BioSwirskii

Blossom bagging

Keeping heirloom seed pure (Part 1)

One of the greatest joys with growing heirloom veggies is the sheer abundance of choice. Most heirloom veggie gardeners just have to plant more than a few varieties of one type of veggie. Just so that they can experience the exquisite flavours of 4 or 5 different tomatoes, or be able to have more than one kind of carrot on the table.

The joy of being able to do this is overshadowed by the question of how to keep the varieties pure. The whole aim of heirloom veggies is that one can save the seed from year to year. What’s the point of buying heirloom seed if you don’t save it?

This post will cover the simple process of blossom bagging to keep self pollinating vegetable varieties pure.

Blossom bagging is a simple technique that allows flowers that are naturally self pollinating (tomatoes and peppers are good examples) to literally get on with the job of producing pure viable seed without any insect interference.

Typically one would only need a single fruit or possibly two fruits for a successful seeds saving project. A single fruit should yield anything from 20- 200 seeds depending on the type of fruit in question.

Step 1: Purchase an organza bag, these are bags that are typically used to pack bath salts or homemade soaps in. You can buy these bags at www.livingseeds.co.za or stores that cater for the craft market. If you are really brave you can cut up your wife’s net curtaining… but I never suggested that 😉

Unopened blossoms that are just right for bagging.
Unopened blossoms that are just right for bagging.

Step 2: Identify some flowers of the variety you want to save that are about to open. If you going to save a truss and a single flower has opened on that truss already, you can pull the flower off, leaving the unopened flowers to self pollinate inside the bag.

Step 3: Carefully enclose the flowers inside the bag, pulling the drawstring tight enough to exclude any insects, but not too tight that you will damage the stem.

Blossoms bagged with an organza bag, any colour will do.
Blossoms bagged with an organza bag, any colour will do.

Step 4: Everyday, as the flowers open in succession give the bag a light shake to encourage the pollen to shed and ensure good pollination.

Step 5: Once you can see that the fruit has set, you can remove the bag and mark the truss, we use small coloured cable ties that stand out. The bag can be used after a good wash on another plant. Washing ensures that no viable pollen remains in the bag to contaminate your next set of flowers.

This is a simple process, using it will allow you to save open pollinated and heirloom vegetable seed effectively.

BioSwirskii

Book Review: Patriots. A novel on surviving the coming collapse

At first glance it’s a book about American survivalists that would probably be a boring and unenlightening insight on the American Neo-Fascist / Nazi movement and their ideologies. I hesitated when it was given to me, as it’s not quite the reading material that I generally indulge in. So after a few weeks of it lying around, it found its way to the throne room in our house….

It starts off with the financial woes of the US (ring any bells?) and the total systemic collapse of the entire infrastructure that holds the US society together. The novel subsequently follows a group of friends (aptly named ‘The Group’) as they endure and succeed through various trials and issues that could occur in such a societal meltdown. This group of friends had foreseen the collapse of society and had taken the time to prepare for just such an event.

It’s a fast paced novel and if you enjoy a bit of skop, skiet and donner it’s right up your alley. The reading is clean and even though there are some holes in the story it’s a lot better than some of the trash that makes reading action novels tedious at times. The novel loosely takes the format of a story based manual where information is imparted in the book that would have direct application in the real world, the nice part is that the information does not detract from the story and actually enhances and adds credibility to the plot. All of the information that I have researched has panned out to be correct and much of the other stuff, specifically firearm/weapons related, us South Africans would only dream of being able to legally obtain or afford.

The strong points in the novel I believe are as follows. The high moral ground that the writer James Wesley, Rawles (the comma in the name is intentional, and an affection that he like to “possess”) takes. His unconcealed and well structured Christian overtones that set a platform as to how charity, justice and various other legalities are dispensed. It was particularly interesting for me to see how the “conservative American mind” saw certain scenarios, especially on ownership and possessive rights that people have, or should have. Next was the logical and well presented argument for what he terms “Beans, Bullets and Band-Aids” what we would call the necessities of life. Next is the practical self-sufficiency that is espoused in the novel. This self-sufficiency is pretty broad and is specifically related to personal self preservation and the ability to produce food-stuffs to feed ‘The Group’. In addition to this there is a strong emphasis on practical skills and the ability to produce for oneself where there is no other option.

The negatives of the book were sparse and that’s probably as I don’t have the knowledge of US history, customs and law that I can compare to. Suffice to say that in South Africa, Mr Rawles would probably be well ensconced within the political right, and his thinking and logic would be considered radical and shunned by a large segment of the population. That said, the information that is available in this book is phenomenal and could be put to good use. I would take heed that the majority of the weapons based information is probably illegal and should be properly researched if you intend to entertain the information.

On the gardening side, the book is pretty light, but I was glad to see that he made good mention of the need for Heirloom and Open Pollinated vegetables (probably why it was given to me) and the need to have these seeds available in the event of such a societal collapse.

I had mixed feeling about looking at a ‘doomsday’ scenario and putting goods away for such an event, however looking back over the last year we have had, Haiti, Chile and the volcano in Iceland which managed to disrupt well over a third of the world’s air travel and Christchurch. Suddenly a little insurance makes some sense. I found that at the end of the day, his reasons and my reason for wanting to be self-sustainable are not that far apart.

So finally is it worth a read? Yes, I would say definitely, on all levels. As a work of pure fiction (or should that be non-fiction) and as a very useable manual to get ones head around a number of ‘preparedness issues’.

BioSwirskii

The Wilson get rid of the City Menace Part 3

[Here is the third installment of the Wilsons migration from suburbia]

I can smell the blossoms in the air! There is not a perfume in this world that comes anywhere close to this smell, nor will there ever be.

I have just taken delivery of my heirloom seeds and looking forward to getting them into trays. As always, I can’t resist trying some new guys like Valor and Harmony potatoes, Rotondo Rosa lettuce, all sorts of tomatoes and Bizana pumpkin to name a few!  I am wondering where I am going to plant all these things! Of course when one thinks about melons, brinjals and marrow etc, they need space to ramble! I have also had to shop around a bit to find “organic” seed, some seeds I just can’t find like parsnips. Not everybody has everything.

What stunning scenery
What stunning scenery

We have just picked our first crop of beetroot, this time I seem to have got it right, they were delicious. Now comes the challenge in making sure I have a regular supply (for us in the Cape it is an all year round crop). Spinach, leeks, Texas onions (picked young like a spring onion), lettuce, peas, mounge tout are all in regular supply. My lettuce has been prolific and I am having to give some of it away. A fun idea is to pull them out of the ground, give them a shake, and pop them in a jar of water so they keep fresh and alive for days. One has to quickly figure out what to plant in their place (and think crop rotation!).

I have recently installed the “table top” in my new seed room  (again old pallets ) . I have many six packs planted out now, and have opted to start everything off in this fashion. I am hoping it gives the plants a better start, especially with the sun drying out the soil so quickly. It also gives me more control over watering and when I actually want to plant out.

Cob walled seed germination room
Cob walled seed germination room

Now I have to figure out a self sufficient watering system to water the seeds (more on that in the future)! I fear water restrictions early on in the season.

Talking of seed trays, I have a couple of those polystyrene trays that hold many plugs and planted it out with carrot seed. As you may remember, I have had some problems with my carrots coming up and so decided to give them a helping hand. I originally thought that they would be OK in trays, but have subsequently found out that it may not be such a good idea as their roots can get rather twisted so I am anticipating twisted carrots. Hey, that could be novel!

I have also started with some experimentation of clay plastering. Based on old common practices, I am trying to make up a plaster combining, linseed oil, pure clay and horse manure and will paint this onto the cob walls. Provisional experiments have certainly shown that it can work, however looks like a couple of cracks are appearing, maybe more oil needed?

Increasing the size of the garden
Increasing the size of the garden

I have also started the expansion of the beds. The width has been increased from 3m to 5 m and I have now fenced all the way round to keep out the animals. With this of course means extending all the piping of the watering system. The fence will also be great to grow some hedgy things, like granadilla or berries. I am also taking delivery of more compost to throw over the extended beds.

I have sheet mulched along one of the long sides by putting some flattened cardboard boxes (removing the packing tape)straight onto the grass, some top soil (from my pond excavation) and  compost (yes, at last am trying some from my own heap). The plan is to plant some colourful mielies (black mielies) and some wheat experimentation . Hopefully the mielies will also help in protecting the veg garden from the prevailing summer winds.

Our heirloom potatoes have been planted in both car tyres  and in the veg beds so we will see what happens.

Potato plants just peeking through the soil
Potato plants just peeking through the soil

The waterblommetijies have started to come up in the pond, but our puppy has kindly set that growth back a bit with her playful antics in the water! The cormorant comes and goes, hopefully leaving us with some tadpoles. (I need the frogs for mosquito control in summer!). We have also had a heron visit, jeez, those tadpoles must be tasty. We have a new visitor too, a raucous toad or toads. They sound like ducks quacking constantly.

Our new herb garden is taking shape . I have changed the irrigation system from drip to spray. The line of thought here (so I hear), is that generally herb roots are pretty shallow and so the roots may not get water. So we will see how that pans out. We are planning to put in a standard (lollipop) bay leaf tree in the pot in the middle, but are struggling to find a suitable candidate as they apparently require lots of work and take their time, so nurseries are reticent to carry them. We are also hoping to source some interesting and unusual herbs. I have also started working on the entrance arches on either end. We have also put down some compost so should be able to plant shortly.

Stunning herb garden taking shape
Stunning herb garden taking shape

It is amazing what challenges are thrown up over the most simplest of things. An example is how to fit the latte gate to the herb garden entrance. What sort of hinging system to use that is as natural, simple and as long lasting as possible.

The compost loo is ready and has been tested by myself and children . It has yet to be proven house worthy and so remains on the stoep for now. We have to make sure that our one neigbour is not around before any ablutions take place!!! There is definitely something about looking out at nature whilst going about ones business –

Open air compost toilet... a room with a view?
Open air compost toilet... a room with a view?

Chickens are now on my mind and I am keen on trying to get some good old original South African birds like the Koekoeks (refer to Seans article on chickens). As space is an issue, we will start out with 6 hens. All going well, they should be able to supply us with enough eggs. This hasn’t been an easy task, but I think I have located some (thanks Sean). Transport permitting of course.

That’s it for now.

BioSwirskii

Book Review – Omnivores Dilemma



It is not often that one finds a book that smacks you straight in the face, startling you with insight and information that you knew was right but could never find the truth. Michael Pollan is such an author, this book takes you through the stages (and makings) of four vastly diverse meals. Each one of these meals has a history and a unique story for us the ‘eaters’.

I urge you to get a copy of this book and read your way through the four meals, you will never look at a plate of food in the same way again. The entire book was a revelation to me, however it was the chapter on Polyface farm that has galvanised me to take our little farm to the next level, and we have already started planning out our high intensity grazing strips, and are ramping up our chicken stocks to provide the needed chicken power.

One actually gets inside of Michale Pollans’ head with many of his internal struggles and deliberations , including the emotionally charged topics of animal slaughter and hunting. I’m proud that he went the whole way as it’s only then that one truly gains respect for the food that is on ones plate.

Simply put, this is a great read!

BioSwirskii

The Edible Quote

“[W]hen you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing- when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors- when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you- when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice- you may know that your society is doomed.”

~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957