The flowers and vegetables that your grandparents grew! Heirloom seed has been passed from generation to generation, some for hundreds of years, and are untouched by chemical or genetic modification. Perfect for seed saving – they breed true – they yield classic, best-loved flowers and tastiest vegetables of the sort you won’t find in the supermarket. Many are condition-specific, disease resistant, and gourmet favorites. Start a family tradition.
Now in the hectic middle of planting season, it’s good to step back and take stock. After decades of limited availability and dismissal as a counter-culture industry, heirloom and organic seeds are the center of interest as never before. This phenomenon has been going on for a few years, but its continued growth and the promise of an even bigger future can make even the most cynical of us more optimistic.
Look around. Organic seeds are available in an ever-widening array of outlets. Nurseries, even hardware stores now stock organic seeds. Even my local grocery store stocks them as do our local food co-ops. Not only are they more widely available, they’re available in wider selection. Seed companies that weren’t even on the radar a few years ago now put out big glossy catalogs offering heirloom and “pure seeds.” Large activist organizations, like the Seed Savers Exchange, have dedicated themselves to preserving our garden seed heritage. Smaller, local organizations and exchanges are also popping up. (more…)
In most parts of the country, the process of sowing seed directly into the garden is in full swing. Either the first seeds of the season are going into the ground or, for those in milder climates, the second planting is commencing. In some northern regions, gardeners are still waiting for the end of over-night frosts and/or the soil to dry sufficiently. No matter. Everybody’s thinking of getting in their garden. And everybody wants to get a jump on things.
While we frequently urge patience on those who might plant too soon, there is a way to get quicker germination once your seeds are in the ground, a technique known to almost every gardener and practiced universally: Soak your seeds before planting. Soaking garden seeds, both vegetable and flower seeds, will swell and soften them and get their little embryonic selves thinking about coming out into the light of day. Here’s some things to consider when soaking seeds.
– First, which seeds are most appropriate for soaking? Big seeds. Wrinkled seeds. Seeds (as best you can tell) with hard coats. In the vegetable garden, this means peas, beans, corn, pumpkins and squash; even chard and beets. Smaller seeds — lettuce, radishes, carrots, and the like — are hard to handle once their soaked and don’t really need it anyway. Flower seed to soak? Sunflower, lupine, sweet pea, nasturtium take well to soaking. (more…)
Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger was standing in line yesterday at the grocery store — one with a focus on healthy eating and a claim that it never uses GMO products in its store-label items — when an equally friendly checker commented on the fact that we were buying ears of sweet corn. “I have relatives in the Midwest,” she said, “and they say that they put the water on to boil before they go out and pick sweet corn for dinner.”
Well, your talkative PN Blogger, raised in the Midwest, had heard this before and, indeed, had told the story himself a number of times. And having just read up on the history of corn, we felt we had to put our two cents in (though what we said was probably worth half that).
“That’s good, old fashioned, home-grown corn,” I explained. “This commercial stuff has been bred to keep it sugars longer, so it can be shipped and held before sale. But it’s not as good, it’s not as sweet as good, home-grown sweet corn. The sugars in homegrown sweet corn aren’t as stable. But the corn is tastier.” (more…)
Will Monsanto take control of your vegetable patch?
By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural
It’s all about seed control for Monsanto and the other corporate manufacturers of genetically engineered, GMO crops. So it’s no surprise that Monsanto has made moves to control garden seed as well. In the last several years, a number of international agri-conglomerates have consolidated their hold over the very seed and nursery starts we plant in our gardens. This brings some of the same problems — loss of seed diversity, spiraling seed costs, and general deficiencies in seed quality — that crop growers around the world face from the owners of genetically-modified seeds. And it’s happening under our noses right in our own backyards.
The last thing most organic gardeners want to do is support the corporations that have forced GMO food crops on the world through consolidation and bullying tactics. Nor do we want to support conglomerates seeking to monopolize the garden seed market. But often, that’s what we do when we buy non-GMO seed and nursery stock for our home gardens (and when we buy produce from the major supermarkets). How is it possible? (more…)
It’s been pointed out by astute commenters and concerned blog readers that the term “hybrid seed” can mean more than we might intend it to. “Hybird” and the verb “hybridize” can mean both natural and man-assisted processes that combine traits of two genetically different plants. But “hybrid” is mostly used specifically as seeds and plants that are the result of first generation cross-breeding raised for commercial purposes. To avoid confusion in the future, your detail-oriented and anxious-to-please Planet Natural Blogger promises to identify those hybrids as commercial or F1 hybrids.
A hybrid plant results from a genetic cross. Hybridization can occur naturally when wind or bees or other insects carry pollen from one plant to another resulting in plants that can best survive in the particular environmental conditions where they exist. In this sense, all plants are hybrids, having evolved genetically over centuries to obtain their particular characteristics.
When gardeners talk about hybrids, they usually mean F1 hybrids, plants grown from seeds that are cross -pollinated with help from humans. As Janiesse Ray explains it in her book The Seed Underground, “Hybridization is simply plant breeding sped up. The pollen from one plant with desirable characteristics is rubbed on the stigma of another plant with desirable characteristics. This flower produces a seed that, when grown, exhibits a combination of desirable characteristics…” (more…)
We often think of saving seeds in literal terms: letting flowers and vegetables go to seed, whether edible at that point (squash, tomatoes) or not (lettuce); separating and cleaning the seeds, drying them, and then protecting them until we’re able to plant again. But there’s a larger issue here, one that’s apparent when you consider that 94% of the seed varieties available to farmers and gardeners in 1900 have been lost, never to be grown again. Today, many of us are involved in saving seeds from extinction. To quote an old ecological saying: extinction is forever.
Today’s activists — there’s no better word for them – have taken those extinctions to heart and are on a quest to save as many varieties of seeds as they can. Janisse Ray, author of The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food is one of them. Ray’s book is a sort of manifesto on the practice and importance of seed saving. (more…)
By Eric Vinje, Planet Natural
Imagine growing the same fruits and vegetables as Thomas Jefferson or Luther Burbank. Imagine your garden filled with bright colors, odd shapes and a variety of foods that could inspire even the most jaded vegetable-hater to take a bite. Heirloom seed produces fruits, vegetables and flowers that have been passed down for generations for their good taste, vibrant colors, pest resistance and other beneficial traits.
Today there is a trend toward locally grown and organic foods. At the same time as mega-corporations are producing genetically altered, dyed, bland foods that are often covered in pesticides, many people are starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Not only is home grown food likely to be safer and healthier than commercially produced fruits and vegetables, it tastes better, too! (more…)
As your friendly, memory-challenged Planet Natural Blogger goes through the newly arrived seed catalogs, he marvels at the latest crop (heh) of F1 hybrid seeds to hit garden store racks. Then we start to wonder: what happened to that supposedly high-yielding, easy-to-grow, delicious hybrid tomato or lettuce or squash that was such a sensation back in whatever year it was?
In the catalogs this year, we find a new hybrid tomato with the word “super” in its name, a sweet corn designed to grow in pots, and a spaghetti squash glorified with the name of an ancient Roman city. Will any of them still be around in 10 years? Some, like Burpee’s Early Girl Hybrid have survived the test of time. Others, like the Moreton tomato, celebrated in the mid-Atlantic states for its “Jersey” taste, disappeared when the Harris Seed Company which owned its patent stopped producing it. Luckily, Rutgers University has helped bring it back.
And that’s the problem — at least one of the problems – with hybrids. Like GMO crops, they are owned by the business that holds their patent. No one else can offer the seed unless they buy the patent or it expires. It’s a great way to corner the market. No wonder new hybrids are advertised with such superlatives. (more…)
By Eric Vinje, Planet Natural
Gardeners have been saving seed ever since we settled into one place and started growing our own food. Thanks to seed saving, and passing them down from one generation to the next, we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today. It’s only since the end of World War II that growers have had the option of buying affordable, high quality commercial seeds; before that saving your own seeds or trading with neighbors was the only way to procure prospective plants.
Saving garden seeds at the end of each growing season can be a great cost saving measure and a way to duplicate last year’s delectable harvest. It’s also a good way to preserve plants that grow best in your own backyard. By carefully selecting individual plants that flourish in your garden and saving their seed, you can create strains that are well-adapted to local growing conditions. (more…)
Practical and Aesthetic Reasons for Growing America’s Heritage Vegetables
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
When it comes to heirloom vegetables, what’s in a name? Plenty when it’s the historic Caseknife Pole Bean, a hardy runner that was the most common bean grown in Civil War-era gardens. Its pods, as you can guess, resemble a knife sheath. Or take the Sutton’s Harbinger Pea, introduced in England by the Sutton Seed Company in 1898 and winner of a Royal Horticultural Merit Award in 1901. One of the earliest peas, then and now, Harbinger lives up to its name by giving the first harvests of the gardening season’s bounty. Then there’s the flavorful Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomato, developed by an Oklahoma-based circus owner, Dr. John Wyche, who fertilized his garden with elephant and tiger manure.
The most famous story connected to an heirloom vegetable’s name has to be that of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato. The Mortgage Lifter was developed during the Great Depression by a guy named “Radiator Charlie.” When his West Virginia radiator business suffered because of the economic calamity, Charlie took to his garden and in a few years, through careful cross-pollination, had developed a huge, meaty tomato that bred true. He sold starts of these tomatoes for $1.00. In a few years, he sold enough tomato plants to pay off his largest debt: a $6,000 mortgage. (more…)