Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finch Filch!

 I should go out there and stop her... maybe after the next cup of coffee. There is a small finch that has discovered the spinach seeds. Just a few feet away the dog is snoring in the morning sun, and she is not concerned. 

 Usually they go after the grasses I leave to go go seed. She seems to have other tastes. She's so delicate that the stem doesn't bend in any way under her weight. Eat up sweetheart, I have more than enough to share.

 She is consuming one of my odd creations. I have been mixing several spinach strains to try to get one with large tender leaves that can deal with our climate and delay bolting longer. I have already collected about a 1/2 cup each of Melody, Bloomsdale, Giant Noble, and 2 others... I think 1 is Cascade? I'd have to look it up.

 Spinach has male and female plants (and the "odd" ones that occasionally have both, but usually they are either male or female.) The males do not produce any seed.

 Consistent moisture is key as an extended dry spell will trigger spinach to bolt. They don't like having wet feet either. Compost is very helpful as it offers drainage yet also retains moisture. I tend to raise mine in very large pots as 1 band of copper around the pot usually keeps pesky slugs away. Also the pot has a rather deep water reservoir to help with keeping consistent moisture.

AHA! Now a male is with her! They are house finches. 

Pak Choi from seed to seed

These are Pak Choi blooms. Honeybees and Bumblebees were indifferent for them opting for other flowers instead, however sweat bees and other small pollinators were all over them constantly. You see I have these in a pot. I have several varieties, so to get more control over potential cross pollination I need to either use isolation, isolation cages, or put as many non-compatible flowers between the strains.

 Selection plays a part as well. In this pot I had started with about 15 plants. The first ones to show signs of bolting were harvested. The remaining 7 that were slower to bolt were selected. (yes.. pulled leaves and used them.. and they all passed the taste testing.) 

 You see the plant relation to other crops in the flowering and seed pod formation. As this sends up a spike and blooms for awhile (as you see in the picture.. some are opened and some are still buds). 

 You can actually eat the immature cabbage seed pods. 

 Harvesting the seed pods...  you have to keep an eye on them. When they are ready and the pod is fully dry, hold a container underneath the pod when you break it away. They tend to shatter. They also don't all ripen at once, so continuously checking and collecting almost daily is needed.

 Only 7 plants though? This year.. yes. I have some from last year and next year I will collect more. Is it enough? Well... from 7 plants this is about how much you can collect. Keep in mind I am still collecting from those same 7 plants as there are still quite a few pods still ripening!

This is a shot glass.. so you have an idea of size. The date is when I started collecting the first seeds. They are laid out to fully dry for several days. Shortly they will be packaged in paper envelopes in quantities for a season. The envelopes will be dated, have the strain name and basic information also included. They then will go into different air tight containers that sometimes I add desiccant to.

 I package them in smaller quantities for a couple of reasons... the less exposure the better is the main reason to retain viability longer. The second is in case a mishap occurs not all of my seeds will be lost. Third reason.. trying to maintain genetic diversity of a strain even though it is small scale seed collection. If a strain is too inbred it languishes.. not all crops are prone to genetic bottlenecking, but when working on small scale you want to keep diversity and at the same time be able to have most of the crop harvestable for consumption.

 When figuring out what quantity to package.. consider if this is a crop you intent on doing multiple sowings for that season. Then also add some extra "just in case" should you need to test germination.

 Those 7 plants alone have offered up more than enough seeds for me to do both spring and late summer plantings for the next 5 years plus for my family of 3 plus sharing with friends.

 How long do they store? Well... originally these were started from a package that was 10 years old and had better than 75% germination. Most seed saving guides give ranges from 1 to 5 years only (and for cabbage they usually say 3 or 4), but if properly stored they maintain viability much longer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Heirloom vs Open Pollinated (OP)

 It seems that more than a few people have no idea what the difference is. Is there a difference? Oh yes, there is.

 "Heirloom" to identify a cultivar is somewhat ambiguous. By that I mean there is no set perimeters by which to formerly classify an open pollinated strain as "old".  As it is all "heirloom" cultivars are open pollinated and often a story can be linked to the name of the variety. Many of these strains were created by backyard gardeners through selecting specific qualities . Some were handed down to the next generation as a family tradition, some were sold to seed companies, etc. 

 It is like this... you have a horse and it is an Arabian... you breed it to another Arabian.. the result is the foal as well will be an Arabian. Heirloom... the Arab has papers.. you can trace the pedigree to some extent. 

 Open pollinated strains are not hybrids. A cultivar must be stabilized over 7+ generations to be considered an open pollinated strain. Here is a key difference... open pollinated strains are more current and as well tend to have more focus on resistances. This does not mean GMO, this means by selection. Example.. going back to wild sources to harness a sport that has shown natural means to resist some diseases/ pests/ etc. and then crossing it to a current strain.. then repeatedly selecting the specific qualities until the end result is a stabilized strain with the desired qualities.

 I am all for maintaining strains. I find it a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. In effect by maintaining a cultivar over the years, you are in effect creating your own strain. Unavoidable as over time the plants that do best, produce best, etc. are ones that are becoming acclimated to your micro climate.

 What makes me cringe is encountering those that say "only heirlooms!" and don't really know what it means. Old strains are around for a reason.. usually for unique characteristics or superb flavor. Their primary selling point ironically is that they used to be more available... were thought to be almost lost and now are commercially available again. Many of these old strains though are notoriously finicky (and some have little disease resistances), and while some are renown for their flavor, not usually for production.

 So if you  looking to save seeds, for whatever your reason... personal enjoyment, the challenge, survival preparedness, etc. remember diversity and variety is important. (Then make sure to brush up on how to maintain a strain and control cross pollination!)

Nori Rolls

  Well.. I would have pictures if I wasn't so tired last night, so sorry about that, but I will make them again and post them.

 I like making Nori (seaweed) rolls and more importantly my family loves eating them. I tend to skip the raw fish and use other cooked meats or cooked fish. I try to make it as colorful as possible as well and still keep in mind how it tastes.

 So I made 10 rolls last night. Basically once cut it was a small mountain and all of the vegetables in it save one made with avacado was from my garden. 

 I was patting myself on the back as this time I did get the rice layer just right and not too thick.My husband, being part hummingbird and able to eat almost his entire body weight in food if he likes it, ate 4 of them. "I need to take pictures" is what I screeched gently reminded him.

 Then Tom the dill addict called. He was out of weed and needed more for a special dinner he was making his girlfriend as he forgot at the last minute it was her birthday.Darling husband saw it as an opportunity to escape helping clean the kitchen and asked if he could grab some rolls for Tom to try. "Sure, take a few, but I need to take pictures still." He grabbed a small plate full and ran away went to Tom's with several small trees worth of dill.

 I haven't really been sleeping much lately. Our daughter is at her grandparents' home in MI for a two week visit, and well, I miss her like crazy. So I tend to crash a little early, wake up many times and finally give up at around 5am. I woke up par usual, checked the camera and the batteries were toast. Time to recharge them. 

 I made the coffee, threw in some laundry, picked lettuce & tomatoes to go in chicken sandwiches for husband's lunch which I made and went out to water the garden. The typical only when I went to the fridge the rolls were gone. Darling sweet soon to be incredibly lonely husband grabbed the whole container of rolls AND his sandwiches.

 So Nori rolls are good, and you can make them with almost any combination. As odd as it sounds, I made some with shredded pot roast with red peppers, scallions, and carrot.. also terriyaki chicken with assorted veggies was a hit. 

 Just pick a tender meat with good flavor and experiment with colorful veggies to go with them. 

 They were at hit at his work it seems as it is not even noon and I have been called twice to find out how to make them by his coworkers. After I emailed how to make them, I asked one of the ladies to also pass on to darling husband that I never got to take my pictures. 

 Well, the batteries are ready. Figures. lol

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Flowers are blooming

 So I have the odd assortment of flowers blooming.. and growing in places they should hate. My husband learned long ago that I think cut flowers are nice... but give me packets of seeds and I am thrilled.
 Flowers from the florist always seem like such a waste to me. While some may get joy just from looking at them when they are in a room, I get my thrills when they are living and doing what they are meant to do. The scents they give to lure and feed pollinators.. and the mystery of what their seeds may produce. To me... it is like Christmas. A packet of seeds offers challenges, rewards, surprises, gratification, and potentially years of interest. 
 Herb flowers, vegetable flowers, decorative flowers... they all hold my interest. Flowers that are of non-edible crops offer a freedom of just leaving them be to see what crosses may occur. They let me be sloppy and carefree if I want to be.  I sometimes will start extras for friends who are also rather lax in their flowerbed designs.. with labeling nothing more than "Anne's partial sun mix" or "full sun flowers". 
 I use flowers... variety offers a food source for various pollinators. They scent my gardens and bring beauty through their riot of colors and textures. I use them to create an environment that makes me happy. 
 So he knows to skip the chemical laden toxic offerings from the florist and just pass me some packets of seeds.