Saving Seeds, Saving Stories

IMG_4506Seeds have a story to tell. And their stories are often unique. A few gardening seasons ago, I purchased some vegetable seeds from the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange. Along with seeds grown on their own property, the SSE has a network of seed-saving gardeners around the United States and the world for the purpose of sharing saved seeds. This is how I have acquired most of my seeds in the past few years.  With each packet of seed I receive in the mail, I become acquainted with another seed saver and often learn the stories of the seeds they have sent me.

One of my favorite seed stories came with some English pea seeds purchased from a gardener in Little Mountain, South Carolina. A note explained that these seeds were “from the Lindler family of Little Mountain, SC. It is said to have been grown in this area since Colonial times, thus the name ‘English pea’.” Reading this, I realized I had been given more than just seeds – I had been given a story. A history. No, I don’t know all the details. But I do know this – there has been a hard-working attentive gardener planting these English pea seeds in his/her garden each year from the earliest days of our nation. Back when plows were pulled by horse or mule and water was drawn by bucket from a well. Back when saving seeds was their only guarantee of a garden the following year. Through the Civil War, two world wars, drought, floods, industrialization and technological advances, farmers in Little Mountain, South Carolina have faithfully and attentively grown these English peas and saved its seeds, not just for their own future garden, but for folks like me who want to do the same. My motivation to keep this story going, to preserve and persevere in my own part of the world, inspires me to garden for more than just a desire to grow food. I want to have a small part in this history and keep this seed story going into the future.

My first season (2016) of growing these English peas was moderately successful. For the most part we picked the pods and ate the sweet-tasting peas right in the garden. They were delicious! I intentionally left some pods to dry and saved the seeds for the following year. However, due to family circumstances, I have not been able to garden again until this year. Unsure of the viability of my saved peas, I gave them a try indoors in some peat pots. I am excited to see these English peas have begun sprouting!

To add to my excitement for gardening again, I am happy to be sharing these same English pea seeds with my son and daughter-in-law for their new garden. And I will be passing along this seed story to them as well. What will your first seed story be?

Seed Savers Exchange

Note: The website for the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, due to overwhelming demand for seeds, is temporarily not accepting new orders. However, if you click on the “Exchange” title on the top bar, it will take you to the gardener exchange site, where you will be able to search for seeds and request them from the specific gardeners you see listed. Seeds from this exchange are free – you will pay shipping. Most of the time I have received my seeds in the mail within a week. Please read each gardener’s profile for specific information. Happy gardening!


Seeds of Hope

green bean seeds 6My 2017 garden has not been one for the record books. The main reason for this is the amazing opportunity my husband and I had to travel this summer, due to a generous gift of time and funds from the church he has led for over 25 years. Thirteen thousand miles and a thousand pictures later, our unforgettable summer has come to an end. But there is always next summer for the “garden of my dreams”.

green bean seeds 2One redeeming quality of my less-than-useful garden this year has been saving seeds for next year. My green beans in particular became overgrown, with bean pods ripening past the point of enjoyable eating. So I allowed the pods to dry on the plant until the beans inside were nearly bursting out of the pod. Then, after removing the dry pods from the plant, I pulled each one open and removed the dried beans, preserving them as seeds for next year’s garden.

The Seed Savers Exchange first opened my eyes to the benefits of saving seeds. The typical seeds you buy in a store are generally hybrid seeds, meaning the seeds it produces in its first harvest may no longer contain both elements of the hybrid, thus making it unable to reproduce itself the following year. Enter the Seed Savers Exchange! They offer fantastic resources on saving seeds, such as this award-winning book, The Seed Garden.  A few years ago I ordered several types of seeds from them. My green bean crop this year was grown entirely from seeds I saved last year, which was grown from seeds I purchased from a Seed Savers source the year before. Free seeds and free green beans every year sounds like a great plan to me!

green bean seeds 1This morning I enjoyed some quiet moments on my screened-in porch, listening to the birds sing while I pulled bean seeds from crunchy pods and dreamed of the 2018 harvest already in my hands.  My favorite thing about gardening? Hope. Hope that is found in something as tiny as a seed. Hope that keeps me going, that calls me to try again. Hope that is still present in something that seems as useless as a dried bean pod, telling me there is another season of harvest yet to come. Sometimes all we have is a tiny seed of hope – but that seed of hope can grow into something beautiful if we don’t give up.

Sweet Potatoes, Round Two

sweet potato plants About a year ago I wrote a post describing (or more accurately, complaining) about my attempt to grow sweet potatoes.  Not realizing the maintenance level of starting sweet potatoes for the garden, I found myself babysitting my sweet potato in a mason jar for several weeks, hoping that the one measly root it produced would somehow turn into something profitable.

Well, I owe my sweet potato an apology.  I did my part, and it did its part. Last summer I planted the sweet potato starts that had come from the original potato, and – to my surprise – I actually harvested some sweet potatoes!  Not many, mind you, but sweet potatoes nonetheless! Though rather small in both in size and quantity, we did get to taste a few home-grown sweet potatoes before the season was done.

In addition, I was able to save about 4 or 5 smaller sweet potatoes to be my seed potatoes for the next growing season. After all, that is what I am ultimately after – producing and saving my own seeds from year to year. Though I had expected those small sweet potatoes to shrivel up over the winter,  I am happy to report that the potatoes did survive and, in fact, have produced a healthy batch of new sweet potato starts for my garden this year! So for those of you, particularly in the northern states, who would like to try growing sweet potatoes, please let me encourage you – it can be done! Here are pictures of my current sweet potato project and our progress so far.

sweet potatoes in bag

My sweet potatoes were stored in a paper lunch bag over winter

sweet potato seeds

Each sweet potato was wrapped in simple white paper inside the lunch bag. Look how small they were!

sweet potato starts

When removed from the paper bag this spring, the sweet potatoes already showed signs of new starts.

sweet potato plants

Just a few weeks after placing the sweet potatoes in jars of water, healthy new starts appear!

spring sweet potato plants

After carefully removing the starts from the mother plant, the starts were placed in shallow water to grow roots. Here are the rooted starts now taking off in recycled yogurt cups filled with my compost dirt.

In a few weeks, when the weather is warmer and my sweet potato plants are bigger, I will be planting them in my garden.  Hopefully we will have a few more to eat this fall, along with some more starters for next year!

A New Season of Canning

The icicles are dripping, the birds are chirping, and Daylight Savings Time has begun.  Is it safe to say that spring is on the way?  When the crocus buds peek out of the snow-laden flower bed, another thought begins to poke its way into my mind – gardening!  I know some of you have already begun your seeds indoors. One of these years I hope to accomplish that. For now, I am content to drool over the gardening catalogs that seem to arrive in my mailbox daily.

Something else arrived yesterday – on my doorstep. It looks like something an alien might have dropped off. And be careful picking it up, because you could sprain a back muscle! But I am so excited to take on this new challenge for my gardening/preserving season this year.

Men have their tools, women have their gadgets…and mine is currently in the form of an All-American Pressure Canner. During the long harsh months of January and February here in Ohio I have been researching information about pressure canning.  My freezer is filled to capacity, for which I am grateful. However, some items in my freezer could be safely canned.  In theory, I believe canning more foods to make them shelf-stable will allow me to stock my freezer with more items from my garden and from seasonal sales that can only be frozen.  In this way I believe I can continue to save money and provide a healthy diet for my family.

So, here it is! Pretty impressive, I might say. Honestly, I am scared to use it for the first time. But hpressure canneraving read multiple reviews on this product and its safety, as well as a myriad of online posts and comments on proper handling of this equipment, I am ready to tackle this new challenge. I hope to try my first hand at it by canning some spring peas. We will see how it goes.

The online reviews I read on this product were incredible. One man spoke of using his grandmother’s All-American Pressure Canner which is now 100 years old.  He needed to replace the weight or the dial (I can’t remember which) and had it checked for safety – it still works fine. Others commented on how this canner is so well made they will be able to pass it down to the next generation. So as my son was lifting this giant out of the box for me yesterday, I told him to be careful with it because this might be his inheritance. He didn’t seem too impressed – I wonder why?

So here’s to a new season and a new gadget and new fun! If any of you are experienced pressure canning people, I would love to know your favorite recipes. I am going to start simple, but I intend to expand my horizons in the future. Thanks in advance for your input!

PS:  I have been watching this product online for a few weeks. On Wednesday a week ago (after midnight) I happened to check, and this product was marked down to $161!  The next morning I decided to order it. Much to my surprise, the price was back to $209. Later that week it went as high as $237. Determined not to pay that much, I continued to watch the price. Last Thursday (after midnight) I checked again – the price was $161, with no tax and free shipping. I ordered it immediately, saving myself $66 from the top price. I have never observed this price change happening before and do not know if it will happen again, but if you are interested in this product, it may be worth it to check the prices for a week to see what you can get.  The link included in the blog article takes you to the item I purchased.


The Real Dirt about Real Food

???????????????????????????????I  came into the house tonight after spending a beautiful Ohio summer evening in my garden. I am a novice gardener to say the least.  In this my third year of  suburban backyard gardening, I have added potatoes, onions and cucumbers into the mix. Today I harvested most of my potatoes and onions, along with a second round of rhubarb.  I also planted carrots for a fall crop that I hope to successfully store through the winter months.  And I just finished blanching and freezing a pound of green beans picked this evening as well.

???????????????????????????????My garden time is also my think time. Playing in the dirt, feeling the warm sun and cool breeze as I weed, watching a small toad wiggle away from my green bean patch – these are relaxing to me in a way most other things are not.  As I worked in my garden, I realized how much I am being re-educated by both my garden experiences and  my Fresh Fork Market journey.  My perspective on food, where it comes from and what I should do with it, is changing – and for the better, I believe.

Most of us approach shopping for food like we shop for a new car.  We expect a new car to come exactly like it looks on the TV commercial or on the car lot – in the color we like, with the power we desire, and sporting all the specific bells and whistles we have in mind. We want guarantees on the performance of the car, the maintenance of the car, the gas mileage of the car.  And when the car dealer hands over the keys to this car, it most likely will look and perform exactly like all the other cars of this make and model.  Not much risk involved in the transaction.

We often go to the grocery store with the same mentality.  We want our food to look exactly like it looks on TV or in the newspaper ad – in the color we like, with the flavor we like, and sporting all the excitement of a gourmet restaurant.  We want guarantees on the flavor of the food, the performance of the food, the longevity of the food.  We want pretty food in safe plastic-wrapped packaging so our hands don’t get dirty. We want shiny food, glossy produce, shelf-stable breakfasts and long-lasting canned soups.  We don’t want  risk.

???????????????????????????????We have lost sight of what real food looks like and tastes like.  We have forgotten what it takes to make the food we feed our families every day. Real food often comes with dirt on it. Or a few tiny blotches from sitting on the ground for a bit. Or some funny wrinkles from a few days in the hot sun. Sometimes real food isn’t ready right when we want it because of weather issues. Real food isn’t usually shiny and it certainly does not come plastic-wrapped so we don’t get our hands dirty. Real food comes with risk. But real food comes with so much more.

???????????????????????????????Real food brings us back to the freshest of flavors and the boldest of colors. Real food, fresh food, contains the most valuable nutrients in their most productive state. Real food leaves behind the plastic and cans and brings instead  fresh peels and living seeds for the compost pile or next year’s garden.  Real food begs to be eaten soon and rewards us with the best taste.  Real food teaches us a little bit more about what it takes to produce the healthy, natural food we want to feed our families.

I am growing to love brushing the dirt off potatoes and onions from my garden.  Right now my cucumbers are looking a bit prickly and crooked, but I still can’t wait to slice one up in a salad sometime soon.  Real food, real flavor, and real fun!


A Country Girl in the City

This morning I scored big in my gardening project.  Having purchased seed potatoes a few weeks ago, I have been eagerly SONY DSCanticipating planting them.  After viewing several YouTube videos on the subject of growing potatoes in containers, I set out on a quest for burlap bags for just this purpose.  An online search revealed only rather expensive options.  So I headed over to the Wilson Feed Mill on Canal Rd. and discovered they sell burlap bags for $2.  After purchasing five bags,  I headed home, ready to fill the bags with dirt and get my Yukon Golds and Red Pontiacs started for the season.

I don’t live in the country.  In fact, our house sits on approximately one-quarter of an acre in a suburb of Cleveland, so gardening space is at a premium and livestock is out of the question.  My small garden is slowly creeping into more of the backyard as our kids have gotten older and need less outdoor space for toys.  I have warned my husband that someday he might come home and have no backyard left,  reminding him that then he wouldn’t have to mow it anymore!

Even though I don’t live in the country,  sometimes I feel like a country girl at heart.  My grandparents were cattle farmers, my uncle’s family are hog farmers.  I spent many a summer day in the barn, the fields, the creek, the flower garden, the granary, the milk house.  I helped Grandma take the milk and cat food out to the barn and watched her fill the large rubber black bowls with it as multiple cats mysteriously emerged from hay bales or the barn loft where they dutifully fulfilled their task of keeping the mice population under control.  I caught crawdads in the creek, rode the tractor with Grandpa, ran old field corn through the hand-cranked corn husker in the granary, played hide-and-seek in the barn and milk house. I got muddy, silly, itchy, dirty, and tired all in one day-and it was great.

So how do you know if you are a country girl at heart?  Here are a few considerations:

You might be a country girl if you would rather play in the dirt than go shopping.

You might be a country girl if your kids don’t have any room to play in the backyard because you turned it into a vegetable garden.

You might be a country girl if you dress up when required but would rather live in your blue jeans and boots.

You might be a country girl if you own a canner, a dehydrator and multiple gardening gadgets.

You might be a country girl if you dream all winter of being able to use your canner, dehydrator and garden gadgets next year.

You might be a country girl if you avoid grocery stores and look for farm stands on the side of the road.

You might be a country girl if you get more excited about getting seeds in the mail than getting a check in the mail.

You might be a country girl if you love the smell of fresh-plowed fields fertilized with manure.

You might be a country girl if you wish you owned a few chickens instead of a few cats.

You might be a country girl if you drool over farmstead real estate instead of a fancy new house.

You might be a country girl if you would rather have a tractor in a barn than another car in the garage.

I have no expectations of a life in the country being in my future.  But this doesn’t keep me from digging in the dirt, getting excited about simple things, and learning to live somewhat self-sufficiently.  You might even find me occasionally catching crawdads in the creek – hope you will join me!