Mentee Blog #2 – Spray Creek Ranch
The weather over here on the other side of the mountains is so different from what you all experience in the Lower Mainland. Where we live in Lillooet, we only get an average of 13 inches of precipitation a year, and when it does rain everything drys out so quickly. Usually we are thrilled when it rains! The challenge for most farmers over here is getting enough water, but we are fortunate to have two reliable (for now) creeks that we have irrigation rights on. We have also had a few uncharacteristic downpours, enough I’m sure to complicate a seed harvest, but I’ve already harvested and cleaned all the seed I plan to this year. Some seeds I have even planted already, and I’m enjoying a fall mini-harvest of mini-greens!
I have always been so intimidated by seed saving, and resistant to try. This year I started small. Currently we raise animals on the farm for sale, and only have a small homestead garden to feed ourselves. I saved seeds on this scale this year, and hope to try a farm-scale seed-saving project next year. This year I saved seed from poppy, arugula, mizuna, tah tsai, and a few different kinds of lettuce – the easy stuff! Since I saved seed from a few different mustard greens, I needed to make sure they wouldn’t cross. I’m sure most of the mentees have lovely seed saving books, as do I, and they are the best resources, but I also found a neat little website for quick look-up of information on specific plant varieties: davesgarden.com. Here I was able to type the variety from the seed packet and get the family, species, genus and cultivar, as well as information on growing habit, water requirements, seed saving tips, etc. This made it easy for me to pick different species of mustards I should be able to save seed from without isolation.
Over the Summer, as seed ripened, I harvested into paper bags, and later in the Summer I had the opportunity to use my mentor Mojave Kaplan’s seed winnower to clean my seed. It was so much fun! We did the seed cleaning at a local street fair, so I got to clean my seed and educate at the same time. I was surprised at how curious people were about what we were doing. We all know how disconnected many people are from the production of their food, and I think seed production is a part of food production the public is especially clueless about. It was great to see them think about a new (to them!) part of the food system that they had never even thought to wonder about before.
With the help of my mentor I found the winnower surprisingly easy to use. We first pushed the seed through a series of three screens to help separate the seed from the chaff and screen out any large particles, after the last screen the seed and chaff (and miscellaneous garden debris!) landed in the closed winnower. Mojave then helped me adjust the baffles according to the weight of the seed, and then we worked together, slowly opening the winnower to allow the seed through while simultaneously spinning the handle to make the wind that separates the seed from other debris. It worked perfectly! Beautiful clean seed fell out the bottom, and the light chaff was blown out the end. I proudly returned home with perfectly clean seed.
I am still a complete seed-saving novice, but I’m happy to announce that the intimidation I felt at the beginning of the year has been replaced with curiosity and ambition. I look forward to continuing my relationship with my seed mentor as we plan for next season and discuss possible larger-scale projects.
-Aubyn Banwell, Spray Creek Ranch