetch cut at pollen shed.

This rye and vetch cover crop was cut at pollen shed (May 7) and will dry to become a mulch for the next crop.

You want a thick cover of plant growth with any cover crop. Planting at the right time will encourage that. The legumes, such as hairy vetch, crimson clover, and Austrian winter peas are often used as fall cover crops. It is best to get them in about a month before your last frost to ensure a good stand. That should encourage you to begin cleaning up the parts of your garden that have finished producing. Not all your garden beds will be host to the same cover crop, so you can do it bed by bed—an advantage over working on the whole garden at the same time. These legumes will begin to grow and will provide protection for the soil through the winter. In early spring they will take off, growing to their full capacity by the time of your last spring frost. You may have seen crimson clover flowering in garden beds at that time. You can cut this biomass with a sickle and add it to the compost pile. It would be a nitrogen component. You could lay it down as mulch right in the bed, but it would soon dissolve into the soil and not last as long as mulch that has more carbon. The advantage of the legumes is the nitrogen they leave in the soil from the nodules on their roots. If you should need the bed sooner than the date of your last frost, you could easily cut the legume a little early, leaving the roots. They are not so tenacious that you can’t plant into the bed soon after cutting.

The winter cover crop that will produce the most carbon for your compost and/or mulch is the rye that I mentioned earlier. It is also the crop that you can plant the latest into the fall and still have a good stand; making it a possible choice after things like tomatoes and peppers that produce until the first fall frost. You can let it grow to seed and cut it in early summer (mid-June here), giving you seed and mature straw. Or, you can cut it at pollen shed (about May 7 here) and leave it in the bed as mulch. Wait two weeks before planting to let the roots begin to die back. The bed would be suitable for putting in transplants, but not for seeds at that time. Often rye is planted with a legume. If you are planting late in the season, choose Austrian winter peas as a companion.

The information in my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan and my book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, helps you to determine how to plan these cover/compost crops into your crop rotation. In the DVD you see me explaining a four bed rotation as I fill in the crop selections on a whiteboard. The book has three sample garden maps accompanied by explanations. The sample garden maps in the DVD and in the book have crops filling the beds for all twelve months of the year. Knowing how to fit enough cover crops in your garden plan to provide all of your compost and mulch material is definitely a skill that takes concentration and practice to learn. I hope the educational materials that I have produced will help many gardeners along that path. The most important thing is to just get started and plant something. Make note of your planting time and watch how it grows. The learning is in the doing.Homeplace Earth

 

???????????????????????????????Those of you who have been following my work know that I have written the book Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. We’ll call it Seed Libraries for short and you can expect it in the bookstores in early February. You can order it from New Society Publishers or buy a signed copy from me through my website when the time gets closer. In the past few years seed libraries have been popping up everywhere, evolving to fit their communities. It was this evolving that drove me crazy as I contacted all the places I mentioned in the book to make sure I had the most up-to-date information. As I polished the last details before sending the manuscript to the publisher, I got wind of a situation a new seed library in Pennsylvania was experiencing. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PA DOA) approached the Simpson Public Library to tell them that their new seed sharing program was not in compliance with the state’s seed laws. That was quite a surprise, since they were operating the way most seed libraries do and there were already established seed libraries in Pennsylvania that had no problems.

You have to be careful where you get your news from. There have been news reports about this that have headlines that are misleading and inflammatory. For the full story go to the Simpson Seed Library’s website. As far as I know, this is an isolated case. The seed laws that are being enforced are there to protect our population and govern seed sales. However, the wording has been interpreted by the PA DOA officials in that community to include any distribution of seeds. In order to comply with their requirements the seed library would have had to do extensive testing of donated seeds following the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA) Rules for testing seed. Seed libraries find out sooner or later that they need to test some of their seeds for germination, but not like this. The AOSA rules are meant for seed companies and are beyond what is necessary for a seed library.

The Simpson Seed Library chose not to challenge this finding legally. It will continue to operate, but rather than have seeds that patrons bring in, they will only stock seeds that have been commercially packaged for the current year and encourage patrons to take the seeds, grow them out, and exchange them among themselves at the seed swaps that the library will host. The same seeds will be changing hands within the walls of the library that would have been made available through the seed library. I guess how that is different would be a matter of interpretation. I imagine that if this happens in other localities, eventually it will be challenged in court. But, so far, it is not happening elsewhere. People are free to share their seeds through seed libraries all over the country.

Red Sails lettuce on June 7.

Red Sails lettuce on June 7.

Seed libraries are not seed companies, which the seed laws are called to regulate. Patrons of seed libraries participate in these seed sharing opportunities for many reasons including; preserving varieties that grow best in their area, preserving genetic diversity, preserving flavor and nutrition, and preserving cultural heritage. They know that the seeds at the seed library don’t necessarily meet the legal germination rate, although often they could well exceed it. The amount of seed exchanged is so small that if there were any unwanted seeds present, such as noxious weeds, those seeds could be easily identified and expelled from the batch. The chance that seed is not true-to-type is greater if acquired from amateur seed savers than if bought from a reputable seed company. That’s the chance you take when you get free seeds from a seed library. Our seed laws help protect us from seeds with low germination, noxious weeds, and seeds that are not as advertised, that we buy from seed companies.

The same patch of lettuce growing to seed on July 5.

The same patch of lettuce growing to seed on July 5.

Seeds are an adventure and that’s what seed library patrons are looking for. They want to try their hand at seed saving and possibly seed breeding; preserving heritage varieties and developing new ones for their communities. In that case, plants not true-to-type might lead the way to new varieties. That’s the way it was done down through the ages before seed companies came into being.

Patrons of seed libraries want to explore everything about the plants they are growing. You really get to know a plant if you watch it all the way to seed. Seed saving is a skill that will need to be developed and public libraries are one of the best places to go for help. Whether a public library offers seeds or not, it can still offer lots of resources to help patrons. The most obvious are through books and computer access. However, libraries have programs and meeting spaces that bring people together and, in my mind, that is just as important. There can be programs about the specifics of seed saving, about meeting seed savers and hearing their stories, and about indigenous food and why it is special to the area. Seed libraries could loan seed screens to their patrons or have community seed threshing gatherings where the education shared is as important as the seed harvest.

Red Sails lettuce flowers and seed pods on July 28. The seeds are in the pods under the white puffs.

Red Sails lettuce flowers and seed pods on July 28. The seeds are in the pods under the white puffs.

Book discussions, which are already common at public libraries, could include titles about the food system and related topics. Gardens, no matter how small, could be planted with a seed harvest in mind and have signs documenting what is happening. Patrons could celebrate seeds with music, art, and photography. Libraries could have exhibits with photographs of plants going to seed so the patrons, and the public, can learn what to look for. Some people may think plants are abandoned and messy, but with a little awareness, will see the beauty of watching and waiting for the seeds to be ready to harvest. Most people would recognize lettuce in a garden, but would they recognize it grown to seed and know when the right time to harvest it would be?

The Simpson Seed Library will only have commercially packaged seeds in their cabinet. Since these seed varieties will funnel into the seed swaps they are planning, the staff will need to monitor what packets are donated—an opportunity to educate patrons about open pollinated vs. hybrid seeds and seed companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge to not knowingly carry any GMO seeds. A list of approved seed companies might be in order to keep the donation basket from filling up with hybrid seeds from the racks of the big box store down the street.

Even if a public library always has seeds available in a cabinet for their patrons, it can (and should) host a seed swap annually or seasonally to celebrate seeds. Regular public library patrons who have no interest in seeds will come to realize that they are important, just by observing the attention paid to them. I hope you will consider being part of this adventure in your community.Homeplace Earth

Provider bush beans

Provider bush beans

When you are planning your garden you need to plan when your harvest will begin. You don’t want to be off on vacation when the beans are ready to be picked. If you need the harvest by a certain date, knowing the days to maturity will help you decide on your planting date. It is good to know the length of harvest, also. Some crops will be picked all at once and some will be picked over a matter of weeks. My garden planning skills were put to the test this year as we planned for another wedding. Our youngest son, Luke, married the love of his life, Stephanie, on August 2. I was to provide the snap beans, lettuce, garlic, and some of the flowers. Stephanie and our daughter, Betsy, were growing the rest of the flowers. Stephanie and Luke grew all the potatoes and some of the other veggies, such as zucchini, and Betsy grew the cabbage that became the coleslaw for the wedding feast.

Normally, planning snap beans for an event is no problem for me. I like to plant Provider, a tried-and-true early variety. The problem is, when I sat down with the Plant/Harvest Schedule to chart when to plant and when to expect a harvest, the date I wanted to plant the Provider beans was right after we would be getting back from a week-long trip. That would be the trip to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington and to Victoria, British Columbia. I did not want to worry about making sure I got that planting in. If something happened that delayed my time in the garden upon our return, I would have missed my window of opportunity. I was going to have to reach out of my comfort zone and plant another variety.

I checked the seed catalogs for a variety that took a week longer than Provider to mature. High Mowing listed Provider at 50 days and Jade at 55 days. I remember a market grower friend commenting favorably about Jade at one time, so I ordered Jade. I thought it would be good to grow some yellow wax beans, also, since the wedding colors were green and yellow. It had been a long time since I grew wax beans, but I remembered them to take longer to mature and were usually curled when I grew them in my market garden. High Mowing listed Gold Rush Yellow Wax beans with the same 55 days to maturity as Jade and they were straight beans; just what I was looking for. The Jade and Gold Rush beans were planted on May 29, the day before we left on the trip.

Provider may be listed at 50 days, but I usually begin harvesting six weeks (42 days) after planting and harvest over a two week period, with a little smaller harvest for the first and last pickings, but the yield is generally spread out. In Grow a Sustainable Diet, I encourage you to grow for yourself and learn the ins-and-outs of the crops and varieties before you grow to sell to others. Knowing the ins-and-outs of the varieties is important. At 47 days after planting, the Gold Rush beans were ready and I picked about two-thirds of the total harvest that day. Now that I look back at the seed catalog, I see that “concentrated harvest period” was in the description for Gold Rush. Luckily the caterer was willing to take the vegetables early. I also harvested some of the Jade beans that day. At 54 days after planting I harvested two-thirds of what would be the total harvest for the Jade beans. The last harvest of both varieties was at 58 days.

Since the caterer didn’t mind the vegetables arriving early, it all worked out. For Betsy’s wedding four years ago, our friend Molly catered the event and the harvest was more closely planned; vegetables arriving early would have been a big inconvenience. Even though the days to maturity are listed in the seed catalog or on the packets, it is only an approximate time. Learn what the days to maturity are in your garden for the varieties you choose. Have at least one variety of each crop that you can use to compare new varieties to, such as I did with Provider beans. Make a note of the length of harvest and nuances, such as matures all at one time, color, shape (curled beans or straight), and any other characteristics that might be important some day. This information will be extremely helpful to you if you needed to grow food for a certain event; and certainly if you needed  to satisfy customers.

yellow and green canned snap bensGrowing both colors of beans again made me want to include that in my plan for next year. My signature dish is a cold bean salad. I include cowpeas that I always have as dried beans in the pantry and green beans which are either fresh from the garden or canned. To that I add anything I can think of from the garden and a vinaigrette. I used some of the Gold Rush beans in the bean salad that I made for the rehearsal dinner. I believe next year I will can green and yellow beans together especially to have on hand for the bean salad. I was able to put up some of the extra this year.

Luke and Steph at table - BLOGFlowers are not my specialty, but the bride wanted zinnias and they are easy to grow and a sure thing to have in August. Stephanie likes puffy flowers and chose Teddy Bear sunflowers, in addition to the zinnias. It is usually hard to find days to maturity for flowers, but these were listed as maturing at 60 days. I didn’t want to plant them too early and miss the blooms for the wedding. Unfortunately, I waited a little too long. They didn’t begin blooming until a few days after the wedding. Not to worry, there were many more things in the yard blooming that we could add, including black-eyed Susans, tansy, and Rose of Sharon, that we hadn’t planned on. Stephanie had two sunflowers ready by August 2 and the rest of her planting bloomed while they were on their honeymoon. Besides the happy bride and groom, in the photo you can see Stephanie’s bouquet, the table centerpieces with flowers, and their dinner plates full of homegrown food.

The wedding was wonderful. It took some planning to have the produce ready at the right time, but the more you do that, even for your own dinner table, the easier it gets. If something comes up, such as the trip for us, you will have the skills and knowledge to take it in stride. I hope your garden is producing well and that you are finding time to share it with others this summer.Homeplace Earth

Malabar Spinach

Red Malabar Spinach

Red Malabar Spinach

Malabar spinach is the plant to grow to fit the niche for “summer greens” in your garden. I grow kale and collards through the winter for greens to harvest fresh for our dinner table from fall to spring, but they don’t do well in hot weather. Neither does regular spinach, which likes the same cool temperatures as kale and collards. Despite its name, Malabar spinach (Basella alba or Basella rubra) is not related to regular spinach (Spinacia oleracea).

I first saw Malabar spinach growing in my daughter’s garden. She only had a few plants and they were crawling prolifically along the top of a fence that supported other crops. It was abundant, provided a cooking green for summer meals, and was colorful with its glossy green leaves and red stems. Last year when I put up the trellises over my paths I thought that was just the thing to try there. (You can read about those trellises I made from livestock panels at http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/trellis-your-garden-paths/. )

Green Malabar Spinach

Green Malabar Spinach

When ordering seeds in early 2013, I saw Malabar spinach offered in a seed catalog and ordered it. What I didn’t know is that there are two types of Malabar spinach. What I bought was green Malabar (Basella alba). What I was anticipating was red Malabar (Basella rubra). My 2013 crop of Malabar spinach had thick green stems and didn’t climb well. In fact, it was slow to grow at the beginning of the summer. Later in the summer it was abundant, but it never grew as tall as the red variety. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a sneak peek at David Kennedy’s upcoming book Eat Your Greens: the surprising power of homegrown leaf crops, published by New Society and due to be in the bookstores about October 1. Kennedy, who refers to this crop as vine spinach, says the red variety produces best in early to mid summer and the green variety produces best in late summer to fall. Both varieties will succumb to frost. That explains why not much was happening with my Malabar spinach early in the summer last year when I was anxious to have it take off up the trellis.

Red Malabar spinach on a trellis.

Red Malabar spinach on a trellis.

This year I am growing the red variety of Malabar spinach and am pleased with it. I planted the seed at the base of both sides of my trellis, but something happened to keep it from growing on one side. Many things this summer have kept me distracted and failing to replant when necessary, so that side never got replanted. The side that it is growing on looks great! I can pick the leaves from a standing position as I walk through my garden, harvesting this and that for dinner. Those red stems are edible, also. The path between two sections in my garden is behind the climbing spinach you see in the photo. As you can see, it climbs the trellis well, providing shade to the path, and is colorful. I just have to smile when I see it. If I would have given this crop any attention at all, other than putting the seeds in the ground one time, I would have had Malabar spinach coming up over the top of the trellis from the other side.

My friend Brent tells me that it reseeds readily, so to expect volunteers to pop up next year. In his book, David Kennedy says the red variety will do that, but the green variety often flowers too late to produce viable seed before frost. Malabar spinach is an easy-to-care-for crop in my garden. The only attention I have given it is to redirect the vines to the trellis when they stray into the path. This crop doesn’t have the tendrils to reach out and grab the trellis that squash plants have.

If you want to add a tasty addition to your garden that thrives in hot weather, I encourage you to plant Malabar spinach.Homeplace Earth

Collection of strainers and colanders to clean seeds. Find these in your kitchen or at yard sales-BLOGIt is easy to talk about saving seeds and what a good thing it is to do. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. You will be able to read it when it becomes available in late January/early February 2015. I’ve been working on it all year and have now submitted it to New Society Publishers. In the coming months it will be going through the editing process and everything else involved in bringing a book to fruition. In Seed Libraries I give some tips about saving seeds, but it is not about the ins and outs of seed saving. Rather, it is about how to establish a community seed saving project and keep it going.

I thought I’d give you a preview of the photos that will appear on one of the eight color pages in my new book. You can read all you want about when to harvest the seeds, but when it comes right down to physically doing that, I’m sure you will have some questions. When saving seeds you need a way to separate the seeds from the chaff and you can do that using seed screens. As you will see, there are seed screen options to fit all budgets. The first photo shows my collection of colanders and strainers. You probably have these items in your kitchen already. When I visit yard sales I keep an eye out for ones that might have different size holes than what I already have. These work great and the price is right. However, the holes are not always the size I want to work with.

Homemade seed screens-BLOGThese two wood-framed screens were made with scrap wood and hardware cloth. The smaller one has ¼” holes and the larger one has ½” holes. The smaller one is borrowed from a friend. I made the larger one to facilitate working with beans and cowpeas. I can thresh the beans from the dried pods in an old pillowcase by hitting it with a piece of old broom handle. Everything gets poured out of the pillowcase onto the screen. The wood sides keep things contained so I don’t have pods and beans all over the place. When we moved to our five acre farm thirty years ago, I found an old screen like this in a shed. I made my new one to the same dimensions. I added the wooden blocks in the corners to strengthen the frame and to keep seeds from getting caught in the corners, and made a box to fit under the screen frame to catch the seeds.

With half-inch holes, some chaff comes through with the beans. Chaff that is smaller than the seeds can be quickly dispelled by pouring everything through a screen that is slightly smaller than the seed, holding the seed back and letting the chaff and dust through. I usually use this system for cowpeas and you would think that the quarter-inch screen would do that job for me, however I need something just a little smaller. Some of the cowpeas pass through the quarter-inch spaces. If I was trying to sort the seeds to save the largest, that would be an advantage.

Interchangeable sieves found at an Indian grocery store. Cost less than $15-BLOGThanks to my friend, Molly, I discovered the 4-in-one sieves that are available at Indian grocery stores. There is one stainless steel frame that is 8 ½” in diameter and four interchangeable screens—the holes in the largest are 1/8”. My interest in these screens is in working with the small seeds. Currently I have kale seeds to thresh with these screens. The screens are lightweight, don’t take up much space, and have the size holes that I want. For home use, this does well and should last a good while, but it is not going to stand up to the abuse that the screens in the first two photos will. At a cost of less than $15, these screens are a good deal.

Seed cleaning screens. Cost about $190-BLOGBy contrast, here is a professional set of eight screens that will take much handling for years to come. With eight different sized holes, you could surely find the size you needed. The price for these screens is about $190. With the other options available, you would have to be a serious seed saver to invest in something like this. Or maybe you just have more money than I do. These screens would be good for farms with many different people handling them and lots of seeds to thresh.

kale seeds-BLOGMy last photo is not in the book. It shows threshed kale seed put through the small yellow plastic strainer, with the pods left behind in the strainer. It works just fine! I acquired this strainer when my mother was going through her cupboard to give me a few things. I asked about the strainer and she said she didn’t think I would want it because it was plastic. She was right—I avoid plastic in my kitchen, but this strainer stays with my seed saving supplies. I like it because the holes are small rectangles, rather than circles. If you are a seed saver, take a look around your kitchen before you spend money on seed cleaning screens. What you need might already be there—at least to get you started.Homeplace Earth

Michigan Street Allotment Garden

Michigan Street Allotment Garden

I am fortunate to have a large garden with about 4,000 sq. ft. of bed space, not counting paths. My plantings include grains and cover crops and when I take a notion to add something else of interest, I can usually find space with careful management. Recently I had been wondering what people choose to plant when they have very limited space, such as in a community garden. I had the opportunity to get a close look at community gardens on our recent trip to Victoria, British Columbia. We were on the West Coast for the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington on May 31-June 1. Wanting to make the most of that trip, my husband and I traveled to Victoria for a few days and had a wonderful time. We stayed at the James Bay Inn and were within walking distance to almost everything we wanted to see, including the Victoria Public Library that hosts a new seed library.

The first community garden we visited was the Michigan Street Allotment Garden. It was a picture of abundance! The perimeter was a wall of raspberries and the beds were overflowing with produce, flowers, and sometimes fruit. You could feel the good energy just by being there. There were about 20 garden beds, each measuring about 4’ x 16’. Their garden shed was a cob structure. That was great to see. I had a nice conversation with Jill, one of the gardeners there. She was enjoying the evening in the garden in her motorized chair reading a book. Her garden bed looked terrific. She told me that the garden had been there for many years, but this would be the last. The property was being sold for development. That was pretty sad to hear. Unfortunately, it is the plight of many gardens that have been allowed to flourish on empty lots. On the bright side, there are plans to make space available elsewhere in the community for the gardeners.

James Bay Allotment Garden

James Bay Allotment Garden

The next garden we visited was the James Bay Allotment Garden which has 54 plots. It was right next to a community baseball field. There is a four year waiting list for space there. A plot costs $50 per year and the spots were bigger than the ones on Michigan. There is equipment in a shed for all to use. There were some seeds in the shed, creating an informal exchange. Some of the plots, but not all, had fences around them. I’ve included a photo of a garden plot with a fence so you could sense how large it was—sorry, I didn’t record the size. Notice the plastic boxes wired to the top of the fence that hold strawberries. Besides strawberries, some plots had blueberry bushes in them and I may have seen a fig tree there. I know I saw figs somewhere. There were creative trellises and season extension devices in all the community gardens we visited.

Fernwood Community Garden

Fernwood Community Garden

We went to the Fernwood Community Garden which was right next to the Victoria Compost Education Center. Most of the 34 garden plots there had wood borders, but the one in this photo had a border of stone. Raspberries can be seen in the corner to the left. I saw raspberries in many garden plots, except for the ones on Michigan Street, of course, since they already had a community hedge of raspberries. In all the community gardens I saw fava beans growing—flowering or already with pods thick with seed. Victoria has a milder climate overall than Virginia, but cool nights throughout the summer. In Virginia the temperature had already gotten sufficiently high to cause fava blossoms to drop by the first week in June. Sugar snap peas were also a popular crop in the gardens. Tomatoes were often in season extension structures because of the cool nights. They need the heat to make them tasty. That’s not a problem in Virginia.

Agnes Street Community Garden

Agnes Street Community Garden

The last community garden was the largest. The Agnes Street Community Garden has been in existence for over 40 years and has more than100 garden plots. Most plots are 20’ x 50’, giving the gardener 1,000 sq. ft. to play with. In the other gardens I saw chairs and compost bins within the plot space. Those things were here, also, with the addition of greenhouses in many gardens. I chose this photo to represent the Agnes Street gardens because it showed the numerous greenhouses and to show the compost bin on the corner of a garden plot. I don’t know if it was intentional for plants to be growing out the sides in the openings of the enclosure, but I couldn’t help wonder how many potatoes could be grown in there. You could build a large compost pile in the fall that would need to be cured through the next summer. In the spring you could tuck potatoes into the openings of the bin and let the plants grow out the sides. You would need to dig out the compost to harvest the potatoes, but that might be a good time to move the compost out of that bin to see what you have anyway. Then the bin would be available to start a new pile, or to be moved to a different location. The land for this community garden is leased by the Agnes Street Gardeners’ Association from the Municipality of Saanich and is administered by the Saanich Parks Department. According to their website, there is a $10 membership fee and a yearly charge of $60 per year for a full plot / $30 per year for a half plot. A monthly meeting is held that, although open to all members, is usually attended by about a dozen. It is an opportunity for exchange of information and seeds and plants.

The gardeners I talked with all said they learned from the other gardeners and and enjoyed the interaction. Although many of the gardeners are retired, I talked with two women in their garden plots who had young children. With the pathways clearly marked, the children can enjoy the space and experience their parents and others growing food for their tables. We only had time to visit four, but there are community gardens all over Victoria and you can find the list here. Wouldn’t it be great if every city had such a list?

We had a wonderful time in Victoria—and I haven’t even told you about the seed library yet! If you are traveling and want to avoid the tourist traps, I highly suggest finding out where the community gardens are and meeting the locals. You will find new friends in the gardens. Thank you to my new friends, who I met in the gardens in Victoria, for making our visit so pleasant.Homeplace Earth

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