Live at indiegogo, Library Seed Bank

graphic for the Library Seed Bank projectI also have a blog set up for the Library Seed Bank. I will be cross posting between the two blogs as about the progress. The indiegogo option I chose was to accept funding even if I don't reach my goal. Unlike Kickstarter, where you have to reach your goal to get the funds, indiegogo allows you to accept all donations if you choose. My first priority is to set up a nonprofit so I can get grant, and accept donations. Everything else after that is icing on the cake. My first seed bank goes in at the McCowan Memorial Library in Pitman, NJ. I have a couple other leads that I'm following up on, so I will let you know if they happen.

Please share the link for this project if you feel comfortable doing so. It's a tremendous opportunity to create a community-based structure to preserve local heirloom varieties of plants, and local gardening knowledge. Information and agriculture have sustained society from the start. Now, with the Library Seed Bank, we can bring the two together as an heirloom social structure for future generations.

 

Carrots, A Colorful History

photo of carrotsLast week I wrote about how to grow carrots. For a long time, growing root vegetables intimidated me. It was rather silly. All plants have roots, so what was the mystery about these plants with edible roots? Was there some kind of magic involved? A ritual maybe? Ancient secrets past down from ancient astronauts? In reality, none of these implied-in-my-head factors applied. Root vegetables like carrots are rather easy to grow. Like every plant, root vegetables have some individual requirements, but nothing outlandish. They are not divas, and are rather fun and colorful. Domestic carrots originated around Afghanistan in colors of purple, red and white. Yellow carrots appeared in Turkish writings in the 900s, and the Dutch developed the orange carrot in the 1600s. There are black carrots that are grown in some countries today that include Turkey, Syria and Egypt. They are grouped with the purple varieties. That's quite a history. Queen Anne's Lace, the carrot's wild cousin, grows from the Mediterranean region to Asia and North America. The root of Queen Anne's Lace is woody and not edible, but does have herbal medicinal uses.

It was the French seedhouse, Vilmorin-Andriueux in the late 1880s that developed a lot of today's carrot varieties, including the Nantes and Chantenay. Miniature, Imperator and Danvers round out the list to five varieties, and this chart  is a good reference.

Jaune De Doubs is a french heirloom variety that dates back to the 19th century. From Fedcoseeds.com;

Jaune du Doubs Carrot (78 days) Open-pollinated. I like this 19th century French heirloom best of all the yellow carrots. Holli Cederholm, another admirer, calls it “a mainstay in her open-pollinated rainbow carrot bunches,” and reports it performed beautifully on her heavy and rocky new ground—with fewer culls than #2076 Danvers or Dragon. Not everyone agrees. Some are put off by its sometimes rough unrefined appearance and variable taste and texture. We advise working your seed bed well before sowing to avoid forked or shallow roots. The plants have the kind of dense rampant wildness that has been tamed out of the newer hybrids, so thin them more rigorously than other varieties. Well-grown they produce smooth conical 5–8" yellow roots, showing slight green shoulders and good core color. Better flavor cooked than raw and retains good color. Cederholm reports that the roots stay crisp and crunchy in storage for tri-colored carrot slaw all winter.

Fast forward to a modern variety, Purple Dragon, which has the same amount of lycopene as tomatoes.When plants breeders create varieties that boost nutritional value that's a win. First and foremost food is nutrition, not a pesticide. That is the difference between hybrids and GMOs.

Off the soapbox and back to history, there is the White Belgian, a carrot grown historically for feed, but yet is a great tasting carrot. It's important to note that carrots have been grown for animal feed as well as the farmer's table. Perhaps that's one reason it took until the late 1800s for them to be reinvented for popular consumption. I grew White Belgians last year, but due the schedule I had, they fell to wayside. They got in the container too late, and languished in the intense heat we had in July 2012. I did get some long, very narrow carrots, and the taste was superb. It was this taste that inspired me to do it right this year. I'm adding Purple Dragons to my list, recommend by a cousin and a good friend, both who know gardening well, and Jaune De Doubs.

Atomic Red Carrots add red to the carrot color spectrum, The red is from lycopene. They are a imperator type, and are a good cooking carrot.

For miniature carrots, there are Paris Market, a round orange french heirloom, Little Fingers, a short cylindrical orange carrot, and Parmex Baby Ball Carrots, an improved version of the Paris Market that does not need peeling. The Parmex link also has Adelaide Baby Carrots listed.

For juicing, try the Healthmaster variety, an orange Danvers type. Also, any of the purple varieties would be good for juicing since they are full of antioxidants and lycopene.

This is a just sample of what's out there for carrot varieties. There are festivals around the world that honor this colorful and healthy root, and there's an International Carrot Day too. But the ultimate tribute in my book is the association with Bugs Bunny, a beloved cultural icon, my favorite cartoon character and an appropriate association.

 

Organic Heirloom Seeds 2013

Photo of silver edge squash seedSeed catalogues came early this year, which was a nice surprise. I like the printed catalogs. They're like story books to me. As I sit and read, my mind fills with wonder. I'm taken to a world filled with color, texture and taste. Thoughts of perfect rows, sun drenched days where pollinators play all day inspire me to order a spectrum of delights for my soul.

I like catalogs because I chose what I want to grow. I know and trust the source, and I support small, independent businesses that have passion for seed collecting. And, it's an action against GMOs.

There's always too many seeds and not enough time or land in my world. It's a good problem to have.  I want to share with you the excitement I got from the catalogues that came into my mailbox

First, there is Terrior Seeds. I met the owners Stephen and Cindy Scott at the 2012 Heirloom Expo. Their business is typical of the small, independent business I mentioned above. Their passion drives them to excel.  Terrior Seeds offer a membership program, a gardener referral program, and they have seed collections complimented by books about the concept of the seed collection. For example, the Healthy Cat Collection;

Cats have instinctively relied on eating plants in the wild to maintain healthy bodies.

They are naturally drawn to specific plants for their healing abilities.

We have put together this collection of herbs, grasses and flowers that cats in the wild have used.

Included in this specially priced collection is the book “10 Herbs for Happy Healthy Cats” by Lura Rogers AND the following seed packets:

-Mexican Valerian

-Catnip

-Dukat Dill

-Purple Coneflower Echinancea

-Fernleaf Dill

-Giant of Italy Parsley

I know I'll be ordering some tomato and herbs from them.

Next, it's Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the folks who produce the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA. If you want variety, here it is. After being a vendor at the expo in 2012, I recognize some of the staff in the photos in the catalogue. I know they are authentic since I met some of them. This endeared me even more to Baker Creek. I know some melons will be coming my way from this catalogue that intrigued me from the melon display at the expo last year. See how that works.

Fedco Seeds is a seed cooperative in Maine. You can join as a member for $100, and support this wonderful group of dedicated seed collectors. They have a wide selection of seeds, onion sets and seed potatoes known as Moose Tubers. It was Fedco that I found the Mark Twain tomato, and I'm happy to say they have the seed again this year. I will be ordering some Moose Tubers, along with some other sensual delights.

Seeds From Italy is a substantial collection of Italian heirloom seeds. My grandparents came to America from Italy, and I am about to become a dual citizen with Italy. This catalogue connects me to my family heritage, and that is priceless.

They are the catalogues that came in the mail for this growing season. I have others that I picked up in my travels last year, but it's that tradition of seed catalogs in the mail that I feel is part of being an heirloom gardener. Don't get me wrong, I will order online too. Nothing will stop me from varieties that I must have. Remember I drove to Tennessee for Mark Twain tomato plants.

There are other sources here to peruse. Last year I tried to do too many varieties in a compressed gardening schedule. Don't try that. This year, back to some basics, some old stand bys, some new choices, and perhaps a volunteer or two will show up. After all, the word's out that my garden is my inspiration, no telling who, or what will show up to model.

 

 

Made in the USA since 1784, D. Landreth Seed Company

Ask any gardener which seed company is their favorite, and the response will be as varied as the garden they grow. Fortunately, you can shop for the seeds of your choice online. The choice for your garden is yours, not the limited selection offered by a big box retailer. For too many years, small independent seed companies have fallen to the wayside, just like a lot of heirloom vegetables. Without the seeds, we have no plants. Seed companies are part of the heritage and knowledge that I will advocate for. By raising the awareness of heirloom vegetables to save then from extinction, the sources that supply the seeds can be saved from extinction also.

The idea for this post has been lurking around in my head for a while, so while searching for Purple Majesty Potato sets, I came across the D. Landreth Seed Company. From the font page of their website;

Since 1784, the D. Landreth Seed Company has been providing its customers with one of the most extensive selections of fine lawn and garden seeds in the world. Our founders introduced into the United States some of the most beloved flowers and vegetables known today including the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomatoes, and our own Bloomsdale Spinach. We have become the oldest seed house in America because we are passionate in our quest for excellence in quality, service and innovation.

Needless to say this got my attention, along with the fund raising drive they conducted to save the company. They fell well short of their goal, however, they will get some of my business this year, and by writing about them I hope to help them survive. You can too by buying their catalogue, which is designed by an American company and printed in America on a family-run press;

The catalogue is designed by a small, Baltimore-based and family-owned business, Victor DiPace Associates and it is printed by a family-owned local printing company. Producing this catalogue is far more expensive than it is for most companies who are outsourcing their printing requirements overseas. We charge for our catalogue to help with some, but not all, of the costs to produce and mail. Each catalogue that you purchase from Landreth is helping to keep an American employed and therefore making this country stronger.

Take a look at their site and see if something interests you. It would be a shame to see this company fold. Too many varieties of heirloom have disappeared, as well as so many small, independent American companies and jobs they provided. By supporting independent seed companies and organizations, you are keeping plants from vanishing forever, as well the livelihoods of people who have the same passion and commitment that you have. And in the end, you will delight your senses the unique palette of flavors, colors and aromas that Mother Nature provides.

I've dedicated a page to resources for heirloom seeds, plants, nut trees and fruit trees.

 

Big Boxing the Seed Collector, A Slight Timeline

Another plot twist, another piece of magic. I had a hunch to look up the word heirloom. I'm kind of a geek about words. I have the same dictionary on my shelf that I've had my whole life. I don't remember my life without it. It was published in 1965 when I was 5 years old. I've read through most of this dictionary in the course of our life together. It has served me well, and will continue to do so. So I went to my old friend and found that there were only two meanings given for the word heirloom, neither of which included plants. I went online where I found the current definition that does includes plants. I set off to find out when the meaning was changed to include plants, at least in the Merriam Webster's dictionaries.

I started an etymology search, and found that in 1949 heirloom plant came into lexicon of America. The hunch morphed into intrigue, and curiosity took over. I googled Levittown, and found this, from the Levittown Historical Society:

Then, in 1949, Levitt and Sons discontinued building rental houses and turned their attention to building larger, more modern houses, which they called "ranches" and which they would offer for sale at $7,990.  All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and payments of $58 per month.  The Levitt ranch measured 32' by 25' and came in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows.  Like previous Levitt homes, the ranch was built on a concrete slab with radiant heating coils.  It had no garage, and came with an expandable attic.  The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, the latest Bendix washer, and a York oil burner.  Immediately, the demand for the new Levitt ranches was so overwhelming that even the procedure for purchasing them had to be modified to incorporate "assembly line" methods.  Once these techniques were put into action, a buyer could choose a house and sign a contract for  it within three minutes.

Two seemingly random events in the same year and I knew a good story was unfolding in front me. As I have written before, when you frame you life in the context of the stories you loved as a child, you can see how narrative develops. And this project demonstrates that.

Enter the next hunch, shopping malls. The first commerical shopping mall was opened in 1950:

On April 21, 1950, the Northgate Shopping Mall opens at NE Northgate Way at 5th Avenue NE in Seattle. Planned by developers Rex Allison and Ben B. Ehrlichman (1895-1971) and designed by John Graham Jr. (1908-1991), it is the country's first regional shopping center to be defined as a "mall" (although there were at least three predecessor shopping centers). The stores face "a wide shopping walkway, probably to be known as the Mall or Plaza, in which no vehicles will be permitted" (The Seattle Times). The parking lot is quickly found to be insufficient for the number of shoppers attracted by the Bon Marché and 17 other specialty stores.

Continuing on this fork in the road, remember I started out to find when the meaning of the word heirloom changed to include plants in Merriam Webster's dictionaries, I next went to processed foods. Processed foods have been around for a very long time, and I focused on commerically processed foods. I found that the first TV Dinner was developed in 1953. Next, I had to see when the first coast-to coast-televsion broadcast.  That was 1951.

In four years time, the phrase heirloom plant started to be used in America. The suburban planned development was being launched, regional shopping malls were coming into vogue, televesion became a coast-to-coast delivery vehicle for information, and complete, frozen meals were now commerically avilable from commerical food proccesing comapnies.

The suburban, big-box retail business model was being seeded by the direction of society. Meanwhile, the traditon and lifestyle of the seed collector as source of sustaining the food supply was being marginalized. Society was moving away from the local, and into regional, and national mindsets. The dymanics of food was changing with the growth of commerically processed foods. Televison allowed visual advertisment of perfection and conveince in way that never could be with print and radio spots.

Society changed, and the value of a diverse seed collection seems to have gotten lost in the process. Things are changing though:

Sales shot up 100 percent in 2008 at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a Missouri-based garden company that stocks 1,200 vegetable varieties, and the last two years have brought 20 percent annual growth, said the company’s owner, Jere Gettle.

And that's a good thing. Now that the current defintion of heirloom includes a third meaning relating to plants:

Definition of HEIRLOOM 1: a piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance of real property

2: something of special value handed on from one generation to another

3: a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals

I hope with this project to connect people with the value of seeds and plants. They represent the people who collect them, and plant them, as much as any other piece of property.

Words have meanings for a reason. As society changes, so does it language. It's interesting to see how far ahead of the curve the language was in 1949 when heirloom plant came into being. We can see now the massive shift that happened in society. And with that shift, the definition of heirloom now includes plants. This was not the case in 1965 as my faithful friend, my dictionary,  can attest to. The value in the third meaning of the word heirloom, which is a bout plants, needs to be elevated in society. It's that concept that I hope to accomplish.

Heirloom? Hybrids? Why Not Both?

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids? and it gave me some food for thought. Since this is not a blog devoted to media critiques, I'll refrain from that. I will focus on the one thing that made sense to me from that article, the subject matter, heirlooms or hybrids. Heirlooms hold a special place in my heart. I am a passionate supporter of them. My mission now is to connect people to them, and encourage them to make them family heirlooms. That said, I feel hybrids serve an equally important purpose. It comes down to what is the end user's goal.

I can understand farmers needing to have a a uniform crop. Their living depends on the harvest. The challenge of weather, plant disease and pests is a formidable one. Hybrid seeds level the playing field in a big way, and encourage the farmer to farm. On a smaller scale, the home gardner faces the same challenges, and hybrids offer them the same advantage. Hybrids plants offer a safe and stable alternative to the potential gamble that heirlooms offer.

Heirloom varieties can be a bit of a crap shoot. Take for example heirloom tomatoes. For the farmer looking for a full-fledged, market-ready cash crop, a major stumbling blocks to heirloom tomatoes is their thin skin. It hinders shipping them over a distance. They also have a shorter shelf life. The plants can be more susceptible to disease. The odd shapes and sizes makes packing difficult.  In the structure of modern society, with the big box retail model as the driving consumer practice, heirloom tomatoes don't stand a chance.

For the backyard gardener, the stability of hybrids offers them opportunity to grow plants that aren't as finicky and fussy as heirlooms, according to the reputation that heirloom's have. Limitations of time, space, ability, and the growing zone in which a gardner lives, all are challenges that hybrids can address to a varying degree of success. They can bring more people in the fold as gardeners.

Hybrids on the surface offer a safer return on your investment of time and money for gardening for a certain segment of society.

They just don't taste as good. And you can't save the seeds. The seed factor is big. With hybrids you're handing over the power to sustain life on this planet to seed companies. These companies will decide which plants are worthy to be grown. This allows decisions to be made about what best for the company, not the balance of life on the planet. Keep in mind, mother nature perfected the blend of art and science in a seed. This generally tiny thing, that when planted in the earth with the addition of light and water, can grow into something that can help sustain life, for so many inhabitants on this planet, while tantalizing and tickling all of the human senses, is an amazing achievement. And it wasn't done for profit.

And it's that factor that I will place my trust in her, and her heirloom varieties.

While Watermelon Pink Beefsteaks, are, at least in my experience, one of THOSE varieties with THAT reputation about being not prolific, uncooperative and having a will of their own, the majesty of their process makes it easy to forgive them. Watching the fruit ripen on these plants is a sight to be seen. Not all ripen this way, however some go from a standard green tomato, to a green striped tomato that resembles a watermelon right before turning a highly chromatic crimson that is the color of a very sweet and ripe watermelon. The tomatoes are big, after all they are beefstakes, and ultra sweet. And the taste is worthy of the experience of their process. If you get a half a dozen from a plant, you've done well. They are truly fascinating. I'll always have a couple of these plants around.

So for me, that's what I relish in my garden. I could also understand why a farmer would pass these over for a cash crop, or someone who was challenged by time, space and enviromental issues, to choose a hybrid over a Watermelon Pink. There's good reasons for both heirlooms and hybrids. For me though, it's that nonconformist tendency that heirlooms offer, that make them my choice. And the power of their seeds.