Farmer Convocation

27 January 2010

This coming Sunday, 30 January, we’ll be getting together @ The Riverhouse (2131 Harney St.) for a gathering, a bit of seed trading and whatnot.  If you’re a farmy-type, you ought to come on by.  We’re going to make a *feast* starting about 1pm and going ’til whenever.


Apparently, through the City of Portland.

They’ve got a list of classes online.  I mention it because I like the basic layout of gardening themes.  What do you think?

Send Ideas for Classes

14 December 2009

For instance, should this be a year-long series that one is then awarded a badge of honour for attending and given a different role in the seed-saving scheme – Breeder’s Apprentice, for instance?  Oh, that’s too funny.  hahahahha  Seriously, tho – is the purpouse of a class to educate or as a complicated way of advertising the cause by word of mouth?  I submit that classes have both effects when they work well, and two approaches to this — the serious and casual — might want to be considered.

Will be collaborating w/ the other SE Farmies in the next few days, finishing the packet design and templates for crops, making up the seed lists and putting the finishig touches on right before going live before Xmas.

Some of the articles will have to wait, but I’d like to have one complete in each category by launch, perhaps this coming weekend?  It’s a good goal.

I told my first U of MN guidance councillor that I wanted to be a plant cowboy – to wrangle together dispirate germplasm and breed fantastic plants that are widely adapted to fluctuating climate by the diversity of their parantage and agroforested companion planting.

The jerk said that no one did that job and to think of something else.  HA!

A Call for Foundation Seed

13 December 2009

Also, an invite to charter a Portland plant breeding programme, trade some seed w/ fellow farmers, talk shop and your name in lights as one of the champions who jumped in on the ground level with what could be an Important sort of project to better our chances with some bitchin’ germplasm.

And, dinner w/ a good chance of booze of some sort.

First, look around at the New Se Portland Seedbank Project website:    You’re soaking in it right now.

I just got the site and the idea to a stopping point w/ a fleshed out plan that just might work — the carrot approach, you might say, to gaining compliance w/ less “invested” homeowners and the seed-saving part: the “perpetual seed kit.”

Check out this mission, and reply to tell me what you think of the idea.


Come to very small fire over here at my recently tidied up house in Brooklyn (3102 SE 7th Ave) this coming Thursday night, 17 December.  A few of us were just going to put some of our excess seed (or seed that we want to cast about for increase or lines we want to subject to some vaugery in hopes of forcing some human neglect selection ) in towards the project.

I’d like to target certain varieties to certain neighbourhood soil types and dominant ecology with your assistance but, whatever.  The theory is that anyone who puts seed in for increase will get a big pile of seed back of that variety from the people who’ve grown it out and returned it to whomever.

Please pass this on widely to fellow Portland farmers, lists, whatnot, and invite any who are farmin’ it up and would like to represent for their neighbourhoods.  Let me know if you want to contribute anything to the seed saving website (your “guide to practical, small-scale isolation of OP carrot varieties in an urban environment for distributed-method foundation seed increase,” for instance).

To sum up: come on by my house (7th and Powell) around 6ish on Thursday night to talk some seed.  Bring what you want to put into the pot to help make and design 2010 Seed Kits for homeowner increase and what the hands-on breeding should focus on.  I, for one, have seed I’d like to give away that includes what should be some really excellent pepper and cucumber crosses.  Given just how prolific they are, I think it’s safe to say that there’ll be tobacco seed for everyone.

-Marie, Sellwood Garden Club

All higher plants, and that’s just about anything other than mosses, algae and what not, require some sort of fertilization to produce seed.  Sometimes, as in the case of beans, this is self-pollination.  But most other plants “out-cross” or must have pollen from another plant to set viable seed.  This is accomplished one of two ways, by either insect or wind pollination.


Most horticultural crops of value to the home gardener are insect pollinated.  This is true of many crops that are typically harvested when immature like cauliflower.  Others require pollination to set fruit like tomatoes or peppers .

Honeybees are the most commonly recognized type of insect pollinator, though other types of native bees are also present in the urban environment.  Some plants, such as those in greenhouses are pollinated by bumblebees.

Crops that attract  insect pollinators usually have strong odors or showy flowers.  Brassicas (aka cole crops such as broccoli, arugula and mustards) are a good example of this, with their characteristic 5-petal flower structure.  Colours are a dead give-away of a morphology that attracts insects, but some larger and less colourful flowers are attractive in the polarized light that honeybees see in.

While bees typically have a range of up to 1 mile in rural settings, their range is somewhat limited in urban areas, as their flyways are somewhat disrupted by heavy traffic patterns.  Keeping flowers blooming throughout the season (and especially early in the season) keep bees coming around for increased pollination success, even in these  limited ranges.  Most SE Portland neighbourhoods have at least someone keeping bees to assist.

This is important because insects are able to carry pollen from one plant to another, whether you like it or not.  If you can keep them in or out of crops with a reasonable degree of certainty, you can get pure varieties of Open Pollinated (OP) seed.


Wind pollination is favoured by plants, such as wheat, hemp, sugar and maize.  They all produce plain (though sometimes significant) male structures, which carry a massive amount of very light pollen that is easily carried aloft.  Pollen from grasses such as wheat can travel up to 50 miles per day in strong Mid-western winds.

Most agronomic (traded as commodities, such as wheat and soybean) are wind- or self-pollinated.  However, only a very few of the more common horticultural crops are.  Among them are annuals like sweet corn and perennials such grapes and nuts.

Implications of these factors

If the goal is to be reasonably sure of what sort of seed you’ll get in the end, you’ll want to know just what each pollen parent is likely to be.  The plant that sets the seed is the female parent and wherever the pollen comes from will determine the male parent.  Because the female parent is the only one we are quite certain of, that is the first variety listed in any cross such as ‘Early Jalapeno x Cherry Bomb F1’.

To get pure seed we will want to practice isolation between varieties.  We can accomplish this by separating blossoms by space, time or barriers.  By planting all the same vareity of a given out-crossing crop in a given area, for instance, you can increase your chances of getting the crosses you want within the genetic pool of your choosing.

With some wind pollinated crops, such as maize, male structures (tassels) are easily removed for the production of hybrid seed (that which is the result of an intentional cross between two highly inbred lines).  Otherwise, wind pollinated crops such as grains are all maintained by distance, usually in rural areas and measures in miles.

The same is true with vegetable crops, and some are much easier to save in the urban environment of SE Portland than others.  Beans, peas and other legumes pollinate themselves before the flowers ever open up, so they are always maintained as pure-lines.  Crops that out-cross need to have the possibility of rogue pollen assessed and managed.

This can be done with careful selection of crops to bloom at different times or those that are in different plant families that won’t cross with each other.  Sometimes netting or pollination bags are used to protect blossoms for very specific crosses or to prevent them.

Urban caveats

The urban environment presents certain challenges.  For instance, you can’t keep your next door neighbour from growing a different variety of cucumber.  However, a walk around  your neighbourhood will give you a good idea of who is growing what.

Growing somewhat unusual crops such as herbs and salad greens makes it less likely that someone will be growing a pollen compatible crop nearby.  You can also grow some crops like lettuce blends that are meant to outcross with other items for a blend.

One problem with this is the possibility of outcrossing with wild relatives.  This can be minimized by avoiding crops that almost always outcross with useless wild relatives (such as carrot) or by controlling nearby weeds (wild lettuce).

Seed saving is a long-practiced art that has been the domain of home gardeners for thousands of years.  You can do it, too.