To improve our food system, it’s not just about growing good food locally.
To grow delicious vegetables, we first need to plant seeds.
In the same way that vegetables don’t “come from the store,” neither do seeds.
Seeds are also grown on farms.
Our customers seek us out according to why, how, and what we grow; we also seek out seed that is grown in certain ways and with certain values.
We’ve bought some really cool seeds bred by plant breeding elder Carol Deppe who says
“When you breed a variety, you breed your own values right into the variety. If you believe in huge agribusiness farms with monocultures that are managed with massive doses of herbicides, then you breed your concept of what agriculture should be like into that variety. I do exactly the opposite.”
We definitely don’t know the story or breeder behind all of the varieties we grow. We buy seeds from companies we respect but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to know who bred a variety.
I mean, we grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and over 100 varieties of flowers.
But the story behind our seeds still interests us.
And we hope to also be part of the story behind at least some of the seeds that we grow.
So, every year, on our farm, we’ve experienced a seed adventure. Here’s the story of the 2016 adventure:
This year started out with the news that ACORN would be unveiling a seed mentorship program in Atlantic Canada. Shannon promptly signed up for it and was accepted as a mentee.
We thought about why we wanted to grow seed. We came up with 3 main goals:
- To build our skills. Knowing how to grow and save our own high quality seeds is a great skill to have – ones that grow better on our farm and in our region. Plus, seed-saving is an important skill to pass on to the next generation of farmers.
- Make some money. Or at least don’t lose money. Vegetable farmers don’t often save seeds because the time spent growing seed crops is more expensive to them than the cost of buying seeds. So, we want to learn how to do it in a way that contributes to our livelihood. Our customers had been asking us for seeds to plant in their own gardens so it makes sense to grow some to offer for sale.
- Seed-saving is one of our climate change adaptation strategies. I’ll write more about this in a future blog post. Stay tuned!
The mentor I was paired with is Steph Warr from Twisted Brook Farm.
She was the perfect mentor for me because she sells vegetables at a farmers’ market and to restaurants (like us) but she makes the majority of her income from growing and selling seeds.
Steph is also a small-scale farmer who shares our values, loves to talk about seeds and varieties, is incredibly generous with her knowledge and is super fun to be around.
Steph came to visit our farm and I also got to take a field trip to her farm this year! Read about my farm visit in this blog post.
This spring, for the first time ever, we sold our seeds at the Dieppe Market. They sold really well.
Hearing how our customers’ gardens were doing throughout the season was really special, in particular to hear how the seeds we had grown were doing.
Our customers told us that the germination (how many of the seeds sprout) and vigour (how quickly they take off and grow into strong, healthy plants) was great!
We grew a few seed crops this year for Atlantic Canada’s Regional Seed Bank.
One of them was this pepper called Yellow Doe. It’s a small, roundish, orange sweet pepper. I picked up the seeds for it at a seed swap I attended last winter in Oregon. To read about that event, check out this blog post.
We also grew a lettuce for the Seed Bank called Lau’s Pointed. It’s an interesting one with a pointy shaped leaf and great flavour.
This is a picture of the seed head before we harvested it.
Well, this was exciting! This was our first time saving carrot seed at our farm. The variety was Nash’s Rhumba.
We planted it with our other fall carrots and harvested it at the same time. They will stay in storage in our cooler all winter (hopefully they’ll store well) and then we’ll replant the carrots in the spring. They’ll send up a flower stalk and then produce seeds.
We saved seeds from a few different pea varieties this year. Super Sugar Snap Peas, Cascadia Peas, and a pea called Lamborn which is a tendril pea – this means that rather than harvest it for the pea pods, we harvest it for the tendril shoots that taste like peas. I got the seeds for this from a seed friend from A’bunadh Seeds.
2016 was year 1 of our first-ever multi-year breeding project. We’re developing our very own sweet red pepper. Having a hands-on project like this really helps us learn about on-farm breeding.
Asian greens are kind of a big deal on our farm. We love them. We’re always trialing new varieties, especially as components of our popular Sweet n’ Spicy Mix. Because of this, we decided to start saving seeds of our favourite varieties.
With the flowers that we grow for our market bouquets, we’ve been saving a handful of varieties of flowers each year. This year, we saved 6 varieties, including this incredible deep pink Hollyhock.
Saving seeds and improving our seed saving skills had its challenges this year (especially with the drought this summer!) but we learned a lot and we’re looking forward to our 2017 seed adventure!