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Archive for August, 2014

???????????????????????????????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

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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

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