I have been saving seed, first as a backyard gardener and now as a farmer for a number of years. My reason for joining the Bauta Seed Internship was to figure out how to grow more volume and better quality seed, while fitting the seed side of things into my market farming operation. I thought it would be wise to seek guidance, so when Mary Alice Johnson from ALM Farm & Full Circle Seed in Sooke agreed to mentor me, I was so delighted. We hatched a plan for me to go and visit her farm in May, before the craziness of the farming season set in on us.
I really had a couple of major questions I needed answered: How does seed saving fit into her market garden? Is a patch set aside specifically for seed saving or are plants here there and everywhere (like on my own farm)? In addition, what were some tips for quality assurance in order to grow the best seed I could?
ALM Farm has been in certified organic production for over 20 years but Mary Alice began saving seed even before that. Full Circle Seeds has been supplying gardeners and farmers with a wide range of vegetables, flowers, and herbs since the first Seedy Saturday began in 1995.
The first thing I noticed at the farm was how seed saving was happening in many different spots. Some items like leeks and tomatoes were inside hoop houses while kales, biennials (beets, chard & carrots) & flowers were in different fields throughout.
Varieties in the same family were separated by either space (different fields with thick buffers between) or by time – early flowering from overwintering vs later season flowering.
I also got to see male and female spinach flowers up close – a crop I had yet to save seed from because the idea of having to figure out which was which was a bit daunting.
Finally, I had a chance to try out Mary Alice’s air separator – aka “Sucky”. I brought claytonia and parsnip seed to clean and it did an amazing job. Now I need to figure out how to get one on my farm!
There are some things you can read about in a book but there are some things you just have to see. Visiting ALM Farm gave me the chance to go beyond theory and see seed saving in action. Thanks Mary Alice!