Category Archives: Seed Saving

Video: Seed Saving 101 – Tomatoes

I am super excited about today’s video. Not because I think it’s a particularly stunning video, but because I’m stoked to share how easy and exciting this can be if you’re new to seed saving. I’ve been growing heirloom vegetables and have been saving and resowing their seeds for several years now and I can’t really describe how super cool it was the first time I harvested a tomato off a plant that I had planted from my own seed. Imagine the normal excitement you get when you see your little seedlings emerge. Now multiply that by ten! And not only that – it’s a relatively easy process!

In today’s video, I’ll give you tips on saving tomato seeds,replanting garlic, and storing seeds in order to maximize their longivity. Exactly, what kinds of tips will you get? Tips like this one. Did you know it’s best to save seeds from the best, most early (if we’re talking tomatoes in Seattle) fruit? You can remember which one set first or started to ripen first by loosely tying a bow around the stem. That way, you won’t be tempted to eat it while you wait for it to ripen enough to save the seeds! (Ok, you may be tempted to eat it, but after watching today’s video, I think you’ll resist!)

For more on seed saving, you really should check out this book, Edible Heirlooms: Heritage Vegetables for the Maritime Garden, by local seed saving expert, Bill Thorness.

I was lucky enough to catch a seed saving class he taught at Seattle Tilth one summer and have since been using his book as a guide. It’s a super handy resource that I would definitely recommend from experience!

On second thought

Maybe I am a fall and winter gardener after all. Remember, last fall, when I confessed the fact that I just wasn’t feeling it? I don’t blame her, last fall Stacy, I mean. When school starts, my blissful life as urban farmer comes to a screeching halt. Because during the summer, I quite literally just work in my garden.

Fall spinach sprouting

People ask me all the time what I do during my summer vacations and while I don’t take on an official summer job, it sure feels like one. Maintaining an urban garden of the scale that mine has become takes dedication and constant maintenance.

People say to me all the time that they don’t have a green thumb, but for me, it really just boils down to commitment and vigilance. And there are a lot of things to constantly be assessing and negotiating in the yard. Cue dizzying inner dialogue: Water, but not too much. Fertilize, but pay attention to what you’re giving to what plants. Do they need nitrogen for leafy growth? A more balanced fertilizer for  fruit production? Harvest! Quick! Or they’ll go to seed! No wait! I want those to go to seed – I’m saving those! Where am I going to put these new fall starts? Hmm, in this empty spot! But, wait! I already had brassicas there! And what are those holes in my kale! Gotta get those fall seeds in the ground so they’ll germinate, but can’t let it dry out. Baby lettuces are wilting in this crazy fall sun! Shade cloth, STAT! Oh wait, now seedlings are getting leggy because shade cloth is too shady! Water in the morning before heat causes crazy evaporation! Yes, but greens can use a shot of water in the evening to cool the soil down. They like cool! But, it’s 84 degrees!

The good thing is, the more I garden, the more these things start to be intuitive so I don’t have to stress out or deliberate every single decision that is to be made. The more experience I have with a crop, the more ease I have when cultivating it season after season.

And if something fails, I can just try again next time because we’re not really in control of our gardens after all. I got my kale and cauliflower starts in the ground just in time for fall, but I did not plan on them getting munched by slugs and then devoured my cabbage worms.

So right now, as I make my transition into a day job-working urban farmer, I’m taking things one step at a time. And on this weekend’s agenda was harvest. I had high hopes to go the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair, but I made a decision to spend the time celebrating the harvest in my own yard instead. And this is what I had to celebrate:

  • 7 1/2 more pounds of ripe tomatoes, for a grand total so far of 39 pounds! I had a few ripe jalapenos too. Salsa anyone?
  • 8 pounds of fingerling and purple potatoes. Not the most bountiful potato harvest, but I am grateful just the same. And really, have you seen a bigger purple potato?
  • Several flats of Trail of Tears black beans and this was an improvement over last year. Remember when I told you (in this post) that I left them on the vine too long (like until the rains came) and then they got all moldy in my humid kitchen? Lesson learned! I’m going to have more pots of black beans this year!
  • I harvested another 1 1/2 pounds of zucchini for a grand total of…3 pounds. (Game show sound of disappointment…wah wah) Yes, fellow Seattle gardeners, I have harvested 39 pounds of heirloom tomatoes (and there are more to come) and just 3 pounds of squash??? I cannot explain what happened in my crazy little micro-climate.
  • I also harvested tons of coriander for my Indian food habit.

Ok, so technically it’s still summer, but with school back in session, it sure doesn’t feel that way. So maybe I am a fall gardener after all.

Spring Seeds

My spring seeds arrived, which means this winter is almost over. I’ve had a short stack of seed catalogs just waiting for me to peruse, but once February arrived, the month when I begin most of my indoor seed starting, I knew it was time to start my spring planning. Of all the seed catalogs in the pile, the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog was the one I loved the most.

Luckily, my friend Shango was delivered three of them by accident, which prompted him to share one with me. I had never seen a Baker Creek seed catalog and had never ordered from them before, but that is no longer the case. I sat down with my seed catalogs last weekend, with a wish list I came up with before hand to prevent excess impulse purchases, and proceeded to order all of my spring seeds from that one lovely catalog. It’s beautiful, with bright, colorful photos and it’s a company that exclusively sells heirloom seeds. A blurb from Baker Creek’s website, rareseeds.com, explains,

In sharp contrast to hybrids, Heirlooms trace their ancestry back many years to a time when pesticides and herbicides were not in use. As Jere Gettle, the owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. puts it, “Basically, an Heirloom seed is one that has been passed down through families and is usually considered to be over 50 years old. Some varieties even date back to Thomas Jefferson’s garden and beyond.” Unlike hybrids or GMO’s which often have problems reproducing to the parent strain, Heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted, ensuring a trustworthy supply of family food year after year.

It’s my goal to grow as many heirlooms as possible, so that I can continue to save seeds and replant the vegetables I love. It goes without saying that I thrive off getting as much bounty as possible out of my backyard, but getting the seeds that I buy and have shipped to me every year too? That just makes so much sense. Just like with my composting, I love the idea of closing the gap in my cycle of consumption and waste, keeping as much of what I produce within my backyard ecosystem.

Besides the fact that it’s fascinating to read about the history of these amazing seeds (note the seed packet above which reads pre-1883 heirloom), buying and growing heirloom seeds is also a way to support biodiversity. The more we choose the rare and unmodified varieties, the more we protect them from disappearing and keep their history alive.

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

Wendell Berry

Good Luck for a New Year

My family has always said that it is good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s day. Some believe eating this legume will bring prosperity. I’m hoping that the yin yang beans I harvested this week will be just as lucky. I suspect they might be even better. These beans, also known as Calypso beans, are often called yin yang beans because of their distinct markings, which resemble a yin yang sign.

Wikipedia described the symbolism of the yin yang sign with this lovely description:

The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and in the valley. Yin (literally the ‘shady place’ or ‘north slope’) is the dark area occluded by the mountain’s bulk, while yang (literally the ‘sunny place’ or ‘south slope’) is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.

It’s fitting to eat these beans today. The yin yang sign represents balance, ebb and flow, and interconnectedness. So, I’ll be calling that in as my vision for 2011 with every bite.

This heirloom bean is one of the first dried bean varieties I have ever grown. It’s a bush bean variety, so it’s relatively compact and doesn’t require a trellis. At the end of the season, around August, I pulled up the plants, tied a few together at the roots, and hung them upside down from the rafters in the garage to dry. Just this weekend, I took all the dried plants inside, pods attached, and removed all of the dried beans from their pods. I planted the entire seed packet I bought from Seed Savers and I ended up with a little less than a quart of dried beans. So, when you’re growing dried beans in a small space, you’re probably not going to end up with more than a pot or two of cooked beans, especially if you plan on saving some to plant next year. And of course, since my goal is to grow as many heirlooms as possible on my small, urban farm, it’s naturally my goal to save and reuse as many of their seeds as I can.

In the November/December issue of Cooks Illustrated, a fantastic magazine that I just recently discovered and subscribed to, I found an informational tidbit about soaking dried beans. Here is what I learned:

Brining isn’t just for meant. When you soak dried beans in salted water, they cook up with softer skins. For 1 pound of dried beans, dissolve 3 tablespoons of table salt in 4 quarts of cold water. Soak the beans at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse them well before using.

So, on this special day, the first day of the new year, I’ll eat the one pot of beans I’ll probably actually eat from this crop and I’ll be thinking about what they represent – yin yang, interconnectedness and balance. After all the time and energy I put into tending these beans, today they will provide me with a full belly and hope for what’s to come.