Friday, March 15, 2013

Seeds on the Brain

My trusty box o'magic.
Spring has sprung in my soul.

The calendar says that spring is less than a week away but the seeds in my brain are already starting to sprout. Looking ahead to next season, I am heavily pondering my garden strategy for “SCRANCH: Second Summer.” (Now on DVD!)  

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m going to do this again. It was so much work last year, definitely the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. Before the SCRANCH project, the most physically thing I’d done was tracking gorillas in Zaire, and even that was only three days.  

You’ve played Farmville? Yeah? Good. Real farming is nothing like that – it rarely involves sitting, for one thing.

Beyond the physical, the project was taxing mentally, emotionally, financially and personally. Oh yeah, and wildly geographically inconvenient; why my ancestors did not have the decency to settle in, say Sonoma or Santa Barbara, is beyond me.

But MAN, I had fun! I experienced total exhilaration at calling my own bluff and following through on a vision. The nerve of me! I make bad decisions all the time but this one was solid and it felt like something I could really stand behind. (Again, no sitting!)  

No matter what happens from here on out, I will always have that feeling of accomplishment and it is priceless. Certainly, I aim to build on the momentum to create something interesting and worthwhile, or if nothing else, entertaining. (Certainly for the NoDak locals, I’m sure.)

Since I made my lazy 3-week autumn trek from SCRANCH to Long Beach, I’ve been living a cush life, staying with mom in her spacious suburban home full of love and food. I have scads of wonderful old friends available to me socially and they all make me feel so welcome, so treasured - I often wonder just what it is I can give them in return.

I've known all these women since we were the little one's age, and we still have slumber parties.
Together, we these same friends, we've been gorging ourselves on the many, many perks of being in Southern California – paddling on the bay in January, In-in-Out Burgers everywhere, hearty games of Spot-the-C-and-D-Grade Celebrity!, endless museums and scads of incredible live music.  (StringTheory! The Wood Brothers! Warren Priske! I saw - and heard-  them all.)

 Here's Warren singing - he is an old friend of mine (younger brother of my college pal, Alicia) and he is as funny, talented and handsome as ever.

But very soon, around Mother’s Day, my life will shift to a very different scenario. Then, I will pack up my trusty Ford Ranger, reverse my trek northward and give this organic farming thing another go.

I watched a TEDx Manhattan talk the other day by environmental journalist, Simran Sethi, about seeds: “The Buried Beginnings of Food.” Her talk included chilling information such as:

·      There are 80,000 edible plant varieties in the world, though we only cultivate about 150 of them, and 95% of the world’s calories comes from just 30 species.
·      Monocropping is what killed 1 million people in Ireland’s potato famine in the mid-1800s – all it takes is one rabid pathogen.
·      In the US, half our caloric intake comes from just four crops: rice, corn, wheat and potatoes.
·      Food variety is going extinct: The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that since 1900, 75% of crop varieties have disappeared.
·      Just 3 companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta) own 50% of the global seed market, including hybrids and GMOs, which cannot legally be saved or reused.
·      Just one company, Monsanto, owns 90% of the corn, soybean and cotton seeds grown in the US. In 2005, they also acquired Seminis, the world’s largest vegetable seed company.

I knew most of these things already but hearing them again reminds me why I’m doing SCRANCH, why it is my own form of protest, for my own education and also aimed at sparking conversations among others.

And like any good speech, Simran started with a catchy opener by recounting a conversation with an Italian scientist working on seed conservation. She’d told him about her pitch to a book editor, about seed conservation, how he’d discounted the premise as “not sexy.”

“In an intoxicating Italian accent, the scientist leaned in and replied, ‘Simran, seeds ARE sex.”

Simran went on to marvel that seeds are, in fact, “little sex packets” and “the beginning and ending and beginning of everything.” She's so right. I still marvel at how much information is held in each tiny seed how it knows exactly what to do and become within the right environment.

Oddly enough, I had heard the ‘plant porn’ topic the night before. While thumbing through the tantalizing Landreth’s catalogue (since 1784!), I read about the basic difference between fruits and vegetables, their sex lives:
Difference between a Vegetable and a Fruit

This is a question which we are frequently asked by correspondents, and here give the answer in a physiological sense.

A Fruit is borne subsequent to inflorescence and upon the flower stem, and is result of sexual growth, as exemplified in the case of an Apple, Tomato, Egg-Plant, Melon and Pea or Bean.

A Culinary Vegetable, on the other hand, is a portion of the plant developed under or above ground, independent of sexual results, and generally requires cooking to prepare it for food.

--from Landreth's 1884 catalog
Meanwhile, mom and I have been messing around in her front and back yards, fiddling with flowers and such. I convinced her to take on some tomato plants and herbs. Strange that she grew up on a farm but never grew food in California. She doesn’t have much farmer patience, that’s for sure: “Gosh, those seeds have been taking a long time! How long do they take?”

So, I’ve been gathering up my seeds, taking inventory, and thinking about what will grow fast, with less work and transport/storage potential. I had way too many tomato plants (maybe 25 or 30) and varieties (maybe 8) last year – too many came at once, or too late, and they were tough to save over frosts. Plus, everybody grows tomatoes so they were tougher to sell. (Except for the Yellow Pear, which look like little light bulbs. Folks had never seen those before.)

Seeds I already have:

            Carrot: Atomic Red & Nantes
            Cucumber: Straight Eight
            Green Beans: Cranberry Bush* & Contender*
            Lettuce: Buttercrunch
            Onion: Valencia
            Pea: Sugar Snap
            Pepper: Sweet Chocolate
            Squash: Yellow Crookneck
            Watermelon: Moon and Stars* & Sugar Baby

            Basil: Lemon
            Cilantro: Santo
            Parsley: Italian Flat Leaf

            Poppie: Golden

*seeds harvested from last year

 And because I’m greedy and not entirely sane, here’s my seed wish list:

  • Basil: Actually, I may not need to buy regular basil, it was starting to grown wild when I left….
  • Dill: And time the harvest, if possible, to the end of cucumber season, when everyone is pickling.
  • Eggplant: Apple Green and probably Black Beauty
  • Horseradish: ??? I have no idea how that works.
  • Parsnips: Sugar Hollow Crown
  • Popcorn: Black Dakota, Painted Mountain & Strawberry Corn
  • Radishes: Red Meat
  • Squash: Uncle David’s Dessert, for sentimental reasons
  • Spinach: Several kinds, I have some spinach plans brewing…
  • Tomatoes: Dakota Yellow Pear, 2 more TBD
  • I’m also thinking some fruit would be nice – blueberries? Raspberries? (Thing is, raspberries takeover a field…hey, maybe I could plant a giant raspberry basil-field and let everybody just grow wild. OMG!)

Also, I must have flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the place up and make it looked loved, they bring bees and, they’re PURTY! I also have some Golden Poppie seeds – specifically because it’s my home state flower (California) – and they are a tough cheery plant. I would love to honor the other states in my life so I’m going to get NoDak’s state flower, Prairie Rose, and plant those. I’d love to have Mountain Columbine, for Colorado, but I don’t think NoDak offers the ideal climate, it being decidedly mountain-less and all. Mississippi’s Magnolia might be tough too.

Seeds are sex and I’m totally getting in the mood. Making notations, starring varieties and dog-earring pages, I’m devouring Landreth’s and my brain is percolating. 

 And, oh, did I mention that I’ve spent all last week visiting farms in Costa Rica and talking to farmers about crops and business realities? I will soon be writing posts on each farm – what I learned, what I saw and the people I met along the way. As a journalist, I was intrigued and focused; as a farmer, I was a mix of hopeful, envious and grateful. 

Gosh, I miss my dirt.


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