Last winter I was kibitzing with my farmer friends about a typical seed bank. Today’s blog is a summary of our observations and analysis. Next week’s blog will detail my recommendations about what seeds I think the ideal survival seed bank would contain. The following week’s post will discuss how to store a seed bank.
The idea behind the marketing of emergency seed banks is to put together a bunch of different kinds of seeds, and seal them in a container, and put them on the shelf so that you can grow a garden if food from the grocery stores becomes unavailable.
Philosophically I think that the better emergency food strategy is to be growing a garden as part of a day-to-day lifestyle, and saving seeds so that they can become locally adapted. Then if grocery store food ever becomes scarce, we already have the knowledge, tools, soil fertility, gene pools, and manual skills to expand on existing gardens. I acknowledge that in today’s world of inexpensive and readily available fuel, it’s easier and less expensive to grow food in another hemisphere and import it into our local grocery stores. If that ever changes, then having a seed bank of maladapted highly-inbred varieties seems better than not having any seeds at all. I’d like to think that we can do better than that.
While analyzing the seed bank, we did comparison shopping by making tentative orders from some of the more expensive online seed catalogs. If the sizes of seed didn’t match the seed bank we bought the next larger packet size. Our bottom-line price ended up being 1/3 the cost of what the seed bank was asking, and we ended up with more seeds.
The seed banks are marketed as having special packaging materials and techniques which greatly prolong the life expectancy of the seeds. I believe that this is mostly hype. Longevity seems mostly about storing seeds dry, not exposing them to high temperatures, and avoiding bugs and animals. I store seeds in glass jars in the spare bedroom. If I lived in a damper environment I’d include a desiccant with the seeds before storing. I test germination once a year. Most varieties store well, and I believe those that don’t would degrade about the same whether they are packaged in glass jars or in Mylar bags. If I had plenty of freezer space I’d store seeds in glass jars in the freezer. Life expectancy of frozen seeds is about 16 times that of seeds at room temperature. I’ll write more about storing seeds in two weeks.
I am especially skeptical of seed banks that claim that their seed can plant an acre of land, especially when the container that holds the seeds is the size of a soda bottle. One of my fields is three-quarters of an acre, so I have a good idea about how much seed is required to plant a field that size. It is much more than 20 or 30 small packets of seed. To put things in perspective to plant an acre takes approximately 14 pounds of sweet corn seed, or 5 pounds of squash seed, or 70 pounds of dry bean seed. That’s around 7 gallons of beans!!! I would expect the seed bank that we analyzed to plant about one-tenth acre, even though it claimed to be enough seed to plant an acre.
This week’s photo shows the amount of seed that I would want if planting a bare-minimum, staples-only, 1/3 acre survival garden. It includes 13 ounces of landrace sweet corn, 21 ounces of landrace flour corn, 2 pounds of mixed dry beans, 14 ounces of peas, 2 ounces of beet seed, and 3 ounces of landrace squash seed. I took the photo to demonstrate that you aught to be aiming towards pounds or ounces of seed, and not packets. The bottle of beans all by itself is about the same size as the super deluxe seed bank that we reviewed.
In preparation for this article I reviewed the offerings of many survival seed banks. I was mostly dissatisfied with the quantity and types of seeds being offered. For example, one of the banks included 30,000 lettuce seeds and 20,000 celery seeds, but only 50 seeds each of beans, peas, and corn. They skimped on foods that store well and are easy to grow and have enough calories and nutrients to feed a family, and focused on watery low nutrition foods that are hard to grow and do not keep well. Additionally in my garden lettuce has a limited growing season. I can only harvest lettuce about 60 days per year, and my family wouldn’t eat more than a head of lettuce per day even if it was the only food available. A couple hundred lettuce seeds would be more than sufficient. I’d want more like 4000 corn seeds, 2000 bean seeds, and 3000 pea seeds. I’ll write more about that next week.
A common feature of the seed banks I reviewed was that they tended to include lots of tiny seeds for species that are not all that useful in a survival situation such as lettuce, celery, cauliflower, radish, basil, Brussels sprouts, spices, and eggplant. I think that even in good times, eggplant is not a food. Uugh! It makes great ad copy to state that the seed bank contains 100,000 seeds, but what’s the point of including 30,000 lettuce seeds? Fifty corn seeds is less than the amount commonly believed necessary to avoid inbreeding depression.
The seed banks tended to be skimpy on large seeded items for crops that are most useful as staples. A staple crop is a food that is easy to grow in large quantities and that can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. Traditional staples in northern climates are corn, dry beans, soup peas, winter squash, turnips, cabbage, beets, sunroots, potatoes, and carrots. I consider wheat to be iffy as a staple crop because harvesting by hand provides a meager return on investment compared to harvesting corn or pulses.
The choice of varieties in the seed banks I reviewed was also troubling to me. A lot of them included varieties of tomatoes like Beefsteak or Brandywine. These are fine tomatoes if you have a long growing season of near perfect growing conditions, but they are not as productive nor as reliable as varieties that produce smaller fruits more quickly. The first tomato harvested in my garden is always a cherry tomato. I would have liked to have seen more cherry tomatoes offered. The seed banks often included Roma tomatoes which are very susceptible to blossom end rot. Why include a variety like that when there are so many non-susceptible tomatoes to choose from? Some of the seed banks included things like decorative corn or jack-o-lantern pumpkins. I’m certainly not going to be growing decorations in the midst of a food emergency!
Only one of the seed banks that I reviewed mentioned regionally adapted seeds. They claimed that the varieties of seeds that they put into their bank are chosen based on the region that the buyer is located in. I was somewhat pleased with that approach. They didn’t bother to mention what seeds are going to what regions, but at least they acknowledged that the problem exists. I am disappointed with the seed banks that were offering a one-size-fits-all collection of seeds for every garden in the world. In my ideal world, the seed bank manufactures would offer seed collections specific to each eco-region. In the usa there are 12 major eco-regions. I’d like to see each seed bank manufacturer offer at least 12 different versions of their seed bank with varieties selected specifically for each major eco-region. Those regions can be further subdivided into a multitude of smaller eco-regions.
I would have liked to have seen more varieties of each species rather than more seeds of a single inbred cultivar. Instead of one species of bean, I would have liked to have seen a dozen species. There’s no telling whether a particular variety or species will perform well in any specific garden, especially if there are climatic, or social, or environmental issues which interfere with normal cultivation practices. It’s much better in my opinion to throw 3 to 10 varieties of many different species into the ground. It seems like that is a more reliable way to find something that thrives. Then the second year we could grow seeds from the most productive and well adapted plants.
I really like the idea of mixed seed for an emergency seed bank. I was first exposed to the idea of packets of mixed seed about 20 years ago in the catalog of Pinetree Garden Seeds. I bought a packet of mixed radish seed. I loved it. Today many seed companies offer mixed seed. I think that they are one of the most useful and inexpensive ways to stock a survival seed bank.
I’d be perfectly happy including some types of hybrid seeds in a survival seed bank. For example, I would have included hybrid tomatoes. The reason that hybrid tomatoes have taken such a huge market share is because they tend to perform much better than highly inbred heirloom tomatoes. Even if the hybrids don’t breed true, their offspring are likely to perform better than open pollinated varieties. They will turn into landrace or open pollinated varieties once we start saving seeds from them.
Overall, we were highly disappointed with the offerings of the survival seed bank marketers. I think that we’d get a better product if there were growers in each neighborhood that offered locally-adapted landrace seed banks specifically selected via survival-of-the-fittest for that neighborhood. This is part of the reason that I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through the use of common sense and traditional methods.
In part two I’ll explore the varieties and quantities of seed that I think should be included in a survival seed bank. In part three I’ll write about long-term seed storage.
If you are new to vegetable gardening it is hard to know what crops do best in your area and when to plant them. The same goes for folks who may have gardened for years but then moved to another part of the country with a new climate. There are numerous books about growing vegetables, but not many speak to the climate conditions specific to the different areas of the country. Timber Press has sought to remedy that with a series of books, each organized the same way—a Get Started section, and month-to-month and Edibles A to Z sections. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange covers the southeast region of the U.S. with her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. The official publication date for this book is December 11, however it is available now from Southern Exposure’s online catalog.
The Southeast region is not all the same and Ira distinguishes between the Upper South and the Lower South. Southern Florida, where the temperature never goes below freezing, is not covered in this book. I’ve never lived further south than I do now near Richmond, Virginia. This book helped me understand gardeners who live in the rest of the region. In the Lower South, the hottest times in July and August are a transition time, with not much coming out of the garden save for okra, sweet potatoes, and southern peas. Whereas a little to the north, we are busy harvesting tomatoes and most other summer crops. Nevertheless, there is heat and humidity throughout the region and Ira addresses the issue of heat very well. If you live elsewhere, but have a friend in the Southeast, you might benefit from reading this book as a means of understanding your friend’s gardening habits and schedule.
Sweet potatoes and southern peas, along with peanuts, are some of the staple crops I’m adamant about growing. I’ve written about how I’ve prepared them in my Homegrown Friday posts. Those crops and many more are in the Edibles A to Z section of the book, which has growing, harvesting, variety, and seed saving tips for each crop. The Get Planting section of the book has a chapter for each of the twelve months. At the beginning of each month there is a page with things to do to plan, prepare and maintain; sow and plant; and what could be harvested fresh from the garden. The rest of each chapter has gardening information and something specific to that time of year. I like that there is much mention of using transplants and extending the season using floating row covers.
Learn more about Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast at Homeplace Earth. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, the Mountain States, or the Northeast, you might find the Timber Press books on those regions helpful. Even though I’ve been gardening in the same place for many years, I’ve discovered that it is helpful to reread some of the gardening books that got me started. Now that I’m at a different level in my gardening I’m finding things that may not have been of interest the first time through those books, or reminded of things I should be aware of. Even if you are an experienced gardener, you will find something of interest in these regional books.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at http://www.homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/.
When you have a small yard, pots are a great way to extend your garden and harvest. You read that you can grow anything in pots. And you can. So, how do you decide what is best to plant in the ground and what is best for your pots?
Deciding what to grow can be exhilarating and overwhelming. The varieties are endless, the options infinite. Where do you begin when you are deciding what to grow for the first time or for the tenth time?
First, grow what you love to eat! Make a list of your favorite veggies. The caution for a new gardener, start small. From your list of favs, pick your top 5-7 to start with.
So, if I were to share the easiest to get started with, what would I grow my first spring season? I would start with plants and grow lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard. If I loved beets, carrots, radishes, peas and turnips, I would plant these as seeds. If I liked to cook with onions and use chives, I would get Egyptian walking onions because they are perennials and can be harvested year round and love their home in a pot.
If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc. Here are some recommendations for your garden.
- Beets - any. You can plant these around a beautifully colored swiss chard.
- Cabbage - Golden Cross 45 day cabbage did really well for us in pots this year and has a short enough time to maturity. I would plant one cabbage per pot. You can add pansies for color in spring and fall or petunias for summer color.
- Carrots - get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.
- Swiss Chard - I love all the colors to choose from (see picture above). Perpetual Chard is not as beautiful, but is particularly hardy.
- Collards - any. These will produce all winter.
- Kale - look for “dwarf” in the description, but any will work if you plan on continuously harvesting the lower leaves. Many kales will survive all winter.
- Lettuce - any as you can harvest the lower leaves and the plant will continue
- to produce. Look for descriptions like “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” for spring, fall and winter lettuces. Choose varieties with the words "slow to bolt" and "heat resistant" in the descriptions.
- Onions - I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot. You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives. Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.
- Peas - Look for “compact” varieties for growing in pots, like Green Arrow, Sugar Ann, Cascadia or provide a support for them to grow onto.
- Radishes - I would stick with the round types like Runder Schwarzer Winter or Rudoph.
- Turnips - any. I plant in a circle with lettuce in the center in cool seasons.
You can add in warm season crops like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers as the cool season crops wrap up the spring season. Just look for "compact", "patio" and "bush" varieties.
I noticed that W. Atlee Burpee & Co. seed company started showing a clay pot with a check mark on the lower right hand corner of their seed packets this year to indicate which seeds were appropriate for pots. This makes it much easier to know than reading all the descriptions!
A couple of tips for extending the season as long as possible:
- Place your pots on the south side of the house as this is the warmest side and gets the most sun.
- Putting your pots up against the house gives them extra warmth.
- Place your pots in an area that is protected against the wind.
- If on stands, placing the pot directly on the ground helps.
- Put your pots in a huddle against each other to protect them from the wind, with the most tender plants in the center (like lettuce).
- Buy a portable green house to put over a collection of pots that have your greens in them can possibly keep your greens surviving until warm weather arrives.
It is wonderful to be able to just step outside your door and get fresh produce all through the seasons.
For more tips on gardening in small spaces, visit my blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com
Let’s take a little field trip back to 1943. Go ahead and hop in those time machines! We’re going to explore the day and age when the world was at war and our food supply was in peril.
American Life in 1943
Think about this: The average family in 1943 was living on $29 a week. Food staples were rationed out to families in order to provide for the troops. As you can imagine, fresh fruits and vegetables were in short supply. In order to keep the nation from starvation, the U.S. Government encouraged folks to help out in any way that they could. Propaganda posters popped up in every town urging families to plant ‘Victory Gardens’ to provide their own produce.
Over 20 million American families took up the call for ‘victory.’ They collaborated with friends and neighbors and took control of their own food supply. Even schools got involved in the cause by planting gardens in schoolyards to provide supplemental food for school lunches. The number of canning supplies sold more than quadrupled from 1943 to 1944. Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged her fellow citizens by planting a victory garden at the White House in 1943.
The plan was a wild success across the nation. As the National WWII Museum website indicates, “By 1944, Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the United States. More than one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.”
FORTY PERCENT of all vegetables? Holy moly! Can you imagine if we did that today??
The U.S. Food System after World War II
After the war was over in 1945, victory gardens began to steadily disappear from backyards and rooftops. Grocery stores popped up across the nation and buying everything we needed from them became commonplace. Commercial foods became more widely available and Americans didn't see any reason to continue growing their own anymore. New and different problems began to crop up in our nation’s food supply…
“The effort of the victory gardeners was directed toward the defeat of an easily identified enemy - the Axis powers. Today, our ‘enemy’—the eco crisis looming on our horizon—is more elusive and complex and is potentially a greater adversary.”
—Phillip Wenz, San Francisco Gate
All right, let’s hop back in those time machines and return to the present day.
Today, we live in a very different world than that of the 1940’s. With the opening of commercial grocery stores in towns across the country, the food system has adjusted to meet the ever-increasing demands of the public. Scientists have genetically modified our food in labs. Farmers have resorted to using industrial methods of growing food and raising livestock. Vegetables are now coated with poisons in the fields. Animals are kept in tight quarters where they lead miserable lives. All of this happens even before the food is packed onto a truck, shipped across the country, and stocked in a supermarket. During the long journey almost half of this produce will spoil.
Producing food isn’t what it used to be, and our bodies and wallets are taking the toll.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at the produce section. Do some investigation. Become a food spy. You can even wear a trench coat and a spiffy hat!
Try this: Check out the labels to see where the produce comes from. Consider the massive amount of fuel it takes to get a piece of produce all the way across the country. Consider the nutritional value of food that traveled on the road for two weeks before it arrived at your store. Also consider how hard it is for your local farmer to compete with industrial produce from overseas. Farm workers in other countries are paid pitiful wages and food safety practices are lax, which makes it cheap and easy to produce low quality, sometimes down right poisonous foods.
Food is our energy source; it is what we give our bodies to run on. Food matters. And everything that is done to it before it gets to your mouth matters, too.
So, What Can We Do About It?
Our agricultural system is a mess, it is enough to make your head spin. There’s a slew of information available to cover the various problems we’re facing. It’s not my goal today to depress you, it’s my goal to give you hope. If you’d like to research on your own, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. I’m here to tell you there is something that we can do about this.
Our problems today may be different from that of 1943 but our solutions are in many ways the same. We can take a lesson from the wisdom of the past and go back to our old ways. We can take control of our food: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and what goes into it. This power can be in your hands, and let me tell you, this is the most almighty of powers!
Bring Back the Victory Garden!
Even without food rationing and propaganda posters, people all across the nation are taking notice of the condition of our food supply and choosing to do something about it. Consumers are starting to look more closely at food labels and are refusing to buy things with unpronounceable ingredients. Organic foods are becoming an increasingly common sight on grocery store shelves. Farmer’s markets are popping up in neighborhoods across the country.
Even Michelle Obama got into the act and planted a kitchen garden on the lawn of the White House as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity and advocate healthy eating.
Obama was the first First Lady to plant a garden on the White House lawn since Eleanor Roosevelt did so in 1943. 70 years later, her actions give us hope for a new age of agricultural awareness. She says of her efforts:
“It is my hope that our garden’s story – and the stories of gardens across America – will inspire families, schools, and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring.”
–Michelle Obama, American Grown
Our collective outlook on food is changing for the better. Once again, families are taking control of their food, and you can too!
Victory Garden Resources
National WWII Museum
Victory Garden Foundation
Living History Farm
Bring Back the Victory Garden
Posters provided by Victory Garden Foundation
What are you doing inside at the computer? It's time to get outside and get gardening!
Why? Because what you do right now may lead to next year's gardening success ... or failure.
There are four things you need to get outside and do on whatever days you aren't buried in snow. Take my advice and your spring garden will be smashing.
What four things? I'm glad you asked.
Gather Tons of Leaves!
In some parts of the country, it might be almost too late for gathering leaves, but in some areas, there are still plenty lying around for the taking. Roadside paper bags stuffed with leaves? Grab them. A neighbor about to burn a huge pile? Help them throw the pile over your fence instead. Trees work really hard to make those leaves, gathering lots of nutrients from the soil as they do. Get them for your yard. You're going to want them for the next step.
Build a Compost Bin and Make Compost!
Your bin doesn't have to be anything brilliant. A ring of wire works as well as a lovely hand-crafted sustainably harvested cedar lumber model with sterling silver handles. Or you can do what I did once: gut a refrigerator, lay it on its back, and voila! Compost bin!
Those leaves you just gathered are going to be the carbon for this puppy. Good sources of nitrogen include waste from a local farmer's market, urine, animal manure, food scraps, etc. Wet your pile down really well and if you're lucky, you can get it hot enough to cook all winter ... and be ready to feed your gardens in spring.
Sheet Mulch New Garden Plots!
If you'd rather apply your compost directly and not fiddle with a pile, sheet mulching is a fun and productive way to do it. Crop an area of your lawn, spread a layer of cardboard or a multi-page layer of newspaper right on top of the ground, then pile up organic matter. Rotten straw, all those leaves you gathered, shredded paper, the remnants of summer's garden ... pile it up and wet it down. I like to go at least a foot thick. By late spring, it's likely that the grass beneath is good and dead ... and the ground is teeming with worms. I transformed an area of hard rocky clay into loamy earthworm-rich soil over a couple of winters with this method. It works!
Assess Your Failures and Plan for Success!
Ever garden year has its own problems. I ended up hating the way some of my beds were laid out one year... so over the fall and winter, I changed them. You're not actively tending anything at this time of year. It's a chance to let ideas flow. Read seed catalogs, read some new books, talk with friends and don't be afraid to make great and glorious plans. In my mind I've built vast greenhouses that could contain forests, constructed arbors that would rival the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and grown a million different varieties of heirloom vegetables. In real life, I sometimes don't even get all my beds planted... yet sometimes my fall and winter daydreaming have led me to solutions I just didn't have time to consider in the heat of the growing season. Let your imagination fly.
As the holidays sneak up on us and the cold shuts down the remnants of our gardens, don't you shut down. What you do now will lead to healthy soil, less work and grand ideas that will fuel you right on through 2014.
Get out there and get cracking. It may be cold ... but it's worth it!
For daily organic gardening inspiration and lots of tips on growing food in tough times, visit FloridaSurvivalGardening.com.
Once your soil is prepared, the timing is right and your cloves are popped – it is finally time to plant! Spacing your planting holes must be a balance between how many plants you want to grow and the space you have available. If you are planting different cultivars, maximize the space you have available by planting naturally smaller strains closer together than the larger ones. Spacing is important with gourmet garlic, because your goal is produce the largest, healthiest bulbs you can.
Our garlic is planted in sections that are divided into beds, which then contain rows. You can make the rows as long and wide as you like, but I recommend that, in terms of width, you should be able to comfortably reach the middle of the row from each side. Being able to reach at least halfway into the row without significant stretching will make the forthcoming weeding and scape removal much easier.
We plant four rows per bed, the rows 8 in. apart, with approximately 6 in. between the planted cloves. Spacing in this manner allows the bulbs plenty of space to grow while maximizing our use of the ground we have available. You can space your rows differently, but in my experience, most gourmet garlic growers plant their rows 6-8 in. apart, with a 6-8 in. distance between the cloves. We also stagger our rows of holes, with the second and fourth rows beginning approximately 3 in. down from the first and third. This planting method yields us eight plants per ft.
As we plant thousands of pounds of gourmet garlic every year, we constructed a dedicated roller with blunt spikes set to our desired measurements and we roll it down the rows behind our tractor. For smaller numbers of cloves, however, a spiked hand-roller, a pegged jig, or even a thick stick is sufficient to create holes. It does not need to be fancy, just effective! Regarding depth, we plant all of our cultivars at a depth of approximately 2 in., and we recommend this as a starting point for new growers. If your region has very warm temperatures you can decrease this depth to 1-1 ½ in, and likewise, if your region has particularly severe winters you can increase the depth to 3-4 in. to provide the cloves with greater insulation and protection.
I recommend cracking and planting a single cultivar at a time, especially if you are planting several varieties. This will help prevent mix-up of strains. Also ensure that your rows are clearly labeled with a medium that will survive the winter weather; we use painted wooden stakes with the names of each cultivar carefully written in indelible ink marker. Even though this system works well, we still refresh the writing in the spring as a precautionary measure. It is also helpful to create a paper or electronic database outlining your field plan, just in case your outdoor marking system goes awry.
Once you have marked your holes and you are ready to plant, place a single clove in each hole with the basal plate down and the tip pointing upwards. This sounds like common sense and is easily controlled when you are doing your own planting, but I have seen occasions where improper supervision of workers resulted in entire sections planted upside down. The garlic will still grow when planted this way, but it will be malformed and more difficult to market as gourmet. If you wish for more precise orientation of your plants, planting the cloves with their backs facing either the inside or the outside of the row will result in a high number of plants with their leaves growing along the axis of the rows.
Correct orientation aside, how you plant your cloves is a personal choice. There are mechanized methods of planting, but these can be somewhat risky and create even more work if the equipment doesn’t function with the exact precision required. We try different techniques when planting, both to determine which methods are most effective for us, and also to help liven up what can be quite a monotonous chore – especially after a few days in!
The year before last we planted our cloves while riding on a tractor-pulled contraption that allowed us to sit a few inches above and to either side of the bed. A roller in front marked the holes, and we frantically tried to stuff the cloves inside correctly before we glided too far past the hole. This method, while mostly efficient, required a number of stops and starts as we tried to keep up, and ultimately resulted in clove spacing that we were unhappy with. Last year we marked the holes first with the roller, then crawled on our hands and knees along the beds carrying our little buckets of cloves. Although slower, the increased precision this method gave us was well worth the extra effort, and ultimately, more effective because we achieved the spacing we desired.
Once the cloves are in the ground, you need to cover them with soil. We rake over the beds to fill the holes and also to provide a smooth, even surface. You can achieve this using whichever method is the easiest and most effective for you; it is the result that is important.
Mulching is the next step after the soil has been distributed. The type of mulch you use and how thick you lay it depends on the climate where you are growing your garlic. You may choose not to mulch at all, especially if you live in a particularly wet region, since this can cause complications with rot and mold. Ask other local growers if and how they use mulch.
Covering your garlic with mulch is beneficial for several reasons. It forms a shell over your seedlings, protecting them and helping the beds to retain moisture and maintain a more consistent temperature. Mulch also helps to inhibit weeds. We normally use barley straw for our mulch, but you can use a variety of organic matter including hay, grass, or leaves. I do not recommend using wood chips as they can leach nitrogen from the soil. Whatever you do use, make sure it is as free of weed seed as possible, or else you will find your garlic being hijacked by volunteer plants in the spring.
Generally, your layer of mulch should range from 2-6 in. thick, and be evenly spread. We usually put down a layer of 2-3 in. Once the layer is spread, leave it alone. It is tempting to tamp the mulch down, but don’t. The pockets of air will provide the beds with a good source of insulation.
We spread our mulch by hand because we find this gives us better control over thickness, although we do know growers who drop their mulch initially by machine and then spread by hand. If you live in a windy area as we do, you can spray water over the mulch. When the wet mulch freezes, it will form a hard protective shell over the plants during the winter, melting in the spring when your garlic finally begins to break through.
Want to read the previous parts in this series? Check out:
Growing Gourmet Garlic, Part 1: Where to Get Seed and How Much to Plant
Growing Gourmet Garlic, Part 2: Choosing Which Bulbs to Plant
Growing Gourmet Garlic, Part 3: When to Plant and Soil Preparation
Growing Gourmet Garlic, Part 4: Bulb Cracking and Clove Selection
Homegrown, homemade pumpkin pies are becoming the starting event to a social, seasonal, joy-binge of shared holiday moments. This year we turned 8 winter luxury pumpkins into pumpkin pie mix with one toaster oven, two afternoons, and a lot-a-bit-of love.
Last year was the first year we grew winter luxury pumpkins and found a vegan pumpkin pie recipe which involved cashews and lemons. The way the subtle, yet sweet hint of lemon blended with the soaked cashews, spices, and homegrown pumpkin forced a smile across my face through a pulse-like charge experienced in my taste buds and acknowledged by my soul. I was hooked.
The winter luxury squash was purchased from the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). Introduced in 1893 by Johnson and Stokes in Philadelphia, according to the SSE, and residing in northeast Pennsylvania myself, I thought it sounded like a perfect fit for our garden. With one pumpkin averaging two pies, mixed with a short shelf life, this squash variety is making its way into Thanksgiving tradition.
We started seeds in containers the last week of May, knowing we would only have enough room in the garden to grow one plant. The rest of them was given to my Dad to grow at his house near a pre-existing compost site. With a small harvest taking place this season in our garden, due to an attack coordinated by the squash vine borers, I feel grateful my Dad took the time to grow all these pumpkins.
I believe this feeling of gratitude along with the teamwork that took place in growing these pumpkins only adds to the amount of life-giving energy they are capable of transmitting. Although love cannot be measured in food under nutritional information like amino acids or listed on the ingredient list like corn by-products, it is certainly present in thought-form.
And like Masaru Emoto, who has shown how our negative and positive thoughts can change the appearance of frozen water crystals from ugly to beautiful by capturing them in photographs under a microscope, these pumpkins are beautiful whole as well as broken down to microscopic molecular levels.
However, unlike measurable nutrients which rapidly decrease through each stage of processing, from the very first cut to the last stages of baking, love can only be increased each step of the way.
After washing them all down, we cut two in half, scooped out the seeds, and baked the first one, cut side down in water, until the fork slid through the skin. Looking at the photo of all the fork stab-marks makes me wonder if some primitive form of nature came out of me that my vegan diet may restrict. Kill! Kill! Kill! At least it’s out.
We then blended the baked pumpkin flesh in the high-speed blender as a cycle began to form. Cut a pumpkin, scoop a pumpkin, bake a pumpkin, blend a pumpkin, cut a pumpkin, scoop a pumpkin, bake a pumpkin, blend a pumpkin … It may be hard to say that 10 times fast in-a-row, but with one toaster oven, fast is eliminated from all forms of vocabulary. In between this cycle, we rinsed off the seeds and dried them to save.
Once we had enough measurable portions of pumpkin puree, my girlfriend made a spice mix of nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon and mixed it in with the addition of sugar, creating a whirlwind of sandy orange becoming a caramel brown sugar-color, each ingredient infusing more love as forceful as the earth’s natural elements.
Love is necessary for good health, I believe. And life on a daily basis can sometimes wear the love right out of me. Especially at the end of the landscaping season when work picks back up and the trees drop their leaves seemingly all at once. Many people like full fall clean-ups on their property right before Thanksgiving and the snow flurries usually start to make an appearance, leaving many guys at the shop working under lights hooking up the snow equipment.
Balancing some of that with classes that pick-up pace with snowball effect-like momentum has me most thankful to be spending time with close friends this Thanksgiving, with whom I have been blessed to cross paths with in this vast universe. Our annual vegan/vegetarian/carnivore celebrations are just as infinitely colossal as the universe and each year boundaries are pushed, explored, and experienced.
Once the pumpkin pie mix was complete, we had four 7-cup storage containers mostly filled. Two pies were made right away and the 4 containers were stored in the freezer. Two-of-the-four are now defrosted in our fridge waiting to be made into pumpkin pies, first for our neighbors, then my Dad and brother, then for our friends.
With the addition of lemon juice, soaked cashews, vegan cream cheese, and more cinnamon, the pie mix gets blended, added to the pie crusts, and baked. Last year when we brought a pie to my Dad’s house, a young guest took a quick look when asked if she would like a slice. An exaggerated “ewww,” followed by a child yucky face was her reply.
I remember as a kid the only pumpkin pies I liked were “the cheap ones,” as I would tell my Mom each year. Knowing me, I probably had a liking for high-fructose corn syrup. And lots of whipped cream.
How the season’s change.
I just hope these pumpkin pies continue to grow on family and friends for seasons to come, delivering love in high doses, increasing each time.