Saving Seeds

Artículo en español: http://bit.ly/1P0o550 DSC_0108

We save our heirloom seeds; mostly as a step towards self-sustainability--reducing our reliance on outside imports is a huge goal.  It’s why we make our own compost, why we ferment our own fish extract, and why we got into growing our own food in the first place!  We currently save our heirloom eggplant, pepper, and tomato seeds.  

There are many more reasons to save seeds; during the 1900's there was a startling drop in the number of heirloom varieties due to lack of gardeners saving and trading their own seeds. When farmers rely on commercial seed companies, any seeds that sell slowly simply get dropped from production and disappear. Saving seeds is important for preserving genetic diversity.

This loss of varieties translates into lower genetic variability in our food plants. Lower variability means lower adaptability to stresses such as disease or climate change. Each time a seed variety is lost, we lose another chance to feed ourselves in a world of changing climate and shrinking resources. Saving seeds also helps retain plants´ pest resistance.

Every year we select plants that grow the happiest on our farm.  Over time, we’ll eventually create our own strains of heirlooms that are acclimatized to our specific, local conditions at Rancho Buen Dia.

Each plant has a different was of harvesting its seeds; we harvest the tomatoes and peppers when they’re ripe, which means the seed is already mature.  Saving pepper seeds is simply a matter of grabbing a ripe fruit, picking out the seeds, and letting them dry out before packing them into an envelope.

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Tomatoes are only slightly more involved.  Their seeds come encased in gel to help them pass through the digestive system of animals unharmed.  To save them, we first have to mash the fruit in a bowl of water, let them ferment for a day or two, then drain the water, rinse the skin and tomato bits off, and dry them out.

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When eggplants are ripe for eating, their seeds are still a little immature.  So to save their seeds, we have to let the fruit ripen fully on the vine.  Our heirloom Rosa Biancas are easy to spot when they are ripe: they turn from white with lavender stripes to yellow.  Then, we cut them open and pick out the seeds, let them dry, and pack them away for planting time.

For a great article on the historical practice of seed-saving and breeding, we enjoyed this article from the New Yorker.

Lately on the farm / Estos días en la huerta...

Lately on the farm, we've been getting the water ready to irrigate at the farm.  We've installed a pump to take water from the canal to the field, rolled out drip tape, and begun planting.  We've been so anxious to get planting, and it feels great to get it started! Estos días en la huerta, hemos estado preparando el agua para regar.  Instalamos una bomba que lleva el agua desde el canal hasta el campo desenrollado la cinta de goteo y comenzando a plantar.  Es un momento que ya esperábamos con ansias, ¡Y se siente increíble iniciar!

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While Carlos takes care of the field work, I make sure the greenhouse sowing gets done.  Here, I've filled the seeding tray with peat moss, and I'm dimpling the surface, creating a little pocket for the seed to go into.  All those years of piano lessons are paying off!  (Thanks, Mom!)

Mientras que Carlos cuida el campo, yo me encargo de la siembra en el invernadero.  Aquí, he llenado la charola con musgo de turba, y estoy haciendo un pequeño agujero en cada cuadro para la semilla.  ¡Me están sirviendo todos los años de clases de piano que tomé de niña! (Gracias, Mamá!)

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Now it's ready for one onion seed in each hole. Ya está listo para insertar una semilla en cada cuadro:

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Next, we'll move out the rest of our greenhouse seedlings (beets, swiss chard, cabbages, broccolis, cauliflowers) and start planting other things directly (beans, squash, and carrots). Yummm!

Enseguida, transplantaremos el resto de las plantas del invernadero al campo  (betebel, acelgas, repollo, brocoli, coliflor) y vamos a empezar a sembrar directamente en la tierra los ejotes, calabacitas, y zanahorias! ¡Qué ricas!

We´re so excited to finally get plants in the ground! I´ll take lots of photos to share the growth and changes!

Estamos muy emocionados por fin estar plantando en la tierra. ¡Tomaré muchas fotos para compartir el crecimiento de las plantas y los cambios en la huerta! 

Easy ways to start growing your own food

1. Grow a container garden with cilantro and basil.Sprinkle cilantro seeds close together in a pot, about one seed per square inch. Place in a sunny window in your kitchen and water and love until the plants are about three inches high. Whenever you need fresh cilantro, trim a whole section of the pot to about one inch. Cut often; plants are very resilient! This will keep your cilantro from getting tall and flowering.

Basil should have about four square inches per plant. Again, trim often and don't be afraid to cut low. Just make sure to cut above a leaf. If you cut below the bottom leaf, it won't grow back. When you cut the main stem, two branches will grow. This will make your plant nice and bushy rather than tall and top heavy. You can also just pinch off the top cluster of four leaves if you just need a bit.

2. Make a small lasagna garden. I have yet to make a lasagna garden but I think it sounds like fun and I appreciate the philosophy behind it. It's easy to get started because it doesn't require any digging! It does require lots of composting supplies. Gather tons of newspaper and cardboard boxes, leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds, straw, anything you would throw in your compost pile.

Layer the newspaper down covering the entire future-garden-area. Put lots on! Throw some cardboard on there as well. Thickly! Now choose another material, say leaves, and layer that on thickly. Keep going, layering, until your lasagna is two feet deep or more.

Now, if you have a few months to wait, you could water deeply and let it sit. When you're ready to plant, just dig a hole with your hands, add finished compost, and plant into that. If you don't have time to wait, you can go ahead and plant into it as is. Use a spadeful of compost to give your plants something extra to work with. You can even sow seeds into this.

Add new layers of mulch every year to keep the weeds away and because your plants will love it.

3. Grow a tomato plant in a hanging basket. Hanging tomatoes are all the rage in home gardening magazines. It certainly eliminates the need for staking and tying and makes harvesting a breeze. Just make sure it's in a sunny place and water frequently. I'd give it some compost tea once in a while as well to ensure good production. If you're starting from seed, sow three or four and thin to one later. Keep moist until it has good strong roots, and even then water every day.

4. Grow lettuce in a window box. When you harvest your lettuce, you can cut the whole head clean across with a knife, even with the dirt. Alternatively you can pluck off the outer leaves.

If you like baby leaf lettuce, sow the seeds thickly--about every square inch. When they're about three inches tall you can begin to harvest. Cut clean across with a knife above the ground. You'll be able to harvest again in about ten days!

5. Grow a three-sisters garden. Beans, corn, and squash: each crop supports or feeds the others in some way. Corn is good for drawing fungus out of the soil and also serves as a trellis for pole beans. And of course beans are nitrogen fixers so they will feed the corn and the squash. Squash is a low-growing crop which takes up a lot of space and has big leaves. This shades the soil, conserving water and preventing weeds from flourishing.

Check out this website for excellent thorough planting instructions.

Plowing the fields, preparing the beds, and planting

Here are some pictures of what we've been up to in the garden.

About three days after our last big rain, we hired someone to plow the field. His tractor also has an attachment for automatically making raised beds. Pretty cool, and a huge labor saver!

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We laid the drip tape and watered all day Sunday. Sunday afternoon we planted lettuce. We mix the seed with compost, and then just throw the compost on the bed. It's an easy way to broadcast seed, plus you're automatically fertilizing.

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Here's a little lettuce just peeking out of the ground. 20121009-113502.jpg

Our tomatoes are past due for getting in the ground! We had to wait for the rain to stop to be able to plow the field. Oh well, nothing in farming or gardening is perfect. Ideally they'd be in their planters between three and four weeks. Right now, they are five weeks old.20121009-113437.jpg

Here they are in their new home.

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Hot weather growing in the tropics

Coming from Illinois, I always heard that corn should be knee-high by the Fourth of July. Most experts will tell you that you should start your tomatoes indoors and put them out in the garden after the last frost, and that you should plan your mid-season plantings so they have time to mature before the first frost. Well, we don't get much frost in Baja. Forget all that because in Todos Santos, on the Tropic of Cancer, we can grow year-round. However, I do find its best to avoid growing in the summer because there are way less pests in the winter! It is great for organic growing if half your pests just don't show up during your growing season.

So, we are coming off of our resting season and getting ready to start for fall, winter, and spring growing. That's an 8 month growing season! If you are a home gardener, the absolute best time to start is January because there are less pests and the days consistently get longer. For example, if your tomato plant is ready to flower come December, it will feel the shortening days and go dormant. The plant will hibernate for about a month and then finish its life-cycle when the days start to lengthen in January. During that month, it's still susceptible to damage from pests. I'm still experimenting with this. This year I'm hoping to have mature tomatoes fruiting by December 1, and babies that will start to flower in January so that we don't miss any harvests. Have any of you noticed this or found a good way to time your plantings around the solstice?

We start our season now so we can satisfy our clients come November. They would love for us to start earlier, but lettuce (our primary product) doesn't germinate well at temperatures higher than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Many plants, like tomatoes, germinate better in the heat, but they take longer to mature. That allows us to time our plantings so that everything will be ready come November.

Here's a list of heat-loving plants: good until about 95 degrees F Beans Beets Cabbage Carrots Cauliflower (best at 86 degrees F) Celery (surprisingly good to 100!) Chard Corn Cucumbers Eggplant Fennel Kale Leeks Melons Okra Onions Peppers Pumpkins Radish Summer and winter squash Tomatoes (to about 92 degrees)

That said, there are lots of cucurbit-loving pests right now. If you hold off to plant melons and cucumbers until January it will make your life a lot easier! There are also lots of beautiful little white and yellow butterflies. These will lay tiny yellow eggs on the underside of your leafy greens. they are fun to discover and watch develop, and even more fun to squish. Kids are good squishers as well, though you may have to explain the circle of life to them to get them to do it. If you don't get to the eggs, they will hatch into tiny worms which get bigger really fast! Get squishing. Left on their own they can devour a bed of lettuce in days. But don't worry, once the weather cools off you won't find many caterpillars in your garden.

Wait to plant these: they prefer to germinate around 75 degrees: Arugula Asian greens Cress Broccoli Radicchio Lettuce Spinach

7 steps to starting seeds

Starting your seeds in a seed tray will make it easier to keep them moist while they germinate. Tomatoes are especially suited to transplanting: when its time to go in the garden, plant them up to their necks, and they will send out new roots all along their stem! However, beans, melons, and cucumbers do not transplant well, so sow them directly in the garden. 20120926-064852.jpg

1. Buy Seeds. Starting the season with new seeds, or seeds you saved from your own garden last year, is always a good idea. There is so much work to do in a garden, so why plant old seeds and then have to replant them if they don't germinate? Many professional growers use Johnny's Seeds. I've also had great results with Turtle Tree Seeds. Stick to varieties you know and love for the bulk of your order. Experiment with just a few. It's easy to go crazy and want to buy everything when browsing your catalogue. Resist! 2. Make a List of all the seeds you have. I like to organize my list into three categories: Leaf, Root, and Fruit. You can look up the best planting days for each category online and plant everything in that category on its proper day. Here's a calendar. 3. Decide what to plant now. It is also a good idea to check ideal germination temperatures. Some plants prefer heat to germinate, and others will germinate poorly in these temperatures. For those, it's a waste of time and effort to plant in this heat! Wait until it cools off. 4. Decide how much to plant Write down how many plants of each type you want. Plan on planting a few extras in case of casualties. Don't make the mistake of planting too much! It's better to take care of a few plants well, then to get behind on your garden work because its too much to take care of! We supplied a restaurant for the entire year last year from just three eggplant plants! 5. Prepare your seed trays We fill our seed trays with straight compost. Many growers mix with peat moss and other additives, but we have never had a problem. It's worth it to set up a planting table so you can stand and do your work, and that way they can have a place to live while they wait to go in the garden. Use an old yogurt container or a trowel to fill the trays with compost, then shake the tray to help it settle. Leave room at the top for more compost after you plant the seeds. Water thoroughly before you plant. You want the surface to look shiny for a few seconds. 6. Plant! Use your fingers to tamp the soil in each cell and make a little divot. Place one seed in each hole. If you're using poor quality seed plant two seeds and thin later. Sprinkle some more compost on top. 7. Mark your calendar Write down what you planted in your organizer. Skip ahead to the date three weeks from now, and write a reminder to plant that again. If you plant every three weeks you'll always be harvesting!

You can leave your trays in the shade until they form their first true leaves. They are unable to process sunlight before then, and it will cut down on your watering. I water my trays once a day, in the morning. If they look dry in the afternoon, always give them more water. Once they have their first true leaves they need partial shade. Too much shade will leave you with long, leggy, thin-stemmed plants, while too much sun could kill them if you forget to water (it happens!)