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Just like everywhere else it seems, we are in desperate need of some rain.  Over the last couple of weeks we have gotten two or three decent showers, but before that it hadn’t rained since sometime in May, and even then it wasn’t much.  Looking back at last year’s post on the same subject, I can only think about what a big, whiny baby I was about it all.  Seven weeks without rain?  Puh-leeze.  Try 2+ months, you sally.  Although the little bit of rain we have had has certainly helped things along, we are by no means out of the mess yet and the clock is ticking.  There was practically no hay crop this year, and already I have heard of one person in the area who has had to sell off their cows, and apparently many more across the province are doing the same.   This is beyond sad, kids.  This is bordering on the tragic.  As you may well know, I live in a community of small farms, many of which have been owned and worked by the same family for generations.  I care about these people, some of whom are like family to me, and as a result I’ve done a lot less complaining about the garden this year.  It is, after all, all about perspective.  We’ve got a 90% chance of showers tomorrow, though.  If you don’t mind could you keep your fingers crossed for us?  I know a couple of dairy farmers who would sure appreciate it.

As for the garden, things are plugging along as good as can be expected.  Not everything is a complete downer, but I’ll start off with the “kill it with fire” things first so I can end on a high note.  I like doing that.

This is my cabbage patch.  Seriously, it is.  My poor, poor cabbages.  They look like someone took the weed whacker to them.  This year’s kraut may have to be outsourced, I’m afraid.

And this is why.  Flea beetles.  Roughly 8 bazillion of them.  The flea beetle population in my garden seems to be growing every year, and all of the stressed out, thirsty plants don’t stand a chance.  They’ve done a number on anything in the cabbage and radish families and I hate them.  You suck, flea beetles.

These are my zukes, or to be more precise, what’s left of them.  Stupid squash vine borders, you suck too.  I had the same problem last year.  Seriously, who can’t get a decent crop of zucchini??  Apparently me.

This broccoli is sad.  This broccoli is covered in flea beetles.  Flea beetles make me want to smash things.

Not everything is so pathetic, though.  There are some good things going on too.

I’ve got lots and lots of romas in the works.  Oh romas, you never fail me.  Except for that year with the blight.  But we’ll just forget that even happened.

Amish paste tomatoes, one of a handful of new heirlooms I’m trying out this year.  I’m not sure what to think of them yet, but so far so good.  Huge paste tomatoes, though not a lot on each plant, at least compared to the romas.

These are deseronto potato beans, an heirloom dry bean from the Tyendinaga reserve here in Ontario.  I’ve had a really hard time finding info about these beans, but they apparently predate Europeans in this country and are very rare.  I have a friend working on digging up some information for me, so we’ll see what she gets. In the meantime, they are producing awesomely.

We may actually get corn after all this year.  It was looking pretty sketchy for a while there, but the plants managed to get about 5.5′ tall before tasseling and are now making cobs.  Rain right now would be awesomesauce.

This is my malting barley.  I’m growing malting barley because I want to make beer.  I like beer.  I have one every week, on Saturday.

This is my regular, just for eating barley.  That makes it sound like the frumpy sister or something.  I believe the variety is Phoenix.  If you haven’t guess yet, I am experimenting with grains this year.  I only planted a little bit this year, mostly to see how threshing goes and to increase my seed stock on the cheap.  Why did I plant barley?  Why not, barley is awesome.  And I love saying barley.  Barley.  Barley.  Barley.

Marquis wheat.  You can’t get much more Canadian than this right here.  Developed  around 1903 by fellow Canadian Charles Saunders, Marquis wheat made up 90% of the 6.9 million ha of wheat planted in Saskatchewan by 1920 and ushered prosperity and development to the prairies and helped build this country. Reading about Marquis wheat is like a history lesson, but way cooler than anything you had to endure in high school.  One because you can actually grow this stuff, and two because you don’t have to sit beside that kid with the weird B.O.

My oats.  These didn’t come with a variety name, just that they are the hull-less kind.  This supposedly makes them WAY easier the thresh, but we’ll see.

And finally, one last thing.  We has apples!!  One of the original homestead apple trees has had a serious case of internal rot going on for pretty much my entire life, and tried to end its own misery by throwing itself onto the road.  It only half succeeded, and the remaining half of tree is producing big beauties by the bushel.  The remaining half is hanging precariously low and close to the house though, so I may have to cull them sadly back.

So that’s it from here, I got a little photo happy there but I did have a bit of catching up to do.  Hope you are getting rain where ever you are and your gardens are happy.  And if you’re growing something new and interesting this year, tell me about it!  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Saturday and about 8000 degrees here in the upstairs of my house.  If I can peel myself off this chair, I know where there’s a beer with my name on it. 🙂

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One of my resolutions for this year is to get more serious about saving my own seeds.  I’ll admit that I am a bit of a seed freak – there’s something about having a good stockpile of them that appeals to me in an almost primal way.  I like to get all romantic about it and think that it is the call of my farmer’s genetics and the inherited wisdom of my ancestors telling me to put by for next year, but I also get all romantic about things like old canning jars, arthritic tabby cats and ancient wallpaper so the genetics thing is probably bunk.   I just like seeds.  I like the promise of so much to come in such a little package (getting romantic again), in tidy little envelopes covered with precise information, all in a row in a neat little box.  I also like label makers, file folders and tiny little notebooks with subheadings and an index, but I digress.

With planting time just around the corner my garden daydreaming has turned to more serious planning, with heavy consideration being given to planting with the intention of saving seed for next year.  I think this is the next logical step for me – closing the loop on at least this small part of our set-up will allow us to be self-sufficient (at least in the veg department), save me more money than I care to admit, and as an added bonus help stick it to scumbums like Monsanto who want the world to rely on them to eat.  And I like sticking it to Monsanto, even if only in a teeny-tiny, quiet way.  Anyway, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the subject, knowing that I would have to have the plan in place before the garden ever went in.  Mostly what I have found is that it is actually pretty simple to save seed from year to year – except when it’s not.  There is a fair amount of conflicting information out there, but hopefully I have sifted though it all enough to get by.

So, referring to my tiny little note-book with the subheadings and index, this is what I have distilled from the multitude of different sources I used. (And, yeah, I should have just bought a book on the subject.)  Of course it goes without saying that you need to use open-pollinated or OP varieties if you’re going to save seed.  It’s possible to save seed from hybrids, but you won’t end up with anything like what you started with.  And of course this is no means a comprehensive tutorial on the subject, just what I am going with and thought interesting enough to share.

The Self-Pollinators

In a nutshell, these are the plants that have both male and female parts in the same flower and produce viable seed without pollen from other flowers, no insects involved.

Lettuce – can be grown side by side with only a slight chance of cross-pollination, but for assured purity separate varieties by 20′.

Peas – pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but cross-pollination by insects is still possible.  Separate varieties by 50′ for purity.

Tomatoes – There are two types to keep in mind: those with short styles and those with long styles. (check this out if you’re not sure what a style is.)  Most modern varieties have short styles and generally don’t cross as much.  If you want to be sure, separate them by at least 10′.  Heirloom varieties or potato-leafed varieties (think Brandywine) have long styles and do cross-pollinate.  These need to be separated by 100′ or so.  It’s also a good idea to plant something tall that will flower in between tomato varieties to intercept any bees or whatnot.

Beans – Pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but a separation of 150′ between varieties will ensure purity.  Planting tall flowering plants in between helps here too.

Peppers – these are tricky.  Technically they self pollinate, but bees will also spread pollen around if given the chance.  Separation by 50′ and a tall flowering plant is the minimum, 500′ for purity.

The Cross Pollinators

These are the plants with their manly bits and lady bits in different locations, need pollen from other sources or need the help of wind or insects to produce viable seed.

Corn – this is pollinated by wind.  Corn pollen can travel great distances, so varieties need to be separated by at least a half mile, with a mile being preferable.  The bare minimum I found was 250′ as long as there was a building or something in between, but this is a gamble.  Corn is also prone to inbreeding, so at least 200 plants are needed for genetic diversity.  Of course, if you plant varieties with different maturity dates, they can be planted side by side – as long as they don’t have silk at the same time there’s no need to worry about cross-pollination.  Corn is also funny in that, if it does get cross pollinated, the current year’s corn is also effected.  This means if your sweet corn is pollinated by your dent corn, both are going to be no good to eat this year.

Cucumbers – these are pollinated by insects, so varieties need to be separated from each other by 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  The bare minimum number of plants to prevent inbreeding seems to be 6.

Radish – red radishes are annuals, whites (winter) are biennials.  Both are pollinated by insects and need to be separated by about a 1/2 mile.

Squash – reading about these made me want to beat my head against the wall.  So much conflicting information, but I think I’ve got it figured out.  There are four species that you need to be concerned about : C. maxima, C. mixta/C. argyosperma, C. moschata and C. pepo.  There is a lot of conflicting information about cross pollinating between these species, but the general consensus seems to be that they will not, so that’s what I am going with.  The squash species include:

C. maxima: bananas, buttercups, delicious, marblehead, hubbard, marrows, Hokkaido, giant pumpkins, sweet meat and turbans

C. mixta/C. argyosperma: cushaws

C. moschata: butternuts and cheese types

C. pepo: acorn, cocozelles, zucchini, ornamental gourds, most pumpkins, crooknecks, delicata, scallops, spaghetti and Lady Godiva pumpkins.

If you want to be safe, don’t plant more than one variety from the same species.  If you must, they need to be separated by at least half a mile since they are pollinated by insects.  Or let them cross-pollinate and grown giant pumpkizukes.  That would be kind of cool.

Spinach – this has male and female flowers on different plants and is pollinated by the wind.  Separation for purity is often listed in kilometers or miles, so it’s probably best to just grow one variety.

The Biennials

These are the plants that need two seasons to produce seed and need to be overwintered in the garden or your basement.

Beets & Chard – these are pollinated by the wind and will cross-pollinate with each other.  Separate them by a 1/2 mile.  Again, 6 plants seems to be the rule for genetic diversity.

The Brassicas – brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, collards and kohlrabi.  These are pollinated by bees and will all cross with each other, so separate them by 1 mile.  It’s also important to note that, if you want to save seed from them, do not pick the heads from broccoli and cauliflower the first year.

Carrots – these are pollinated by insects and varieties  need to be separated by 1000′.  Also important to note, carrots will cross-pollinate with Queen Anne’s Lace (the weed) so you will need a way of either removing all of it in the area or isolating your carrots.

Leeks & Onions – both are pollinated by insects and will not cross-pollinate with each other.  Isolate varieties by a minimum of 200 ft, but 1 mile is better.  50 leek plants are needed for good genetic diversity, and 100 onions, although those numbers seem rather outrageous to me.  They also do not cross with chives.

Celery – is pollinated by insects and will cross with celeriac, so separate these by 3 miles.

Parsnips – one of the easiest biennials to save seed from since they overwinter easily in the garden even in very cold climates.  I couldn’t find any information about isolation distances, but really, why grow more than one variety anyway?

So there you have it, kids, the information I’m basing the game plan on.  There is no way I am going to be able to save seed from all of these plants this year, given the amount of room it would take, but at least I have an idea where to start.  I’m thinking a plot out behind the barns for the pumpkins for next year, and I can’t imagine I will ever be able to save carrot seed given the amount of Queen Anne’s Lace around here.  I’m also going to go out today and rip out the one lonely brussels sprout I left in the garden, so it doesn’t contaminate my kale.

So tell me, do you save your own seed?  Do you have seed independence?  Do you care about genetic purity, and if so, what steps do you take to preserve it?  Tell me about it!

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I had big plans for today, but it turns out ol’ Ma Nature did to.  Seems she picked today to give us some real spring weather, as opposed to the premature summery weirdness as of late.  Not that I’m complaining – March is supposed to be wet and cold and I would rather have normal than freakishly lovely.  I know that sounds strange, given the amount of complaining I do about winter, but I have found the recent run of unseasonably warm weather a bit unsettling.  Also unsettling was the thought that I would soon have to break out the shorts again and thus expose the world to the sight of my “winter” legs.   But as it turns out it’s cold and blustery outside today, with the kind of rain that stings when it hits you, so after a bit of poking around I retreated to the house, looking for things to do, and with my legs safely hidden from view.

I have been sorting through all of my seeds and planning the garden for this year.  I have also determined that I may have a seed hoarding problem.  Of course, what one person calls hoarding, another may call “zombie preparedness”.  I am that other person.

Sometimes you have to stop and take a look at what you have.  You know, actually open jars and stuff.  Here’s some parsnip seed I don’t remember saving, but yet there it is.  Neat.

"Thanks for getting this new and interesting thing out, I really need to take a whiz."

 Once the kitties started digging through the boxes, it was time to put them away.  And no, I couldn’t have just done it at a table.  That would be too logical.

No signs of life so far in the trays in the windows.  I look at them every night with a wee bit of excitement.  I’m sure some of you out there know exactly what I am talking about.

Out in the garden there are a bunch of things I left that made it through the super mild winter.  I’m so excited that the whole row of kale is growing again.  Because, you know, I can save the seeds…

The brussels sprouts are back too, which is pretty darn cool.  I’ve never had any overwinter so have no idea what to expect in terms of flowering and seed saving.  Plus, these were a hybrid so will be a future experiment if I do get any seeds.

And since we’re outside, I might as well show you what Mr. S was doing before it got raining in earnest….my future chicken coop!  This was the old pumphouse where they used to fill up the tractors.  After a lot of dilly-dallying about fixing the roof in the old milk house to use as a chicken palace, we decided to fix this up instead so I can at least get a few chickens in the meantime.  There’s going to be a fenced-off yard, and I figure I can stuff about eight or so in there.

And here’s the back side, because I find it so fascinating.

So that’s what I’ve been up to today – basically anything but cleaning my house.  What have you been doing?  🙂

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Small Things…

…that make me smile.

The first of my seed orders arrived today, from Hope Seeds.

There’s a whole lot of summer waiting in those cute little bags. 🙂

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I realized the other day I have been talking so much about our beans this year around the interwebs and in everyday life, I really should do a post on them and possibly get it out of my system.

2011’s garden experiment was to plant dry kidney and romano beans from the grocery store, just to see if it would work and what would happen.  I simply bought a couple of small bags of beans right off the shelf and planted them (although I did do a test germination run on the kidney beans.  The romanos I just winged it.  Yeah, I like to live dangerously).  To say the experiment was a resounding success would be an understatement, since I ended up with enough for a small bean-loving army to happily make its way across Siberia with.  Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  It’s probably more like what a band of hippies would use to get through a winter in Bancroft, but it still amounted to pounds of the things and more than I know what to do with.  All from around $0.50 worth of seed and an approximate 10′ x 20′ plot of garden space.  Not too shabby at all.  I wish I would have got a definitive yield tally, but we have been steadily using them and, well, I’m still sorting the dang things.  Let me explain.

Sometime around mid to late September the beans were looking good, I was letting them dry on the plants and the pods were coming along nicely although the beans themselves had a bit more to go.  We were getting the occasional rainy day, and although it wasn’t the ideal hot dry weather one would hope for, the beans were holding up and doing ok.  We then got a spat of rainy over cast days, and combined with the cooler night temperatures I began to get concerned.  A quick check and sure enough the beans were beginning to either mould or sprout in the pods.  A couple of hours later Mr. S and I had several laundry hampers full of damp, slightly mouldy bean pods that we couldn’t leave piled up lest we end up with several laundry hampers of wet, rotten bean pods.  We spread them out on pretty much every available flat surface we had, but found that they were still giving off enough moisture to form condensation wherever they lay, even with diligent rotating and fluffing.  It seemed all would be lost until Mr. S got the great idea to set up the ironing board with a window screen on it.

The whole system worked great, with plenty of air circulation it allowed us to dump and dry a whole hamper at a time and even sit to shell them to boot.  The beans themselves still needed a lot of drying before I could store them, but they were out of the pods and away from the dreaded mould risk.  Handy guy saves the day!

To dry the beans further, I ended up spreading them out in a multitude of rimmed cookies trays, lasagna pans and just about anything else I could find that would hold them, and sticking them anywhere that Ginger (the kitty in the photo) could not get to them.  I had to do this because, frankly, Ginger has problems.  I love her dearly, but she has problems.  Ginger likes new and interesting things, mostly because she likes to pee on new and interesting things.  I’m sure there’s a certain amount of curiosity involved, but I think it’s also a matter of calculating  trajectory, delivery and duration.  The very first pan of kidney beans I ever grew got Gingerized when I foolishly left them exposed and went to work, but, really, I can’t blame her.  In a kitty’s eyes they probably looked like the latest in litter box technology.  But I digress.

The pans of beans have been kicking around since October, quietly drying and doing their thing, and I have been slowly working through them and sorting out the bad ones whenever I sit down to watch a movie. I’ve been keeping an eye out for ones that began to sprout or mildew before we got them dry, or for weird shrivelled up ones that I can only assume were immature.  It’s mindless tedious work, but perfect winter movie-watching work.   And watching the jars of good beans fill up has been really gratifying.   Perfect storage food, grown in our own back yard for next to nothing.  I’m happy to say I am finally on the last pan, though.  Its been a little nerve-wracking watching Ginger’s eyes light up every time I bring a new one down.

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The Search For Non-Monsanto Seed

Over the past couple of years I have been working to rid my life of Monsanto.  If you don’t know what Monsanto is, I suggest starting with this Vanity Fair article and going from there.  Then sit back and prepare to be stunned because if you eat food, they are a part of your life, whether you are aware of it or not. 

Anyway, so last year I was doing a bit of reading and discovered that Seminis was purchased by Monsanto in 2005 (yeah, I’m a little behind the times), and was dismayed.  You see, Seminis is a very large seed company, and like the article I linked to above says, they are estimated to control 40% of the American vegetable seed market and 20% of the world’s.  It was pretty safe to assume the seeds I had been purchasing to grow my own food were Seminis seeds and I was giving my money ultimately to a company I despise.  A few inquiring emails later I found that this was indeed that case, with one company telling me the list of Seminis seeds they sold would be ‘too long to list in an email”.  This left me with very few options, but having a large backlog of seeds socked away I decided to plant what I already had with the intention of seeking out new sources for seed for next year. 

 I expected this to be quite a task, but I am very happy to report that I have found just such a source, and I am just so excited I have to share it here: Salt Spring Seeds.  I have to do a bit more exploring on their website, but so far everything I am seeing is making me very happy.  Not only am I in love with their approach and philosophy, but the selection of varieties are interesting and they sell grains!!  Hulless oats and barley!!  I had pretty much decided that next year will be “grain experimentation year” so to say I am excited is an understatement.  I’m also really happy about their sweet corn varieties. This year we tried Golden Bantam (an heirloom) and it was close to a disaster, and I really want a good productive sweet corn that isn’t a hybrid or had its genes messed with in some way.

I’m going to keep searching for more seed sources that I can access here in Canada that don’t involve Seminis/Monsanto, and I will post them here for anyone interested.  In the meantime, this site has a list of seed companies to avoid if you are so inclined.  I have the catalogues of three on that list sitting on my coffee table right now…but not for long. 🙂

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Finally, the gardening season is drawing to a close.  I say finally with some hesitation because, really, I live for the gardening season.  It’s what gets me through the long dreary winter and there’s no place I feel more at home than outside in the sunshine with warm dirt between my toes.  Thinking of it that way I miss it already, and I know there will be many a day coming soon I will pine for those long summer evenings where the hours seem to stretch out enough to give you time to wander with your thoughts.   No, I say finally because like every other warm-blooded creature in this bit of the world I’m feeling the pull to settle down, nestle into my well stocked nest and turn my thoughts to other things while I wait out the winter ahead.

The last haul from the garden.

This year has been a bumpy ride, but a very educational one for me, especially in terms of self-sufficiency.  If we were in the situation where we were relying on what we were growing to get us through to next year, we would have been getting mighty nervous come August when normally I can’t give stuff away, and all we had seen were a few beans and some cucumbers (and even those got some sort of blight and died).  Torrential rain followed by drought, disease, bugs I’ve never seen before – it seemed that anything that could go wrong, did.  But, oh what an autumn we had!  I was wearing shorts on Thanksgiving!  It will be the stuff of legend, I’m sure.   Our glorious autumn was the garden’s saving grace, and I swear it packed a summer’s worth of growing into September and, amazingly, into October as well.  In the end I got more than enough socked away for winter, and even as I write this my unheated back kitchen is piled with the spoils of those warm golden bonus days.  Heck, I still have baskets of fresh peppers!  My carrots turned out amazing, never have I been able to grow such beautiful carrots (seems the trick is to let 3/4 of them fry in July) and I even got some decent potatoes in the end.   Not too shabby, and I can’t complain.

Finally, some decent potatoes. Woot!

Still, the lessons were learned.  I really need to have a source of mulching material scoped out before I actually need it.  I need an alternate source of water other than rainwater.  I need to plan for complete crop failures.  I need to preserve enough when the going is good to get through when the going is bad.   And most of all I need to stop being so hard on myself when things don’t go according to plan, and remember that the best lessons are the ones we learn when we fail.  I’m thinking of cross-stitching “QUIT FREAKING OUT, YOU’RE LEARNING SOMETHING” and hanging it in the kitchen, just to remind me. 😉

I still have some kale out in the garden, and winter radishes too, but it’s a bleak and empty place now.  One of these days I’m going to get some lime on it and get it turned under and put to bed for the winter.  Just a little way to go now, then I can start dreaming of spring. 🙂

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