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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Saving Seeds 101

Last month we offered a short workshop on saving heirloom seeds at the Downtown Teaching Farm, and we wanted to share that information with everyone for later reference, or if they weren't able to make the class.  Also, with this long Fall we are enjoying, there is still time to run out and pick a few of your favorite veggies and save the seed for next year.  Scroll down for a photo-guide of how to save (everyone's favorite!) heirloom tomato seeds.

Saving Seed from the Garden

Sources:  University Of Illinois Extension, University of Idaho Exension, Edward's Greenhouses
Downtown Teaching Farm, Boise ID
Seed Saving Class: September 26, 2011

Why Save Your Own Seeds?
Every year a few gardeners ask about saving seed from their flowers and vegetables. We would not have the wonderful heirloom varieties if someone hadn’t kept the seeds year to year. Seed saving can be a rewarding and cost saving way to garden, but beware of the pitfalls.

Pitfalls to Seed Saving: Hybrid Parents and Cross Pollination:
Not every plant’s seeds are worth keeping. Hybrid plants are developed by crossing specific parent plants. Hybrids are wonderful plants but the seed is often sterile or does not reproduce true to the parent plant. Therefore, never save the seed from hybrids. Another major problem is some plants’ flowers are open pollinated by insects, wind or people. These plants include squash, cucumbers, melon, parsley, cabbage, chard, broccoli, mustard greens, celery, spinach, cauliflower, kale, radish, beets, onion, and basil. These plants cross with others within their family. The only way to maintain the original variety is to isolate by large distances. Isolation is often impossible or impractical in a home garden.

What plants can you save seed from? Standard or heirloom varieties that are not cross-pollinated by nearby plants are good candidates. Many gardeners successfully keep beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. Plants you know are heirloom varieties are easy to save. Ask the person or organization you obtained the seed from how they did it.

Personal Success:  In our area local gardeners often save seed from heirloom (non-hybridized) tomatoes (the riper the better), peppers (nice and fully ripe), pole beans such as the ones we grow at the Downtown Teaching Farm, lettuce, mustard, basil, orach, borage, amaranth, and many lovely annual and perennial flowers.  It is always best to have a named variety before the seed is saved, but if it is a lovely outstanding specimen of a plant – by all means – save it – researching the variety during the winter is a fun project.

Helpful Tips:
       Harvest from the Best:  Choose disease-free plants with qualities you desire. Look for the most flavorful vegetables or beautiful flowers. Consider size, harvest time and other characteristics.

       Always Harvest Mature Seed: For example, cucumber seeds at the eating stage are not ripe and will not germinate if saved. You must allow the fruit and seed to fully mature. Because seed set reduces the vigor of the plant and discourages further fruit production, wait until near the end of the season to save fruit for seed.
o       Seeds are mature or ripe when flowers are faded and dry or have puffy tops. Plants with pods, like beans, are ready when the pods are brown and dry. When seeds are ripe they usually turn from white to cream colored or light brown to dark brown. Collect the seed or fruits when most of the seed is ripe. Do not wait for everything to mature because you may lose most of the seed to birds or animals.

Dry Methods:
Beans, peas, onions, carrots, corn, most flowers and herb seeds are prepared by a dry method. Allow the seed to mature and dry as long as possible on the plant. Complete the drying process by spreading on a screen in a single layer in a well-ventilated dry location. As the seed dries the chaff or pods can be removed or blown gently away. An alternative method for extremely small or lightweight seed is putting the dry seed heads into paper bags that will catch the seed as it falls out.

Wet Method:
Seed contained in fleshy fruits should be cleaned using the wet method. Tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumber and roses are prepared this way. Scoop the seed masses out of the fruit or lightly crush fruits. Put the seed mass and a small amount of warm water in a bucket or jar. Let the mix ferment for two to four days. Stir daily. The fermentation process kills viruses and separates the good seed from the bad seed and fruit pulp. After two to four days, the good viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the container while the pulp and bad seed float. Pour off the pulp, water, bad seed and mold. Spread the good seed on a screen or paper towel to dry.

Wet Method for Heirloom Tomatoes:  
Step 1: Find really ripe fruit (that you would normally demote to the compost pile for being over-ripe), and slice it open - this is one of my favorites, Aunt Ruby's German Green.

Step 2: Squeeze the seed mass into a jar.

Step 3:  Fill the jar with warm water and stir.

Step 4:  Let sit on the counter for about a week, stirring each day.  A fungus will grow on the surface (killing bad bacteria as it grows).  (These next photos are from a favorite - Eva Purple Ball, that I had prepared earlier).

Step 4:  Wow! - The viable seeds will sink to the bottom.

Step 5:  Decant the water with fungus and tomato mess into the sink, the nice clean seeds will be on the bottom.  Repeat a few times to rise.

Step 6:  Strain over cheesecloth and allow to air dry.

Step 7:  Don't forget to label your varieties!

Seed Storage:
Seeds must be stored dry. Place in glass jar or envelopes. Make sure you label all the containers or packages with the seed type or variety, and date. Put in the freezer for two days to kill pests. Then store in a cool dry location like a refrigerator. Seed that molds was not sufficiently dry before storage.
Seed viability decreases over time. Parsley, onion, and sweet corn must be used the next year. Most seed should be used within three years.
Seed saving is essential for maintaining unusual or heritage vegetables and flowers. It is a great way to propagate many native plants too. There are numerous seed saver exchanges, clubs, and listings in magazines like Organic Gardening. Although you shouldn’t base your entire garden on saved seed you may want to give seed saving a try.

Heirloom Catalogues of Note: (all with free beautiful catalogues and fantastic websites)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed
Seed Saver’s Exchange
Territorial Seed Company
Seeds of Change

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Harvest Season

We've been "spreading the love" of farm fresh produce here at the Downtown Teaching Farm for the past several weeks.  In addition to feasting well as a group of community gardeners, we have made contributions of eggplant to Salt Tears Coffeehouse and Noshery, and heirloom tomatoes to Archie's Place. 

We've gathered produce for donations to the St. Mary's Foodbank, Boise High families, and some of the new-to-Boise refugee families.  We hosted our first U-pick Farm Day after school last Friday for the students and staff at Boise High, and are beginning to plan our tomato and melon taste testing at lunch next week.  Thank you again to all of the gardeners, supporters, volunteers, and businesses who have helped contribute to a successful first season at the Downtown Teaching Farm! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kathy and her Beet - Before and After

Approximately June 1st, 2011 - Kathy and her Beet (Before)

August 1st, 2011 - Kathy and her Beautiful Beet (After!)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

After Two Months at the Downtown Teaching Farm

The month of July is flying by at the Downtown Teaching Farm.  We've been working our tails off to combat with the weeds - old fashioned elbow grease and a whole lot of mulch.  We've been working out the details of our trench-flood watering system in some beds, and looking forward to not having to handwater after this year - thank you to everyone who has been helping with the watering through the heat!

Please come down to the farm for our evening work parties - contact if you'd like specific dates/times.

This chalkboard is where we are communicating what we've been up on a daily basis.  Please make a note of what you've been weeding/watering/discovering - and also a note there is something that really needs attention that you didn't have time to get to.  It is very helpful to have a chalkboard - thanks Quissell family!

Moving this giant pile of mulch all throughout the garden is one of our priorities right now.  Mulching adds nutrients, helps prevent evaporation off the surface (conserving water) and prevents light sensitive seeds (such as goatheads) from germinating.  It also keeps the soil soft which makes weeding easier.  If you don't know what to do when you are at the farm, mulch anything - everything - you can't overdo it with this nice mild mulch (stall sweepings from the horse track).

As you can see, the work parties are always a blast for the farm kiddos - and the crops are definitely growing.  The farm bounty should be coming on strong this week - lettuce, beans, zucchini, cold crops, and the tomatoes and peppers.  Volunteers - remember to be bringing home about one meal's worth of veggies for each hour you are down there working.  Seth WhiteEyes from Boise High is organizing our donation process - if you know of any organizations currently in need of fresh food donations, please let us know at  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Colored System of Communication

Colored Staking as a Way of Communicating with the Farm Families

One of the challenges on our farm is communicating with eachother when we are rarely there working at the same time.  We are experimenting with a colored staking system for watering, weeding, and harvesting, as well as a bulletin board to leave notes for eachother.  We are not using a formal CSA type of harvest system (where everyone picks up a box of food on the same day) instead we are using more of a u-pick situation for the farmers).  Farmers should be able to take home a meal's worth of vegetables for every hour volunteered, and to make sure that all of the families and students participating are taking food home to their families, and should not have to ask permission from one of the organizers - we are employing a stop-light colored (red, yellow, and green) staking system  for harvest makes good sense.  The other colors (orange and blue) will help people recognize what the priority weeding and watering beds are at that time. 

An added bonus is the the colored stakes are like a scavenger hunt for young kids to wander about and see what needs to be done and what is ripe for the picking.  These stakes also "quietly" teach people to recognize what various crops look like when they are ready for harvest (and harvest directions can be written right on the stake) and will make it easier to communicate with our harvest coordinator about donations ready to be made.  The stakes are stored in a color coded series of containers inside the shed so people can move them around as they weed beds or finish harvesting a crop.

Red Stake: Do Not Harvest (a donation will be made very soon with this crop)

     Yellow Stake: Almost Ready to Harvest, check back frequently

Green Stake: Harvest for your family please (one meal's worth per hour volunteered)

Blue Stake: Watering Priority (newly planted)

Orange Stake: Weeding Priority

Monday, June 20, 2011

Farm Family Class Monday June 20 from 6-8

Please come join us at the Downtown Teaching Farm for some time to work together on some continued bed building and planting.  We are still in need of a few more community gardeners, and would love for the Boise High students and families to come on down as well.  There is an art project available for small kids, and there will be several different hands-on-work-together projects, as well as a walk through to take a look at the crops and the plans for the next couple of weeks.  The class is free from 6-8 at the corner of 12th and Fort street.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Downtown Teaching Farm, Week 3

June 15, 2011
Blogger: Ali Ward, BHS Science Teacher

The Farm:

The dust has settled a little bit at the Downtown Teaching Farm now that summer vacation has begun for the Boise School District.  A significant amount of planting and bed building is done for this growing season, but we still have one major section to prepare for our raspberries that should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. 

There is a major focus on building nitrogen in the soil, and for that reason we have been planting a lot of legumes, such as bush beans, some late peas, cow peas, and we are even trying some garbonzo beans. 

We have been harvesting the beautiful red oak leaf lettuce that volunteered in one of the raised beds, and some of the herbs can be used (chives, sage, oregano), but it won't be long before the vegetables start to produce. 

The potatoes have come up in several of the potato beds, and we are hopeful that these will make a nice September crop, and we just keep planting tomatoes! 

One of the major focuses has been getting materials ordered and purchased with our grant monies, these items include: tools, plants, trellising material and irrigation equipment. 

Aside from some continued planting as the soil continues to warm (note: apparently many farmers throughout the Valley are noticing that their crops are about 3 weeks behind schedule this year, so we are not rushing around like we normally would be to get everything in - but we all need to hope for a long and warm Fall!) we are also working on our irrigation plan, our harvest and donation plan, and some event planning for harvest time.  Volunteers are needed in all three of those areas.  In addition, we are working with the City to develop plans that are in line with the Historic District requirements of being a piece of land in the N. End. 

The Downtown Teaching Farm as an Organzation:

We met as a steering committee last week to discuss the long term plans and organizational structure for the Downtown Teaching Farm.  We have included members from Boise High, NENA, the City of Boise, FUMC (Cathedral of the Rockies) and United Water.  Everyone has had fabulous ideas for helping us maintain the garden and find new volunteers throughout the coming years.  The church and the district have negotiated a 5 year lease on that section of land, and we are happy to have several planting seasons to rehabilitate the soil and build the organization.

We also have had a bit of media success.  The Downtown Teaching Farm was a topic of interest in one of the locally programmed Radio Boise shows last week (89.9).  There is a Boise Weekly piece about the farm today, and a piece in Northwest Food News due out in the coming weeks.  Thank you so so very much to all of our supporters, the many administrators and farm-experts, and farm-families that have gotten this project off the ground so quickly!

The Classes: 

Now on the blog is a calendar of work parties and classes being offered at the farm.  The Farm Classes are open to the public and a great way to come work on the farm for an evening and see if is a project that fits your needs. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heirloom Beans and Tomatoes: Today's Planting Menu

Please drop by the Downtown Teaching Farm to plant up some heirloom beans and tomatoes as we continue to work on our "hot-crop" beds.  We will also save these seeds in the fall and propogate these open-pollinated plants for our own use, and perhaps a seed sale come spring.  Also, we are ordering our lumber, irrigation supplies, and bare root berries this week so please stay tuned for some work days in the next ten days or so.  Also, we need peppers, many peppers, if you can contribute seedlings that would be much appreciated!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Get Involved Today at the Downtown Teaching Farm

There are two ways to get involved with this teaching farm today, Monday the 6th of June.

If you are a BHS student and would like to take on a leadership role (watering, harvesting, event planning, community garden coordinator) then you should meet at the farm at 4:30 today to discuss the responsibilities and do a walk through.

If you are a community member, all are invited to the 2nd "Farm Family" class - tonight at 6 pm.  These classes are designed to bring community gardeners together and teach gardening concepts or "themes" to a variety of age groups.  Tonight's topic is Irrigation and Mulch.  We will do hands on activities with some different types of mulching that are appropriate for different types of watering.  There is also an mulch-art project for the young kids.  Then, we will plant up a couple of rows of tomatoes and some rows and teepee's of heirloom beans!  Also, we will try to finish planting the Pizza Garden - does anyone have any wheat seed they can bring?  Come one and all - from 6-8 pm.!/pages/Downtown-Teaching-Farm/106658106090328

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Hardening Off"

June 2, 2011 (blogger: Ali Ward, BHS Science Teacher)

Something I'd forgotten about growing baby seedlings indoors soley under lights is the important process of "hardening them off."  You see, the eggplant pictured above on the right, the shriveled up one that looks like it is made of carboard - this was a beautiful seedling with big broad leaves that had never been exposed to real sunlight before.  It took about 24 hours of actual UV to completely kill it - weird as that may seem.  The eggplant on the left is smaller and younger, but was grown in a greenhouse and therefore its cuticle was toughened up and could withstand the UV rays, some wind and rain.  Unfortuantely, most of the seedlings we grew on the classroom counters did not withstand the transition to the garden.  This picture helps illustrate the need for some sort of cold frames at the farm that we can use to "harden off" our seedlings.  Something to think about for next year for sure.  If anyone could contribute seedlings (our tomatoes did OK, but you can never have too many tomatoes!) that would be much appreciated for this year!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Planting Today (Wednesday the 1st of June) - 12:30 - 2:00

Please come down if you can and join us for some planting of tomatoes, beans, carrots, lettuce, dill, parsley, and so on.  12:30-2:00. We will also need some watering help, those of you who have volunteered for that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Week Ahead (Week 2, 2011)

This week is all about planting planting planting!

We also have one large section of beds to be built, and I'm working to order the irrigation supplies, bare root berries, lumber and tools that are needed in the near future. 

Also, see the new donation needs list on the blogspot site...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Downtown Teaching Farm, Week 1

Week 1: Friday, May 20 - Friday, May 27
Blogger: Ali Ward, Boise High School Science Teacher

There was a lot of digging going on!  Mr. Vega, Mr. Quissell, and I brought our classes over to the farm to work on bed installation and get some of our seedlings settled. 

The layout for the in-ground plantings at the farm is starting to take shape. 

I'm going to describe the farm's space in the coming paragraphs in somewhat of a clockwise fashion beginning at the corner of 12th street and the south edge of the farm (the alley between Hays and Fort).

The Boise High students' first task was to create four 70' mounded rows in what was the compost/waste pile area along the alley.  It was amazing to watch this take form before my very eyes!  We will do large plantings of vining crops along these mounds as we know that the weeds will be ample and we are hoping to mulch and smother many of the weeds with winter squash, melons, and cucumbers on a yet-to-be built trellis along the alleyway.  The most interior bed in this area has been planted with potatoes, and we're going to try some bush beans and snap peas along the two sides of the mounds to help retain the soil and - you guessed it - smother more weeds!  These four rows will be watered with t-tape as soon as we can get the irrigations system installed.

We also hand dug many beds along the 12th Street and Fort Street sides of the farm.  These areas have not yet been planted, and we will continue building these beds in a manner that allows us to use t-tape to irrigate.  I have a line on large numbers of bare-root berries and am considering some hedges of berries to create garden "walls," but we need to spend a bit more time figuring out the best crops where and how this will work with our arbored entrances.  We also have cultivated several large beds, one that will be used for Indian corn underplanted with gourds, a mounded area for strawberries, and some areas that we will use for heritage beans.  I had the idea of having the students save the bean seed in the Fall, perhaps to sell as a fundraiser in the spring - we'll see - if you have any heirloom beans you'd like to grow out for seed saving purposes, bring them on down.  We are going to plant A LOT of beans in the next few years as we continue to build the soil's nitrogen content.

On the corner of 12th and Fort we have installed a tomato forest in the serpentine garden.  We should be able to get about 80 plants in this area, trellising them onto 8' painted poles to create a vertical tomato patch.  (There will be a painting party soon soon soon!)  I've been using this method at home for years, and I think it will be an interesting take on this space.  We will underplant the tomatoes with companions - with the main purpose there being - you guessed it - smothering weeds!  This serpentine garden will be watered once or twice a week by flooding it - once the plants are established.  I have to admit - we did not do a good job of keeping track of the varieties of tomatoes planted in here so far - it was raining and taking notes on varieties didn't work out very well.  But, we just had to get them in the ground.  Most of our starts have been under lights since Febuary and it was now or never for the little guys.  I'm hoping that I can go back and do a bunch of retro-labeling once they start to fruit - I have good notes of the varieties that I started, and again I would love the students have the ability to save and sell seeds for tomatoes someday, so we'll experiment with it this season.

To the South East of the serpentine, on a large curved swath, is be a bed that we will use for annual herbs and some cutting flowers, and perhaps getting our plants of rhubarb and such started.  This area of the garden is the most confusing to think about how we are going to irrigate it, with curved beds, circular beds, and the hose area.  Because it is possilbe that we will want to totally replan this area, I'm going to plant in a carefree manner in here this year - try to get a bunch of the weeds out and smothered, and only use soft mulch on the paths here as they may someday get plowed under.  Again, we've just been trying to get our seedlings in the ground - most of them look pretty sad - the shock of leaving the classroom lights to the full sun, wind, and cool weather has been hard on things.  Some will be strong and make it, others will have to be replanted.  That is OK, the students have enjoyed growing and nurturing these seedlings all winter and spring, it is good to get them in the ground and give it a try.  A some point though, we will need to think about building a flock of cold frames - one use for them being an area to harden off seedlings.
One of the more unique features of the farm are the two large circular beds near the Eastern Edge of the cultivated spaces.  These circles were here, and had been cultivated before, so the students and I decided on a plan to utilize them.  They planted mounds of potatoes around the edges, with a "moat" type of trench, and an island in the middle.  These "islands" are about 6' in diameter.  We will construct big pole bean teepee's on these islands, hopefully with enough room inside for little people to hang out in the shade.  We'll need about 12-18 branches, fairly straight, and about 9-10' long for this project.  One of our teacher's spouses works for the City of Boise in the Forestry Department, so I'm going to ask if he'll help us out with appropriate branches for this.  The "moats" will be used to flood irrigate these two circle gardens one to two times a week.

Now, the raised beds.  I have done a bit of work on a master plan for these 20 beds, utilizing companion planting and intensive planting techniques.  That being said, I'm starting to realize that there is no way I can coordinate all of the community gardeners and student farmers during the summer.  I am seeking someone who would like to help coordinate the community gardeners and make certain that that piece of the puzzle is functioning.  I will still be happy to teach the workshop series for students/community gardeners, but if any of you would be interested in helping me coordinate this different group of farmers, please let me know.  please.

Also, I am seeking a student leader who would be the Harvest Coordinator.  This person would work with me on the harvest plans, and work with Idaho's Bounty project and other community leaders to make sure that the food is dropped off with the appropriate organizations.   This person will also work with me on the record keeping of harvest information.  This information will be key for more successful planned plantings in coming seasons.

I am also seeking a student leader who can be a Water Master.  This person would be in charge of making sure that the irrigation plan is being followed and that the water volunteers are showing up.  This peson will also work with Mr. Quissell and United Water to further develop the partnership with United Water and make sure we aren't using our donated water too quickly!

At this point I see myself in the role of planting/harvest design and student farmer coordination.  I will also be teaching the "Farm Family " series of classes.  Erik Quissell has taken the lead as liason between different organizations and the Downtown Teaching Farm.  He has been coordinating with the Methodist church, NENA, and United Water so far. 

I also realized recently that it would be silly not to try to sell at least a portion of the food to financially support the farm project. We have no intent of trying to operate a farm stand or market booth - most of the food will go to the families of the farmers (student and community volunteers), food banks and church pantries, and to the school cafeteria.  But, there will still be plenty we could sell.  I had the idea of doing a once a month (perhaps June/July/August/September) "u-pick" farm day where outside people can come wander around with student "farm guide" and harvest what they want, pay a donation of their choice, and the $$ can go to our Boise Schools Foundation account, which is tax-deductable and the can be used by us for continued farm support.  These could be seen and promoted almost as "open house" farm parties, where folks can come, harvest what they would like, and contribute what they can.  Seems like a great community builder.  If anyone else likes that idea - let me know if you'd like to help me plan/promote such a thing.  Essentially, we need an "Event Coordinator."

Is it possilbe that all of this has really come together in a week?!