Category: seed saving

Growing & Processing Garlic

Written by: Diego Moore

Garlic is amazing! Along with being delicious to eat and great to cook with, it also has many benefits other than its tasty insides. For example, eating garlic can reduce your cholesterol. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are also contained in garlic. Potassium, iron, vitamin C, and calcium are just a few of the nutrients that you benefit from when consuming garlic. Additionally, If you cut the cloves of garlic in half and directly apply to your skin, it can help get rid of acne and cold sores.  In fact, garlic has been used as a health aid since ancient times.

In the garden this summer, I helped harvest and clean garlic. The type of garlic that we harvested in mid-June is called Spanish Roja. To harvest, we loosened the ground around the garlic so it could be pulled out of the ground. We were very cautious to not dig into the vegetable with our shovels. We then carefully placed the garlic in a pile. If we tossed the garlic too vigorously on the ground, it could bruise. Once all the garlic was harvested, it was placed on racks to be dried.

In addition to the process of harvesting the garlic, we also had to clean it. After a few weeks of drying on a rack we began cleaning another type of garlic called Tashkent Violet Streak. To clean the garlic we cut off the stems about an inch from the garlic itself. Then we peeled off the outer wrapper of the garlic which was covered in dirt. Finally, we trimmed the roots as far up as we could without hurting the garlic. When all of the cleaning was done the garlic was set on the drying rack once more. These vegetables were now ready to go to be sorted into seed stock and food for the CSA.

 

I had no idea that harvesting garlic was such an intricate process. I have learned that farmers take time to provide quality food to our families. I definitely have more appreciation for the farmers that deliver the food to our tables.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Diego Moore is a rising sophomore at Albuquerque Academy. Self-proclaimed lover of puppies, kittens, rainbows, and Lucky Charms, Diego also has a passion for music and plays guitar in a band through School of Rock here in Albuquerque.

 

Tie-Dye With Native Plants

By: Tanya Hebert

On a beautiful fall day back in October, the 6th grade Environmental Club took a walk to explore the arroyo on campus.  We spent some time gathering bright gold flowers and stems from the native chamisa (rabbit brush) plants that grow abundantly here in the desert southwest.  Chamisa is a plant that has been used for hundreds of years by the native peoples of the desert to dye yarn for weaving.

To make the dye, we boiled the chamisa stems and flowers for 3 hours and then strained the beautiful golden liquid.  We then added alum as a mordant to help the color attach permanently to the fabric.  We cut squares of white cloth, used rubber bands in a way that would create designs on our creations and then put them into the dye for 3 more hours at a boil and then soaked overnight.  In the morning we hung the fabric to dry and a couple days later we had beautiful all-natural dyed cloth.   This process was repeated with both 7th and 8th grade Environmental Club members – all the kids loved this project!

 

So you want to save seeds? A brief guide to the mess-ups you’ll make:

Chives

With a growing interest in seed saving over the past few years, it’s not uncommon to stumble across local seed swaps or read articles touting the benefits of saving your own seed. Not only can you select for plants adapted to your local microclimate but saving your own seed can help maintain a genetic library of heirloom or non-GMO varieties in your own backyard. Additionally, in an era of corporate agricultural giants, saving seed can also be a political act in which seed savers challenge the patenting of life and strive to keep cultural traditions and knowledge alive. This all sounds pretty noble, right? Well, now that you’re inspired to embark upon your own seed saving journey, let me share some of the hiccups you might encounter along the way.

Grow seed. Save seed. Right?

While the general idea of seed saving does involve growing a plant and then saving the seed, the actual process is much more nuanced. As such, let’s work through four main considerations you’ll need to address to ensure a successful seed saving venture

It All Starts With the Seed!

Beans - mixed

Before you begin growing, it’s important to know what kind of seed you have: an open-pollinated variety, an heirloom variety, or a hybrid variety. Seed Savers Exchange provides great descriptions for what each of these terms mean (Seed Savers Exchange, 2012).

  • Open-pollination is when pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms.

Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year. As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed produced will remain true-to-type year after year.

  • An heirloom variety is a plant variety that has a history of being passed down within a family or community, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry or furniture.

An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. While some companies create heirloom labels based on dates (such as a variety that is more than 50 years old), other companies identify heirlooms by verifying and documenting the generational history of preserving and passing on the seed.

  • Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed by human intervention.

Hybridization can occur naturally through random crosses, but commercially available hybridized seed, often labeled as F1, is deliberately created to breed a desired trait. The first generation of a hybridized plant cross also tends to grow better and produce higher yields than the parent varieties due to a phenomenon called ‘hybrid vigor’. However, any seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable and cannot be saved for use in following years. Not only will the plants not be true-to-type, but they will be considerably less vigorous. Gardeners who use hybrid plant varieties must purchase new seed every year. Hybrid seeds can be stabilized, becoming open-pollinated varieties, by growing, selecting, and saving the seed over many year.

Give them some space!

Another important factor in seed saving is the distance necessary between plant varieties/species to keep them from cross pollinating. This spacing is known as the Isolation distance.

Blue Corn

Here’s where a little botany knowledge can come in handy. Peas and beans can produce asexually and do not need large distances to keep them from breeding true. Corn, on the other hand, relies on gravity and wind to pollinate. As such, several miles are needed to isolate one variety of corn from another.

Pea

In cases where space limited, it is also possible to isolate plants through time staggering. This means planting one variety several weeks earlier or later than another to ensure that they are not flowering at the same time.

Mix it up!

While isolation distance is important to keeping plants from cross pollinating, it is equally important to have a large enough population of plants to ensure you get plenty of genetic diversity. There are plenty of tables and charts online which can provide you with the ideal population size for any type of plant.

If space is an issue, fear not! There are other ways to increase the genetic diversity of your seed stock. You can plant saved seed with purchased seed. You can also swap seeds with other local growers. In either case, plant a few of your seeds with the other seeds so that their genetics can mingle.

You’ve grown it, now what?

Once you’ve grown your plants out, you’ll need to collect your seed. To start out, you can collect any ripened fruit or pods. However, as you build your seed saving skills, you may wish to only save seed from early ripening or disease resistant plants.

Start simple.

Tomato

While collecting the seeds may seem easy enough, some plants require special processes to make sure they are viable for planting later. Tomatoes, for instance, need to go through a fermentation process to collect viable seed.

Raab

If you’re unsure how to save a particular type of seed, fear not! Details for each type of plant can be found in books and online. Remember to start simple! Work on saving seed from easier plants like lettuce or kale before getting to the trickier plants. There’s no rush.

International Visitors to the DOT Garden

On Thursday, we had international visitors in the DOT Garden. Sarah Montgomery, Director of The Garden’s Edge, a local non-profit, brought two farmers that she works with in Rabinal, Guatemala. These farmers, Maria Elena and Julian, showed us how they process amaranth, a grain that is critical to their community – in addition to being yummy and super healthy!

Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year's harvest Festival.
Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year’s harvest Festival.

In the DOT Garden, we have grown amaranth because it is a drought-hardy, healthy, and beautiful plant. However, the tiny seeds can be very hard to separate from the rest of the plant after harvesting.

Maria Elena and Julian have a lot of practice winnowing the tiny seeds from the chaffe for both seed saving and food production, and they shared their skills with 8-9 and 6th grade Environmental Club students, as well as a few of our volunteers and friends.

We learned a few important tricks about amaranth:

  • It is much better to harvest amaranth when it is fresh – not dried, as it gets prickly when it dries. When it is fresh you can use your hands to get most of the seeds out of the flowers. If you do dry, you have to do the “amaranth dance” to loosen the seeds (our students ended up having fun with the amaranth dance, although Maria Elena cautioned us that they never do this in Guatemala because then you shouldn’t use it for food).
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
  • You can easily winnow the seeds from the lighter bits of plant using wind or a fan, which Julian was an expert at! Hopefully our 7th graders can do it as gracefully for Harvest Festival on October 2nd.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
  • Amaranth can be used in many ways! You can put the seeds in just about anything, but it is best when popped, which Maria Elena showed us how to do – over high heat and with no oil. All of our students were excited to try the popped amaranth, which was “like miniscule popcorn!” The popped amaranth can be used in cereal bars, on ice cream, or, it seemed, in just about anything. The seeds can be cooked for morning cereal or ground into flour!
6th grade students tasting popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
6th grade students tasting the popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
  • Amaranth is incredibly healthy. It is high in protein and contains complete amino acids. Maria Elena tells us that amaranth aids memory and cognitive function (a nice brain boost for our students in the middle of the day!). In Guatemala, they use amaranth for healthy snacks, especially for pregnant women and young children, in order to prevent childhood malnutrition.

Sarah’s story of working in Guatemala is a wonderful one, and we encourage you to check it out on their website. Working with farmers like Julian and Maria Elena, Sarah helped start a farmer’s collective in Rabinal called Qachuu Aloom “Mother Earth” Association. They work especially with women, many of whom were widowed over the course of Guatemala’s long civil war. Over the years, they have gone from collecting a few heirloom seeds to hundreds of gardens, a scholarship program for young girls, a micro-lending program, and the most recent addition, a maternal health and nutrition program that also trains young people to conduct health assessments on the young children in their community! It is a very impressive organization and we were so lucky to have them share their time with us!