Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interviews with Great Gardeners:
Farming seed to seed with Joseph

Over the years, I've grown to respect Joseph's bold and interesting approach to developing his own seed strains - adaptivar landraces - which enhances genetic diversity along with yield and taste to provide his family and CSA with great fruit and vegetables. There is a lesson in good seed stewardship for all of us.

Where do you farm and when did you start?


I started farming as a toddler in Paradise Utah, a small village in a mountain valley. Cold air from the surrounding mountains settles into the valley, so the growing season is short and cold. Due to the low humidity during the summer, we get bright sunlight during the day and intense radiant cooling at night. I am still farming in Paradise.


I grew up on the farm that was settled by my 3rd great grandmother. We raised a huge vegetable garden to feed the family. The rest of the farm was in pasture, wheat, alfalfa, woodlot, or fallow where the mountains are too steep. My primary responsibility was to milk the cow once a day, every day, year after year after year. I love the intimacy of milking, and the gentle rhythm of it, but it ties you down something fierce.

We raised or hunted just about everything that we ate: pigs, sheep, cows, vegetables, chickens, deer, eggs, milk, fish, etc. We bought bread and noodles. We canned, froze, and dried lots of food. We had a root cellar, and a pantry.


We kept a couple of ponies that we rode all over everywhere when I was young. They were named Sunshine and Stormy, after the weather when they were born, which just happened to match their temperaments after they grew up. I usually rode bareback.

Tell us about adpativar landraces and your seed to seed practices.

I had always bought my seeds from The Company. Some years ago I was looking for a more exciting sweet corn, something with a bit of color to it. I read about the pedigree of a variety called "Astronomy Domine" which was being grown by Homegrown Goodness in Pekin Indiana. It contained the offspring of many dozens of varieties all jumbled up and inter-pollinating each other.

Astronomy Domine

That got me wondering about whether I was harming my garden by planting the highly inbred varieties that the seed companies were offering. So I started doing some plant breeding experiments with cantaloupe. The first year I had only harvested a few fruits before the garden was killed by frost, but I saved the seeds and replanted, and added about 60 varieties as a trial planting. Most of the varieties did extremely poorly, failing to produce seeds or even to germinate in my cold soil. The second year I harvested about two bushel of cantaloupes. There were a few plants from my saved seed that grew vigorously and were highly productive: One plant produced more fruit than an entire row of store bought seeds. So I saved the seeds from the best, and from anything that produced fruit and replanted. The third year I harvested around 15 bushels of ripe fruit. Wow!!! I could finally grow cantaloupe in my cold short season garden.

Mal-adapted cantaloupe

Well-adapted cantaloupe

The fruit of his labour: cantaloupe!

After seeing how successful the cantaloupe experiments were, I decided that I would grow all of my own seeds for my garden, and that I would grow landrace varieties. An adaptivar landrace is a food crop lots of genetic diversity which tends to produce stable yields under marginal growing conditions. Landrace crops are adaptively selected for reliability in tough conditions. In the case of mostly self-pollinating plants like peppers, tomatoes, beans, wheat, and peas a land-race may be thought of as many distinct varieties growing side by side. In the case of out-crossing plants like cantaloupe, squash, or corn, a land-race can be thought of as an open pollinated population with tremendous genetic diversity.

I have had great success with other varieties. For example, I planted every variety of moschata/butternut squash that I could get my hands on and allowed them to freely cross-pollinate. 75% of the varieties didn't produce offspring in the 88 day frost-free growing season that year, and of those that did survive, some of them only produced one fruit per seed packet. But I saved the seeds from the survivors and had a tremendous harvest the following year.

How do your clients react to the diversity of your vegetables?

Judy told me that I am a "bad farmer" for letting colored pollen from the Indian corn get into Astronomy Domine... But for the most part people are pragmatic. My brightly colored and genetically diverse vegetables taste better than the bland grocery store offerings, and so I am readily forgiven if one melon in a basket has a funky smell. If diversity is the price that has to be paid in order to harvest ripe melons in our valley then it's an easy bargain to make. And if I get the chance to share my belief that brighter colors equals higher nutrition and better taste, then people are nearly always willing to entertain the notion. When word of Astronomy Domine sweet corn got around, a local newspaper sent a reporter out to do a story about it.

Any project on the go that you'd like to share with us?

I am currently working on turning every species I grow into reliable landrace varieties for my garden, but the species that I am most excited about is watermelon. I was able to harvest 5 fruits from the 600 seeds that I planted last spring. That is great odds for a breeding program! I am collaborating with two other growers in similarly cold short-season gardens, and with one grower in a warmer climate. We are all growing each others seed and sharing seeds from the survivors with each other.

Mal-adapated watermelon

Well-adapted watermelon

The fruit of his labours: watermelon!

What advice would you give to young farmer's beginning a CSA or other local food farm?

Farm because you love to farm, not because you think it would be a lucrative career. I estimate that I make around $2 per hour. That figure is slightly misleading, because I also eat from the garden, and I have much lower expenses because I grow my own seeds, and because I have developed varieties that thrive without pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, weed-mats, etc. Farm-gate sales are much easier on the main highway than from a back-field somewhere. You can develop your own clientèle and your own way of doing things, regardless of the traditions of the other farmers in your area.

Read more at Homegrown Goodness

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tomato Tuesday: Get Ready...

I'm sure I spaced these seeds better...

It's the time of year to start your tomato seeds and other tomato-y fruits too. I have a whole flat of ground cherries, litchi tomatoes and a new one called golden berry (I'll report back) seeded, watered and waiting. I've already started my eggplants and peppers but that's another story.

They're sitting in my sweltering greenhouse at the moment germinating one by one. I feel like a kid finding easter eggs each time I spot a new sprout. They'll be spending cold nights and days inside of course but that's not necessary during this misplaced summer we're having this week. I take them in whenever the weather is predicted to be too close to 4C and leave them out as long as it's not frosty - in a greenhouse of course. I used to put them in a plastic tub and prop the lid open when it got too warm. It will warm up, even getting way too hot, in surprisingly cool temperatures with the lid securely fastened so err on the side of caution if you use this trick. Closer to planting date, they'll be moved outside to face their new friend - wind - in full force.

Someone asked on a forum if anyone used cold treatment for their tomato seedlings. According to this explanation, it helps them to flower earlier. Because I tend to leave my plants out during passable weather - not hail, gale or frost - from the beginning, I guess I do. Can't say as I notice super early flowering plants or at least flowering time seems to be quite variable. I'd love to hear other people's experiences.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Maple Syrup means Spring*

It may not be the official calendar date for the beginning of spring but early on Tuesday with mist laying heavy on the ground and geese flying over head, I could feel a change in the air.

The sugar shack showing through the early morning mist.

For a week, the sap has been rising in the maple trees as the temperatures crept and even leapt above 0C.

On a previous sunny day, you can see the sap dripping from the tree.

Gardening partner started a fire in our inherited evaporator. The kids gathered round.

The previous owners made this crafty invention which is an evaporator/smoker depending on how you place the chimney. In this picture, the boiling pans are removed.

The sun burned off the mist brining not the drizzly day we had been promised but one shining with beautiful golden light. We are nearing the sweet spot of spring when temperatures warm but before the biting bugs come out.

Sap gets boiling.

Sap was added to the evaporator. For those not in the know about how maple syrup is made. The trick is to boil it down the slightly sweet sap into a thick sugary concoction. It takes approximately 40L of sap to make 1L of maple syrup.

My kids thought it looked like a volcano here.

After boiling down all day, we brought a couple pots of near-syrup indoors to finish the job. I have about 4L of maple syrup to be bottled and stored. This whole adventure will begin again sometime next week, weather holding.

* These are pictures from last week. This week there is almost no more snow and temperatures in the summery range of 26C. Crazy!! We probably boiled down the last of the sap for the year, today.


Urban tapping: There are some beautiful maple lined streets. Those trees are well branched and mature meaning lots of sap production. I have this fantasy of these blocks getting together for sugaring in the spring. Tapping supplies can be gotten inexpensively on the various seller sites but make sure you get food grade plastic, cast aluminum or something else that isn't so antique it contains lead. Or you could make your own with a hollowed out staghorn sumac stem (some people are allergic to this shrub) and a milk jug.

Not Far From a Tree Toronto organized an urban tapping: They blog about the ups and downs of this sort of project.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Awaiting Seeds?

My next mail run is tomorrow. If you would like some seeds from my trade list then I hope to make another mail run next week.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Seedy Saturday
A City of Food

The most exciting thing about Seedy Saturday was not...

Before Picture: This is what setup looks like. Scroll down to end if you want to see the After Picture. Notice Greta (organizer in the orange shirt) of Greta's Organic Garden tirelessly working. She's been the coordinator for this Seeds of Diversity event for many years.

Trading and Buying Seeds

I know what you mean random guy, "It is hard to say no to all those great varieties and as an enabler told me, it's a cheap habit."

Chatting with Friends

Here are my partners in crime (wo)manning the Canadian Organic Growers- Ottawa Chapter booth: Connie and Lloyd. These guys are workhorses! You may recognize them from such places as Seedy Sunday at Perth, various organic events like Feast of Fields and EcoFarm Day, farmer's markets and more.

Meeting New People

Like this lady from The Garlic News and Beaver Pond Estates who suggested I try a soft neck variety that's hardy and a good keeper. I'm on the waiting list, looking forward to making some garlic braids.

Eating the Goodies or any of the other Activities...

Yeah, it was busy though perhaps a few less elbows to rub as you crane your neck at the seeds than last year.

... It was Finally Tracking Down these People!

Twigs were growing around the building asking you to pick a website:

Who are they? Not the Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster. No, they are the until now elusive urban orchard people like Not Far From the Tree in Toronto. It's a way of making use of all that beautiful and often unharvested fruit within city limits. Want to know more about Hidden Harvest Ottawa? I'm hoping to post an interview with the organizers very soon.

In the meantime, here are some other initiatives to get us growing in the city:

Community Orchard brought to you by the Heron Park Community Association - You are in the pre-know so look for info on this project after March 20th at the above site.

Just Food does a lot more than just food: Check out their community building website. Here is the link to a list of Community Gardens in Ottawa.

Veggie Patch: New to me, this is an urban Ottawa based CSA that uses rented garden plots (my understanding is its land for veggies) to run a patch work farm. It looks like it works on the principal of SPIN farming.


My Review of Seedy Saturday

The trade table was hopping and bopping with lots of donations from regular folk and seed vendors (Nice to see you here Mountain Grove Seeds), but was it my imagination or were there less seed vendors and more sundries this year?

Overall, the sketchy weather seemed to keep the hordes at bay so there was breathing room to manoeuvre between booths. I have to assume you all have enough seeds from last year. Now that was a crowd!

I really enjoyed meeting up with plant buddies such as the twin themed I Wet My Plants and I Soil Myself who came out of blogger hiding to dash off a few posts (keep them coming) as well as some more folk for a few private seed exchanges. It's a party folks - if by party you mean hanging out with a lot of chlorophyll drunk people giddy over pre-baby plants.

Next up on the calendar of plant fun, I'll be giving a talk on Starting Up Your Organic Vegetable Garden in North Grenville at the Branch Restaurant. Come out and say hi.


P.S. I'm still on the lookout for something substantial on:

Urban Foraging - *Your Group Meetings Here*

Ottawa Guerilla Gardening - *Your Clandestine Drops Here*

Any other Projects? Let me know.