As I sit in my office overlooking my rain-soaked garden, the rainy season on my Pacific island has taken hold, I can’t help but think about what I’m going to do in the garden next year. There is still plenty to harvest, but the last thing for me to plant this year will be the garlic. Next year is open with possibilities and one of the things I’d like to do better with next year is seed saving.
I keep meaning to become a serious seed saver, but once again I’ve found myself with a few saved tomato seeds, a ridiculously large amount of wintercress seeds (they were so easy to collect, so I kept collecting) and chive seeds (again easy to collect and great for sprouting). Since my chives will reappear on their own, my seed saving efforts will net me only two, tasty, but not very filling crops for next year.
Although, I don’t view my gardening as a cost saving measure, not saving seeds feels like I’m choosing to be unsustainable*. Since one of my gardening motivations is to produce food low in food miles, it makes sense to save the seeds that I can leaving me pondering how to be a better seed saver.
Through a rather round-about way I discovered my local library has a seed library. Serendipitously, I discovered the seed library a week before the Dan Jason of Salt Spring Island Seeds scheduled to talk at one of their events. I dragged a friend to the talk set up outside on a day that turned out rather chilly (we had to rush off for hot chocolate afterwards to warm up).
Dan brought a tub of examples of seeds ready to save – starting with tobacco he originally propagated from 1000 year old seeds, to quinoa, amaranth, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, brassicas, radishes, corn, sage and more.
He filled my head (and notebook) full of useful seedy information. For example, I had no idea that seeds on ripe quinoa plant left outside in the rain would sprout right on the plant – Dan said someone described it as looking like quinoa crawling with maggots. He passed around an example of sprouted quinoa and I wouldn’t describe it that way. Or that quinoa in stores has been mechanically processed rendering them unlikely to sprout at all.
Dan pointed out that there are many varieties of most crops and that it makes sense to keep trying different varieties until I find one that reliably grows well for me and tastes fantastic (why grow anything that doesn’t taste fantastic?). He inspired me to give amaranth another try and to continue on with my plan to grow dried beans. Both of these plants are easy to collect seeds from. If I have success with lettuce and pepper next year, I’ll collect those seeds as well. Perhaps, I’ll leave a couple leeks in the ground to flower and collect those seeds too. There are plenty of easy options to try.
And the seed library doesn’t yet have any wintercress, so hopefully at the next meeting in March I can share my surplus (I plan on joining).
*I accept that I can’t be truly sustainable in any way on a small urban lot – but I can always do better.
While we were browsing in a Beijing market, my traveling companion spotted BBQ scorpion on a stick for sale (I know scorpions aren’t insects, but for food stuff they fit in the ‘insect’ category in my mind). Each stick held five scorpions glistening with sauce. The possibility of a novel experience took hold and she begged me to try scorpion with her – I didn’t*. Although that trip was years ago, recently, everywhere I look someone is writing about eating bugs (there is a lovely account of someone who plunged into bug eating here).
There are plenty of good reasons to substitute some of ones protein needs with buggy-goodness – many of which are outlined here. You can raise an insect based protein source in a small amount of space, perfect for an urban gardener like me. I have no problem producing enough leafy greens for my family and to give away, but I’m short on protein sources. Leaving me to wonder if I should revisit my decision to not eat bugs.
In the past for pet food, we’ve raised mealworms in the house. Mealworms are non offensive insects who happily live in an aquarium with a thick layer of bran. Their adult form is a flightless beetle – so they don’t escape. They’re dry, so no smell. They are also edible – I could easily throw a handful of meal worms into my morning smoothie, then blend them in – but I won’t.
Even though I intellectually agree with all the pros for eating bugs, I’m not yet ready to do it. I grew up in a culture where bugs are not considered food and even though I’m willing to eat all sorts of things, the thought of bugs as food still grosses me out. Perhaps some day I’ll work up the nerve to try eating insects or perhaps not.
How about you?
*Without me, my traveling companion went ahead and bought herself a stick of scorpions. On her first bite, scorpion-juice splattered down the front of my shirt – I never got the stains out of that shirt.
I’ve started contributing to a website about sustainability. My first article is now up, check it out here.
A few days ago I outlined what grew well in my garden last summer, now it’s time to go over what didn’t grow well.
1 – Cabbage. This one I consider a colossal failure. I started two types in a cold frame last spring resulting in enough robust, healthy seedlings for half a garden bed. I carefully spaced them out and planted them once temperatures were warm enough – that night cut worms took action killing several of my seedlings. I made little collars for all the surviving cabbage seedlings and spent several nights outside with a flashlight hunting cutworms down. Next slugs took their turn munching complex patterns into the leaves, then the aphids moved in covering the plants. I sprayed them with soapy water, but the aphids didn’t seem to care. More seedlings succumbed to the attacks. Heading into winter I have two cabbages left, enough for few coleslaws, but certainly no sauerkraut. I sacrificed a lot of space to cabbages, for not much gain – while kale (which I like equally as much) always thrives. I won’t be growing cabbages next year.
2 – Lettuce. I started early lettuce in the ground last spring. Slugs decimated my new lettuce seedlings (but not the arugula). Lettuce starts given to me by others did just fine when planted, I assume they were big enough to withstand some slug munching. I started lettuce in trays on my deck, well away from the risk of slugs, right beside the cabbage with germinated just fine. But, germination rates were low. Mid spring (mostly because of my salad-a-day challenge) I went to the nursery and bought quite a few lettuce seedlings. Over the summer, I tried two more times to start lettuce in trays with little success. I was hoping to try overwintering some lettuce but that’s not going to happen (I do have plenty of mizuna, mache, wintercress, spinach, arugula and chicory – so I’m set for salads). I’m not willing to give up on growing lettuce, so I’ll get all new seeds to try next year – any ideas on how to better start lettuce would be appreciated.
3 – Watering by hand. All summer, I went out every night with a hose to water the garden. I don’t mind spending the time, but I’m a bad waterer. I don’t manage to water everything evenly. In my carrot patch, based on the amount of foliage, I can see where I watered plenty and where I didn’t – I don’t think trying to water more evenly by hand is the solution, I need to make the process more automatic. I’m going to start researching automatic watering systems with the goal of installing a system for next summer.
Overall, I’m happy with how my garden did this year – and I’m not done yet, there is plenty still out there growing to feed my family for the winter and into next spring (kale is the best in the early spring).
Years ago I was in the army. At the end of each of our exercises we would sit down and create an ‘After Action Report’ outlining what went well and what didn’t. The idea was to create a document to learn from. With this in mind, I thought I would take a similar approach to this summer’s garden now that I’m trying to be more systematic about getting more food-stuff out of it.
What turned out well:
1 – Early peas in a big, black pot. I started peas really early in both a garden bed and in a big, black pot. The ones in the pot took right off, out growing the height of my trellis in no time while producing tones of peas. The peas in the ground were slow and produced only a few peas. My theory is the black pot provided extra warmth by heating up in the sun. Next year, I’ll grow all my early peas in black pots.
2 – Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. All of these are in relatively new places and heavily mulched and fertilized. The result was a constant supply of these berries, even now there are raspberries and strawberries to eat.
3 – Carrots and beets. I devoted most of a bet to these two this year and mulched them well. None of them turned out huge, however we’ve eaten plenty over the last while and have enough to last us a few more months.
4 – Celery. I had an old package of celery seeds and some extra space when I was starting seeds, so celery became a last minute addition to my garden plan. I’ve tried to grow celery before and was disappointed by the small, bitter tasting plants that resulted. This year I ended up with six good sized plants (plenty for my family) that tasted great. Again, they were heavily mulched which kept them wetter than before. It appears that mulching is a common factor that improves my harvests.
Next, I’ll get into what didn’t turn out well…
I’ve written an article about how I’m going to attempt to grow more calories in my home garden over at Emma the Gardener’s blog – plus some things I won’t be trying to grow/raise.
I used to hate beets – it was all about their colour. Their juice stains everything it touches a nuclear shade of magenta, a colour I find unappealing. Now that I’m gardening, beets make a great crop; they are easy to grow, nutritious, and can just be left in the ground until needed. These plusses outweighed the fact that I didn’t like them, so I planted beets. I can’t say they are my favourite vegetable, but I’ve grown to tolerate them in soup and roasted (my quest to love beets is still ongoing).
In looking for something to do with my beets, I stumbled across a recipe for ‘biosphere beet soup’ from Eating In: from the field to the kitchen in Biosphere 2. The recipe called for beets, a potato and a lemon. I don’t grow any of my own lemons as I would need a greenhouse. However, I do have lots of beets and potatoes, so this recipe makes a great starting point for an experiment in making dinner out of what is currently in the garden.
First thing this morning, I went out and harvested the beets. Beside the beets were red carrots. These carrots were bred to contain lycopene, a health promoting nutrient, and they were red. Purple and orange carrots have been a huge success, so trying out red ones seemed like a great idea. To release the lycopene, the carrots need to be cooked and their redness wasn’t as bold as I wanted (they are a rather pale red, almost pink) making them an ideal ingredient for my beets soup.
In another bed, my first successful celery crop waited to be harvested, so I cut off several stalks to put in the soup. Last spring, I had planted multiplier onions to harvest their greens. The onions did their own thing and set single bulbs, that are modest sized red onions. Several of these onions went in along with two cloves of my own garlic.
Purple potatoes seemed the obvious choice for this soup, so I included a handful of small ones. Based on my recent spaghetti squash avalanche, I’ve also slipped in a squash which I assume will blend in.
Everything is now in the slow cooker, along with some salt and pepper that I didn’t produce. I’ll puree the lot before dinner. The original recipe came to 101 calories per serving, which is rather low. It is difficult to get a lot of calories out of garden produce. I think I’ll fry up a couple of eggs from my hens to round out the meal. That’s as local as I can get.
I seem to be challenged when it comes to growing winter squash*. This year, out of three plants, one delicata and two acorn squash, there is only one, misshapen squash to harvest – unfortunately this is on par with my previous years harvests. Winter squash are great and store well, so I’d be disappointed with my harvest, except this year I out sourced my squash production to my parent’s garden. They are downsizing their gardening efforts, so have lots of space for sprawling vines. I passed on seeds for butternut, baby blue hubbard (I think) and spaghetti squash.
My dad said he planted three of each type of squash. He lined up the harvest in the picture. Clearly the spaghetti squash outdid the rest. Three plants produced 112 squash, or roughly 37 per plant – that’s insane!
It looks like we’ll be having spaghetti squash for dinner several times a week until next spring and giving many away.
* lemon cucumbers on the other hand are no problem, currently one plant is giving me billions of them. They don’t pickle well and they are overrunning my other cucumbers. Lemon cucumbers might not make my planting list next year.