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Archive for December, 2014

SeedLibraries~MENMy newest book, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, will be available soon. My publisher, New Society, tells me that it is now at the printers. Beginning in January 2015, you can order Seed Libraries through Homeplace Earth and it will ship as soon as we have copies, which may not be until the first week in February. In celebration of this newest book we are offering Free Shipping within the continental US on all book and DVD orders for the month of January. All books ordered through Homeplace Earth are signed copies.

Seed Libraries has come on the heels of Grow a Sustainable Diet and it has been quite a journey. Just so you know, there are no new books planned on the horizon. Writing these books has been a grand adventure, but I do have a lot of other projects to catch up on and a garden to tend. Grow a Sustainable Diet grew out of the work I had been doing for many years. Writing Seed Libraries was a different experience. I had to reach out of my comfort zone and explore the work others have been doing. Besides reporting what I found, I identified common areas that need to be addressed if a group was to start a seed library and be successful. (I believe it needs to be more than one person from the get-go.) Being a seed saver myself, I am aware of the pitfalls that may arise when organizing and maintaining a project such as a seed library. My suggestions will help my readers foresee challenges and move forward smoothly.

Besides the mechanics of starting a seed library, this book promotes celebrating seeds any way you can. My post Start a Seed Library will give you suggestions for getting started. However, there is so much more to it than setting up the program. You want to engage your seed savers through the whole year. In addition you should want to engage the public. Even if someone isn’t a seed saver, they can learn about what you are doing and become a supporter of the movement to keep the seeds in the hands of the people. Otherwise, corporations will have control of all the seeds and whoever controls the seeds controls the food supply.

Celebrate seeds anyway you can. Saving and exchanging them, of course, is what a seed library is about, but you can also celebrate seeds with art and music. Promote books that refer to anything about seeds and gardening, eating locally, preserving genetic diversity, etc. Post photos and artwork that show plants going to seed. Sing about seeds and the wonders of nature. Take a holistic approach to seed saving and make it as much a part of your life as you can. You will find yourself thinking about where the seeds came from to produce whatever you are eating.

Plant gardens in your community for the purpose of saving and sharing seeds and plan educational programs around it. If not a whole garden, this year learn to save seeds from a few of the crops in your garden. If you are new at this, begin with one crop. Make it your focus and study everything there is to know about that crop to go from seed to seed. Once you have learned about that, share your knowledge and seeds with others. Seeds are very flexible and will adapt to the ecosystem where they are grown. When you save them yourself you are naturally producing seeds that are acclimated to your community.

Seed libraries can be set up as seed sharing programs in public libraries and, since public libraries are already community centers, it makes sense to do that. However, seed sharing programs can take many forms and can happen in many different places. In Seed Libraries I’ve given you examples of that. If you are already a seed saver, or if 2015 is your year to delve into seeds, use this book to help you make a difference with others. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, and you have a seed saver on your list, print this post and give it with a promise of ordering the book in January. Seed libraries are exciting ways for people to come together to preserve and develop varieties unique to their region, thus ensuring a resilient food system.

We are past the winter solstice and each new day will bring a little more light. In this busy holiday time, take a moment to notice and enjoy the new light.Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

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Low Tunnel

Low Tunnel

Season extension structures resembling low tunnels are a great way to protect overwintering vegetables. I use them to have fresh greens—kale, collards, and chard—on the table through the winter months. They are easy to build with plastic pipe and either clear plastic sheeting or greenhouse plastic. I would love to not have any plastic in my garden, but until I have a better alternative, I make an exception for this.

Plastic pipe easily bends to form the arches that hold up the plastic cover. My garden beds are 4’ wide and I use an 8’ length of plastic pipe (1/2” inside diameter) for each arch, giving me a tunnel with a height of about 30”. Some people use metal electrical conduit for their arches, bending them around a homemade jig. I space the arches about 4’ apart down the length of the bed. Another piece of plastic pipe is put on top, becoming a ridge pole to connect the arches. A screw is used to attach the ridge pole to the top of each arch. It is important to have the ridge pole.

My arches are held in place by either putting them over pieces of rebar extending up from the ground or by inserting them into larger pieces of plastic pipe, also extending up from the ground. Whether rebar or larger plastic pipe is used, the pieces of each are cut to 2’ lengths. Plastic pipe can be cut easy enough and you can buy rebar already cut into 2’ lengths. Look for rebar where cement blocks are sold. One foot of each anchor piece is driven into the ground, leaving 12” sticking up to receive the end of the arch.

Next comes the plastic cover. You can find clear plastic sheeting in a hardware store or big box building supply store (look for it in the paint department). Make sure it is 6 ml thick to withstand the winter weather. This construction plastic has no UV protection, but since you are only using it through the cold months, you can get a couple years use out of it if you store it out of the sun and keep the mice away during the off-season. Greenhouse plastic is good if you can get it since it will last longer. If you are building a structure that will be in the weather all year long, go with greenhouse plastic. A piece 10’ wide is good to go over the 8’ arches covering my 4’ wide beds.

The easiest way to secure the plastic cover to the pipes is with plastic clips, called garden clips or snap clamps, that are sold for this purpose. Johnny’s sells them and they are available at other garden and greenhouse supply sources. You can make some from plastic pipe, but if you need to take them on and off, the ones you buy are easier to work with. Okay, I know it is December already and if you had greens to protect, most likely you have already put up a structure like this if you intended to. I’m really writing this post to talk about the covers. You can build a low tunnel from these directions, but if you stop here you will have problems when the wind picks up or when it comes to harvesting from your tunnel through the winter.

Screw eye inserted into arch secures row cover cord.

Screw eye inserted into arch secures row cover cord.

The plastic covers on my low tunnels stick out 12” on the sides. Some gardeners put sand bags, rocks, or pieces of wood on that extra to hold the cover down. On a calm day, it might seem to do the job, but the wind will easily whip the plastic out from under these things. Besides, if you have 18” wide paths like I do, there is no extra room for sandbags, rocks, or pieces of wood. You will be tripping over these long after the covers were removed in the spring, unless you are diligent in taking them up. It would take putting many clips across each arch to secure your plastic cover enough to hold it through high winds. Even if you were willing to work with that many clips, you need to be able to access the plants inside through the season and it isn’t practical to be messing with so many fasteners each time.

My solution is to put a cord across from one arch to the next, alternating sides. You need the ridge pole to hold the cord up. I usually use 1/8” nylon cord found in hardware/building supply stores, but have used old clothesline if that was available. If you already have a low tunnel and have experienced problems with wind, you can add this feature and alleviate problems the rest of the winter. It involves putting a screw eye near the base of each pipe the cord attaches to. I use a drill to make a pilot hole for the screw eye.

The bungee provides tension to hold the cord securely to the cover.

The bungee provides tension to hold the cord securely to the cover.

Years ago when I first did this I thought I needed to build a wood box and use pipe clamps to hold the arches, screwing the screw eye into the wood beside the pipe. Later I discovered that it is fine putting the screw eye directly into the plastic pipe. Of course, there is more material to screw into if there are two layers of pipe (the anchor pipe and the arch pipe), but it also works well if the arch is put over rebar. I have not put a screw eye into a metal pipe, but I imagine it would work well, also. If anyone has done that, I welcome your comments. Using a bungee cord between the screw eye on one end arch and the cord helps to apply tension to the cord.

The cord holds the plastic sheeting in place for venting or harvesting.

The cord holds the plastic sheeting in place for venting or harvesting.

There are so many great things about securing the cover this way. Most importantly, it doesn’t come off in the wind. Another advantage is that all those things you put in the path to hold the plastic down are not necessary anymore. And the harvest—it is so easy! You can lift the plastic at any point along the sides to harvest and it is held in place under the cord. You will still use clips, but only on the end arches. The cover can be cut to come a few inches over the end arches and be secured with the clips. A separate piece of plastic sheeting can be cut to fit the ends. In mild weather it can be left off. When it is needed, it can be secured with the same clip that holds the tunnel plastic, holding two pieces at once. There are so many ventilation advantages with a separate end piece. Once the weather gets severe enough for me to put on the end pieces, I will fold the top edge down for ventilation on the warmer winter days.

Venting the row cover ends.

Venting the row cover ends.

I got the idea for using a cord over the plastic cover from Eliot Coleman in his book Four Season Harvest. He used wire arches with a loop bent into it to anchor the cord. Arches from plastic or metal pipe with a ridge pole can withstand more severe weather than the wire arches he described. If you have been having trouble with the plastic covers on your row tunnels and haven’t used a cord to secure them, take the time on a mild day to go out to your garden and make the upgrade. You will be happy you did.Homeplace Earth

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