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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Steps into Heirloom Seed Saving

As I mentioned in my post about Rolling over the New Year in Canning, there were so many things that I wanted to learn how to do as we started our farming journey, and there are still so many things that I would love to learn how to do - some for functionality and some just to keep an excitement within the mundane.

When I first was challenged to try out new skills, I tried to learn as many things as I could at once. This became a bit overwhelming to me, especially since we had young kids to take care of too. Somewhere along the line, however, the phrase "Jack of all trades and master of none" started echoing in my mind. It was then that I decided that maybe I needed to just pick one skill, learn it well, and not add anything new until I felt somewhat proficient at the one I was working on.  So this is what I now do or try to do most of the time. Along with this, as confidence is built in one skill, it starts to snowball building confidence as I try out another.

Now that we are starting our 6th year on the farm, I am at the point where I feel comfortable with where our garden is at and with my gardening skills.  It has been a long journey to get here with the challenges of breaking sod on poor soil and trying to produce food instead of weeds. Especially when you add in young kids, pregnancy, babies, and  . . . oh . . . that starting up a working farm and building a house on a bare piece of land thing too.

Not only was getting the garden established a major undertaking, but so was learning how to grow the variety of crops that I wanted to grow.  Apart from the couple of years where I experimented with plants while trying to establish a garden in town, I only had really had a little bit of gardening experience growing peas, beans, and tomatoes from planting in our forgotten garden during high school. (And I might have been more interested in getting a nice tan at that time than I was in really learning how to grow those vegetables well.)

So now that I have had my share of growing more weeds then veggies just after we broke the sod of the new garden, complete crop failures of new vegetables tried, and even farm animals mowing through the garden before our fencing was up, I now feel like I have reached the point of an established garden and have become a somewhat established gardener.

With that accomplishment has come my desire to take the next step in my gardening journey . . . Seed Saving and Heirloom Seeds.

Over the last few years of farming, we have kept back animals that thrive on our farm, and we have noticed that the animals that are born on our farm do better than those who aren't.

The same is said to be true of seeds.  Plants that resist disease and insects in a particular atmosphere (climate, soil quality, microbes present, etc.) will produce seeds for plants that do just as well in that same environment.  Seed saving gardeners have benefited greatly in their gardens through years of saving seeds from plants that thrive in their gardens, in addition to the benefits of not having to purchase seeds year after year.

Although there are many newer varieties of open pollinated seeds to choose from (seeds that will come back true to their parent plant, unlike genetically modified seeds or even hybrids that are cross pollinated), I have decided that I would like to try to grow heirloom seeds for my seed saving attempts.  Some of this is because it just fits with our farm as we raise heritage breed animals, and some of it is because I am appreciating the farming heritage of my grandparents and beyond more and more which leads to the appreciation of others who have persevered through years of farming.

Last year I started my heirloom seed saving endeavor by just learning about heirloom seeds - what heirloom even means and what some of those seeds are.  I requested a catalog from Seed Savers Exchange, an organization located in Decorah, Iowa - which is in my state and where I hope to visit soon!  I also scoured through various other seed catalogs, as well as through the internet, to come up with a rough list of heirloom seeds that I wanted to try in my garden. My list, shown in this post, has just has a fraction of the heirloom seeds available. It is almost mind boggling to even choose which ones to try! (You can click on my list to see it enlarged, but remember it is a first year thrown together list so you might want to double check things!)

Surprisingly, after I put together my list, I was able to find many of these varieties from the seed racks of various stores around me: Walmart, Fareway, Menards, and two nearby farm stores. Many of the seeds that I planted last year were heirloom varieties, and I was quite happy with how they grew and tasted.

Researching the varieties was about all that I could fit into my days so I didn't get around to saving any of my seeds last year.  I did, however, add the book Seed to Seed to my Christmas/birthday list at the end of the gardening season to help me learn the ins and outs of seed saving: avoiding cross pollination, properly saving and storing seeds, etc.  I was a bit disappointed I didn't receive it for Christmas, but my sweet husband ordered it for me for my birthday (last week) when he realized it was something I was really hoping to get.

As I begin to search for and order my heirloom seeds now, I will also be doing some reading so that in the future most of my gathering of seeds will be from my garden.

I would love to hear any thoughts or advice from those of you who have tried seed saving or who have favorite heirloom varieties. I am still a bit mind boggled with this new challenge, as I usually am when I step into a new area of learning, but I remind myself to take little steps, enjoy the journey, and as always - invest in the next generation by inviting them to come along beside me.

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Tools of My Trade
This book is a wonderful resource on companion planting in order to grow foods without the use of chemicals. It details good and bad companions, how various plants work together for increased flavor, productivity, and pest control.  It includes information not only for the vegetable garden, but also for companion planting with fruits, nut trees, ornamental plants, and much more. Copies of this book can be found used or you can purchase a new copy from the link provided.

This book is a wonderful resource on the technical aspects of seed saving.  It shares about the heritage and classifications of different garden seeds (heirlooms, hybrids, etc) and how the different types of seeds react to seed saving.  It shares about how to effectively maintain pure varieties of seeds with respect to how the plant pollinates and through different seed saving techniques.  Seed clean and storage techniques are also described.  A large portion of the book is given to explaining each type of vegetable family, the classifications of families to avoid cross pollination, and how each vegetable family responds to seed saving and storing.  If you are interested in saving and keeping your own pure strains of seeds, this is a must have book!


Mary P. said...

Here is a link to a great blog you might find interesting, and they just started selling heirloom seeds.

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Thanks for sharing! I just might have to try some of those out. :)

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