by Rowen White
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
The focus here is to walk through a seed garden plan as it is integrated into your larger farm or garden. Integrating seed stewardship into an existing garden isn’t difficult or complicated, but it does take a bit of foresight and planning.
If you are a beginner on this seed keeper path, it is best to keep it simple and make the commitment to grow one or two varieties of seed in the season. I will be offering guidelines today on how to steward varieties with care from seed to seed.
Today, following this worksheet, we will create a constellation of all the considerations that we must understand as we lay the groundwork for our seed crops. Some seed crops are grown in the same manner as their food components. These are crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and dry beans. With these crops that double as food crops, the only considerations that you need to make is the timing of planting, to ensure that the seeds ripen in the fruit. You also need to consider isolation strategies that may be needed to ensure varietal purity. I will cover these topics briefly today, but you can dive deeper into them as part of the Plant Midwifery lesson in my season long distance learning module, Seed Seva.
I suggest you pick a seed variety that has special significance to you. This seed work is about restoring relationships, and the process of following a seed crop through the cycle will deepen your connection and relationship to these plants.
Part of drawing out the map of intentions for following a plant through the life cycles is to begin to learn what I call plant midwifery. You will be learning the many layers of the plant’s reproductive cycles, as you work with and help steward life from one generation to the next through the stewardship of seed. You will only touch the surface of these reproductive cycles today. As you plant and move into the sprouting and flowering phases of the season, you will learn more about the diversity of ways in which seeds create seeds from their blossoms, and how we can learn from such expressions and patterns.
But first, I want to walk you through my own process of planning my seed stewardship projects. I would recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Seed Garden by Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel, and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Both books will be a great reference for you throughout the season.
Creating a Seed Garden Plan
This is a good time to remind you that there is a lot to learn in this mentorship path of seed keeper. I have been stewarding seeds for 19 years and I still learn every single season. Don’t let the abundance of information overwhelm you. Allow it to seep in slowly, like water on thirsty soil. You may find yourself going back over these lessons and books in years to come, to find new perspective and insight. Be patient with yourself.
Things that may be helpful for you to have as we begin to fill out the seed garden plan are maps or layouts of your current garden or permaculture site. If you are just beginning, just sketch out a dream garden map, as a visual that we will use for this exercise. Get out your garden journal and begin to make a map of your current garden, and where you intend to plant different crops.
It’s also helpful at this point if you have maps of your garden from the last year to refer to so that you can take into account crop rotation. You will want to plant heavy feeding crops in areas where legumes or light feeders were grown last year. Ensure that you don’t plant the same crop type in the same bed or soil the next year to prevent disease and viral buildup.
Please print out your seed garden plan worksheet, and use it to follow along with my inquiry in the video.
The key is to start slow and steady, and to make sure you are always set up to handle stewardship of the varieties you have been given. This is a long-term relationship that you are beginning with these plants, and it’s better to be more focused than to have more than you can handle.
I always begin my planning with my field map, my inventory sheet, and the seed garden plan worksheet. I start with sketching things out, but innovative digital garden planning software is available.
Begin to fill it out with the basic information, including variety, name, etc. I suggest that you put both of these worksheets in a garden journal or 3 ring binder, as you will be referencing this and filling in more areas of the sheet as you go throughout the season.
Don’t skip this step!
This is a good place to catch details you will be writing in your garden journal, and will help you establish good habits around recordkeeping.
Growing for seed and growing for food is sometimes very different. You will be thinking through a number of different variables to assess if there is anything different you will need to do for your specific seed crop varieties. Plants for seed often require more space than for food production.
What is a good population size for healthy seed?
There are a couple rules of thumb for figuring out how many plants of each variety you need for good healthy seed. For seed varieties that are self-pollinated, you need less plants, usually between 1-20 for good varietal maintenance. For cross-pollinated varieties, you need usually between 15-500+ for healthy seed.
Again, you don’t need to worry too much about this at this very moment, and you can see how it's much easier to begin with self-pollinated crops, depending on the size and scale of your garden or farm. With selfers, you simplify and decrease the number of variables that affect your seed. That said, some of my most treasured seed relatives are cross-pollinated, and they are not much more difficult, they just require a little bit more planning.
You can see in the seed garden chart that they have two columns for population size, one for home varietal maintenance, and a higher number of genetic preservation. I would in most cases be guided by the home varietal maintenance numbers.
Do I need to consider varietal isolation?
If your seed variety is a cross-pollinated species, you will need to consider isolation. The simplest form of isolation is to make sure that no other variety of the same crop type is grown in close proximity. For instance, if I am growing a sunflower or a corn variety, I want to make sure they are grown far enough away from another variety of the same crop type.
You will also see guidelines for isolation distance in the chart.
I will note here that these charts are rough guidelines. I can grow two varieties of corn much closer in distance because of tall tree hedgerows which block the pollen drift and also taking into consideration the hillside and the way that the wind blows consistently. I have had great success growing corn only 1000 feet apart, but there are trees and a prevailing wind that goes away from the corn crops and not between them. Over the seasons you will begin to read the lay of the land and see what works well within your landscape.
Another strategy that we use is to space out the planting timing of each variety. We do this with corn, and it works wonderfully.
Ask yourself, do I need to consider how much space each mature seed plant will need?
As I said before, some plants produce edible fruit and vegetable at the same time the seed is ready. Things like watermelon, tomato, dry bean, pepper, etc. These don’t require different spacing for food and seed.
But some seed crops extend beyond the normal stage of edibility, and you may need to increase spacing. For lettuce, I normally plant four heads 4-6 inches between plants, but for the seed phase they need more like 12-14 inches. In this case, I simply harvest every other one, and allow the remaining heads to go for seed.
Seed crops get rather wild and unruly!! See these mustard green seed pods spreading out all over! Note the stakes and trellis twine! We will be learning all methods of handling seed crops as they grow. In your seed garden plan and your seed record, fill out with how many of each plant you will need, and what sort of spacing they will need in your beds.
For your own personal homework make a list of ten varieties of either flowers, vegetables, herbs or grains that you have an interest in learning to grow from seed to seed. Grow things that have been historically grown in your region. Look for heirlooms that have been grown in your bioregion. Seeds are not one-size-fits-all.
Out of the list of ten, narrow down to one variety that you feel drawn to steward this coming season. These may be seeds you already have in your home.
This material is excerpted from the Holistic Seed Stewardship module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Rowen White.
Rowen White is a Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and a passionate activist for seed sovereignty. She is the educational director and founder of the Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed cooperative focusing on local seed production and education, based in Nevada City CA. Rowen is the current National Program Coordinator and advisor for the Indigenous Seed Keeper Network. She teaches creative seed training immersions around the country within tribal and small farming communities. She weaves stories of seeds, food, culture and sacred Earth stewardship on her blog, Seed Songs.
Further reading on this topic:
Breeding Organic Vegetables, Rowen White. (This is a FREE e-book for you!)
Seed to Seed, Suzanne Ashworth. The seed saver's standard reference that gives information on saving all the common vegetable seeds. An important book to have if you're saving seeds of heirloom varieties.
The Seed Garden, Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel. An important book to have if you're saving seeds of heirloom varieties. Published by Seed Savers Exchange.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #seedsaving #seedstewardship #seedgardenplan
by Heather Jo Flores
This time of the year, the garden might at first glance look messy, unkempt. The plants are starting to dry out, turn brown and die. But look a little deeper and you see an abundance of seeds ready to harvest, and whether you are an old expert at seed stewardship or a new gardener with a budding curiosity, seed saving from your home garden to grow and share can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the season. This old-world skill is best learned experientially, and within a community of fellow seedgeeks. But here are some tips to get you started, even if you only have a small garden.
Some plants are much easier for beginners. This has less to do with ease of harvest than with whether or not the plant needs a large or isolated population to produce viable seed. For reasons we don't have space to explore in this article, saving seeds from cucumbers, squash, corn and most plants in the Brassica family (kale, cabbage, broccoli) is best left for experienced farmers who have the space and knowledge to make sure those seeds have been bred in a way that maintains their genetic diversity and integrity. On a home scale, I recommend starting with the easy ones: lettuce, beets, carrots, celery, tomatoes, onions, beans and plants in the mint family (most of your culinary herbs.)
Most of the vegetables we eat are just babies when we harvest them for the table. But to save seeds, let the plant mature completely. Heads of lettuce will elongate and shoot up flower stalks covered in tiny, yellow dandelion-like blooms. Onions will send up a pointy bud that will open up into a globular white cluster. Beets, carrots and celery are biennial, so their seeds won't mature until the second year. Tomatoes and peppers, when harvested for seed, should be much riper than most of us prefer for fresh eating.
Harvest and Processing
There are two distinct types of seed processing: dry and wet.
Make sure the seeds are fully formed and have started to dry. A good test is if they shake easily into your hand. If the seed is still very firmly attached to the plant, it probably hasn't matured. When you harvest, don't try to remove the individual seeds in the field. This can cause a lot of waste. Just cut the whole seed-head carefully into a paper sack and move to a sheltered spot where you can clean it.
As soon as you harvest, create detailed labels with as much information as you know. Include date of harvest, date of planting, species and variety names, where in the garden it grew best, where you originally got the seed, and why you liked this particular variety enough to save seed from it. Keep these notes with the seeds, and you will always have the information at your fingertips.
Most seeds mature within a protective coating called chaff. To process seeds for storage and replanting later, we must first remove the chaff; otherwise it will rot in storage and cause the seeds to decay. To remove the bulk of the chaff, pour the seed heads onto a clean tarp spread on the ground or a large table. Fold the seeds into the tarp like a burrito, making sure the corners won't leak. Stomp, smash and dance on the tarp, and then carefully open it back up. Avoid getting a lot of dirt and other contaminants into the seeds.
Now you are ready for winnowing. On a large scale, this is best done with fans and screens, but on a small scale you can just do it with a medium-sized round bowl and your mouth. Put the seed into the bowl a little at a time and swirl it around, blowing gently. The chaff, which is lighter, will lift up and blow away, while the seed, heavy with genetic material, will sink. Pick the last few specks of chaff out with your fingers and place the clean seed on a piece of paper in a standard electric food dehydrator on the lowest setting (around 96 degrees) overnight. You could also dry your seed on a dark shelf for at least two weeks, but I prefer the dehydrator so I don't have to worry about mice, ants and ambient moisture ruining my crop.
If the seed is encased in a juicy fruit, such as tomatoes, use this method to remove the slimy seed coat so that the seeds last longer in storage. This not only gets rid of the slime, it also kills any seed-borne diseases and ensures your seed will survive in storage for up to several years.
Squish the seeds into a jar. Add a small amount of water, place a piece of cardboard over the top to let air in but keep bugs out, and set the jar aside. Pick a spot that is not in your kitchen, because it will definitely stink! Within a week, a thick skin of mold will form on top, and the mature seeds will sink to the bottom. Now, fill the container to the top with water and carefully pour off the mold on top. Rinse the seeds a few more times, until the water is clear, then strain them. Now they're ready for the dehydrator.
Seed Saving Storage
Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. I store mine in paper envelopes inside insulated picnic coolers, available for a few dollars at any thrift store. If you save peas or fava beans, watch out for weevils, which are very common. You won't be able to tell if your seed has the weevil larvae inside, but store them in the freezer and you can be sure they will die. Also freeze seeds from members of the Allium family, such as onions, leeks and chives, which are particularly short lived — they last much longer when frozen. The longevity and viability of your seeds will be largely dependent on storage conditions, so don't overlook this important step.
We can only protect diversity by keeping it alive, and your seeds will perish if stored for more than a few years. Grow and save them again, and share your collection with fellow gardeners. My favorite way to share seeds is through the community seed swap.
If you 'd like to learn more, have a whole module on seed saving in our online double-certificate permaculture design course.
Heather Jo Flores wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. Seed saving is her deepest passion. Visit www.heatherjoflores.com.
#seedsaving #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
by Heather Jo Flores
Whether you save your own seeds or just have a bunch of leftover packets from years past, a seed swap is a great way to expand the diversity of both your garden and your community. But don't limit yourself to just seeds!
I have been organizing events like these for 20 years and folks have brought surplus plants, trees, garden supplies, food preserves and homebrews.
A seed swap attracts more than just the local permaculture crowd. People from all walks of life have a passion for gardening and seed saving and this event can bridge gaps and build new friendships that lead to a close-knit and more sustainable community for everyone.
How to organize a community seed swap
Look online and ask around in your area about anyone who has organized seed swaps in the past. It is better to help with a central, large swap than to have a bunch of small ones that aren't connected. If you can't find anyone who is already organizing swaps in your community, then you are ready to move on to step 2.
Make a flier and/or FB event page
In order to do this, you will need to decide on some things. First, when and where will you have your seed swap? Your house, the park, a local church or café or a nearby community garden are all great venues for a seed swap and they don't cost money. Next, decide whether you want to have people exchange just seeds, or if you also want to have them bring plants, garden supplies, potluck foods, preserves, homebrews, etc. Put all of this information on your flier. Pick a date at least six weeks in advance to give yourself time to get seed donations and thoroughly publicize the event. Once you've made the flier, you can create an event and a page on Facebook and any other social networks that seem relevant.
Get seed donations
Send a short, polite letter, with your flier attached, to seed companies, local farmers, garden stores and anywhere else that you think might have some surplus seeds from last year to donate. Remember that some of these places get a lot of requests, so be patient and polite. It is fine to follow up with a second email or phone call a couple of weeks after your first request, but don't harass them! If you don't get a ton of donations for your first seed swap, don't worry about it. Once you've established an annual pattern, you will always have more seed than you know what to do with.
When your swap is about three weeks away, start doing a ton of publicity. Send a calendar listing to the local papers. Make an event on Craigslist and promote that Facebook page. Make a handbill and pass it out at farmers markets, post fliers at local garden centers and food stores. Go to garden-related events and invite people in person. The more you hit the streets with this, the more successful you will be. A seed swap is a tangible way to connect with your community in face-to-face, real time. Let it happen and you will be amazed at the results.
Set up for the seed swap
On the day of the event, give yourself about two hours to set up the space. Make attractive signs for the different families of garden seeds (beans, brassicas, nightshades, lettuces, etc.) It doesn't matter if you know botany, just create a system so that people who bring seeds to share can easily find where to put them, and seed-searchers can figure out where to look. Create a few sitting areas for people to socialize when they're taking a break from seed swapping. Leave a space in the middle where everyone can circle up at the beginning of the event.
During the seed swap
Most seed swaps take one of two forms: people either set up their own little area and directly trade seeds, or everyone just puts what they brought out on onto the tables, potluck-style, and then they just go for it. I much prefer the latter format because I feel it contributes to the spirit of community more so than a "this-for-that" format. Assuming you will take my advice, have everyone put their seeds on the tables, but ask them to wait until a critical mass of people have arrived at the event before they start looking. Once you get what feels like a solid amount of people (and seeds), have them circle up. Go around and ask each person to talk for less than a minute about who they are, where they're from, and what they brought. This is an essential part of the event, as it gives everyone a clear picture of the community that has come together for the seed swap. But don't be afraid to play facilitator here, so that the go-around doesn't take more than 20 minutes or so. Introduce yourself at the end, and ask everyone not to take more than half of anything — that way the diversity stays on the tables for as long as possible. And then tell them to go for it!
Document, document, document
A seed swap is one of the most photogenic events you will ever attend. Take as many pictures as you can. Get close-ups of hands with seeds in them. Take group photos of people laughing and sharing. Climb up high and get shots from above. If you have video or audio recording tools, interview folks and ask them about their relationships with seeds and their experience of the seed swap. All of this documentation will help you promote future events, and can be a wonderful way to inspire people in other communities. If you have skills to edit a short video and put it online, all the better. This is such a simple, free and easy way to build community, so consider your final task as important as the rest, and help get the word out about the glory of a community seed swap!
Ashley Newhard, who hosts the Facebook group Seed Swap Organizers, offers a spreadsheet template, here.
#seedswap #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
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