The seeds, the seeds, the seeds of September are here!! We are SO excited to share to share another gardening season with you. We’re dreaming of cooler weather, golden sunlight, collards, carrots, beets and other garden treats.
Here in Gainesville, FL where we run our community seed bank, the Southern Heritage Seed Collective we stay busy all year growing, gathering and learning about good seeds for our climate that will do well in your garden! We look for varieties that are vigorous, do well in north Florida, are seasonally appropriate, taste good, and are backed by experience from local growers that have grown them.
As we roll out our seed collection this year, we’ll be highlighting some of the work going on behind the scenes to bring you good seed. From our work with the Farm to School to Work program, our learning trips to other seed farms, the down and dirty seed growing and cleaning at the farm, and many of our connections in the community.
Below is a list of our upcoming events. Come to one of the seed dispersals that fits your schedule. Mingle awhile with other gardeners, figure out what seeds you want to grow this year and go home with the most valuable thing money can buy: seeds that feed that us! Details for each event can be found on our calendar link to the right! —>
Full catalog description coming soon!
It’s not exactly seed-starting time for annual vegetable gardens in Florida. This is the time of year we take our break; the equivalent to northerners cozied up by the fire, with snow drifting outside, a stack of seed catalogs and a warm cup of tea in their laps. Instead we’re inside with the A/C going, waiting for it to cool down enough to go outside and enjoy the hardier plants like gingers, bananas and the like that don’t seem to mind the heat.
This is the time of year we’ve all (hopefully!) thrown in a cover crop or somehow mulched and covered the annual veggie garden to protect it from erosion and weed infestations. Summer is the time to re-group, gather supplies for fall, plan what to grow next season, and finish canning those tomatoes and pickles for the year. Come early September you should be ready to start sowing seeds!
Learning to start your own seeds opens up a whole new world of gardening. You’re no longer limited to the plants available in the stores, and it’s more economical than purchasing plants too. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quite addictive. It took me a few years to get the process right through trial and error and asking smarter more experience people how they grow. Everyone comes up with a system that works for them. Here’s ours that we use every year at the farm.
Long version with post-seeding advice:
First off, a general rule of thumb here. Legumes (beans, peas) and roots (carrots, beets, radishes, turnips etc) can be directly sown into the garden soil. No need to start them in a pot and transfer to the garden later. They don’t like it and they don’t do well. That’s why you typically don’t see these for sale as plants. Everything else will be fine as a starter, even though you can direct sow nearly everything. We find there’s more control with starting seedlings in trays or pots and will typically do it unless we don’t have enough room in our greenhouse. We ALWAYS do it for valuable plants because they are safer in our little pots than in the ground!
1. Start with your flats, cells, pots or whatever you plan to use. We use plastic liners with 72 holes in them. This size produces good sized little seedlings that can be planted straight into the garden, or up-potted if necessary. 36 might be a better size for home gardeners. These flats can be found online at most major big greenhouse store suppliers like Greenhouse Megastore. Any pots will do so long as there is drainage. You don’t want to start too big though, no gallon pots here! We re-use ours over and over and over again until they fall apart and we toss in the recycle bin.
2. Fill the trays with a germinating mix. Our favorite so far that is locally available is Fafard’s Superfine Germinating Mix. It’s important to have a fine mix that the seeds can easily grow through and a sterilized one so new seedlings don’t succumb to disease.
3. Very lightly moisten the soil with a watering wand or can. Do not drench, just a nice soft watering.
4. Depending on seed size, make a small depression in each cell with your fingers. Tiny seeds like broccoli just need a soft little depression while large seeds like nasturtiums would need a hole about 1/2″ or more. Rule of thumb: don’t bury a seed any deeper than it’s diameter.
5. In each cell, add one seed. Maybe more than one if you think your germination rate is lower because you have old seed or didn’t keep good care of it. Shame on you! Protect those seeds better!
6. Lightly add a layer of the germinating mix. More if the seeds are large in order to bury them, and barely a coating if they are tiny.
7. We use a bottom watering method which works wonderfully but takes a bit of finesse to get used to. So we take a fitted tray with NO HOLES and fill it about 1/4″ full of water and set the flat inside. We check it daily to make sure there is some water in there. You don’t want the flat swimming or drenched, just a nice layer of water to wick up into the soil. This allows us to avoid overhead watering which is favorable for disease conditions.
8. Check the water daily, you might need to start adding more frequently, as the plants grow and require more water.
9. As soon as true leaves appear, you’ll want to consider a weekly dose of organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or any organic granular fertilizer. Be sure to read the instructions and not add too much! Worm castings are great and it’s impossible to use too much.
10. Keep in a very well-lit area with good air flow. Seedlings will need at least 8 -10 hours of sun if not more.
When are they ready?? After true leaves develop and plants begin to get robust (anywhere between 2-4 weeks depending on plant type and the cell size you used), lightly tug at the base of the stem and squeeze the cell to see if the plant pops out with soil and roots intact. If it does you’re probably good to go. If it doesn’t easily want to come up or you feel like you’ll be breaking it, then wait longer.
We are lucky to have a good relationship with Terry Zinn over at the Florida Wildflower Cooperative. He’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to growing and saving seeds from our native wildflower plants.
He also happens to have a fancy seed cleaning machine that I visit and borrow a couple of times a year. When I visited a few days ago to clean up our seeds, I was there while they were harvesting, drying and bagging up massive amounts of Bahia grass seed. It was fun to watch the process and I got to help a little bit.
This is a lot of work to grow, harvest, dry, bag and distribute wildflower seed. Every time you see a field or roadside full of native blooms, thank all the growers that are part of this cooperative! Here is a link to learn more about the cooperative. If you have a large open and sunny pasture, you might consider growing seed for them. Buying a license plate helps support their programs too!
Saving lettuce seed is no easy task in our climate, but it must be done! Don’t you just hate it when a warm winter streak comes, sending all your lettuce plants bolting? Yuck, they taste bitter and they’re done earlier than you’d hoped. That’s why we look for varieties that are late to bolt and can take some heat. Then we grow them at our farm and save only seeds from plants that are both “true to type”, and late bolters. Early bolters must go. Sorry guys.
Here’s how we do it. It starts by planting seeds in the fall around October or November. That gives them a long season to grow and get to size, allowing us to see along the way which ones are doing well. We keep our eye on those ones. In the spring time they will send up flower stalks and eventually make seeds. Then the fun begins…
This spring and summer has been a typical growing season filled with hopes, surprises and lots of frustrations. Bad news first. Nutsedge! Oh my word, this is by far the worst thing to happen at the farm. Worse than fire ant bites, armadillo holes, deer damage or an irrigation leak. If you till or hand weed but don’t get all the nutlets out, it laughs an evil laugh at your pathetic attempt to get rid of it, then sends up even more aggressive sedges, eventually making a LAWN. The standard treatment is pretty much chemicals but of course we’re looking for alternatives, so we’re doing some leg work to figure a good approach to tackling this beast. It might mean that the farm has to rest from seed production for awhile as we figure out how to knock back this crazy aggressive weed. One website I read said there is one foolproof way to get rid of it. “First, dig out every tiny piece of the plant including the seeds and nutlets. Make sure you sift the soil through a mesh screen. Dump the collected material on the driveway and burn it. Sweep up all the ashes and seal in a concrete box. Drive to the coast and dump the sealed box 20 miles off shore.”
The good news is others things are actually growing where they’re not being out-competed by nutsedge! This year we were excited to help Seed Savers Exchange with their MGEN program (Member Grower Evaluation Network). They want to see how their crops do outside of their Iowan climate, and depend on growers across the country to help them gather the data. It’s like a citizen science project for crops! They often have seeds in their collection that aren’t really the best for their climate (i.e. okra, sorghum, cowpeas) and hope to collect information about their performance outside Iowa. We’re trying a couple sorghums, Hill Country Okra and Tom Watson Watermelon.
We’re also growing seed for the first time as a contract grower for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We’re growing Bettersnap Cowpea. It’s an exciting variety that promises root knot nematode and disease resistance. As far as eat-ability, the pod is edible and can be used much like a snap bean. You can also fresh or dry shell them. We love cowpeas because they grow so well in the hot summer days here. If you’re interested in the details you can read a paper about it here.
Tomatoes this year are doing really well, especially compared to last year’s dismal harvest. We grew several just for home canning and to share with friends like Sungold and New Girl to name just a couple. Three varieties that stand out as good seed savers are blueberry cherry, Everglades currant and “Linda’s wild cherry”.
Blueberry plants were given to us by our friend Bricky who runs the historic garden at Morningside Nature Center. It’s a beautiful cherry tomato that starts off intensely blue, then turns reddish orange as it ripens leaving some patches of blue behind. It’s gorgeous! It’s also very productive and tasty. Cherry tomatoes are usually a good pick here in Florida, so we have a new favorite.
Everglades currant will be the second generation saved at Forage. You really can’t go wrong with them, prolific hardy plants are sprawling in nature (no staking necessary!) and bear loads of tasty but small tomatoes.
Linda’s Wild Cherry is the name I’ve given this tomato that is growing “wild” and free at Linda Duever’s place out in Shiloh near Micanopy. Some cherry tomato she planted years ago has taken to popping up all around her property with minimal care or prodding. That’s my kind of plant! So of course I stuffed a few fruits in my pocket to save seeds, and we now have a few of these plants at the farm and one at the Farm to School to Work Hub garden in Mr. Reidways’ box.
We’re growing an interesting corn from Zev at Earthaven Farm in Black Mountain, NC. I met Zev at the Florida Earthskills Gathering a couple years ago and inherited these seeds, along with a signed contract that I’d grow them out and send back to continue the sharing and evolving of the line! Anyhow, the corn is new variety that happened accidentally in his Milpa garden 5 years ago when a Peruvian “Maize Morado” and a regional dent corn there called “Cherokee White Eagle” got hitched. Corn is known to be a promiscuous species and typically have to be grown miles apart from other varities to ensure pure seed.
The Maize Morado corn is boiled or soaked in water to extract the purple anthocynanins and the liquid is then used as the base for a delicious drink called Chicha Morado which includes cinnamon sticks, pineapple rinds, sugar, and other fruits and maybe even a little booze if you desire. He tells me that it’s really delicious and chock full of life-giving purple pigment medicine. The unique thing about this cross is that after the whole corn kernels are boiled for the drink the kernels can be cooked a little longer with the addition of some mineral lime or sifted hardwood ashes to make nixtamal/hominy, which is then used to make masa for tortillas/tamales etc. I have specific instructions on which corns to select for in order to keep this new cross in check and improve it. It’s really pretty! Below is a picture of one I harvested early because I knew it wasn’t the type we were looking for and I was dying to see it and try the Chicha Morado!
We are also growing the Dudley Farm Dent corn again this year. It is traditionally planted here in the south on June 6, when the summer rains are known to have already started or will be soon. True to the gospel, we planted on June 6 and 7th and it rained really well a couple days later after having been an incredibly dry spring. Since this variety was planted so much later than the corn above, we have no concerns whatsoever of them crossing.
Luffas and bottle gourds are taking off again creating a gourd tunnel like last year. Many of these were volunteers from last years fallen fruit.
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) made it’s way to our fields this year finally. I am so in love with this flower because of it’s extreme pollinator attraction. It’s always alive with insects of all sorts visiting the neon orange flowers. The only thing better it seems is basil which we also have. We hope to save enough seeds to offer in our spring collection next year. This will depend on how wet the summer is.
For the second season we’re growing Gift Zinnia, a tall red zinnia that seems unusually resistant to what we affectionately call the “zinnia funk”: a slew of bacterial and fungal infections that seem to plague all zinnias eventually. Last year may have just been an anomaly but it grew for a really long season with out any detectable disease. This year it looks just as good, but we’ve selected out some less healthy plants to help save seed from only the most sturdy ones. Zinnias are another good plant for pollinators.
We did not plant horsemint (Monarda punctata) this year but the birds did! They seem to have brought into the farm field from our surrounding native wildflowers and meadows. It’s evident that birds did the planting because its mostly growing along trellises in the garden where they perched and pooped! Thanks birds! We and the bees thank you for your service of spreading seeds with a little fertilizer! Our garden is a organization freak’s nightmare because we let volunteer plants pop up nearly wherever they want to, rarely weeding them out unless they’re a problem.
We have a couple interesting peppers as well, Balik, Jimmy Nardello, Carolina Wonder, Charleston Belle and King of the North. They’re all doing pretty well but will do even better when we finally get some shade erected over them. Peppers are not interested in living in a baking hot sun all day. About 30% shade is good.
Last but not least we are proud parents of the famous Bradford Watermelon! If you haven’t heard about it, you should read more here. A true Southern heirloom and reputed as the sweetest watermelon ever grown! Ever?! We’ll see! We have some plumping up now. Maybe it really is amazing, because the deer have breached our fence, nibbled the leaves and also made some dents in the unripened fruit! I rigged up something around the fruits and we’ll see if it works. The story goes that Bradford melon farmers went to great lengths to keep intruders out of their fields that were stealing them. I wonder if that applied to animals too! We had local news coverage about seed saving and discussed the watermelon a bit. Check it out!
Once this summer season wraps up we’ll be doing some design modifications to the garden space, reinforcing our predator barriers and tackling nutsedge. One step at a time….
This delicious way to prepare collard greens is perfect for hot summer days, graduation potlucks, and so much more.
What you’ll need:
- ½ lb. collard greens, tough stems removed (8 leaves)
- 3 medium carrots, grated (2 cups)
- 1 medium onion, grated (1 cup)
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced (1 cup)
- ½ cup rice or cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 tsp. powdered mustard
- 1 tsp. celery seed
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
Stack 3 or 4 collard leaves flat on work surface. Roll tightly into a cylinder, hold together, and thinly slice to make narrow strips. Coarsely chop strips once sliced. Repeat with remaining collard leaves, and transfer to large bowl. Stir in carrots, onion, and bell pepper.
Whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, mustard, celery seed, salt, and pepper in small saucepan, and bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, and pour hot vinegar mixture over collards and vegetable mixture. Stir to coat vegetables with dressing. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover, and chill 4 hours or overnight.
**Note: The hot dressing poured over this salad slightly wilts the greens without cooking them. Chilling the salad lets the flavors develop. Serve as a side dish, or use instead of lettuce to top vegetarian barbecue. Other greens to try in this recipe: Swiss chard, beet greens, or flat-leafed kale.
Recipe adapted from www.vegetariantimes.com
Lambsquarters, often known to many by various monikers including pigweed and muck hill weed, is the so-called “weed” that just seems to pop up around our garden plots this time of year. Though they get less respect than they used to (in fact, many seed companies don’t even sell these seeds anymore), they contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach. The Southern Heritage Seed Collective spring/summer collection featured lambsquarters for our members to grow and, for our non-growers, Siembra Farm has been selling it at the farmers markets! Here’s a scrumptious way to feature this delicious green and give it the respect it deserves.
Easy Greens and Cheese (A Take on Saag Paneer)
Recipe by: Andi Houston, www.greenbasket.me
What you’ll need:
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 bunch of fresh spinach
- 1 bunch of bathua/Quelites/lambsquarters
- 12 oz queso fresco or paneer
- 1 large red onion, sliced or chopped
- 1 tbl butter
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2″ fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 tbl ground cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper or other chile powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- salt & pepper
- 1-2 tbl cream, raw if you can get it
**The combination of greens should total about 1 1/2 pounds**
Wash the greens thoroughly. Put the dripping wet kale in a large pot with a lid and turn on medium. Add 1/4 c of water. As soon as you see steam collecting on the lid, turn the heat down to medium-low. Steam the kale until the stems are tender. Then add the other greens and steam until wilted and tender but still green. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until the onions start to brown. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are well browned and the garlic and ginger are golden. Add the cumin and turmeric and continue to cook until the entire mixture is sizzling and smells cooked.Scrape the onion-spice mixture into a large blender. Blend for a few seconds- enough to get it all chopped up.
Add half the greens and puree the mixture until it is thoroughly blended (very smooth). Pour the blended mixture back into the frying pan and set over medium-low heat. Then puree the remainder of the greens until smooth, adding water 1 tbs at a time if necessary. The puree should be thick like stew, not thin like soup. Add the remainder of the pureed greens to the frying pan and bring to a simmer. Stir and let everything simmer together for a few minutes.
Cut the queso fresco/paneer into cubes and add to the simmering greens puree. Let everything simmer together, stirring regularly, until the cheese is hot all the way through- about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add a tablespoon of cream just before serving. Serve this with rice or flatbread, or if you’re grain-free it’s really great over a baked sweet potato.
After getting all of your produce at the farmers market on Wednesday, be sure to head over to Lucky’s on Thursday to get your dry goods, proteins, vitamins, and much more! 10% of the day’s sales will go to Forage toward funding a new fridge and storage unit for our seed library. This is a great way to show your support for us and still get the every day items you need!
Greens: nature’s candy! They are packed with so many vitamins and nutrients, we can’t even begin to list them without taking up this whole page. If you’re already a fan of kale and arugula or just beginning to realize the delicious ways that you can incorporate them into your diet, we think these recipes are a huge hit. Rethink the way you use the greens in your kitchen and try these out!
Fruity Kale Smoothie
1-2 cups of kale (any variety), cleaned and de-stemmed
1 cup pineapple chunks
1 very ripe banana
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)
*Optional: honey for a bit more sweetness
Directions: Blend milk and de-stemmed kale together until smooth. Add banana, coconut flakes, and pineapple chunks then blend until desired consistency. Add ice and blend. Enjoy!
Note: Depending on the kale, it can have an overpowering bitter taste. To cut this bitterness, use fruits like bananas, strawberries, and blueberries. This is a great way to hide the “green” taste and add natural sugars.
Zesty Arugula Pesto
Recipe by: Michelle Reeves, The Fat Tuscan
3 to 4 cups washed arugula
1 cup roasted nuts such as pecans or walnuts
4 cloves of fresh garlic
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Directions: Blend in food processor garlic first, add nuts and raisins. Add arugula and slowly drizzle in olive oil until nice emulsion. Add salt and pepper to your tastes and lemon juice to preserve nice green color. Store in air tight containers in freezer. Bring to room temp and toss with your favorite pasta.
*Optional – add roasted tomatoes and whole nuts and raisens as garnish. This is a vegan recipe. Add Parmesan as garnish for non-vegan variation!
Join us at the Union Street Farmer’s Market and Haile Farmer’s Market once a month to taste a new recipe featuring what’s growing now! Support your local farmers and ask them how they like to prepare their veggies. It’s a great way to try something new and enjoy what’s in season.