Heirloom seeds make sense

heirloom seeds

I received my first-ever copy of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog on Monday and I am so excited!

The vegetables and fruits portrayed within it are all non-hybridized, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented.  This company boycotts anyone related to Monsanto and any other gene-altering companies.  Plus, the seed they offer has come from all over the world, so some of the varieties you’ll find with Baker Creek are very exotic and extremely rare.

I’ve become quite partial to Johnny’s Seeds, which is a local Maine business that I love supporting, but even Johnny’s has a limited selection of heirloom varieties.   As a beekeeper I want to grow as many open-pollinated crops as I can in order to utilize my buzzing livestock. And–for someone who is working toward self-sufficiency–it only makes sense to grow crops that I can collect seed from for future use.

heirloom seeds catalog
The cover of the 2012 catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Contains gorgeous photos and useful articles along with the details of their stock.

Heirloom varieties intrigue me–they are a living link to gardeners and farmers of eras gone by.  Generations ago someone somewhere took the time and care to preserve their best crops for future use.  Those seeds were a legacy handed down to their children, and their children’s children, or shared with neighbors who did the same.

Not only do heirloom crops offer superior performance per geographical location, their flavors are unmatched and their nutritional value remains in-tact.  When compared to genetically modified crops such as corn, in which studies have proven the protein content to be almost 2-times lower than that of the old-style open-pollinated varieties, it’s not difficult to choose heirlooms.

Often times particular strains can be traced back to specific countries and regions.  Which is why it makes sense to choose varieties from areas with similar growing conditions to your own.  Since someone went to all the trouble to preserve the seed, it makes sense that the crop must have performed well under its geographic conditions.

What’s more–if it’s seed saving you’re interested in–than heirlooms are the future of your garden.  Hybridized crops do not allow for seed preservation.  The seed from hybridized crops will produce offspring demonstrating a lot of variation and most likely will exhibit a reduced quality compared to their parents.  But by taking care to ensure the proper precautions when growing a crop, seed can be saved for use in years to come.

The heritage preserved in heirloom seeds is a legacy that is the result of generations of farmers from around the world.  It is a glimpse into the past, and I find it fascinating to flip through the pages of the Baker Creek catalog to look at these antique varieties.

What’s your favorite heirloom crop?

For more about Heirlooms:

Heirloom Vegetables – from the Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Heirloom Vegetables: 6 Advantages Compared to Hybrids – from Mother Earth News.

Seed Savers Exchange – Non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.

Up Close and Personal With Bugs

As someone who values insects in my garden, I can personally testify to the stunning beauty of insects.

This slide-show from Planet Green will show you that once you get past all those legs, insects are not only beneficial, but gorgeous as well.

Check it out! Insects: Up Close and Really, Really Personal

Putting the Garden to Bed

It’s mid-November and I’m feeling an increased sense of urgency to finish my winter preparations.  So after nearly a week of rain and drizzle, wind and cold, I’ve enjoyed this weekend’s golden autumn sunshine and the opportunity to work outside.

I’ve been focused on tucking my gardens in for their long sleep, this means doing some garden “housework”–pulling withered and spent plant stalks, removing stakes, trellises, garden-art, and covering the soil with some form of mulch.  It’s a tender feeling akin to mothering as I cover the soil, much like the feeling I get when I tuck in my sleeping children.  The material I use as a “blanket” on my garden varies depending on what I have on hand.  Several of my raised beds have a thick matting of white clover, which I scatter-sowed this spring to act as ground cover.  I’ve decided just to leave these beds as they are this fall.  Next spring I’ll chop up the clover with my hoe and turn them into the soil as green fertilizer.

Another bed I covered with a leftover bale of straw.  I never use hay on my garden–straw is more expensive, but it has gone through a de-seeding process, which I prefer in order to keep weeds at bay.

My husband has been donating the wood-shavings he collects after his woodcrafts and projects in the barn, so the perennial bed and the blueberry bushes get priority over this choice mulch.  Earlier in the summer I laid down a layer of wood-shavings on these beds, now I have a second large bag to spread in the garden for extra winter protection.  Thanks honey!!

All the leaves have fallen from the trees now, and I decided to rake them down the hill to the lower beds.  What a sensory experience it is to rake leaves!  With the golden afternoon sun shining on me as I raked, inhaling the sweet fragrance of the dried leaves, reveling in the satisfying crunch as I pushed mountains of leaves across the lawn to the garden, I felt close to nature, to this Earth, as I always do when I am out of doors.  Never mind the blisters and sore shoulders!!

The beehive is another extension of my garden, and as a first-year beekeeper I’m probably more worried than some about the survival of my colony through the long, cold New England winter.  A third “super” was prepared and stacked atop the hive, and wood-shavings were arranged inside this to help insulate the colony before the top was placed on again.  I wrapped the whole structure with tar-paper, and stacked three contractor’s trash bags of leaves around three sides of the hive and tied them in place.  The front of the hive is left open so that the bees may come and go during the winter.  That’s right–the bees will occasionally fly outside the hive during the winter–if the weather is warm and clear they might go out to stretch their wings, get some exercise, but mostly they work at bringing out debris(ie-dead bees) that builds up while they are incarcerated.  At last inspection the hive was crammed full of honey and pollen, and even now the bees are still returning from foraging with pollen–I can’t see a thing that’s still alive in November, but the bees are finding it nonetheless.  Fascinating!

naturejournalentrySince the weather has been so lovely I decided to take the opportunity to venture into the field with my nature journal.  I couldn’t entice the kids to accompany me, but since part of homeschooling is modeling positive behaviors and experiences I went anyway.  It’s hunting season, so the only day it’s safe to hike in the forests around my home is Sunday; thankfully this Sunday was beautiful.  How still the forest seems without the rustle of leaves overhead!  How quiet without the multitude of birds–even the squirrels were remarkably silent.

I’ve always held an avid interest in herpetology, and when I learned of the plight of the vernal pool (click this link to check out my new Squidoo lens which is all about Vernal Pools) it progressed naturally into a desire to protect these fragile habitats.  I’ve been observing the pool on the Burns property for several years now, but beginning next spring I will be undertaking a more serious scientific investigation of the pool (and hopefully other vernal pools in the area), taking measurements, samples, examining specimens, etc.  Unfortunately I live too far north to participate in the Audubon’s Vernal Pool Identification Project, but I hope that by striking out on my own I might have some positive impact. I wanted to go to the vernal pool to check on it’s status and record impressions for my studies, however–I’m embarrassed to admit–that when I reached the place where the main trail ends and the barely-worn footpath that leads into the sheltering hemlock grove–I stopped short.  I startled something in among the trees and it went crashing off through the leaves away from me.  I didn’t get a good look, but it was definitely bigger than a rabbit!  The hemlock grove is a notorious hang-out for deer since it offers food, shelter, and water all in one location in the heart of the forest.  I stood there for several long minutes trying to decide if I was brave enough to continue down into the cul-de-sac where the vernal pool lies.  Autumn is rutting season for the deer and moose and being a woman alone, unarmed, in the woods, I eventually decided not to risk coming face to face with an antlered buck.  I suppose as a naturalist and eco-warrior I should have set aside my fear and done what needed to be done in the name of science. But I couldn’t.

What would you have done in my shoes??

Sharing My Garden Enthusiasm

Summer is nearly upon us, and I am in full garden-mode right now.  My mind obsesses over the garden and its many facets.  I’d spend every waking minute in the garden–if only my body didn’t protest so!
I have ten garden beds–six raised beds in the main garden nearest the house, and four beds on the lower section of our large backyard (and also four tire-beds alongside the house).  Last year, after we moved into town and into the house where we now live, I reluctantly had my husband till the gardens.  As a firm believer in the no-till method, which preserves the soil’s microorganisms and the symbiotic relationship between them and the plants, it was hard for me to concede the use of the tiller.  However, a girl has to accept her limitations, and if I were to dig the gardens I would have spent all summer at it last year.
However this year the gardens were ready to go; I covered them early in the season with black plastic, tarps, whatever I had that would prevent the weeds from taking over my beds before I was ready to plant in them.  This strategy worked to my advantage; I’ve tackled one bed at a time–uncovering the soil to find warm, moist dirt, which, in some cases, needed very little digging to be readied for planting.  All of my early-season crops are already in (I had a mishap with my pea-seeds, so no peas this spring–maybe I’ll try them again this fall), lettuces, greens, beets, chard, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc.  I put in carrots, rutabega, more beets (we love beet-greens!), herbs, and just last weekend–the cucumbers and pole beans.  This weekend I managed to put in my  tomatoes and peppers, with their marigold friends and basil allies, along with a number of annual friends dispersed throughout the garden.
I try to keep my garden kid-friendly, to promote gardening to the youths in my life.  I teach all the children to respect the soil–“Stay on the paths!”  And I explain why.  I sometimes dole out simple garden chores; my nephew is an eager helper, curious and inquisitive–no one is shunned from my garden.  I maintain a tee-pee made with saplings and hemp-twine, which we grow pole beans and morning glories and moon-flowers up to create a fun play-space (with it’s own built-in snack!).  I let the kids poke seeds into the dirt, fetch a bucket-full of fertilizer, or try their hand with the spading fork.  “It’s hard!” they sometimes say when using the spading fork or shovel, and I chuckle and tell them, “Gardening is hard work, my friend.”  But it’s worth it.
And, of coarse, we have the recent arrival of our bee colony.  Pollinators are an integral part of the garden, so it was a natural progression to include a colony in my yard.  Already the bees are hard at work, scouting out new food sources, and returning with their bounty to the hive.  They really are fascinating to watch.
Some of my organic methods include the no-till practice, lots of mulching (I use whatever I can afford, even if it’s only cardboard, which you can find free just about anywhere you look–I say: “Free’s for me!”), composting (obsessively) and soil-building practices, home-made organic weed-killer, home-made organic insect repellent, companion planting, plant-family grouping, square-foot gardening, and raised beds.
So–that’s how my garden grows…how does yours?