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Archive for September, 2013

hairy vetch (back) and crimson clover (flowering)

hairy vetch (back) and crimson clover (flowering)

I have just come back from a great weekend at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. It was an opportunity to catch up with friends (old and new), the Mother Earth News editors, and Ingrid and Sara from New Society Publishers. The internet is nice, but after conversing by email all year it was wonderful to speak in person to all these folks. Speaking of speaking—I gave a presentation on my upcoming book Grow a Sustainable Diet. New Society had posters of all their authors who were speaking, including me. I discovered that my book will carry the Mother Earth News Books for Wiser Living Recommendation tag! I also spoke on Solar Food Dryers. Both talks were very well received. We came home on Monday by way of Pittsburgh to check out the seed library there, but that’s a story for another day. It is time to get back to the garden and plant cover crops.

Right now in Zone 7 (first expected frost in late October) we still have good cover crop choices, but time is running out for the legumes such as clover and vetch if we want to get them off to a good start. The time to plant crops intended to winter kill is past. If you wanted to have radish or oats in your bed, expecting a heavy cover before frost, then dying back in January, you would have needed to plant that a few weeks ago for best results in Zone 7. When planted early enough, those crops put on a lot of growth in the fall, crowding out weeds. Given a hard enough winter, they will die back and leave the soil ready for planting in early spring. However, if they are in a protected spot or the winter is too mild (as it was in 2012), they might not succumb to the weather. One year I had oats planted in a bed with a compost pile just to the north. That pile was enough protection to keep the oats from dying. It would have been a good place to have had winter greens for eating that year.

winter peas in rye

winter peas in rye

Wheat and winter rye could go in now. It is good to plant a small amount of a legume, such as hairy vetch or Austrian winter peas as a companion. Too much legume, especially hairy vetch, can overwhelm the grain crops if you intend to grow them out to mature grain. For more information on these and other possible crop choices, refer to Managing Cover Crops Profitably. If you don’t have a print copy, you can read it online http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition. Winter rye and Austrian winter peas are the two crops that can be planted the latest in the season and still do well. Although I try to finish planting cover crops in October, I’ve planted rye and winter peas in November when necessary.

cover crops in late winter

cover crops in late winter

Except for the crops planted earlier intending to winter kill, these fall planted cover crops will put on limited growth, then slow down when the weather turns cold. They wake up in the spring and start growing like mad. So, if your fall planted cover crops are short through the winter, don’t worry, that’s normal. At the resource page on my website you will find a handout with cover crop suggestions for fall, spring, and summer planting.

winter rye planted in rows

winter rye planted in rows

rye broadcast

rye broadcast

When deciding which cover crop to plant where, look ahead to what will be planted in each bed next year. You want the cover crop to be ready to come out when it is time to plant the next crop. This might not be as important if you were going to till it in, but I’m talking about managing these crops with hand tools. I like to plant rye in rows, rather than broadcast the seed, where I will grow out the rye to maturity the following summer, then plant carrots between the rows of rye stubble. Those become my winter carrots that you can read about here. My blog post Choosing Which Cover Crops to Plant Where will help you with your fall garden planning. It is possible to grow all your compost materials in your garden to feed back the soil as you grow. My post Planning for Soil Fertility and Compost Materials will help you with that.

Managing cover crops using only hand tools can be confusing to new gardeners and to gardeners who have always tilled them in. I understand that, which is why I produced my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. In that hour long video you see me in my garden each month (except August) from March through November, explaining what cover/compost crops are growing and how to manage them.  Besides learning about each crop and seeing them growing, you will see me planting, cutting grains with a sickle, threshing, and shelling corn. My DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan shows you how to plan these crops into your rotations to keep your garden beds full all year.

As you clear your beds to make way for cover crops, your spent crops become your next compost pile. Your garden gets cleaned up, the cover crops keep it green all winter, and with the right planning, the beds will be ready for their next crop come spring. Enjoy the adventure of cover crops!Homeplace Earth

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Grant Olson, education coordinator of Seed Savers Exchange

Grant Olson, education coordinator of Seed Savers Exchange

Sunday (September 8, 2013) I attended the first ever gathering of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) members in the southeast region of the U.S. It made for a busy weekend, since some of us had been involved in the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello the previous day or two. In fact, that is why this SSE event was scheduled for this particular day, thinking that it would be convenient for folks who had traveled to the Heritage Harvest Festival. It turned out that the majority of the more than 85 people present showed up just for this. I don’t have any specifics, but I know that some came from afar. I should have paid more attention to the out-of-state license plates that I saw in the parking area, but I do know that some of the other states represented besides Virginia were Ohio, Maryland, and North Carolina. I’m sure there were more. This meeting was the brainchild of Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Ira’s passion is connecting folks with seed saving and everything it involves.

Grant Olson, education coordinator at SSE, gave a presentation about stories behind the seeds. There is a lot of talk about saving seeds and how to do that, but it is also important to save the stories that go with the seeds. That is part of our heritage. Preserving the stories is preserving our cultural history, besides the genetics of the seeds. Preserving the stories is a big part of what Seed Savers Exchange is all about. In addition, when you save a particular variety, you also preserve the cuisine that has developed around it. Seed Savers Exchange publishes a seed catalog that offers only a fraction of the seed varieties that they preserve. Many more varieties can be found in the yearbook that they publish each year. The yearbook lists varieties that are offered by members. Anyone can order seeds from the catalog, but the print copy of the yearbook is only offered to SSE members. However, a peek into the yearbook online is now available to everyone and can be accessed at https://exchange.seedsavers.org. If you are not a member you can see what’s there, but you can’t see who is offering it. A notice on this website indicates there will be a webinar on how to use the new online exchange on September 18, 2013. This new database is searchable by geographical area, variety, and other specifics. The webinar at http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Webinar-Archive/#yearbook shows how to use the print yearbook. Membership in SSE helps them continue their work. If you are not a member, a peek at the yearbook just might entice you to join. Members receive the quarterly publication The Heritage Farm Companion.

Edmund speaking to seed savers at Twin Oaks.

Edmund speaking to seed savers at Twin Oaks.

Member Craig LeHoullier spoke after Grant. He also mentioned reuniting people with their heritage through what we grow and eat. A big concern of Craig’s (and mine) is how to keep the momentum going in seed saving. There are too many accounts of long-time seed savers who are getting on in years, or their life has changed, and they need to turn over the responsibility of their seed collections to someone else. Seed Savers Exchange can’t do it all. Connecting more seed savers, such as with this meeting, and developing regional hubs would be a start for not letting these collections disappear. I have begun to do some research on seed libraries and believe they may be an ideal place to help fill this need. Of course, these efforts involve the work of many gardeners, such as you, to take care to follow the necessary guidelines to carry on the traits needed for each variety.

Irena explaining techniques to seed savers.

Irena explaining techniques to seed savers.

The afternoon was spent touring farms in Louisa County, VA. This part of the day was sponsored by the Virginia Association of Biological Farming. There were five farms on the list, but my daughter and I only made it to three. These were all farms that grow seed on a commercial scale for seed catalogs. First up was Twin Oaks Community. Edmund Frost showed us around the seed fields and cut open a watermelon that we ate on the spot. Our visit with Edmund was about seed saving, but if you would like to know more about how they grow enough food to feed the 100 residents of Twin Oaks, check out Pam Dawling’s book Sustainable Market Gardening. Pam heads up the food garden at Twin Oaks.

Ira in the flower garden at Acorn.

Ira in the flower garden at Acorn.

The next stop was Acorn Community, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Irena Hallowell was our tour guide, explaining seed saving techniques and encouraging us to sample things as we went along. Ira Wallace led us to the flower gardens and demonstrated saving flower seeds using seed screens. An added treat was seeing the progress on the new building being constructed at Acorn.

Alexis explaining the drying cabinet.

Alexis explaining the drying cabinet.

The last stop we had time for was Living Energy Farm, a farm being developed with the goal of being free of fossil fuel. It was a really busy day for them, managing tour visitors in the midst of laying cement block for the foundation of their first house on the property. Nevertheless, Alexis Zeigler , author of Integrated Activism, showed us the seed fields and their drying shed. The fan for the drying cabinet you see in the picture is powered by the sun. The farms we had to miss are All Farm Organics (no website) and Forrest Green Farm. At All Farm Organics William Hale grows grain, including rye and popcorn, for seed companies and makes compost on a commercial scale for his use and to sell. The diversity at Forrest Green Farm includes an educational component. If we had had time to get there, I believe we would have seen a demonstration on saving seeds from herbs.

It was a good day. We hung out with old friends and met some new ones. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a southeast regional gathering of seed savers. We need gatherings like this in every region. Most of us have a vision of how we would like the earth to be. Every bite we take and every action we make determines how the earth is used to produce our food. We are the creators of our future—a future that needs to include seed saving.Homeplace Earth

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