Today I am in Lillouet visiting friends. It is nice to be on vacation, though it seems we are always farming in our minds. This week we are ordering the seeds we need for early in the season, and spending more time planning for Salt Spring’s Seedy Saturday event. Before I get too wrapped up in the year that will be 2017, now is a good chance to look over my shoulder at the year that has just passed. 2016 was a great year over-all. I’m so glad I decided to make this my year of learning about growing seed.
It is difficult to make a plan to guide yourself through something you’ve never done before, so it has been awesome to spend time with other folks who do grow seed, and especially to view a variety of gardens throughout the season. I learned some important lessons in my own garden, in particular concerning timing. I saw that the planting date of seed crops is important, and that even though we can grow many plants to the vegetable stage later in the summer, sometimes a later planting won’t supply us with good seed. We often do two successions of cucumbers, and I thought I could save lemon cucumber seed from a later planting. While the fruits seemed mature, as the plants were dying back in the fall, the seeds inside were often flat, or translucent compared with other cucumber seeds I’ve seen. I haven’t tested them, but I expect they didn’t have enough time to mature as fully as they would have if they were planted much sooner. From the rainy season we had, it was also apparent to me that the earlier some plants were established the better, so as to have time to mature and dry before autumn rain. Rupert had a lot of good advice for me about gauging seed maturity, particularly with respect to dry-seeded crops, and his thoughts helped me to make some important decisions about when to pull up my plants.
From my adventures with lettuce this season, I learned that simply seeding an abundance of the plant I want to save seed from is important. At one time in the spring we lost some seedlings from our food crop lettuce, so I supplied some from the lettuce plants I was growing for seed. Later some of my seed lettuce was killed by wireworm, or didn’t reach a large size while competing with weeds. All of this resulted in an underwhelming stand of lettuce that would have better been planted to something else. Sadly, this seed crop was mostly ignored. It would have been better to grow three times as many starts, and thus regard the seed crop in a serious manner.
When we are growing market vegetables and seed on the side, it is easy for the demands of the market to make our seed growing seem like leisure. In the future, I would like to grow with a project in mind, or under a contract, so that seed crops don’t come second place in the list of priorities. I’m also curious to catalogue which crops we can grow that can offer the dual purpose of harvesting for food and seed. Like, planting thickly and picking to thin/rogue the seed crop. Or picking the first flush of snap peas and letting the rest dry down.
This season I was especially pleased to have the experience of harvesting, drying, threshing and winnowing crops of dry beans and peas. This process was so satisfying. I tried lots of low-tech and barbaric techniques to smack the seeds out of their pods. Eating the beans is a great reward after swacking a pile of branches with a broom handle. I look forward to a more sophisticated approach in the future. I also look forward to eating more homegrown beans, yum.
We are looking forward to planting a few biennial root crops in the spring. We’ll do rutabega, onion, beet and watermelon radish, all of which are waiting for us in cold storage. Fun!
I’d like to thank my mentor, Rupert for the guidance and inspiration this season, as well as to the team at Bauta for encouraging my learning and making me feel welcome among the seedsmen and seedswomen. Good luck to all of the mentees out there in their gardens and good karma to the mentors who spent their summers sharing their wisdom!