Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister?

I was given a big bag of fava bean seed as the Seed Library of Los Angeles was clearing out some old seeds lately. The bag was labeled "Fava Beans, 2010"  I'm thinking "What is the longevity of fava beans anyway?" Most seeds figure to be close to dust over seven years (tomatoes being the common exception), but every so often, something was saved right and conditions all along favored longer life and the seeds will still sprout. I had no idea about fava bean seed, although, larger seeds seem to take longer to die than itty bitty ones (tomatoes definitely are the outliers!) 

Some quick research, I found a UC Davis article that said "When stored under favorable conditions, most bean seeds have a life expectancy of 3 years."  

It's hard to see, but this bag of fave bean seed is labeled 2010.
Good? Bad?
What to do?  

Gosh. At 8 years, 2010 to 2018 seems like a long shot! But here's a whole bag of the stuff, I would really hate to throw it away. I don't know any magic, but sometimes a 'germination test' feels like magic.

What Is a Germ Test And How Do You Do It?

Most seed savers abbreviate 'germination' into the monosyllable 'germ' and so you hear us talking about 'germ tests' not germination tests. Too much work to say all that! 

You will need a soft cloth or a paper towel. A water proof container - most folks use plastic zip lock bags. For this one, I used a bag that a loaf of bread came in and when I'm done, I'll wash it and use it again!

Lastly, of course, you'll need some seeds and some water.

Fava bean seeds are big and bulky. They are not the most convenient species to take a germ test. First time out, you might want to do corn, peas, regular beans - something substantial but not as bulky as a fava bean. 

The number of seeds you will use for a germ test will depend on how many seeds you have and how much mental energy you want to spend. Educators usually talk in terms of 100 seeds. The beauty of this is that when you're done, simple count up the number that sprouted and you have the real percentage of viable seeds. And that works if you dealing in farm size quantities, but if you have only 100 seeds to start with, you'll be using the germ test seeds to plant! It takes a good deal of patience to plant already sprouted seeds. 
The actual appearance of my finished germ test.
Five beans per row, four rows - 20 seeds total.

So here we are.  I only used four rows of five beans and even that was hard to keep in the paper towel roll!  That's twenty seeds, so to get my percentage, I count my sprouted bean seeds and multiply by five and that will be the percentage out of 100.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there are 12 sprouted seeds (and by the way, this test was only for five days, if I really wanted to push things, I could have easily kept the seeds in the roll for up to 10 days, getting an even higher percentage, but I was in a hurry for many reasons).  Twelve sprouted seeds times five is 60%, because, if you're math challenged like I am, it takes five times twenty to make 100 and that's how we find the percent. 

Now 60% germination will not win any real award, in fact it is illegal to sell seed with 60% germination.  But in this case, to use these beans up, I would plant 2 seeds for every plant I want.  If I was wanting to have a fava in every spot where I planted them, I might sow two seeds per spot and then put a couple seeds into 4" containers to fill in any hole that ended up empty.

So, yes ma'am. These are good seeds enough for home use. They'll spend the summer in a cool, dark and dry place (in the plastic bag in my fridge with the door closed almost all the time) and I'll plant them out this fall. Or, you might find some of them with the Seed Library Of Los Angeles where you'll get double the amount to make up for the low germination. 

Soon, I'll be showing off my black garbanzo beans I'm SO excited about.  Do stay tuned!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Food Plants From the Ark of Taste We Can Grow In Southern California

In our Mediterranean climate, we can grow a lot of different food plants – in fact, almost all of them. The only time we find difficulty in growing plants that thrive elsewhere is with the perennials and fruit trees. 

The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates.

Since 1996, more than 2,500 products from over 50 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste. Over 200 of these foods are from the USA, and we are always seeking more edible treasures to include.

The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, seed libraries, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country's diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage.

More information about discovering, nominating, tasting and championing Ark of Taste varieties can be found at:

Here are a list of many of the Ark of Taste plants we can grow in our SoCal gardens:

Algonquian Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
Amish Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) – this is one of my favorites
Amish Pie Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Arikara Yellow Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa)
Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Beaver Dam Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Bodega Red Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Bolita Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Boston Marrow Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Bradford Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus v. Bradford 1)
Brown and White Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) 
Burbank Tomato (I know it as “Burbank Slicing Tomato) (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Canada Crookneck Squash (Cucurbita moschata
Candy Roaster Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Chalk’s Early Jewel Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Chapalote Corn (Zea mays)
Cherokee Purple Tomato (Lycopersicon Lycopersicum)
Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Chiltepin Pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum)
Christmas Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus)
Crane Melon (Cucumis melo)
Datil Pepper (Capsicum chinense)
Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet (Beta vulgaris)
Early Rose Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Fish Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Four Corners Gold Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Garnet Chili Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
German Pink Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Gilfeather Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
Green Mountain Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Hanson Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Hayman Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas v. Hayman)
Hidatsa Red Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hinkelhatz Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Hopi Mottled Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
Hussli Tomato Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
I'Itoi Onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
Inchelium Red Garlic (Allium sativum)
Inciardi Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Jacob’s Cattle Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying pepper (Capiscum annuum)
Jimmy Red Corn (Zea mays indentata)
Kentucky Limestone Bibb Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
King Philip Corn (Zea mays)
Kleckley Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Landrace Red Creole Onion (Allium cepa)
Lina Cisco’s Bird Egg Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Livingston’s Globe Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Livingston’s Golden Queen Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata)
Makah Ozette Potato (Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigena)
Marrowfat Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Martin's Carrot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Mayflower Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Mississippi Silver Hull Bean-Crowder Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata)
Moon & Stars Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
New Mexican Native Chile Pepper (Capiscum annuum)
New Mexico Native Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica)
O'odham Pink Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Orange Oxheart Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Pantin Mamey Sapote (Pouteria sapota)
Purple Straw Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Red McClure Potato
Rio Zape Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Rockwell Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Roy’s Calais Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Santa Maria Pinquitos Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Sea Island White Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Seashore Black Rye (Secale cereale)
Seminole Pumpkin (chassa howitska) (Cucurbita moschata)
Seven Top Turnip (Brassica rapa)
Sheboygan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Sheepnose Pimiento (Capiscum annuum)
Sibley Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Spanish Roja Garlic (Allium sativum)
Speckled Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn (Zea mays)
Sudduth Strain Brandywine Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Tennis Ball Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Thelma Sanders Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
True Red Cranberry Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Craw Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Tuscarora White Corn (Zea mays)
Valencia Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Wenk’s Yellow Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
White African Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
White Cap Flint Corn (Zea mays)
White Sonora Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
White Velvet Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Yellow Cabbage Collard (Brassica oleracea)
Yellow-Meated Watermelon (Citrillus lanatus)

The beans, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes and wheats are very easy for saving seeds
The many okras, sorghums and squashes are a little harder but totally do-able.
Watermelons are hard to grow here, but if you can get it to grow, the good news is that no one will have a watermelon to cross pollinate your watermelon.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Getting Into Seed Saving - We All Started Somewhere

We have all been “beginning” seed savers at one time or another. While some have been at it their whole lives, others have come to the party much later in life; others have saved one seed, for example, tomato seed, but haven't bothered with anything else. We can become intimidated by the seemingly endless bits of information from plant to plant and, overwhelmed, through up our hands in despair and put off learning it until next year.

I think I would have done that same thing as well, except I had already scheduled a seminar with me teaching seed saving to about 50 people in 3 months. I was kind of under the gun. I knew of some seed saving, after all, I knew my grandfather had saved seeds – I well remember the kitchen table covered with newsprint and tomato seeds spread out to dry before being  put into envelopes saving for next year.

I dove into several books (see bibliography below), reading them and comparing notes and tried putting what I was reading into action as best I could. I learned that reading about seed saving had it's limits. Doing seed saving taught me much faster, although a little theory up front was necessary. It's just you don't learn how to save seeds by reading everything the world has written about seed saving. We learn by doing it. And everything is easy if you know how!

You will make mistakes. Usually, the mistakes can be eaten and that's the end of it. Some mistakes end up in the compost pile. No big deal. Accept that making mistakes is your price for admission to the club of seed savers.

Start out simple and small. Do not overwhelm yourself. Choose a vegetable from the “easy to save seeds” list. If you already put dry beans, peas or other legumes aside to be hydrated and cooked in the off season, you are already saving those seeds! The only thing you might change is to look the plants over before you harvest from them, looking for the plant that had the most, or the biggest, maybe the earliest or the latest beans. Whatever you fancy as a good visible trait in your beans. Mark the plant you find to be “the best” and save seeds from those several plants to plant next year. By doing that over and over again, you are “selecting” for that trait and by golly one day you might have a variety that is bigger, better, earlier or later to call your own!

Chose your first seed saving activity from this list:
Beans – of all kinds
Garbanzo beans

Self pollination is found in about 15% of all plants. It is really very predominate in the bean family, Fabacea, the grass family, Poacea – except for corn which is a plant unto its self. Some plants in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, do self-pollinate, others cross. Count on lettuce to always self but other sunflowerish plants to self only as a last resort.

Start with the self-pollinators as they are the easiest. You really have nothing to do but save the seeds! But what does that mean?

Seeds always come after the plant has flowered – in fact, as far as the plant is concerned, producing flowers, which then produce the seeds, is what it's all about. There is a bevy of jokes of poor taste here, but I'll leave it to your imagination. You never see lettuce flowers because your whole gardening career is to eat it before it bolts. (Remember the term, “gone to seed?” Like a referral to a once prosperous town that has fallen on hard times, could be said “It's just went to seed” as a derisive comment – our 'job' as gardeners is to get rid of those plants before they've gone to seed.) We've stood the traditional garden model on it's head.

(Working in my garden one day, in an area full of plants that had “gone to seed” - a man from the street called to me, “Is this your garden?” I said it was. Pointing to all the plants that were in various stages past prime eating time, “If this was my garden, I shoot myself!” because he was measuring it by a different metric. I saw seeds, he saw overgrown, tough plants.)

I have always believed that persistence and patience were the golden keys to gardening – and I think it's even more true for seed savers.

I'll go into specifics in later posts, but for right now I would like you to do two things. I'd like you to buy a notebook – or create a Word document – in which to track your seed saving experiences. I want you to be able to track your seeds through a couple of generations to see how well you are doing – or if it's just not happening for you, and I'd like to you read part of ONE book listed below. Lettuce season for us is about over – if you have one variety of lettuce you love, let one or two plants go to seed – just by leaving them alone – if they are isolated to where you can cut down – or eliminate – the water, all the better. You will see the flowers fade and, as the plant becomes ever less attractive, you'll begin to see little cups – where the flowers once were – full of seeds – maybe 10 to 20 seeds in each one. Viola! You have saved seeds! You'll need to make sure they are completely dry and then store them – cool, dark and dry – for next season.  More on that too!

If you have no lettuce left, get some beans in the ground and follow my advice above about saving the seeds that are more like what you want. I'll discuss how to store them in an upcoming blog (easy-peasy)! 


* observe your tomato flowers as they first open: do the inner parts of the tomato flower extend beyond the flower's tip? If so, you have a variety that can be pollinated by insects and is therefore not a “self-pollinating” tomato. This is more common in the old varieties of tomatoes, sadly, usually the ones you most want to save.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys ©1997, Henry Holt It is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish (NEWSFLASH: IT IS BACK IN PRINT!!!) It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book makes this to be the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Mother Earth News has the entire book on a CD – you can find it on their website – of course that's not a book, but you will have the data.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance © 2010 OSA This publication is a free download from It is a succinct guide with few frills but a great deal of good data. A free publication that is worth paying for! Organic Seed Alliance is a non-profit relying on contributions to fight the invasion of hybrids and GMO seeds in our lives. I suggest throwing a donation their way as they deserve it.

Breed Your Won Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing The subtitle gets more to our point: The Gardeners' and Farmers Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, I had bought this book about three years ago and, for whatever reason, I ignored it. In preparing to teach seed saving one more time,, the subtitle pulled me in: Suddenly, it was a different book. She is very, very funny and her stories of seed saving are heart warming; I felt I had met a kindred spirit – I want to drive to Oregon and 'shoot the compost' about seeds over a brew or tea or whatever she's having. 

These are the three I found the best.  Deppe's book (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) starts out with stuff I still do not understand, but half way through, the whole book changes into the  best stuff written about saving seeds and it is easily assimilated.  

When I teach seed saving the OSA guide is the one I recommend because it is free and, at 35 pages, it is always right on point.