I have to confess that I have a sense of frustration with the concept of a self-supporting homestead. This is largely because I don't have a seasonal routine yet. I know that spring is for planting, fall is too. Summer is for harvesting and preservation. Autumn for collecting seeds and preparing the garden for the next year. Winter is for nurturing the fall garden, planning, and getting an early start on planting seeds. So the general overview I'm okay with. It's putting all the details together that are difficult.
Part of this is because I am still learning the soil and seasons here. With each garden I've had, I developed a seasonal rhythm, knowing when things needed to be done. As we come up on the anniversary of our first year here, I know that I am just beginning to get a sense of that. It is an experiential process, for which cooperative extension literature and regional gardening books are only nominally helpful.
Another thing is that some of these activities are new for me. In the past I've had little success with my early seed starting, yet I know this is something I must master and make a permanent part of my homesteading routine. My attempts this year were weak, as were many of my seedlings. Still, they're getting in the ground and I have hopes most will make it.
My fall garden was a new experience. Rather I should say my successful fall garden was a new experience. I'd tried before with not such good results. Being able to harvest turnips and carrots throughout the winter was a real blessing. As was seeing my fall broccoli, lettuce, radishes, and spinach make a spring comeback. This year I need to expand on that by learning and utilizing more overwintering techniques. I've also added a hoop house to my to-do list.
Food preservation. I'm very comfortable with this for the most part: canning, freezing, and dehydrating, are things I've done for many years. Lacto-fermenting has been new. And welcome. I had good success keeping winter squashes and sweet potatoes throughout the winter, but I've never grown and kept white potatoes before. This is new.
The goal of course, is to grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as possible. It will be a few years before the fruit trees and bushes will come to bear, but I certainly work toward this with the vegetables. In the beginning, how much we'll need will take some guesswork, but aside from unexpected problems, we should do fairly well with this.
The other goal is saving as much seed for 2011 as possible. I managed to save quite a few from last year, but I would like to expand that this summer. The end goal is to not need to buy any seed.
One concern is growing and saving seed from different varieties of the same vegetable. Corn for example. In the past I only planted hybrid corn and never gave a thought to saving the seed. Now I am concerned about managing to grow both sweet corn and popcorn, but without having them cross pollinate. How to manage? My thinking is going somewhere along these lines....
The sweet corn, Stowell's Evergreen, has 100 day till maturity. Or so says the seed catalog. The popcorn, Japanese White Hulless, takes 110 days. I have some field corn seed too, which takes 95 - 105. I'm not sure if we'll be able to plant the field corn, but the sweet and popcorn for sure. I planted the sweet corn seed last week. The popcorn I will wait until next month, taking advantage of our long growing season. Hopefully they will flower at different times and I can avoid the problem. As an added measure, I will plant them in different gardens. Hopefully I'll be able to save seed from both.
I have the same concern for my beans. I got two types for drying, one for canning green, and one to try for feed: One takes 60 days to mature, one 64, one 85, and the last is unknown! I find myself wondering, can I stagger their plantings over the weeks and days of my growing season to avoid cross pollination?
Then there's squashes (Buttercup, Acorn, & Butternut, yellow crookneck) and melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, and casaba). Oh my. How can I grow all those things but maintain seed purity. How do seed savers manage it all? How would you?
Of course I could take the time to sit down, read, and study Saving Seeds: The Gardener's Guild To Growing and Saving Vegetable and Flower Seeds by Marc Rogers. And I do. Still, there seems to be a vast gap between instructions in a book, head knowledge, and the experience of a thing. It's the knowledge from the experiences that are the building blocks of the seasonal routine I long for. Well, I won't get that by just sitting here at the computer and lamenting that I don't have it! Time to get back to work.
Text of Thoughts on Seed Saving copyright April 2010