Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sort seed easy with gravity and water

Seed Saving Tip 4 - Get Nature to do the Sorting - gravity and water

A great many techniques, both wet and dry, ultimately use the difference in mass between chaff and seed to sort quickly. And now an example:


Young magenta spreen, Chenopodium gigantium.

I noticed that small birds like sparrow and chickadee were plucking at the Magenta Spreen so I figured that they must be ripe. It is a gigantic relative of lamb's quarters with a striking fushia centres in early growth. Here is when I get experimental.


Mature plants have sturdy stems up around 6-8 feet tall in my garden. As the season nears its end, they regain their brilliant colouration resembling fall leaves.

Early, I had cut some mature seedheads for indoor drying because the weather is attempting to break another record making this an exceptionally rainy September.


Dry seedheads

I rubbed off the seeds with chaff into a bowl and discarded the stems. Since I'm a lazy gardener, I normally stop here but for the sake of public knowledge dissemination, I thought I'd try and clean the chaff from the seed this time.


The seeds are enveloped in chaff coats that resemble tiny stars when rubbed off. The seeds are round and black.

First I rubbed the seeds gently against a screen but that didn't seem particularly more effective them rubbing them with my hands and I didn't want to scratch them too much so I went back to rubbing them between my fingers.


I tried rubbing across a screen but something about me just likes to get my hands in. It took me forever to start wearing gloves when gardening because I loved to feel the dirt. Only my hands didn't cope well with the drying and abrasive affect of the soil.

To separate the chaff that I had loosened from the small, black seeds, I poured them from one bowl to another - a version of winnowing. Result: fail.


Winnowing in this way is a highly effective technique for separating many seeds from chaff if the chaff is easily blown away by the wind and the seeds are comparitively heavier. This didn't seem to work with these seeds. At least not with today's weather.

Then I chatted with a seed saving friend and he said, why don't you try water separation?

I said, "Indeed why not?"


Still plenty of greenish coloured chaff.

I poured the mess into water. The seeds didn't wet easily so I had to give it a stir and let the seeds settle out for a minute or two.


You can see the good seed at the bottom of the bowl.

The chaff, some seeds - yes, some are lost but we are talking a seed generous Chenopodium here, were poured off the top, leaving the dark clump of nearly pure seed to be strained from the bottom. I did this twice to get the most seeds and the least chaff.


Bye, bye chaff.

The seeds were plopped onto some paper towels then squeezed a bit drier. The fact that water didn't seem to adhere easily made them easy to dry and easy to dump off onto more dry paper towel for final drying. This needs to be done fast so they don't sprout or spoil.


Clean magenta spreen seed.

Thanks nature.

Would you like some magenta spreen seeds? Well you are in luck. I have many more seeds heads to process now that I know what to do. Send me an email - right hand side - and I'll send you seeds.


Winnowing works: Processing Amaranth seed by Orlo

Wet processing seed - Tomatillo example

Monday, September 27, 2010

Still Harvest(ing) Tomatoes Monday

The cross over harvest of both warm and cool crops.

Some of my tomatoes have burst in the irregular fall rains but the plants are still pumping out fruit. I have only now started to see signs of tomato chickenpox though I am not which spotty disease they have.

First Frost Watch 2010

Cloudy skies and wet weather has kept the white death off the tender plants. So far the longterm forecast is calling for more of the same, but any day now, the skies could open and the cold could settle. Some factiods follow:

Average First Frost for Ottawa - often quoted - October 5th

Farmzone - Weather Network - claims that the records for today were -2C and 28C. Last year, we had a frost skimming minimum of 4C

Predictions are for a La Nina winter and to quote wiki "In Canada, La Niña will generally cause a cooler, snowier winter, such as the near record-breaking amounts of snow recorded in the La Niña winter of 2007/2008 in Eastern Canada" According to NAOO, it is not clear how strong it will be. Oh goody.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wet Processing Seeds - Tip 3

Back on the seed riff, I'm processing tomatoes and other nightshades for seed saving as well as some melons and cucumbers that benefit from wet processing methods. Simply put, this is the add water version of seed saving.

Seed from Tomatillos
(and Eggplants/Aubergines)- The Fast Way?

Though you can just crush these paper encased balls of goodness with your hands, add liberal water and let gravity do the sorting, a sped up version is using a food processor so I thought I'd try it out.

Here are some nice ripe* tomatillos, past la salsa verde stage. I plopped them in a food processor with lots of water. Mine were cut in half.




They were then poured into my gravity driven settling tank.


Hour an hour later, I scooped of the light floaty stuff which is mostly flesh and nonviable seed then poured the top layer of liquid off.


I added more clean water and removed the the last bits of debris ...


... then strained through a seive.


The cleaned seeds were spread on a couple layers of paper towel though paper plates are better.


Was that easier than squishing it up in my hands? It was faster, cleaner and the whizzing part was lots of fun.

* One of these tomatillos that I was eating was filled with teeny baby plants that had germinated inside the fruit. I noticed this right away as it tasted bitter, a consequence of alkoloids inside the green cotyledons I'm sure. I have heard of this a couple times with tomatoes and is a counter argument against letting the fruit get ripe on the edge of rotting before processing for seed in plants that show this tendency. All I can figure is that for some genetic or environmental reason, they lack sufficient germination inhibitors around their seed coat to prevent this.

Cucumbers and eggplants will be well beyond the eating stage when they are ripe enough to save seed from.


Wet Processing - common plants

Squishy nightshades - tomatoes - Though you can simply remove the tomato seeds and rub off the gel capsules around them then dry and save, it is advised that they go through a period of fermentation to remove germination inhibitors and pathogens that remain on the seed coat. Some people just wash their tomato seeds with bleach - picture essay at Wintersown - and others like at Tatianna's Tomatobase combine the two methods.

Simply put, you squish out the tomato seeds and surrounding juice or scoop out depending on your tomato into a container. Add water if the flesh is very dry. Leave somewhere warm and sheltered (such as inside) for the fermentation process to begin. This can be a stinky process though I am not that nauseated by it. When a lovely whitish film has grown across the top - usually after a couple of days, pour off the gross stuff and save the heavy seeds at the bottom. Dry well!!

Sunberries are also squishy but I have to admit that I have never tried fermenting them. Anyone?

Dense nightshades - eggplants, tomatillos - Add the dense flesh into a bowl with water and then squish or mash it up until the seeds are released and fall to the bottom. Let this settle then scoop off the junk and pour off the water. Dry your seeds well! A quicker process, featured above, is scooping the seedy flesh into a food processor. Add lots of water. Whiz this all up a bit and pour into a container for settling. Pour off the stuff on top and save the good seeds that will have settled into the bottom.

Cucumbers - Scoop out seeds into a container with water. Let this stew for a couple of days to remove the germination inhibiting gel that surrounds the seeds. It may undergo a fermentation process similiar to tomatoes removing pathogens on the seed coat. Don't forget to have very dry seeds before putting away (yes I plan on repeating this with every item). Fellow Canadian Garden blogger in Toronto at the Urban Veggie Garden Blog demonstrates with suitably disgusting fermentation picture.

Melons, Pumpkins and the like - Really this is a method of seed sorting. Scrape the seeds into a large container and add water. Rub the guk between your hands until the seeds are free. Let it settle - this will take an hour or so. The 'bad' seeds and debris should float. Scoop this off the top then pour off the water. The good seeds will sink. Dry those thoroughly and save.

I've also seen people place the seeds in a strainer and run water over it, rubbing the seeds against the strainer to remove the stringy bits, such as at the blog My Life as Chuys.

Incidentally, rose seeds and others that are surrounded by wet goop are often processed in the similar ways.


Wet-cleaning from ohioseed - they are much smarter than me when it comes to drying seed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harvest Monday - Caption that Carrot

-- Your caption here -- This carrot must have gotten a bit too much nitrogen which I don't supplmentally provide so unless it was extra rich compost or a variety that is just prone to branching, I have to wonder what protein rich source stewed here... ew.

We are in the transition time where tenders like tomatoes and beans are still filling baskets but fall crops like kale and carrots are plumping up. In a couple of weeks, fresh harvest will transform from gazpachos and french cut beans to frosty green salads and hardy root stews. But I can't help but sampling a few roots now.

The crosnes are plumping up.

Talk about weird looking veg, here are some Stachys affinis

The greens and roots of self seeded salsify, black skinned scorzonera (both called oyster root) and even dandelion are edible - though I don't plan on eating the dandelion roots, just their greens. Roots will improve in flavour as starch is converted to sugar to act as an antifreeze after the first couple frosts but I'm willing to give them a taste test now.

Salad and main course.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An award and obligatory 'about me' post

Thanks to these two bloggers, GrowChew and Apron Strings that kindly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger award.

It was a dark and stormy day when Canadian Organic Growers set up for their annual Feast of Fields.

Apparently I am to send this to several (many) bloggers that I have recently discovered. Hooboy, what with buying a property and all the stuff that goes with that, and carschooling (that's homeschooling with a lot of car time to different events), volunteering etc..., I got to admit that I have not been playing blog bounce much recently but I'll do my best. I am also supposed to tell you 7 things about myself. Given that I am being time squeezed - imagine me passing through life's narrow corridors with big probjects - I will be interspering this with photos of the fantastic Feast of Fields held by the Canadian Organic Growers of Ottawa of which I am a proud member. Fact #1

Fact # 2 I was born in what I thought was spring in February in Victoria on the fair ile of Vancouver. Then I moved East and realized it was one of the coldest, darkest days of the year.

Fact # 3 I majored in geology with a minor in philosophy. They go together like a balanced meal and have given me fuel for further investigations which rarely have anything directly to do with rocks or D.W.G.s.

Fact # 4 I like alliteration too much.

Chefs and farmers formed formadible food teams crafting incredible concoctions.

Fact # 5 I am a compulsive seed saver and sower - wait you probably already realized that.

Fact # 6 My first name is the contraction of two verbs for vocalizations and is Thibetan, either a surname or a man's first name. Actually, I suspect that the story about why I have such an unusual name is fabricated but it's nice to have good stories in our lives, right? What is it? If you request free seed or trade seed with me, I write it on the envelope. :)

The people came with china plates extended in hand to receive organic, local goodness. It rained but they stayed to sample from the dessert tent.

Fact # 7 - My eyes are a dark green with gold flecks not brown. I like brown a lot but that is not their colour. The fact that I care, and have written hazel on my passport application makes me wonder about myself. I like to say that I am sensitive to colour.

Satiated, they left to complete their Sunday rest.

Bloggers that I'd like to nominate:

1. In the Toad's Garden - I love visiting this blog. The writer comes across as inquizzitive and friendly and in love with plants. What more could you want?

2. Mas du Diable - Not a new one for me but worth a visit. Looks like the centrefold of a garden mag with lots of information.

3. Growing Oca - Everything you may need to know about this rare crop.

4. Window on the Prairie- Insight into agricultural live on the prairie in Kansas. Very slick looking and popular blog.

5. Garden Therapy - The artist comes out in the photos and the gardener comes out in the posts. Food is queen at this blog. Besides, I have to appreciate anyone who buys tomatoes for seeds...

6. Sicilian Sisters Grow Some Food - Urban. Farming. Extradonaire. I'm breaking the rules again in that she is not a blogger that I have just discovered but I have yet to give her blog a mention so thank me after you visit.

7. Shack in the Middle - A curious eye on the countryside.

That's only seven, I know, but here is number 8: Greens and Jeans - the winner of my little, make a seed bouquet contest. There are lots of other fab bloggers out there that I should post about sometime but they are not new stumbles but old faithfuls that always deliver the gardening goods.



1. Thank the person who gave you this award

2. Nominate more people - 15? (snicker, oh the chain letter effect)

3. Tell seven things about yourself

Monday, September 6, 2010

Kid's Pick Harvest Monday

Happy Labour Day Everyone! In what I have to assume is deference to the snow that will be arriving in a few short months, we are no longer allowed to wear white after today.

My youngest was outside playing wild animal and picking sunberry, a small solanum berry that tastes somewhat like you would expect a blue coloured berry to taste like with a twist of tomato. It can be eaten raw but is supposed to be even better cooked. This was her idea of the perfect 'pose.' The sunberry is to the right of the picture. The plant in front is dame's rocket.

Before, I run off to the celebrations, here's what I'm harvesting. Solanum fruits are still coming in strong such as tomato, perennial ground cherry and self seeded sunberry.

Self seeded Red Ursa kale and Bietina chard.

The greens haven't stopped and those biennials that were self seeded babies in the spring are really coming into their own now such as kale and chard. The annuals like magenta spreen and orach have spectacularly bolted to towers up to 8 feet tall.

Many seeds, including edibles which brings me to my latest riff - seed saving tips, and the seed bouquet contest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Seed Saving Season
Tip 2 & Contest Alert

The row of asparagus at the back was started from seed from a population that was somewhere else on the property originally. Isn't it gorgeous? BTW: This is a picture from our new property (assuming nothing goes awry). Notice the field of squash in front of it. That's a lot of plants. Oh and please ignore the corn chip bag. In my defence, I was in a hurry and we had to spend the day there doing inspections so my kids ate chips okay!

Tip 2: Take a few from many, not many from few.
The Rule

When saving seeds, it is almost always better to take a few seeds from lots of different plants, preferably from different populations, then a whole lot of seed from just one plant. In this way, you increase your chances of having a diverse genetic population which will help your plants adapt to your growing conditions and the various curve balls sent from nature like insect plagues, disease and adverse weather.

If collecting from wild populations, be aware of whether the plant is rare or protected. If it is dirt common - like dandelions - then there is probably no harm in collecting lots but if it is rare then you may want to skip the seed collection or take a very few and give extra care to those plants. Afterall, you will be protecting a rare species. There may be rules against any sort of collection on protected plants.

Breaking the rules on purpose

Sometimes, you'll have a plant that is very different from its neighbours and you may want to try saving seeds from just that one to see if it will produce offspring that display its special characteristics. Other times, it may just be one part of the plant that has different fruit, flower colour, leaf shape etc... Assuming that there is no pathological cause, it might be a sport. This may mean that, that particular part of the plant has a different genetic makeup than the rest of it. I have read of people saving seed separately from sports so it is worth a shot to see what happens, or you can try vegetatively propagating the sport.

Diablo Ninebark being a 'bad sport' and growing a branch that has reverted to its usual green colour. Actually I like all colours of this native shrub even the original.

Rules are for other people?

Okay, if you really only have a very small population of plant X and really want to save seeds then you need to know plant X's reproductive style. Is it an outbreeder or an inbreeder? How is it pollinated? Is it self incompatible? Peas pollinate themselves and are inbreeders so they don't suffer from inbreeding depression. So you can save from one plant and still get vigorous offspring. BUT, it is always better to save from more plants to take advantage of hidden genetic gems which would otherwise be lost.


Make a Seed Bouquet. If you do, I promise to send someone a cool gardening book of my choice once I unpack stuff at my new house OR an assortment of seeds - unlabelled, like a grab bag... alright, I'll even label them.

After receiving entries, I'll choose at random for the winner but there may be honorary prizes for people who try hard. (If you are the only entrant, you are sure to win - incentive eh?) Show your seeds!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Seed Saving Season

Parsley seedheads doubly as bouquet.

During the harvest frenzy, don't forget to collect one of the most important products of your garden: seeds. Instead of writing a giant, indigestable tome on seed saving (for excellent references, get Seed to Seed by Ashcroft or Deppe's How to Breed your own Veggies), I'm going to write a series of quick, light seed saving tips.

Tip 1: Most seed needs to be dry*

Putting away moist seed, means that it will more likely rot or grow fuzzy mould in storage making it unusable. I like to place most of my collected seeds on plates in an airy (but not breezy) place for a week or so to dry after I harvest them.

You can also make a bouquet of seedheads and place them in a dry vase to act as a late summer centrepiece. As long as you cat stays clear... you will get beauty during the final drying process. Some pretty seedheads are orach, amaranth, carrots, even corn or other grasses.

Here's a challenge: I dare you to make a display and post it on your blog. It won't be hard to do better than my pure parsley heads.

* Some seeds need to be moist packed to remain viable or so it will more readily germinate and to prevent deep dormancy. These are usually from plants whose environments are moist (or wet).