Posts Tagged ‘growing food’

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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