Seed Saving

Both beginning and experienced growers can start saving heirloom garden seed, resulting in substantial annual savings and ever increasing self-sufficiency. Seed Saving is not only fun, it’s an important way to perpetuate plants and to ensure the genetic diversity of the world’s food crops, which are eroding at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. To do so successfully, you must be familiar with the basics.

Fennel & Fenugreek

Fennel SeedsGrowing seeds for healthy, flavorful herbal teas.

When your culinary-conscious and sustainably minded Planet Natural blogger needs seed for cooking, he usually buys them, already dry, from one of our fine herb stores. They’re used to spice-up some homemade dishes, say flavoring some Middle Eastern cooking with the sharp, licorice flavor of anise or adding some zing to a curry with cilantro seed. When we want to save seeds from our garden, it’s usually for saving some particular heirloom favorite, and most often one of the more easily collected like tomato, cucumber, or winter squash. (more…)

Old Seed? Or New?

Seed ViabilityHow long seeds last depends on the type of seed and the conditions in which it’s stored.

Your thrifty Planet Natural blogger has had good luck storing leftover seed (PDF) he’s purchased from year to year … except when he didn’t. Not too many years ago, we stocked up on spinach seed for all the repeated planting we’d planned. There was plenty left over — that summer was cool and damp, so our first crop took longer than we expected and our second crop barely leafed out before the first frost arrived. We stored our leftover seed as we usually do: inside its packet in a tightly sealed glass jar down in our cool basement.

When spring came around, we planted the seed we bought the year before, just as we’ve often done with the previous season’s extras. And even under near ideal growing conditions — we know because we kept track in our journal — we were rewarded with poor germination. The seed that did germinate didn’t do well, its leaves small and stunted. We wondered if we had too much nitrogen in the soil. Too much nitrogen often inhibits early germination of greens. But the lettuce we planted nearby, some of it from saved seed, did just fine. Could it be that spinach seed doesn’t keep as long as lettuce? (more…)

Hybrid Sweet Corn – Sweeter Than Ever

Market Sweet CornBut there’s no sugar-coating restrictions on its use.

Sugar-enhanced (“se”) sweet corns have been all the rage over the last few seasons. Seed companies have touted some of their products with phrases like “sweetest ever” and “candy sweet.” These naturally bred hybrids — no, they’re not genetically modified — seem to answer the All-American craving for sugary satisfaction. Now there’s an even more sugary designation for sweet corns — “supersweet” or “sh2″ — for those table corns that are all about the sugar.

With names like ‘Sweet Riser,” “Kandy Korn,” and “Sugar Ace,” these se and sh2 corns, most of them commercially grown, offer marketing potential in a way that plain-old sweet corn can’t. You don’t need to rush them home from the market and plunge them in boiling water to enjoy their sugary flavor. They’ve been bred to hold their sugars longer. One of the ironies in the advertising of these corns is the tie in to “old-fashioned” flavor. Of course, old fashioned flavor is available to anyone who’ll grow their own. You don’t need a new hybrid variety to enjoy delicious sweet corn. (more…)

The Whole Seed Catalog: A World of Heirlooms

The Whole Seed CatalogThe Whole Seed Catalog is a compendium of news and information about the growing of heirloom vegetables and flowers.

This time of year, the joys of outdoor gardening are often reduced to time spent indoors going through seed catalogs. It’s always an exciting day when one arrives in the mail or pops up fresh online (we applaud those seed and gardening companies who push their online catalogs as a way to stay in touch while saving paper — trees! — and the fuel burned to distribute them). The catalogs are all well-thumbed — or clicked through — by the time orders are placed. Seed and gardening catalogs can be a valuable source of information — that’s always been behind the philosophy behind our business — as well as a spark to the imagination and an instigator of dreams.

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has taken the notion of a seed catalog a step further. Baker Creek — we carry many of their heirloom seeds — is probably the most active commercial heirloom seed business serving the home gardener. (The Seed Savers Exchange, an important player in the heirloom seed scene is a non-profit . . . we carry some of their products as well). In addition to their regular seed catalog, a massive tome as is, they’ve published The Whole Seed Catalog for 2014 as well. (more…)

Saving Tomato Seeds? Ferment!

Tomato SeedsFermentation, 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…)

Garden Tasks for June

Gardening TipsJune 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. (more…)

Heirlooms to the Rescue

Heirloom SeedsWe often think of saving seeds in literal terms: letting flowers and vegetables go to seed, whether edible at that point (squash, tomatoes) or not (lettuce); separating and cleaning the seeds, drying them, and then protecting them until we’re able to plant again. But there’s a larger issue here, one that’s apparent when you consider that 94% of the seed varieties available to farmers and gardeners in 1900 have been lost, never to be grown again. Today, many of us are involved in saving seeds from extinction. To quote an old ecological saying: extinction is forever.

Today’s activists — there’s no better word for them — have taken those extinctions to heart and are on a quest to save as many varieties of seeds as they can. Janisse Ray, author of The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food is one of them. Ray’s book is a sort of manifesto on the practice and importance of seed saving. (more…)

Why Heirloom Seed?

Heirloom SeedsImagine growing the same fruits and vegetables as Thomas Jefferson or Luther Burbank. Imagine your garden filled with bright colors, odd shapes and a variety of foods that could inspire even the most jaded vegetable-hater to take a bite. Heirloom seed produces fruits, vegetables and flowers that have been passed down for generations for their good taste, vibrant colors, pest resistance and other beneficial traits.

Today there is a trend toward locally grown and organic foods. At the same time as mega-corporations are producing genetically altered, dyed, bland foods that are often covered in pesticides, many people are starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Not only is home grown food likely to be safer and healthier than commercially produced fruits and vegetables, it tastes better, too! (more…)

Hybrid Seeds Past & Present

Seed PacketsAs your friendly, memory-challenged Planet Natural Blogger goes through the newly arrived seed catalogs, he marvels at the latest crop (heh) of F1 hybrid seeds to hit garden store racks. Then we start to wonder: what happened to that supposedly high-yielding, easy-to-grow, delicious hybrid tomato or lettuce or squash that was such a sensation back in whatever year it was?

In the catalogs this year, we find a new hybrid tomato with the word “super” in its name, a sweet corn designed to grow in pots, and a spaghetti squash glorified with the name of an ancient Roman city. Will any of them still be around in 10 years? Some, like Burpee’s Early Girl Hybrid have survived the test of time. Others, like the Moreton tomato, celebrated in the mid-Atlantic states for its “Jersey” taste, disappeared when the Harris Seed Company which owned its patent stopped producing it. Luckily, Rutgers University has helped bring it back.

And that’s the problem — at least one of the problems — with F1 hybrids. Like GMO crops, they are owned by the business that holds their patent. No one else can offer the seed unless they buy the patent or it expires. It’s a great way to corner the market. No wonder new hybrids are advertised with such superlatives. (more…)

Saving Garden Seeds

Saving SeedGardeners have been saving seed ever since we settled into one place and started growing our own food. Thanks to seed saving, and passing them down from one generation to the next, we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today. It’s only since the end of World War II that growers have had the option of buying affordable, high quality commercial seeds; before that saving your own seeds or trading with neighbors was the only way to procure prospective plants.

Saving garden seeds at the end of each growing season can be a great cost saving measure and a way to duplicate last year’s delectable harvest. It’s also a good way to preserve plants that grow best in your own backyard. By carefully selecting individual plants that flourish in your garden and saving their seed, you can create strains that are well-adapted to local growing conditions. (more…)

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