Our spring growing season has officially begun! We started our first round of seeds in the greenhouse this past weekend, and some seedlings are already poking their heads up through the soil. Ever since Kevin and I started the seeds for my first garden years ago, the process has always struck me as magical. It still inspires me to watch a tiny seed, fed with the simple ingredients of moisture, heat, and nutritious soil, become a plant that can feed us all season. It is thrilling to see new signs of germination in a different crop each day, and noticeable growth from yesterday’s tiny seedlings. Time flies, and I know it won’t be long before we’re transplanting these babies out into the great big world, and then not much longer until we’re enjoying their bounty!
If you’re planning to start a garden for the first time this year, there are lots of books and other publications out there (sometimes to the point of overwhelm!). Ron and Jennifer Kujawski’s Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbookand The Sustainable Vegetable Garden: A Backyard Guide to Healthy Soil and Higher Yields by John Jeavons and Carol Cox may be good places to start. If you’re looking to dive into more resources (whether this is your first growing season or your tenth—there is always more to learn!), I compiled a list of some that have been useful to us in this blog entry last year. We love learning and exchanging knowledge, and would love to hear about your go-to gardening resources, too!
This sweet little bee ventured out on a warm day into the high tunnel. Don't get ahead of yourself, my friend!
Okay, not literally. But you know I can’t resist a story about seeds and seed sovereignty! So I was thrilled to come across this episode of the Wisconsin Public Radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge all about the topic. Listen for 4 stories exploring the question “Who owns seeds?”
The show’s description reads “It's easy to take seeds for granted, to assume that there will always be more corn or wheat or rice to plant. But as monocropping and agribusiness continue to dominate modern farming, are we losing genetic diversity, cultural history, and the nutritional value of our food? We speak to farmers, botanists and indigenous people about how they are reclaiming our seeds.”
In the midst of the current crisis, lots of folks are starting their own vegetable gardens for the first time or digging into existing gardens with a greater sense of purpose. There can never be too many vegetable gardens, as far as we’re concerned, and growing some of what you eat, even if it’s just a few herbs or a potted tomato plant on your deck, is such an empowering way of connecting with your food. I will never forget the thrill of growing our first garden eight years ago--the magic of sprouting seeds and the intense satisfaction of eating our first harvest.
It’s inspiring to see so many of our neighbors and friends turning over ground to start their own coronavirus victory gardens for food security and for the joy of watching plants thrive under loving care. In a time with so much unknown, when many are feeling disconnected from the world we’re used to, it can be profoundly grounding and empowering to put your hands in the dirt and to know in the deepest way where our nourishment comes from.
Growing food is a continual learning experience (part of what keeps it interesting!), but here are a few online resources we have found really useful in our ongoing garden education:
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Growing Guides are a great place to start. They are very thorough, covering everything from seed starting and growing for biodiversity to crop-specific guides for just about any vegetable you’d want to grow.
Seed Saver’s Exchange also has a very good library of articles on all aspects of the vegetable garden, including site planning, crop-specific growing guides, and seed saving information.
Your county extension office is an incredible resource (shout out to our amazing horticulture agent, Faye Kuosman!). They can help you with soil testing (a key step to garden success!), troubleshooting, and connecting you with all the resources you need. The UK Extension Office’s guide to Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky is a useful reference, as well.
We haven’t used Territorial Seed’s Garden Planner App yet, but it looks like a user-friendly way to keep track of all of your garden planning information in one place (rather than our approach of massive spreadsheets!). I want to give it a try in the future.
The Bionutrient Food Association has a vast library of documents, videos, and book recommendations available online. They tend to be more advanced, for experienced growers wanting to increase nutrient content in their crops by creating a super healthy soil food web.
The University of Kentucky’s Center for Crop Diversification is geared toward professional growers growing on a large scale, but its crop profiles and maps contain a lot of good information.
I really enjoy listening to the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, in which host and experienced organic farmer Chris Blanchard has down to earth conversations with other farmers about their operations and experiences. Unfortunately, Chris Blanchard passed away in 2018, but there is a hefty archive of past episodes to listen to while you work.
We learn so much every growing season, from publications, from other farmers, and from the garden itself. It is so exciting to see many others jumping enthusiastically into growing food. Please let us know if we can share our experiences to help you get started!
Many seed companies have been inundated with orders this spring and many are sold out or are suspending orders to catch up. We have some little plants ready to go into your garden, ranging from cilantro and basil to okra and peppers from our own saved seeds and heirloom tomatoes. We also have a set of edible flower plants to make your harvest as beautiful as it is delicious!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of seed saving and the work of seed banks such as the World Vegetable Center. I want to share a wonderful update from the world of seed saving that I read recently. According to this article in The Guardian, the Cherokee Nation is depositing seeds from nine of its most culturally important crops in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed repository known as the “doomsday vault,” located deep in a Norwegian mountain above the Arctic Circle.
Various seed banks have been destroyed due to war, natural disasters, and the affects of climate change, losing precious crop seed forever. The carefully built Svalbard vault stores backup copies of acquisitions from seed banks all over the world with the intention of preserving crop diversity for thousands of years. The Cherokee are depositing seeds from four types of corn, four types of beans, and candy roaster squash (a delicious variety that we grow at Dandelion Ridge Farm!). These crops have been integral to Cherokee culture for many generations.
Incredibly, the only other seeds from an indigenous community in the Svalbard Vault are potatoes from the Quechua people of the Andes. Indigenous peoples around the world domesticated most of the food plants we all know and enjoy, and many varieties that are vital to their diets and ways of life. Hopefully there will be many more of these seed deposits to come.
Packets of Cherokee white eagle corn seeds. Photograph: Stephanie Remer/Cherokee Nation Communications. Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.
The Franklin County Farmers’ Market is putting on anotherPop-Up Winter Market this Saturday, January 25, where we’ll be unveiling a couple of new products that we think will bring some sunshine to your winter: Roasted Tomato Juice and Pomodoro Tomato Jelly!
Over the summer, during peak tomato season, we slow-roasted our heirloom plum tomatoes to coax out as much flavor as possible, and canned the intense juice for a burst of tomato goodness any time of year. We think of the juice as a secret ingredient to add multi-layered tomato flavor—sweetness, tartness, and complexity—to all kinds of cooking. We use it like an intense stock: as the base of a soup, in a marinade, to cook grains, or to add an extra splash of flavor when roasting vegetables. Its high acid content makes it perfect for deglazing, as well. (Be aware that the acid in the tomato juice can affect the cooking of some beans and grains, so when in doubt, add the juice to already-cooked beans and grains). We like to experiment with the Roasted Tomato Juice and play in the kitchen and hope you do, too. Try it in this savory oatmeal recipe!
We also made some of the magical tomato juice into a really neat golden jelly that somehow has an almost honey-like or apple-like quality. It’s hard to describe the nuanced flavors that come through the Pomodoro Tomato Jelly—you’ll just have to try some!
You may have read about Dandelion Ridge Farm’s jar return program on the back of your canned good labels; for each jar returned to us, we will make a donation to a relevant cause. Roasted Tomato Juice jars prompt a donation to the Edible Schoolyard Program, which fosters a network of thousands of school gardens around the world, and creates edible education curricula. When you return a Pomodoro Jelly jar, we donate to the World Vegetable Center. This global non-profit develops nutrient-dense vegetable varieties and promotes efficient production methods to combat poverty and improve nutrition around the world. It also maintains an enormous bank of seeds and other plant genetic material, including about 12,000 specimens from indigenous vegetables around the world.
Seed saving, selecting, and sharing over the generations have developed an enormous diversity of vegetable varieties suited to the different situations, environments, needs, and priorities of the growers and their communities. Seed banks and libraries are invaluable repositories and caregivers of plant biodiversity that might otherwise be lost for reasons ranging from disuse and improper storage to natural disasters and climate change. This week, I learned about a beautiful art project celebrating and exploring the biodiversity within seed banks: Dornith Doherty’s Archiving Eden. Currently on display in Toronto, this interactive exhibition encourages visitors to exchange X-ray images of seeds with actual seeds of Canadian crops and wild plants. I was fascinated to learn of Doherty’s work here and hope you’ll find it inspiring, too!