With biodiversity in mind, we have asked a small cohort of gardeners to plant, grow and save diverse, organic, local seeds in their gardens and fill us in on the joys (and challenges!) that result. Here's the third update of the season. Read up on the gardeners' previous adventures here and here and here.
Jen Rashleigh and Sarah Wenman
Farmers on 57th: George Pearson Long-Term Care Centre Garden Club
Vancouver, British Columbia
The beginning and the end of the gardening season are my personal favourites. In spring, it's the time of new beginnings, fresh green shoots, fresh hope. I find myself singing Stan Roger's line "put another season's promise in the ground." On the other end of things, the activity of seed harvesting almost screams out the themes of fall: ripening, abundance, gathering in. It feels ancient and witchy – in the non-Halloween-y sense of the word. The plants have died back, gone brittle and brown. It would seem that life has withered away. But crack that seed pod open (often with a satisfying snap) and one finds that nature has left us just a final bit of magic. Our garden's parting gift.
I feel like this year's USC Canada project has made me serious about beans. It's been an exercise in developing bean snobbery. Specifically about flavour (which ones taste best fresh off the vine? Some, surprisingly sweet, others just too... beany), texture (stringy, crispy, or basically just an exercise for your jaws) and purpose (pick 'em and eat 'em vs. don't pick those – we're saving those for dried beans!).
The bean seeds we selected, Ruckle, Tanya's Pink Pod and Calypso, were all bush, and favoured as dried beans. As fresh eaters, I found their pods just a bit too thick and chewy, especially when compared against snap bean rock stars like the Dragon's Tongue. So we dutifully saved our selected varieties as dried beans.
Then comes the catch: you leave them on the vine rather than picking them. So of course the plant doesn't bother to continue churning out beans. It stops producing. So while we got huge harvests of pole snap beans (pick them one week, and presto! a fresh batch new week!), the bush dry beans just quietly sat ripening, untouched. And at the season's end, we got small bowlfuls of dried beans, not really enough to share.
The moral of the story here is: you have to grow a huge quantity of dried bean varieties to get a dried bean harvest worth talking about. Next year: grow snap beans. I've learned that lesson. And I've also gained heaps of appreciation for the bags of dried beans in my cupboards, and the amount of land and time it takes to grow them. It borders on miraculous.
The Red Kuri squash were gorgeous (I admit I have not tried them yet though). I think they're on the menu for tonight, with butter and maple syrup. In the squash department, we learned hand pollination (to ensure genetically pure seed the following year) is best done in a garden where you can visit the night before, and then early again the following morning.*
*for those just tuning in, a quick squash seed saving recap: find the poised-to-open female and male flowers the evening before, tape them shut, then sneak back the following morning to open the flowers, do the deed with a brush, and then seal up the female again so no other pollinators can get in there. It's a pretty long date, and you have to be there at the right times.
So, as much as I love the sneaky and seductive quality of hand pollinating, it just won't work for our program, which meets only once a week. I'll have to save that activity for my home garden.
Our final seed choice was the softneck garlic. Here, the lesson is that even the professionals occasionally have bad luck: our supplier had crop failure. No softneck garlic for us this year, and the hardneck is still being delivered.
That brings us to the close of our final blog post, and a chance to say thank you to USC Canada for the opportunity to dig deeper into fine art and science of seed saving, and to write about it. It's been good fun.
PS. Our four year-old Owen (that's his hand in the picture) has been bitten by the seed saving bug, and he was excited all season long to hand out those USC Canada I Am A Seed Saver buttons. So thanks USC Canada for making and providing them.
High-rise apartment balcony garden
It is with mixed feelings that I submit this final post about my experience growing an ecological garden from seed. Unfortunately, things ended badly for my garden. After investing time and money towards good seeds and soil, vegetables and herbs started to sprout. Alongside the growth of my garden however, sprouted invasive mushrooms.
I tried picking them out for around a week, but they were taking over too quickly. To remedy this I bought new, high-quality soil and re-potted the plants. Within two weeks the mushrooms took over again. Their hoarding of the nutrients in the soil quickly killed off the herbs, peppers, tomatoes, catnip and cilantro that were growing. After this, I cleaned everything out, thinking that there must have been a contaminant in the plants. I started from scratch, sowing seeds once again. The seeds turned to sprouts, but mushrooms grew faster once again. I have no clue where the mushrooms came from but I was forced to once again abort, to great chagrin.
I felt ashamed about my growing experience. I was embarrassed that I failed.
However, after some time away from my garden and some deep reflection, I now have a new perspective. Rather than feeling ashamed and disappointed, I believe this experience to be a lesson from the earth about the complexities of natural ecosystems.
This experience has taught me about the fundamental values necessary in ecological gardening. The first is patience, patience for your seeds, seedlings, plants and yourself. The second is appreciation, appreciation for nature and all that it produces. Our ecological gardens do not live in vacuums. They are subject to environmental impacts. As a result, gardens can prosper, but they can also fall flat, as my garden did.
Ultimately, this experience has taught me a deep-founded appreciation for the challenges, resilience and knowledge that exists across agroecological farmers. These farmers make it look easier than it is. That, to me, is a sign of true mastery.
Northwest coastal garden
Port Edward, British Columbia
To the birds, that is how my seed saving project went this year, I say in jest.
Truly though, I think that is where my seeds went this year. All good intentions aside, my garden turned out to be less fruitful than I would have liked. Nonetheless, the experience was rewarding and enriching despite low yields.
As I suspected at the beginning of this project, the weather turned out to be a challenge for me and my garden. It went from devastatingly hot to completely saturated with rain in an instant. After talking with a few avid gardeners in the area, the most success seems to come with a greenhouse in this climatic region to moderate the extremes of temperature and dampness during the growing season.
I do have a few beans that I will dry and keep for next year. They didn't seem overly concerned with the incessant wetness or the extremes in temperature throughout the summer. I already can't wait for next years growing season to continue testing what crops are best suited to this area.
Happy gardening all!
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