Experimental Homestead

Virtual Garden Tour and Seed Packet Give Away for Subscribers



Here is a quick tour of my garden this early summer (not super quick, but my version of quick relative to the hours I could have spent).  It is not what I’d like it to be, but it’s pretty tidy and growing well, much better actually than the last two years.  We are in year two of a pretty bad drought, but I think the ever flowing spring is going to trickle on through this one too.  So, I am undaunted.  Of course many of the things touched on in these videos will be revisited in future videos and blog posts.

Well, giving away onion bulbs was fun last year (or whenever that was) and I’m happy to think of all those onions dividing away out there to be shared out to friends and neighbors, so I decided to give away some seeds this month.  Not the best timing, but I know you guys aren’t fleeting gardeners for the most part.  I save seed pretty regularly.  I don’t save everything every year.  Not at all.  But every year I’m saving some seed or another.  I can only plant so much, so I end up giving most of them away at the Farmer’s Market and at the local Scion Exchange.  I had to give up the Farmer’s Market for now, and all bets are off on whether I make it to the Scion Exchange.  I thought, what better people to give seeds to than blog subscribers!  I feel kind of bad that I haven’t done it earlier!

I have been gardening and intentionally testing varieties for long enough to have amassed some favorites that are standard fare.  I don’t spend much time poring over seed catalogs anymore, just to be tempted into trying new varieties  that are unlikely to be any better than what I already grow.  Once in a while I’ll pick a vegetable type and gather multiple varieties of it to do some loose trials, but I haven’t done that too much for a while and it usually results in little more than a light wallet and a confirmation that what I grow already is pretty good.  No doubt there are better varieties out there, but finding them takes some effort and money.  So, most of these are varieties that have stood the test of time.  Your mileage may vary due to climate, taste or what have you, but they work well for me.  Each packet will have 10 seed varieties and one I’itoi onion bulb.  There are 14 packets altogether, so when those are gone, they’re gone.  And again, this offer is for subscribers.



Bulgarian Giant Leek

Touchon Carrot

Ruby Streaks Mustard

Bronze Beauty Lettuce

Italian Parsley (generic)

Zapotec Tomato

Paul Robeson Tomato

Green Zebra Tomato

Aunt Ruby’s Green Giant Tomato (aka german giant etc…)

Fortex Pole Bean

You can read about all of these seed varieties and then some in my Turkeysong Seed Varieties post.

DSC00380_01They are mostly sample sized packets, enough to make a small trial, but more in some cases.  If you like them, you can ferret out seeds, or save some seed.  Lettuce is easy to save seed from and a great way to get over any seed saving fear that might be holding you back.  Just let your best two heads, or even just one, grow out and go to seed.  Be sure not to save the first ones to bolt though as that’s a trait we all want discouraged in our lettuce.  Isolation for lettuce to prevent cross pollination is very close, I think it’s only 25 feet apart.  don’t quote me on that, but lets just say I never wake up in a panic thinking my seed letti are too close to each other.  Save seed from one lettuce plant and you can stoke all your neigh  Tomatoes rarely cross, so just squish some seeds of any tomato onto a paper towel and let them dry, that’s all it takes.  I know right?  Why haven’t you been doing that for years?  Well, maybe you have, good for you then.

The Bulgarian giant seed is probably 4 or 5 generations in to selecting for large diameter, tall, uniform, self blanching leeks.  The gene pool is fairly small, but it doesn’t seem to affect them negatively so far.  I have some seed straight from Bulgaria that I’ll be working back into that gene pool.  There does seem to be some improvement over the generations I’ve saved.  These leek seeds are also now listed on my Etsy page, so if you miss out on this deal, you can still pick some up there if you have leek envy.  I’itoi onions are in my Ebay store now and the potato onions and shallots are usually listed around September 1st, though that could happen a little earlier this year, due to weather.  I’m planning to sell some multiplier collections this year, which will include several multiplier onions as a sort of starter kit.  I’m pretty excited to do that, because it allows someone to get started testing multiple varieties for less.  Multiplier onions should be considered an investment, not like buying seed that runs out.  Even two multiplier onions don’t take long to turn into many.  I’ll probably give away a few of these multiplier onions starter kits in the fall.  Only the I’itoi are ready right now.DSC00333

This time around I’m going to make you work for it.  COME OVER AND DO SOME WEEDING FOR ME!  Just kidding.  I wish!  No, I thought that I would make you leave a comment that is useful to all of us.  Leave a comment telling us your favorite vegetable varieties and why you like them, the more the merrier, but at least a couple.  Don’t be afraid to use as much space as you need to, but you don’t have to write a novel or anything, just whatever you have to say about them.  And don’t worry if they’re hybrids or something modern and not snooty heirlooms.

Email me using the contact link and then leave that comment.  Be sure to give me your address.  And you have to pay shipping, because I am headin’ for broke faster than toddler with a stack of china.  Shipping is about 2.50 all the way across the country, so lets just round that up to 3.00 to make sure I’m covered with all the fees and stuff.  Paypal works for me, but you can send cash if it doesn’t work for you.  If you are in a country other than the U.S., let me know and I’ll figure out postage as needed.  As soon as they are all spoken for, I’ll post a comment saying so, so look for that.  Of course, we’d all still love to hear your vegetable seed recommendations.

Thanks, to all of you for reading and good luck!  They won’t last long!

P.s. it would be super duper awesome to hear your experiences with these seeds in the comments even years from now.  This page will be here for a while I hope, so that feedback would be valuable to net surfing gardeners everywhere.

June 27, 2015 - Posted by | Garden Stuff | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Well. I totally love Paul R. tomatoes, for me personally, this is the best flavour a tomato can have.

    Comment by nekhbet | June 27, 2015 | Reply

    • Yes, Robeson is outstanding. I can’t imagine really besting it, though there are certainly other styles of tomatoes. Zapotec is an entirely different style, firm and meaty rather than juicy, with different, more rich tomatoey type of flavor, but it is good for different things than P.R. If I had to pick two tomatoes to grow forever, right now, it might be those two, though I’d be tempted to make one of them a canner like blue beech, just for efficiency sake. Aunt Ruby’s is pretty awesome too in the big juicy slicer category.

      Comment by Stevene | June 27, 2015 | Reply

      • Thanks for the tip with Zapotec. I’ll give it a try next year (this year we are already in full summer here). Btw .. have you ever tried (like with your apples) to make a new variety of tomatoes?

        Comment by nekhbet | June 27, 2015

      • No, I haven’t, though I’ve thought about it for sure. There are an awful lot of great tomatoes already. Just trialing them for choosing breeding parents could be a real project if one was serious about it. It seems to me that the main reason for breeding new tomatoes would be disease resistance and cultural traits like cracking or drought resistance. Novelty is always popular and fun though- like green zebra and green grape. If I took on any more breeding projects, it would probably be leeks next or other fruits like peaches and cherries- possibly pears.

        Comment by Stevene | June 27, 2015

  2. My wife is the main gardener; I take care of infrastructure. And grow the garlic, which I’ll probably harvest today. I’ve tried growing garlic from the “bulbil” seeds that develop at the end of the scapes, but haven’t succeeded. (I had read that it takes two years to produce seeds that will develop into full size heads.) So I go the usual route of seeding the cloves. However, I’m usually late getting around to fall planting, so instead I’ve taken to plopping whole bulbs into a nursery bed as soon as the rains come. By the time I get around to transplanting them out, they’re usually showing a few inches of shoot, and all the cloves are loose and ready to come apart — except for tangled root hairs, which aren’t really a problem since I trim the roots anyway when I transplant. One of the benefits of the method is there’s little to no risk of damaging the root zone when you “pop” the cloves out of the bulb, and it also seems to me closer to nature’s method, right, where the bulb would just stay in the ground until conditions were right for growth…? The other garlic trick I think I might have mentioned in another comment, but bears repeating — heavy applications of straight pee in the spring, when the greens are getting going. The heads on my garlic are regularly bigger than a fist. This year we blanched and froze most of the scapes, which are a favorite.

    Comment by harlanpotlatch | June 27, 2015 | Reply

  3. We doubled the size of our garden this year so we have been very busy especially with water restrictions in place in Southern California. We use soaker irrigation on timers and are super frugal with our household water use. This year I am trying a few new plants as well including, chayote squash, pepino, naranjillo, tamarillo, huong cucumber, ashitaba, as well as some new varieties of radish and red beans. I have been brewing worm and compost teas and everything is growing bigger and tastier than ever. The I’itoi onions I got from you last year are superb. We love the flavor and they are doing great. I am really looking forward to planting them in more areas of the yard. We are currently in the midst of apple harvest. We have Anna and Dorset trees and get two crops a year from each. Today I am making more applesauce, dehydrating apples, as well as making a batch of coleslaw, roasting garlic, and juicing a ton of citrus. Thanks for your offer! I love trying new varieties.

    Comment by Diana | June 27, 2015 | Reply

    • Sounds like a good time. You guys have some options down there that few of the rest of us have. I’ve long thought about relocating to a more gentle climate for all those subtropicals that can be grown in places like San Diego and Florida. I have Dorsett Golden, but no fruit yet. You are familiar with the Apples and oranges blog right? Just in case: https://kuffelcreek.wordpress.com/

      Comment by Stevene | June 27, 2015 | Reply

      • Hah! I’ve always thought about relocating from here near San Diego to up north where you are. I don’t know exactly where you are, but I have a general idea…

        Comment by Michael Schmidt | June 28, 2015

      • well, I don’t think I’d thrive in San Diego, or Florida actually :) I’m not going anywhere, but I sure could take advantage of that climate! I used to live in Sant Cruz where avocados can be grown. I lost a whole set of plants moving a few hours north and 1800 feet up.

        Comment by Stevene | June 28, 2015

  4. i make beds using hardware mesh on the ground to keep gophers out, with a row of cinder block. then crummy dirt-make it level. next is 6 mil plastic to keep tree roots out and water in. two more runs around with cinder blocks. you can kind of glue the cinder blocks together with a can of foam caulk sealant. that stuff sticks!. fill the area above the 6 mil plastic with good soil. the bed is now 3 blocks above the ground to save your back and keep most bad critters out. frogs feel safe way up here too. the depth of the planting bed is 2 cinder blocks which is adequate. water will not go straight down because of the plastic barrier so the soil stays moist while excess water drains out through the cracks between the cinder blocks. raffy

    Comment by raffy | June 27, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks for the input. I may do some sort of wire screening in the new garden when I move up there (different better site), but it’s kind of a hassle too sometimes. Maybe just in some beds. It seemed pretty necessary for the saffron though at this point and that bed is now worry free beyond a little weeding.

      Comment by Stevene | June 27, 2015 | Reply

  5. My favorite veggie overall is a kale that I started from seeds a friend gave me two years ago and which have been adapting themselves to be productive here in the southeast. We also “Mike’s wild tomatoes” all over the place and between them and kale, we’re eating garden produce every day. I also like luffa squash a lot: it’s a super fast grower, a pretty vine, apparently impervious to pests, and makes tons of squashes that you can pick small and eat or let grow big and use the spongy thing inside to scrub things.

    Comment by Charles | June 27, 2015 | Reply

  6. Heh, at the moment I’m too broke for even the shipping so I’ll have to miss out on this. It’s okay though. I have a lot of seeds I haven’t even been able to try due to very limited space. I have been doing the “trying them out” thing in my limited space. One squash that I tried and like to recommend because it was easy and very prolific was the Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash. Very delicious and very good keeper too. Sadly I’m not growing it this year because I’m growing a newly available rare Peruvian squash. Anyway, also wanted to say I love your gate.

    Comment by Karen Wood | June 27, 2015 | Reply

    • I have been suckered into testing winter squash over and over, but burgess’ buttercup alway seems to win. don’t tempt me! I confess to a certain curiosity in spite of my “never again” resolve. And sweet potato sounds pretty good…

      Comment by Stevene | June 27, 2015 | Reply

      • It was the “sweet potato” that interested me. I have no regrets either. So just in case you muster up a change of heart…I got my seeds from Baker Creek, but I’ve seen other having them too. They are an old and loved heirloom. They are an acorn type and are tan colored.

        Comment by Karen Wood | June 27, 2015

      • Oh, to clarify……the skin is tan.
        The flesh is pinkish orange.

        Comment by Karen Wood | June 27, 2015

  7. Some random favourites:

    Cavolo Nero di Toscana (known as Lacinato kale I think in the US) – so easy here in the UK and super productive even on neglect. Also the blue green leaves look pretty, particularly with pot marigolds.

    Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa) – perennial, strongly tart / lemon flavoured leaves. Not available in the shops here as I think the leaves don’t store well. ‘Abundance’ and ‘Profussion’ do not flower and so don’t bolt. Prevents seed saving of course but as perennial can be divided.

    Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus ‘Fuseau’) – so delicious, especially in creamy soups. Needs to be strictly segregated in separate beds as can become invasive. Can be a gassy root veg due to the inulin content – an ex once had to leave work for the day after I made soup and he tried it for the first time, oops. I wonder if this effect can be mitigated by fermenting (outside the gut)?

    Comment by Odette | June 28, 2015 | Reply

    • Dwarf Blue Scotch has ended up being my favorite Kale for now. I’m still not super crazy about kale. If you have any favorite ways to use it, I’d love to hear about that.

      Bob Flowerdew says that Jerusalem Artichokes store the wind. I’d like to establish a wild patch around here somewhere. I think that is the ideal way to grow them. Don’t have to worry about them spreading all over the place and they are pretty good at growing themselves. I once had some that a friend grew that were red and had no knobs on them. I thought those were the best thing ever, because they were so much easier to clean!

      Thanks for sharing.

      Comment by Stevene | June 28, 2015 | Reply

      • I favour the yoga bunny uses of kale. So, juices, smoothies, kale chips (with tough stalks removed) are really good, raw kale massaged into salads and also sautéed with garlic and wine is lush. In Holland we have a hearty winter dish called boerenkool which is really good. It’s cooked kale mixed into mashed potato with gravy or even vinegar in the middle and smoked sausage on the side.

        Ha, I really like Bob Flowerdew’s wind sink idea!

        Comment by ovo | July 2, 2015

      • Boerenkool sounds good. Kind of like the Euell Gibbons approach to wild greens though. They all taste great with half a stick of butter, 3 slices bacon and some MSG! ;) I do like Kale chips, but they are a production to make. I can eat kale, but I rarely look forward to it. Mostly sneaking it in here and there. I’m always looking for that recipe that I’ll look forward to. thanks.

        Comment by Stevene | July 2, 2015

  8. Marmand tomato works great for me – I know it’s not heirloom and so on, but it gives lots of fruit and doesn’t seem to care one bit about the multitude of pests that swarms around.

    EggYolk cherry tomato – I usually my vegetables in traditional hues, and this tomato is definitely yellow, but it tastes so good I’m willing to look away.

    Chestnut pumpkin is to my taste the best pumpkin this world has to offer… roasted with the peel with nothing but olive oil and salt. so if anyone has any tips as for how to avoid crossbreeding with the zucchinis and cucumbers via honeybees they’ll be appreciated – I’m actually quite worried about next year’s crops

    Yellow canary melon: I’m looking for seeds, cause I have lost mine, but boy, was it good

    and last: lab-lab beans. some say they are somewhat poisonous – I know many, including myself who eat the pods boiled and live to tell the tale. it grows like crazy, binds nitrogen, gives tons of beans. I just started growing it for fodder (goats), inter seeded with sorghum (supposed to climb on it).

    thanks for the post!

    Comment by nimrod | June 28, 2015 | Reply

    • you don’t have to worry about the cucumbers cross-pollinating your squash as they are different genus even. depending on whether chestnut (i’m not familiar with this variety) is a maxima or a pepo, they may or may not cross-pollinate. its not to hard to tape flowers and hand pollinate…check out carol deppe’s “breed your own vegetable varieties” and “the resilient gardner” and suzanne ash worth’s “seed to seed” for detailed instructions. good luck

      Comment by cailen | June 28, 2015 | Reply

      • I second the recommendation to check out Carole Deppe’s books. Awesome stuff.

        Comment by Stevene | June 28, 2015

    • I’m all for improving varieties of vegetables and not romantically clinging to heirlooms. Hybrids are fine too, if you don’t mind being dependent on buying seed. Actually, I know a lot of people other than myself who also think that the idea that you can’t grow seed from hybrids is probably way overblown. With some it’s no doubt not going to work, but I suspect that others can be stabilized into good open pollinated varieties. I know some say they’ve done that, no problem.

      There are three main species of squash that are grown by people and which can pretty much be counted on not to cross with each other. Cucumbers are another species, so they won’t cross with squashes. I used to just grow only one variety of each group, so I could save seed from any of them at any time. For me the three were golden summer crook neck, Burgess’ buttercup and burpees butterbush, which is a dwarf butternut and very good with small vines that will stay in a normal sized garden bed, with just a little encouragement. I think most pumpkins are in the group with summer squash, but look it up to be sure. Also, sometimes things are called pumpkins, even though they are a species different than most pumpkins. You can also tape the flowers shut right before they open and hand pollinate them. I haven’t done it, but it looks easy enough. That way you can select your parents more carefully for health and vigor, or whatever. I find squash seed keeps pretty well. I think the crookneck squash seed I’m using must be ancient by now, but I just planted some and it came up strong. So, you only have to do it every so many years. I use the book seed to seed, but there must be some good online resources now too. It’s pretty much as simple as finding out which species each of the types you grow belong to and then growing only one of each to save seed every 5 or 6 years, possible even longer. If you have close gardening neighbors, you will have to pollinate them yourself.

      Comment by Stevene | June 28, 2015 | Reply

      • alright, thank you all for the replies about cross pollination – made me feel quite ignorant! but nowadays, ignorance is a choice, so I looked it up straight away. chestnut pumpkin seems to be c. Maxima (based on similar kinds like “Kuri” which I know – I couldn’t find anything reliable on chestnut pumpkin itself) in which case I’m safe and can keep the seeds! very good news. On the other hand I’ve learned that planting the zucchini close to the gourds was a mistake, but no big deal, these seeds are common and easy to get. Anyway I’m going to look for the books you mentioned – it looks like too serious a subject to study from random internet sites.For now I guess I’ll stick to growing just one from each group at a time, it sounds like an easy, sturdy system.

        Comment by nimrod | June 29, 2015

      • Seed to seed should cover you pretty well for all the basic seed saving info. It really is a fantastic resource. Broad, but to the point. If I can scrounge up my copy, I’ll see if they list chestnut pumpkin.

        Comment by Stevene | June 29, 2015

    • I looked in seed to seed. There is a “chestnut” listed under Cucurbita pepo, which is the group pumpkins belong to, so that may very well be it. Group also contains the summer squashes, scallops, vegetable marrows and acorns, so an of those may cross. Also describes the group as having prickly leaves and five sharply angular sides on the fruit stem. Seeds cream colored with a white margin.

      Comment by Stevene | June 30, 2015 | Reply

      • Well, the leaves are somewhat prickly, and the fruit stem certainly has those five angular sides. c. pepo then. too bad! guess I’m screwed. I have gourds and summer squash all around it! you probably just saved me a lot of trouble since I have already decided it was c. maxima and meant to keep all the seeds and plant a field of them next season, so thanks for that also. I will try to pollinate by hand, to keep at least some seeds, I hope it’s not too late, as I don’t see many female flowers and it has some large fruit. In the long run, maybe the right thing to do will be to try and get Kuri pumpkin seeds – the taste is quite similar to chestnut, and it seems to be c. maxima.

        Comment by nimrod | June 30, 2015

  9. greetings from appalachia. i just wanna say, that i appreciate all the experimenting and sharing you are doing and i also think your garden gate and apple breeding projects are awesome and inspiring. my partner chloe (she’s an old friend of tamara’s and i think has met you…i “stole” her away from northern cali a few years ago) have an experimental homestead here in western north carolina. i’ve been getting into apples and grafting and have quite a collection of potted fruit trees waiting for me to get some of the forested hillsides cleared for future orchards. i’m collecting as many old-time appalachian apple varieties as possible and am planning, as a germ plasm repository of sorts, a few long rows of self-supporting tripods on m26 instead of espalier (an idea i got from a book called “growing fruit with a smile”…translated from russian…which you should check out if you haven’t already) as well as trialling a dozen or so different rootstocks.

    as far as garden varieties go, i imagine our climates couldn’t be more different. here in the temperate rainforest, we often have to cope with too much rain and the fungus it brings, though global weirding is bringing more drastic deluge/mini-drought scenarios. for instance, with tomatoes, late blight is the major limiting factor and decimates plants come late july/august unless grown under plastic or sprayed and even then it only delays the inevitable. we are trying a few disease resistant cultivars this year (improved rutgers, WV63, mountain majesty, etc) and also working with compost teas and pruning/training to maximize airflow

    a lot of our “gardening” is focused on staple/storage crops…taters, sweet potatoes, corn, and winter squash mainly and some beans…this year trialling 4 varieties of cowpeas, which i learned last year are very productive, easier to harvest than phaseolus beans, and make a delicious humus that doesn’t make me fart. while i have been practicing seed saving for years, my current approach is, as long as seed companies are in business and the trucks are running, to keep trialling new varieties and create a sort of seed bank by hoarding seed and putting it into long term storage. if i have the cash, i buy twice as much seed as i want to plant and take half of it and dry it out extra good and vacuum seal it in glass and stick it in the freezer. then i make notes and file it away and save the seed for future planting/breeding projects. i’ll keep doing it as long as cash and storage space allow or until i get sick of it and settle on particular varieties. anyway, it’s still fun for me to meet new cultivars.

    this year we are trying a bunch of new corns and winter squashes. corns are mandan parching lavender, cherokee gourdseed, alabama coshchatta flint, and georgia blue flour, as well as a replanting of sloppily saved seed from last year’s new discovery, cherokee white flour (ginitsi selu). we are big into nixtamalization and have been growing cherokee white eagle as our staple dent corn for years. we even built a lime kiln and and burnt some oyster shell, inspired by your blog, which was really cool, even though i learned that i prefer the flavor and convenience of the wood ash nixtamal. anyway, we discovered that besides making an amazing fine flour for cornbread, the cherokee white flour was the only of six varieties we grew last year that didn’t lodge in the serious down draft thunderstorms, and that it parches really beautifully. we grind the parched corn in the vitamix (cheating i know, but so fast and easy ;) and cook it up into a pinole/porridge of sorts with our own goat milk and honey (and salt)…so freakin good…homegrown fast food breakfast that keeps you going well past lunch time…highly recommended staple.

    as far as squashes go, a few years back we discovered seminole pumpkin (a moschatta) and it has become our old standby winter squash. super vigorous and productive vines can grow 40 feet plus and it was the only squash that didn’t succumb to powdery mildew the year before last when it rained pretty much the entire month of june. we have had them keep for two whole years and we feed them to our goats and cow all winter as well as eating them ourselves. they are pretty much like a pear shaped butternut but more productive and disease resistant. last years discovery, which i think you might like to try, was dakota dave’s dessert, a buttercup type we got from fedco. hands down the sweetest finest textured squash i’ve ever eaten…delicious plain baked, no slat, no butter, no nuthin, and literally (as many falsely claim, to my sweet tooth anyway) makes a damn fine pie with zero added sweetner. this year we are trialling sibley, carol deppe’s oregon homestead sweetmeat, thai king kob, tahitian melon, lady godiva, and burgess buttercup.

    well, i reckon i should stop, though i could keep going as i get excited thinking of all our other experiments (maybe i’ll start my own blog this winter ;) i’m excited to try some of your favorites and see how they do over here….especially the i’itoi and other multiplier onions. we’ve been trialling a bunch of cepa varieties from seed and selecting for storage traits in our conditions and this will be the first year collecting seed from bulbs grown from seed and replanted (i said i was gonna stop)

    anyway. thanks again for all you do, and maybe if and when we make it back out to cali, we could pop in for a visit. peace and happy gardening

    Comment by cailen | June 28, 2015 | Reply

    • Wow, awesome comments. I think you should definitely start a blog! Looks like you’re cut out for it :). I think it’s especially good to get the kind of info you are gathering out there re: seed trials. I think the best way to fit the maximum of fruit varieties in an area is with frankentrees, but then virus, which is probably inevitable if you gather enough varieties, is an issue. The oblique cordon is hard to beat for density at every 18 inches and 6 feet apart, but the plants probably root graft. Then again, any close spaced trees are likely to do some root grafting. I have limited water/space and it takes more work to weed more beds, so the super close cordons work well for me.

      I think I may have late tomato blight as of a couple years ago. In summertime the tips start dying back and the fruits get spotting, some of it concentric. I haven’t looked it up to see what it is, but the plants end up with dead tips and eventually most of the fruit is damaged the most of the leaves dead. I’d love to hear how your trials go with the disease resistance.

      Few gardeners go in for staples. I’d like to do more, but I just don’t have the energy. I’m especially interested in potatoes because I can pounds of them everyday. I have some ideas I want to try for growing grain here, with minimal effort/input, but have never gotten around to it. So many ideas, so little time! I didn’t grow a lot of stuff this year, but I’m hoping to add more next year and get a few winter squash and melons in. Sweet potatoes are dicey here, but I’ve heard success stories.

      I did try daves dakota desert the last time I got suckered into doing trials. I think they got mixed in with the burgess and I didn’t notice a lot of difference. That is probably the one I’d like to try again out of everything I’ve tried in that group. Kubocha is also bred out of that line and it very good. I think buttercup make great pie, but I’m a sugar head, so I still add sugar. I met an old lady in North Carolina once who told me about her life growing up in the hills. She said they made syrup out of pumpkins by boiling them. I wonder if those old varieties are still around.

      Interesting on preferring the woodash nixtimal. I’ve been thinking about ashes, because I was writing about them recently in a tanning book I’m working on. They contain all three of calcium, sodium and potassium hydroxide, but in varying proportion and quantity. usually the caustic traits are attributed to Potassium hydroxide, but the contain 25 to 45% lime. But, if the ashes aren’t fresh, the lime, which would be in the form of quicklime in the fresh ashes, could weaken by carbonation and become less effective. I don’t know how stable the other two are, so that is one question. The other question is how they interact. If potassium hydroxide is soluble in water to X percent, is it still that soluble in the presence of calcium and sodium hydroxides? If they are competing for “space” in the water, how would that work? I suppose it either just works or it doesn’t. Nixtimal is somewhat forgiving, but using them for tanning can be less so. The fresh v.s. old seems likely to be relevant to all uses. Any experience to share using fresh v.s. old ash would be appreciated.

      Yes, definitely contact me if you are going to be in the area and we can talk shop. Contact me this winter for scions. I have a few southern heirlooms kicking about.

      Comment by Stevene | June 28, 2015 | Reply

      • hey steven. thanks for your response, and sorry for the delayed reply…been busy on the homestead and hard to find a moment to sit down on the old screen here. i will consider the oblique cordon as an option, but am intrigued by the tripod idea. you would check out that book i mentioned. also, i have some seedlings on the property that may become frankentrees after i definitively decide their fruit isn’t worth a damn…i’ve doing reconstructive pruning and releasing them from them from neighboring trees shade to test my theories on sun and fruit flavor. what’s the deal with root grafting? causes? disadvantages? what rootstock do you use for your cordons?

        from your description, it sounds like early (alternaria) blight on your tomatoes. i just got carol deppe’s new book, the tao of gardening, and their is a whole chapter on tomatoes and blight…just started reading, but looks interesting and potentially enlightening. i’ll let you know how the trials go.

        as far as grains go, i think its hard to beat corn for practicality on the small homestead scale. in addition to dents for nixtamal, parching flour corn has really opened up the potential for versatility as a staple for us. winter squash is awesome too…so easy to store and great fodder for the livestock too. we’re growing burgess buttercup for the first time this year, so if i can stave off the groundhogs (they really go for the maximas, don’t touch the moschatas) i’ll get to see what the difference is if any with uncle daves. taters are great too, but still trying to dial in our root cellar for optimal storage. the blight is an issue for them too if you plant late for storage. we’re trialling a new blight resistant variety this year called yukon gem. also excited to get into potato breeding a bit in the future…just got a book on it…

        i’ve been in NC for 20 years and never heard of pumpkin syrup. sounds interesting…i’ll have to look into it. i did score a bunch of really bland asian pears last year that i ran through the cider press. cider wasn’t really worth drinking or fermenting, so we cooked it down, and i was surprised to find it made one of the best syrups i’ve ever tasted. planning to try it with unspectacular apples as well this year.

        i love how you nerded out on the ash chemistry, but i think you lost me…i can’t say that i’ve noticed a difference in old vs. new ash, but i’ll do some experiments and look into it.

        i keep forgetting to send you some postage money for seeds. i’d like to get some extra onions from you too. so much to do….

        Comment by cailen | July 11, 2015

      • You can always keep some of the fruit on your foundation trees. The biggest drawback is that if you put a lot of random scions on it, it will probably eventually be infected by virus. You can’t tell from scions and the majority of varieties seem to show few if any symptoms anyway. I feel like it’s not a big deal at this point, but it means you can’t just freely share scions from that tree anymore. And it is probably spreading like crazy with amateurs grafting and sharing stuff like crazy.

        I don’t know about root grafting. I haven’t even done it, but I should, just to say i did! It was practiced a lot though in the past. It makes sense, because it’s easy to dig up a bunch of roots, but it’s harder to intentionally propagate rootstock. Also, I think it gave birth to the idea of clonal rootstocks. I’m not sure on the history, but people used Northern Spy roots because they were resistant to wooly aphis and N. Spy was used to breed some of the malling rootstock that are in common use today. Of course and N. Spy seedling may or may not have that resistance.

        I’ll have to dig into the blight thing. Whatever it is, it’s late. I’m not seeing it yet even.

        I say she had a new book. I still need to get my own copy of the resilient gardener and read it again. I’ve been eyeing my potato flowers, but don’t have any pollen. Next year. I think potatoes might be my preferred staple and pretty accessible to grow. I want to try wheat and other grains here to see if I can come up with a system that works on the natural moisture cycle, but so far haven’t been able to delve into that.

        I was just saying there are three caustic components in wood ash and asking how do they compete for “space” in the water when dissolving? Is it a cumulative effect, or do they compete and which one wins or are equal parts of each dissolved into the water until it’s “full”? It is probably very complex and understanding it might not help at all in practical arts, but that may be why ash is so unpredictable in strength.

        email me about postage and stuff. If you wait a bit, I can send you some multiplier onions. they are just starting to die back now.

        Comment by Stevene | July 11, 2015

    • We grow a fair amount of dry corn and do a lot of nixtamalization – usually make a large batch of masa for tortillas once a week. We’ve tried a number of varieties but have yet to settle on a favorite. We’re trialing 6 varieties this year, a couple of which are new to us, to compare both productivity and ease of nixtamalization. We use lime from a Mexican grocery store, or, if we run out of that, builder’s lime. The one time we tried using wood ash we followed Sandor Katz’ recipe from Wild Fermentation and it didn’t work at all, so I’d love to know your recipe. What kind of ash do you use, how much, how do you store and process it? We’ve found that with lime, different corn varieties require differing amounts of lime and longer or shorter cooking times to make good masa.

      Comment by Michael G. Smith | June 29, 2015 | Reply

      • howdy michael. what varieties of corn have you been using for nixtamal? which ones are you trying this season? mostly dents? i’ve been growing cherokee white eagle for the last 5 years and it has become an old standby for nixtamal. but i’m always interested new varieties and haven’t really settled on one yet myself. i need one that is more lodge resistant. last year we grew a lot of daymon morgan’s kentucky butcher….very productive and stunningly beautiful ears and big kernels, grew 16 feet tall, but a lot of it blew down and had to be propped up. now i do more hilling and am working on phosphorous for stronger roots. we get crazy winds and thunderstorms from time to time and i think we need a shorter tougher corn to stand up to them. i like oaxacan green a lot, but feel called to explore more native varieties. flints make good nixtamal too, but seem to be less productive than dents in our area.

        anyway, here’s how i do the ash thing. every batch of ash is different depending on what type of wood youv’e been burning. hardwoods are generally stronger, with hickory usually considered the best/strongest, and softwoods/conifers the weakest, though there may be some exceptions. we usually burn a mix of hard and soft deciduous woods in our stove. you have to do some experimenting to find the right ratio for any given batch of ash. also we make sure not to burn any paper or cardboard or other non-wood potentially toxic stuff. when i get a nice five gallons of clean ash, i mix it up real good to homogenize it for even strength. then i’ll prepare a small experimental batch so don’t potentially ruin a significant amount of corn.

        1:2 to 1:5 is the range of ash to corn that i’ve of found, so i’d maybe start in the middle somewhere (1:3 is what i’ve found to work with my current batch). i usually use about 2 to 3 times the volume of water as corn, but honestly i rarely measure and it doesn’t seem to matter much…you just want enough water to cover the corn in your pot by a couple inches so it won’t boil off as you simmer. so, let’s say we start with 1:3 and do 3/4 of a cup of corn…i’d bring 2 cups of water almost to a boil and add a heaping 1/4 cup (i don’t pre-sift, so i use a little extra to account for the charcoal), stir well and let it steep for 10-15 minutes giving it a stir occasionally, as though you are making “ash tea”. i found that hot water “extracts the power of the ash” better than cold water. i usually make the “ash tea” in another pot and then pour it over the corn into the pot i will cook it in. i let it settle a bit from the last stirring and then pour it through a strainer to remove the charcoal while leaving the heavier (gritty) sediment behind. then i use a fine mesh strainer to skim off any charcoal that i missed and all the chaff and undeveloped corn bits that float to the surface.

        i’ve tried a bunch of different cooking methods and have settled on a long low simmer. bringing it to a boil and letting it sit over night never worked for me as well as it seems to for millions of mexican abuelitas. in the winter i do it on the wood stove and in the summer i do it in a crock pot. either way, i bring it to a boil and then turn it down as low as i can and still have it barely simmer. it usually takes 2 to 3 hours of simmering to get it to where i want. for your experimental batch, take a few kernels out every so often and check to see if the pericarp (outer skin) is dissolving or loosening. if the ash solution is too strong it will completely dissolve the pericarp and start eating away the aleurone and the flinty endosperm as well, giving your a corn a chemical burn, often turning it orange and giving it a bad chemically flavor that you can’t rinse away. if it’s too weak the corn will cook and cook and swell a bit and maybe crack, but the pericarp remains intact and it never developes that nice nixtamal flavor. after an hour or so of simmering, you should have a sense of which way its going. we’re going for the pericarp partially dissolving and almost completely loosening from the kernels and allowing the kernels to cook most of the way through. i like them slightly “al dente” for grinding into masa and a little softer for hominy or posole. see how it goes and then adjust your recipe accordingly until you find the ratio that works for your corn and ash. i keep my ash of known strength sealed in a food grade bucket (of course it’s been cool and devoid of live coals for some time) labeled with the ratio that works.

        then, it’s rinsing time. it usually takes a lot of water and rubbing between the hands to get out all the ash and loosen any remain pericarps. if you’re rinsing away a lot of the germ (little whitish corn embryos) it may be overcooked, though it’s normal to lose some. an interesting note…if you have a red variety (like bloody butcher), you have a built in indicator of nixtamalization. since the red pigment in corn is always in the pericarp, it will dissolve into the ash solution as it nixtamalizes, turning it a deep rich maroon color. the aleurone (the next layer of the kernel which is usually white or yellow, but also where blue pigments live) on bloody butcher is yellowish, so your nixtamal and therefore your masa will be yellow and you will rinse away most or all of the red. pretty cool. i’ve often wondered if you could use that liquid for dying. apparently ancient mesoamericans used the liquid (called nejayote) in a paper making process.

        i haven’t had much success finding a satisfactory way to store masa without it drying out and/or compromising the flavor, so we usually just make it fresh in smaller batches. once you get your process down, it’s not that big a deal. the crock pot makes it pretty easy too. sometimes i store extra whole nixtamal kernels in a mason jar in the fridge for up to a week and add a little hot water to the masa before making tortillas, but they don’t taste as good as the freshies. hope that helps and i’d be interesting in hearing about your experience and any innovations you come up with. happy nixtamalizing!

        Comment by cailen | July 12, 2015

  10. Hi Steven-

    Thanks for sharing your experience and your germplasm. We grow veggies in the Capay Valley, a hot inland valley in Northern California for both home use and market. Here are some varieties that have done especially well for us here:

    Striped Armenian cucumber – actually a variety of melon, but looks and tastes like a long, curly cucumber. Very attractive variety with excellent flavor, never turns bitter in the heat.

    Trombetta or Tromboncini squash – this is a C. moschata relative of butternut squash but eaten green. Has the best flavor and texture of any summer squash; never bitter or mushy no matter how big they get. It’s a long vine that benefits from trellising.

    Red Russian kale – productive, tender, attractive variety with the best flavor, especially in the winter when it sweetens up after a frost.

    Covelo Reservation beans – pale brown bush variety of dry beans. We got the seed from Sustainable Seed company and it was the most productive variety in our informal trials.

    Shishito peppers – very productive and early Japanese variety, delicious mild flavor when roasted or sauteed, doesn’t sunburn in our hot weather.

    Sungold tomato – yes, I know it’s a hybrid; often the only hybrid we plant. The sweetest, most delicious cherry tomato, outrageous when dried!

    Happy gardening!
    Michael and Cathy

    Comment by Michael G. Smith | June 29, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks sharing. I’ve been tempted to try tromboncini before. Glad to send seeds if you want them, though I may have given you some of these already.

      Comment by Stevene | June 29, 2015 | Reply

  11. Great posts and videos as always. We have a few pits for the stuff that doesn’t really fit into a standard compost pile, but I really like your idea of a pit with charcoal and animal wastes–I think that’s the ideal use for biochar. It seems like those carbon particles need to be “charged” with nitrogen and other nutrients to act as slow-release storage banks. In Spanish, fertilizer is “abono”, so I suggest calling them bonus pits, or bonus piles.

    Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks Kiawe. I’ll add bonus pits to the list and see if it sticks! I think as a system it just makes sense, because it is gradual and uses stuff as it happens, and stuff always happens. Dead chickens, guts, scraps for this and that and tons of seedy weeds. I’m slaughtering a goat today, so in goes anything I’m not eating. I can only put so much into the compost pile before it starts to smell bad, and This way I don’t have to dig an extra hole every time. I’m about to dig a new trench. The first is nearly full! yay!

      Wordhippo.com: English words for the Spanish word abono= compost, deposit, fertilizer, manure, payment

      That’s about what I’m shooting for. Seems like a much more positive word that anything in English. I’ve been toying with Terracibum which is latin for earth food, and lots of other stuff. Any more ideas are welcome. I’m just tossing it all together right now to see if anything sticks naturally.

      Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015 | Reply

  12. I grew zapotec tomato for years and loved it, although it took days to eat one of those monsters. I used it to breed a large cherry tomato called Lumahai, which take considerably less time to consume.

    Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015 | Reply

    • I totally thought of how cool a zapotec cherry tomato would be. I want it! Can you send seeds? Zapotec has an unbeatable rich flavor to me. Not the only game in town, but kind of uniquely rich for a tomatoey flavored tomato.

      Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015 | Reply

    • I still have some of these collections of seeds left BTW, if you want some, glad to send/trade.

      Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015 | Reply

      • Absolutely–I’m not currently growing any of your varieties except Robeson, and my freshest Zapotec seed must be 10 years old. I’m planning to head down to the farm in about a week (I’m temporarily a city boy) and I’ll put together a package with Lumahai and a few other favorites. I’d feel better if you waited to get my packet before sending yours :)

        Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015

      • Sure, whatever you want. That’s great. Not like we need them anytime too soon anyway. Actually my Robeson seed is suspect anyway. My plant this year looks like it might be an early girl seedling. I have to warn everyone I sent seeds to. Robeson rocks. Like zapotec, it’s a standout variety.


        Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015

  13. One other comment-love your work with apple breeding. I’m doing a bit of breeding with fruit and berries even though the results are much slower than veggies. Something I’ve wondered about–have you looked into the possible advantages of grafting your seedling varieties onto a dwarf frankentree? I’m thinking about a Bud9 or M27 (or an interstem) that you essentially let grow into a little tree and then graft your seedling scions onto the branches. I think this is what Burbank did to trial more varieties in less space and possibly get quicker fruiting. I imagine getting your scion up and out of the zone of juvenility, even on a dwarfing rootstock, might shave a year or two off your fruiting time.

    Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015 | Reply

    • I think the way I’m doing it is pretty fast. Since you have to let them grow out pretty vigorously, they get rather large and you can’t fit that many no a given tree with multi-grafting. I have one
      Wickson seedling that is fruiting this year. It was a graft on a side branch, that ended up almost as big as the main tree! But, you are supposed to let them grow. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s the way I did it. I realized from that that a frankentree of seedlings won’t hold nearly as many as a collection of already fruiting varietals. Etter used foundation trees too, but I think he also did seedling rows. Not really sure, but since i have access to the dwarfing stocks, it’s looking good to do it the way I am now and I have a feeling I’ll have considerable bloom this coming spring.

      Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015 | Reply

    • What fruits are you breeding?


      Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015 | Reply

      • I’m mostly working with berries–blackberries, raspberries and hybrids of the two. I also have a hardy kiwi project and I’m working with stone fruit for rootstocks for extreme conditions. More than anything I’ve been amassing cultivars and selections from the wild for future breeding projects. Your work has definitely encouraged me to do a bit of apple breeding — I have about 15 varieties and I’m already starting to mentally combine them.

        Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015

      • That sounds cool. I’m interested in berries if you decide you are ready for testing in other climates. I’m a fan of Tay berry as having some raspberry flavor, but more richness and of course much larger than raspberries. I have plans for a berry cage/fruit house of sorts eventually. If you decide you need more apple cultivars to test, I’m glad to contribute scion wood to the cause. Just remind me in season and remind me of who you are. I’m too busy remembering important things about obscure tanning tools and such to remember people very well! ;)

        Comment by Stevene | July 27, 2015

      • Tayberry is a good one and I’m using a similar combination of rubus genes in one of my lines, basically raspberry and blackberry mix, but I’m trying to give it a PNW touch with a Washington raspberry and several dewberries found on the farm. Combining raspberries and our R. ursinus is a bit tricky because of the odd ploidy, but it can be done. As soon as I get something viable, I’ll be glad to share. And I’d definitely be interested in getting scions of your apple crosses–I’m enjoying watching your project unfold.

        Comment by Kiawe | August 14, 2015

  14. I see what you mean–that adage about no pruning for quickest fruiting could easily overload a single foundation tree with multiple seedling scions. Looking forward to a video next spring of all those seedling varieties in bloom–they’ve got that ready-to-bloom look to them.

    Comment by Kiawe | July 27, 2015 | Reply

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