Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heirlooms and GMOs and Hybrids, Oh My!

There is quite a debate going on these days about what means what in the seed world. In my experience, none of these terms means what it used to mean, especially in ‘advertising’. The same problems apply to the terms ‘organic’, ‘natural’, and ‘open-pollinated’.

OK, first things first. Here are the dictionary meanings of each of these words according to Miriam-Webster:
GMO ~ Genetically Modified Organism
Heirloom ~ A horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals.
Hybrid ~ An offspring of two plants of different races, breeds, varieties, species, or genera.
Organic ~ Of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.
Natural ~ Occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature.
Open-Pollinated ~ Pollinated by natural agencies (as wind or insects) without human intervention.

Now, since there is way too much involved, there is no way I can cover I in a blog post. So I will share with you a few links to assorted companies, organizations, and websites. Here’s what they feel about it all.

Here’s what Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has to say about it:
Open pollination is achieved by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms. The seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants. One of the bigger challenges in maintaining a strain by open pollination is avoiding introduction of pollen from other strains. Based on how broadly the pollen for the plant tends to disperse, it can be controlled to varying degrees by greenhouses, tall wall enclosures, or field isolation. Popular examples of plants produced under open pollination conditions include the heirloom tomato. Baker Creek is using tent enclosures in its own gardens to house the plants. Bumble bees are then introduced to control the pollination. This prevents cross-pollination from undesirable sources, as well as preventing cross-pollination between strains.
Pure and Natural seeds means that you start with a product that is untreated and free of pesticides. Although our seeds are not certified organic, they can certainly be used in an organic garden and many are grown by organic farmers. Also, they are not genetically modified.
In sharp contrast to hybrids, Heirlooms trace their ancestry back many years to a time when pesticides and herbicides were not in use. As Jere Gettle, the owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. puts it, “Basically, an Heirloom seed is one that has been passed down through families and is usually considered to be over 50 years old. Some varieties even date back to Thomas Jefferson’s garden and beyond.” Unlike hybrids or GMO’s which often have problems reproducing to the parent strain, Heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted, ensuring a trustworthy supply of family food year after year.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) results from a discipline called Genetic Engineering which involves taking genes from one species and inserting them into another. For example, genes from an arctic flounder which has "antifreeze" properties may be spliced into a tomato to prevent frost damage. It is impossible to guide the insertion of the new gene. This can lead to unpredictable effects. Also, genes do not work in isolation but in highly complex relationships which are still not fully understood. Any change to the DNA at any point will affect it throughout its length in ways scientists cannot predict. The claim by some that they can is both arrogant and untrue.”

Burpee says this of heirloom seeds:
“Old-fashioned vegetables and flowers that have been passed down through the generations. Heirloom seeds are old-time favorites that produce plants with the same traits planting after planting, season after season, generation after generation. Some heirlooms date back 100 years or more.”

Also according to Burpee, the managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine, Therese Ciesinski, describes it this way:

“Organic gardening is more than simply avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. It is about observing nature’s processes, and emulating them in your garden as best you can. And the most important way to do that is to understand the makeup of your soil and to give it what it needs. If anything could be called a ‘rule’ in organic gardening, it’s this: feed the soil, not the plant.”

The USDA has a very excellent article entitled “Vegetables and Fruits: A Guide to Heirloom Varieties and Community-Based Stewardship”. They also explain their Organic Certification program here.

Here’s more about the difference between hybrid and open-pollinated seeds on Primal Seeds website. I would be negligent if I didn’t share Backwoods Home Magazine’s thoughts in their article called “Use Non-Hybrid Seeds and Save Big Bucks in This Year’s Garden”. One last article for you. Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms by the Human Gemone Project covers both the pros and cons of GMOs.

Mother Earth News suggests these companies for heirloom seeds:
Offering heirloom, non-genetically modified seeds, Baker Creek’s store in Petaluma’s historic Sonoma County National Bank building is a beacon for gardeners, foodies and tourists. Last June, Baker Creek added a new family member—Comstock, Ferre & Co., the oldest continuously operated seed company in the United States. Owner Jerre Gettle plans to preserve Comstock’s historic East Coast garden and create a green agro-tourism destination.
Founded in a New Hampshire farmhouse attic in 1973 by a 22-year-old vegetable grower named Rob Johnston, Johnny’s is a partially employee-owned company dedicated to rigorous seed testing and top-quality, non-hybrid products. You can tour Johnny’s 40-acre research farm Monday through Friday, July through September.
Dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, Seed Savers Exchange members have been distributing rare garden seeds for 35 years. Visit their 890-acre Heritage Farm to see the group’s gorgeous preservation gardens, the source of the largest nongovernmental seed bank in the United States.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, offers heirloom varieties tested for performance, flavor and disease resistance. Though the group focuses primarily on plants suited to the Mid-Atlantic, it provides seeds, education and services for gardeners nationwide. The small staff doesn’t accommodate farm visits.
Family owned and operated, Terroir Seeds and its associated gardens, Underwood Gardens, specialize in heirloom, organic and rare seeds, soil building and seed saving. The group grows some of its seeds on its 3-acre garden in Chino Valley; the rest are grown by Terroir’s network of gardeners and family growers across the country.

Here is a variety of sizes of SeedSafe seed collections from The Ready Store.

I hope this all helps you decide which direction you would like to go. It should at least help you to define your previously made decisions.

As always, here are my companion sites:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So You Want to Move to the Country

This post was written by my wife, Joetta Napolitan.

So you think you want to move 'to the country'. The allure of living in a rural location has reached out and grabbed a hold of your imagination inspiring you to dream of owning a country house surrounded by gardens, chickens, and maybe even livestock. Our biggest and best recommendation for anyone wanting to move 'to the country' is to find a rental and sit with it for a year before making a final decision to make it permanent. Our town sees tremendous turn over from folks who buy here only to find it’s not their cup of tea, so much so in fact people were asking us when we plan on selling before we even finished moving in. Once you decide to make it permanent it is necessary to identify your wants and needs beyond 3 bedrooms and two baths with an ok kitchen. As rural buyers, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. It’s not impossible and though not intended for rural buyers I absolutely love the article I received in my inbox today. It talks about choosing the right neighborhood before deciding to purchase a home. It's a wonderful article and spot on if you want to live in urban or suburban areas. You can read the article for yourself if you'd like, the link is below. I think a lot of the information applies to the rural buyer as well but first I'd like to pass on one tip from personal experience.

You will no doubt look at a few different homes and after awhile they will blend together in your memory. When we were looking we kept a buyers notebook. We wrote down the homes address, the asking price and other pertinent information such as square footage, acres of land, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, how many stories and so on. We also wrote a description... i.e. white and purple exterior on hill facing east, dirt road, few trees, two out buildings, chicken coop. Then we made a list of positives and negatives---while on site! We also photographed each property and noted the number of pictures (photos 1-54) on the entry since many times we would see more than one house in a day. Take photographs of the positive, the questionable, the negative and things you'd want fixed if you were to put in an offer. This helped us tremendously in sorting out not only if we were ultimately interested in the property but in narrowing down what was really important to us. One change that I would make if we go through this process again would be to have separate notebooks for each member of the family and always have everyone do their own little 'inspection' and critique then compare notes.

In regard to the email I received the first part that applies from the article is about location. Does it meet your needs for employment, shopping, social activities, schools, etc. and are you ready for a change in life style. Generally speaking you can't just run to the store if you forget or run out of something and your commute to work will likely be longer. Can you live without that twice a week latte, going to the gym, and seeing a movie at the theater when the mood takes you? In this way all the same rules can be applied to the rural area as in the suburban area. However, there are many more things to keep in mind when looking for a country home. For instance, what are your plans for the property? Will you have a garden, chickens, goats, a milking cow, or horses? Do you need extra out buildings or land? It's very important to know this when buying as there may be restrictions. You may be able to have horses but no cows or be limited to a certain number and type of animal per acre for example. In our case we may have hens but no roosters. Also keep in mind your personal preferences and what you would be willing to live with. As wonderful as it is to have neighbors who also garden are your gardening practices compatible? Ours are not compatible with our neighbors but it's acceptable in light of the other benefits of our property, so we can live with it.

The second bit that I think applies is to Visit the property you are interested in at all hours. Be sure to notify someone before your visit and get permission. After all it is rural and you never know if a neighbor has been asked to keep an eye or gun on the place. Write down some questions you might ask yourself at each visit. How's the wild life at night vs. during the day, including the neighbors. Does the property or the neighbors’ property have security lights? Where does that light shine? What are the sounds you are hearing? Keep in mind that at night sounds carry further.  What seems like a medium length drive to town in daylight can seem much longer at night. Are there places to stop if you need to? Trust me, as a parent of a small child, potties along the way are important! Are the roads lit? What are the speed limits? Is there a lot of traffic using their high beams? Can you find your turn offs? A road that is easy to spot during the day may disappear until you are right on top of it at night. How will the area change seasonally? Will there be snow, if so how about snow removal? A house that feels serene and calm to you during the day may feel very different during a night visit not to mention a thunder or snow storm.

Third is Utilities. This is something not covered in the article I received but then it’s something most urban/suburban buyers never even consider. It is a necessary and valid question for every rural buyer to ask about. Who provides what? Is it off grid? Who provides power? Can you get cable and internet, telephone or even receive a radio signal? Does the property receive municipal services or does the property have a well? Water is extremely important because those animals you might wish to have will need additional water and you need to know if that part of the well or water usage is permitted? In addition to all this information you need to keep in mind that whatever your neighbors do to their land may end up in your well water. So it’s important to ask how deep that well is and will the terrain around it naturally filter the water before its arrival in the water table. Questions about the actual well pump and well maintenance are also necessary. Does it pump at a rate to meet your needs? When was it last inspected? While expensive it can be worth it to have the well inspected prior to purchase. A good inspector will check the mechanical parts including the pumps and holding tank. They will also check the flow and for a few additional dollars they can also test the water quality. If you will have locally provided water instead of a well what are the usual treatment practices, fees and other necessary arrangements for service? Some places will provide service with just a phone call, others may do credit checks that take a couple weeks. In either case ask, does it work when the power goes out? At our previous residence we had a well, if the power was out so was the water. How is sewage treated? Is it a septic system or municipality provided sewage system? If it’s a septic system, when was it last emptied?

Last but not least the article mentions emergency services and doctors. I have experience with medical needs so I will address that first. If you have medical needs that require regular doctor visits make sure you find out if your insurance is supported by local practitioners. Likewise if you require care by a specialist check for availability and travel distances and times. Beyond that you may want to check the local clinic or doctor’s office to make sure they meet your standards for care and what the turnover rate is. Some rural doctors’ offices have a low practitioner turnover and will know and treat your whole family. Others may have a high practitioner turnover rate and you will find yourself explaining things many times over and wading through stacks of conflicting notes in your file. Proximity is also important if you know you have medical conditions that may need immediate medical response such as allergies with anaphylaxis, bleeding disorders, or heart problems. In addition there is always the possibility of snake bite, wild life encounters, severe tractor or machinery accidents, or broken bones. I have found that not much of that stuff actually occurs and I even suffer common ailments much less frequently. My exposure to them is somewhat minimized by our location and the limited number of people I come into contact with. Usually if I catch something, it’s after our monthly trip to the big town for supplies. Emergency services such as Police or fire department may be limited and response times may be delayed. Our previous residence fell under the care of the state patrol and the Fire Department was all volunteer. We didn't have a need for their services so I can't really comment on response times but one of our friends who lives farther out recently lost their home to a fire. They haven't commented on the response time so I believe it was acceptable.

We bought somewhere in the middle, choosing to purchase a home in a small town on 1/2 an acre. We had to include present circumstances as well as future goals. We have a second grader who wanted to live closer to her friends. This current circumstance was an influence defined by renting in our previous location. Our rental location was much more rural and the only time she saw her friends was at school. At the same time we still wanted room for our garden and chickens or rabbits in the future. In our current location there is also municipal water and sewage, a fire dept., and police department. It’s not ideal. There are no wide open spaces as we live in the center of town. I mentioned our differences in gardening styles compared to our neighbor and we miss the well water in all honesty. We also miss the darkness of our previous home as there seem to be security lights everywhere here. However with a young child those same security lights make it possible to play, garden, and enjoy our outdoor spaces after dark in the heat of summer without needing additional lighting. Something else that became very clear to us as a rural family was the fact that in our previous location we spent on average just as much time in the car as we had in the city. Sure they were now long infrequent trips or mid range weekly trips but when we broke it down it was no different than a lot of small short trips in the city. Now, being in town, we make one long trip and next to no mid range or short trips as everything is now within walking distance. It takes time and effort to find the proper fit just as with anything else in life. Moving to the country has been a blessing for us. It has fulfilled so many of our wants and needs that we heartily recommend it but we also realize it’s not for everyone.

We hope that this information helps you with your decision and indeed the process of moving 'to the country'.

Here is the article that got me going on this:

As always, feel free to visit my companion sites:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Oh Grow Up!

I suppose you can call me an adult. I am a little bit bigger and have a few more responsibilities. I have a house and property and a family. However, I refused, for the longest time, to admit that I had ‘grown up’.

Well, it has come to my attention that I have, in fact, grown up. Last year I grew beans on a tipi frame and peas on a box-spring frame. This year I’ll be doing the same thing and a few other similar experiments.

If you learn about and practice the art of vertical gardening, next time someone tells you to ‘grow up’ you can tell them you have. Here I’ll give you a few examples and at the end of this post will be a few links to books about the subject.

You will need a few things to get you started. First, you will need a south facing vertical object suitable for planting in or on and containers for hanging. Next you will need a good source of water. Then you will need to decide what you’re going to plant, whether it’s vegetables, herbs or flowers. Lastly, you need to love and nurture your new venture.

I like to take pictures of my growing things and the process I’m going through. Taking pictures and keeping a garden journal helps me keep track of where I am and keep others updated. It gives me a good source of “Look what I did!” for this blog.

Vertical gardening is not only fun for many but it adds space if you are limited and it can add beauty and character to any surface used. It’s great for apartment dwellers or even room renters. Visit “Life on the Balcony” for more info.

Even ‘the mainstream’ is getting into vertical gardening. This vertical grow frame from Home Depot is not very large but is perfect for growing herbs in the kitchen. Here’s an article from Washington State University that contains some good info and some great resources. Here’s a link to the Vertical Garden Institute, self explanatory. And last but not least, I can’t leave out the organization that helped get me interested in gardening and self sufficiency, Mother Earth News. Here is one of their articles called “Vertical Gardening Techniques for Maximum Returns”.

Here are a few pictures of vertical gardening. The first one is my repurposed box spring frame that we’re growing beans on. The second is my tomato raised bed which will get an additional ‘something’ for the tomatoes to grow up on. The third is my ‘potato pile’. After that are a few pictures from around the internet of various vertical gardening techniques.

Now, to help you along your way, here are a few books dedicated to vertical gardening. For more info about each book, simply click on the picture of the cover.

As always you can join my Facebook group, like my Facebook community, and visit my website. All of these are conveniently called “Kaya Self Sufficiency”. I hope you have enjoyed this post and I hope you are getting better at providing as much as you can for yourself and for your family, group, or community.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Price of Sharing

Good day to you all!

If you will notice, in the left hand column of this page there is now a “Donate” button. I have added it to help keep this blog going, my Facebook group and page alive and the website up and running.

I will be honest with you. This all started as a business endeavor but it has evolved into something much more than that. It is now an attempt to share knowledge and experiences in the hope that you will be able to be more self sufficient and rely less on today’s society. I am hoping to help you reduce your dependence on ‘the almighty dollar’ and the resulting ‘adventure’ has become much less about ‘making money’ and more about you living a simple and happy life.

That said, it’s the almighty dollar that keeps the internet hooked up to my humble homestead. As much as I would like to be able to barter a bushel or two of tomatoes, or something similar, for a year’s worth of internet access, I regret to inform you that the corporation I purchase it from has no interest in ‘the fruits of my labor’ unless they be smallish green pieces of paper (or a few electrons formed into pixels showing a dollar amount). In addition to the Donate button, any of the other links on this page and on the website also forward me a small percentage of your purchase costs.

Thank you all for allowing me into your lives and for sharing your experiences and knowledge in return. I could not do any of this without you!

Here are the other sites that are associated with this blog: