(What is it?)
This spring I planted four kinds of squash: Vegetable Spaghetti, Buttercup, Yellow Hook Necked, and an old variety, Gete Okosomoni.
None of them are supposed to look like these monsters!
Ron Finley describes himself as a guerrilla gardener (as in guerrilla soldier not gorilla animal). Ron lives in south central Los Angeles which he describes as a “food desert”. It is a desert not because food cannot grow there, but because there is no place to purchase nutritious food in that area. South Central LA is a lower income area and the nearest supermarket is many miles away. That relegates the population to fast food outlets and high cost convenience stores for food shopping.
To combat that situation Ron is planting vegetable gardens in spaces where there is unoccupied land, or rather land that is currently not being used e.g. boulevards and vacant lots; and making the produce available to area residents. As he says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
My home in Zone 1b is the opposite: it’s a food jungle – for about 4 months of the year. The other 8 months we rely on stored or imported foodstuffs, so in that respect we are also a food desert for a good part of the year. Generally though, food security is not a problem here because we have the resources to import and purchase food stuffs in those months when nothing grows under the winter snows (poetry!) …at least for the time being. Accuse me of being a prepper if you wish, but when lettuce was $3 a head and celery was $5 last February, I was very glad of the frozen veggies and sprouting seeds I had put away.
Even here in my Garden of Eating, I am not immune to the threats of climate change and overpopulation. If we are going to feed an ever-increasing human population, we must find ways to reduce the ecological footprint of transporting food and more sustainable food production methods. As a way of doing my own little part of that, I will be renewing my winter indoor growing experiments. I will try to write about the successes and the failures of these experiments and invite readers along for the ride!
Lately I have been thinking about planting some of my garden veggies in the fall. For many years I have noticed that those veggies that “volunteer” to grow on their own from seeds or tubers that either fell from the previous years’ crops or failed to germinate last year, are some of the best producers in the garden. They choose the time to grow that suits them – not always what I would have chosen for them. They seem to know when the soil temperature or moisture levels will be just right; and somehow, they are able to lay in the soil until then without rotting.This year I had squash, potatoes, parsnips, radishes and peas show up all on their own. Previously I have had carrots, pansies, and marigolds decide to grow without my help at planting time.
Farmers in our area occasionally plant fall rye or winter wheat. These fall-seeded crops have the advantage of moisture from the melting snow to get a head start on the spring seeded crops that don’t even get into the ground until after the snow melt has dried up enough that the land can support heavy machinery. The trick of course is that these crops must survive the winter cold. Not many veggies are that hardy in zone 1b.
Well today we are nearing the end of October and so far we have no snow on the ground and daytime temperatures are above freezing. (Thankyou Climate Change!) However, it will not be many days before old man winter is visiting; so just as a trial of this fall planting idea, I scattered some lettuce seeds along a drill row I had previously prepared in the front yard garden. I covered them just enough to keep the seed from blowing away until the snow covers it. Lettuce likes a little light exposure to get it growing so deep plantings are not likely to grow well.
If this works out well, I may try some other veggies next year, but this is fine for now. I will also be working on some indoor veggie production using both hydroponic and soil-based set-ups.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
It’s not too early to start thinking about next years garden. In fact, it’s the perfect time to make some notes about what worked, or didn’t, this year. Things like, “Don’t plant squash in the front yard!”. It is also a good time to note what was planted where this year so one can practice some crop rotation next year. As the blog writer from High Mowing Seeds says,
“If you plant members of the same plant family in the same spot over and over again, you’re asking for trouble by providing a constant food supply for diseases. One of the best methods for discouraging diseases from taking up residence is to rotate your crops on a 3-year cycle.”
In my new front yard garden, I am hoping to put Charles Dowding’s No-Dig method into practice. Dowding has done some experiments with repeated sowings of the same crop in the same soil in subsequent years and it seems he can get away with it for a while; but eventually yields are reduced.
The new garden is quite a small space and I have divided it into very small beds. To be sure I can keep track of the crop rotation I made a PowerPoint slide of the bed layout that I can relabel for each year’s plantings. As I plan for next year I’ll check with this year’s “map” to see where I can plant each species of veg.
We’ll see if carrots really do love tomatoes, or at least their left-over soil!
Why save seeds?
- Seeds are expensive. Grow and share your own.
- Seeds grown in your own garden have proven they will grow in your particular climate and soil situation. In a few generations they will adapt to meet the challenges of your garden.
- Help to preserve the genetic diversity within our plant species.
Species vs Cultivar or Variety
- The strict scientific definition of a species is a life form that can breed with another of its kind resulting in offspring that are able to reproduce. E.g. horse x donkey = mule. Horses are species, donkeys are a species. Mule is not a species.
- In plants it is not quite so clear cut. Botanists have been trying for a long time to name plants with names that reflect both their plant family or genus and their species. E.g. Brassica rapa is the botanical name for canola, because it is in the brassica family and of the species rapa.
- A cultivar or variety is another division of a plant family that has particular recognizable set of characteristics. For example you can easily tell the difference between a turnip and a head of bok choy or a mustard plant. But they are all brassica rapa the same species as canola.
- In order to preserve seed from any of these varieties, they must flower far enough away from other cultivars of the brassica rapa species blooming at the same time, that the insects who pollinate them cannot fly between them. This is referred to as an isolation distance.
- A cultivar is a cultured variety. i.e. it has been intentionally developed either from a natural mutation or from hybridization (of genetic manipulation)
What’s the difference between Open pollinated and hybrid? What is GMO?
- Open pollinated varieties have been around for many generations and saved from one generation to the next by dedicated seed savers who have preserved them growing in isolation from others of their species, so the gene pool of that particular variety is quite limited and the plants that grow from these seeds will closely resemble their parent plants.
- Hybrid seeds are the result of two or more crossings with different varieties of the same species resulting in a plant that shows the most dominant genes of each variety. As a result all the plants from these crossings will be similar to each other but not necessarily to their parents. Because they also carry many recessive genes from their parents, the second generation of hybrids may not be at all like the plant resulting from the first crossing.
- GMOs are genetically modified. They are seeds in which a gene or genes have been artificially inserted into a plant for a specific purpose. The inserted gene may have come from a plant of another species or even an animal. The inserted gene can replicate in subsequent generations just the same way a genetic mutation from natural breeding can.
Annuals, Biennials, Perennials
- Annuals are plants that complete their whole life cycle in one year. They start out as seeds, grow a plant, flower and make seeds all in one year, then they die. Lettuce, peas, beans are annuals.
- Biennials use two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. In the first year they grow from a seed to a small plant that survives the winter to grow again. The second year they flower and produce seeds. Then they die. Carrots, parsnips and turnips are biennials.
- Perennials may produce seed the first year of their life, but they are long lived plants and produce seeds each year. Asparagus and apple trees are perennials.
- Annual peas, beans
- Choose an early maturing specimen with high productivity – more pods than most.
- Allow pods to completely fill and stay on the plant until firm and starting to dry, as long as possible.
- Self pollinating so isolation distance is not very crucial. Generally will not cross with others; but bees can cross pollinate.
- Keep enough other flowers around so bees do not have to force these flowers open and risk cross pollination.
- Lettuce, Basil, Spinach are annuals.
- Allow plant to mature and flower. When flowers have finished watch for seeds to form – likely from the lower flowers first.
- When it looks like the first seeds to open form are in danger of falling out, cut the whole plant and lay it on a paper or cardboard in a warm dry place
- Seeds will fall out on their own as the plant dries or you can rub them out when plant is completely dried out. Slightly immature seeds will continue to draw nourishment from the dying plant.
- You will not likely need to let more than one plant each of basil or lettuce, so isolation distance is not too important. Spinach however needs an isolation distance of five miles and might cross with beet root or chard flowers. I would not try to save spinach seed if I were trying to grow out beets or chard for seed.
- Spinach is one of those tricky plants with separate sexes. Some plants are male and some are female so if you want to get seed from your spinach you have to have several plants and likely you’ll end up with some females and at least one male. There is no way to tell until they flower.
- Annual Brassica. Will grow flowers and seed pods early in the summer.
- Let them go to seed. Flowers attract bees and seed pods are good to eat.
- A mature radish plant is quite large. Allow 1 ft of space in all directions.
- Isolation distance for cultivars is about ½ mile but it doesn’t really matter if they cross pollinate, you will just get a mixture of shapes and colours of radish next year.
- Tomatoes, (also tomatillos, sun berry, ground cherry and egg plant)
- Most are perennials where they originated but we grow them as annuals because they cannot survive our winters.
- Avoid saving seed from hybrids if you can.
- Can be self pollinating, but also pollinated by insects. Suggested isolation distance is 30 feet.
- 2 methods to save seeds:
- Use a fully ripe tomato and squeeze the seeds out onto a paper towel. Allow to dry.
- Allow tomato to almost rot. Squeeze the juice and seeds into a small cup or plastic bag. Allow to ferment about 3 days, add a bit of water to prevent drying out. Rinse the seeds clean in a sieve under cool, running water. Spread seed out and allow to dry.
Cucurbits (Vine crops)
- Very likely to cross with others of their family. Isolation distance ¼ to ½ mile.
- Cucumber: allow specimen to ripen on the vine and then on the kitchen counter until it starts to soften. Scoop out the seeds and mushy stuff around the seeds into a cup and allow to ferment as with tomato. It will actually foam a little. Then rinse seeds and dry thoroughly.
- Squash, Pumpkin, Melon. Simply scoop the seeds out of a fully ripened fruit, wash off the “guts” and dry.
Saving Seed from Biennials.
- The trick here is that you must save the root of the plant over winter and let it grow again the next summer.
- Parsnip: easiest, just do nothing. The root will live in the garden over winter. Next spring it will grow up and bloom big umbels of yellow flowers on multiple stems that eventually form seeds. it is unlikely you will have more than one variety so cross pollination not a problem.
- Carrot: choose best shaped roots. Cut leaves back, leaving at least a half inch attached to the root. Store upright in cool place (root cellar) in a pail of sand/sawdust/perlite.
- When ground is warm in spring, replant the roots so that crown is at the soil surface. They will grow new leaves and flowers and eventually seeds.
- Only grow out one variety each year. Isolation distance is ½ mile
- Seed is born out of flower umbels and sheds easily, watch carefully and cut and dry when seeds look mature. They will look full and fat and start to turn brown.
- Turnip and Rutabaga are biennial brassicas that can be saved and replanted the same as carrots. Their seeds grow in pods that looks like mustard or canola.
- Only grow out one variety each year as the isolation distance is about a mile.
- A food processor works well to remove seeds from the pods of turnip and radish and a small fan over a large bowl to blow the chaff away outdoors.
- One can plant turnip or rutabaga roots into a large flowerpot indoors very early in spring so it would flower well before the radish or canola.
- Beets and Chard are cultivars of the same species and both are biennials.
- Beetroot can be saved in cold storage and replanted and allowed to flower and set seed. Chard plants must be transplanted to a soil pot and placed in cold storage for the winter. It might have to be watered a little bit occasionally to keep it from drying out. Then planted out again in spring.
- These are both tricky to save seed from, not the best for beginners.
- It will take about six plants to make sure there are enough to cross pollinate as they are not self pollenating, but beet and chard will pollinate with each other so you can only do one each year. Isolation distance is five Fortunately, the seed remains viable for several years.
- Note About Badly Behaved Biennials: Occasionally a biennial will bolt and try to make seed the first year as if it were an annual. Do not save seed from these plants as they will not produce the kind of food vegetable you want. These bolting first year biennials might produce enough pollen to cross with other plants you are trying to grow out for seed so remove them before their flowers open in that case.
- Asparagus will make seed every year if it is an old variety or perhaps grown from seed. Newer varieties sold as roots are often all male plants that produce nicer shoots, but no seed. If your asparagus grows little red berries that is the seed pod. Look for them on the ground as they fall off as soon as they are mature. Dry them and plant the whole berry the next spring. in about five years you’ll get something to eat.
- Lovage is a large hardy herb with a flavour much like celery. It produces a lot of seed but you only ever really need one plant.
- Rhubarb will easily flower and make seeds, but they are seldom fertile and do not breed true if they are. It is better to propagate rhubarb from root divisions.
- Hand picking is probably the simplest.
- All seeds must be dry. Spread the plants or pods out in a dry place and forget about them for a month, longer if it is a rainy fall.
- Put a paper or cardboard under the plants to catch and seeds that free themselves.
- Large seeds like peas and bean can just be opened by hand. Seeds that are easy to remove from the plant can be gently rubbed out by hand. A food processor works well to break up harder pods and grains: radish, turnip, wheat.
- Once the plants are dried, the seed might need to be separated from the seed the pods and other dead plant material. Pick out larger pieces of stem and straw. Then go outside and pour the seed from one large container to another in a light breeze or in front of a small electric fan. Repeat several times. Until seed is sufficiently cleaned.
- Many seeds, especially flowers, need a little winter in order to get ready for planting. Storing them in a freezer or fridge will not hurt them. The most important aspect of storage is that the seed stay DRY.
- NEXT SPRING sort out what you need for your own use and take the rest to a seed exchange where you can share your bounty with other gardeners and get some of their seeds in exchange.
The CBC recently posted a story about how nutritious meals night be made for the cost of a large coffee or pint of beer. They didn’t list the cost of either the purchased beverages or the meal ingredients.
Being all about saving food $$ I decided to do some research. Starbuck’s regular coffee runs about $2 and a fancy Cinnamon Dolce Latte will cost you four and a quarter. Tim’s is about the same for a regular coffee and about three and a half for a Caramel Latte Supreme.
The most economical of meals are soups and stews that have often been the staple foods of the peasant classes. These simple, but delicious dishes used to be called potage. Wikipedia defines potage as “a category of thick soups, stews, or porridges, in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush.”
So, I decided to see what kind of a meal I could put together from my garden for 3 or 4 dollars. The peas and beans are finished now but I found a couple giant beets, some celery and carrots, and one head of cabbage that was starting to split and needed to be picked. I have onions and garlic drying in the greenhouse, and about a ton of tomatoes that are starting to ripen in the garage. Last week I dug a couple hills of Russian Blue potatoes that I had planted for their pretty flowers and dark foliage in my flower bed. Their dark purple flesh would complement the colour of the beets in the pottage I was planning. In my freezer I found a bone and juices from a ham we had for Sunday dinner a couple weeks ago.
I cleaned and chopped all the veggies and threw it all into the biggest pot I own and cooked it up into a yummy “potage”, known to people of Eastern European descent as Borscht. I am not fond of the flavour of dill added to beet dishes so I didn’t use any, but it is traditional in this soup.
It was a lovely supper for Grandpa and I and I filled seven quart sealers with the leftovers; each of which will be an easy supper sometime this winter. But what did it cost? Well not much. The cabbage grew from some seeds I had left over from previous years. The carrots, tomatoes and potatoes grew from home-saved seed. The garlic had self-seeded when I failed to pick it all last year. The celery seed was pricy – about $5 for the package, but I grew 18 heads and there is enough seed left for next years crop as well. It was about 14 cents for the two onion sets that grew into the onions, and 2 cents for the beet seeds. I didn’t pay anything for the ham bone, but I could have used a half pound of bacon instead which would have been about $2.50. The total cost therefore would have been well under the three or four dollars one would pay for a fancy coffee, and I got NINE meals for the two of us. Gardening definitely pays!
I think autumn might be the time of year I love my garden most. Pretty much all the work is done, and I can spend lovely hours just looking it over. I don’t usually panic about getting the garden “off” in fall. The winter cold will accomplish that without my labour. By spring all the residue of my previous plantings will amount to only a bit of compost that will easily work into the soil with the rototiller.
As I walk though the fall garden, there are always a few forgotten treasures. A cabbage I had given up on is now coming into full production. There’s a bowl of crab apples with just the right degree of redness to make a bit of jelly. The last gladiola that I thought was never going to bloom is popping out with the most vivid red and the sunflowers are just gorgeous. I can ignore the weeds. They won’t have time to make seed before the snow comes. Some of then even have pretty fall colored leaves or a few late flowers.
Perhaps it is knowing that winter is right around the corner that makes these forays into the fall garden so precious; but I must remember the poet. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”[i]
[i] Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley