Seed Midden

The Newsletter of
	The Abundant Life Seed Foundation
P.O. Box 772 
Port Townsend, WA 98368 
360 385-5660 
Supporting Sustainable Agriculture through the preservation of open-pollinated, rare and endangered seeds.

We've Moved!

Just down the block, but to a new location, out of a dark, tiny spot, to an open space, with some light and where we can move around a bit. The temptation's been to rollerskate, but we've controlled ourselves until we're through this hectic season. Our P.O. Box is the same, use it for all correspondence. But our street address is now 930 Lawrence. Everything else is the same as it ever was.

Our Thanks

Our newsletter would not be quite so wonderful without a generous donation from Adobe. We are ohsograteful to Adobe for the donation of Pagemaker 6.0. Our computer feels nearly complete with this new edition, which will make our newsletters and especially our catalog, that much easier. Their generosity is appreciated.

Wish List

We are beginning a fund raising campaign to help bring us into some of our long term goals. All donations are needed and appreciated. Remember, we can put to use inkind donations and gifts of appreciated securities, as well. You can write off items as well as money. Here are just a few items that would make life easier:
  1. A computer, Macintosh preferably.
  2. A composting toilet for the farm.
  3. A deer fence for the farm.
  4. A modem, so we can get on line.

Searching For

Being the optimists that we must inherently be, we are looking for the silver lining to the disappearing seeds. We are reminded how important our work is, and are not ready to surrender. Instead we are making our needs known, in hopes that one of our members will know of a source for some of these seeds, so that we will be able to grow them on our farm or through our Grower's Network. This is our official plea for the following seed varieties. If you have them, or know where we can get them, please share that information. We are in search of:
  • Deer Harbor Choice Scorzonera
  • Blue Spear Chives
  • Vernor Leek
  • Puget Gold Corn
  • Cole's Watermelon.

A Seedy Story

This issue of the Seed Midden is dedicated to seeds. Of course, you may say, "But all Seed Middens are dedicated to seeds." Well, yes and no. This time we're going to write about seeds specifically. What's available. What's not. Which ones we need, but can't find. Stories of seeds. Seeds we're growing. Seeds we need to find someone to grow. Seeds.

Winter is the time of year we tend to curl up with a book in front of the fire, debate the more subtle aspects of life, and generally allow our activities to move more inward. During spring, on the other hand, we revel in the light of old sol nudging us awake a little earlier, and keeping us company a little later.

If winter is about slowing down and living more internally, then spring is about tearing off that protective layer, and jumping bodily and wholly into the rebirth of all life. We hope that we got the bigger issues figured out during the quiet moments of winter, because with all that digging and planting, growing and living going on, who really has time to ponder the meaning of life?

So we thought we'd give the more philosophical issues, like patents and piracy, genetic engineering and world hunger a rest for this issue. They're still valid issues and we'll revisit them over and again. But for this spring we will stick to what we know best-seeds.

During the winter months we do our research and plan our farm and our Seed Grower's Network. Part of this includes studying the latest edition of the Seed Saver's Exchange Garden Seed Inventory. For those of you unfamiliar with the Inventory, our recommendation is to get familiar. The inventory is a compilation of every non-hybrid vegetable variety in the U.S. and Canada. The dedicated souls of the Seed Saver's Exchange scour the pages of every seed catalog they can find, and compile a listing of varieties, descriptions and a history of sources. Now that they are on their fourth Inventory, it is easy to see the history of the availabilty of varieties. Unfortunately, there are many varieties that have increasingly shrinking sources, some to the point of extinction. According to the Inventory, in 1984 there were 2,660 varieties that had only one source, by 1994 that number had increased to 3,525. All those varieties with only one source are in an extremely precarious position. Most of them are offered by small seed companies, like Abundant Life. If any individual company were to fail, those seeds with single sources could disappear forever. Even worse, Seed Saver's Exchange estimates that two-thirds of the open-pollinated varieties offered in 1984 had disappeared by 1994.

As Kent Whealy says in the introduction to the inventory, any inventory is outdated even before it is published. The availabilty of varieties is a very fluid concern, with additions and losses occuring all the time, limiting the reliability of a survey.

We received our Garden Seed Inventory last fall, not only with heart beats of anticipationWhat great new things would we learn from this edition? But also with some amount of trepidation. What other bit of treasure, slice of history and pocket of genetic information would we lose? Glancing through the introduction with totals and charts gave us our first look, and it looked a little spooky, although it was about what we expected. The real surprise came a couple months later when we started writing to the seed companies listed to order unusual and rare seeds to grow this year, only to find Puget Gold Corn, gone; Vernor Leek, gone; Blue Spear Chives, gone. Yes, we knew that the inventory could only be so uptodate. But we were still shocked when many inquiries came back with not availables, or the company no longer existed.

The news couldn't be all bad, otherwise we'd wither under all of the drudgery. Afterall, that burst of energy we call spring is more about hope than anything else.

You may recall in our last newsletter, we started a column to write about seeds that are endangered. One of this issue's stars is the Sweet Bullnose Pepper. In the description in the catalog this year we said not to buy this pepper if you weren't going to save the seeds. Home growers may be the last link in maintaining the Sweet Bullnose. We had very little seed at the beginning of the season, and by the time you receive this letter, we probably won't have anymore, except what we save to grow out. We usually do not grow that seed. We had always been able to get it from another company, so we chose to focus on seeds not available. As we were compiling our catalog last fall and tried to order more of the Bullnose, we were told they didn't have it anymore. "What do you mean? " our seed coordinator asked, "We've always ordered it from you." Try a different one, they responded. We didn't want a different one, and they didn't seem to recognize the significance in that innocuous phrase, "It's gone." And that bit of genetic information, that specific flavor, smell and shape, could disappear with less fanfare than when you brush an ant off your arm at a picnic.

The Sweet Bullnose is the archetypal green pepper. It's an heirloom from India, originating in 1759. It's as if it's the model upon which all other bell peppers are based. And its fruit matures early, which makes it nice for this region. It's particularly interesting, because it's sweet and hot. The name tricks you. The ribs are pungent, while the rest is sweet, thick, heavy walls. It starts out dark green and turns to scarlet. It practically begs to be stuffed. In 1981 there were 20 sources, by 1994 there were six, although we're not sure there's that many now. The trend is clear. If we don't grow this pepper for seed, we won't be growing it at all.

We will not be able to grow the Sweet Bullnose this year. Unfortunately, there are too many varieties that must be grown. So we are searching for someone to grow this out for us. If you are interested in becoming a link in our Grower's Network and growing this plant, give us a call and talk to Tessa.

Since this is a seedy issue, we're not going to stop with just one seed worth saving. Candidate number two is a 300 year old heirloom from England. It is the Early Scarlet Horn Carrot. It is one of the oldest carrots still in cultivation. It has short, stumpy roots, a 2"6" baby carrot with excellent flavor. It's named not because of the shape of the root, but for Hoorn, a Dutch town.

We have some seeds and will be saving seed from carrots grown last year. Currently, this seed is only available through us and two historic gardens, so the commercial availability and accessibility is severely limited. This is a good choice when you are planning your garden and choosing which seeds to save.

Often we think answers lie in legislation or other people's hands. And sometimes that's true. But sometimes we forget the power that we hold in our own hands. The power inherent in the seeds we plant, the businesses we support and the lives we live. Every day, with the decisions we make about how we choose to live, is an exercise of the power we possess.

What you choose to grow in your backyard, and what you choose to do with that crop and its seeds, does have an impact. Just choosing to grow endangered plants is not the same as growing and saving those seeds. Pick one or two plants this year to grow for seed, and get your neighbor to do the same, then give seed saving a try. (There are some excellent resources in the book list of our catalog, when you're ready to learn the nitty gritty of seed saving.

Good News

In the spirit of bright, impulsive spring, let's jump in barefoot, headfirst into some good news. We have saved some seeds this year. We have some plants in almost every category, but we're rather proud of our tomatoes that we grew on the farm last year. If you haven't noticed, we have about three pages of tomatoes. Probably lots of them that you've never heard of, like Altajskij Urozajnij, from Australia. Silvery Fir is an interesting one from Russia. It has fine foliage, like carrot leaves and resembles a fir tree. We grew Zapotec, a tasty heirloom from Mexico that's very prolific. Many people think of tomatoes as only red and round, but they come in lots of different shapes and colors. The Potato Red Skins are tough, orange and red striped skin, wrapped around a blocky potato shape.

All of these are seeds either listed as not available in the Garden Seed Inventory or are extremely limited. Preserving these varieties is just the first step in maintaining a stable biodiversity. We feel this is an accomplishment which we can share as a base for others to build on in order to keep these varieties available.

We are ending a busy shipping season. In the midst of moving our office in January, the season took off earlier, and with a bang. Although the immediate response to our catalog was a little overwhelming at times, it ultimately means that people are becoming more aware of the issues that Abundant deals with every day. We have gotten publicity locally in Seattle area papers, radio stations, and mentions in major magazines. Sometimes when we feel like we're swimming against the tide, it's heartening to realize that people are starting to catch on. If we keep educating, people will understand and care about the diminishing biodiversity in the world .

In the Future

We are starting this year in a new office, but with the same great, dedicated staff as last year. We feel the time has come to stress the educational aspects of Abundant Life. In a sense, we'd like to be more missionary in our goals. We have ideas for the future, such as interships at the farm and office, more thoroughly developing the Seed Grower's Network, creating a joint World Seed Fund pilot project, and cataloging and developing more fully the archive collection. While we're economically stable as an organization, these are ideas beyond what only seed sales can fund. We feel it is time to grow more fully into what we envision ourselves to be. Therefore, we will begin more active fundraising. There are great places Abundant Life can go, we just need support to get there.

Fruit Trees

Since it's planting season, and we don't have fruit trees, we thought we'd pass along information we think may be of use to you, and help out a sustainable business in the process. Over the past five years, Earth's Rising Trees has been building an inventory of certified organically grown nursery stock, emphasizing fruit tree varieties suited to the Maritime Northwest.

Earth's Rising is a cooperative dedicated to land stewardship and a sustainable lifestyle. The fruit tree nursery stock is one of the more recent commercial ventures started on this highly noncommercial location. Its catalog does not reflect the finest agressive marketing techniques. Rather, the goal of the venture is only to sell the comparatively few fruit trees that are grown entirely on Earth's Rising Farm. By selling to retail customers directly with no middlemen, the group hopes to keep organically grown inexpensive.

"There is a contradiction between commercial agriculture and sustainable agriculture, just as there is a contradiction between the consumer role model portrayed on TV and sustainable living," said Delbert McCombs of Earth's Rising. This is a good company to support, and a great place to find fruit trees. For a catalog, write to Earth's Rising Trees, P.O. Box 334, Monroe, Or 97456

Plan Now to Save Carrot Seed

If you want to save your own seed, you need to start thinking about it now, when you're planning your garden.

Everyone loves carrots, but because they're biennial (meaning they flower and make seed their second year), they can seem a little trickier when it comes time to save. The first season, you can grow as many different types of carrots as you like. But to insure a pure seed, half way through your carrot patch you need to decide which variety you want to save. (Each year, you can grow as many as you like to eat, but you can only have one at a time going to seed.) Try to save a dozen of the chosen variety. In the late fall, before the ground freezes hard, dig up the carrots you want to go to seed, discard any damaged or offtype plants, and store them in a box of damp sand, and in a cool, damp place, where it won't freeze. Meanwhile, eat all the other wonderful carrots you grew.

The following spring, after the last hard freeze, plant these carrots out about a foot apart, in moderately good soil. If there are no neighbors within 23 miles growing a carrot for seed and there's no wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace) within 23 miles, you can keep the strain pure.

Weed a little at first, then stand back and watch your carrots grow up and out in all directions. They will fill the patch and help hold each other up. Umbels will open with flowers on the tips, which will soon be seeds. When the seed umbels dry and curl in like little hands, the seed will be mature. Pick and let dry further. When it's completely dry, the seed will rub off easily into a bucket. Screen it through a #8 screen over a #16 screen to get it clean.

You will be surprised at how much seed you can collect from this small patch. Probably enough for several year's plantings and some to trade with your friends. Store the seed in an airtight jar, in a cool, dry place, and it should remain viable for 4-5 years.

In the Garden

The warm, final days of winter and the coming of spring have invited us into the garden with eager hands, hearts and new ideas. The hard work and energy of years past is now rewarding the farm with rich, loamy soil, raised beds, established footpaths, piles of compost and a knowledgable network of volunteers. The success of last season's harvest and the magic and beauty of Abundant Life's farm have inspired many possibilities as we continue to nurture the earth.

We have a diverse group of vegetable varieties growing at the farm this year. To name a few of these unique varieties, we are growing Bliss Abundance Peas, Oregon Multi Corn, Bull's Blood Beets, and Red Elephant Carrots. In keeping with last season, we have a strong collection of tomatoes, lettuce, beans and herbs, and we are planting more flowers than ever, which will make the farm a beautiful haven of diversity.

Our World Seed Fund Garden is moving into its second year. We have plans to expand its ethnic collection of vegetables, grains and herbs and to provide visitors with more information regarding our purpose to restore seeds and seed saving knowledge. This section of the farm is dedicated to growing various crops from around the world, for educational purposes, such as teff, amaranth, and quinoa.

In keeping with our mission, we want our seed farm to become a place of integrated education. This will be accomplished by conducting workshops, designing a walking tour for visitors, developing a Children's Garden, and establishing an intern program. The workshop schedule will cover topics such as tool maintenance, compost, and seed saving. Our Children's Garden will offer a place for kids to learn about the relationships between flowers and seeds, and how to harvest them. One means to achieving this lesson, is to plant flowers and vegetables that produce large seeds so they can easily be harvested.

In following seasons, we hope to have an intern program. This may require hiring a coordinator to develop an educational program for prospective interns and raising money to compensate interns with a reasonable stipend. We are currently seeking funds to develop this and other programs.

The role of the farm in meeting with the mission of Abundant Life is constantly evolving, but above all, it provides solace and inspiration for our staff, volunteers and members. As always, we encourage you to visit the farm when you are in our neighborhood.

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