Author: Kari

Silver Lining for Yearly In-Person Great American Seed Up

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.  The adage rings true with the founders of The Great American Seed Up (GASU).

GASU originated as an annual live event in Phoenix, Arizona where customers could scoop up bulk seed from buckets and participate in educational presentations all day.  When the Covid-19 crisis rendered their current business model unworkable, they put their heads together to come up with a solution and took the program online to GreatAmericanSeedUp.org.  Thus, Seed Up in a Box (SIB), a project of the Great American Seed Up, was born. The innovation has been an unexpected boon for the company and for its customers.

According to the founders, the Great American Seed Up has always been one big, grand experiment. Imagine walking into a room bustling with gardeners and filled with more than 100 varieties of seeds ready to be literally scooped up and taken home for planting or saving.  This is exactly what the Great American Seed-Up is all about.  “The idea is to give valley residents an opportunity to learn about seed saving, and then to harvest as many ounces or pounds of seed as they want to begin their seed saving adventure,” says Greg Peterson, Urban Farm Founder and local seed saver.

The Seed Up, not replicated or found anywhere else, was a novel way to get quality seed into the hands of farmers and gardeners, minus the packaging and distribution costs that drive up the price of seeds for the consumer. “These seeds were the best varieties we could find in bulk to help people save seeds,” says Seed-Up co-organizer Bill McDorman.

On May 16, 2015, GASU opened its doors for the first live Seed Up.  Interest was so strong that the organizers needed to manage the number of tickets sold to make certain there was enough seed in stock to go around.  The Great American Seed Up sold out.

The event was lively and attendees were undeterred by long waits to scoop seeds. Educational presentations filled up to standing room only. Customers were patient and supportive as staff and volunteers scrambled to keep buckets filled and to tally up purchases.  Despite the usual glitches of an inaugural event, energy was high, seeds were scooped and growers rubbed shoulders.   

Due to high demand, a second Seed Up was held in the fall of 2015, and then annually through 2019.  Numbers of attendees increased at each event, and so did the need to adapt procedures to improve the flow and efficiency.  Janis Norton, creator of Two Peace in a Pod orchard and garden, was instrumental in creating and streamlining systems for seed distribution and education.

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, resulting in shortages of basic commodities, seed companies saw a sharp and sudden increase in demand. Gardeners, especially those who were new to growing food, were dismayed to discover that the seeds they needed were in short supply. Unexpectedly high demand pushed fulfillment operations past capacity.  As a result, sales had to be suspended by most suppliers as they strove to catch up.

Despite these challenges, the mission of the Great American Seed Up remained the same – to get seeds into the hands of gardeners.

The company had access to plenty of seed to meet the needs of its customers.  But hosting a large festival was not feasible for the foreseeable future. “I was very disappointed that we couldn’t host a live event,” says Kari Spencer, co-organizer and author of City Farming.  “The energy and camaraderie when you get a bunch of seed people together doubles the thrill of getting our hands in buckets of seeds. We had seeds, but couldn’t distribute them.”

Faced with an uncertain future, founders began to brainstorm ways to get bulk seeds to their customers without raising prices or losing the sense of community, despite social distancing challenges.

The solution:  Seed Up in a Box (SIB).

 

GASU moved all sales online, making seeds available in SIB bundles that contained enough bulk seed to form 10 oversized portions of multiple varieties.  This was new and uncharted territory from an operational standpoint.  Why package enough seed for 10 people?  The reasons are three-fold:

Scan to go directly to GreatAmericanSeedUp.org

First, packaging in bulk keeps costs down for customers.  Prior to the Covid crisis, seeds were distributed in-person at a discount from other retailers. Now SIB cuts the prices even more — as much as 50% less than the in-person cost.

Secondly, they knew we didn’t want to become a seed packaging company. “As a seed company owner for 28 years, I was looking for a different model to reduce costs and workload for us! Also, putting seeds in buckets and having our customers scoop up their own provided a connection to the seeds themselves that we feel is invaluable,” stated Bill McDorman.

And thirdly, GASU encourages customers to shop as communities, churches, friendship circles, or groups created via social media.  Bundles are sized to provide enough seed for community gardens or neighborhood co-ops.  Included with each bundle is a guide for creating seed swaps to distribute the seeds with Covid-19 safety in mind.

In addition to selling seeds in bulk bundles, GASU has moved access to seed education to an online Student Portal.  Fortunately, co-owner Greg Peterson already had the infrastructure in place via Urban Farm U to facilitate the move.  Customers are given access to seed classes that they can watch or listen to at any time.  Additionally, GASU partners with Urban Farm U and Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance to produce monthly Seed Chats, a seed education event held live on Zoom that anyone can join.  And quarterly, GASU hosts Seed Up Saturday, a three-hour education forum with live Q&A and a chat feature.

The team upped its social media and press releases, expanding GASU’s reach to the entire U.S. and Canada.  “We were able to serve growers across the continent since the seed varieties in our program are adaptable and resilient – not zone-dependent. These are the seeds you will find in any of your favorite catalog companies. If you can grow a pepper where you are, then you can grow our varieties,” explained co-owner Belle Starr.

 

Bill McDorman a prolific seed saver and educator with GASU and Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance added; “The more seed diversity we have growing in our neighborhood gardens and backyard plots, the more resilient we’ll be as a community.” 

To shore up systems for wide expansion, the team clarified roles for each owner and employee to better draw upon the strengths of each member.  Additionally, procedures were better systemized to improve efficiency. With a plan in place, GASU secured a seed warehouse and hired part-time help to package the bundles, eventually moving to a larger space to accommodate the volume of seed that was needed to maintain a consistent stock. By expanding carefully, GASU did not need to furlough any employees or require PPP funding to stay afloat.

The good news for GASU is that there is a steady rise in the trend toward landscaping, farming and home gardening reported across North America. More than 20 million Americans planted a vegetable garden for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bonnie Plants.  GlobalData estimates that the green-thumb boom shows no sign of abating this year, with spending estimated to rise by 7%.  By 2024, Statista.com reports and estimated increase in the global market for garden supplies to rise as much as 28%.1

The Great American Seed Up team members are thrilled that people are discovering gardening and are working creatively to enable gardeners’ success and ability to save seeds. The silver lining to changing their business model certainly has been all of the new people that they have met in their online events. While local customers are excited that the in-person festival can resume, the team plans on maintaining their online presence so that GASU continues to serve a wide audience.

The live Great American Seed Up returns on October 1st and 2nd to North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona and the online option, Seed Up in a Box will continue with new seeds added often.  Visit GreatAmericanSeedUp.org for more information.

During the actual Great American Seed Up we will have a Facebook LIVE event feed hosted by Terra Rose Ganem of Brilliant Planet. Get a taste of the excitement, see what everyone is talking about, get ideas for your own gardens. Join Terra as she gives you a virtual tour of the event, chat with our experts, and shares what it is like to be a participant in a Great American Seed Up.

Follow us on Facebook for live event announcements.

1Statista, & Kevin Van Gelder. (2021, March 15). Gardening sales value forecast 2015–2024. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1220222/global-gardening-sales-value/#statisticContainer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Quit…Trying to Manage My Garden

How Belle Starr’s Gardening Went from Stress and Mess to (Almost) Effortless. 

By Belle Starr

I have been gardening for most of my adult life, some 43 years, and have always considered myself a fairly good gardener. My garden has provided food, flowers, exercise and  sheer satisfaction. Looking back, there were times of great success.

I have marveled at plants that grow from volunteers and have often coaxed them to stay. I have watched beautifully coifed and perfectly balanced garden beds yield very little. And I have seen beds of questionable content growing interesting things blown in from elsewhere or dropped by critters.

There has also been disappointment, when my efforts failed, and seasons of overwhelm.  I remember times when my thoughts went something like this: I either need to hire more help to keep my garden in check or I need to peel back my expectations and maybe even stop gardening altogether. Gardening is supposed to be fun, relaxing, enjoyable and give me great physical release. But I don’t remember anyone saying that gardening included worry, stress and self-doubt.

When I attended a permaculture class in the 90’s, I became very excited because it taught me to look at my garden differently. Permaculture is a design strategy that creates closed systems where nothing is wasted. It is ecological gardening that mimics and cooperates with nature;  a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that provide  more yield for less effort.  What worked, and why became a new mantra as I revisited my approach and philosophy.

Then I met a seed man, Bill McDorman, who became my husband. Again, my view of growing was challenged. Instead of buying seed every year, we were letting our plants go to seed and saving them.  Making sure plants didn’t cross-pollinate so the seeds were “true to type” was an important component.

Fast forward 15 years and many gardens later. Today we grow for pleasure, seeds and food.  Yet I still find at times that I am stymied by what is happening in my garden.  Too many sunflowers choking out everything, gangly tomatoes without tomatoes, coyote mint flourishing especially where it hasn’t been planted and invasive morning glories where the scarlet runner beans should be.  A bed of crops is fruiting and another bed isn’t.  At times, I still feel compelled to “fix” these natural issues.

What a fruitless act — defying nature.  Attempting to govern every situation was exhausting and disheartening.  I began to ask how I could better step into a partnership with all this natural activity rather than attempting to control it.

Enter Joseph Lofthouse, author and gardening maverick.  I recently read  his new book, Landrace Gardening, Food Security through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination, According to Joseph, a landrace is a locally-adapted, genetically-diverse, promiscuously-pollinating food crop. Landraces are varieties that have been growing for generations, and thus are intimately connected to the land, ecosystem, farmer and community.

A key characteristic of landrace varieties is that they offer food security through their ability to adapt to changing conditions. The ability to adapt is critical.  Changing climate, landscapes and seasons are obstructing our ability to propagate the varieties that we have always grown.  New infestations and diseases challenge us. What Joseph points out is that nature inherently knows how to respond to changing conditions.  If we honor that process while we grow our veggies, we will be amazed and humbled.  This perspective was permaculture on steroids.

Joseph explains that, like me, he used to make sure nothing in his garden crossed.  Now he encourages it, looking for the adapted varieties that taste great, and withstand various impacts such as hail storms, locust attacks, or drought.  The best thing about landrace gardening, in Joseph’s opinion, is all the time he saves because he doesn’t keep copious records.  Instead, he lets his thriving plants provide his data right then and there.  This freeform gardening style allows for a type of observation that inspires Joseph to release control and play along with the results of natural cross-pollination.

Recently at a seed swap Joseph brought his landrace beans, all in one jar sporting every color of the rainbow. Instead of 25 different distinct types in different jars, he has his own unique mix selected for flavor, resilience, drought tolerance, growing patterns and ease in harvest.  He grows all these beans together, considering it a benefit if they cross-pollinate which strengthens their genetics.

A bird feeder hanging above a garden statue in a green tranquil garden settingUnlike traditional gardening, Joseph welcomes pests and disease into his garden. He wants his plants to be fully compatible with the existing ecosystem. Therefore, he allows his plants to live or die without his intervention. This is a strong departure from traditional gardening methods, even from the permaculture gardening that we were practicing.

Thinking about incorporating landrace gardening into our gardens might be a stretch. We have been taught that seed saving is hard, needs to be relegated to professionals and that if we save seeds ourselves we might make a mistake.

Joseph and Great American Seed Up co-founder Bill McDorman say, so what! Making mistakes is how tomorrow’s heirlooms are created. Take the example of butternut squash founded by an insurance salesman in his backyard in the northeast. It was born of a mistake, as was sweet corn, found by accident by a farmer in his field as he was tasting his flour corn.

The applications of this type of gardening are wide, varied and profound. Imagine a garden gathering where growers are discussing their new, innovative varieties that survived the elements and withstood some level of neglect. Envision a system where the work being done is no work at all, just the simple process of selection, looking for what survived and tasted great and planting it again. Could it really be this easy? I’ll let you know next year.

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Joseph’s new book; Landrace Gardening will be available at the Great American Seed Up, November 4th and 5th, 2022 at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix.  To register and for more information, go to greatamericanseedup.org/phoenixseedup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Your Garden Go to Seed

On Tuesday, August 24th, join us at 5pm Pacific for Seed Chat.  This month, Bill McDorman and Greg Peterson will discuss how to select and save the best seeds from your garden so that your plants get better and stronger from year to year.  Sign up at UrbanFarm.lpages.co/seed-saving-chat/.  Bill and Greg will answer your most pressing seed questions and inspire you to save your own seeds.

Seed saving is one of the most powerful skills that anyone can practice.

Seeds you grow are free and they become adapted to your garden’s microclimate over time.  If you have never saved seeds before, now is a great time to learn how.  Here are some tips:

 

Start with Easy Crops

Some crops like peas, beans, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes are great for beginning seed savers.  These trusty crops are reliable and prolific seed producers. They are also self-pollinating, so you don’t have to worry about them crossing with their neighbors (more about that later.)

 

 

Sacrifice a Few Heads or Pods for Seed Saving

Harvest most of your lettuce heads before they begin to flower, leaving a few of the plants in the garden to bolt (another word for flowering.)  A stalk will form, producing flowers that look like small dandelions.  When white fluff emerges, tug at it gently to see if it separates easily from the flower.  If it does, shake the flower head into a bag to collect the seeds.  Not all seeds will mature at the same time, so repeat the process daily until the majority are collected.

Harvest beans and peas when the seeds inside the pod are plump, but not quite full size. After harvesting, let them dry completely before storing.   Some bean varieties can be left on the vine to dry until the beans rattle.  Check online to find out if the varieties that you grow should be harvested before or after they dry on the pod.

When they are ripe, harvest tomatoes and peppers.  Separate the edible flesh from the seeds that you want to save.  Clean the seeds and let them dry out before storing.

 

 

Collect Seeds From Your ‘Best’ Plants

Commercial seed producers carefully monitor growing conditions to keep them as close to ideal as possible.  These conditions are difficult to maintain in a home garden.  So, rather than continuing to grow plants that are adapted to ideal conditions, we can cultivate our own seeds that thrive in our individual microclimates and gardening practices. You’ll naturally get this over time if you save seeds at home.

 

 

Tomatoes and Peppers Require No Sacrifice

Collect seeds from healthy specimens that produced a bountiful harvest.  You might also select for good flavor, appealing texture, desired size or any other criteria that you choose.  Over time, seeds will adapt more and more to your garden conditions and preferences.

 

 

Let Nature Do the Work

Many leafy greens and herbs readily plant their own seeds.  You can test this out by leaving some seeding plants in place to allow seeds to naturally fall to the ground.  Some of those seeds will plant themselves without any assistance.  Self-sown plants are often stronger, more vigorous plants as they have determined the best site for germination and growth.  Give it a try with arugula, chamomile, parsley, cilantro, lettuce and leeks.

 

 

Don’t Stress About Keeping Seeds “Pure”

In commercial farming, growing uniform produce often entails monoculture agriculture (growing only a single plant variety.)  In our home gardens, we have a lot more flexibility to let plants to interbreed.  Allowing similar varieties of the same species to cross sometimes results in undesirable changes, such as poor flavor or less resistance to disease.  Other times, the difference is positive, resulting in plants that perform even better than their parents.

In any case, having a diverse mix of genes is advantageous because it increases the number of genetic possibilities.   A larger genetic pool means more resilience and more outcomes.  Many gardeners allow similar varieties to cross in order to save seeds from offspring that express desirable traits. By doing so, they seize upon a marvelous opportunity to direct and accelerate the way these varieties evolve in their gardens.

Discover more about seeds by dropping in for Seed Chat on the third Tuesday of the month.  New seed saving and food growing topics are addressed live each month.  Receive topic updates and sign up to attend at UrbanFarm.lpages.co/seed-saving-chat/.

Lettuce photo: By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=974775

Pepper photo: By Plague – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95182384

Brassicas: A Big Family of Super-Foods to Grow This Fall

Looking to fill your root cellar this fall with nutrient dense crops that provide a jumbo dose of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber, as well as delicious flavor? Plant a late crop of brassicas!  Now is the time to prepare, as gardeners in the US plant their autumn crop of brassicas mid-July or August (depending on the climate and location).

In anticipation of cool season crops, the topic of this month’s Seed Saving Class with Bill McDorman and Greg Peterson is “Banking Those Brassicas.” Get your seed saving questions answered in the live Q&A session on Tuesday, July 20th at 5pm PST. Register at UrbanFarm.org/event/seeds-2021-07/.

Why are we so excited about brassicas?

Brassicas are super-veggies belonging to a genus of plants in the mustard family, also known as cruciferous vegetables. From cabbage and cauliflower, kale and broccoli, to radishes and turnips (and let’s not forget arugula!), the brassica family contains a wide variety of root veggies and leafy greens.

Brassicas are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and iron, as well as cancer-fighting carotenoids.  Experts recommend eating at least five servings of brassicas per week – the fresher, the better!  What could be fresher than greens that are harvested in your garden and eaten the same day?

Autumn is a great time to grow brassicas.  Many of the pests that feed on them in the spring and summer begin to go dormant as temperatures cool.  If, however, caterpillars and other pests are active as your plants begin to grow, it can be helpful to cover them to the ground with floating row covers. Later in the season, these row covers can also provide some frost protection to extend the growing season.

Brassicas tend to be heavy feeders that require regular doses of nitrogen.  Plant them in areas of your garden that grew nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as a summer bean crop.  On a regular schedule, apply natural sources of nitrogen, such as compost, leaf mold, composted grass clippings and coffee grounds.  Supplement as needed with organic nitrogen fertilizers that release slowly, such as feather and bone meal, diluted fish emulsion or composted manures.

Brassicas appreciate efforts to keep them fed. But, beware!  Too much nitrogen can cause the leaves to taste bitter and prevents heads from forming.  Fresh manures, chemical fertilizers or undiluted fish emulsion release too much nitrogen too quickly, spelling the potential for a failed or unappetizing crop.  Stick to the gentler sources previously mentioned.

Brassicas are easy to grow from seed.  Many gardeners choose to start them indoors to get a head-start on the season.  Others sow the seed directly in to their gardens.  Either way, brassica seeds germinate best at temperatures 65-75ºF, but will germinate at temperatures as low as 50ºF.

 

Due to their popularity, easy growth and nutritional value, the Great American Seed Up provides a variety of brassicas in every seed bundle.    Here are a few examples:

 

Waltham 29 Broccoli:  An old heirloom variety, developed in the 1950 at the University of Massachusetts.  It is sought after for its delicious flavor and cold tolerance.  The blue-green heads form on long stalks surrounded by side shoots.

 

Red Russian Kale:  A hardy but tender-leaved variety.  Definitely a favorite for growers, it has frilly, blue-green leaves with purple veins. A large variety that grows sweeter in flavor after a frost.

 

Champion Radish:  Not only does this large Cherry Belle type radish have a gorgeous bright red color, it also has a delicious, mild flavor.  The plants are cold-resistant and fast growing (25 days).  They stay crisp and sweet in storage.

 

Fordhook Swiss Chard:  A giant variety with heavy yields, prized for its tolerance to bolting and to cold. It has broad, strong stems and thick, tender leaves.  Withstands light freezes and is able to over-winter in mild climates.

 

Rocket Arugula:  One of the most nutritious leafy-green vegetables, Rocket is a quick crop, maturing in just 40 days.  It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and develops edible white flowers.  The leaves have a mildly peppery flavor that add a spicy kick to salads and sandwiches.

 

Golden Acre Cabbage:   A compact round head cabbage that is suitable for close spacing (perfect for smaller gardens where space is a premium.)  Delicate but crisp in texture, the leaves have a bright spicy flavor that mellows to buttery sweetness when cooked.  GASU also offers a Red Acre cabbage similar to Golden Acre, but with reddish-purple heads.

 

This is just a sample of the varieties that are available in our seed bundles.  To view them all, visit the Great American Seed Up website at GreatAmericanSeedUp.org/product-category/bundles/

Pollinator Week Kicks Off Today! Discover How You Can Help Support These Amazing-and Necessary-Creatures

Birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

Pollinator Week is an annual event celebrated internationally in support of pollinator health. It’s a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what we can do to protect them.

Pollinator populations are changing. Many pollinator populations are in decline and this decline is attributed most severely to a loss in feeding and nesting habitats.

Learn about pollinators and how you can help at https://www.pollinator.org/pollinators#help.

One way to support pollinators is to grow wildflower gardens in which pollinators can feed and nest. Tuesday, June 22nd at 5 pm PST, the monthly live Seed Chat webinar will spotlight wildflowers to further understanding of how to grow them and harvest them in the wild.

Discussion will also focus on how wildflowers benefit us in so many ways, exponentially increasing pollinator activity. Live Q&A allows for participants to ask their own questions, so invite your newly-gardening friends too. Information about the webinar is found at GreatAmericanSeedUp.org under the Events tab.  Produced by Urban Farm U, details on the webinars can also be accessed at https://www.UrbanFarm.org/events/.

National Pollinator Week June 21 through 28, 2021

The Great American Seed Up Kicks Off National Pollinator Week with a Spotlight on Wildflowers

The Great American Seed Up (GASU) celebrates National Pollinator Week, starting on Monday, June 21st.  In honor of this important week, GASU will offer several resources to enhance appreciation and understanding of the role pollinators play in our garden.  Known for regionally adapted, affordable seeds, GASU will include a bonus Wildflower PDF Companion Handbook for every seed bundle purchased through June 27, 2021. This Handbook covers the how, where and why of wildflower cultivation.

Additionally, on Tuesday, June 22nd at 5 pm PST, the monthly live Seed Chat webinar will spotlight wildflowers to further understanding of how to grow them and harvest them in the wild. Discussion will also focus on how wildflowers benefit us in so many ways, exponentially increasing pollinator activity. Live Q&A allows for participants to ask their own questions, so invite your newly-gardening friends too. Information about the webinar is found at GreatAmericanSeedUp.org under the Events tab.  Produced by Urban Farm U, details on the webinars can also be accessed at https://www.UrbanFarm.org/events/.

Let’s face it. We need pollinators and they need us. Despite this reality, people often do not have a good relationship with pollinators. Bees are swatted. Wasps are sprayed with all kinds of toxic concoctions. Bats are seen as a nuisance. Many don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug so insects are all exterminated together.  Common herbicides and pesticides are known to kill bees and butterflies. Glyphosate herbicides and neonicotinoid pesticides are especially dangerous.

National Pollinator Week, started by Pollinator.org, attempts to bring understanding to the importance of our ecological brethren no matter who they are.  The idea is to view insects, bees, hummingbirds and even mosquitos through a different lens.  They can be allies in pollinating vegetables, fruit trees, and keeping all the “bad” bugs at bay.

One of the best ways to attract and support pollinators is by planting a variety of wildflowers, flowers, grains, and grasses as well as having water sources around for thirsty beings. Ideally the goal is to balance yards and gardens with enough food, water and healthy productive soil as well as other elements that contribute to a rich, diverse environment.

The Great American Seed Up supports gardeners in their efforts to attract pollinators by offering edible and cut flower mixes guaranteed to usher in pollen dispersers. Zinnia, nasturtiums, Black-eyed Susans, poppies and marigolds not only look gorgeous in your backyard but also function as ambassadors to spur your crops toward robust vegetable and fruit production.

With every purchase of a garden seed bundle between now and Sunday, June 27th, customers will receive the Wildflower PDF Companion Handbook as a thank you for doing their part to support gardens and the pollinators who love them. Planting a variety of flower and vegetable crops and creating gardens that include seed production further attracts an assortment of pollinators. And the gardener will end up with more seed than they can use in a lifetime.

In addition to the Wildflower Companion Handbook, our standard seed bundles include a copy of Basic Seed Saving by Bill McDorman.  The book is an invaluable tool to help gardeners save and grow their own seeds, creating a bio-diverse and regionally adapted garden that attracts and supports local pollinators.

Join our live Seed Chat about “Wildflowers!” on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021.  And save the date for an afternoon of free seed education on Saturday, August 21st when the Great American Seed Up presents the next Seed Up Saturday. Listeners will laugh, they will cry (happy tears) and they will wonder why they haven’t been growing flowers and saving seeds all along. Information about both events is located at GreatAmericanSeedUp.org.

National Garden Clubs Dedicate June 6-12, 2021 as “National Garden Week” – a Great Time to Remember Why We LOVE Gardening

Millions of people were inspired to tap into the uplifting power of plants during the difficulties of the pandemic. Many turned to gardening and green spaces for mental and physical wellbeing, and to gain a sense of security in a time of stress and uncertainty.

Now that lockdowns are starting to ease, grocery shelves are once again stocked and social activities are beginning to resume, horticulture is no less important. During National Garden Week, National Garden Clubs, Inc. (NGC) wants to inspire us to keep on gardening and connecting with nature.

This is a week to raise awareness of gardening and horticulture, and to encourage more people to take part in the healthy and productive outdoor activity of gardening. Interestingly gardening starts with using healthy, regionally adapted seed. The process of saving seeds from your own garden may be easier than you think.

 

During National Garden Week, the Great American Seed Up reminds us about the reasons we started gardening in the first place and also underscores the need to cultivate our own seed stock.  Whether during the pandemic or any other time, here are a few reasons to garden and save seeds:

  • Self-sufficiency and security in a dependent world,
  • A place of peace, tranquility and retreat in a constantly connected world,
  • Exercise, natural sunlight for Vitamin D, immune boosting elements and mental health benefits,
  • Creating beauty and doing something worthwhile,
  • Supporting pollinators,
  • Connecting with nature on a regular basis, not just on vacation,
  • Embracing simplicity and a connection with the past which includes ancient seed saving traditions,
  • Doing something meaningful as a family or with others in your community,
  • Eating better tasting, more nutritious foods and escaping from a system where food is fast and cheap,
  • Eliminating toxins from your family’s diet,
  • Having homegrown and home-produced foods and seeds available, right at your fingertips,
  • Eating locally produced foods with locally produced seed (what’s more local than your own back yard?)

 

All of these reasons are still relevant now. Your motivations may align or they may differ from ours. 

Whatever your reasons, take a moment to write them down.  This will make them more concrete and harder to discard when life gets back to ‘normal.’

If needed, tape the list to the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror to remind yourself why you are going to all of the effort to produce your own food and seed and improve your living space.  And if you have a partner or children who will be part of the effort, prepare your list of motivations together.

Learn more about National Garden Week at https://gardenclub.org/national-garden-week.

 

And if you’re interested in learning more about gardening, the Great American Seed Up has some wonderful resources.

Seed Up in a Box for heirloom, open-pollinated seed stock

City Farming: A How To Guide to Growing Crops and Raising Livestock in Urban Spaces – written by Kari Spencer

Basic Seed Saving: a handy and easy to understand reference book on the Why’s and How’s of saving seeds -written by Bill McDorman

 

 

Final Preparations for Seed Up Saturday!

Excitement is building for our next event  The team is busily packaging up seeds and putting the final touches on our preparations for Seed Up Saturday.

Take advantage of three hours of fun-filled and inspirational presentations this Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30 Pacific time. Peruse the topics and register here. 

Enjoy special presentations from Rich Murphy from Veterans to Farmers, Jillian Bishop, Urban Tomato and Joseph Lofthouse from Landrace Seeds. Your usual Seed Up crew will be on hand live (Greg, Bill, Kari, Belle and Janis) to answer questions and fill out the morning with other exciting webinars covering wild plants and developing your own seed varieties. Links to blogs and press releases follow:

What Happens When You Cross a Domesticated Tomato with a Wild Tomato? Joseph Lofthouse is Determined to Find Out.

Joseph Lofthouse is as unique an individual as the seeds he stewards. He is especially a fan of “promiscuous pollinators.” Using the word promiscuous may sound provocative (perhaps to entice you to read on.)  The truth is it’s an actual word used in botany. It means parts, elements or individuals of different kinds brought together without order. Or in this case, pollen that transfers via bees, insects and wind.

Joseph is working on a promiscuous tomato-breeding project to coax interesting and diverse characteristics out of our usual domesticated strain of tomatoes by crossing them with wild varieties. He is doing this through hand pollination and a natural process of placing his tomatoes in the right environment to attract the right kind of species interaction. You can learn more about his breeding project and processes in the new book by Joseph Lofthouse, called Landrace Gardening: Food Security through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination.

Joseph gardens outside the box. And if you asked him about this idiom, I am sure he would say, what box? Joseph grows with all his heart and soul and finds great wisdom and solace in the plants he tends. He has a line of landrace seeds he nurtures that have a long history on a 6th generation family farm. The term landrace describes a variety that has inherent traits of success in its genetic make-up that keep it strong and healthy and able to withstand a series of challenges such as disease, insect infestation and drought.

Joseph Lofthouse shows off his tomatoes in various colors and sizes.
Joseph shows off his colorful tomato crop

Says Joseph in the Northeast Organic Farming Association recent newsletter: By growing genetically-diverse landrace varieties I am able to get out of the way and let the intelligence of the plants solve problems that other farmers might be trying to solve using labor or materials.

Joseph isn’t interested in breeding vegetable varieties “true to type.” He is more interested in what works, why it works and the FLAVOR profile of any vegetable he grows, the most important trait.

On Seed Up Saturday, we will be talking with Joseph about his groundbreaking new book, his philosophy and his practices. Hear from Joseph and other exciting seed innovators this Saturday between 9:30 am and 12:30 pm MST. Join in to the conversation by clicking here.

From Protectors to Providers – Meet Rich Murphy of Veterans to Farmers

A common language, shared experiences and a deep need to grow inside and out is an accurate way to describe Veterans to Farmers, an important nonprofit dedicated to offering services to a unique group of human beings. These men and women have literally spent time in the trenches and seen things that were difficult to endure. These memories and often the post-traumatic stress that accompanies them, are tough to overcome. Getting their hands in the earth and learning how to grow food becomes a healing salve to veterans and offers a beacon of hope to overcome many unresolved feelings. From protectors to providers is the motto of Veterans to Farmers

At Seed Up Saturday on May 22nd, Rich Murphy, Executive Director of Veterans to Farmers, will share his journey of supporting those in transition from the front lines of conflict to the front lines of becoming food providers for their families and communities. The unique Veterans to Farmers organization inspires vets to feed their souls and the bellies of those they love with healing local food.

Paraphrased from  the Veterans to Farmers website:

In 2009, Veterans to Farmers Founder and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Buck Adams established Circle Fresh Farms, which grew into a 12 farm collaborative with a total of 5 acres of greenhouse within 3 years. Circle Fresh became the largest organic greenhouse grower in Colorado at that time. In 2011, he established an initiative to train and hire fellow veterans in the greenhouse environment. Word spread. Before he knew it there where many eager veterans willing to learn. The interest from veterans was much greater than anticipated and as a result, Veterans to Farmers (VTF) was formed in 2013.

In 2014 Veterans to Farmers Founding Member and Program Director, Richard Murphy began to work on the development of the VTF training program. Working closely with Buck Adams and partnering with established educators like CSU’s Extension Offices and Denver Botanic Gardens, VTF prepared to plant its first seeds. Hard work and dedication paid off and by the summer of 2014 VTF was training its first veteran farmers! (End paraphrase)

In 2016, Rich attended a Seed School comprehensive seed saving course. The training he received in the ancient tradition of seed saving inspired him to pass the knowledge on to veterans in his farm education programs.

He, like others who become acquainted with the ancient tradition of seed saving, instantly became a passionate advocate and ally of all things seed.

Rich will join Seed Up Saturday to share his fascinating story of learning to love seeds and his aspirations for those returning from the battlefield to their own personal field of dreams.

Tomatoes: The Gate-Way Garden Plant for Jillian Bishop

A seed company producing seed for sale in a 750 square foot urban yard? 

Meet Jillian Bishop, an entrepreneur from Ontario, Canada who decided to put her indigenous & environmental studies degree to work by creating a carefully curated collection of heirloom seeds for her province in Canada. 

Tomatoes are Jill’s passion, but she also grows peppers, grains, greens and beans (seed) as well as other plant starts.

Initially Jill started out as a landless farmer who planted every square inch of her balcony in her apartment in Ontario, and then borrowed land, backyards, and community garden plots to expand her space to grow. In 2016, she purchased her first home. This luxurious space is the perfect size for her one-woman operation and it allows her to stretch out and add things yearly.

What sold her on the idea of seed saving and starting her company Urban Tomato? She loved getting her hands dirty, and after college she interned at a farm focused on tomatoes. It was so easy to save tomato seeds (squish out the seeds and let them cure) that she was blown away more people weren’t doing it.

Then came the Striped Cavern heirloom tomato which sparked her eureka moment. Unlike other varieties from which she had saved seeds, these, when grown out, looked just like the parent tomato. In other words, they grew “true to form,” as they say in the seed business.

Photo of a Striped Cavern tomato showing it whole and cut in half. The tomato is red with yellow stripes
Photo by Peter Nitzsche, County Agricultural Agent Rutgers

Prior to starting her company, she would hear from fellow foodies and gardeners that they had trouble finding seed that would grow well in their particular region. She liked the idea of starting a seed company, and it seemed there may be a niche for her efforts. After hearing about a year-long, community course that would teach her the business side of running her seed company, she jumped in. Having put together a business plan, she tested out her idea at farmers’ markets around Ontario. It was hit and Urban Tomato was born.

Jillian Bishop smiles behind a table displaying dozens of seed packets for sale at a farmers market.
Jillian displays seeds and promotes seed saving.

In 2015 Jillian attended a week-long Seed School Teacher Training course presented by the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA: a Seed Up Saturday partner). That experience changed her dramatically. First of all, it boosted her confidence in what she already knew as a seed saver. Secondly, she realized that she wasn’t alone in her love and commitment to saving seeds as the basis for any regional food system. She met others with the same kind of passion and thirst for incorporating this fundamental idea into all their growing practices.

 

Jillian Bishop harvests seeds from a profusion of white flowers on her urban farm.
Harvesting seed at Urban Tomato farm.

She has continued to participate in RMSA events and online courses, recently teaching at the online Seed School Teacher Training, and stands out as someone who through her own ingenuity and initiative did the hard work to follow her passion. Since that Seed School experience in 2015 she continues to teach others to save seeds and also instructs at her local college.

What would Jill have to say to other upstart seed savers wanting to develop their own seed companies? As she shares with her students; You can be landless and still grow seeds!  You are also not alone. This is a global movement and there is help everywhere to move your dreams forward.

Jill will be sharing what she has learned through her journey on Seed Up Saturday, this coming May 22nd. The workshop runs from 9 :30am to 12:30 pm, Pacific Daylight Time. Listen for Jill and four other presenters who will cover a variety of topics, including how to breed your own varieties, harvesting wild seeds and planting wildflower gardens, the status of plant patents, and landrace gardening.  Participants will also hear from an interesting nonprofit that works with veterans as they move from protectors to providers by learning to grow food and save seeds.  

Reserve your spot at seedupsaturday.com.

A Mother’s Day Gift for Moms Who Love to Garden (and Mother Earth will love it, too!)

There’s something truly special about growing a garden and reaping the benefits of homegrown food and beautiful flowers. There’s nothing quite like the taste of sweet, tender peas fresh out of the pod, savoring a juicy cherry tomato or brushing your hand along the tops of flowers that you grew yourself.

The only thing that could possibly make it better is to garden with someone else. Mother’s Day is right around the corner and spring has us out in our gardens.   It’s the perfect time to create lasting memories with your mother, sharing the mutual joy and satisfaction of making things grow.

 

Senior mother and adult son wearing blue checked shirts and carrying garden supplies smile in front of a large vegetable garden.
Give Mom and bucket of seeds & supplies and an invitation to garden with you.

Many moms would say that what they want most for Mother’s Day is time spent with their children.  Give her an invitation to garden with you along with a gift basket that includes seeds, cute garden gloves and a few tools.  Ask if she will share her gardening knowledge with you.  Or if you are the experienced gardener, offer to teach her how to grow.

 

Smiling adult daughter gives her mother a marigold start to transplant in their garden.
Surprise and delight her with flowers to plant! 

Before the date on which you plan to begin gardening, prepare an area of the garden just for her.  Instead of giving Mom flowers, include planting her favorite flower seeds or bulbs in your gardening plan.  Grow a few vegetables that she particularly likes to eat.  Decorate your plot with some planters in mom’s favorite colors or style.  And if mobility makes gardening down low difficult, create an elevated garden bed that she can cultivate standing up or sitting comfortably on a chair.

Senior mother and adult son smiling and watering an elevated herb garden.
Elevated garden beds make gardening easier.

 

Of course, there are times when our mothers are not amenable to gardening.  When that is the case, consider inviting a few women whom you love (friends, neighbors or family) to grow with you.  Seed Up in a Box offers bulk seed packages that you can divide up as gifts for any occasion, along with your invitation to join you in gardening.  Packages provide enough seed to gift up to 10 people with a variety of seeds.  Learn more about seed packages at GreatAmericanSeedUp.org.

 

If your mother is no longer with you, grow some plants anyway.  A garden can provide a beautiful memorial and serene moments in which to remember her. Mother Earth will always relish the attention and care that you show her by planting seeds.

 

A mother and her adult daughter harvest tomatos.
Grow something that mom likes to eat the most. Tomatoes are a popular choice.

Tip:  One of the best things you can do for Mother Earth is to plant, grow, save seeds. Seed Up Saturday happens to fall on May 22nd this year, just after Mother’s Day.  Invite Mom to join you for three hours of free seed education and the interesting stories of a few people who grow them.  Reserve your place at SeedUpSaturday.com

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