Archive for the tag 'Open Pollinated Seed'

Hi Everyone,

Spring has sprung, and now it’s time to propagate! (Plants, that is.)

This year’s Spring Propagation fair will be this Sunday, March 27, at Lane Community College in Eugene, from 11 – 5.

Come share and gather seeds, fruit tree scion wood, and other plant propagation materials with your friends and neighbors.

More information is below, including workshop schedule. For more information or to volunteer, please contact victorygardensforall@gmail.com

Hope to see you this Seedy Sunday

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Mar 22nd 2011

From Switzerland we traveled back north up to Germany for a visit with Ulla Grall of Bio-Saatgut. The name of her company says it all: “Organic Seeds”. Ulla offers through her catalog seeds that she produces herself and those grown by several small contract growers, as well as seeds from Sativa Rheinau and a French seed company called Ferme de Sainte Marthe. Ulla told us she wants to grow more of her own seed herself, but also takes pride in the fact that she offers seeds from two other countries. Because of the EU seed laws it is difficult for many people to order seeds from other countries, or they simply don’t think of it as an option. Through her seed company, Ulla offers many varieties that would otherwise be unavailable to German gardeners.

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R to L: On the streets of Armsheim, Ulla grall in her garden, more of her gardens.

Ulla became involved in seeds initially as a translator and marketer for Ferme de Sainte Marthe in Germany more than a decade ago when the company was trying to expand into the German market. After Ferme abandoned this project, Ulla took on selling some of their varieties personally. What began as a small mail order resale company has since blossomed into one of the only independent organically certified seed companies in Germany.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 26th 2007

From Gerhard and Susanne’s we traveled by train south to Sativa Rheinau, a biodynamic seed company in Switzerland near the border town of Schaffhausen, home to the largest waterfall in Europe. Set in a seventeenth century monastery on an island in the Rheine, Sativa is blessed with being one of the most beautiful places we have happened across in our travels. The seed company at Sativa is part of a larger Biodynamic farm project that integrates 25 handicapped people into the work with animals (dairy and meat), fruits, vineyard, grains, and seed growing and processing tasks.

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falls on the Rhine, Sativa HQ, seed room

Sativa’s main vegetable seed customers are home gardeners, and they work closely with Pro Specie Rara (PSR) to distribute heirloom Swiss varieties. (More about PSR, the Swiss seed savers group, in a later posting). Sativa’s main work with farmers is in their work with seed potatoes and grains, and they sell large quantities of rye, spelt, and wheat to farmers there. Because Switzerland is not part of the EU, they do not have the restrictions of most other countries in regards to the Common Catalog. But this does not mean that they do not have to deal with limitations; as is the case in the US, high quality open-pollinated varieties for market gardeners are either nonexistent or are hard to come by.

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Rhine, monastery, garden, gate
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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 23rd 2007

After another pre-dawn start, we left the company of the kind folks at Bingenheimer and headed south towards Nuremberg and beyond. Our next stop: Gerhard Bohl’s home and gardens in the hamlet of Rednitzenbach. Gerhard and his wife Susanne are the brains, braun, and brilliance behind Das Sortenbuch (= the variety handbook), a mail-order catalog collection of more than 2,000 tomatoes, 380 peppers, 700 beans, and hundreds of other rare and unusual vegetables (written in German).

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The crew: Susanne, Peter and Gerhard; Filderkraut – the ultimate Sauerkraut cabbage; Jelly melon slightly useful cucurbit.

Gerhard trades straight across with gardeners and fellow “collectioners” to the tune of some 20,000 seed packs per year. He distributes another 30,000 seed packs per year through other venues, mostly through his mail-order catalog with gardeners in other parts of Germany. Gardeners must write him by post and send five Euro for a copy of the Sortenbuch. If they decide that they want something from the buch, (how can they not?), they write again and send one Euro for every seed pack that they order, or if they are seed savers they can send in seeds from something they have grown in lieu of the cash. To encourage his customers to participate in the exchange and the stewardship of varieties, the Sortenbuch has several pages in the beginning that instruct people how to save seeds. This information is an important part of Gerhard’s work, as German-language editions of seed saving books are not common.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 19th 2007

Bingenheimer’s resident plant breeder, Ute Kirchgaesser, is on to something. Really, she’s probably on to many things, but to describe them all would take a book and I only have one blog posting.

Ute has what equates to a master’s degree in horticulture, but her German title sounds much better; Meistergartnerin. She got her start in plant breeding with a family run seed company where she learned the basics of traditional plant breeding, and has combined that knowledge with a more esoteric knowledge of an anthroposophical kind. All of these experiences combine to make her something more like and Ubermeistergarternerin if you ask me. But if you ask her, she is just a vegetable breeder.

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Ute is working on developing a summer fennel. She is in the process of improving some leek varieties, and also is working to re-invigorate some old kales. She is in charge of the on-site seed production for Bingenheimer’s catalog. And she is also working on a project that even she can’t explain.

In 2002, she began to study what effect musical intervals have on plants. Previous studies have been done that show that plants respond well to classical music, and not so well to death metal. Ute wanted to know if a particular sequence of notes effects plants more than another, and she wanted to know if this effect can be seen in subsequent generations. She set up a research project working with some lettuces, which she surmised would show results quickly due to their rapid growth.

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1 Comment Sarah Kleeger on Jan 17th 2007

We left Greifswald for Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, the largest biodynamic seed company in Germany, Leaving super extra early on Tuesday morning, we traveled via “Mitfahrgelegenheit” through Berlin and on down to a small town northeast of Frankfurt. “Mitfahrgelegenheit” is the musical word for ‘organized rideshare’, and there are several websites that one can use to post rides wanted or rides offered. People in the US use Craigslist for this purpose, but in Germany the practice is more widespread and therefore more effective. Mitfahrgelegenheit costs about half as much as a train and can get you there twice as fast, and it is a good way to meet people. Since we traveled so far, we pieced together two rides and had a few hours to hang out in Berlin. We were delivered to the door of Bingenheimer, 13 hours after the start of our journey – not really twice as fast as the train but still half the cost!

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We stayed, worked and learned with the kind folks at Bingenheimer for three work days, from Wednesday through Friday. This was our first visit with a seed company, and we learned a lot and had a really good time. Andrew was in heaven being surrounded by so many seeds, and the sense of community there really impressed me. But these are just two of the indicators that Bingenheimer Saatgut AG is not your average seed company. It is primarily Biodynamic. It is the hub for a network of 30 Biodynamic vegetable breeders in Germany. It was once part of and is still affiliated with the Lebensgemeinschaft Bingenheimer, a Camphill-esque community that fully integrates people with developmental disabilities into the tasks of daily life. As such, the Saatgut Werkstatt (seed workshop) is one of five workshops that employ disabled people in the community; they also rotate through candle making, woodworking, ceramics, and weaving workshops. Additionally, some of them work on the biodynamic dairy farm and others in the gardens, helping to grow food for the community and seed for the seed company.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 16th 2007

In 1939 Winston Churchill said “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” and coincidently a short time before we entered the country there was a magazine title story that was called something like, “Russia — Understanding the Enigma” sitting in the window of a German book store. More than 65 years later Churchill’s description is still applicable.

Most of us have some sort of preconceived notions about Russia, and we must admit that we had ours. Our stay in Saint Petersburg was really only enough to add to those a priori assumptions, and as with most countries (and most things in general), we left feeling like we had learned just enough to realize that we haven’t a clue about the country, let alone the city that we called home for eight days.

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Photos from right to left: Frozen crust on the River Moyka, The Hermitage, The first tourist pose in a long time, The “Church on Spilled Blood” used as a root cellar but the Soviets.

Our interest in visiting Russia was inspired by the renowned Vavilov Institute (VIR), which is known for housing one of the world’s largest and oldest gene banks. In planning our trip to Europe, the VIR was at the top of the list of places we wanted to go, and after more than a little effort, Nick was able to secure an invitation for us.

We had the unique circumstance of arranging a visit to Russia that bridged the first two weeks of the New Year, with an arrival of January 4 and a departure of January 12. In arranging our trip, Sergey Alexanian, a Vice Director and the Foreign Relations specialist at the Vavilov Institute, had mentioned “the holidays,” but I assumed he was referring only to the couple of days on either side of the weekend of January 6-7, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas. Like with many assumptions, I was very wrong.

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Portrait of N.I Vavilov

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2 Comments Andrew Still on Jan 4th 2007

Wednesday morning began with a three hour meeting at the headquarters of the Chamber of Agriculture, arranged by Edita Karbauskiene, with about 30 organic farmers (from large farms to hobbyists), professors, members of the Chamber of Ag., and members of the press represented. The meeting was scheduled for three hours, and despite worries that we wouldn’t be able to fill up that time, the time needed for translations and seed swapping activities extended things to a record-braking four hours!

Keeping our spiel interesting and relevant for such a diverse group was somewhat difficult, but also rather fun. We began with a discussion of the Seed Ambassadors Project, then talked about the seed scene in the other countries we have visited, focusing on ideas that could be beneficial to the organic seed scene in Lithuania. Because certified organic seeds are slim pickin’s in Lithuania, we found ourselves promoting that the farmers exchange seeds amongst themselves, and described specifically the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) model. Many people seemed to embrace the idea for their own personal gardens, but the SSE model doesn’t work for farmers, who need to cite certified sources for their seeds.

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Photos, from left to right: 1. and 2. Sarah, Kayla and Andrew sharing seeds and discussing varieties with some atendees of the meeting at the Chamber of Agriculture. 3. Andrew receiving Lithuanian Walnut seeds, with translation help of Edita. 4. Some of the meeting participants checking out and divying up their seeds.

We learned from this meeting that in some ways, Lithuania is a few steps ahead of the US as far as facilitating farmers’ access to Certified Organic Seeds: a Chamber of Agriculture sponsored database of Lithuanian Organic Varieties is in the works, and already enough information has been compiled to assist farmers in their quest of OG seeds. We referred people to the Organic Seed Allicance’s Seed Producers Database, still in its infancy, for comparative purposes. (Another American organic seed database can be accessed at the Organic Materials Review Institute site.) (more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Dec 27th 2006

Our plans for Poland on the 9th of December fell through, and so we found ourselves in Hamburg with lots of options but no plans. We did what we could to pursue new seed-related contacts, even recruiting the help of Christina and Juan, but we found last-minute arrangements around the holidays to be somewhat difficult in Germany.

We wound up staying in Hamburg until our December 17th flight to Lithuania, mostly exploring various parts of the city and lying low.

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One of the contacts Christina pursued for us worked out, and so we spent a delightful afternoon with Karl-Josef Muller, the head of the Association for Biodynamic Plant Breeders, and his fellow cereal breeder Martin Timmermann. Karl Joseph has been breeding for high quality grains in low fertility, low-input organic systems since 1986, and has developed and registered a variety of “naked” barley, Lawina, on the EU’s common catalogue. Take a Look at their website “Cereal Breeding Research Darzau” it contains a lot of great information.

We first checked out of some of their “nursery” plots and grow-out fields of fall-planted rye, spelt, einkorn, and barley on neighboring organic and biodynamic farms. Then we returned to the research center to see some of the specialized equipment (including custom tractor and special de-hulling machine), and then retired to their offices for coffee and a long discussion of the methods and whys and wherefores of organic grain breeding.

Karl-Josef told us, “Our aim is to develop new varieties, but it does not end there. It is also to develop new ideas for new varieties and to research and tell others (even the conventional breeders) what we have learned. Because if the idea is developed, sometimes that is enough for now. The market/interest (in organically developed seeds) is very small, but it is not our job to improve this. What is important is to develop new criteria for farming, organic farming, human being, these ideas.”

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It was a wonderful visit, and we left with a few new varieties of grains (Lawina naked barley and a light grain rye), and shared with Martin some of the perennial wheat that we had brought. We also left with our heads full of new ideas and information.

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Dec 18th 2006

Early morning on Monday, December 4, we arrived at the doorstep of Christina Henatch, a pivotal player in the German Biodynamic seed breeding scene, Working at the Gut Wolfsdorf Farm outside of hamburg Germany. Christina was gracious enough to host us for several days during a very busy time of year for her. We talked about a great deal — from nematodes and flea beetles to the reality of so-called “organic hybrids” now on the market. We participated a bit in the process of selecting carrots for next year’s seed crop, and helped process some of this year’s carrot seed crop.

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We worked a great deal with Juan Richter, Christina’s knowledgable and helpful research assistant, and had what amounted to a four day seminar in the Biodynamic seed world of Germany.

Christina eagerly accepted many of the seeds that we brought, including the broccoli and beans, which are two of her main breeding crops. She was also excited to pass on some of our seed to her colleagues that work with grains, eggplant, salad greens and more. She shared with us some of her favorite carrots, broccoli, and beans, as well as a “naked barley” and some over wintering spinach, and offered us new contacts to explore in her network of Seedspeople.

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Christina is a part of the oldest and largest cooperative of Biodynamic breeders in the world, Bingenheimer. Bingenheimer is dedicated to developing and promoting open-pollinated varieties for the professional gardener/farmer that are of the calibar to compete with and surpass hybrid varieties. It is a pivotal time in the evolution of the seed business, especially considering the introduction of “organic hybrids,” and the German Seed Initiative, comprised of dozens of dedicated seed breeders like Christina, is the only organization taking a pro-active stance to ensure that market gardeners will continue to have access to increasingly high-quality open pollinated varieties.

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We hope to visit Bingenheimer later in our journey, but for now stay tuned for some photos of the Gut Wulfsdorf farm and our experiences here.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Dec 8th 2006

When we got off the bus in Copenhagen it was very cold and seemed as though nothing was open. We decided to walk towards the center of town, past Tivoli Gardens and the wax museum to the main square. When we got to the town square it was full of life. We were surprised to see so many people awake so early — until we realized it wasn’t early for them, it was late. The bars were still open and they were still out from the night before. Once we had this realization it became obvious that every person that passed us was quite drunk, and so we had an amusing time sitting on a bench in the square watching the show.

Eventually it was late enough to call Søren Holt, a member of the Danish Seed Savers Association (Frøsamlerne) who would be our ride to Ødense for the Seed Cleaning Workshop later that day. We had a bit of difficulty with the pay phone, until a kind and compassionate (and very drunk) young man offered to make the call for us. After our pick-up was arranged, our new friend asked us what we were doing in Denmark. When we told him, he laughed and said, “You guys are very big nerds. I thought I was a big nerd when I play online video games, but you are even more nerds. You are like bionic nerds, made up of many pieces of smaller nerds stuck together!” I thanked him for the complement and the phone call, and we parted ways.

It was early enough that we were able to go back to Søren’s house before driving the 2.5 hours to Ødense. He served us toast and coffee and finally, Ikea made sense to me! We took a quick tour of his garden and were off.

The seed cleaning workshop in Ødense was attended by about 18 people, all members of the Frøsamlerne. The presenter, Jeppe Dalsgaard, has worked for seed companies in Scandinavia long enough that he had a great amount of knowledge to share: He knows the magic of cleaning seeds by hand (without fans!). Jeppe gave thorough demonstrations on cleaning spinach, kale, and carrot seeds using only three different sized screens, a shallow metal drum that looked something like a large cheese cake pan with a very fine wire mesh at the bottom, two trays and a muslin sack. He also gave the mathematical equations for how dry a seed can get at a certain temperature with a certain atmospheric humidity. He explained the finer details of “priming” parsley seed so it germinates quicker, and taught about the difference between seed vigor (speed with which seeds sprout) and germination rate (total percentage of sprouted seeds after a given period of time).

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Nov 26th 2006