Hoop Houses Produce Quality Dry-Seeded Crops in the Northeast

Fruition Seeds is thrilled to be growing organic, regionally-adapted seed in the Northeast.  Like any good story, ours is not without elements of peril!

Lettuce!  Dry-seeded crops in humid climates face many challenges.

Lettuce & many dry-seeded crops are challenging to produce in humid climates.

Our hot, humid summers make saving certain kinds of seed nearly impossible.  Carrots, basil, onions and beets for example produce ‘dry’ seeds that are completely exposed to the elements and very fragile at maturity.  These crops were originally domesticated in environments much more arid than our own summers full of thunderstorms and heavy dew, making these crops more challenging to save consistent, high quality seed of here in the Northeast.

We are undeterred!

Hoop houses protect dry-seeded crops from rain and dew.

Hoop houses protect dry-seeded crops from rain and dew.


To protect these crops, we put up hoop houses to keep the rain from falling on the seedheads.  Crops under these houses won’t have their seeds disbursed prematurely by rain, they also won’t be as prone to disease from the daily dew.  With open ends and 4-5′ openings on each side, there is plenty of air flow to decrease humidity (key to decreasing disease susceptibility) and insects can easily come and go as they please, pollinating our crops as they go.

Once Gentilina lettuce comes to full edible maturity, we put the hoop house over to protect the coming seed!

Once Gentilina lettuce comes to full edible maturity, we put the hoop house over to protect the coming seed.

Hoop houses are typically used to ‘extend the season’ for market farms, making the inside environment warmer than the surrounding climate.  How are we using these hoop houses and still producing regionally adapted seed?  We grow these crops in our fields, under the sky, to full edible maturity before we put the hoop houses over them.  Additionally, crops like lettuce we select to be late-bolting by removing (‘rogueing’) the first ten percent of the population that bolts.

Here are a few ‘dry-seeded’ crops we grow under hoop houses to ensure the hightest quality, regionally-adapted seed for our region:

Lettuce flowers look like little dandelions!

Lettuce flowers resemble miniature dandelions and their seeds will form familiar white tufts, as well!

Lettuce

We love growing lettuce:  the diversity of its colors, shapes, textures and temperature tolerance is vast and we now have access to thousands of years of selection from all over the world!  Lettuce is a case-study in spirals, but you’ll only notice as you’re saving its seed.  Its leaves spiral up the seed stalk and branches spiral outward at the top, their beautiful butter-colored flowers blossom in a spiral!  Once most of the seed is mature, we cut the plants at ground-level and allow them to dry down on tarps for a week before we separate the seed from the stalks.

New York Early is a fine yellow storage onion, now in bud during it's second growing season!  Do you see the second hoop house in the distance?

New York Early is a fine yellow storage onion, now in bud during it’s second growing season. (Do you see the second hoop house in the distance?)

Onion

A biennial, we select only the finest of the onions for our second year seed crop, re-planting them in early May.  Once they’re 4′ tall and flowering in mid-June, the hoop houses are over them to protect the thousands of delicate seeds that will form on every stalk!

Brittle & beautiful basil!

Brittle & beautiful basil seed!

Basil

Baring is tiny, black seeds under the brittle, brown sepals of the former flower, basil is prone to letting it’s seed go prematurely.  Growing basil under hoop houses allows us to harvest it’s seed more consistently!  (The smell is so, so fabulous by the way.)

Beet seed on 5' tall, meandering stalks!

Beet seed forms on 5′ tall, meandering stalks that must be trellised.

Beets

Another biennial, we select the best roots from our root cellar and re-plant them in early May.  They quickly send out dozens of thin, meandering stalks covered in clumps of seed!

The first carrot blossom of 2014, weeks before the wild Queen Anne's Lace!

The first carrot blossom of 2014, weeks before the wild Queen Anne’s Lace is in flower!

Carrot

This is one crop that we do rely on the ‘season extension’ of hoop houses to produce seed!  This is because our domesticated carrots cross with wild Queen Anne’s Lace, up to a mile.  To ensure some carrot flowers blossom before the Queen Anne’s Lace, we take the carrot roots out of the cellar and re-plant them in the hoop house in early Spring, giving our carrots a huge ‘head-start’ over the Queen Anne’s Lace, it’s roots still dormant the the frozen Earth.

Kim secures the hoops before the plastic goes up over the celeriac, lettuce and dill.

Kim secures the hoops before the plastic goes up over the celeriac, lettuce and dill.

We enjoy the challenges our climate promises for producing quality dry-seed crops here in the Northeast and look forward to continuing to explore, experiment, learn and love the process.  Thank you for joining us!

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(Inside the Heart of) Watermelon Radish

Translated from Mandarin, the Chinese call this vegetable “Beautiful Heart Inside.”  Indeed!

local roots + local wine = great day on the farm!

local roots + local wine = great day on the farm!

Watermelon radishes are simply stunning to behold, but tasting it is altogether another world: devoid of classic radish heat, these roots the size of baseballs (and larger!) are sweet, crunchy and succulent — even after they’ve been in your cellar six months!  In short, this vegetable is as delectable as it is beautiful, versatile as it is abundant and one of our very favorites.

Out of 10,000 roots, Petra & Pat select 400 of the finest!

Out of 10,000 roots, Petra & Pat select 400 of the finest!

In the fall of 2013, Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, New York grew about 10,000 watermelon radishes.  We selected 400+ of the best radishes, selecting for excellent size within great field competition as well as non-splitting roots.  Crates upon crates were promptly tucked into the root cellar to over-winter.

Just what we are selecting for (though this one we ate for dinner)!

Just what we are selecting for (though this one we ate for dinner)!

By late April, 2014 there were the 300 radishes that made it through the winter with no signs or rot or spoilage.

The best of the best, 'healing over' from 'cheeking,' waiting patiently before planting.

The best of the best, ‘healing over’ from ‘cheeking,’ waiting patiently before planting.

Next, we start “cheeking” each radish to select for inside pigment.  Our Holy Grail?  Roots with a thin, distinct white layer and uniformly vibrant rose centers.  

"Cheeking" allows us to select for inside color.  The top row we rogued and ate; the bottom row was planted and is now going to seed!

“Cheeking” allows us to select for inside color. The top row we rogued and eaten; the bottom row was planted and is now going to seed!

Roots with large, indistinct white rings and limited rose coloring on the inside are rogued (their seed will not be saved), but they are still excellent eating!

Only 130 radishes made the cut. Planted in late April, they are now growing vigorously and we look forward to harvesting seed from their 5′ seed stalks in August.

At Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, NY the roots were planted and are now going to seed!

At Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, NY the roots were planted and are now going to seed!

A quick math problem: 10,000 radishes planted in the field, 400 last fall were selected and put into winter storage, this spring we planted 130 radishes that met all our selection requirements. What percentage of radishes from the initial 10,000 were selected for seed?  And the impossible question:  how many seeds will we harvest this summer?

These are a few of our favorite things...

These are a few of our favorite things…

Whether grated fresh on salad, added to coleslaw, roasted or sauteed, we love watermelon radishes and are thrilled to be selecting, saving and sharing this seed with the world!

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Potato Planting Tips

I am as I have always been:  in love with potatoes.

Mashed or roasted, baked or fried, add just the right amount of butter and there will never be leftovers!

As with all things that I now steward the seeds of, I dearly love to eat them.  The multitudes of colors and shapes, their versatility in our kitchen, their unceasing ability to satisfy, on many levels, is without end.   We love to plant, harvest, eat and plant more potatoes…and the circles go round!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

Of all the marvelous things in my Father’s gardens, potatoes were particularly beloved.  After planting a humble, sprouted chunk in an old wine barrel the gorgeous, deep blue foliage would rise and the pale, delicate flowers would appear as shooting stars.  We’d pour more soil with fresh grass clippings on top, making the plant rise and flourish all the more until finally the time came to tip over the barrel!  Beside my sister Greta, pushing with all our might we’d spill the contents of the barrel and scurry to find those gems of gold, ruby and sapphire among the soil.  With so much anticipation, harvesting potatoes was more elating than an Easter Egg Hunt!  To this day, harvesting potatoes is still one of my favorite pleasures of gardening.

Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow and here are a few keys to ensure abundance!

 

Start with the best certified organic, disease-free seed potatoes you can find.  Although it’s tempting, store-bought potatoes have been treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting and are inappropriate for planting.  There are hundreds of potato varieties, so try something new alongside your old stand-bys!  Fruition Seeds offers seven different potatoes for seed, each one with unique color, shape, maturity and level of disease resistance, each one regionally adapted to thrive in the Northeast.

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you'll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you’ll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Once you have your seed potatoes, set them in a warm, bright place for a few days until they just begin sprout.  All potatoes larger than a chicken egg can be cut into pieces with at least three sprouts called ‘eyes’.  Let the cut potatoes heal over  in a warm, dry place for several days before planting.

Potatoes prefer to grow in cool weather, so plan on planting them 2-4 weeks before the last frost.  Plant them in the ground or in containers, but here is a secret:  potatoes only grow above the seed potato!  There are many ways to increase potato production and here are a few:

-plant potatoes in a 10” deep trench and cover with  4″ of soil,  ‘hilling’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10″ tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a 4” trench and ‘hill’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10” tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a container at either of these depths and hill accordingly

Potatoes are heavy feeders and production will reflect the quality of soil (and good compost) they are offered, so don’t hold back!  Also, always plant them with their eyes up about 8” to 12” apart in the trench, leaving 2’ to 3’ between trenches.  Hilling potatoes can be accomplished by hoeing soil onto each plants’ stems as well as by tucking weed-free mulch (grass clippings, straw, leaves) underneath each plant.  Hilling allows for greater production and also ensures that each potato will not be exposed to sun, causing them to blush green and become bitter.  Leave at least 6″-8″ of the foliage above the hillling soil or mulch.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called 'eyes'!   Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called ‘eyes’! Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Be patient: sprouts will emerge two to four weeks after planting.  Potatoes thrive with consistent water throughout the season; mulching helps maintain even soil moisture.

As your potatoes grow, be aware of any pests and diseases that may arrive.  Colorado potato beetles must be picked off at every life stage (egg-larvae-adult) before they defoliate your crop.  Most potatoes are susceptible to both Early and Late Blight (though you can select disease-resistant varieties) and the best way to protect your crop is to water the soil rather than the foliage.  Also, allowing plenty of space between plants ensures good air-flow, decreasing the cool, moist pockets that allow Blight to thrive.

Be vigilant!  Potato beetles need to be  hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Be vigilant! Potato beetles need to be hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Expect to eat about ten times of what you plant:  if you plant one pound of potatoes, you’ll harvest about ten pounds. Potatoes are one of the most productive foods you can grow in your garden, not to mention fascinating and fun.

Every Spring I look so forward to planting our potatoes.

 I hope you’ll enjoy their beautiful abundance as well, tucking them into your soil for many years to come!

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Four Easy Seeds to Save this Season

Why save seed?

You’ll have seed better suited to your farm or garden than any you could buy.

 You’ll  learn tons about plants, food and yourself in the process.

Growing, saving and sharing seed is as profound as it is fun!

So many seeds to save! Pick a few easy ones to start.

A century ago, to be a gardener was to be a seed saver.

Selecting the best plants of each variety for seed and sharing them with our community is an essential tradition of countless generations.

We save seed for many reasons.

We become better farmers as we pay greater attention to subtle shifts in plant health and local conditions.  Adapting to our soils and cultivation methods, the quality of our seed is higher than any commercially available for our farm.  We continue to improve and breed new varieties to be delicious, nutrient-dense and disease-resistant in our climate.  It is an adventure to pay attention to your garden in a new way, rewarding harvest seeds as well as salad and exciting to share your knowledge with other gardeners, especially at community gardens and seed swaps.  In terms of strict dollars and cents, it’s debateable whether you’ll save money, but consider:  you may pay more than you would at the store for each quart of salsa you put up, but you can’t buy that kind of flavor and nutrition, either.

 Each seed you save is more adapted to your garden than any seed you’ll ever buy; that saves you more than money.

It’s easy to save seeds from crops like beans, tomatoes and lettuce once you learn the basics!  Start saving seeds with the easy crops and your confidence will grow as the range of crops you’ll save seed of expands.

 Each of our seed packs comes with an insert, growing instructions on one side and seed saving instructions on the other.

 Here are four easy crops for you to save this season!

The hardest part of saving bean seed is leaving their sweet, succulent pods to become inedible, brittle and brown!

The hardest part of saving bean seed is leaving their sweet, succulent pods to become inedible, brittle and brown!

Beans

If you grow dry beans you are already saving seed!  For snap beans, simply leave some pods on the plants to mature and save those seeds to sow for next year’s crop.  Be sure to save seed only from plants that are completely healthy and disease-free.  Beans are self-pollinated, so separate each varieties by ten feet to keep each genetically distinct.

To truly select your bean crop for the resilience of future generations, mark the sturdiest plants that flower first and show no disease throughout the season with a piece of colored string or a tag.  Also, save seed only from the pods with the most beans.  You’ll see a difference in your future garden even in a single season!

Once the pods are brown, dry and beans are rattling inside, they’re ready to harvest.  It’s fun to shell beans by hand with friends, and especially with children.  If you’re saving a large quantity, wrap the pods in a large, clean tarp (like a burrito) and have a dance party on them.  Again, kids are crucial!  When most of the pods have shattered, separate the beans from the dried plant debris (called chaff) using a box fan on a table.  The air to blows the chaff away while the seed falls straight down in to a bucket on the floor below the fan.  For a video demonstration of cleaning seed with box fans, check out Fruition Seeds on YouTube.

Lettuce

Lettuce seed is one of our favorites to save!  Beautiful and often so effortlessly abundant, space for lettuce for seed as you would for a full-size head rather than for salad mix.  What you don’t save for seed goes on your plate so be sure to plant plenty of both!  Select plants for seed that are vigorous, true to type, disease-free and late-bolting.  The first handful to bolt get composted!   Lettuce is also self-pollinated, so maintain at least ten feet between lettuces for seed to keep each variety genetically distinct.

Be sure to compost the first lettuce heads to bolt to select for late-bolting in next year's garden!

Be sure to compost the first lettuce heads to bolt to select for late-bolting in next year’s garden!

Lettuce going to seed will often be as tall as you!  Each tiny yellow flower will become a dandelion-like tuft of seed and fluff when ready to harvest.  You can pluck each tuft by hand or shake the seed stalk into a bucket to free the seed.  Cleaning lettuce seed is very challenging, since the seed and the chaff are both very small and light, but screens and colanders work wonders.  Most important, be sure sure you harvest your lettuce on a hot, dry day and be sure it is dry as can be when you store it for next season.

Tuck the dessicant packs you find in shoes and seaweed in with you seed to keep your seed as dry as possible!

Tomato

With beans and lettuce, we have to restrain ourselves and not eat the plants that we save for seed.  With tomatoes, however, we have our cake and eat it, too!

When the tomato is ripe and ready to eat, it’s seeds are mature: we have the best of both worlds.   Also self-pollinated, twenty feet is often enough to keep separate varieties genetically distinct.  Save seed only from plants that are vigorous, true-to-type, early maturing and free of disease.

We select Rose de Berne for phenomenal flavor, early production and crack-free skin!  What will you select for?

We select Rose de Berne for phenomenal flavor, early production and crack-free skin! What will you select for?

To save tomato seeds, simply squeeze the seeds out of the tomato and into a jar.  You’ll notice each seed is surrounded by a thin gel; this coating contains natural compounds that inhibit seed germination to prevent them from sprouting in the warm, moist tomato!  In nature, this coating is broken down as the tomato decomposes.  In our kitchen, we ferment the coating using a simple process.  Add water about equal to your squeezed seed, label with the variety name, cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for a few days.  If you ferment your seed in a glass jar, you’ll be able to see the layers that separate:  heavy, mature seed on the bottom, a layer of cloudy water and a layer of pulp and light, immature seed on top.  Gently pour off the molded top layer and rinse the seeds well, spreading them out on (labelled!) screens or paper towels to dry.

Cilantro & Other Annual Herbs

Annual herbs such as cilantro, dill and basil have seeds easily saved, as well.  Plant them as early as you can and with plenty of space, four to eight inches apart at least.  Keep plants well watered to encourage them to grow large and robust before going to seed.  Especially with cilantro, remove the first plants send up their seed stalk to ensure you’re selecting for late bolting!

Save seed only of completely healthy plants as soon as their seed is dark and dry to reduce the risk of the seed getting wet, diseased or prematurely dispersed.  Screens, colanders and fans do a remarkable job of cleaning the seed that you’ll likely have tons of, for years to come.

Dill is also easily saved, shared and will be sown for generations to come!

Dill is also easily saved, shared and will be sown                 for generations to come!

Let the adventure begin!

 

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Cornell Alum, Faculty and Staff: Sustainable Agriculture & Regional Seed

One of the most essential (and least talked about) cornerstones of sustainable agriculture is seed.  As demand for local food continues to expand as well climate, pest and disease pressures, the significance of the seed sowing this movement is increasingly important.  Cornell is central to many of these conversations.

spinach, just going to seed!

spinach, just going to seed!

Each spring, seeds germinate in agricultural fields across the Northeast, growing as best they can and adapting to the innumerable pressures of each season.  If allowed to mature seed, the best of that generation may return again to the soil, more resilient than the last.  Through the generations, diverse adaptation becomes encoded in each seed’s genetics, expanding always the species’ capacity to adapt.  The extraordinary resilience of our planet is the result of this genetic diversity.

Most crops in the Northeast are not grown for seed:  each season we forfeit the potential resilience of our crops.

“With domesticated seed it is sometimes true that seed developed in one location will be broadly successful,” says Dr. Michael Mazourek of Cornell Plant Breeding and Genetics. “However, it is more often the case that a seed adapted to the environment in which it was grown will be more robust.  This seed is an essential aspect of a sustainable system.”

Did you know?

 Three chemical corporations own over 50% of the global seed supply and most seed sown globally is commercially produced in just a few relatively arid bioregions.   Additionally, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Department we have lost 75% of our food crop diversity in the last century.  The diverse, resilient genetics at the foundation of our ten millennial agricultural has never been more imperative to cultivate.

“Don’t Oppose Forces, Use Them”

“Eliot Coleman introduced me to the Buckminster Fuller quote, ‘Don’t oppose forces, use them,’ continues Mazourek, “and this seems a critical benchmark of sustainability.”   In terms of seed, ‘using forces’ has broad relevance:  climate, geography, politics, market and technology.  In the Northeast, transforming our liabilities into regionally adapted, resilient seed is burgeoning.  Collaborations between farmers, academics and passionate individuals have already made

significant progress, the momentum is building and Cornell is right at the forefront.

Regional Seed in the Finger Lakes

Nathaniel and Petra introduce their collaborative lettuce seed crop!

Nathaniel and Petra introduce their collaborative lettuce seed crop!

Nathaniel Thompson, CALS class of ’98, biodynamically manages 100 acres in Trumansburg, New York and has experienced the potential of regional genetics.  “My interest is practical,” says Thompson, “seed is place-driven, a response to unique conditions.”   Thompson has experimented extensively with on-farm seed production to minimize expenses, close loops and develop crops specifically for his farm and market.  He has found that even a single season of selection has yielded crops with more uniformity and vigor, especially in his New York Early onions.

Thompson is collaborating Fruition Seeds this season to produce a half-acre of seed, including kale, arugula and lettuce.  A market grower, Thompson plants and cultivates the seed crops while Fruition selects, harvests and cleans the seed.

Fruition Seeds

Fruition Seeds provides certified organic seed grown in and for the Northeast.  Raised in New York and Connecticut, co-founders Petra Page-Mann studied at CALS and Matthew Goldfarb worked for the Cornell Small Farms Program.   They have worked in agriculture for over thirty collective years.  With knowledge of local production, local markets and operating on a relatively small scale, they offer seed grown on their farm in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York as well as seed from other certified organic growers throughout the Northeast.  “Each season we have the opportunity to improve the quality and productivity in our seeds,” explains Petra.  “It is a pleasure to have so many great collaborators from Cornell and around the region as we develop seed specifically for our farmers and gardeners in the Finger Lakes.”

Fruition Seeds grows and processes seed in Naples, leasing land owned by Mark Adams, class of ’68 and life-long farmer in the Finger Lakes.  “Plants evolve, bacteria evolve and change is constant,” he observes, “to compete in the market

Matthew and freshly harvested tatsoi seed!

Matthew and freshly harvested tatsoi seed!

farms continue to cut quality.”  This focus on short-term returns without thought of long-term resilience concerns Adams, who appreciates the complexity of our systemic food crisis.  He is interested to see the work of Fruition continue to adapt to soil, climate and market conditions and is hopeful for the future of agriculture in the Northeast.

If you’re interested in growing Fruition’s seed, consider joining their Kickstarter campaign through July 15 at http://bit.ly/FruitionSeedsLaunch to revitalize regional seed in the Northeast.   Their website fruitionseeds.com will be up by the end of June as well, with over sixty varieties of certified organic, regionally grown seeds perfect for summer/fall plantings.

Seed is essential to every living system.  We are surrounded by plants brilliantly adapting to their environment, constantly encoding resilience in their genetic diversity.  Sustainable agriculture depends on our crops having the same opportunity.

This was written for the Sustainability Newsletter of Cornell University June, 2013.

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Radish Ramble

French Breakfast Radish…not going to seed

Well, this isn’t a story of triumph or abundance…yet.  It is more the story of learning, wondering and head scratching, with a lot of “to be continued.”  We had planned on the “french breakfast” radish below going to seed this late spring/early summer.  But it has other ideas.  In fact, about 25%  of this crop has other ideas.  They have started to rot at the root base and then completely rot out from the inside out.  The first signs were in the wilted leaves.  Once we started to pull them up for closer inspection it was obvious there was no recovering from this.

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                                                         At the moment we have not made any convincing conclusion to know exactly why this is happening, only that it is.  It could be disease, it could be a variety issue, it could be a pest or extended we soil issue.

We are growing out two varieties of radish (“french breakfast” and “sora”).  Both were seeded at the same time, selected and replanted at the same time.  The only difference other than variety is that the “french breakfast” is growing on our farm in Naples and the “sora” on land that we lease in Branchport.  The “sora” by the way is thriving.

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Here are some of wilting and yellowing leaves that is a clear sign the root has already begun to rot.

While waiting anything can happen

It is equally fascinating and sometimes daunting how we can have a perfectly edible, delicious, and hearty plant at its typical harvest stage for eating, but then have to let it grow thought that stage into seed development.  By the time many of our crops are making seed they may have been exposed to numerous additional weather, pest,  and disease pressures.  Leaving us wondering if we will get the quality of seed we had planned for.   If produce farming is the art of living with and trusting in the unknown while you work your tail off, than seed farming asks the same of you, plus a whole lot more over a longer period of time.

In the first week of April, the radish started out with great germination and strong vigor.  Here are the seedlings below before they were thinned.

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Making selections 

In late April We had a great harvest and selected the best radishes based on size, shape and vigor.  In the picture below with the six radishes on a washboard you can seed the difference between radishes we selected for seed production and the radishes we put in our salad.  The radishes on top are much less uniform and do not have the even cylindrical shape we want in this variety.   The row of three on the bottom were saved and replanted for seed.

If we were just growing radish for market we would have been very pleased with our crop.  But the seed story does not end there.

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Planting the roots, not the seed

After we selected the best radishes we cut the top leaves except for the inner most 2-3 leaves.  We then placed them in the fridge for about a week (labeled in plastic ziplock bags).  This process of vernalization helps spring radishes go to seed more uniformly (usually).  When we planted the radishes out around the 8th of May we again made a final selection.  Any that looked like they had scars, cuts, bruises, felt pithy, or leaves discolored were not planted and went into the salad bowl and neighbors dinner plates.  We planted the remaining stock on 10″-12″ spacing.

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And now five weeks later since replanting the roots they have filled out with leaves between 5″-8″ and roots 6″ long and about 1.5″ wide.  Although many still look healthy as time passes we are noticing more wilting and then root rot.  We have pulled any of the roots that even look like they might be turning.

So here is what we are trying to figure out

Why is the “sora” thriving and the “french breakfast” rotting in the field?  Is it a disease, pest, soil, moisture, varietal or some other factor that the “french breakfast” was a great radish for eating, but may not make seed this year.  We have a call into Cris Smart our friend and invaluable disease detective.  She is a plant Pathologist with Cornell, when we hear back from her I will update the blog.

Radish “should” be one of the easier seed crops

Fruition-Seeds-radish-growing-instructionsFruition-Seeds-radish-seed-saving-instructions

Radish planting and seed saving tips

Above is the planting and seed saving card we put in each seed pack.  Our friend Glen Curtis was visiting the farm the other day and shared with us the accidental radish seed in his garden.   He plants radish mainly for the leaves, not the root.  He loves pesto and radish leaves are a great way to make a spring pesto before parsley, basil and even sometimes arugula are ready to harvest for pesto.  Because he has been leaving the roots and only taking the leaves some of them have matured long enough to start flowering and getting ready to go to seed.   Way to go Glen!   You can have your pesto and seed it to!

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Why Regional Seed Matters

There is so much in a seed.

IMG_0114

Petra is thrilled to be surrounded by gold medal tomatoes, tome verde tomatillos and black beauty eggplant: all are adapting well to the Finger Lakes!

Each seed tells the story of its entire life history, millions of years in the making.  A few seeds, in a single generation, may travel the globe.  Most will stay within their watershed and most likely, their microclimate.  In this way, seeds become profoundly adapted to place.  The selection pressures of the environment (drought, low-nutrient stress) are key in the evolution of every seed.

Agricultural seed tells an additional story, one of human relationship.  Historically they remained fairly static, slowly adapting to place and becoming spread wide first on our backs, then by camel, then by boat.  Fast forward to 2013: most seed companies offer seed from all over the world.

A Bit of History

If ‘regional seed’ is seed becoming adapted to a bioregion, then all seed before World War I was regional.  Farmers in both industrialized and developing nations saved their own seed.  Integral to livelihood, maintaining good seedstock was equally important as keeping a good bull for livestock.  Over time, each variety was selected to meet the environmental conditions and farmer’s needs on the farm.

After World War I, hybrid corn set the stage and began the transition (slowly at first, forty years later dominating the market), replacing farm-grown seed with not only seed developed elsewhere, seed would not grow true if the seed was saved, as well.In effect, seed has become just another commodity (like fertilizer and pesticide) that all farms purchase annually.

If not here, then where?

We share a blind faith that seed is produced by the companies selling them; this is most often not the case.

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Matthew sits with our yellow mustard seed crop. In a few months we’ll have more than enough for both our condiment fondness and you! To his left, a row of watermelon just sprouting under remay…..!

Most seed is grown where the climate favors commercial dry seed production, such as the Pacific Northwest and Israel.  Much of this seed is adapted to modern agricultural techniques (mechanization, increased external inputs), allowing for wide adaptation and the high yields resulting from high inputs.  Further, breeding for resistance to pests and disease is rarely prioritized, relying heavily on chemical applications, resulting in varieties adapted to these sprays.

Is regional seed a thing of the past?

Following the rebirth of regional organic vegetable production, awareness of regional seed production is gaining momentum.  Regional seed is the natural root of local food.  The Pacific Northwest has a thriving network of small-scale seed growers and here in the Northeast we have our own burgeoning community of committed seed growers.  Perhaps evidence of a shift in public awareness, many of these growers are experiencing significant sales growth each season.

Does regional seed matter?

Each region has specific resources, growing challenges and market opportunities; regional seed is uniquely able to adapt all of these needs and conditions.

On farms, at universities and in gardens throughout the Northeast, communities are asking:  where does our seed come from and can regional seed meet my needs?

Our seed is coming from all over the world.  Few seed companies sell seed grown in the Northeast and even then it is only a small percent of their offering.  This means you may be buying good seed but not seed selected to excel in your specific climate and soils.

Regional Seed in the Northeast

Fruition Seeds provides seed grown organically in and for the Northeast.  Raised in New York and Connecticut, co-founders Petra Page-Mann and Matthew Goldfarb have worked in agriculture for over thirty collective years.  With knowledge of local production, local markets and operating on a relatively small scale, they offer seed grown on their farm in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York as well as seed from other excellent organic growers throughout the Northeast.

Petra selects rutabegas to be replanted for seed!

Petra selects rutabega to be replanted for seed.  

“Without a company to serve the market, how do we have access to such genetics?” asks Dr. Michael Mazourek with Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.  “Seed customized to our growing conditions gives us freedom from ‘making do’ with what serves major national markets.  A region’s ability to have vibrant, productive seed is critical.”

“Each farm is unique, especially each organic farm,” observes Michael Glos, also with Cornell Plant Breeding and Genetics.  Conventional seed, produced with quick-release fertilizer and pesticide, may perform with little variation between farms.  Organic systems, however, have a spectrum of variables for seed to respond to, increasing the significance of regional seed.

“Regional seed is important,” continues Michael who, ten years ago, saved kale seed on his farm.  Having only grown that seed since, “nothing can replace seed selected on the conditions of your specific farm.”

Rutabega, now five feet tall and setting seed adapted to the Finger Lakes in 2013!

Rutabega, now five feet tall and setting seed adapted to the Finger Lakes in 2013!

Will Bonsall, Director of the Scatterseed project, has been saving seed in Maine for decades and has witnessed the impact of regional and on-farm selection in many crops.  His work with grain is an excellent example.  “Wheat bred for the prairie soils of the grain belt, rather than the forest soils of the Northeast, are notably different.  Additional breeding for yield has neglected the flavor, nutrition and bread-making qualities of wheat.”  Adapting grains to his soils has taught him much and he continues to learn more each season.

Regional seed, like local food, is too important to our lives to be fringe for long.  The seed we have now is good but truly excellent, well-adapted and regional seed is our privilege to cultivate.  With the collaboration of seed companies, universities and individuals alike, the foundation is strong for a regional seed supply in the Northeast.

Fruition Seeds wakes every day grateful, humbled by the potential of each seed.  Join us in growing, saving, sharing and celebrating organic, regional seed in the Northeast!

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Sow What? Sow Fruition!

SOW WHAT?

Matthew and I were once content, small-scale organic growers unaware that often the seeds we planted supported values that did not align with our own.

3.25 x 4.75 Fruition Seeds - vegetablesBelieving that seeds are the foundation of our food, our clothing, and indeed of everything, we were astonished to discover that there is a global, systemic crisis in how our seeds are selected, bred, owned and distributed.

We have founded Fruition Seeds in response to our deepest desires both personal and political, practical and poetic.  Providing organic, regionally adapted seed grown in and for the Northeast, we are growing over two acres of seed crops this season as well as establishing a regional network of phenomenal seed growers to expand this vision.

                     THE SEED CRISIS

Marjorie Kelly writes, “Most of the great political struggles of the past 5,000 years can be reduced to a simple question: who will own land, water, and the other essentials of living – and to what end?”  Our genetic diversity is indeed one of these essentials.  Recent innovations such as genetic modification, F1 hybridization, expanding patent laws and centralized seed production serving international markets have contributed to the loss of 75% of our agricultural genetic diversity in the last hundred years (from a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization).

We share a blind faith that seed is produced by the companies selling them; this is most often not the case.  In fact, three chemical companies control over half  the global seed supply: seed has become just another commodity.  As such, most seed is grown where the climate favors commercial production, such as the Pacific Northwest, California, and Israel.  Much of this seed is adapted to modern agricultural techniques (mechanization, fertilizer, pesticides), allowing for 3.25 x 4.75 Fruition Seeds - herbshigh yields resulting from high inputs.  Further, resistance to pests and disease relies heavily on chemical applications, resulting in varieties adapted to these sprays.  This seed, developed with conventional practices, is widely adapted to similar conditions around the world.

Such conventionally produced ‘widely adapted’ seed may grow in your soil, but may not as well as one ‘regionally adapted,’ developed with organic practices.  Companies with national and international markets excel in the former, but not the latter.  Through personal conversation with countless individuals in gardens, the seed industry and in academia I’ve become convinced that a committed, high-quality seed company is critical to providing awareness, access and the inspiration to catalyze an organic, regionally-adapted seed movement.

 A few seed companies sell seed grown in the Northeast, though it is only a small percent of their catalogue.  This means you may be buying good seed but not seed selected to excel in your specific climate and soils.  We are committed to providing organic, delicious and dependable seed that is adapted to the Northeast, that we might enhance biodiversity and pass on living seeds to our future.

OUR STORY (THE NUTSHELL)

 My highest priority is to cultivate, share and inspire abundance in all forms; for years it has been my dream to spend my days growing organic, regionally adapted seed in and for the place that I call home.

 I first became enamored with seed as a child in my father’s garden, witnessing the miracle of seed, sun and soil that sustained us all through the seasons.  For the last decade, my love of travel has led me far and wide to soak in the wisdom of small scale, ecological agriculture, saving seeds as I went.  Working for seed companies large and small across the continent, I’ve believe deeply in both the vitality of seed as well as the significant potential of our regional seed supply here in the Northeast.

3.25 x 4.75 Fruition Seeds - vegetables I am grateful to be back in my beautiful hometown with my beloved partner Matthew Goldfarb, growing organic seed in Naples, New York.  Matthew has been farming and gardening since 1994.   Prior to understanding the full impact of the seed crisis on national and global levels, he was asking questions on his own farm.  As his skills grew, so too did his awareness of the lack of regional seed, the limited (at best) transparency of who grows seed where as well as the rapid concentration of seed controlled by a few — and how his decisions impact the course of genetic history.  With degree in Rural Sociology and an MBA from Babson, many years of agricultural leadership and an unflagging commitment to phenomenal, home-made coconut ice cream, Matthew is undoubtedly the man for the job!

SOW FRUITION!

Will Bonsall,  Director of the Scatterseed Project in Maine, said it so well:  “We like to hire everything out, like fixing the deck or mowing the lawn.  But some things are too compelling and too important to leave to the professionals, like tucking in our children at night.  Everything related to food, and especially the seed, must be seen in this light.”

It is the privilege and pleasure of Fruition Seeds grow such seed and build a network of phenomenal organic seed growers in our region.  With our thirty years’ combined agricultural experience, knowledge of local production, local markets and operating on a small scale, we are committed to establishing a high-quality supply of organic seed for the Northeast.  Each day we wake with gratitude and awe that this is our work, our play, our joy, our sustenance and our (in no way small) contribution to the world.

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