Monday, February 28, 2011

Hot pepper heaven

I've always found hot peppers a bit of a hard sell.  If I lived in the southwest US or Mexico, maybe it wouldn't be so.  But in my little neck of the woods crowds of people, including chefs, don't exactly rush in to get them.

But, typical me, I continue to grow lots and lots of them simply because I like growing them.  Wise business move?  Maybe not.  But what the heck, you've gotta have fun in the garden!  And with the stunningly brilliant yellow, oranges, reds and purples-what's not fun?

Better yet, of course is if you can convince some unsuspecting friend to do a little taste test to check out the Scoville units.  Then the fun really begins!

Peppers have been around for a long, long time.  Evidence of the use of peppers was found at Machu Pichu, believed to date back as far as 5200 BC.  They were revered by the Incan civilization, the first king being named 'uchu", the word for pepper in the Incan language. They were brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus while he was searching for the totally unrelated Piper nigrum (black pepper), slowly making their way to Spain, India, Africa, Turkey, then Hungary. At one point in their history, Europeans believed they had a "certayne hidden evyll qualitie", but this notion was dispelled, and their popularity grew.  It wasn't until the 17th century though, that hot peppers began to be used in some small degree by North Americans.

Peppers (Capsicum) are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which of course also includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. There are five cultivated species of peppers, and eighteen known wild species.  In North American one species only will be found in the grocery stores and that is C. annum, which includes all chilies and bell varieties.  I have grown some of the C. frutescens varieties such as tabasco and one of my all time favourites, Aji Limo, with it's citrus flavour and slap of heat.

The heat in any pepper is the result of the capsaicin concentration in the interior walls.  In general the hotter the pepper, the more tolerant it is of cool weather.
Additionally, peppers are perennials and can sometimes be successfully overwintered in pots indoors or planted in hoophouses.

Peppers readily cross pollinate and if you are trying to save seed from different open pollinated varieties, plants either need to be caged or 500' apart.  Realistically for most home gardeners, the best thing to do is simply grow one variety.

There are hundreds of varieties of hot peppers to choose from, and how much you enjoy the heat is the question you need to be asking when you are choosing varieties.

There are pleasant tasting varieties with low levels of heat, like Beaver Dam and Bulgarian Carrot, higher levels of heat with jalapenos and cayennes, or mind blowing heat with Tepin and Naga (Bhut) Jolokia.  What is your pleasure?

I like to get my hot peppers started right around this time.  Some varieties can take a little bit of time to germinate, although I find they never take as long as some seed vendors suggest.

I like to seed my hot peppers in 200 cell trays because I grow them in quantity, but really any container with good drainage will do. I fill my containers or trays with a good soil less mix which I have moistened with HOT water, I place my pepper seeds on the soil surface and then cover with a light 1/4 inch deep layer of soil.  After a good misting with warm water, I cover them with a humidity dome or plastic bag.

Hot pepper seeds can be hot!  Remember this when you are planting and don't wipe your eyes or you may be in for a burn.  Wash your hands off when you are done in an attempt to limit this possibility.

Your hot pepper seeds want a good warm environment to germinate in.  I put mine under my lights in the kitchen...close to my wood stove.  This seems to make them pretty happy and germination is usually  rapid.  A heat mat, heating cables or similar could be used.  As soon as they germinate, get the humidity dome off, transplanting them into a larger container when the true leaves appear.

Don't rush in getting them outside.  They like a lovely warm soil, preferably made rich by a good helping of compost.

What will I plant this year?

The Naga Jolokia was quite a novelty and hit last year. As well I'll do Aji Limo, White Habanero, Jalapeno, Beaver Dam, Bulgarian Carrot, the scorchers Fire, Fatali and Tepin, assorted cayennes and Orange Rocoto as well as far more than I care to mention.

I'm really not aware of any pepper seed specialists in Canada. I have ordered seed in the past from US pepper enthusiasts The Pepper Gal , Redwood City Seeds and Tomato Bob to mention a few.  Seed Savers Exchange also has a good collection.

Enjoy...and bring on the fun!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cake and Loaf "Dough" fundraiser

Looks like a fun fundraiser! It certainly is (again) a unique concept. I thought I would pass the information along...

Hello all,
Just thought I'd pass on some more details about our event:
BAKE SALE! Cake+Loaf Bakery will be hosting a celebration of local food and live music, supporting the Juravinski Cancer Centre and Cake+Loaf Bakery.
There will be an afternoon bake sale with live acoustic music, children's activities and entertainers, and an amateur cake decorating contest from 1pm-5pm on  March 19th at Fenian Films at 211 Locke Street South, followed at  7pm by an evening concert featuring Rob Lamothe, The Beginning, The Maladies of Adam Stokes and others! Tickets for the evening concert are $10.
50% of all profits will go towards the Juravinski Cancer Centre and the remainder will assist in the construction of a retail location on Dundurn St. South for Cake+Loaf Bakery.
Cake & Loaf is an artisan bakery located in Hamilton, Ontario. Our 'from scratch' neighbourhood bakery is focused on custom special occasion cakes, artisan breads and pastries with an emphasis on organic, fair trade and local ingredients.  All of the baked goods at Cake+Loaf contain whole grains, organic flours, real butter, organic free range eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables- in short, real food.  We are the first bakery in Hamilton to offer a Community Supported Bakery (CSB) Program.

Josie Rudderham and Nicole Sherman
Cake+Loaf Bakery
Josie: 905 730 4801
Nickey: 905 531 5926

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thought-provoking Joel Salatin

Monday night I had the honour of going to listen to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm speak.  Joel is first and foremost a farmer, and a grass farmer at that.  But he is also an opinionated author, speaker and first class entertainer.

As I looked around in the auditorium at Daeman College, Buffalo, most folks had a big grin on their face.

The wit, the "Salatin-isms" were flying. We heard of the "pigerators", and repeated references to the US-duh (USDA).

His farm as he explained it is perfectly sustainable.  Every animal has a purpose and is allowed to do what they do naturally on his farm.  Pigs turn compost with their snouts, chickens eat parasites and disperse cow pies and rabbit droppings.  Everything is carefully thought out, and how things are done in nature is the blueprint for the operation of the farm.  Of course with a few modern tweaks that can make their job just a little bit easier.  But honestly, those are few and far between.

Chemicals, GMOs, Monsanto and government are not referred to in glowing terms.

He speaks rapidly and forcefully, making his points with words and phrases he has no doubt repeated over and over again.  But his enthusiasm never wavers.  He wants you to see that there is another way.  Organic farming can feed the world and in his opinion save the planet.

Joel Salatin
His optimism for the future of agriculture was based on the growing
interest in the local food movement, and the fact that farmers are interested in hearing what he says, that they are really listening.
"One person at a time, we can change things".

What he does on his 550 acre farm in Virginia is impressive and hard, hard work.  No animals graze an area of land more than once a year.
They are moved day after day and moveable electric fences to contain cattle and pigs, chicken and turkey mobiles and rabbit cages are moved too.

The farm is open to the folks that want to see how their food is grown. It is a place that is safe for children, unlike other operations that warn people off with biohazard signs.

Like when, for example, my daughter last year in Grade 3 came home with a permission form to tour a local chicken farm as a class trip.  My first reaction was disbelief-seriously?  Let's show kids the miserable life we give chickens who then become  food.  Did I let her go?  You guess.

Joel Salatin's management of his grass farm ensures that he will leave his soil and property better than when he took it over.  Few, few farmers can say that.

Of course I'm right with him on so many issues.  What I respect most is his forthright manner and willingness to speak his mind.  I appreciate his deep respect for the environment, his stance against what modern agriculture has become and disdain for the crap it produces and the damage it does.  His enthusiasm for his methods and his belief that he has the right to earn a good living are in your face.

As much though as he is a grass farmer he is also a meat farmer.  That is what he does.  As a vegetarian he loses me when he says "my animals have all wonderful days and one bad day".  That bad day is the last day of course.

My firm belief is that the world would be a much better place if we were all vegans, vegetarians or just simply ate less meat. I believe this for many reasons and won't go into it here. "Humane", "organic" or otherwise raised animals don't make me change my mind on this issue.

I also think that his methods would be difficult to duplicate. As I rode home with a friend from the venue, she pondered out loud why more farmers weren't following his lead.  I guess I would think that some farmers would, and no doubt many use some of his methods. But realistically here in Southern Ontario 550 acre farms don't abound.

If you farmed say 80-100 acres, and your flock could ideally only graze an area once a year, would you be able to make a living with the number of animals you raised?
Could young farmers do it, with the expense of land?  And of course the larger you are, the more work it is.  Hard physical work.  No shortcuts, big equipment or chemical companions.

I must say I was surprised by my friends next question.  "Why do people farm when they could do something easier to make money?"  When you get into this type of discussion it is like people who farm speak a different language than people who don't farm.

How do you explain this?  My dad was a farmer and a teacher. He was a farmer first.
He grew up on a farm.  He was happiest being his own boss, being outside and working physically.
He took pride in his crops.  I fondly remember watching him standing in his huge field of corn with a simple hoe, cutting out weeds.  Outstanding in his field.

I'm kinda like my dad.

There is a saying used by Canadian Blood Services- "It's in you to give."

I'll turn it around a bit to say "It's in you to farm."

Because I think it is.  People don't farm to make a lot of money, to be amongst the working poor or to solve world hunger.  They farm because it's in them.

Thanks, Mr Salatin for making folks think!

"We don't need a law against McDonald's or a law against slaughterhouse abuse--we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse."
— Joel Salatin

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Post- A Lesson in Sprouting by David Jordan

David kindly shared his sprouting techniques with us at our last garden club meeting.  I thank him again for writing it all down to help out those who were furiously making notes, and maybe missed a thing or two.

Sprouting basics

Why sprout:
Sprouting significantly improves the nutritional value of seeds, grains and legumes;
-enzyme inhibitors are washed away during the soaking stage of sprouting, thereby increasing their digestibility.
-Phytic acid, which binds calcium, iron and zinc, is converted making these minerals more available.
-vitamin and enzyme content of food is increased many times; vitamin C is created in some seeds which, otherwise, do not
contain it.
-Sprouting creates delicious, inexpensive “living foods” to add to salads, smoothies, soups, sandwiches and rice
How to sprout:
Sprouting involves soaking, rinsing and sprouting.  Some sprouts also take an additional “greening” step and some
can be planted in soil to produce microgreens.  Soaking and rinsing is easily done in large mouth canning jars with wire
mesh lids (see resources below).  Depending on the size of the seed, grain or bean, soaking can take from 6 to 36 hours;
“overnight” works for most of the sprouts I use regularly.  Tables of soaking times are available in the books I've
noted below.
My favorites sprouts for salads are a salad mix and a zesty lentil mix from Sprout Master.  Similar mixes are available
from Mumms and at local health food stores.
       Two tablespoons of seeds is enough for these mixes and other small seeds.  Start by rinsing the seeds, then
cover them in pure water for the soaking process.   After soaking overnight, rinse them and invert the jar at an angle
in a bowl or dish drainer.  Keep them in the dark  rinsing and draining twice a day for 2 to 4 days. When they have
sprouted sufficiently, rinse again and set them to drain in a sunny window to green.  Keep them in the fridge after a
day of greening.
For microgreens, my favorites are unhulled sunflower seeds, unhulled buckwheat and green peas.  One to two cups of
these are soaked and rinsed as above, but only sprouted until a tiny sprout can be seen (usually 12 to 24 hours after
the soaking period).  Then they are planted in drainable soil trays.  Cover the seed for a day or two with another tray.
When the seedlings have reached an inch  or so in length, uncover and place under a grow light, watering daily, until
they are ready to harvest, usually 2 or 3 days.  You can continue to harvest for another few days, but they will become
bitter if left to grow too long. These microgreens are wonderful on salads, in sandwiches, soups and smoothies.
A number of books describe this process in detail and give specific times for the soaking, rinsing and draining and
time to harvest.  I like the following:
-Sprout Garden: Indoor growers guide to gourmet sprouts  by Mark M. Braunstein.  A very thorough, detailed description
of  sprouting methods.
-Recipes for Longer Life   by Ann Wigmore.  A recipe book for raw food with many uses for sprouts as well as
instructions for sprouting.
-Hooked on Raw  by Rhio.  Great recipes and a description of a “bowl method” of sprouting.
The books, sprouting equipment, sprouting seeds and further information are available on line.  I like two sources in

Sprout Master  at  []  Sprout Master carries the lids with screens and the salad mix and lentil mix
that I like.

Mumms sprouting site at []  This site has a video tutorial.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mollie's guest post - I'm back!

Hi! This time I will write about... my favourite vegetables because it is time to start thinking about what you are going to plant in the spring!

1. Number one would have to be Tomatoes. They are good for a warm day (raw) or for a cold day in soup or in Tomato sauces. My favourite Tomato is stupice or Mollie's awesome yellow pear because it is named after me!!!

2. Two is Cucumber. It is 95% water and it's inside is 20 degrees fahrenheit cooler than it's outside. That's good for a warm day.

3. Three... Carrot! Old world physicians insisted that Carrot could cure problems of the liver and stomach also that they could heal wounds. They are sometimes called "underground honey".

4. Lettuce. My favourite is deer tongue lettuce. Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family surprisingly!

5. This has to be beets! Beets where boiled and baked beyond recognition in the 17th century england,where they were ' more often eaten at poor mens tables.

Well thats all I'm doing today!  :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

February seeding starts now!

 When the middle of March hits, I enter into a tomato seeding frenzy.

Year after year I have started my thousands of heirloom tomato plants March 15 and I seed everyday up until the beginning of April.

February is a much slower time.  But there still are some things that prefer a bit earlier start.

Here in Southern Ontario we still are a good 13 weeks away from being (we hope) frost free.
But of course there are crops that you can get out while it is still cool, or that are particularly slow to germinate and grow.

I don't feel in any particular rush over getting things started now...I'm just easing into it.
Starting some things too early is just a mistake.  Plants can get leggy and pot bound while waiting for ideal weather and tie up your indoor growing area.

The first things I'm going to be planting are my onions, leeks and chives.

This year the onion selection includes some old favourites.  I absolutely love Red Torpedo onions, a gorgeous Italian heirloom with a long red bulb, Red Wethersfield, and Yellow Borettana which are both cippolini types.  Ailsa Craig is my big onion, Blue Solaise, the leek.

I use a commercial soiless mix with"Myke" added for all my seeding.

Onions and leeks need good root systems to adapt well to transplanting in the field, so I sow them into pre-moistened soil in 3-4" pots that are at least the same depth. Once I have a tray of these pots sown, they go under my lights with a humidity dome over top.

When they are up nicely I remove the dome, and transition them to the hoophouse when the weather permits...certainly in March when the indoor space becomes tight.

I'll also get some herbs, primarily the perennials and biennials going now too. If I need a new sage, rosemary, oregano or thyme, now's the time.  Parsley and parcel too.  These I plant essentially in the same way as the onions, the difference being that once the true leaves are established, I separate the plants out and give them their own pot.

The onions go directly from the pot I seeded them in to the field.

I always plant some of my Stupice tomatoes now too (stoo-peach-ka), my favourite early tomato.  Everybody has their favourites.  I know some people swear by Latah, Siletz or many others.  I've tried 'em all, and like Stupice the best.  It is a potato-leaf type, comes early, 50-55 days from transplant, tastes wonderful and continues to produce well all season. Yummy.

I like to get about 100 or so in my hoophouse by April 15th, and have to use a good layer of reemay to protect them from the cold at night.  But if all works well, we're into the summer taste of tomatoes by June.  That makes me happy.  Because a longer tomato season can only be a good thing!

Some of the hot peppers need to go in this month too.  My Bhut Jolokias, Tepins, habaneros and similar sizzlers that need a longer time to germinate as well as higher heats get planted in the "200" cell trays this month.  Sweet peppers and eggplants are a bit later....usually the beginning of March.

If I plan on doing any perennial flowers, I'll do them now too.  I know I've got a few special gaillardia varieties to pop in.  And more no doubt.

But first I need to pull all the seed out of my seed freezer to see what I've got. And then before the madness of tomato sowing begins, I have to organize my tomato seed, first by colour, then alphabetically in their colour categories.  Ya-hoo!

This is the order I plant them in too and doing this saves me a lot of time later.  This year I'm bring at least 150 new (old) varieties into the fold to try out.  Without some order to the madness it becomes a logistical nightmare!  Might be anyway.

But more, much more on tomato planting and varieties is to come!

In the hoophouse, February is the time to get more arugula in, salad mix and mustards.  They need to grow fast and be harvested before the tomatoes take over in mid April- at times I'll plant the tomatoes in the middle of those crops if they are doing well. is sounding like February could get a bit busy.

But then there is March.  And the craziness truly hits!

What are you seeding now?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seedy Saturday wrap up-so much good!

Niagara Seedy Saturday...the good, the bad and the ugly.

In my post yesterday I discussed what I would view as being the bad and the ugly.  But was the event itself a success?  Oh yes, it was good.....very very good!

And so many people made it that way.

The seed exchange table was hopping.  So many people brought seed to share, and they brought a lot of seed.  In other years, the seed exchange table sat empty for part of the day, but this year, the seed kept coming.

People must be absolutely delighted with their finds!  Please, try to save a bit of seed from your treasures to add to the seed exchange table next year.

I sincerely thank the vendors who came and paid a fee to assist with the facility rental.  Mary, from The Cottage Gardener, Colette from Urban Harvest, Catharine from Acorus Restoration, John from Premier Horticulture, Klaas from Spanish River Carbonatite, and Ann from The Plant Lady.  Thanks too for your very generous donations of door prizes....I just kept giving things away!

Thanks too to the non profits; Lettuce, Turnip and Wine garden club members for volunteering on the day, the baking and for  your help packing seeds.  Kate from USC Canada for your talk and donation to help with the rental, the good folks at the National Farmers Union, Community Care in St Catharines, Seeds of Diversity Canada,Tiffany from The Garden of Eating, Steve Biggs for donating your time, knowledge and fig trees, Jen Heaton for your introduction to vermicomposting and my family and friends for all your help.  And of course my other speakers, John Renaud, and Wendy Dunnville.  Good stuff.

Thanks to Adam from Peapod Cuisine for the great veg soup and stew.  I heard nothing but raves about the food.

Hmmm, did I forget someone?

I never would!  Mollie my 9 year old (the next day she was 10) and her friend Sarah collected a whopping $186.65 for The Lincoln Humane Society to put toward a spay and neuter clinic.  Wow- fabulous****!  My friend Shirley donated the first $5 bill and told them to keep it on top of the jar so people coming after her would follow suit.  Mollie and Sarah thank you for your wisdom, Shirley.  The next 7 donations were $5 bills.

In all between 400 and 500 people came through the doors.  This helped raise $370.00 was for USC Canada and the wonderful work they do with agricultural issues in some of the poorest parts of the world.  It also helped raise awareness and create interest in heirloom seeds- big time!

Thanks most sincerely to all the people in Niagara and beyond that came out to support this grass roots effort. Your donations, your seeds and your presence were acts of kindness and good.  Let's keep the seed circulating!  See you next year...the date is Feb 11, 2012!

(Thanks to Kris Morettie for letting me use your beautiful pictures.  Check out Kris's blog at )

And remember, there is a Lettuce, Turnip and Wine Garden Club meeting tomorrow night, 6:30 pm at The Vineland Research Station.  All welcome!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Niagara Seedy Saturday is over and we're movin' on! (yes-it's a rant!)

From it's humble beginnings in 2007, Niagara Seedy Saturday has gathered a whole lot of momentum!

That is thanks to the "growing" interest in gardening, growing your own food and increased interest in heirlooms.  Which in my opinion have a lot of advantages over hybrid introductions.

The first Niagara Seedy Saturday, and the second as well, were held at Rodman Hall, an offshoot of Brock University. At the time it was the Niagara Chapter of Canadian Organic Growers, of which I was a member, that was organizing the event.

But our chapter was a bit dismal.  We organized farm tours and events that no one showed up to.  One farm tour that was organized even saw the owner of the farm absent!

Our kitchen table meetings were a bust.  Nice folks, but very few of us.  At the end of the whole thing in 2008, we didn't even have enough members to form a skeleton governing body that Canadian Organic Growers (COG) dictated we must have.

And for me, with the growing emphasis on certification, I just felt COG wasn't really speaking for me.

So the chapter disbanded (again), but my thought was that Seedy Saturday was without a doubt our most successful endeavour and needed to be carried on.  The feedback about the event was positive and from year one to year two it had certainly become more popular.

Finding a location for the third year was a challenge. As a non-profit group more opportunities are available to you, but as an individual trying to put on precisely the same event - doors close.  The cities in our fair region told me to forget it, no free room.  Rodman Hall was not interested and it was only with great luck I managed to pair up with a students group at Brock who secured Pond Inlet for the event.

Great location and lots of room, but the university would not drop their parking fee- a steep $6.00 for Seedy Saturday participants.

My goal has always been to encourage people to come out by keeping the price to a minimum.  I knew after that year we had to move on, despite how wonderful a facility it was.

While at Ball's Falls for another reason altogether, it struck me that clearly what we had here was a terrific fit.  And what with the new Centre for Conservation...a long term solution to my Seedy Saturday location dilemma! Right?  Ha!! Think again!  

What I didn't anticipate was dealing with unpleasant, unhelpful people who book these events at Balls Falls.
2010 went off okay.  I paid the fee, was hit with a damage deposit I was not made aware of until the last minute, and hoped like heck I'd get some money back by charging a $1.00 admission to the event. It all worked out just fine, and after paying the bills, had money left over to donate to USC Canada.
About 500 people attended!

This year was nothing but a battle dealing with Balls Falls.  After confirming the event in the fall with their staff, I was contacted in December asking why I was advertising it at Balls Falls. I reconfirmed and understood all was essentially the same as the year before.

3 weeks before the event I was told the cost was much higher, the damage deposit was higher, and they would charge my Seedy Saturday participants their fee to enter the park.  $5.75 per person!  Forget any fuzzy warm feelings you may associate with Balls Falls in thinking they are environmental do-gooders. It is just a job.  And one they are not happy doing.

After discussions, they dropped the day pass charge, but left me at a higher rate.  Therefore folks, the fee went up to $2.00 so I could cover my costs.  Which I did, unless I don't get my damage deposit back.
If they consider there were no damages, I will have a healthy $370.00 to donate to USC Canada.  That makes me happy.

I think the event went off okay.  All my exhibitors were exceptional, speakers also.  NICE people!
I was very disturbed to find out that people were being turned away at the parking lot because it was full and being told there was no other area to park by park staff.  My pleas fell on deaf ears.
Perhaps if you know there is a big event coming up you would plow the main parking lot properly and also plow the lower parking lot to make room for overflow.
If you were people who were turned away, I am so very sorry. Won't happen again.

Why am I telling people all this?

Because this is an event organized for the community.  Balls Falls is a public place that your tax dollar and mine pay for. This event should have been an ideal fit for the Conservation Authority, there should have been encouragement and support. Movin' on.

I have an idea in mind for next years Seedy Saturday.  A larger venue, lots of parking and yes, I heard the words I longed to hear..."You're a farmer? We'd love to work with you!"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Niagara Seedy Saturday is coming!

Wow!  Did Seedy Saturday ever sneak up on me.

Less than a week to go until Niagara Seedy Saturday and I am STILL cleaning seed and putting it in packets.  As well as getting orders together and mailing them out.

Hope I'm ready for this event....which is designed to get us all in the mood for spring and gardening.  It really will come.  All of them, I mean.  Seedy Saturday, spring and hence, the garden.

Been quite a winter.  I heard it was going to be warm, not much snow, and heard it was going to be cold with lots of snow.  It appears we got the latter.  Which is actually good.  Hopefully there will be a good winter kill of the nasty bug pests in the garden, and having a good covering of snow is good for everything.

Seedy Saturday is ready to roll.  Let's hope we don't get a good hit of snow on Feb 12th.  Or in Southern Ontario speak, a "blizzard".  But it will go rain or shine, sleet or snow.

I think it is the best place in Niagara to come to pick up a good selection of heirloom and open pollinated seed at any time of the year.  Seed vendors include The Cottage Gardener, Urban Harvest, Acorus Restoration and me, Tree and Twig.  Other vendors are The Plant Lady, with her popular sea grass baskets,  and John Renaud from Premier Hort, with his Myke soil amendments.

Folks will have access to the seed exchange table (which will be monitored this year), and are encouraged to bring as much seed to share as possible.  If it is your own seed you have saved or excess seed from a packet you have purchased, the key is "open pollinated".  This enables people who pick up your seed this year to grow it out and save some seed from it for next years Seedy Saturday.  And because it is open pollinated it will come true to type.

A note about heirlooms.  Heirlooms are all, by definition, open pollinated.  But not all open pollinated seed is heirloom, despite the fact you can save its' seed and it grows out to be the same as the fruit (or veg) that you saved it from.

Heirlooms typically have a story, are saved in families and passed down from generation to generation, and are in the area of 50 or so years old.

Why are heirlooms important?

Yes, they are diverse, colourful and they may taste better.  They may even be trendy.  But that hasn't always been how people have thought.  And as we were thinking about hybrids and convenience we allowed 90% of our vegetable varieties to disappear in the last hundred years.  I find that loss of diversity shocking and very alarming.  And just very sad.

By diving into the wonderful world of heirlooms many years ago, I have found some phenomenal heirloom vegetables I would never want to go without again.  But what if  we had access to that other 90%?  Oh my.

An interesting example of what can happen is an experience I am having this year.  Many years ago I ordered a bean from an extraordinary small seed business in the US.  I have saved the seed for this bean since that time, and now offer it for sale in my seed listing.  It is a great bean, I like it a is called Blue Ribbon.  It is a nice romano type bean, with purple striping. Yummy.

This year the company I got the seed from originally isn't offering the seed.  I am getting a lot of interest in it, as it seems I am the only one in North America offering it.  Correct me if I am wrong.
If I didn't offer it...well, it wouldn't be out there circulating, and might just disappear.  Forever.

You can see the importance of saving seed.  Diversity in our food crops is essential for our survival.  The Irish potato famine killed 1,000,000 people who depended on the potato to survive.  When blight wiped out the potato crops, it was a tragedy.

 Seed companies typically drop varieties that aren't best sellers, or have crop failures.  Many varieties have disappeared because of just these reasons.

Ah, yes, I got sidetracked.  But then not really.  This is what Seedy Saturday is about- a celebration and sharing of open pollinated seed. An opportunity to learn from our speakers (see post from January 16th for speaker listing and times).  A chance to meet people who are keen gardeners, beginning gardeners and just darn nice people who have similar interests.

You can talk to the knowledgeable people from The National Farmers Union, USC Canada, Steven Biggs, a noted garden authority (who will also be speaking), Community Care, St Catharines about their community gardening efforts, Seeds of Diversity and a number of master gardeners.
Our gardening club, Lettuce ,Turnip and Wine will be represented.  Small, but a going concern, maybe it's time to join! (Free!)

There will be free coffee and treats (note to self- bake this week!), and the fine folks from peapod cuisine
will be serving a light lunch for purchase.  If anyone cares to bring some baking along, be my guest!

If you have extra gardening books, magazines, cookbooks, clean pots, gardening tools or anything gardening related you'd like to find a new home for, bring them along.  There's a garden give-away table too.

Donated door prizes will be given out throughout the day.

Cost of admission is a minimum $2.00 (or more) donation.  This will help me pay for use of the facility, which is more than it was last year. And you will receive a small pack of seeds at the door. If there is any money left over, I will donate it all, every penny, to USC Canada as I did last year.

I hope to see everyone come out- it should be a really good day.  And please, come on over and say hello!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top of the Crops-Great Beans to Grow

Apparently we are in for a big storm tonight.

In fact they have gone so far as to call it a blizzard.
What better to do on a nasty winter's night than hunker down and write about vegetables...beans in fact.  That's a summery thought.

Just a short story to relay first though about blizzards.  I am old enough to remember hearing of THE blizzard...that would be in 1977.  If I was actually at home in Ontario when it hit, I would certainly remember it.  Seeing the pictures now is astounding.

As it happened I was in California, travelling with a friend and in my late teens.  When the news of the blizzard reached me in California, I called home to make sure all was okay with mom and dad.

Well, my mom was fine.  My dad on the other hand had done what he did every other morning and headed down to the coffee shop at Clappisons Corners.  And of course he couldn't get home.

As I sit here in my warm home, the blizzard approaching, I can't help but think of my dad hunkered down at The Baker's Dozen at Clappisons' Corners in that blizzard.  Too funny.

On to the beans however.

This year I ended up saving seed from 22 varieties of beans. At this stage of the game they should all be shelled, but aren't quite.  I'm working on it.

Lots of those varieties I am selling seed for,
and they are all special for very specific reasons.  I'll talk about a few here.

I began growing Black Valentine a very long time ago, and have offered it in the Seeds of Diversity yearbook for just as long.  It is a black seeded bean, a good and reliable producer of 5-6 inch meaty old fashioned flavoured beans.
Provider and Bountiful are two other superb green beans.  My sister swears by Bountiful, says she just can't keep up with the beans it pumps out.  But she hasn't tried Provider.  Both exceptional.

Jade, although not an heirloom is a bean I always like to grow.  It is also open pollinated so I am able to save the seed from it.  I love the long green beans it produces.  It isn't unusual to find 7" beans on this plant, and lots of them at that.  Again, wonderful flavour.

If you prefer the classic french filet bean, Fin de Bagnol fits the bill.  It is a beautiful dark green slim bean  with just so much flavour.  I must say, I am partial to these beans when it comes to freezing beans for the winter.  I just think they are the best for that.  The flavour is beautifully concentrated.

Negritos is a special little bean to me.
I'm a member of Garden Organic in England and also the associated Heritage Seed Library.  Every year I have the option of requesting seeds from the Library, and of course that's just what I do.  When the seeds come they are treasures, usually very rare and in very limited quantity.

I began with 5 seeds for Negritos and kept saving and saving until I had sufficient seed to offer it.  It is small black seed and produces a shortish little flat green bean.  I like the flavour a lot, it's a keeper.

Stripes your thing?  They are mine...I'm always after something a little different.
Lots of folks know the marvellous Dragon Tongue bean now, that wonderful Dutch heirloom, creamy yellow with purple striping.  This bean is a must in my garden, it is absolutely delicious raw or cooked.  I know of no other bean that is so fleshy and stays tender even at a larger size. And wow, does it produce!

Two other striped contenders are Bobis Albenga and Blue Ribbon.

These are both green beans with purple striping, but each a bit different .
Bobis Albenga is a slimmer bean, really more the size of a typical green, like Bountiful.  My original seed for this bean was acquired years ago from a seed company that is now defunct.  Glad I saved the seed.  It is one of my favourites.
 Blue Ribbon is a wider bean, great for slicing, but still that beautiful green with purple striping.

Rattlesnake is a lovely long green pole bean with purple striping.

(Did I mention the stripes disappear when cooked?-No matter!)

I also have some cool curved beans, that are pole beans, Sultans Crescent, both green and yellow.  Last year I found seed for a curved bean that has striping, so am building up my stock of that.  It just gets better and better!

Red Swan is the last bean I'll mention here.  My original seed was from Robert Lobitz  through the Seed Savers Yearbook which I access as a member. Robert has since passed away, but created some fabulous beans in a range of colours, certainly a part of his legacy.  Red Swan is a pale purple-red , (see top photo) and is very tasty.  There is another similarly coloured bean out there, but I far prefer the flavour of this one.

Beans are easy to grow, and good for your soil as they fix nitrogen.
I am surprised when I see garden centres selling bean transplants now-is this because people are intimidated by seeds?  If you are, beans are the best place to start with seed.... and succeed.

They aren't particularly heavy feeders.  Compost mixed in your planting area is adequate.
When my soil is warm, early June or so I outline a reasonably deep planting row with my hoe, put an few inches of compost in it, then push the bean seed into the compost to a depth of 2" or so and plant the seed 3" apart. A drink of water and I can expect germination in a week or so.

Beans do not readily cross pollinate, so saving seeds is easy.  Leave the beans on the plant until dry.  The seeds will rattle in the plant, and the whole plant will look, well, dead. Pick the pods, but leave them in a dry warm area for a few weeks to make sure they are totally dry.
Shell the beans for next years garden seed, and if you have some left over, lucky you!  Dried beans for winter meals.  You know.  Like when there is a blizzard out there!