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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Collecting Seeds In Short Season Gardens

I’m constantly on the lookout for perennial and biennial food crops that will survive the insanely long winter in my short season garden. Such crops are up and growing the minute the snow melts, meaning I can start eating from my garden before I’ve planted my annual seeds.

Biennials stay in place for two years and perennials survive ad infinitum. Plants that say in one place do not disturb the soil. They maintain their vital connection to the soil community. They grow bigger each year, giving me more food. Their undisturbed roots help the soil community stay healthy and in turn the soil community helps the plants. And since I don’t have to replant there is less work for me to do.


Looking For Carrots
I was preparing a garden bed for seeding when I noticed a feathery looking leaf poking out of the ground as I reached over to pluck it from the soil I saw it was connected to something orange, it was a carrot that had over wintered. Yay! So the mice hadn’t eaten all of them.

I plant the same vegetable in different parts of my garden following the notion that if pests or a disease befell a crop they may not find it all. It worked.

Every Autumn I leave part of my carrot crop in the ground to overwinter for a spring harvest of food and a summer collection of seeds. But this time some mice had set up home under the snow relying on my carrots to be their food supply all winter. I was dismayed when I discovered, after the snow melted, they had eaten everything except the very tips of the carrots. It meant no spring harvest and no seed collection for me.

However the carrot I found was growing in a different part of the garden and the mice hadn’t found it. So now I 'm able to collect seeds after all.

Arugula sylvetta that over wintered in my garden

Unexpected Harvest Of Greens
I read about perennial Arugula sylvetta in one of Eric Toensmeier’s books. On the off chance it may be hardy in my garden I purchased a packet when I made my seed order. Later, when it came up, I realized it was the same plant as the Italian Arugula I had purchased the previous year from Bosa Foods In Vancouver. It has narrower leaves than regular arugula and a hotter more peppery taste that I love.

I left the plants in the ground over winter to see what would happen. Come spring it was one of the first things to start growing, although very slowly.

Harvesting Greens
Kale Trials
I left the kale in the ground too. I know people who have had some cultivars come back in their zone 3 gardens.

When the snow melted it was already sprouting leaves that were immediately chomped off by the hungry bunnies, AKA Lepus americanus that have been terrorizing my garden lately.

I spent an entire day building a fence around the perimeter of the garden with wooden fence posts, rebar, chicken wire and staples to keep the bunnies out.

Three weeks later only one of the kale plants is alive and like the Arugula sylvetta growing very slowly. Now that I have the fence I'll try to over winter kale again.

Hit And Miss
Some plants require more days or more heat than a short season garden can provide to produce flowers and seeds that we may never see them.

One way to avoid this is too choose cultivars that take 65 days or less to mature.
However sometimes there is just not enough heat to get the plants to flower and seed. It doesn’t matter since greens can be eaten at any stage of growth although if you want seeds like I do you're SOL.

Leaving biennials in the ground doesn’t always work, even if they are not eaten by critters they may just rot away. Beets seem to be particularly susceptible to rotting.

Lastly growing beans to the point of over maturity so I can collect seed seems to be an unattainable goal. Perhaps if I planted them in my greenhouse …

1 comment:

  1. Good tips here Melanie. I haven't tried getting seed from biennials yet just for these reasons. I rather doubt the mice would leave much of anything for me. But perhaps one of these days I'll feel adventurous.


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