Tag Archive | seeds

Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.

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For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.

Our Vegetable Inheritance

downloadAmong food and garden lovers alike, the current buzzword for value is heirloom, a very good description of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms can be saved year after year, and although we always think of the word as extending toward the past, it’s just as relevant to the future: heirlooms aren’t just what our great-grandparents grew, they are also the varieties we can leave to our great-grandchildren.

Heirlooms are most famous for offering great flavor and for enabling the gardener to “grow your own” from start to finish. But they offer a lot more than freedom from the need to buy seed every year.

Adaptability, for instance. Heirlooms are the special province of individuals and of small, regional seed companies, who do not need to sell zillions of packets in order to make a profit; and that means they tend to be better attuned to specific local conditions (drought in the Southwest, humidity in the Southeast, cold in the North) than “one size fits all” hybrids.

Hybrids are created through carefully controlled parentage, and as a result they are uniform. Every plant will be about the same size, and it will bear its fruit in the same narrow time frame. These characteristics are important to the mechanized operations of commercial growers, but they don’t do much for home gardeners.

And though hybrid varieties are often disease resistant, they are identically so. If a disease strikes that they cannot resist, every single plant will suffer.

Heirlooms, on the other hand, are individuals. Even when they are grown from seeds that came in the same packet, each plant is subtly different from every other. They grow and ripen unevenly, so you get a longer harvest period. And they are unevenly vulnerable to diseases. When trouble strikes, some plants will no doubt be afflicted, but others may come through.

All this is not to say there’s no place for hybrids, but hybrids are not in danger. It’s heirlooms that rely on home gardeners for their continued survival, heirlooms that offer independence, and heirlooms that give gardeners a chance to do their part for the preservation of genetic diversity.

To learn more, and to gain access to a huge assortment of delicious possibilities, consul the Garden Seed Inventory, available from Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101; (563) 382-5990; http://www.seedsavers.org. It explains, eloquently, why heirlooms are important. And it is the source of sources, listing very nearly all the open-pollinated (nonhybrid) vegetable seeds available commercially in the United States, along with the names and addresses of the companies that supply them.

Within OCMGA, we have a dedicated group of members working with Seed Savers — watch this blog for an article about their efforts.

Sunflowers for Birds

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Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower

Time to start planning that flower garden for this summer. Sunflowers are one of the best plants you can have in your garden. You can attract the following bird species: cardinals, chickadees, house finches, titmice, grosbeaks, nuthatches, goldfinches, red-bellied woodpeckers, and pine siskins.

Pick the Right Variety

You can find many sunflower options on the market today, but not all of them are suitable food sources for birds. When selecting sunflowers, make sure they produce a good supply of seeds. Some of experts’ top picks include Mammoth Grey Stripe, Paul Bunyan, and Aztec Gold.

Growing Tips

Sunflowers are truly one of the easiest plants to grow, but they do have a few requirements. They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and well-drained soil. They benefit from organic matter, and also keep the area under sunflowers mulched for better results.main-qimg-5977490348a0e3209b5297e1e5303e06-c

Ready for Seeds

Sunflowers have the best seed buffet in late summer to early fall. For longer harvest time, stagger your planting, early spring to midsummer. This way, you can attract birds for months.

Harvest Tip

Gather your sunflower heads, and put them in a dry place to dehydrate. You can then hang them out by your feeders, extending the sunflower season all the way into fall.

 

Vegetables

by Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent in Milwaukee County

p1010092Get a head start on next year’s vegetable garden by making seed tapes during the cold, wintry months. Start by selecting carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, turnips, and mustard that you want to sow directly into the garden. Ordering these in January avoids the possibility that they have sold out.

Use two-ply toilet tissue or thin paper towels to make narrow strips to glue the seeds to. Space seeds according to the sowing instructions on the seed packet. White school glue or a paste made of flour and water will hold the seeds in place. Place a second layer of paper on top, or fold the strip in half lengthwise so you can cover the seeds while the glue is still wet. Roll or fold the tapes into bundles for storage until spring. Of course, it is critical to label the bundles immediately to avoid unpleasant surprises once planted and growing in the garden.

Next spring, create a wide furrow at the proper planting depth for each crop, place the seed tape in it, and cover with soil. Water gently and keep watered until germination occurs. The whole objective is to be able to avoid the nasty job of thinning seedlings. Not only is thinning seedlings laborious, it disturbs the ones left behind, sometimes causing irreparable damage.

 

Little Scientists at Work

by OCMGA Master Gardener Shirley Martin

As part of the preparation for the upcoming planting season several Master Gardner volunteers went to some classrooms at the Appleton Bilingual School and presented a seed starting class. These children and their teachers were very interested in the project and took the instructions very seriously. They are documenting their results with words and pictures. They were so excited to see the seeds sprout in the “planters” made from old water bottles.

The bottles are cut in half and the top is inverted into the bottom. A coffee filter is stuffed into the neck of the bottle then the top of the bottle is filled with soil and seeds are planted in it. This coffee filter acts as a “water wick” to transfer water from the bottom of the bottle (reservoir) to the the planting medium. It is inexpensive and effective. It fits on most windowsills and is an ideal mini-planter.

Seed Starting

Seeds are amazing. These small packages contain everything needed to make a whole plant, and many also contain tiny sensors to tell them if the time is ripe for germination. Among those sensors is phytochrome, a pigment that is sensitive to certain wavelengths of red light.

Who cares? You will if you sow these seeds and cover them with soil. Seeds that need light, and often they are smaller seeds, will not germinate if they are buried too deeply. When a seed is struck by sunlight (or light from a regular incandescent bulb), the phytochrome changes. If the seed has warmth, moisture, and oxygen, the change in the phytochrome breaks the seed’s dormancy and allows germination. If the environment is not to the seed’s liking, the phytochrome slowly changes back and the seed waits for another blast of light when conditions are better.

Among seeds that need light to germinate are ageratum, California poppy, gaillardia, coleus, columbine, love-in-a-mist, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, strawflower, sweet alyssum, and sweet rocket. You can’t tell by looking, so following seed-package instructions is always a good idea.

Scarifying

Seeds vary in the texture and thickness of their seed coat, which affects how fast water can penetrate. The presence of water in turn allows germination.

Some plants, among them flowers like morning glory, lupine, and moonflowers, have rather thick seed coats. To get them going, suppliers often recommend that they be scarified — nicked, scraped, or chipped — to create tiny breaks in the seed coat. With these cracks, moisture can penetrate easily and the plant will spring to life more quickly.

What happens if there’s no human around to do this job? Nature has methods, but they take longer. Thick seed coats are eventually worn away by soil fungi, bacteria, the elements, or a trip through the digestive system of a bird or other animal.

Temperature

Good seed germination depends on more than adequate light and moisture. It’s also affected by soil temperature.

Different plants have different needs in the temperature department, but almost all of them will do okay at 70º to 75ºF.

Because cold tap water can lower the temperature considerably, use tepid. And don’t forget that temperatures warm enough to keep the soil in the 70s will probably make the air above the soil too warm for the seedlings when they do come up. The solution? Either supply bottom heat only, using a gardener’s heat mat or heating cable, or put the flats on top of the fridge until about half of the seeds have sprouted and then move them to the windowsill.

Seed Storage

Chances are good you will have leftover seeds when you’re done planting annuals. Not all of them are worth saving; asters and larkspurs, for instance have very short storage lives. But most will be perfectly usable next year if they are stored dry, cool, and dark.

Date each packet and reseal it with tape. Put the packets in a glass jar with a screw cap, or in a thick-plastic freezer-storage bag. Put the jar or bag in a cool place or in the freezer (away from the coils if it a self-defrosting model). When you’re ready to use the frozen seeds, remove the packets from the jar or bag and spread them out flat before letting them thaw, so they don’t get wet from condensation.

A few seeds will die, no matter how carefully they are stored, so plant saved seed a little more thickly to allow for the reduced germination rate.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Save your Heirloom Tomato Seeds

'Mr Stripey' heirloom variety tomato

‘Mr Stripey’ heirloom variety tomato

I like to try different kinds of tomatoes each year and, while the hybrids produce really good and generally disease-free fruit, there’s nothing like biting into a tomato that reminds you of your childhood. That happened to me this summer with one that I hadn’t tried before — ‘Mr. Stripey’. Now, we didn’t grow ‘Mr. Stripey’ when I was a kid (not to my recollection anyway), but it has that full, just-from-the-garden sweetness that I remember. As a result, I thought I might try seed saving this year — something I’ve never done. For help, I’m taking the advice to Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension.

Seed Saving

by Diana Alfuth

Saving vegetable seeds from year to year can be fun and economical. Self-pollinating plants, such as beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers, are the best vegetables to save. Vine crops, including squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers, are often cross-pollinated by insects, so seeds saved from these crops will likely grow into plants that produce fruit unlike that of the parent plant — often odd shaped or poor tasting.

For tomatoes, scoop the seeds and gel from the middle and put them in a jar of water. Stir the mixture daily and after four to five days, the gel will break down and the seeds will fall to the bottom. Pour off the liquid, collect the seeds, and place them in an even layer to dry. Coffee filters work really well for this purpose since they absorb moisture and you can write the variety name directly on the filter. For peppers, remove the seeds from ripe fruit after they begin to shrivel and put them directly into a filter for drying. Beans and peas can be left on the plants until dry and rattling in the pods, and then shelled for storage.

Once fully dry, store the seeds in a cool, dry place, ideally at 32º to 41ºF. Put your seeds in individual paper envelopes, and then put them all in a glass jar in your refrigerator or other cool place until planting time next year. Be sure to mark the envelopes with the date and variety.