Posts Tagged ‘Seed Savers’

Some truly wild seeds - Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

Some truly wild seeds – Honey locust pods, wild onions, autumn olive, cornellian cherries, purple asters, siberian pea shrub, and a wild black berry that was collected in Italy over the summer.

For a decade now, I have been a seed saver.  I have saved tomato seeds and squash seeds.  I have selected and saved my favorite beans to plant again, and I have tended garlic cloves and potato tubers from year to year.  I have collected perennial herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and have planted trees that will produce into my twilight years.


These seeds and genetics represent a true investment and a savings account for the future.  David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture and author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways devotes quite a bit of time on the subject of saving seeds.  He argues that anyone preparing for a future that will have fewer fossil fuels available to use should include seed saving into their toolbox of skills and cultural knowledge.


Purple potatoes...

Purple potatoes…

When we save seeds, not only are we preserving genetic material, but also the accumulated solar energy of one summer’s growth to be used again in a future garden.  This tradition is as old as agriculture itself.  When we stopped roaming the wilds in search of food, and instead settled down to cultivate the Earth, seed saving assured a future harvest.


For right or wrong, feeding our world’s population now largely depends on industrialized, annual based agriculture.  It is very efficient at turning oil and natural gas into edible calories, but it comes with a steep price.  Habitat destruction, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity (both wild and domesticated), the dismantling of small scale farming traditions, and our seed sovereignty are all threatened by industrialized agriculture.


But as those of us who have seen the writing on the wall (when it pertains to the negative consequences of big ag) , and have begun the transition to a Permaculture based lifestyle because of these warning signs, we can begin to put a halt to all of this destruction.  One farmer or person alone is not enough to change the course of current events, but just like the seeds of a dandelion, the more of us there are, the better chances we have of thriving and finding a place to put down roots.


The world, or more specifically humanity, is at a cross roads.  We are at a place where we can decide as to whether we follow the path that industrial agriculture is leading us down, or the path that allows the wild seeds to flourish and heal the landscape.


Garlic for planting

Garlic for planting

Our gardens, as an extension of ourselves, our bodies, and communities, have a place in nature.  While humans may display traits similar to an “invasive specie” a lot of the time,  we can also play an important role in helping to heal some of the wounds we have created.  As more of us see the evidence that our current path leads to destruction, it is only through conscience choices and a concerted effort that we can find a better and more resilient path to walk on.


That path, the one that leads to a future where we care for the Earth and all its inhabitants is possible.  Its already there, waiting for us to first find it, and then be brave enough to follow it.  It is there behind the monocrops of corn and soy and wheat and rice.  It is there when the blood from CAFOs is washed away.  It is there when we can move past the “40 hour” work week and find truly meaningful work for ourselves to participate in.


That path starts in our hearts, our  homes and our gardens.  It is weedy, and gnarled, and imperfect.  It nourishes our bodies and inspires our dreams.  It starts as a young sapling and ends up an old, twisted oak with deep roots.  It is found in a tomato vine and a bean patch, a chicken coop and a beehive.

That path starts with our seeds.  Those that contain the genetics of the food we eat, and those that start as dreams and finish as stories that we tell the next generation.  Our seeds need to be protected and propagated, they are the future.  Save them and plant them and tend them so that others can do the same in turn.  Peace and Cheers.

A path into the future...

A path into the future…

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Hey everyone!  A big heads up to anyone who is in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or other upper Midwest locations.  Some dear friends of mine are putting on a great event called the Gathering of the Guilds.  It is a chance for people to get together and talk gardening, permaculture, food justice and many more things. Please refer to the info below for details.  Hope to see you there!!  Peace & Cheers …..

Gathering of the Guilds – 3 Days of Permaculture Skill-shares, Workshops and Networking

September 14-16, 2012

At Harmony Park Music Garden (79503 298th St., Clarks Grove, MN 56016) Open Map

Gates open at Noon on Friday – Come early to set up your camp and help us create the event.


We will provide the infrastructure and logistical planning-YOU provide the knowledge. ALL SKILL LEVELS ENCOURAGED. This gathering will offer local permaculturists, farmers, gardeners, activists, and others a chance to spend a weekend sharing skills, making connections, and learning.

WE NEED YOU to facilitate a workshop or share a skill. Some ideas include:

  • Sheet Mulching
  • Animals in Permaculture
  • Hugelkulture
  • Composting
  • Urban Permaculture
  • Bees and Pollinators
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Vermiculture (Worms eat my garbage)
  • Seed Saving
  • Freezing, Canning and Drying
  • Fruit Tree Grafting
  • Humanure
  • Tree Pruning for Tree Health
  • Wild Edibles Walk
  • Grey Water Systems
  • Rainwater Catchment, Storage and Use
  • Seed and Plant Swap (Bring your extras and bring home some new additions)

This is a family friendly, drug and alcohol free event. There is onsite tent and RV camping, a Community Kitchen to provide 6 meals (bring your garden surplus to contribute), a kids space with ongoing activities.

We request a $20 donation to cover toilets, kitchen staples, and site rental.



For questions or to R.S.V.P please email:



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Last year around this same time, I entertained ya’ all with The Battle of the Seed Catalogs. Well the war continues, once again we were flooded with seed catalogs, and once again we spent many hours contemplating on what to purchase and from who. I am happy to say that we narrowed down our seed selections to just three catalogs – Seed Savers, Baker’s Creek, and R.H. Shumway. All the catalogs are fun to look at, but honestly, a seed catalog is a seed catalog, but with a few exceptions. As mentioned last year, Baker’s Creek is absolutely beautiful to look at – great photography, good descriptions of the plants, and even better, the damn prices!! By far Baker’s Creek offers the highest quality seed for the best price! As always, I also made seed purchases from Seed Savers, but not quite as much as I have in the past. I still whole heartily support them and their cause, but their prices are higher, and you definitely don’t get quite as much per packet. The dark horse candidate, and my new favorite seed catalog is R.H. Shumway. Their prices are totally reasonable, they offer some really neat varieties (some hybrids, some heirlooms), and their catalog is really fun to look through and read! It is hand illustrated with old-timey drawings and makes shopping for seeds quite fun!

A big difference this year concerning our seed purchases is how we plan on gardening. We are hoping to make the transition from just backyard, hobby gardening into a small urban farm that will be offering produce for sale to the public. With a few exceptions, we are planning on growing more of what we are really good at, and less experiments. Our main for-profit focus this year is going to be salad mix and other greens, braising greens like collards and kale, garlic, radishes, turnips, tomatoes, zucchinis and whatever else that we have a good season with. We have gotten to the point that we have excess amounts of certain crops and want to parlay that into a small home business on the side. Eventually we hope to turn the farm stand into an urban CSA, and make more of a living off of our passion for growing food.

Due to these grand dreams and aspirations of becoming a high-volume producing urban farm, we have had to change the amount of seed we order. Instead of just small packets of radishes, we ordered a few varieties in the quarter pound packs. The same goes for salad mix, carrots, and beets. Along with the added amount of seeds and plants we hope to grow, we are also going to need a little bit more space to actually garden in. We are lucky, we have space to grow into, and if time and energy allow, we will be adding just shy of a thousand square feet of garden space this spring. These garden expansions will consist of an addition to our side garden (approximately 200 square feet): two terraced raised beds in our back garden (about 60 square feet), and the big project – raised bed gardens equaling about 650-700 square feet of new garden space. These new raised beds will be in our “new” side yard that we purchased a few summers ago and will become the main work horse for the urban farm project. Other hurdles we are going to encounter are successive plantings and crop rotations to make the most out of our available space. The good news is this – these are the best kinds of hurdles to have, ones that you can plan for, ones that fall within in your capabilities and talents, and ones that are inspirational – not just for yourself, but for others. This world is not getting any easier to feed, we just welcomed our 7th billion citizen and most of us live in cities and first ring suburbs. We are the farmers of the future – citizens taking their food security into their own hands and providing our families and our communities with healthy, fresh food. I am really looking forward to this upcoming growing season – a chance to get even more calluses on my hands, less sleep and a sorer back, and the chance to provide something that is truly positive to my community and the world. Cheers!

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Here is the Maple Hog and it's operator, the beverage being consumed is a mix of spiced rum and sweet boiling sap. I guess that makes us Maple Pirates!!

Wow, what a month it has been.  Back in March we started our maple sugarin’ for the year, and what a year we had!  As previously mentioned, we tapped three trees this year, and in about two and a half weeks we collected around 80 gallons of sap.  Due to the fact that we smoked out a few of our neighbors last year, we moved our boiling operation to my in-laws place (they have a little bit of acreage!)  The first weekend we went out there with thirty gallons of sap and finished with about a gallon of syrup.  The next weekend we started with fifty gallons and ended up with another gallon and a half.  That second weekend of boiling was a real test of dedication.  The Maple Hog (aka – the syrup evaporator) was pushed to its limits and so were we.  We started the fire at about nine in the morning and didn’t get to sleep until about mid night.  I know that doesn’t sound real late, but I am used to going to bed around nine on most nights, so that got to be a long day.  After the success of this year, we are hoping to expand our operation going into the future.  We have talked about tapping anywhere from ten to fifteen trees and also building another in ground evaporator.  At this level it would no longer be just a hobby, but also a small bussiness venture.  I will keep you updated on the details as they get sweeter!

Four grafted apple trees!

Up next is my trip down to the Seed Saver’s Exchange farm  located just outside of Decorah, Iowa.  I drove down there last weekend and attended a workshop on whip and tongue apple tree grafting.  Dan Bussey, who taught the workshop, is an expert tree grafter who has an orchard in Wisconsin that contains close to three hundred varities of heirloom apples.  Without going into great detail on the actual grafting process, just let me say it is incredibily easy and I will never be buying another apple tree again.  For those of you who do want to go into more detail on whip and tongue grafting,  a reader and e-mail correspondant of mine, Steven who writes the blog Turkey Song, has a great article with lots of pictures that will show you everything you need to know about grafting (Also check out his Frankentree – It is Awesome)!!  Try it, it is lots of fun!!  In the future I hope to start producing clonal rootstock and a few other experiments with apple trees (and grafting) and their genetics – stay tuned!! 

Here is one of the Rhode Island Reds, isn't she cute!!

Last but not least is the new addition to our family.  We have six new mouths to feed and DAMN are they cute!  We finally got chickens.  This last Tuesday we picked up our order of six baby chicks – 2 Australorps, 2 Buff Orpingtons, and 2 Rhode Island Reds.  This is a step I have been wanting to take on our urban homestead for a long time and we finally went through with it.  We eat a lot of eggs, so come mid summer our birds will help us out with that.  Composting is also going to change for us; no more throwing the garden weeds and scraps into the the compost bin, they will now be food for the birds!!  There will be plenty of posts coming up in the future about our new residents, their coop, and the chicken tractor.  I hope everyone is having a fabulous spring – good luck with the gardens and planting!!  Cheers!

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Pages and pages of plant genetics!

Who will get my money this year? That is the question of the night. Looking at a pile of seed catalogs made me think – “They are getting an early start this year!” And it is probably true, seed companies were one of the only sectors of our economy to grow through this last recession. People got hit hard: work furloughs, lay offs, rising commodity prices, and sky rocketing fuel prices forced many people into a change of lifestyle. One of those changes, and in my mind a very positive one, was the return to gardening. It only makes sense – when you have less money to spend on evermore expensive goods and services – start growing a portion of your own food. People from all walks of life put this idea into action. Apartment dwellers with window boxes, roof top gardens in containers, backyard homesteads and community gardens, and rural self sufficient types together revitalized a stagnant industry. My gut tells me that this is not just a trend either, gardening is here to stay. With the rise of the acceptance of peak oil, together with an economy that still seams quite fragile, people have realized that food, and where it comes from is a very important topic to discuss and do something about. Seeds are cheap, and with a little bit of time and energy, that small investment turns into something wonderful and delicious. Most of us know the difference between a tomato fresh from the garden, and one shipped 1,500 miles to your local big box grocery store. Seed companies can help us to start down that path. Now anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile will know, I am all about saving your own seeds, it is free and in my mind a right that all humans deserve to share in. Seeds have been with us a long time, and the majority of that time, gardeners and farmers have saved and passed down those seeds to their families and communities. However the craft of seed saving has become something of a dying art due to multi-national-global, seed companies. They have taken our plant heritage away, tinkered with their genetics, and now sell us back inferior plants. For as big and powerful as these corporations are, they are not the only game in town, and that is what I would like to spend the rest of the time talking about. There are still seed companies out their that employ people from their communities, offer up quite a few varieties of open pollinated seeds (non-hybrid seeds that can be saved year, after year), do not allow genetically modified organisms, and follow organic growing methods. Starting with my favorite, Seed Savers Exchange is not just a seed company, but also a seed protector. Based in Iowa, they have one of the largest collections of heirloom vegetable seeds in the world, along with apple varieties, herbs and flowers, and ancient cattle. Here is an article I wrote last year about Seed Savers Exchange that will give you a little more information and history. Coming in a close second is Baker’s Creek. Talk about a seed catalog that is like porn for gardeners – the photos in a Baker’s Creek catalog are astounding and beautiful. They also offer a huge selection of heirloom seeds and tend to be a little cheaper than Seed Savers. Jere Gettle, the founder and owner of Baker’s Creek has just come out with a book entitled The Heirloom Life that promises to be an interesting and informative read. As for other seed companies that offer some heirloom vegetables, flowers, and herbs, here is a list of a few more: Abundant Life Seeds, Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, and R.H. Shumway’s. I have ordered from Territorial before, but the rest are all new to me. Abundant Life Seeds has a nice selection of books, garden tools, and equipment, and R.H. Shumway’s has an awesome, old time feel to it’s catalog. The last three catalogs I will tell you about are for those of us who are addicted to trees, specifically fruit trees. Raintree Nursery is who I have always ordered from in the past. We have purchased a number of apple trees, one plum tree, and roses and have been pretty happy with what we received. Due to the fact that they are in Washington, the shipping rates to Minnesota tend to get a little expensive, but they have varieties that you can’t get elsewhere – so I guess it is worth it. Two new catalogs that I have received this year are One Green World and Jung Seeds and Plants. One Green World is out of Oregon so once again the shipping for me will be a little expensive, but most likely worth it. They have an apple named Amere De Berthcourt that is grown strictly for cidering that I plan on ordering along with two Cornelian Cherries. And at Jung Seeds and Plants (which is in Wisconsin) I plan on ordering two Russian hybrid Mountain Ash trees – Ivan’s Beauty and Ivan’s Belle. One is crossed with Hawthorne and the other with Aronia and both are high in vitamin C and can be used in wine, preserves, jams, and dried for teas. This year I plan on spending more money on fruit trees than on veggie seeds for two reasons: 1) we have gotten pretty good at saving certain seeds, so we have no need purchasing more than we need, and 2) fruit trees are a long term investment that will feed us for years to come. One other thing is that I am starting to get into permaculture and want to create more edible food forests, hence the apples, cornelian cherries, and hybrid mountain ash. I have the luxury of having some space to work with and while time still allows me to splurge on extra plants for the homestead I will. I suppose the next step is learning how to propagate my own rootstock, learn how to graft, and then start my own nursery. We will see! Cheers!

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We have finally become members of the Seed Savers Exchange. After a few years of debating whether to or not, we decided it is one of the most important non-profits to support and be an active part in. Seed Savers Exchange was started in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and her husband Kent Whealy. That first year there were only 29 members and just a small collection of heirloom seeds. Today in 2010 there are over 11,000 Seed Savers members; 704 of which are listed members that offer over 13,000 varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs through the Seed Savers yearbook. The difference between a listed member and an unlisted member is simple. Listed members are actively saving seeds and sharing them with other members through the yearbook. All members are able to acquire seeds through the exchange, but listed members have access to a larger selection of heirloom seeds that need extra attention.

It is my goal to be a listed member by next growing season. I have been saving seeds for about five years now and have had decent success. I have about eight tomato varieties, three bean varieties, three types of hard neck garlic, Jerusalem Artichokes, raspberries and a few other potentials that could be shared. I need to decide how much I can actually share without affecting the amount of food I grow for myself and not exhausting my own seed supply. I am excited for the challenge and to be a part of such a great movement.

There are many companies that are hijacking our shared historic garden genetics. They have taken plants that were and still are sacred to entire communities, and have turned them into monsters. Plants that once only needed clean water, rich soil, and love to grow, now need specific pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemical fertilizers. Farmers who have for generations saved their own seeds are now enslaved to these giant agri-businesses to buy new seed each year or face prosecution and lawsuits.

As seed savers, we are taking an active role against these multi-national companies. Seed saving alone will not stop the atrocities committed against our Earth, our gardens, or our farmers, but it is a good first step. We need to keep educating and inspiring people to examine our lives; to know where our food comes from and who grows it. We need to find new and creative ways of boycotting companies like Monsanto and Cargill and to offer alternatives to them, no matter how small they might be. Support small independent farmers, start saving your own heirloom seeds, and boycott Monsanto! Cheers.

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