Seed Midden

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

Seed Dreams

Shane Murphy, one of our growers whom we interviewed a few issues back, is beginning his own seed business. From the beginning of our relationship with Shane, we realized his love of growing and these treasures we call seeds. This year he has published his second catalog, full of beautiful words and seeds alike. In his catalog, he said eloquently what we often feel. With his permission, we are reprinting his words. If these words intrigue you as they did us, you can contact Shane for a catalog at

    Seed Dreams
    231 Fair Avenue
    Santa Cruz, CA  95060
    (408) 458-9252
Our name, Seed Dreams, began as a dream of mine, a dream of seeds for people, for our children and for the children still to come. It is a dream of cornfields where concrete streets used to be, a dream of children laughing and playing among the corn with their faces and shirts all sticky and stained from eating watermelon.

One day up in the mountains when I was weeding the corn, something happened. What if the corn was using me to perpetuate itself, much like a burr or foxtail uses a shaggy dog to spread its seeds around?

As gardeners we are in tune with nature and we have a very intimate relationship with Mother Earth. Placing a seed in the Earth and watching it sprout and grow is to take part in the miracle of creation. It is time for humankind to take its respectful place in this great web of life. The mentality of conquerors and consumers is hurtful to our Mother Earth and ourselves. We must begin to understand our true relationship is to all of creation, as brothers and sisters. All of creation is sacred; give honor and respect to all life.

Humans have gone through some major paradigm shifts in the last few hundred years. Just imagine. It was a fact not too long ago that the Earth was the center of the Universe. That Europe was the center of the world. That the white race was master of all races. That men were superior to women, and women were here to serve men. That people believed all of creation's purpose was to serve mankind. As we have traveled from a Eurocentric, racialcentric, sexualcentric, speciescentric belief system, we have become more inclusive, more a part of creation, more closely related to all of creation.

That sunny day on the mountain I went through a change in consciousness. I became more aware that the corn was in a relationship with me, that the corn was guiding me, teaching me how to carry it into a new day as well. That we would walk together into the future. And then it became a Seeds Dream. I have found myself in a seeds dream, a dream of sun-drenched garden soil, clean waters, gentle summer breezes and spring rains. A dream of seed savers and gardens, of women, men and children enjoying and sharing the fruits of their gardens.

So brothers and sisters, may we all join together in the great work of creation; through our good thoughts and efforts, each of us can make a difference. Now is the time. Let's bring back the balance.

Shane has mostly Native American varieties, mostly vegetables and grains. And they are all open-pollinated, organically grown, and only grown by Shane. There aren't many small seed companies any more. As with many small businesses, it is difficult to compete in this day of huge corporations, dealing generally with many things and not specifically with anything. It's heartening to see people trying to make a living sustainably, with love, care and responsibility. We hope you will give Shane your support.

Planning a Seed Garden

Many of us spend the winter dreaming about the sunny, warm days when we'll get our hands in the dirt once again. Thumbing wistfully through the seed catalogs we begin to plan our garden to supply us with the food and color we crave. While making these winter plans for what you'll want to eat in the summer is also the time you should plan for what varieties you'll want to save seed from.

Just about all plants flower and produce seed. Perhaps you've gathered some seed off plants in the wild. If you've grown corn or dry beans, then you've already grown and harvested or eaten the seeds of some plants. Although there are many similarities among plants and methods for seed saving, there are some things you need to know to be as successful as possible when saving seed.

Some plants flower and produce seed all in one season; these are called annuals. Annual seeders include beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, melon, pepper, squash and tomato. Plants that take two years to reach maturity, producing leaves in the first year and flowering and producing fruit and seed in the second year, are called biennials. Biennials include beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, chicory, onion, parsnip and Swiss chard. Plants that produce fruit and seed year after year are called perennials. Many flowers and herbs are perennials.

If you're a small gardener and you just want to save a few different types of seed each year, the simplest way to plan your garden is to only grow one variety of a species at a time. If you grow only one pole bean, corn, tomato, squash, etc., then mostly you don't have to worry about Latin names, cross-pollination or isolation, though you should check out your neighbors' garden if they're near. Make sure you use only open-pollinated seeds. Seeds of hybrid plants will be either sterile or will revert back to an ancestral strain. You can plant your garden and while everything is growing, you can observe and read about when and how to collect and save the seeds.

It is helpful, however, to be equipped with a little more information. The first thing to consider is what can cross-pollinate with each other. For this you need to know the Latin names. You may be surprised to know that Brussels sprouts and cauliflower can cross with each other because they are both Brassica oleracea. However, Delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo) will not cross with Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) because they are different species. When planning your garden, it's a good idea to learn the Latin names before to know whether there's a possibility of cross-pollination. We supply the Latin of most varieties in our catalog listings.

Another element to consider is isolation distance needed between plants of the same species in order to insure purity and prevent cross-pollination. It helps to know whether a plant is pollinated by the wind, insects, or is self-pollinated. Generally, a plant that is pollinated by the wind needs the greatest distance between varieties (2-5 miles) to protect purity. Those pollinated by insects generally need a little less (1/2 mile), and those self-pollinated need the least (10-20 feet). It's best to consult a guide to know for sure how much distance is needed (p. 57 of our catalog lists most vegetables). It's also important to consider what your neighbors are growing if they live nearby or you're growing something like corn that needs a lot of distance.

A Sample Plan

After you familiarize yourself with the Latin names of plants and their required isolation distances, you can start planning. One plan that allows you a lot of variety in a relatively small area is the following: Lettuce are all Lactuca sativa and require about 20 feet isolation. This means if you keep at least 20 feet between lettuce varieties, they probably will not cross with each other and will breed true to type. Tomatoes and bush beans have the same requirements and you may choose to make an arrangement of one bed of lettuce, a bed of tomatoes, a bed of bush beans, then cucumbers then back again to lettuce. You can get a lot of varieties in a garden this way. Since corn, melon and pole beans require much larger isolation distances, you probably will only be able to plant one of each in your garden at a time. You can plant three different squashes, all with different Latin names. Again, be sure to check what your neighbors are up to, garden wise.

With biennials, you can only have one variety of each flowering and going to seed at a time. However, since it takes until the second year for biennials to reach the stage in their cycle in which they are flowering, you can grow as many varieties as you desire for eating in the first year. By the second year, you will want to have only one of each species going to seed, in order not to cross. In our next newsletter we will discuss how to select, overwinter and save seed from biennials.

When trailing biennials on our farm we don't always know which ones we will keep for a seed crop. We plant quite a few of many different types and watch them closely throughout the first season. We record which variety has the strongest growth and pest resistance. We do taste testings at several stages. We evaluate all these factors when deciding which variety we will let go to seed. Often we are amazed at how much difference there can be between varieties of the same vegetable, especially when working with heirlooms. Last summer we trialed parsnips, planting out many mystery varieties. "The Student" parsnip was an overwhelming favorite for taste. We were almost shocked that a parsnip could be so sweet and tender. It was clearly our choice for this summer's parsnip seed crop.

If you want to grow for seed, it's important you consider these elements before you plant your seed. If you plant two rows of corns now and you decide to save your seed in August, it will be too late. You will likely end up with a crossed up mix of corns. However, this is just the beginning information that you need when you start saving seed. Most plants are slightly different from each other, so the process of actually gathering and saving the seed varies from plant to plant. It's best to read up, talk to others and learn more season to season.

Seeds from all of your plants will need to be thoroughly dry before storing. If they are kept in a cool, dark place they can last for years (see planting chart, p. 57 or our catalog, for seed life). If you keep enough to last for several seasons' plantings, you won't need to grow that seed again for a few years. You can grow out a totally different batch of varieties for seed each year and build up quite an amazing seed bank. If you end up with more seed than you think you will need, then you will have an invaluable gift to share with your family and friends (or the World Seed Fund).

Revive a Tradition

Years ago trading seeds was a standard element of farming and part of a farming community's social strength. Doesn't it seem like time to revive this tradition? If only five people saved five different varieties of seed a year and traded them among themselves, they would have a start of a seed bank with 25 varieties. The next year, if they each did five more and continued trading, they'd have 50 varieties. If they continued for five years, or added 5 more participants... well, you can imagine the possibilities. Of course it takes time and commitment, but what of value is any different? This work needs doing, so if you're ready, go out to the garden and make a start.

Thinking of Soil

by Barbara Kaiser

Some thoughts if you are thinking about letting some of the plants in your garden grow out to produce some seed for you:

For one thing, their life in your garden may, then, be longer than it would have been otherwise (stretching into a second year if they are biennials), so you as gardener will want to think about ways to help your plants stay healthy for a longer time.

By giving them a longer growing time, you'll also be giving your plants the chance to really express themselves--reach higher up, deeper down and farther out into their surroundings than you would if you had gone out earlier and plucked them for the table.

Your seeding plants will be growing with a different goal in mind. Since in the end they will be reproducing themselves in seed, they will need to give their attention to different things. Plants can draw part of what they need from the air and water, and there is the familiar trio of soil nutrients: potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus, that, among other things, help hold the plant erect, grow, and ripen.

Your plants' needs may be different at different times and stages of development. The following somewhat simplified but helpful picture roughly corresponds these nutrients with stages of development.

fruit----->----- phosphorus aids ripening

          >----- nitrogen aids growth

root------>----- potassium aids structure

Flowering and seeing plants especially may need to draw on other things as well, on warmth and light, for instance, to reach their goal of seed production. The growing "water-filled" plant needs to dry out a bit to become a more "warmth-" and "light-filled" flowering and seeding plant. With water comes growth, but with drying out comes the kind of refinement the plant needs to go through in order to develop seed, past more succulent stages of root and leaf to drier flower and seed.

With these thoughts in mind, the gardener, who once was concerned with supplying water to the plants, needs to learn to let the soil in the garden dry out, and warmth and light abound, so that seed can successfully develop.

And, the gardener learns to create and add nutrients to the soil in a way that will help the garden, and the plants that grow in it, find the right balance. Compost made with a variety of materials can supply the wide range of nutrients flowering and seeding plants will need.

For example, animal and plant manures for nitrogen, rock powders for phosphorus, wood ash for potassium; and collections of particularly phosphorus-, nitrogen- and potassium-rich plants can lend their qualities and are valuable additions to compost. Added first to compost, there will be a chance for micro-organisms to incorporate the materials into humus before they are added to the soil.

Too much nitrogen can mean lush leaves, but poor root and flower/seed development. Too little phosphorus can lead to plants not maturing or defective seed. Balance and thoughtful material selection is important.

Soil tests done in a laboratory can help you gauge your garden's needs. You can also try making some comparisons of your own. Quick growing plants, such as cress, grown in samples of your compost or soil can often show signs pointing to some of the soil's or compost's qualities.

In the process, you may become a little more attentive to what is happening in your garden, always--for your plants and all that live there, a most helpful and welcome thing!

Welcomes and Thanks

It is with appreciation and sadness that say good-bye to Tricia Paffendorf, our Farm Manager for the last three seasons. She leaves behind a farm shaped by her vision, love and hard work. Tricia was a source of energy and gave me a sense of grounding in my work at Abundant Life. I could always count on her for advice, or more importantly, encouragement when I most needed it.

As wonderful as Abundant Life is, it can be intense and consuming. Tricia was ready to slow down awhile and explore other elements of life. We send our warmest thanks to Tricia. We'll remember her contribution and we'll feel her presence here for a long time to come. We wish her to be well in whatever she chooses.

The farm continues with the steady hand of Barbara Kaiser. She is beginning her third season with Abundant Life. She has contributed much to the playful and gentle tone of the farm and we are lucky to have her input and continuity.

As with the cycles of nature, someone's departure often portends someone else's arrival. Joining Barbara is our new Farm Manager, John Gilardi. He comes to us with farm experience in Occidental, CA as well as a research and engineering background. He joined us in February and has been under trial by fire ever since. When John is able to come up for air, we hope he will take over the "In the Garden" column, perhaps with guest appearances by Barbara.

Finally, we want to wish farewell, thank you and happiness to Pamela Governale. She has worked with us in the office for over a year, and she is moving on to interns, gardens, and other coasts. We'll miss her cheer and her chocolate.

Thanks, Pamela and Tricia. Welcome, John.


Germination Testing at Home

Are you wondering if the seeds you have saved over the years are still good? Do you want to know before you plant your whole garden? A simple way to find out is to do a basic germination test.

Most vegetable seeds sprout at root temperature (70 degrees) when damp. Fold a paper towel in half and moisten it with a little water. Then place 10 seeds on one side, folding the towel on top of the seeds. Put them in a plastic bag so they won't dry out and place them in a warm spot for a few days to a week. Open up and count the sprouts. If eight seeds sprout, then you have an 80% germination rate. Even if only a meager amount sprout, you may still want to plant seeds from that batch, but more thickly crowded than usual to compensate for the poor germination rate. Or you may want to get new seed of this variety if you can, for a stronger start.

If you don't get any germination at all from this method, don't immediately toss out your seed. If may be one of the more difficult seeds to germinate and may need special treatment. Some seeds, herbs especially, may need light or scarification or stratification (cold treatment) to germinate. Others just need a lot of time. For herbs, wildflowers, trees or shrubs, you may have to do a little research or experimentation.

Most vegetables germinate readily, however. This quick method is most useful with them.

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