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Posts Tagged ‘heirloom seeds’

seed-catalogueIt has been a wonderful Christmas season here in North Georgia. While many parts of the country are suffering under the weight of major winter storms and frigid winds, we have enjoyed unusually pleasant conditions. In fact, it was 73 degrees on Christmas day.  Today is the 28th and it’s still gorgeous.

After terrible drought that lasted from late spring, we’ve had plenty of rain in December and with the recent warm up, our pastures and lawns are showing signs of life again. It’s such a blessing.

There are many things I love about this time of year, including: eggnog, carols, colored lights, Emmanuel, decking the halls, and getting the mail. Each afternoon I rush to the mailbox in eager anticipation of what the postman has delivered. And most days, among the Christmas cards, seasonal flyers, and bills, is at least one or more catalogs from seed companies around the country. I cherish each one of them, and devour them like a hungry man devours a bologna sandwich.

You see, it’s garden planning season. It’s time to see what’s new and to ensure our tested and true varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers are still available. It’s time to decide what we’re planting, what we’re NOT going to grow this year, and what new things we want to try.

Please, I beg you, don’t wait until April or May and go all impulsive at the garden center. Make your plan now. Order your seeds.  Think it through. If you don’t, I promise, all those colorful plants and seed packets in the centers will mesmerize you into buying all kinds of things you don’t need. After those long winter nights and short days, our resistance is down and the first signs of spring will make us vulnerable to many shiny, colorful, growing things.

Lest I deceive you into thinking I have an iron will and self-discipline of steel, I should disclose that I am as weak as any other man. Even the catalogs have me creating wish lists that would require 40 acres of gardening space.  The photos of delicious looking veggies, beautiful flower assortments, and highly productive trees combined with elaborately written descriptions of the varieties, make my head spin.

Fortunately, I’ve done this long enough, that by the time I’m ready to purchase; I’ve come down from my catalog high and have regained a modicum of reason.

Since I’ve kept notes on what worked and what didn’t from the previous season, I am able to know what I DON’T want, as well as what I do.

If you’re new to gardening, you’ll likely be overwhelmed at all the choices. You think you want to grow green beans, and then you discover dozens of varieties that you have to choose from. Oh and let’s not forget you have to choose, bush, pole, or runner varieties.

And that’s just the beans. Wait till you get to the corn, lettuce or tomatoes.  It’s almost enough to drive you to the frozen food section of your nearest supermarket to fill your cart with frozen vegetables and forget the whole crazy notion of your own edible suburb.

Don’t panic. It gets easier. And in the early days, look for people to help. Ask questions. Read blogs. Watch videos. I am going to do a whole series of short blogs featuring varieties I recommend. Plus, if you go to the contact us section, and join our mailing list, I’ll send you a .pdf of my ’10 Bomb Proof Varieties’ to help guarantee you success.

For now, if you’re not already getting annual seed catalogs, let me give you a few of my favorites. I literally get dozens, but I do MOST of my buying from these places:

Johnny’s Seeds, Totally Tomatoes, Refining Fire Chiles, Buckeye Pepper Company, Victory Seeds (for heirlooms I love this site), and, Burpee. If you are looking for ‘complete’ heirloom variety garden kits, you might check out The Seed Guy.  This is where I bought my ‘Emergency Garden.’ I have one of his packages in my freezer in case of emergency. It’s all heirloom varieties. While it contains many things I won’t grow, the excess is worth it for the great number of things I would turn to in case of ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. There are many other I buy from, and there are a host of honorable seed companies out there,  but these places are where I get the bulk of my seeds and starter plants.  Please feel free to use the comments section and tell us all some of your favorite sources.

In the meantime, Happy New Year. And happy planning.

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Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom Seeds

As we move into fall,  vegetable gardening is going to slow down in many parts of the country, so I’m going to have to dig deep to try and come up with some subjects to keep you reading. With those long, cold nights and short days ahead, I’m going to spend some time addressing several of the questions I’m most frequently asked. I’m also going to address some of the rampant misinformation and over complication of topics I see repeated, especially on social media. We will cover topics as varied as soil improvement, composting with worms, best (and worst) fertilizers, seed companies, aquaponics basics, hydroponics for beginners, seed starting vs. buying starter plants, and more. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation.

I want to begin with a subject I’m very sensitive to and passionate about. I’m going to tackle heirloom vs. hybrid vegetable (and fruit) varieties and where the whole GMO fits into the discussion. If you look through the archives you’ll see that I have addressed this question more than once, and have done so fairly recently.  I plan to tackle it in early spring in a You Tube episode, but wanted to touch on it one last time this year. It’s probably the most frequent topic I’m asked about, because there’s a lot of confusion about what those words really mean.

In full disclosure, there are some ‘purists’ who are going to disagree with my conclusions and our practices here in the ‘burb, and that’s ok. You get to grow your garden in line with your own philosophies. What I want to be really clear on are the definitions of terms and what that means to the backyard and beginning gardener.  I want to demystify and simplify gardening for you so you can be as successful as possible, regardless of your experience. Let’s start with some definitions.

Heirloom – An heirloom variety is nothing more than one that has been stabilized and consistent for an extended period of time. The catch is, there’s no set time table on when a variety becomes an heirloom. Is it 50 years? 100 years? 7 generations? The jury is still out. A pepper breeder/farmer may define it differently than a tomato grower.  For my purposes, the key is knowing that the seed will produce consistent plants, fruits and seed season after season.

Hybrid – a hybrid is typically a deliberate crossing of two varieties to try and create a new variety that has some of the (best?) attributes of both parents. I’m going to use peppers as an example. In many ways this is an oversimplification, but it will suffice.

Let’s suppose I want to cross a Poblano with a Jalapeno to create a spicier Poblano. I plant them next to each other and do what I can to ensure the plants cross pollinate. There is no indication I’ve had any success in that first year. The Poblano plant will produce ordinary Poblanos and the Jalapeno will produce Jalapenos.

The next step is saving the seeds from some of the Poblanos that were cross pollinated and plant them the next year.  The fruit from those plants will be hybrids. Some will be spicier, some may be mild. Some may look more like Jalapenos, some more like Poblanos. Does this make sense?  It’s kind of like breeding a German Shepherd with a Beagle. Their offspring will be all over the place in size and shape. That’s a hybrid. It takes several generations of breeding to stabilize a hybrid so that it breeds true.

GMO – A Genetically Modified Organism, is dramatically different than a hybrid, because a. it has to be done in a laboratory and b. it’s crossing characteristic or types at the DNA level in ways that would not happen in nature. (Think, placing resistance to a pesticide into the DNA of corn or soy. Or, even more dramatic, splicing a protein from the Golden Orb Weaver Spider into the Embryo of a milk goat embryo (which has been done) with a goal of producing the desired protein in mass for various medical and scientific purposes).

The science is marvelous, though there are still long term ethical and environmental issues that are unknown.

My purpose here is not to debate the ethics of GMO, but merely to demonstrate the difference between a GMO and a hybrid. I prefer to call GMO plants and animals, ‘Chimeras’, but that might give away my biases.

Open Pollinated – Amusingly, many companies use ‘Open Pollinate’ as a synonym for Heirloom, or even as a separate kind of natural, trustworthy seed. Most of us have seen ads that say, ‘we have only heirloom and open pollinated varieties.’ The fact is, open pollinated is really a description of how the parent plants were pollinated. They are pollinated by whatever happened out there in the garden, be it, bees, breezes, wasps, birds, human contact. There were no controls on the pollination. An open pollinated plant in a back yard garden may very well (and probably does) produce hybrid offspring.

For example, if I’m growing dark green zucchini in one row, and Italian ribbed zucchini in another row 50 feet away (or my neighbor is growing it), open pollinating may allow the varieties to cross. I’d never notice until the next year if my seeds produced some interesting hybrids.

I know my definitions will drive some geneticists nuts, but they work for me in a broad brush sense.

One last point; I don’t know of any GMO seeds being made available to the general public or backyard farmer. No seed catalogs offer GMO corn or soy or potatoes. There are no GMO green beans, cabbage or sweet basil. There is zero danger to you of getting any of GMO varieties.

In conclusion, you don’t have to be afraid of hybrid varieties unless you are a seed saver. I grow some every year. My favorite zucchini and cucumber are both hybrids. I grow some hybrid tomatoes every year along with my heirloom ones. There are lots of great hybrids out there. Fear not.

Later this winter I’ll explain what I do to protect my heirlooms from cross pollination if I want to save the seed. For now, I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion. If so, please consider giving us a like and  sharing with your friends. Oh, and join the discussion by posting your comments and questions. I love to hear from you. After all, we’re in this together.

 

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mylarIt’s getting to the time of year when gardeners and homesteaders in many parts of the country are trying to figure out what to do with their leftover seeds or seeds they’ve saved from the summer.

If properly preserved, seeds can last many years. While there are urban myths about seeds from King Tut’s tomb that have germinated, those ‘ancient grains’ stories are all unconfirmed. There is, however, a documented date palm seed discovered at Herod the Great’s palace in Masada that sprouted. This date palm is roughly 2000 years old. How cool is that?

My point is, seeds can remain viable for a very long time. Chances are, you need to keep yours for somewhat less time than Herod’s Date Palm seed and the very best way I know of, is in an ordinary freezer.

I recently ordered a package from  The Seed Guy to be used for long term emergency. The seed packets are already in a Mylar bag, so I will simply write a date on the bag and stick it in the freezer. Simple.

Similarly, as soon as I have finished planting my fall and winter garden for this year, I will go through my leftover seeds and put them into labeled envelopes. I will place the envelopes into Mylar bags like the ones in the photo accompanying this update. I will label and date the bags and into the chest freezer they will go.

If you don’t have access to a freezer or Mylar bags, I recommend wrapping your seed envelopes or packets in aluminum foil and putting them in a tote, tackle box or even shoebox to keep them from being exposed to the sun.  It’s not rocket science and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money.

Sometimes, seed companies offer end of the season sales that can save you a ton on the ever rising cost of seeds.  By storing them properly you can have a great head start on you future gardens.

Finally, in 2016, we’re going to start saving our own seeds. In the past, seeds have been cheap enough that I haven’t wanted to put in the effort. In recent years, however, some seed prices have gone through the roof.  Careful planning and storage can help stave off impulse buying in January when all the catalogs start hitting our mailboxes.

One last tip before I go; check out deals at your local feed store. They often have fantastic prices on bulk seeds. I’ve saved a packet over big box stores by purchasing certain seeds from our feed store.

What are you doing to preserve seeds for future use? I’d love to hear from you. After all, we’re in this together.

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seedsOver the weekend, I had a couple of people ask whether or not it’s too late to plant some things like squash, tomatoes and pumpkins. Someone also asked about lettuce. I was able to advise them to ‘go for it’ (although here in Georgia, I’d wait until September for the lettuce). August is a great time to plant a second harvest of many vegetables and in some more northern areas it’s time to get your fall crops in. Here in the south, we’re just getting started. August and September are both fantastic month for planting. I did some research and came up with the following list of crop ideas, depending on what part of the country you live in. The list is not exhaustive by any means, but should give you a good start. Don’t sit back and say, ‘Darn, I have to wait until next spring for my garden.” Heck no. Go get some dirt under your fingernails TODAY.

Remember, we love feedback. Please send us your comments, questions, suggestions and idea. Remember, we’re all in this together.

August Planting Ideas:

CENTRAL U.S./MIDWEST REGION
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Broccoli (Transplants)
Brussels sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Carrots
Cauliflower (Transplants)
Cilantro
Cucumbers
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Peas
Parsley
Radishes
Rutabaga
Spinach
Summer Squash
Swiss Chard
Turnips
Winter Squash

NEW ENGLAND + MID-ATLANTIC REGIONS
Arugula
Basil (Transplants)
Beans
Beets
Brussels sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Calabrese Broccoli (Transplants)
Carrots
Cilantro
Collards
Cucumber
Kale
Leeks (Transplants)
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Radishes
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Turnips

NORTH CENTRAL U.S./ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION
Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Dill
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lettuce
Parsley
Radishes
Rutabaga
Scallions (Transplant)
Spinach
Turnips

PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGION
Arugula
Beans
Beets
Broccoli (Transplants)
Brussels Sprouts (Transplants)
Cabbage (Transplants)
Carrots
Cauliflower (Transplants)
Cilantro
Collard Greens
Dill
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Peas
Radishes
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Turnips

SOUTHEAST/GULF COAST REGIONS
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Collard greens
Cucumber
Dill
Eggplant (Transplants)
Southern Peas
Bell Peppers (Transplants)
Okra
Pumpkins
Summer Squash
Spinach
Tomato (Transplants)
Watermelon
Winter Squash

SOUTHWEST REGION
Arugula
Basil
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro
Collards
Corn
Cucumbers
Dill
Kale
Peppers (Transplants)
Summer Squash
Swiss Chard
Tomato (Transplants)
Winter Squash

 

 

 

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