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Archive for April, 2015

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash–sometimes squash flowers are taped shut after fertilizing.

Saving your own seeds is a wonderful thing to do, but it is something you should plan for early in the growing season. If you know you will be saving seeds, make sure the varieties of each crop you will be saving from do not have a chance to cross pollinate with other varieties of the same crop. There are charts online and in seed saving books that give isolation distances for each crop—the distance varieties must be separated to avoid cross pollination. The distance might be shortened if there are barriers present, such as trees or shrubs and solid fences. Having a hedge as a boundary around your garden would decrease the distance you have to be from your neighbor’s garden to avoid cross pollination.

You could use time as an isolation method. Plants that have a limited blooming period can be managed so that the flowering of different varieties doesn’t happen at the same time. For example, on the same day you could plant two varieties of corn that have at least two weeks difference in their dates to maturity. The pollen from the first variety will have finished by the time the pollen is released from the later maturing variety. Or, you could plant two varieties of corn with the same dates to maturity, but space the planting times two weeks apart.

Some growers resort to using bags or screened cages to keep their crops from cross pollinating and some even resort to hand pollinating. Hand pollination is sometimes done with flowers in the squash family—the cucurbits. I’ve never had the patience to watch for female flowers to open, then pollinate them with pollen collected from the male flowers of the plant. The fertilized flowers would then be taped shut. If I intend to save seeds from squash crops I only plant one variety in each species in the genus Cucurbita. Although there are six species, I’ve only encountered four: Cucurbita maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata, and C. pepo. You can grow one variety of each species at the same time without worrying about cross pollination. A good seed catalog will indicate which species a squash variety belongs to.

Have goals in mind for what you are selecting for. When you are first starting out you might be happy to save any seeds at all. Collecting from as many plants as possible will give you a broader range of genetics; however, you might want to select for certain traits, such as earliness, lateness, taste, shape, size or color. If you save seeds from the plants that produce the first tomatoes of the season, you are selecting for earliness. Those plants may or may not be the same plants that produce tomatoes the longest into the season. Pay attention to what drives you to choose the plants to save from. Sometimes you will notice a plant that is doing exceptionally well, but it is not the right time to save seeds yet. Tag that plant that has the characteristics you want to preserve so you can identify it when the right time to save seeds occurs.

Principe Borghese tomatoes

Principe Borghese tomatoes

When tomatoes and peppers are harvested at full ripeness for eating, their seeds are mature and can be readily saved. For summer squashes and cucumbers, you would need to leave the vegetables on the plant until they are overgrown and way past the time to harvest for eating. Still other crops need to be left over the winter, saving the seeds when the plants flower the following year. The extra time for these plants to be in your garden needs to be accounted for in your garden plan.

Red Russian kale gone to seed.

Red Russian kale gone to seed.

The kale and collards you might have harvested for food for the table through the winter will be vacating your garden bed in March when they begin to bolt. However, if you are saving seeds from them, they may occupy that space until June. Only let one variety of cabbage family plants flower and go to seed at a time to avoid cross pollination. Before the variety you are saving from begins to flower, you should have begun to choose which plants you want to save seeds from. Most likely, the first to flower won’t be among your choices, nor will the plants that produced the least foliage to harvest through the winter. Pulling those plants out first leaves more room for the others and is part of the selection process.

Seed saving is a way to deepen your gardening experience and is an adventure that you can share with others through your neighborhood seed library. If your seeds are destined to be shared through a seed library, you will want to make sure that what you are sharing is what you say it is and hasn’t cross pollinated with anything else. If you don’t have a seed library in your neighborhood you may want to start one. You will find guidance for that project in my book Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People.

Seed libraries have been evolving at a rapid pace. Those who have been involved in that evolution will be coming together to study the issue at the First International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, Arizona, May 3-6. I’m looking forward to being one of the panelists for that event. You never know where your seed saving hobby will take you.Homeplace Earth

 

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???????????????????????????????I’m going to be out and about traveling to some special events in the coming months. First up is a visit to the Washington County Seed Savers Library in Abingdon, VA, then on to the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. In early May I’ll be in Tucson, AZ for the First International Seed Libraries Forum. Find me in Vermont the first week of June at the Slow Living Summit. Here is a list of all the events on my schedule so far through June. The complete list for the year, which I’ll be updating as necessary, is at Homeplace Earth.  Come see me!

April 9, 2015  Washington County Library, Abingdon, VA. Cindy will give a presentation at 7pm, followed by a book signing.

April 11-12, 2015  Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC. Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule. motherearthnewsfair.com.

April 25, 2015  Spring Garden Fest, Reynolds Community College, Goochland, VA. Cindy will be in the college library signing books from noon to 1:15 pm. 

May 2, 2015  Ashland Farmers Market, Ashland, VA. Cindy will be there signing books from 9-noon.

May 3-6, 2015  International Seed Libraries Forum, Tucson, AZ Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule.

May 16, 2015  Spring Conference-Master Gardener Association of Central Rappahannock Area.  Cindy will be speaking on Grow a Sustainable Diet. University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA.

June 3-5, 2015  Slow Living Summit, Brattleboro, VT. Look for Cindy on the schedule speaking about seed libraries. slowlivingsummit.org

Homeplace Earth

 

 

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Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

For many years I had compost bins lined up on the edge of my garden. Discussion about compost generally included what kind of bins I used and where I sourced the materials to put in them. My bins were made from pallets I acquired for free. Each of three sides was made by pounding two t-posts into the ground and sliding a pallet over them. If one side needed to be replaced, that could be easily done, since the sides weren’t tied or nailed together. The fourth side was made by using bungee cords to hold it in place. To remove the compost, I released that side by removing the bungee cords.

The ingredients of those piles were usually animal bedding (from our animals or some I brought in from other places), leaves (from here or elsewhere), food scraps from our table, and maybe grass clippings. The compost bin was a handy place to toss garden residue—weeds and spent plants. Gradually I stopped including outside materials in my compost as I studied GROW BIONTENSIVE (GB) methods and produced more of my own compost biomass in my garden. The bulk of the material I used to bring in was for the carbon. With GB I grew more grains and corn, using the straw and stalks for carbon. Eventually, all the compost materials were coming from my own garden.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Rethinking the materials is only part of rethinking compost piles. If you are into tidy, and think compost requires a bin, you may have a hard time thinking outside that, but I urge you to try. Besides keeping them tidy, bins serve to keep animals out of your piles. If you include food scraps in your piles and have a dog, or neighborhood dogs frequent your place, you may want a bin. However, if your compost pile is within your fenced garden, you have already fenced out the critters. Once I put a fence around the garden I did away with the bins, but the piles were still on the edge of the garden space. It was when butternut squash grew wild around and over my pile one year that I began to think about the nutrients that were leaching into the ground each year beneath the piles and not being used.

Having to walk back and forth to the edge of the garden to put compost materials there that had grown in the garden, or to retrieve compost for the beds, also served to nudge me into planning to have my compost piles as part of my garden rotation. By the way, I did away with the notion that compost needed to be turned regularly long ago. Left to what they do best and the microbes turn all that organic matter into finished compost all by themselves. I do water occasionally to keep them hydrated.

Now I devote a garden bed, actually more than one, to compost. On my garden map, compost is shown, just as all the crops for the year are. The two biggest times for starting a new pile for me are in June when the grains are harvested and in October when the cornstalks, sweet potato, and peanuts are harvested. It is in October when the new compost bed is put to use. Whatever bed is designated to store compost for the coming year is where I start the new pile in October. The pile I created in the summer that needs more time to cure will be moved to this new compost bed. That is the only time it gets turned. If the new compost bed is part of the garden rotation it will be located next to the old compost bed, making the transition an easy one. You do not want to do any long distance hauling—just fork it from one bed to the next.

numbered compost piles

numbered compost piles

The rest of the compost in that bed, including the one started the previous October, should be ready to spread, which I do in September and October before I plant cover crops. Throughout the year there will be other materials added to the piles as weeding and harvesting is done. There will also be finished compost available to add to beds each time a new crop goes in. By following GB guidelines and having at least 60% of the garden devoted to compost crops for the year, it is easy to have an abundance of compost. To keep track of the order the piles were made, so I know which will be ready to use next and which needs to set longer, I use old smooth metal fence posts (the kind used for electric fence) with blocks of wood on top with a number painted on them. Some people have little signs for their piles that say such things as “use me”, “feed me”, or “working.” The pile that I make in the fall will not be ready to use until the next fall. Wanting to make the best use of all my resources, including space and available nutrients, I plant butternut squash around the base of that pile and let the plants grow over it. Besides soaking up nutrients from beneath, the plants shade the pile, preventing weeds from moving in. By the time the winter squash is harvested, the compost is ready to spread.

In October I plant winter rye in the bed that the compost vacated. That cover crop soaks up all the nutrients that may have leached from the piles and gives them to the corn that will go into that bed the following year. When the rye is shedding pollen (about May 7 here in Zone 7), I cut it with a sickle and leave it lie in the bed as mulch. Two weeks later I transplant corn into the mulch. Generally there is a small amount of a legume, such as Austrian winter peas, sown and harvested with the rye. I have my best crop of corn in the bed that follows the compost.

This might all seem confusing, but if you take time to think it through, it will become clear. In Grow a Sustainable Diet I explain GROW BIOINTENSIVE methods and how to plan to have 60% of your garden in cover crops for the year. In that book I also have a garden map and explanation for the Garden of Ideas that shows compost as part of the garden rotation. My DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden shows compost making in the beds and the management of the cover crops with hand tools through the growing season. Think outside the compost bin and make compost an integral part of your garden!Homeplace Earth

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