Seed (and other) Freedoms
January 20, 2014, 9:36 AM
Filed under: Growing Food, Seed Saving | Tags:

If we wait for governments it will be too little too late. If we act as individuals it will be too little. But if we act as communities, it might just be enough.. just in time.”~author unknown…

Today, January 20th, thousands of folks in communities all over Europe are coming together in mass force to show that they do too. They are coming together to let their Parliament know that the recent proposals around seeds are NOT acceptable. Their demands are quite simple really:

1. People, whether they be farmers or gardeners must not  be obliged to buy seeds or other “plant reproductive material” from commercial providers. Any regulation must guarantee the rights of farmers, gardeners and all collectives to use, exchange and sell their own seeds and plants, to respect all Human Rights Declarations and the International Plant Treaty (ITPGRFA).

2. The industry standard should not be the adopted standard for the seed and plant market. It implies a technical and legal definition that natural plants cannot comply with and it does not recognise the significance of biodiversity.

3. Freely reproducible plants should not be subject to compulsory registration for varieties or certification of seeds and plants. Biodiversity should take precedence over commercial interest, as it is a public good, just like water.


 Seeds are our future. Even if you’ve never grown a single basil plant, your very life depends on seeds. There is absolutely no reason to be passing laws like the European Parliament is considering. The very Pilgrims that settled on our shores of North America brought with them their favorite seeds. The Native Americans shared more seeds with them, keeping them from starvation. What if England had not allowed those Pilgrims to save and bring their own seeds? How different our history would’ve been! Seed saving is as individual a right as any article of the Constitution and Europeans are smart to stop the regulations before they take hold. Would you march for seeds in this country? Does it take much for you to imagine the US making laws that govern our seed supply? Can you say Monsanto?

This spring I hope you’ll consider planting an open pollinated seed and letting it grow, away from other plants like it, so it won’t crossbreed. Consider sharing a few with a friend or neighbor. When it’s time, pick a few leaves or beans or whatever it bears, leaving some to stay on the plant. Leave it alone then. Let it simply sit there storing all its’ remaining energy in the seeds that its’ forming. When the plant dies and when the seed pods are fully dry, pick them then and store them away for next year. Seeds are the best insurance money can’t buy. In brutally difficult times, seeds have been used in place of money. Could that happen again? Do you want our seeds to be regulated in any way? Neither do I.

I haven’t done a lot of seed saving because I don’t have a lot of growing room and because seeds have historically been so cheap and readily available. Seed saving can be a gamble if not done properly, and, by nature, I’m not much of a gambler. Hybrid seeds are dependable, cheap and easier to grow than open pollinated for the most part. BUT they’re  a false insurance, offering absolutely no protection for the future-you know, our grandchildren for example. I’ve written here a couple of times about saving seeds from my beloved Hopi Lima Beans..


and I’ve saved cilantro, edamame and a few others but I think it’s time I begin to learn the complexities and vagaries of seed saving from plants that would truly offer lots of flavor and nutrition in case of ‘hard times’ or seed regulations. I also like the idea of learning a new skill. If seed saving is something that interests you, I suggest reading a book titled “The Resilient Gardener” by Carol Depp. Even if you decide not to save any seeds, it’s an interesting read and may inspire you to give it a try.

Since today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, I’ll be part of the noon parade to commemorate his life and the struggles that blacks have gone through to gain their personal freedoms. How appropriate that Europeans are marching for theirs today as well! I’m using the day as a reminder to protect my own freedoms. I hope you’ll join me!


And the beet goes on…

My beloved grandmother died 10 years ago today, at the age of 100. She taught me a lot of things growing up; from useless nonsense like: “Never wear white shoes after Labor Day”,  to priceless information on how to cook vegetables and raise “Food”…

organic food

But this Southern girl had never eaten, nor even seen, a parsnip, until I married my London-born husband. Nor did I care to. His love for this carrot-like root vegetable prevailed however, and now I love them as much as he does. So much so that I now plant them in my fall garden. Much like cool weather greens, parsnips ‘sweeten up’ after a few hard frosts. Since we recently had some nights down in the teens, I figured that was cold enough to sweeten them, so I walked down to my plot in the community garden today and harvested some of the parsnips and carrots I’d planted there last August. Aren’t they beautiful? They look good enough to eat, huh?


I harvested 5 pounds of those fat, stubby carrots that grow so well in the fall, and 3 pounds of the parsnips, along with some ‘spring’ onions too! None of these veggies were protected in any way except for a 2″ ‘blanket’ of shredded leaves, proving that you don’t have to use expensive greenhouses or heavy cold frames or even plastic covered hoops for these cold-hardy varieties. As an experiment though, I decided to leave some of them in the ground because I’m curious to see how they fare after being in the ‘deep freeze’ we’re expecting next week-temps are predicted to be -4 Monday night! I’m hopeful they won’t freeze and get mushy but the only way to find out is to let them be. I’ll post later to let you know how they fare. I couldn’t bear to lose a single beet though so I harvested all of them.

Even though this time of year can certainly cause the window of locally grown foods to narrow considerably, there are still many fresh foods that can survive winter growing conditions or can be stored fresh without any or much preservation. Last week I took the fourth cutting of broccoli side shoots since the main heads were cut in early October and harvested 2 fresh heads of cabbage at the same time. Brussels sprouts look like they’re surviving with the sheet of plastic I put over them around Thanksgiving. I’m harvesting kale and parsley from my hoop house twice a week, but I’m pretty sure I lost my Swiss Chard during the recent cold night when the wind took the plastic off the hoops that covered the plants. That happened a few years ago, and even though the plants looked completely dead I left them in the ground, and because they are biennials, they literally came back to life the following spring in a beautiful flush of growth! I’m hoping for the same this time too, because I failed to save the seeds from those plants that reinvented themselves in spite of the odds, but you can be sure I will this time if I get a repeat performance. I did notice that the tiny spinach and bitter greens that were in that same hoop house didn’t seem to be bothered too much by the unfortunate exposure so I fully expect to be eating them by late February. 


I went to the grocery store today and noticed price increases in canned beans, tomatoes and milk. I suspect that may be due to the continuing severe drought in California. It’s been said that our next wars will be over water instead of oil. Those of us lucky enough to live in a place with an annual rainfall of 52 inches don’t have to worry too much but that could change tomorrow. I like knowing that I can grow fresh food year round with very little irrigation necessary, but a few rain barrels under the downspouts is still a good insurance policy! But there’s been no increase in the costs of my beans and tomatoes-in fact, I want to show you the last four Longkeeper tomatoes I have been waiting on to ripen-we ate fresh tomatoes in our salads the day after Christmas and I suspect these last ones will fully ripen in the next week or two… note to self: plant earlier next summer so we’ll have enough to last through more of the winter.


Starting the new year with boxes of locally grown apples and tangelos from Florida, white and sweet potatoes that still have our garden’s dirt clinging to them, baskets of butternut squashes, garlic and shallot bulbs, and all the other canned, frozen and dried goodies that I’ve put up and written about in the pages of this blog gives me a sense of gratitude and comfort. Having the skills needed to provide yourself with good food, regardless of winter storms or droughts, regardless of Peak Oil or ruined Fukushima nuclear reactors, will hold you steady all your life. No doubt I’ll suffer some losses to this extreme cold snap that’s headed our way-probably my beautiful rosemary bush or some of the fruits and berries that were planted last summer. But it’s not the end of the world, and the setbacks continue to teach me new lessons that were begun by my grandmother 60 years ago. The BEET goes on.


Loco for Local
October 31, 2013, 4:52 PM
Filed under: Climate Change, Growing Food, Local Food, mulch, Resilience, Seed Saving, Sustainability | Tags: ,

I attended a lecture last night at Emory and Henry College given by Gary Nahban, a renowned scientist and local foods pioneer. He explained that with the challenges that climate change presents for gardeners, farmers and ranchers, there are ‘best practices’ that are being developed and already being used (in the Southwest) to address those challenges. Practices like building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soil, (by adding compost and organic matter) protecting our gardens and fields from damaging winds, drought and floods by planting trees, harvesting rainwater, and creating swales and raingardens, reducing heat stress on crops and livestock and, selecting fruits, nuts, succulents and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to a warmer, drier climate can all be used to coax production and increase sustainability. One other thing that he is a big proponent of is seed saving. Seeds saved from plants that have been isolated from other varieties like it and that produced healthy offspring without being coddled during their production periods are going to be the best candidates. Seed saving is a radical resilience idea by the way, something I’ve written about ad nauseum in this blog.

I’ve been thinking about handing out little packets of Hopi Orange Lima Bean seeds tonight, right along with the little candy bars, to my Trick or Treaters. The seeds are not only beautiful, they just happen to be Halloween colors! So, what do you think? Have I gone completely ‘loco for local’ with this idea?


I’ve long been fascinated with these beans, because I happen to believe the Native Americans knew what the hell they were doing and all we need to do is relearn what they figured out long ago to continue to thrive on this warming planet, while using fewer resources to do it. The plants are extremely drought and heat resistant and when dried, can be ground for flour too. The flour can then be used to dredge tasty little goblins in before adding to the kettle:


Happy Halloween Ya’ll! Stay safe tonight!

Just Sayin’…

hopi beans

It’s time again for a little of this and a little of that…things I’d like you to know about if you don’t already, things that interest me, things that might help you in  your own personal journey to freedom-however you might define that. None of these things would make a full length post, but still-I thought you might want to know -just sayin’...

1. Tennessee’s annual tax-free holiday weekend begins at 12:01 a.m on Friday, August 2 and ends Sunday, August 4 at 11:59 p.m. If you’re planning to buy school clothes, school supplies, or a new computer, THIS is the time. Here’s a list of everything that’s eligible:


2. It’s time to start planning for a fall garden. My friend Emily wrote today: “There’s still time and so much more to plant! •Beets • Kale • Broccoli • Kohlrabi • Chinese Cabbage • Lettuce • Cabbage • Radishes • Carrots • Scallions • Cauliflower • Spinach • Chicory • Turnips • Collards • Swiss Chard”. Like she says, there are a number of things that will do well before really cold weather, if your soil is vibrant and healthy.. I was left with seed potatoes from this spring so I planted them last night and should get a crop of ‘new potatoes’ (the small ones that don’t develop tough storage-quality skins) before cold weather. PLUS we are in a waning moon phase, which is the best for planting underground crops like beets, onions and yep, ‘taters! I plan to start seeds tomorrow for bok choy and will set out my late June planted Longkeeper Tomatoes next week. They’re about this high now and should produce a good crop of fresh tomatoes that, with any luck, we’ll be eating fresh on Valentine’s Day! They’re not as good as summer grown tomatoes, but a whole lot better than Florida grown winter tomatoes. AND they’re not GM tomatoes. AND they’re locally grown. AND I’ll be eating them fresh this winter. Just sayin…

3. So, what if your soil isn’t vibrant and healthy? I think the best advice I could give you would be to clear it off of old plant debris as soon as your plants have spent themselves, add chopped leaves, compost, aged or composted manures, and then plant a green cover crop of buckwheat. It’ll flower in a month and give the bees something to eat during the waning days of summer when not much else is blooming. Once it blooms, but before it goes to seed, cut it down, and replant the area to a cold weather green manure that can stay in place until spring. My personal favorite is Crimson Clover, but many folks like winter rye or hairy vetch. The clover seed was $3 a pound this year-last year it was $1.65 a pound at the same store! I’m thinking I’ll plant a separate patch and let it go to seed so that I can harvest my own next spring-just in case it shoots up to $5 a pound next fall. Seed saving is the most critical gardening skill you can have if you want to be self-sufficient and sustainable. Just sayin’…

4. I was recently honored to be asked to be a member of the Board for the  Tweetsie Historic Trail Association (THTA), a local non-profit organization whose objective is to assist in the creation of the multi-use Tweetsie Trail between Johnson City, TN and Elizabethton, TN, a neighboring town 10 miles away. Here’s a link to our website:


Johnson City purchased the old Tweetsie Railroad System last year and has now formed a powerful Task Force that is charged with seeing the former route become a biking, hiking and recreational reality. The Task Force met this week at the Memorial Park Community Center and I was frankly AMAZED at all that’s going into this project.  Here’s a link to a story about the meeting, written by a Times reporter that was also there, so I won’t bother to rewrite it for you now: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/article/109866/rails-to-trails-task-force-sets-pace-for-new-10-mile-recreational-trail-between-johnson-city-elizabethton

So what do sales tax exemptions, fall gardens and rails-to-trails conversions have to do with the focus of this blog?  A lot actually. Finding ways to lower our income and energy needs, whether directly, like using money-saving strategies or indirectly, like learning  to grow and preserve our own food and health, can offer each of us a sense of self sufficiency and resiliency that many of us are seeking in our lives. Preserving green spaces and utilizing energy-free transportation methods are investments that we’ll all reap the benefits from, long after the last oil well is dried up. Participating in groups like these offer us an enlivened sense of community well-being.  Another THTA board member told me that the railroad retains the right to reclaim this railway, should the need ever arise to resume rail car deliveries of goods and/or people. The assumption is that Peak Oil will indeed necessitate the need for the railroad to reclaim it eventually. Just sayin…


It’s Frugal Friday again!

As Detroit signs the papers on their 18 BILLION dollar bankruptcy case, leaving many of their city workers without health care or pensions, I’m doing all I can to avoid bankruptcy and stay healthy in my own little ways.

That said, here’s some of the little things I’ve done this week to save a dime or two:

Last Saturday: Found a deluxe wire grill basket at the thrift store for $10 but felt that was a bit high. Went back on Wednesday, after thinking about it for 4 days, and it was marked down to $6.oo! Just in time for grilling all these fresh summer veggies from the garden. Savings: $4.00

Sunday: Made a day- long car trip so packed a tuna sandwich, chips and a drink from home for my lunch. Stopped at a beautiful overlook in the mountains to eat. Savings: About $5.00 I’m Lovin’ It!

Monday: Had to accompany Michael to doctor in the morning for some testing and knew ahead of time it was going to be a few hours. Took my library book so I could avoid shooting the newscaster on FOX TV, my own mug of coffee, along with a fresh peach and some trail mix to munch on. Savings:  About $5.oo on snacks, plus a life 😉

Tuesday: Harvested about 30 pounds of potatoes from my little patch. Cost to plant: $2.50  Savings: 30 pounds of organic potatoes- Are you kidding? About $60.00 I’d say!


Wednesday: Pulled the straw off the old potato patch (see Tuesday), and used it to cover a patch of newly planted grass seed in my yard. Savings: $4 for another bale of straw and about 30 cents on the grass seed because Master Gardener’s get a 10% discount at the local garden store! Mailed my daughter a card that I’d saved from my mother’s stash after she passed away, and glued an uncancelled stamp that was peeled off a piece of mail that I’d received. Additional Savings: At least $1.00 for stamp and card

Thursday: Used the.last.bit. of toothpaste from the tube that was ’empty’ over two weeks ago. I always cut the tops of ’empty’ tubes off and dip my brush down in the open tube, allowing me many more cleanings before it’s REALLY empty! Like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASavings? Enough to make the quick ‘snip’ worthwhile!

Today: Harvested seeds from my heirloom slo-bolt cilantro, along with enough chamomile flowers to make several cups of tea, which is good as a sleep aid or to dispel stomach gas. Savings: $2.50 for the original  packet of seeds and perhaps $1 for two cups of  organic tea. Not to mention the rich feeling of self reliance and sustainability growing herbs and saving seeds gives me.


OK, it’s your turn again! What did you do this week to save a dime or a dollar? Comment below so we can all benefit. A dollar saved… yada yada yada…

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