Archive for the ‘seeds’ Category

forms-seed_inventoryGardeners who plant from seed, generally have some seed left at the end of the season. Knowing what kind of seed, how much, and where it is stored will help you plan your seed order for the new year. Having an inventory of your seeds could save you money by not buying more than you need, and lessen frustration when it comes time to plant, since you will know what you have and how much.  If you store your seeds in more than one place, indicate where your seeds are.

For many years, I used a piece of notebook paper for my seed inventory. I listed all the seeds I had on hand and made columns for how much, the source of the seeds, and the year they were bought, or the year saved if I grew them out myself. Remember, that was before computers were routinely used in the home and things weren’t so easily copied. Eventually, I developed a seed inventory form. You can see the heading for that here and you will find the form on the CD that comes with my garden plan DVD. It is also in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. There is a link in the book that allows you to download PDFs of all the forms shown. Now I print off as many copies of the seed inventory form as I need. This year it was 11 pages! When you save seeds it is easy to accumulate a lot of seeds from different years.


A coffee filter was used for this germination test with cowpeas.

I try to inventory my seeds before the end of the growing year. This year I managed to get that completed in early December, but if times are busy, it is January before it happens. If you haven’t inventoried the seeds you have, do it now before you order new ones. As you go through your seeds, purge the ones that you know you will never plant or that you know have poor germination. Now would be a good time to do a germination test on the questionable varieties in your stash. If the ones you intend to get rid of pass the germination test, consider taking them to a seed swap, donating them to a seed library, or passing them on to your friends or new gardeners. If they don’t pass the germination test, throw them in the compost or your chicken pen, providing they are not treated, of course.

As you can see, my seed inventory has columns for Crop, Variety, Amount, Source, (empty), Don’t Buy, Do Buy, Source, Amount, and $. If you take your time with this form, you could use it to develop your seed order as you go. The Don’t Buy column is probably not necessary and you could use that space for something else. The column I left empty is sometimes used to record the days to maturity of the variety. It facilitates garden planning if that information is at your fingertips. That column could also be used to record the germination rate, if a germination test is done that year. If you know you are short on something, check the Do Buy column. Later you can go back, armed with your seed catalogs, and put in the amount of seeds you will need to buy, where you will get them and how much they will cost. Imagine, all your seed records in one place!


I list the vegetables, then the flowers and herbs, then the grains and cover crops. Each section has the crops in alphabetical order, making it easier to find things later. Each variety of a crop that I have seeds for is shown and sometimes I leave spaces for additional varieties that I intend to order. When my seed order comes in, I add those varieties to the crop inventory, and put the new seeds with my stored seeds so everything is in one place. If you don’t get around to actually recording your new acquisitions on the inventory form, put the seed order form in your garden notebook with your seed inventory.

The Garden Notebook! I assume you have put together a binder with tabs for your garden map, plant and harvest record sheets, seed inventory, and other important information. My DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan takes you through what is necessary to keep your garden records organized. You can refresh your memory be reading my blog post Keeping Garden Records.

I refer to my seed inventory throughout the year. It is easy to forget what you have. A seed inventory helps to ensure that the seeds you have purchased or saved will get planted. The seed catalogs have arrived and can be alluring, causing you to order more than you need. Before you order seeds, make your garden plan for the year so you will know just how much you need of each crop according to the space in your garden. Actually, I begin planning my garden in the fall for the coming year so that I know which cover crops go where, in preparation for the main crop in the spring and summer. Start wherever you are and go from there.

Wishing you well on your 2017 gardening year.homeplace earth

Read Full Post »

20" long compost thermometer with a 1 3/4" face

20″ long compost thermometer with a 1 3/4″ face

Spring is here and I know you are anxious to be in the garden. As soon as the temperatures begin to climb it is really tempting to get seeds in the ground. Before you take that step, however, I encourage you to make sure the ground is ready for your seeds. Of course, you will loosen the soil and add compost and, if necessary, organic fertilizers, but did you take the temperature of the soil?

Seeds are naturally programmed to germinate and grow within a certain range of temperatures. Within that range they will grow faster or slower, depending on their comfort zone. It has been my experience that just because it is the right time to plant on the calendar, it may not be the right time to plant according to the soil. The temperature of the soil is more important than the date on the calendar. When I was a market gardener I would be anxious to get sugar snap peas in the ground in early March. I would put in another planting two weeks later. If the weather had been too cool, the first planting may not come into production until the second planting did. I learned to pull back the leaf mulch that covered the bed over the winter and put down a sheet of plastic two weeks before planting the sugar snaps to warm the soil. If the weather has been too cool and wet there is the danger that the seeds will rot and not germinate at all. Peas, beans, and corn are most susceptible to this, which is why you might find those seeds for sale coated with fungicide. Steer clear of fungicide coated seeds and plant at the right time. Beans and corn like the soil to be 60° F (15.6 °C) and cowpeas would like it if you wait to plant until it warms to 65° F (18.3°C).

If you have mulch covering some of your garden beds, go out and stick your hand in the soil under the mulch and then put your hand in the soil in a bed without mulch. You will feel a noticeable difference in the temperature. During the winter an organic mulch such as leaves or straw does a good job of protecting the soil and providing habitat for the earthworms. However, when things begin to warm up in the spring the mulch will insulate the soil from the sun’s rays. Removing the mulch two weeks ahead of planting will help to warm the soil. I am not so much in a hurry these days, so I don’t use plastic to further warm the soil, but it is an option. With my system of cover cropping, when the cover crop is finished, it is naturally time to plant the next crop.

thermometer with a 5" stem and 1 1/4" face

thermometer with a 5″ stem and 1 1/4″ face

You can monitor the temperature of the soil with a thermometer or by sticking your hand in the ground. Even better, go barefoot. There’s nothing like the whole body experience. You might want to use a thermometer until you can gauge the temperature by touch. I use either a 20” long compost thermometer with a 1¾” face (top photo) or a thermometer with a 5” stem and 1¼” face that I bought at the grocery store. I keep the long thermometer stuck in the soil somewhere so I don’t lose it. Usually it is in my coldframe, where it is right now. The nice thing about the compost thermometer is that it is easy to read without bending over too much. The small thermometer has so many uses. It comes with a plastic sleeve that has a pocket clip –handy if you are going to be carrying it around. The one you see in the photo is the one I use to monitor the temperature in my solar food dryer. It sticks through a hole drilled for that purpose with just the gauge showing on the outside of the dryer. A small thermometer such as this can be used in the kitchen, which is why you will find it in the grocery store.

You can find a chart showing a list of crops and the minimum, optimum, optimum range, and maximum soil temperature conditions for each in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. A chart I find interesting is Days to Appearance of Seedlings at Various Soil Temperatures from Seed Planted at ½” Depth, compiled by J.F. Harrington. You can find it with an Internet search. It shows the number of days it takes for each crop to germinate at different temperatures. For example, peas will take 36 days to germinate at a soil temperature of 41°F (5°C), 13 days at 50°F (10°C) and 9 days at 59°F (15°C). You can see how warming up the soil will contribute to an earlier crop.

tomato,pepper, and zinnia seedlings in the coldframe???????????????????????????????

coldframe seedlings–tomatoes, peppers, and zinnias

Peppers, on the other hand, are shown to take 25 days to germinate at 59°F, 12 days at 68°F (20°C) and 9 days at 77° F (25° C). If you plant pepper and tomato seeds at the same time, the tomatoes will germinate first—in 14 days at 59°F, 8 days at 68°, and 6 days at 77°. I start my seeds in my coldframes, which provide cooler temperatures than starting them in the house. I put tomato, pepper, and other seeds of warm weather crops in my coldframe during the last week of March. Since I save much of my own seeds, I am developing strains of each crop that will germinate in cooler soil. The healthy plants that I take out of the coldframe are the ones that have germinated and thrived in the cooler conditions. The peppers that I have been most successful with in the coldframe are Corno di Toro and Ruffled Hungarian.

By saving your own seeds, you can develop strains of your crops that will germinate and grow under the conditions that you want to work with. Experiment with planting times and conditions in your garden. I would advise, however, to only take chances with what you can afford to lose. If you go into it with that attitude, you won’t be disappointed.

Homeplace Earth


Read Full Post »

SeedLibraries~MENSeed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has arrived! Homeplace Earth is well stocked and ready to fill orders with signed copies. Writing this book has brought me in touch with wonderful people all over North America who are making a difference in their communities by setting up programs for saving and sharing seeds. You will meet them in the pages and learn what they did and how they did it, giving you ideas to follow their lead with your own program.

Don’t really understand what the big deal about seed is? Seed Libraries will take you through how our society went from one of independent seed savers to a society dependent on corporations for its seed needs and the danger that looms if we don’t take action to change now. The reasons you should save seeds are discussed, such as preserving genetic diversity, flavor and nutrition, unique varieties, and cultural heritage. Other reasons include growing to seed to attract beneficial insects, saving money growing your own seeds, and learning new skills. It is always good to learn something new and seed saving will make you a better gardener.

Seed libraries are often located in public libraries. You will learn just how much these institutions have to offer. Having a seed library located in a public library is good for community access and good for a public library that wants to expand its programs and stay relevant to the community it serves. Whether a seed library is located in a public library or elsewhere, often it is in partnership with other groups. You will find examples of some of these groups and their projects in this book.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

You need seeds to start a seed share program and you need to take care of them. Where to find seeds to start, how to take care of them, and how to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable is all covered. You also need people supporting your project. You will discover who would be beneficial to have on your committee and how to form a mission statement. A mission statement is one of the most important things you can have to define your project to others.

How to package the seeds, sign up seed-sharing members, and how to educate your members so they will bring back healthy seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other varieties is all in the book. The plight of seeds is so important that everyone should be aware of seeds, not only the seed savers. This book is loaded with ideas to celebrate seeds throughout the year, keeping the excitement and momentum going for all involved.

Not all seed share programs take the form of organized seed libraries. Sometimes it starts with friends saving and sharing seeds among themselves and grows to public seed swaps. In fact, seed swaps are good ways to become acquainted with sharing seeds and are a good prelude to a seed library. You can use the ideas in this book to organize your own seed swap.

If you are already involved in a seed library, the ideas in Seed Libraries will help to energize your project. There is so much to know and think about and this book puts it all together in one place, making it easier for you to have the information at hand, and easier to explain it to others that you want to involve in your project. Just give them a copy and you can discuss the issues together. Links to Internet resources are listed, giving you access to the helpful materials there and keeping you up-to-date on the changes that seed libraries are experiencing as these new seed sharing programs continue to evolve.

We are living in exciting times and I invite you to be part of the positive changes that are coming in our society. I hope you like the book!Homeplace Earth


UPDATE: In Seed Libraries I wrote about Sascha DuBrul being the one to come up with the idea for the first seed library. In his blog post http://www.mapstotheotherside.net/history-of-seed-libraries/ he tells the back story of that time. Keep reading to the end and he posts what I wrote about him in the book, which will help you to understand his story. You never know what will happen to your ideas when you follow your heart–and being a little crazy is not necessarily a bad thing.


Read Full Post »

Bill McDorman teaching at Seed School. Belle Starr is on the left.

Bill McDorman teaching at Seed School. Belle Starr is on the left.

I recently attended Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance’s six day Seed School in Buhl, Idaho. Bill McDorman and Belle Starr founded Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) this year, along with their friend John Caccia. John manages the Wood River Seed Library that was formed in early 2014. According to their website, the mission of RMSA is to “connect communities with the seeds that sustain them. Through education and other supportive services, this organization would help people reclaim the ancient tradition of seed saving and stewardship to grow a more resilient future in their towns, neighborhoods, and backyards. Their vision: a region filled with local farmers and gardeners producing a diverse abundance of crops—food, wildflowers, and grasses—from locally adapted seeds.

Bill and Belle founded RMSA after three years with Native Seeds/SEARCH. Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) is the go-to place to find seeds native to the Southwest. There are educational programs at NS/S, but the emphasis is on the seeds—preserving them, growing them, and sharing them. The emphasis at RMSA is on education. Through education there will be more people and organizations available to do the preserving, growing, and sharing work.

Germination test with 100 seeds.

Germination test with 100 seeds.

Information covered at Seed School included, but was not limited to, seed breeding, germination testing, harvesting and processing, seed libraries, and seed enterprises. Although seeds can stay viable for many years, it is good to know the germination rate to know how much to plant, particularly if you are sharing them with others. The germination tests I do at home are done with only 10 seeds at a time and are sufficient for my own use. This summer a new seed library in Pennsylvania was challenged by the PA Department of Agriculture and asked to conform to the same laws that govern seed companies. One of the requirements was to have germination tests done–the kind that require 100 seeds to be tested at a time. I don’t believe that is necessary for a seed library, but the test is actually something you can do at home. Put 100 seeds on a damp paper towel, roll it up and keep it moist for a few days, then check it again. We did that at Seed School using wheat seed. Whether you are using 10 seeds or 100 for your germination tests, it is a good activity to do with volunteers if you are involved with a seed library. You receive valuable information to pass on with the seeds and your volunteers receive valuable experience, not to mention the camaraderie that develops with people working together.

We visited a USDA lab and a native plant nursery. Everyone we met was passionate about their work. The nursery produced most of the native plants that were installed in the region regardless of which company or government agency was the local supplier. So much for diversity of sources. Likewise, there are fewer sources of organic seed than you might think. Seed companies don’t necessarily grow all the seeds they sell and some don’t grow any. High Mowing has always only sold organic seed. According to their website, although they grow more than 60 varieties themselves, other varieties are supplied by growers in the Northeast, the Northwest, and from large wholesale organic seed companies such as Vitalis Seeds, Bego Seeds, and Genesis Seeds. You could be buying organic seeds that weren’t even grown in this country, let alone in your region! It does make you think. Companies that do not limit themselves to organic seeds could also be sourcing seeds from Seminis, now a subsidiary of Monsanto. When Monsanto bought out Seminis, Fedco Seeds decided to cut ties with Seminis—a big step for any seed company at the time. You can read here about the current state of our seed supply in the words of CR Lawn of Fedco in a talk he gave in February 2013.

Don Tipping explaining threshing.

Don Tipping explaining threshing.

Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds in Williams, Oregon was one of the presenters at Seed School. The home farm of Siskiyou Seeds is Seven Seeds Farm where about 60% of the seed for the company is grown. To offer more diversity in the catalog, Siskiyou looks to other growers, many in southwest Oregon. A description of each of those growers is in the catalog and each variety of seed offered shows the source of the seed in the description. Siskiyou turns to High Mowing for some of their varieties, but you know which ones were bought from that wholesaler from the catalog descriptions.

Seven Seeds Farm is part of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, a “new approach in seed security through supporting the development of bioregional seed producing hubs linked with a national marketing, breeding, and quality assurance program.” Closer to my home is a similar cooperative– Common Wealth Seed Growers—made up of my friends at Twin Oaks Seed Farm, Living Energy Farm, and All Farm Organics. At Seed School I met Luke Callahan of SeedWise, which is an online marketplace that provides a way for home gardeners to connect with very small seed companies. Common Wealth Seed Growers is listed with SeedWise.

In 2003 and 2004 I attended a series of workshops organized to educate seed growers in the Southeast region of the US. It was part of the Saving Our Seed initiative. One of the results of that project was the seed production manuals for the Mid-Atlantic and South and for the Pacific Northwest that you can freely access online now. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is the main market for seed growers in my region, but the growers here sell to other companies, also. At the time I wondered what would result from those workshops. I knew many people present and didn’t imagine them rushing out to grow seeds for Southern Exposure anytime soon. Well, a decade has passed and a network of growers has developed. My daughter even grew seeds for Southern Exposure this year!

If you are concerned about the source of your seeds (as you very well should be), learn to grow your own or buy from small growers in your region. We can’t change the world overnight, which would result in chaos anyway. But, with each action we take we send out ripples that can result in a lasting, positive change. Seed School at Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance produced some ripples that I know are going to make a difference in keeping the seeds in the hands of Homeplace Earththe people for years to come.


Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Why You Should Save Seeds

saved seedsI assume everyone has their favorite seed company, or several favorites. However, as good as these sources are, they might not always be there for you. Even if the company exists, the varieties it carries might not. If they don’t grow the seed themselves, their suppliers, even if they are excellent farmers, could suffer crop failure from time to time. Or, the variety is dropped from the catalog due to low sales. What do you do then, if that variety was the pride of your garden? Did you ever consider saving seed yourself from the varieties you grow? Providing what we are talking about is open-pollinated varieties, you could have grown out a portion of your crop to seed yourself, insuring future harvests.

Open-pollinated varieties are those that breed true, providing they have not cross-pollinated with something else. The parents are the same variety. You would have trouble saving seed from hybrid varieties, but not because they won’t germinate and grow. The parents of hybrids are from two different varieties, crossed to produce an F1 (first generation) variety that has specific characteristics. With the mixed genetics, the offspring of these plants may not be the same. Remember the heredity diagrams from biology class in high school? There are dominant and recessive characteristics that may or may not appear in one generation, but pop up in another. It takes seven years of careful selection to de-hybridize a hybrid variety. In those seven years, you could have been working with an open-pollinated variety to get just what you want.

Getting just what you want to survive in the micro-climate of your garden is what you are after. If you buy seeds that are grown far from your garden year after year, it is like starting over all the time. If you save the seeds of what does best in your garden, you will be developing a strain of that variety that is particularly suited to your place. Personally, I’ve been looking at peppers that do well being started in a coldframe, rather than the warmer conditions indoors.

Worchester Indian Red Pole Lima Beans

Worchester Indian Red Pole Lima Beans

Some folks begin to save seeds when they are passed on to them by family, particularly when that family member has kept them alive for many generations. Saving seeds from one year to the next was once a way of life. When the immigrants came to this country, they often had seeds with them. I would think that the growing conditions would be different from where they came from. The seeds and plants that survived would have gradually become acclimated to the new land.

Saving money is as good a reason as any to save seeds. Not only is the cost of seeds going up, but so is the shipping. A few packets of seeds when you are starting out doesn’t put too much of a dent in your pocketbook, but as you begin to grow more of your food, you will need more variety and a larger quantity of seed.

If you have been gardening for awhile, maybe it is time to expand your gardening expertise and learn new skills. When you save seeds, you have to be aware of which varieties will cross, the timing of the harvest for seeds, how to get the seeds from the plant to your seed-saving container and how to store them so they will be viable for as long as possible. Learning new things keeps life interesting.

The last reason I have for saving seeds is a biggy. You’ve probably heard that major chemical companies, such as Monsanto, have taken a huge interest in having the rights to seeds so they can patent the genes. They have also bought up seed companies, then discontinued varieties, particularly the ones of regional significance. The major focus of these companies is to breed varieties that do well when used with their chemicals. They even change the genes, inserting genes that may not even be plant genes, let alone a variety of the plant that they are working with. These genetically engineered seeds may result in plants that are able to withstand being sprayed with herbicide or may resist predation by certain insects. This has resulted in weeds and insects that are resistant to their efforts; so around and around it goes. Any toxic effects all of that has on humans has not been considered as well as it should have.

These efforts by the chemical companies have nothing to do with flavor or nutrition; things you would be looking for in plant breeding for your family dinner table. As far as dealing with weeds and insects, if you have developed a sustainable, organic system, you already have those things under control. If you save seeds from your best plants, they obviously have survived the weed, insect, and climate pressure in your garden. Take a look around your garden now and decide what seeds you will be saving. Educate yourself from the many books available on the topic, so you will be ready when the time comes this year.

Enjoy the adventure!Homeplace Earth


Read Full Post »

seed library--BLOGIn case you haven’t heard, seed libraries are fast becoming a way for you to get involved in the seed saving movement. A seed library may be located in a book library that you are already familiar with.  You can “borrow” seeds with the promise to return them at the end of the season. Actually, you will be growing out the seeds you received from the seed library, saving the seed, and returning at least as much seed from your seed saving as you “borrowed” and maybe more. Just by participating, you can help to develop strains of things unique to your area, keep little known varieties from becoming extinct, increase your seed saving knowledge, and get free seeds.

A seed library has just been established at J.Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) in Goochland, Virginia, thanks to the efforts of my daughter Betsy Trice. Betsy began teaching the sustainable agriculture classes there in 2010 after I left for other adventures–starting this blog being one of them. The seed library comes at a great time, not only for the seed saving revolution, but for the sustainable program at JSRCC. A Career Studies Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture at JSRCC is now a reality. First proposed in 2003, it has only taken ten years to roll through all the red tape. Meanwhile, through those years, the library at the Goochland Campus recognized the interest in the program because the students frequented the library and requested materials. As a result, that library has the best collection of sustainable agriculture and permaculture books of anywhere I know. You don’t have to be a student to take books out—and now seeds! Although it took ten years to get the certificate approved, it took Betsy only one year to go from “Wouldn’t this be great?” to “The first orientation meeting for the JSRCC Seed Library is March 5, 2013.” She had the backing of the library from the beginning.

seed library table-BLOGBetsy got the idea for the seed library from reading the article “Sowing Revolution” in the January 2012 issue of Acres USA magazine. She followed up on resources listed in the article, especially the materials available from www.richmondgrowsseeds.org, the website for the seed library in Richmond, CA. If you are interested in starting a seed library in your area, I encourage you to spend some time on their website. You can even register for a free webinar scheduled for April 11, 2013 to help you get started. I imagine each library will develop in its own way. In order to be eligible to take seeds from the JSRCC program you need to attend an orientation that lasts about an hour. Orientations will be planned regularly, but the next one is scheduled for Monday, April 15, 2013 at 6pm. Seed libraries have even caught the attention of NBC Nightly News on March 22, 2013. That newscast showcased the Richmond, CA program. If you haven’t saved seeds before–not to worry. This is a learning experience. Besides, a library is bound to have books and resources for you to learn from, not to mention the great people you will become involved with in the process.

hand and turkey craw beans - BLOGSeed libraries mean much more for communities than free seeds for the participants. They mean keeping the seeds in the hands of the people. Whoever Owns The Seeds Controls Your Food Supply. It is increasingly important to become actively involved in the seed part of your food. In early 2000 I learned that Monsanto had been buying seed companies since the 1970’s. I won’t go into all the negative connotations about that, since you can find that information in lots of other places. You would be most familiar with their chemicals and genetically modified crops. I want you to know that they are still buying seed companies and intend to be actively involved in the garden seed arena.

In 2005 Monsanto bought Seminis, a major seed supplier for many catalogs. Fedco took a major stand and stopped doing business with Seminis. You can read about that here. More information about the Seminis buy-out is available from the Organic Seed Alliance here. It explains the dilemma the seed companies were in when that occurred. Once it acquired Seminis, is it any surprise that it has been making changes in vegetable seeds? On October 20, 2011 the Los Angeles Times ran an article about that with this quote“This isn’t a hobby…. We’re serious about it,” said Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant, who expects the company’s vegetable seed revenue to rival its $1.5-billion soybean business in the coming decade.

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but there it is. This doesn’t have to be bad news, actually. It might be just the push we need to get more actively involved. The most basic act of defense against Monsanto is to save seeds and distribute them to others, and seed libraries are just the venue to make that possible. If there is a seed library in your area, become a participant. If not, start one. Who owns your seeds?Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

green and brown cotton bolls with spindleI usually write about food crops and soil building, but today I’m talking about fiber. I have begun to grow cotton and have learned to spin it using a spindle. Growing and using cotton is more than just a new craft for me. It adds diversity to my garden, which is important in a permaculture garden, and it helps me connect with factors beyond the garden. Plants are grown around the world for more things than food. If our gardens are to provide for us and if we are ever going to be free from corporate domination, we need to consider everything. From our plants we can get food, fuel, medicine, fiber, dyes, and so on. The movement to make available food grown in a sustainable manner to everyone is gaining momentum. What about obtaining our other needs from sustainable sources?       

When India was a colony of Britain, Indian cotton was shipped to Britain and the Indians had to buy it back as fabric. Gandhi promoted spinning as an act of independence. If the Indians spun and used their own cotton, they would be free of British control of that resource. In fact, Gandhi had a contest to develop a small spinning wheel that was portable enough that people could easily spin in public and the box charka was born. What better act of nonviolent protest but to spin cotton into thread and yarn in public! Unfortunately, today Indian cotton farmers face another peril with the introduction of GMO cotton seeds. In 2000 I heard Vandana Shiva speak about the number of suicides among cotton farmers in India. They had been convinced to grow GMO cotton by Monsanto and things were not going well. The problems continue to this day. Please take the time to listen to her tell you about it here. Shiva’s organization Navdanya goes into these areas with open pollinated seeds to help the farm families recover.

In doing some research for this post I was heartened to find that there are projects underway to promote the sustainable growing of cotton around the world and in the U.S. You can find more about that at http://www.sustainablecottons.com/. Where is the fabric coming from for your cotton clothes? Begin looking for a Fairtrade label for cotton. Also, consider how the cotton you buy gets its color. Cotton grows naturally in more colors than white. Pakucho is the brand name of cotton from a project developed in Peru to revive the growing of colored cotton on small farms.

green cotton fiber and seeds--BLOG

1 ounce green cotton fiber/seeds

In 2004 I came across an article in Spin-Off magazine about a woman who had grown the cotton that she then spun (with a spindle) and wove into fabric for a shirt. You can read “My Cotton Shirt” here. At least I knew that my idea of growing cotton and making a shirt out of it wasn’t totally crazy. I did grow some cotton around that time, but I didn’t know anyone who was spinning cotton and I was busy with other things, so the harvest was stored away. The only spinners I knew worked with wool and said that, since cotton had such a short fiber, it was really hard to spin. I figured that if spinning cotton was all I knew, spinning cotton would be my normal and that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, people have spun cotton down through the ages so I should be able to learn this. For the past two summers I grew both Erlene’s Green and Nankeen Brown cotton. The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange the first year and I saved them after that. There are a lot of seeds in cotton. In one ounce of green cotton that I weighed, 75% of that ounce was 185 seeds and 25% of that ounce was fiber.   

I turned to Joan Ruane to learn to spin the fiber into yarn, once I found her video Cotton Spinning With the Takli. A takli spindle is what is recommended for cotton and that’s what I’ve been using. My husband gave me her kit with fiber, spindle, and DVD as a gift and it was a great way to get started. It was very slow going at first, though. I had to remind myself of how it was when I taught myself to knit—only this seemed harder. Clothos Handspinners, a group of wonderful folks into handspinning, came to my rescue. At the first meeting I attended in November, 2011, Judith spent time teaching me some basics and I will be forever grateful. Most of the members show up with their spinning wheels, but there are some, like me, who are using a spindle. Most work in wool, but not exclusively. I am not interested in getting a wheel right now because I want to master the spindle. Besides, I want to see how much skill and knowledge I can gain with the least money spent. Another DVD that has helped me is Spinning Cotton by Stephanie Gaustad. If my garden DVDs have helped people as much as these cotton DVDs have helped me, I will be happy. My goal is to make a vest out of my homegrown, homespun cotton, so I’ll be learning to weave next. After that comes the shirt.

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds--plus spindle

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds–plus spindle

Cotton needs hot weather and a lot of sun. The varieties I grow take 130 days to mature, but it differs by variety. Sea Island White  requires 160 days. Start the seeds and set out transplants as you would tomatoes. I’ve heard of growing cotton in containers and bringing it inside when the weather turns cold if you live in a marginal climate. In my 2012 garden I harvested 2.5 pounds of green fiber and seed in an 80 ft.² bed. That works out to about .75 lb. fiber per 100 ft.² (and lots of seeds). The brown cotton harvest was equivalent to one pound fiber per 100 ft². I had 7-12 bolls on each plant. Now that I’m paying attention, I believe that I can better that harvest. The U.S. average is 1.7 pounds fiber per 100 ft². You could begin with just a few plants among your flowers.

knitted homegrown cotton sampleGrowing colored cotton has been really interesting. After cotton has been spun, it needs to be boiled to set the twist. When you do that, the color deepens. The green spun cotton shown with the spindle and seeds is the same cotton that is shown as fiber in the other photo with the seeds. In the sample that I’ve knitted, the deep green and brown colors are the natural colors after boiling the spun fiber. The white is what I grew years ago with only an inkling of an idea that I might want to do this sometime.

In 2007 a new charka was introduced in India. This e-charka allows the spinner to produce electricity while he/she spins. A battery stores the electricity to operate an LED light and a transistor radio. Spinning cotton by hand is still important in rural areas of India and elsewhere and this new charka will increase the quality of life for these spinners. Gandhi would be proud. For now, at least, I’ll stick with my spindle. Growing cotton and learning to spin it is a wonderful project. Doing it with children gives them a great glimpse into history. There are so many things you could talk about with them when you are working with the plants and fiber. As you spin your own homegrown fiber, keep in mind all those farmers who are keeping the old skills and seeds alive. Every good thought we have goes out as a ripple that eventually connects us all.Homeplace Earth

For more thoughts on growing and spinning cotton see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/grow-spin-cotton.aspx#axzz2LRWabZ00

Read Full Post »

Bloody Butcher Corn-BLOG

Bloody Butcher Corn

As you are planning your garden, what to grow would be the first thing that comes to mind.  Then, of course, the area you have available, which leads to making a garden map.  With the map done, you know how much space you have for each crop.  Next is figuring out how many seeds you need.  If you are just starting out in gardening, the number of seeds in a packet are probably more than you need for the year.  However, as your garden grows and you are more interested in really growing a substantial part of your diet, exactly what to expect from a seed packet is important.

You probably already know that not every seed you have is going to germinate.  There is a minimum legal germination rate that the seed companies have to abide by.  Their seeds can be over that rate, but not under.  You can find the minimum legal germination rate in the Master Charts of How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons.  If you buy from reputable sources, most often the seeds are well over that rate.  In fact, some companies label the packages with the tested germination rate and when they tested it.  On the other hand, I have heard of companies combining old seed with their new batch, getting rid of the old seed and lowering the germination rate.   All they are concerned about is making sure it meets the minimum legal rate.  Being aware of what the minimum rate is helps you plan.  You might be using seed leftover from a previous year or seed that you have saved yourself.  Since seed loses viability over time, you might want to test the germination rate.  Information on how to do that is available many places, including my video Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan.

seed packet germination rate-BLOG

seed packet with germination rate listed

A Seeds and Plants Needed form is included on the CD that comes with that garden plan video.  You can print it out and put pencil to paper, or use it in Excel form on your computer.  Besides how many might germinate, you need to know how many seeds are likely to be in an ounce.  That information is in the Master Charts in HTGMV and in the seed catalogs at the beginning of each crop.  The catalogs will tell how much the packets weigh and how many seeds to expect.  By the way, there are 28 grams in one ounce.  Often the seed packets show the amount of seeds in grams.

The seed packets sometimes suggest how many feet of row that the packet will plant.  It really depends on how you are spacing your plants and you might be planting in a bed with offset spacing, which would require more plants than just in rows.  If you have a small area, work out the planting on graph paper. Once you know the spacing of your plants, either from the seed catalogs, back of the packets, or HTGMV Master Charts, you can figure how many square feet each plant needs and how many will fit in your allotted area.   Add about 13% if you are using offset spacing, rather than planting in rows.

You have accounted for the fact that some of your seeds won’t germinate, but then not all that do will be the perfect specimens that you want to transplant.  You might plan to have as many as 20% more plants than you intend to transplant so you can choose the best.  Once you have done the math on your own, worked through the Seeds and Plants Needed form, consulted HTGMV Master Charts, or however you have arrived at your total seeds and plants needed, you should have the number and/or the weight of seeds you need.  Compare that with what you find available in the seed packets.

For some of you, this is just the information you are looking for.  For others, if you are still reading, it is way more than you want to know.  One spring, years ago, I was helping a friend who was in her eighties plant her garden.  She had only begun taking on the gardening chores once her husband passed, about six years before.  We prepared the beds, then it was time to plant zucchini.  I asked her how many hills she wanted me to make and she could come behind and put in the seeds.  She was confused at what I was asking.  Her method was to just plant as she went along and when the packet was empty, she was done.  She admitted that she always had more zucchini than she could use.  She said it never occurred to her to count the seeds beforehand.  Her garden, by the way, was big enough that she could do that.  Whatever works for you is the best method to use.   Once that way stops working, it’s time to consider other possibilities.

I hope you will choose to buy your seeds from a company that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge to not knowingly carry genetically modified seeds.  Seeds are precious things.  They determine our future survival.  Choose varieties that will do well in your area.  At first, don’t plant too many varieties of one crop until you have a base knowledge of that crop in general.  However, everyone wants to experiment and will usually try the new thing that comes along at some point.  I remember when Sugar Snap Peas were released back in 1979.  The pole variety was the only one available then.  I liked them and have been growing them ever since, adding Sugar Ann as a bush variety.  Other things I’ve tried, such as early or disease resistant tomatoes I didn’t like so much.  Often, people want to know what I’m planting.  I want you to do the homework yourself.  There are just so many reasons why you would plant different things than I do.  Read the seed catalogs, especially the ones that specialize in your region.  Talk to other gardeners.

seed exchange-BLOG

If you don’t know any other gardeners, maybe you could put up a notice in your local library to have a gathering.  I believe most libraries will make a room available for things like that.   A Seed Swap would be a good topic to start with.  At a seed swap, everyone brings in their extra seeds to share and people who want some can take them.  It might be seeds that were left from another year or extra from this year that you know won’t get used.  Having old envelopes on hand and pens for labeling is helpful.  It’s also good to have seed catalogs for more information.  Usually you don’t need to contribute seeds to be able to take some home.   If you are new, this is the place to find gardeners.  If you are an experienced gardener, this is the place to offer the help that you wished someone gave you when you were coming along.  On a local note, there is going to be a Seed Swap at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA on March 24, 2012 from 2-4 pm.  The public is invited.

Here in Virginia, the weather has been so mild, we were wondering if winter was ever going to start before it was over.  We just had a 4.5 inch snow, but it’s not even lasting 24 hours. Very soon it will be time to be in the garden.  Acquiring all your seeds for the year now will help your efforts go smoothly the rest of the year, with no delays between crops.  Some things you try this year will work great, and some, not so much.  There are no mistakes.  Everything is a learning experience.  The most important thing to remember is to have fun.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: