Even as I type this, it’s gray and dreary outside, and an icy rain is falling making travel on these back country roads difficult. I had a massage client scheduled this afternoon, but any way off this hill requires me to go down a steep and winding road, sometimes unpaved and one-lane. There is one thing this time of year that keeps my eye on the prize and that is seed shopping. Forget the outlets, the shopping malls, and the shoe warehouses. Gimme a stack of seed catalogs in January, and I can almost feel the first warm rays of sunshine and smell the mud warming beneath my feet. Most of the big seed companies are somehow in some way under the evil thumb of Monsanto, purchasing seed from Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary, and re-packaging it. Take a look at their bio. “…using traditional plant breeding techniques and modern science (HA!), Seminis develops innovative types of vegetables and fruits…” INNOVATIVE?…riiiiiight. This should probably be read as “Seminis rapes your seeds with foreign DNA that should in no natural way be part of a plant’s genetic structure to begin with. The full effects of these laboratory crimes on the inhabitants of planet Earth are not fully known, nor do we give a good goddamn, so long as we continue to create a monopoly on the world’s food supply, thereby causing us to rake in the dough (insert maniacal, evil laughter here)”. Coincidentally, I have done some pretty extensive research on where I can get lovingly saved seeds from heirloom, organic, or open-pollinated plants that haven’t been genetically bonded with scary lab goo (yes, “scary lab goo” is a scientific term). I’m going to point you all in the direction of a few smaller, more ethical companies that hold genetic seed diversity in the highest regard, along with growing practices that are in harmony with our great, life-giving Mother. So here are my favorites, in order of favoriteness…..(By the by, I have not been paid in any way for this little commercial, and I hope I have done these seed companies justice by my sharing them here, and if I have misrepresented any of them in any way, I will gladly edit this post accordingly. Except for Monsanto. They can get bent and plunge headlong into the frozen lakes of the ninth circle of hell, where there shall be an eternity of wailing and gnashing of teeth for their treacheries against Mother Earth forever and ever, Amen).
Now then, where were we…. Ah, yes. Happy seeds….
Richo Cech at Horizon Herbs is my absolute favorite place to get seeds from. He specializes in medicinal herb seed-saving, but he offers some great heirloom vegetable seeds as well. You can read about his farming practices and ethics on his website. His focus is on organic, non-GMO, and open-pollinated plants. He is also a very knowledgeable and experienced herbalist, and the pages of my copy of “Making Plant Medicine”, by the man himself, are well-worn and tincture-splattered (read a sample of it here). I hope to offer a larger variety of medicinal herb seedlings in the greenhouse this spring because of his seed saving efforts. I don’t want to jinx myself by listing what will possibly be growing in the greenhouse soon, but I’m going to anyway: bee balm, burdock, catnip, chamomile, hyssop, milkweed, mullein, nettles, patchouli, sage, St. John’s Wort, skullcap, and yarrow. I’m learning great deal from his book, “The Medicinal Herb Grower”, about cultivating seeds in the greenhouse and in the garden. His farm is nestled at the fertile foot of the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon, which I’m pretty sure is the same hardiness zone as me, so I can really relate to his work. If you are ordering seeds at all this winter, make this your first stop! I’m going to admit here that one of my greatest and most shameful horticultural failures is growing (or trying to grow) patchouli. I have been nursing one raggedy plant for a few years and it finally ended up in the compost pile last week. Actually, Jeremy was the one who finally laid it to rest, because I think he sensed that I just couldn’t do it. I have a bad case of patchouli envy because of Richo’s plants, and I hope to offer some of the seedlings this spring. I’m just determined to get it right! Every tree-huggin’, dirt-worshippin’ hippie needs a patchouli plant!
Seed racks have a gravitational pull on me, and I can’t walk past one without at least taking a peek. A few years ago, I was browsing the seed packet rack at my favorite local health food haunt, Kimberton Whole Foods. There was a small selection of seeds from Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic farm associated with a Camphill Village in Copake, NY (for those of you not familiar, Camphill Village is a life-sharing community devoted to helping people with developmental disabilities. We live close to a few of these communities). The one packet that caught my eye was a variety of heirloom tomato called “Ruth’s Perfect.” I obviously had to take it home with me. You better believe I snatched that baby up quicker n’ a duck on a June bug! As it turns out, Ruth’s Perfect tomato was my absolute best producer and all-purpose tomato. I used it for fresh eating as well as canning and making sauces. The first year I grew Ruth’s Perfect from seed is the year I put up about 50 quarts of tomatoes (a personal record!), and it’s only gotten better since. This is the variety I grow the most of and sell the most of. Its prolific, indeterminate vines produce nice red, baseball-sized fruits well into October, and seldom crack. I ordered a couple of tomato varieties from them, my butternut squash, eggplants, and my favorite cheese pumpkin seeds, which I am so excited to grow for the first time- so tasty in soups and chili! You can feel good about supporting Turtle Tree Seed because of their affiliation with Camphill Village, and they are about as far as you can get from lab-goo-tainted seed.
Next stop on the seed train is Baker Creek. In addition to having some of the most beautiful photography in their catalog (the tomato section is like produce porn), they have a very impressive collection of non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-patented, and non-treated seeds. Seeing the Baker Creek catalog in the mailbox is always a welcome sight. I get my sungold cherry tomato seeds from them- they were a big hit last year. I pretty much grow them just to snack on while I’m gardening, and they rarely ever make it into the house. Popping one of those juicy little jewels is like tiny rays of sunshine have decided to re-enact the opening scene from The Sound of Music…in your mouth. I had people asking about them long after I sold out!
Another one of my favorite sources for seed is Seed Savers Exchange. The name pretty much speaks for itself, but this non-profit was founded by the Ott family whose namesake heirloom flower “Grandpa Ott’s” morning glory is one of my favorite plants to grow. I now save seeds from my own morning glories, which I’m sure Grandpa Ott would appreciate.
I also do a little seed-saving myself of some other things, too: scarlet runner beans, calendula, marigolds, canna (bulbs), castor beans, Echinacea, nasturtiums, calendula, zinnias, and sunflowers just to name a few. Scarlet runner beans are one of the most satisfying seeds to save because they are so beautiful.
They’re also a great introduction to seed saving for kids (or anyone, really), because they dry so nicely on the vine, are big and easy to pick, and they store really well. Cracking open the pods to reveal those big shiny gems always elicits a “wooooowww!!” for first-timers. It’s like opening a present every time! As their name suggests, the flowers are scarlet red and attract pollinators of all kinds. They do double duty for me as a privacy screen on my porch. I string up a trellis for them to climb, and by mid-summer, it’s pretty well covered. I like to take my morning coffee out on the porch and wait for the hummingbirds to be lured in by the brilliant red flowers (so long as someone doesn’t come running outside to tattle on their brother). Starting the day like this encourages you to be still and quiet your mind, allowing yourself to be more aware and mindful of the beings you share space with.
Calendula is another plant that is generous with her blossom and seed. The flowers don’t quit all summer- the more you pick, the more you pick! Their seeds look like little octopus arms, and they germinate fairly easily. Harvesting calendula is one of the happiest jobs in the garden, and you get to do it a few times a week all season long! The smell of the stickiness they leave on my fingers is one of those signatures that summer imprints on my memory.
Last year I grew zinnias for the first time. When they started to bloom, I thought, “Where have you guys BEEN all my life?!” Their cut-and-come-again jewel-toned flowers added so much life to the gardenscape. I sat underneath them and looked up through their canopy and felt like Alice in Wonderland as she lay in her field of daisies. I don’t ever want to have a garden without zinnias again.
I saved a good many seeds from them last fall. Hopefully they take! We shall see, won’t we?
On this day in 1930, Edith Keim (my Nana’s younger sister) writes, “Partly cloudy AM, now nearly zero. I am as tired as one person can get at a time. I was out sledding for a couple hours with the Harmonyvillians and Wunderlich’s (the kids). It was absolutely wonderful but cold as the devil. I had two caps, no two sweaters and Bruce Isback’s sheepskin coat. We went out to the gum tree several times. Once a car came and we went pell mell into the ditch. I turned a complete summer-solt. I went into W (Wunderlich’s) after it was all over and we talked and laughed for dear life. I worked a little since. We had algebra mid-year. It wasn’t so hard. I got a haircut today. Bill said I needed it. Fosnocht was awful and gave us a ton of work to do. Mim’s (my Nana) coming home Wed or Thurs. Hot Dog!”
On this day in 1892, J.H. Keim writes, “Clear and pleasant. We threshed 400 sheaves of wheat, got 21 1/2 bu (bushel). We cleaned stables & tended stock.”
On this day in 1936, Miriam Kolle writes, “Worst weather yet! 8 below. A very stormy night, too bad to sleep much. I did quite a lot of sewing jobs today, too bad for my company to come (Blanche + Bessie). We had chicken for our dinner. No school and not much travel, more snow and roads bad. Spent evening at home reading and etc.”
On this day in 1884, J.H. Keim writes, “Clear & pleasant. We took Mother Crosby sleighing down through the falls & Knauertown. She was here for dinner with Annie, Lizzie, and Wm Webster.”