Tag Archives: heirloom

How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

garlic scapes

Do you harvest garlic scapes while they’re still straight or after they’ve curled?

Garlic scapes harvested young are still tender enough to eat raw (although too pungent for some palates!) They can be cooked in stir-fries, pickled, or made into pesto. Harvested a little older, you may need to break off the woody bases, similar to asparagus, and just use the tender tops.

Scapes are the leafless flower stalks of hardneck garlic varieties. Harvesting scapes encourages the plants to put more energy into bulbs, increasing yields and improving quality. It’s usually done a few weeks or up to 2 months before the bulbs are ready for harvest. While scapes may be harvested by snapping or twisting them off at the base, many gardeners prefer to use pruning shears or clippers. A warm, dry afternoon is recommended for harvesting scapes, as this promotes fast healing.

While some folks advise to harvest when the scapes have curled once, others recommend harvesting while they’re still straight. The truth may be that tenderness varies by variety — some varieties stay tender after curling, while other varieties are best harvested earlier.

garlic scapes freshly harvested

We’d love to hear from you! Have you found variation by variety? Do you always harvest at the same stage?

Remember, we take pre-orders all year for our fall-shipped heirloom Garlic cloves for planting!

These links offer advice for growing your own garlic:

Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide

Garlic and Perennial (Multiplier) Onions: Harvest and Curing

Why Open Pollination

This post is based on a short speech that Sapphyre Miria of Commonwealth Seeds and I gave at the Charlottesville Gaia Gathering in May of last year.

Cowpeas (a.k.a. southern peas or field peas) dry on a string in a home pantry, at a scale appropriate to home seed-saving or food preservation.

Preserving seed for the next season has been a fundamental rule of survival throughout human history. And yet in our time, dependence on commodified seed is a huge insecurity to our local food systems. Almost all seed prior to the 1930’s was organic, regionally adapted and open-pollinated (non-hybrid). American seed companies first arose in the latter half of the 19th century, but in 1940, most farmers and gardeners still knew how to save seeds of most or all of the vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other plants that they grew.  When they traded and shared these seeds with their neighbors, they passed the knowledge along, too.

A variety stewarded in this way has a genetic makeup suited to the local traditions and the local growing conditions. This adaptation of seed stocks allowed for a diverse, secure food supply in each region.

This began to change with the advent of hybrid corn varieties in the 1930’s. With outcrossing crops like corn, onions, and broccoli, hybrid vigor is a significant factor, and that’s why we carry two hybrid sweet corns, a hybrid broccoli, and a hybrid onion, in addition to about 800 open-pollinated varieties.  However, around 1940, farmers started trading in their ability to save next season’s seed, adapted to their growing conditions, for seeds purchased from a seed company and promises of better yields. In the years since, using hybrids (which don’t come true to type if you plant seed you’ve saved) has become standard practice even for plant types that don’t benefit from hybrid vigor — and most don’t.

Over the latter half of the twentieth century, farmers and gardeners continued to lose their seed-saving knowledge and their stewarded varieties.  Industrial food systems replaced local food systems just as industrial seed systems replaced local seed systems. Throughout this process, seed has moved away from being the held in common by humankind, and joined the long list of resources appropriated by the private sector.

The results have been devastating. Most farming in the United States today relies on proprietary seed stocks, whether simply hybrid (F1), or plant variety protected (PVP – a limited patent), or genetically modified (GMO), the most extreme form of seed privatization.

The seed industry is now dominated by a handful of transnational biotechnology/chemical firms with 60% of the world’s commercial seed owned by 5 companies. What’s worse is that these corporations have no interest in supporting sustainable organic agriculture or organic crop breeding.  In fact, their profits rest on breeding crops that rely on agricultural chemicals, which they also sell. They have much to gain by commandeering the seed supply through market consolidation, discontinuing more seed varieties with each corporate merger, and leaving fewer varieties available to organic farmers.

Chemical companies have been buying out seed companies for decades.

 

Hybrids and other newer varieties are generally bred for shippability, appearance, and the ability to perform well in high-input, chemical-intensive monocultures.  Even universities sometimes patent varieties and sell exclusive rights to monopolize those varieties.

This privatization has led to increased reliance on hybrid seed stocks, and also to a loss in the amount of open pollinated varieties available, and also a loss of their quality, suitability and traceability. Most commercial dry seed production takes place where the climate suits the seed production, like the Pacific Northwest and Israel. That’s great in some ways, but how will those varieties grow in an opposite climate like the southeastern United States? Colorado is a good place to produce squash seed without much of the disease pressure experienced in more humid climates. But over the long run those seed stocks are not likely to hold up as well to Downy Mildew and Bacterial Wilt.

Mainstream, conventional agriculture produces increased rates of various diseases in people, too.  In this country we have epidemics of obesity and diabetes, despite increased advice on what, and how much, to eat. Once in a while, conventional breeders select for higher nutrient content, but it seems that every decade there are significant changes in which nutrients we’re told to pay attention to.  Likewise, disease resistance and regional adaptation are sometimes, but rarely, prioritized by modern vegetable breeders.

The political landscape surrounding seed is dire and reveals the vulnerability in our local food systems. Yet, there exist many seeds of potential to turn the tide of corporate control over our food supply, and to return food sovereignty to the hands of the people.  Communities that prioritize local spending, farmer co-operatives, food hubs, farmers’ markets and CSAs are also becoming the breeding grounds for a new local, organic, open-pollinated seed movement.  In Central Virginia, Common Wealth Seed Growers and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are working together to create a robust seed system that meets regional needs. We’re creating access to well stewarded, source-transparent, regionally adapted, GMO-free, organic, open-pollinated seed varieties. Common Wealth grows, saves, cleans and packs all of the seed they sell, and also maintains several in-progress breeding projects.  This year Southern Exposure is partnering with Common Wealth and adding three of their best-performing varieties to our collection.

Cucumbers from a trial conducted by Common Wealth Seed Growers

At Southern Exposure, we are working with over 60 small farmers who grow seeds.  For 2018, we’ve increased our source transparency: all the seeds grown on the small farms in our seed grower network now have an “S” symbol.  This replaces the “e” symbol that had a similar meaning, but that we only used for seed that’s not also certified organic.

We offer some varieties recently bred for organic production, but we focus on heirloom varieties, which have stood the test of time. They have been passed down from generation to generation.  The heirlooms we carry (marked with the hourglass symbol in our catalog and on our website) have also stood the test of our trial gardens.  Some of the heirlooms we offer might disappear if we didn’t offer them. Heirlooms are often less uniform than newer varieties, in part because the uniformity that industrial farmers seek can be a disadvantage to home gardeners. For example, when you’re growing for your own kitchen, you don’t want all your broccoli to mature in the same week.

Alabama Blue collards, a variety with lots of genetic variation

Together, Common Wealth and Southern Exposure grow and test new and old varieties in our trials and collaborate to expand the number of trials we can do during a growing season. We are building local and regional networks of skilled organic seed producers, and teaching seed-saving techniques to farmers and gardeners. We practice ongoing selection under organic conditions.  This work is an essential piece of the larger mission of creating an agricultural system that produces foods that nourish us deeply.

Guide to Growing Rice

Carolina Gold Rice

Though it may seem like an odd time of year to read about growing rice it’s actually a really good time to start planning for next season. Rice is a long season crop and preparation this fall can really benefit your rice harvest.

There’s also a few misconceptions about growing rice that make it less popular than it perhaps should be.

The first is that rice requires flooding. Flooding is actually just a method of weed control. Rice does well in water while other plants like weeds do not. However it can be grown with just and inch of irrigation or rain per week. However if you happen to have a wet area on your property you’d like to put into production rice could be your answer.

The second misconception is that rice can only be grown in really warm areas. In fact there are varieties of rice that can be grown as far north as Vermont. SESE has varieties that are best suited to the south and mid-atlantic regions.

Lastly rice is often seen as a crop for big farmers and not necessarily backyard gardeners but you don’t need big fields or machinery to get a nice rice crop. It’s perfectly easy to grow and cultivate with hand tools. The only special equipment you need is a rice de-huller and you can find a variety of home scale models available.

Selecting & Preparing a Plot

Whether you choose to flood your rice or just irrigate it, water is probably the biggest concern when choosing a plot. Make sure it’s an area you can easy water because of its irrigation needs.

Rice also does best in fertile, nitrogen-rich soil. Compost is the perfect fertilizer for rice so if you select a plot this fall you can add about 1lb per square foot of compost and till it in. You can also grow a winter-kill cover crop like buckwheat this fall. In the spring the dead buckwheat will act as a mulch and you can plant your rice through it. The mulch will help hold moisture and prevent weeds.

Planting Rice

Hmong Sticky Rice

Rice can be planted two ways either direct sown or transplanted. For transplants seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before your desired planting date.

Direct seed or transplant rice in rows 9-12 inches apart with plants about 6 inches apart in the row. Rice isn’t always grown in rows however this method has been shown to increase yields as the rice has plenty of space and nutrients and can be easily cultivated.

Cultivation

Rice doesn’t do well with weed pressure so be sure to keep it well weeded. Small plantings of rice typically aren’t bothered by pests or disease although birds will feed on rice as it ripens so you may choose to use netting.

Harvest

The rice should be harvested once it’s dry and brown. There are two methods for harvesting. You can cut the entire plant as close to the ground as possible or cut just the seed head. Whatever you choose it should be noted that leaving the straw on the field will add nutrients and keep your soil healthy for next year.

Once harvested, rice should be threshed and winnowed. There are machines made specifically for threshing but basically you’re just trying to break other plant material free from the grains of rice. A common method is to place the rice in a 5-gallon bucket and use a drill with a paint stirring attachment to break it up.

After threshing the rice should be winnowed. This process can be done in front of a fan by pouring the rice into a bowl and allowing the fan to blow away the lighter plant material while the grains fall straight down into the bowl. This will need to be repeated several times before all the material is gone.

Unlike wheat, rice also has to be de-hulled as it probably won’t come off during the threshing process. Rice can be de-hulled by rubbing it between your hands but it’s a strenuous and uncomfortable process. If you enjoy growing rice it’s probably worth investing in a home de-huller.

Finally you can enjoy your rice! Just like other crops growing your own can allow you to branch out into more varieties and tastes than the one or two offered at the grocery store.