My Little Seed Data-Bank

Leave a comment

In my quest to achieve new heights of garden nerdom, I have begun to compile a database of the seeds I am planning to use for 2011.   The first 122 hopefuls are listed by seed source, type, variety, year the seed was packaged for and any comments I have to add from previous years of growing them. Most of the seed is open pollinated, from small operations owned and run by actual people wherever possible. Some of the seed I purchase from a couple different sources so I can compare how each performs in the garden under our growing conditions.

Seed to Seed

I’m growing open-pollinated seeds from Bountiful Gardens and Adaptive Seeds because I like the idea that I could save seed from year to year and eventually end up with a variety that has adapted to perform better in this area in the ways that matter to us. My mother-in-law handed down some of the family fava bean seeds to me this Christmas Eve. They have been adapting to growing in our Zone 9b location for at least 35 years, and to growing in nearby Santa Cruz for several generations before that.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75% of agricultural crop diversity was lost during the 20th century. Think about that for a minute. The climate is changing at the same time the diversity of crops we are going to need to meet the challenge of that changing climate is being lost. Farmers all over the world used to save their own seeds, seeds that adapted to the local conditions, just like my in-laws saved their favas and basil seeds. But now enormous amounts of seed diversity are being lost and huge corporations are controlling, patenting and hybridizing seed resources. 25% of the world’s seed supply is already controlled by just three agro-chemical corporations. I think they can manage without the seeds growing in my yard too.


Hybrid vs. Open-pollinated

What I’m Doing Differently Since Taking “Edible Gardening”


This year I was lucky enough to be part of “The Edible Garden Series: From Design to Harvest” through Common Ground in Palo Alto taught by Drew Harwell. And there are a lot of things that I’ll be doing differently now that I have completed this class.

First, and perhaps most revealing, I’ll be growing–am already growing–a lot more food in the same garden space that I started with. Not only do I understand inter-cropping and plant rotations better, but plant spacing makes a lot more sense to me and I’ll be using a lot less of it in between my plants, especially my winter crops, than I have in the past. Column H of the Master Charts in “How to Grow More Vegetables” is finally useful to me! Yay!

Seed Flat KitAnd I’ll be starting those plants in flats. I used to start seeds in old yogurt containers, left-over six-packs from the garden center, old plastic cups…pretty much anything that was handy and could be recycled into something that held dirt. But seed flats hold a *lot* more soil than a six-pack, and hold it deeper than a six-pack. It stays moist and at a more even temperature and your seedlings grow up much healthier. I have no idea why this never occurred to me before, but as soon as Drew talked about it in the first week of our class, it all made sense and my seedlings are certainly thankful for it. Now I just need one of those little scoop tools to help with transplanting.

Kangaroo Rat

California Kangaroo Rat

Those new flats will be filled with 50% “bed soil” and 50% compost that I am now making right here at home with confidence and success. I’ve tried a lot of different composting methods over the years.  Some of them ended up smelly, some of them ended up taking forever to break down and one of them had an entire family of kangaroo rats who leaped out of it right at us when we opened the container to turn it!

No more. One of the things that’s different around here is the compost piles are now open. No expensive bins or crazy spinning systems or awkward compost turning tools required. We are building 4′ x 4′ piles with alternating layers of ‘green’ material, ‘brown’ material and bed soil. And we are turning them once, after they have gotten up to or beyond 135 degrees. The first pile has already cooked up to this point and been turned. The second one is piled right over where I hope to dig a new bed in the spring to help prepare and improve the soil while it decomposes over the rainy season.

This is also my first season of cover cropping. I have ‘Medic Mix’ from Territorial Seed Company in three of the raised beds, cereal rye in one, the Common Ground ‘Cover Crop Mix’ in another and a healthy stand of fava beans already going. These are the first crops I have grown specifically “for the soil” and I am feeling good about the process. Cover cropping is another thing from this class that now really makes sense to me. Some of these crops will be chopped under as a green manure before the spring planting happens, and some of them will end up in a compost pile. Either way, I like the idea that there are crops for us to eat and crops to feed the soil that ultimately feeds us.

Asparagus SeedlingsMy garden is now more forward looking in other ways too. Not only do I understand where the prevailing winds come from and where the afternoon sun hits the garden. I have learned a lot about planning the garden as it moves through time. For instance, there are more perennial edibles now in place or in progress. We have started our first Pigeon Peas, experimented with Chayote squash, put in an asparagus patch for plants started at home from seed, added several kinds of berries and learned how to be better to the fruit trees. And this is only a fraction of what Drew covers in the series!

Keep an eye out for the Spring Edible Gardening Series. The class is a great investment of your time and easily pays for itself with the increased yields you’ll rapidly see in your garden.

Starting Seeds – Take Two

1 Comment

The Mary Washington asparagus crowns never did sprout. It’s been a long, wet, cold spring here. Maybe they are still down there thinking about it. Probably the ground was too cold and wet when I put them in and they have succumbed to rot. I will dig them up when the sweet potato slips arrive from Sand Hill Preservation and see. In the mean time, I am starting asparagus from seed. Italian seed, no less. The packet says, “Asparago Precoce d’Argentuil” which I am pretty sure means early asparagus and leaves a bit to be desired on the descriptive end. For $2.99 I figured it was worth a try. I’ve already lost this year’s growth since the 1-year-old crowns didn’t make it and I really want enough asparagus to pickle some eventually. I broke down and bought asparagus this year, planning to pickle some of it, but we devoured it.

And speaking of things being devoured. Where are my beautiful Appaloosa beans? I know I planted an entire 4′ x 4′ of them! OK, it was mid-April. And that same wet, cold rainy spring that I mentioned earlier. But still, they are in a raised bed against the house in a nice sunny spot. ONE bean came up–and something ate the top of it off. Ugh. Remind me to reseed that planter bed now that it is finally warming up. Where did I just read not to rush to plant your bean seeds because you will just end up wasting a lot of seeds? Sometimes I think I am just gardening to learn patience.

But then I have a week of eating like we just had. I have a big board in the kitchen and last weekend I wrote down everything in or from the garden that was ready for us to eat; shell peas and snap peas, potatoes, salad greens, spinach, chard, beets, green onions, strawberries, oregano, celery, chives, carrots and the last of the kale and parsnips. Then I set about eating or finding a way to preserve all of it. It was actually fun trying to ‘live off the land’ there for a little while. And the vegetable curry I prepared in the middle of the week made it all worth while.

Today I also started some of the Principe Borghese tomatoes that I love for drying. I know, it’s mid-May. But last year, I was wishing I had started a second round of them by the time the first group were finished and the tomatoes were all in the dryer. Assuming it ever warms up this year, I may want them again. I also started Bottle, Dipper and Corsican Hard-shelled gourds. It’s probably warm enough for them to sprout outside, the watermelons and pumpkins are coming up, but I figured, why torture the poor things? They can get started under the grow lights with the last of the peppers and go into the garden when it really is ready for them. Plus, I don’t know where I am going to put them yet. And there’s all those sweet potatoes yet to fit in.

And did I mention that I started 40 or so quinoa plants? I was thinking about experimenting with a quinoa and sunflower version of The Three Sisters. I got some nice looking Hopi sunflowers from Native Seeds to mix in with the quinoa. I started a couple varieties of pumpkins in the bin to shade the soil and keep the weeds down. And I’m wondering if I can grow some pole beans up the quinoa. I think the sunflowers will be strong enough. The quinoa part might be crazy. I’m still reading up on it.

October 10th, 2009 by Sidney, Kimberly and Marilee

Leave a comment

Opening Circle: Mackenzie shared a beautiful, new song with African lyrics. The English lyrics are as follows:

Welcome to my village
You are part of my village
We are all one village

Today we passed an invisible “talking stick” and shared the name of our favorite veggies. We also shared the progress of our seed jars. Most of the seeds had quickly germinated and in some cases had multiple leaves, or the seeds remained dormant with mold growing on the moist paper towel.

We discussed that the newly emerging plants were initially feeding on the nutrients within the seed and then each new plant grew toward the sunlight. Sidney shared a seed dispersal experience describing how a neighbor’s dog collected and distributed seeds which had caught onto his fur.

Mackenzie introduced our special guest today, Suzanne Mills, her mother from San Diego. Suzanne was busy helping everyone today with the experiments, cooking, clean up and sharing stories about growing up with Mackenzie. Thank you Suzanne!

Garden Chores:

The front yard was cleaned up with old growth tomato plants taken away to the compost pile.

Large Compost Bin

Tomato Plants Become Compost

Science Project:

We talked about the 3 elements; sunlight, water and soil and how they relate to plants.

There were 3 experiments. Mackenzie prompted the investigation with a question about one of the elements and then we created our scientific guess, sometimes referred to as a hypothesis.

Q#1 What happens to roots with various amounts of water?

Hypothesis: Plants need water

Method: 5 cups of soil were given varying amount of water and ability to drain water.

C1 – no water

C2 Water once with cup drainage holes

C3 Water once with no drainage holes

C4 Water several times with cup drainage holes

C5 Water several times with no drainage holes

Q#2 What does soil do for plants?

H: Quality soil gives us bigger leaves

M: 3 pea seeds using 3 methods were planted in the garden

P1 Peas with water and sun

P2 Peas with poor soil with water

P3 Peas with good soil, sun and water

Q#3 How does light affect plantʼs growth?

H: Plants donʼt need light but they grow better with light

M: Put 3 cups filled with seeds and soil into 3 areas of varying light

C1 Inside without light (closet)

C2 Create a collar of foil around the cup to maximize light capture

C3 Put cup outside with no foil collar

Garden Senses Exercise

How Does the Garden Feel?

Senses in the Garden:

Everyone had fun searching the garden and acting like a detective finding 18 different

textures, smell, sounds, colors, tastes. The “brightness” of each individual piece was


Cooking Project:

Cooking 3 different dishes using Polenta; Polenta crust pizza, soft polenta with olive oil, soft polenta with tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, and apple upside down cake.

Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. When boiled, polenta has a smooth, creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain.

Polenta Pizza

Let's Eat!

We watched Talia finish up cooking a pot of soft polenta. After adding the polenta to boiling water she stirred the mixture for over an hour. Her patience paid off as the batch passed the thickening test with her mixing spoon standing straight up from the mixture.

Owen, Kevin, Kimberly and others sliced and diced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to decorate the top of the polenta crust.

Everything was delicious.

End of the Season

Leave a comment

Ready-to-GrowThe garden is quiet now that the last session of the Spring 09 Dirt to Dinner project is done.

Real-World Wide Web

Real-World Wide Web

We explored the interconnectedness of the food webs we participate in every day. Latecomers spent part of the afternoon asking why we all had on nametages that said things like “Flowers,” “Oak Tree,” “Earthworms” and “Cougar.”

We also dug the potatoes that have been growing in the black nursery cloth circles since the start of the program. The plants had long ago bloomed and were mostly ready for us.

Washing the Dirt Off Dinner

Washing the Dirt Off Dinner

There were lots of the red-skinned potatoes with a blush color inside. I hope the folks at Common Ground know what they were because we liked them and they might work for next year’s Red White and Blue Potato Salad. They kept their color and held up nicely when we cooked them for the Balsamic Green Beans and Potatoes.

Some of the kids chose to pull the plants with their *many* green tomatoes and take them home to hang for ripening.

Roma Tomato Prepped for Dry Hanging

Roma Tomato Prepped for Dry Hanging

We are experimenting with three or four different ways to ripen green tomatoes and I’m curious to see what works best. Right now my favorite is to put them into a paper bag with a ripe apple or tomato and to let them redden that way. We are testing the plant hanging method, sunny window sills, newspaper wrapping and apple-in-a-bag. We’ll let you know how it comes out!

We also stabilized the gourd trellis and planted the gourds, picked the Principe Borghese and Costaluto Genovese tomatoes that were ready and explored the Ice Box watermelon ripening that has happened so far. (Not there yet, but close and already quite tasty!)

Everyone Loves the Eating Part!

Everyone Loves the Eating Part!

Today’s lunch included Balsamic Green Beans and Potaotes, Red White and Blue Potato Salad, Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Egg Salad, Tomato Basil Mozzarella, Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s program possible, including our generous donors at Seeds of Change, The National Gardening Association Seed Donation Program, the generous and helpful folks at Bauer Lumber and Mark Lassen at Lassen Construction.