Seed Midden

The Newsletter of
	The Abundant Life Seed Foundation
P.O. Box 772 
Port Townsend, WA 98368 
360 385-5660 

Sharing Seed Saving

Our Farm Manager, John Gilardi, just returned from a 1-week trip to Guatemala to share his seed saving skills with a non-profit group. "A Trip to the Fields" describes his impressions and experiences while there.

Stella Natura

The 1998 Stella Natura Calendar, published by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association is now available.

This is the calendar and information you need to farm biodynamically. It makes a great present and since it's a calendar, it's in limited supply.

The theme for the 1998 calendar is "What is the role of the human being on earth?" This is an illustrated wall calendar and a helpful tool. This calendar is available for $12.95. If you mention that you read this in our newsletter, we will discount our shipping costs to $2, for a total of $14.95 (for just the calendar).

Start Planning Ahead

If you're like me, you spend the winter dreaming of warmer days, creating grandiose plans for that little 10-foot plot, covered in leaves and snow and clover. One way I survive the winter is thumbing through catalogs and books, thinking of sunnier times. Help other gardeners through the slow months of winter with spring-inspired presents. Here are some great gift ideas available through Abundant Life for the gardeners in your life:
  • Abundant Life Gift Certificates.
  • Gift Membership to Abundant Life.
  • Gardening and reference books.
  • Make a donation to Abundant Life for the gardener who has everything.
  • Seed cleaning screens to encourage other dimensions of gardening.
  • Stella Natura Calendar (see above).

Many Thanks

We are pleased to announce, welcome and thank the wonderful people who have accepted our request to become the first advisory board of Abundant Life. Most of these people have participated as growers and given us advice for many years. Now we've made the relationship formal. Please meet the new advisory board:
  • Craig Thomas has gardened for 35 years and saved seed with his grandfather. He's been saving seed seriously for 12 years and maintains over 100 varieties.
  • Carol Deppe is the author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, breeds varieties for the Northwest and holds a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard.
  • Alan Adesse is a full-time farmer and seed grower. He is one of our most knowledgable and serious growers. He also has a fresh, organic herb business.
  • Karen McCarter is a market gardener and co-owner of a subscription farm (CSA). She tests many of our varieties and is also a mediation attorney.
  • Dr. Estella Leopold is a Professor of Botany at the University of Washington.
  • Dale Austin is our expert on tomatoes. He maintains over 250 varieties of many vegetables and has been a serious grower for 11 years.

Welcome Elsa

We are very lucky to have Elsa Golts join our Board of Directors. She has volunteered with us for over a year and brings people skills and grant writing energy to the board. We look forward to a long relationship with Elsa. Thanks for coming along!

Elsa joins Lynn Moser, Robert Greenway, Dave Davison and Will Gariss.

Good-bye to John Gunning who is busy running his organic market and farms. Thanks for all your hard work work and good luck with your new business ventures.

A Trip to the Fields

Whizzing along at many hundred miles an hour, 30,000 feet above the blue Caribbean, a vast pattern of subtropical cumulus puffs outside all the modern humming, climate controlled comfort of a jet plane. A few spare hours to share a bit of my experience at a course in "Ecologic Production of Agricultural Seeds" hosted by ALTERTEC at their Center for Applied Permaculture in the highland outside Momostenango, Totonicapan, Guatemala.

ALTERTEC is a non-profit organization devoted to education and research in the area of sustainable development. It has a training program teaching subsistence level farmers techniques in organic agriculture and permaculture, including topics such as composting, cover crops, Integrated Pest Management, soil conservation, and agroforestry medicinals.

About 30 of us, mostly representing grass root organizations and NGOs from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, met at this remote and beautiful site, in a sparse forest of mixed pines, oaks, and madrones at 1700 meters.

I gave the first presentation, started with a slide show of the Abundant Life Farm. Then led a discussion on saving seed, including selecting for desirable qualities in the plant, fruit and seed; pollination; open-pollinated versus hybrid; cultivation; harvesting, cleaning and storing seed. The group was particularly interested in international standards for the use of seeds in organic production systems (of which none so far exists.) So we discussed the organic certification systems practiced in various parts of the U.S.

The next talk, presented by a Guatemalan, was on the selection and improvement of cereal grains. The importance of corn in the lives of Guatemalans is very obvious. It is literally everywhere. Nearing the end of a comparatively dry rainy season, ears swollen on the stalks, the harvest is just beginning. Elote, fresh corn on the cob, is available in the streets every evening, as are tamales and tortillas. As one anthropologist said, "We are incapable of comprehending the world the Mayans live in, due to the difference in the languages we grew up speaking. To them, corn is life. Is sacred. In fact, to them, corn is the only food, all else is either herb or medicine."

As we drove up into the central highlands, we passed through valleys and hillsides of what at times appeared to be monocultured corn. Not on the industrial scale--all farmed by hand and hoe, small plots connected in patchwork, five or six stalks to a hill, beans climbing the stalks, squash sprawled between. We visited several farms in Panquix, a community perched in the clouds at 2500 meters. What was apparently pasture six years ago is now a lush and beautiful quilt of corn, wheat, oat, fava, potatoes, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, carrots...even wild mustard, dock and shepherd's purse. With the help and advice of ALTERTEC the local Quiche (Mayans) have begun to practice organic methods, such as composting, fertilizing and animal manure, crop rotation. To all appearances, they are very successful. We enjoyed delicious Caldo (stew/soup), handmade tortillas and mint tea. Then walked through the crops where we discussed their work and saving seed.

Images of radiant, but humble, Mayan men, standing in a sea of wheat, checkerboard crops in the hillside background. One man described how a Canadian had given him seed for hull-less oats last year and that he had grown it out.

And, of course, we finished with a game of futbol (soccer) on quite a lumpy field with a rather soft ball, in rubber boots and farming clothes, but incredibly quick, skilled feet, lovely smiles and lots of laughter. A community event-precious children involved all along the way- an afternoon I felt very privileged to have participated in.

I left a few farmers with packets of beans and squash and listed requests for other seed which our World Seed Fund will send along. The work of those people, the fields we walked through, the food we enjoyed, the beauty they are creating, the joy we experienced was an inspiration to us all. Matiox (thank you).

Spotlight: Meet an Abundant Life Seed Grower

Alan Adesse is one of our main seed growers for Abundant Life Seed Foundation. We wanted to know more about the man behind the seeds, and here's what we found out.

Even as a teen living in New York City, Alan knew that he wanted to make his living working outside. He studied Forestry at the University of Arizona and then worked for the Bureau of Land Management for eight years. Throughout this time Alan became very interested to gardening, medicinal herbs and wildcrafting. He learned where to find wild medicinals, how to harvest and sell them to various companies and collect the seed.

In the late '80s Alan went to work at Peace Seeds with Alan Kapuler. As Manager of Field Operations he was responsible for 200 crops on 2 acres. He described his work there as "intense" but also said that it was a very rich experience that trained him for what he does today.

Alan currently grows about 50 crops on his farm in Corvallis, Oregon. He grows vegetables, medicinals and still wildcrafts (collects herbs and plants grown in the wild). His favorite crops are sunflowers, especially Evening Sun; squashes, because he loves to eat them; and the herbs with their incredible variety and uses. He also s sounded pretty pleased with his beets, from which he makes an awesome Borscht with all the ingredients straight from his garden.

Our personal favorites that Alan grew for us are Rostov sunflower, Burgundy amaranth, Kindred squash, Parching Lavender Mandan corn and Oregon Spear melon.

Alan talked about why his work is important. He spoke of his passion for the medicinal herbs and how feels part of a very important circle. He grows the seeds and plants that herbalists turn into medicine. Healers use that medicine to help and heal people. It's important to Alan to be an integral part of that circle of helping people change their lives in a positive way.

It's also exciting to Alan that what he grows ends up all over the world. Seeds he gave a friend in Eastern Washington are shared with another friend in Australia. Seeds he grows for us are sent all over the world. For Alan it's rewarding to have his hard work impact so many different people in so many different places.

Alan feels fortunate that he's doing what he loves and gets to work at home. But it's hard work, especially this time of year when everything is going to seed. He spends most mornings on the phone starting at 6 am taking orders and making sales. The rest of the day is spent outside, harvesting, threshing, packaging, weeding, preparing get the picture. He works all weekend (when no one's around and there's fewer interruptions) to get it all done. He says the lifestyle fits him, though.

From December until about February it actually does slow down a notch. Alan and his eight year old son took a six week car trip from Oregon to Florida last year, visiting friends, family and other farmers. He loved it, but said driving 10,000 miles was "intense." He thinks next time he might just drive 1000 miles at the most and explore one place.

When asked how he made a living at such labor-intensive work, Alan told me that his wildcrafting and selling herbs has helped supplement his farming activities. He explained that only growing for seed is tough because of cash-flow. It takes at least a year to get the initial investment back. You get the seed in the fall, plant it the following spring and harvest it the following fall. After drying, cleaning and packaging, a whole year later, then you can finally sell the seed.

The time between start-up and selling can be financially difficult if you're not supplementing your business by selling products from the crops such as food, jam, crafts, and medicinals. These are some of the value-added items farmers/gardeners can use to supplement a seed-growing business.

What's the future hold for Alan and Wild Botanical? He has to move the farm from its current location and it's difficult to leave. He's not sure what will happen next. "It depends on the players. The next farm will require that I have more support. Until now, I've done it on my own inspiration and energy." He knows he wants the next farm to be his last -- he doesn't want to move again. Because he said, "It takes 7 years to complete a cycle at the farm. The first four years you're just getting to know the land."

We wish Alan the best of luck during this transition and sincerely thank him for the wonderful treasures he has given Abundant Life in the form of seeds, knowledge and friendship.

It's important we support the work of farmers like Alan. To value those who work hard to provide us with healthy food, seed and medicine while treading lightly on the earth, trying to give something back. Thank you, Alan.

By Cindi Bittle

Saving Wet Seeds:

Tomatoes, Cukes, Squash, Melons, Berries...

Instead of trying to give away all those extra tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and squash to everyone in the neighborhood, who are also trying to give away all their extras, why don't you try saving the seeds for next year? In our last newsletter we discussed harvesting and saving dry seeds. That process is very different from saving wet seeds, which we will explain now.

Wet seeds are the seeds that are enclosed in fruits such as berries, tomatoes, melons, squashes and cucumbers. They need to be removed from the fruit, washed and dried. Some will also need a fermenting process and some an after-ripening process.

Cucumbers and summer squash should over ripen before you pick them. This means that you let them go well beyond the time in which you would eat them. Leave them on the plant until they get "dead ripe," that is, until they are about ready to fall off the plant. Tomatoes and winter squash you can pick when ripe for eating or later, but never earlier.

Squashes and cucumbers need to be after ripened. This simply means that after the fruits have been picked at full maturity, they need to sit in a protected place for a while and continue to ripen. (Cucumbers need about 2 weeks and squashes 3 weeks.) The kitchen is a good spot so you won't forget about them. If the fruits are dirty, give them a quick surface wash. After they sit a few weeks you can proceed to the seed removal process.

Remove the seed by cutting open the fruit. It's usually best to cut the fruit cross ways through the middle, in other words, do not cut through the stem. Scrape out the seeds into a bowl or bucket. If they need fermentation, that will be the next step. Tomatoes and cucumbers both need fermentation; summer or winter squash and melons do not.

Fermentation mimics nature when a fruit drops to the ground and rots, or ferments. During fermentation bacteria destroy many of the seed-borne diseases that can affect the next generation grown from the seeds. To ferment tomato and cucumber seeds, put the scooped out seeds and gel in a container in a warm spot for a few days and stir in a little water. Let the mixture ferment until a white or grey mold forms on top. This can take from 3-5 days. Stir the seeds once or twice a day during this fermentation period and keep them out of the kitchen, because they're not going to smell good. When the mold forms a good, gross layer, the seeds are ready for washing.

Wash the seeds by adding water to the container of seeds (either the fresh seeds if squash or melons, or fermented seed mixture if tomatoes or cucumbers). This removed the seed from the surrounding pulp. If you add at least twice as much water as seed it will make the washing process easier. With berries, squash and melon seed it will take some rubbing with your fingers to separate the seed from the pulp. The viable seed are dense and will sink and the immature seed will float. You can pour off the debris and immature seeds. With tomatoes and cucumbers the molds will be poured off with the other debris. Continue washing and pouring off with clean water until only clean water and clean seed remain at the bottom of the container. Drain off the water and lay the clean seed out to dry in a thin layer on a plate or screen.

Seeds need to dry fairly quickly so they don't germinate or mold. However, do not let them get above 95 degrees or they may be damaged. Even an 85 degree day in the sun is risky because some dark-colored seed will absorb heat and get too hot. Stir the seeds often to dry all sides. The breeze from a fan will hasten drying and can be very useful in a humid environment.

When the seeds are so dry that they break when folded, the drying process is complete. If they bend but don't break, they need to dry longer. When you're sure they're dry, label and store them in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. Be careful not to store them damp, as they could mold. If stored correctly, your seeds can last 4-7 years, so you can save different seeds next year. In the spring you will have your own seed that are slightly more adapted to your own garden or to share and trade with your friends. What could be better?

Year's End

Dear Friend,

Our last few months are always the tightest months of the year. We begin the year with the hopes and dreams of a new budget, building expectations and making exciting plans. By September we have taken in most of the income we can expect for the year and we begin adjusting and planning for the lean months ahead. We are right on target for the projected income of seed sales, our memberships are on schedule, but we are down on donations.

Instead of doing a year-end letter asking for donations, I am making our request now. Abundant Life has been thrifty and responsible with the money we earn. We've planted hundreds of rare varieties either on the farm or through our Seed Growers Network.

Abundant Life is a healthy, thriving organization, doing important work that you can support. We have continued to narrow our focus while keeping our mission statement as the scale on which to weigh new ideas. We think continuously about how to better do what we strive to do and about how to be more efficient with our resources. We have a no-nonsense budget. We make the most use of the resources we have, including a donated farm, a modest office space and many volunteer hours.

However, as with any non-profit, we are constantly pushing the pocket, to see how much we can accomplish with the resources we have. I think even if our budget were millions a year, we would still struggle at the end of the year, because we would be trying to do the most with what we have.

This is a long-winded way of asking you to show your support through these fall and winter months. We are beginning work on our our catalog, with printing and mailing costs imminent. Also, this fall is when all our seeds come in from our Seed Growers Network, and these hard working farmers are expecting pay for their beautiful, rare and organic seeds.

Please consider making your year-end donation to Abundant Life. Your gifts are tax-deductible and will be used with care and consideration. Donations and memberships also make wonderful presents for the gardener you know.

I hope you will support us however possible this year. Enjoy the harvest, get plenty of rest in the winter, because a busy, seed-filled spring is really, just around the corner.

Aleta Anderson

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