The flowers and vegetables that your grandparents grew! Heirloom seed has been passed from generation to generation, some for hundreds of years, and are untouched by chemical or genetic modification. Perfect for seed saving – they breed true – they yield classic, best-loved flowers and tastiest vegetables of the sort you won’t find in the supermarket. Many are condition-specific, disease resistant, and gourmet favorites. Start a family tradition.
Fermentation, the biological process that converts sugars to gas, acids, or alcohol accomplished by bacteria or yeast is the process that produces yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles as well as wine and beer. In a sense, it’s a tool, one that we humans use to our advantage. One of its many beneficial applications comes when saving tomato seeds for next season’s planting.
Tomato seeds, like peas and beans, are among the easiest seeds to prepare and save. But they’re not without problems. I remember my first tomato seed saving attempts. We strained the seeds out of tomato pulp, washed them, and let them dry without heat in our food dehydrator. The following spring, we planted as many starter pots as we thought we’d need tomatoes. While we did get a few seeds to germinate, the vast majority did not. Our circle of garden advisers thought maybe we’d saved the wrong seeds, namely hybrids, that have all sorts of problems when carried over a season. We hadn’t. Most thought that drying them in our dehydrator had done them in, even though we did it with the heating element turned off. That didn’t seem likely.
But the wisest among our garden consults said that we simply needed to ferment our seeds. We had no idea of what he was talking about, so when the time came he took us over to his house to show us how to do it. But not without first telling us why. (more…)
We’ve been offered sweet corn from a road side stand that wasn’t ready only once and that was from a couple neighborhood kids who got carried away with their picking. That experience turned out to be a learning experience for all of us.
The corn obviously wasn’t ready — the young gentleman hadn’t thought to pull back the husks to check — and we pointed out the short green silk as we bought an ear (cheap) and pulled away the cover. It was obvious. The kernels hadn’t plumped up and we showed that to the boys. We told them about testing the kernels when they did look ready — otherwise known as the pinch test — and what they would see. We pointed out that it was a shame they’d pulled all these ears that weren’t ready and now never would be.
Their father, our neighbor, was also unhappy about that. But the kids wanted to make some money and remembered their dad saying how well their corn was doing this year. Dad and I had a fatherly, adult laugh over the incident and chalked it up to the “boys-will-be-boys” syndrome that had excused both of us a time or two in our younger days. Later that season, the neighbor kids brought me over some of the ears with long brown silk and we gave one the pinch test. They already knew what to look for . . . corn milk! (more…)
. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (pdf format): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.
Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition.
So you have to feel bemused if not sorry for professor Harry Klee at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation program. Sure, his goals are admirable: he’s trying to “build” a better supermarket tomato. That means more flavor. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And he’s going about it very scientifically. He extracts the “flavor compounds” in tomatoes, separates their various components, and then studies them genetically in an attempt to duplicate them in commercial tomatoes. While he studies the genetics of these tomato components, he isn’t out to genetically modify tomatoes. Instead he uses standard hybridization techniques, albeit in the laboratory, in an attempt to create commercial tomatoes with improved taste. (more…)
June is often our favorite time in the garden. Sure, the rewards of harvest can’t be beat — and June does offer some harvest, especially in warmer zones — but the orderliness of our straight planted rows and the germinating perfection gives us a thrill that’s at once reward for the hard work that’s gone before and the promise of bountiful and beautiful things to come.
There’s nothing better than pulling up a lawn chair and surveying our garden kingdom no matter its size: the neat lines of bright green seedlings planted just days before, the transplanted seedling started weeks ago indoors now flourishing in their new outdoor homes. Yes, there’s a break in the action once the garden’s in — or maybe you’re still furiously trying to get everything in the ground — but that doesn’t mean you can step back and let things go off on their own. Here we offer some June gardening tips and chores:
–Protection is important, especially in places where June brings storms with hail and strong wind and rain. Have a supply of plastic milk cartons with the bottom cut out to protect transplanted seedling should inclement weather arise. Use cloches or hooped covers to protect seedlings from storms. Anchor any protection well so it doesn’t blow away. (more…)
– Here’s a study that reaffirms what organic farmers and gardeners already know: the use of inorganic fertilizer may help plants one season but does nothing to improve soil conditions. How important is soil to the survival of our planet? Read this article about soil depletion. Estimates say we’ve already lost 40% of the world’s topsoil, much of it because of non-organic farming practice.
– In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, here’s a British study that claims organic farming isn’t really all that better than conventional farming. Notice that the focus is on production. Also notice that it doesn’t say anything about improving soils. Careful readers will see all kinds of omissions in the comparisons the study makes.
– Here’s a great chart that shows how heirloom and wild fruits and vegetables are higher (much higher) in phytonutrients than conventionally cultivated cousins. If you find this interesting, follow the link to the accompanying article. (more…)
What’s the hardest thing — at least for us — to do when gardening? Thinning. We’ve worked so hard to prepare our soil and get seeds in the ground. Now here they come, all crowded together and struggling against their too-close neighbor. We know that if we want our plants, be they lettuce, radishes, or green beans, to grow quickly and be healthy, we’ve got to get in there and cull the herd. But, but… they’re our little plants! They represent our hopes and dreams! Can’t we just let them go and see what happens?
No. Now is not the time for sentimentality. Crowded plants not only discourage growth, they encourage pests and disease. Crowded seedlings shade each other from the sun. As they get larger, it only gets worse. Crowded root vegetables, including turnips, beets, and radishes, won’t develop useable roots if they’re crowded.
The earlier you thin your freshly germinated garden plants, the faster they’ll grow. We’ve recommended gradual thinning in the past, as well as using thinning as a means of collecting greens for the first spring salad. But really, you don’t want to wait that long. Give each little plant its space (check seed packages for spacing suggestions). If plants such as carrots are too close and tangled to remove by plucking, use scissors. Tweezers can be handy for those particularly delicate jobs. And don’t just thin once. Go back after a week or so and make sure each of your little treasures has the space to do its best. This second thinning might be the time to collect thinning for a garden salad. (more…)
Now in the hectic middle of planting season, it’s good to step back and take stock. After decades of limited availability and dismissal as a counter-culture industry, heirloom and organic seeds are the center of interest as never before. This phenomenon has been going on for a few years, but its continued growth and the promise of an even bigger future can make even the most cynical of us more optimistic.
Look around. Organic seeds are available in an ever-widening array of outlets. Nurseries, even hardware stores now stock organic seeds. Even my local grocery store stocks them as do our local food co-ops. Not only are they more widely available, they’re available in wider selection. Seed companies that weren’t even on the radar a few years ago now put out big glossy catalogs offering heirloom and “pure seeds.” Large activist organizations, like the Seed Savers Exchange, have dedicated themselves to preserving our garden seed heritage. Smaller, local organizations and exchanges are also popping up. (more…)
In most parts of the country, the process of sowing seed directly into the garden is in full swing. Either the first seeds of the season are going into the ground or, for those in milder climates, the second planting is commencing. In some northern regions, gardeners are still waiting for the end of over-night frosts and/or the soil to dry sufficiently. No matter. Everybody’s thinking of getting in their garden. And everybody wants to get a jump on things.
While we frequently urge patience on those who might plant too soon, there is a way to get quicker germination once your seeds are in the ground, a technique known to almost every gardener and practiced universally: Soak your seeds before planting. Soaking garden seeds, both vegetable and flower seeds, will swell and soften them and get their little embryonic selves thinking about coming out into the light of day. Here’s some things to consider when soaking seeds.
– First, which seeds are most appropriate for soaking? Big seeds. Wrinkled seeds. Seeds (as best you can tell) with hard coats. In the vegetable garden, this means peas, beans, corn, pumpkins and squash; even chard and beets. Smaller seeds — lettuce, radishes, carrots, and the like — are hard to handle once their soaked and don’t really need it anyway. Flower seed to soak? Sunflower, lupine, sweet pea, nasturtium take well to soaking. (more…)
Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger was standing in line yesterday at the grocery store — one with a focus on healthy eating and a claim that it never uses GMO products in its store-label items — when an equally friendly checker commented on the fact that we were buying ears of sweet corn. “I have relatives in the Midwest,” she said, “and they say that they put the water on to boil before they go out and pick sweet corn for dinner.”
Well, your talkative PN Blogger, raised in the Midwest, had heard this before and, indeed, had told the story himself a number of times. And having just read up on the history of corn, we felt we had to put our two cents in (though what we said was probably worth half that).
“That’s good, old fashioned, home-grown corn,” I explained. “This commercial stuff has been bred to keep it sugars longer, so it can be shipped and held before sale. But it’s not as good, it’s not as sweet as good, home-grown sweet corn. The sugars in homegrown sweet corn aren’t as stable. But the corn is tastier.” (more…)
Will Monsanto take control of your vegetable patch?
By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural
It’s all about seed control for Monsanto and the other corporate manufacturers of genetically engineered, GMO crops. So it’s no surprise that Monsanto has made moves to control garden seed as well. In the last several years, a number of international agri-conglomerates have consolidated their hold over the very seed and nursery starts we plant in our gardens. This brings some of the same problems — loss of seed diversity, spiraling seed costs, and general deficiencies in seed quality — that crop growers around the world face from the owners of genetically-modified seeds. And it’s happening under our noses right in our own backyards.
The last thing most organic gardeners want to do is support the corporations that have forced GMO food crops on the world through consolidation and bullying tactics. Nor do we want to support conglomerates seeking to monopolize the garden seed market. But often, that’s what we do when we buy non-GMO seed and nursery stock for our home gardens (and when we buy produce from the major supermarkets). How is it possible? (more…)