Category Archives: summer

Saving Seeds and Summer … by Julia and Sequoia

by Julia Frisbie, with Sequoia Ferrel

posted July 27, 2022

Ahhh, July! Finally we’re getting the heat that our corn, beans, and squash crave. They’re shooting up towards the sun. Other plants, like peas and many biennials, have quit putting on new growth and are instead focused on making seeds.

Home gardeners have a unique capacity to breed resilient vegetables. I’ve written before about why saving seed is important, and how to start. If it’s a project that appeals to you, this is a good time to keep an eye out for seeds that are ready to collect. Here are some that Sequoia Ferrel and I are noticing and saving this month.

 

PEAS

The photo above shows Schweitzer Riesen snow peas. Sequoia writes: “I had plenty to harvest and am now letting them make seed as the plants are dying back. The peas have filled out in the pods and will be ready to pick when they start drying up. Peas are self pollinating so I’m not worried about cross pollination with my snap peas. The seed for these came from seed saved on my farm a few years back so this is the second time they have been selected for my growing conditions.”

As Sequoia noted, peas are mostly self-fertile, which makes them a great beginner seed saving crop. Suzanne Ainsworth, in her book Seed to Seed, recommends isolating different pea varieties from each other by 10 feet in order to maintain varietal purity. I laid my garden out with this in mind so that I could save three different pea varieties this year. As I noticed any off-type plants (a snow pea making fat pods, or a snap pea making flat ones, for example) I pulled them out to remove their genes from the gene pool. Here’s a look at a seed crop of peas called Waverex:

You can see that the plants are drying up, which is on purpose! I’ve quit watering them so that they can dry out before I try to store them. The pea pods’ texture needs to change from green and crunchy… to leathery… to brown and brittle before the seed harvest. Dry peas are hard as rocks. You can test if they’re dry enough by hitting them with a hammer; they should shatter rather than squish. In this variety, dried seed also gets wrinkly:

Shelling dried peas is a fun activity for kiddos. If you’re growing peas this year, and you can stand to watch them get dry and withered, try saving the seed!

 

LEAFY GREENS

If there are any green, leafy plants left in your garden from last year, check to see if they’re making seeds. My Red Russian kale has already done the deed, feeding songbirds and no doubt sowing its next generation all over my yard.

Beware of saving seed from broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, European kales, and any other plant in the Brassica oleracea species. They are insect pollinated and readily cross with each other, producing offspring that may be edible, but probably won’t be recognizable.

Sequoia writes: “Here is a Swiss chard plant going to seed. I decided to save this because it was a strong productive plant I was able to harvest throughout fall and winter and it survived without problems through our cold snap. It is a biennial so this is its second growing season. You can see in the closeup that the seeds aren’t developed yet.”

Sequoia continues: “This one [swiss chard] plant will make tons of seed! While it’s been flowering I made sure there weren’t other types of chard or any beets (which are the same species and will cross pollinate) flowering at the same time. I also have good isolation from other gardens in the larger area.”


Sequoia writes: “This is some mizuna that I have let make seed. I love mizuna in salads and it is sometimes hard to find the seeds. However these plants weren’t super vigorous and went to seed way too soon so it may not actually be a good idea to collect and plant these out. I have some new starts coming up so I will evaluate how those plants perform and maybe collect their seed if they do better. I can always spread undesirable seeds in any bare spots in the pasture because my sheep love plants in the brassica family.”

Sequoia writes: “These two lettuce plants would be good candidates for seed saving because they are both vigorous and flavorful plants that have held well as the weather warms without developing a seed stalk.” The varieties pictured are Merlot and Red Sails. Lettuce is mainly self-fertile, but because these two are planted so closely together, the resulting seed would likely be a cross. But it would probably be a good cross, so why not try it?!

Here is some of Sequoia’s fall lettuce that survived through the winter:

The capacity to survive through winter is “something I definitely want to select for,” writes Sequoia. “The flowers aren’t open yet so I will have to wait a while to collect the seed.”

Both of us are noticing lamb’s quarters going to seed in our gardens right now:

This spring/summer weed is in the spinach family, and Sequoia and I both agree that it’s delicious raw or cooked. In fact, it’s Sequoia’s favorite green. Neither of us actually collect the seeds; rather, we let this plant drop its seeds right where it stands, and trust that it will come up next spring without any interference from us.

 

UMBELLIFERS

Many plants in this family, with their characteristic umbrella-shaped seed clusters, are biennials. What you planted last year may be going to seed now.

Sequoia writes: “This is some red celery that was hardy and performed well although I have never been able to grow juicy celery. It will produce a lot of seed.”

If you planted parsley last year, check it for seed heads that look like this now:

But leave carrot seed alone; it readily crosses with wild Queen Anne’s Lace, and will not reproduce true to type.

I’m noticing seed clusters on my lovage plants, which I could save if I wanted more lovage, but I don’t:

 

HERBS

Below is a row of cilantro that’s bolted, flowered, and is now going to seed. (It doesn’t cope well with warm weather.) But if your cilantro looks like this, don’t pull it out. Wait and observe, and when the delicate flowers turn into seeds, collect them so that you won’t have to buy seed next year.

Here are some dried-out chive blossoms. Look carefully and you will see little black seeds tucked inside them:

It’s a great time to cut these blossoms, tuck them into a brown paper bag, and put them someplace dark and dry until they’re completely crunchy. When they’re ready, shake and crush the bag vigorously to loosen the seeds, and then remove the fluffy flower remnants. The heavy black seed will fall to the bottom of the bag and be easy to collect.

If you’re interested in saving seed but not sure what you’ll do with it all, email fidalgoseedshare@transitionfidalgo.org. We’ve got some big dreams of a local seed bank, and we’d love for you to be part of it!

 

PS: For those who are keeping track, I’ve been quiet on the blog lately. Two months ago I went into labor in my garden while squatting down to transplant some oregano and chives. We welcomed a furry, redheaded baby boy into the world six hours later. It’s too early to tell what his favorite plants are, but he smiles when the corn leaves tickle his feet, and he turns his head to catch the scent of tomato vines as we brush past them. We buried the placenta under the apple tree to say thank you to the soil. All is well.

Summer Heat, Summer Cuisine … by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted July 22, 2022

Purple flowers on red potatoes

 

With the arrival of hot weather the early spring crops are ending their run. The snow and sugar snap pea vines are turning yellow as the last of the pods swell with starchy seeds. The early Romaine and Bibb lettuces are getting bitter as they mature, even with regular watering. The last-planted rows of potatoes are finally flowering while the rest of the patch holds on to the green foliage for a short time before shriveling away. You can sneak a few potatoes to sample early, especially the delicate red or ‘new’ potatoes, but it is best to leave them in the ground for two weeks after the stalks have fully died down in order for the skins to harden up for storage.

 

Bulb Fennel

The bulb fennel, after sitting through the early weeks of cold and wet, is now filling out at the base, while also sending up a central cluster of foliage for future seed. The white, anise-flavored bulbs are one of my favorite crunchy vegetables. For a Mediterranean style appetizer, dip slices of fennel in olive oil flavored with mashed anchovies. I also like to use the cup-shaped ends, either whole or sliced in half, as vegetable scoops for hummus, tabouleh, or whatever salsa is available.

Fennel can also be roasted with sliced onions and large sweet Italian peppers such as Bull’s Horn or Green Marconi. Plus, the fronds make a slightly fragrant covering atop baked salmon.

 

Basil Buds & Pistou

While the green tomatoes are just starting to size up in the hoop house, the clumps of basil, transplanted at the same time as the tomatoes, have been in full leaf now for several weeks. To keep the basil producing the rest of the summer it is important to remove the flower buds at an early stage. Snip off the young buds and the immediately adjacent leaves on the same stem every 3-4 days to keep the plant bushy. Do not let any buds develop into white flower stalks, which will quickly happen in the heat; the plant then starts to die back as it shifts to seed formation.

Remember to keep the soil moist around the basil plants to maintain steady leaf growth and be available for use soon with ripe tomatoes.

To maintain its bright green color fresh basil must be processed immediately in a blender with olive or other oil, a bit of salt and a little lemon juice before it wilts and turns black. This becomes pistou (pesto without cheese), to be used as a salad dressing, mixed into soup, or as a general purpose table sauce. I use chopped walnuts in place of expensive pine nuts for the base. At first I was mixing the basil with garlic scapes, or early cloves of garlic; lately I’ve been adding tender grape leaves and even a few tomato leaves; cilantro also works well, along with garlic chives, and parsley of course. Any tender greens mixed with the basil will be good on toast, poached eggs, crackers, as well as pasta or noodles. The pistou can be frozen in pint jars for a taste of summer next winter. And you can always add the Parmesan at any time for traditional pesto.

 

Artichokes: Steamed, not Boiled

Summer has also brought the rush of artichokes, both the small purple Violetta de Provence variety, and the standard Green Globe. In the past I boiled the heads for 30-40 minutes, until the leaves pull off the base easily, but now I prefer to steam them, to prevent the heads from getting waterlogged and mushy. I use a large metal Oriental steamer to do up to six at a time, removing the smaller, more tender purple ones first, and letting the larger and stiffer green ones steam longer. I find that with steaming the leaves remain separate, and not clumped together, and more of the taste stays in the leaves since they haven’t been boiled. And of course you can use your basil sauce of the day as a dip, as an alternative to the traditional butter.

 

Garlic Setback

Unfortunately my garlic crop developed serious black mold with all the rain. Some of the heads may be saved, but the stalks are still green, having never fully dried out enough. Luckily it’s ordinary black fungus not the dreaded white root rot. So I am hoping the small percentage of undamaged heads will dry sufficiently to last in storage. I did process some of the rescued garlic cloves with olive oil and canning salt, to store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to a year, though the bite will become slightly sweet. But the luxury of having bags of solid heads of garlic all winter will be missed.

In any case, the garlic strains I have been maintaining for over a decade will have to be restarted with untainted seed stock and fresh ground, hopefully free of black mold. Growing garlic in the Northwest can be a challenge.

 

Day Lily buds

Day lilies are now in full bloom, offering a chance to graze in the flower garden, along with the local deer. As first noted in the classic foraging book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons back in 1960’s, unopened day lily buds can be lightly stir fried in butter, his usual treatment of most wild greens, including milkweed broccoli. Any vegetable oil will also work. The day lily buds can also be included in vegetable soups as a thickener, adding a decorative touch as they open slightly while simmering in the broth. I prefer the smaller, thinner buds of standard day lilies as opposed to the larger pods of a newer variety such as ‘Stella D’Oro.’ Note: dried day lily buds are also a traditional ingredient in Szechuan hot and sour soup.