The Story of the Blue Bean Project

I’m very happy to be introducing this project with today’s blog post because it is a work in progress that has been in our hands for the past few years. We’ve been growing a green bean mix for our market stand for the last four years, and in 2015 we began working on growing a seed crop that we can use on our own farm. One of our main motivations for seed growing has been to supply our market garden’s seed needs for a few select crops, and green beans are one we feel we’ve best mastered and most appreciated.

My dream for a rainbow green bean mix began when I discovered Dan Jason’s Salt Spring Seeds original variety, Tanya’s Pink Pod. The stunning fluorescent pink colour was like nothing I’d seen in a seed catalogue before, and I was inspired by his account of its accidental existence in his bean patch. I purchased a couple packages of his seed and increased our stock of it over a few seasons until I had enough to incorporate it into our market crop. The resulting mix of beans ranging in colour from yellow, green, pink and dark purple are unique at our market stand and attractive to our customers. I love telling people about the story of the pink bean in particular, and promoting local seed production in the process.

If it hadn’t been for Dan’s story about finding and saving seed from a unique individual on his farm, Ben and I may not have taken notice of our own special outcrossed bean plant which appeared in our field during the summer of 2017. Among three 70ft rows of mixed green bean plants, we found a distinct bean that we didn’t recognize. It had a beautiful glowing blue/purple cast over a green base, much like Tanya’s Pink Pod blushes pink over a green undertone. This discovery gave us hope and energy during the whirlwind of summer harvesting and work, and we happily made space for the “blue bean” in our seed saving plans.

 

This year we’re growing out the children of the crossed plant, which I suppose we can call the F2 generation. I’m excited because now I have more information about who the “blue bean’s” parents are. Half of the plants are typical green beans, and the other half have varying shades of purple, from dark to light. I was delighted to see that the flowers are varying in colour between plants as well. Some are pure white, others are white with pink tips, some yet are lavender and others are a darker purple. Crosses are a rare sight when you grow crops from large and medium sized seed companies because they are so diligent about maintaining pure varieties. I plan to grow out the results of this cross for several years and see if I can select a stable, blue-purple colour. I recognize that may not be possible completely because the colour I like may be due to heterogeneity.  However, the variation I’m seeing now is beautiful, and the slow-moving, hands-on genetics lesson is a fascination.

Kaleigh

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Early Season Update

Hello Spring! Hello 2018!

The last two weeks Ben and I have been working in our field in the Burgoyne Valley. The lazy blur of winter is evaporating and the soil is finally able to be worked. We’ve enjoyed the last two months spent indoors propagating seedlings, and are really excited to get them out into the ground. Even with all the new space we have to work with, there are piles of seedling trays growing in number and its a bit of a traffic jam until we can begin planting.  The heat table, the window, and the greenhouse are all precious real estate!


Yesterday, we put in four rows of peas: snow, snap and shelling. We’ve also got our early season salad, radish, turnip and asian greens growing. This year we’re returning to a big strawberry planting, so tomorrow’s task is to prepare beds and plant strawberry crowns.  I’m spending a lot of time assessing our progress.  Are we ahead, on time, or behind? Could be any of the three, depending on the weather.


So far, we’re having a much drier spring, which bodes well for our soggy, valley bottom plot at the Burgoyne Valley Community Farm. We have landscape fabric to move, beds to weed, a cover crop to mow down, and some greenhouses to build. There is a lot of work to do, though our days seem oddly calm.  I just can’t wait for all this super fresh food to cross my plate. Looking at the vegetables on the seed packages is such a tease! Just wait 50 days….

Organic Seed Grower’s Conference in Corvallis, Oregon

The day after Salt Spring’s Seedy Saturday, we hopped on the ferry and made our way through Washington and Oregon to attend the Organic Seed Grower’s Conference in Corvallis, Oregon (after several dreamy days of pacific northwest disc golf!).  The conference is put on by the Organic Seed Alliance, and brings together a diverse collection of seed growers, plant breeders, farmers, researchers, activists and advocates for a weekend of workshops and networking.

I love hearing about initiatives like the Culinary breeding network, which connects plant breeders, farmers and chefs to promote the culinary qualities of new and heirloom vegetable varieties.  At the conference we had the chance to take part in a winter squash taste test as part of this group’s taste research. We were given a flavour wheel to grade and describe the taste of each squash we tasted. So cool!

We also enjoyed a workshop delivered by BC’s own group of researchers from the Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. They were discussing their research about growing carrot seed inside of enclosures which prevented cross contamination from wild Queen Anne’s Lace.

The most fun part of the conference by far has got to be the massive seed exchange that takes place on Saturday. Over twenty regional seed companies and seed savers bring their seeds to share and trade, and we stocked up on all kinds of exotic things that you just can’t find here on lil’ Salty. Ben is looking forward to growing a special Seminole Pumpkin / Waltham Butternut cross, and I can’t wait to see Laurie McKinnon’s Zinnia mix.


While we were in Corvallis, we had the distinct pleasure of staying with Kootenay seed-saver, Sigrid Shepard. She treated us to three epic organic dinners cooked from scratch, and generously shared her seed collection with us with the hope that we would continue to grow out some of her favourite varieties. It was a pleasure and an honour to hear her stories and hold the seeds which have been saved in some cases since before I was born. Attending the conference helped Ben and I understand where we stand within the seed industry and gain some meaningful perspective, while talking with Sigrid was like opening the door to an entire lifestyle which I admire so much.  Sigrid’s pure, homegrown ethic was like a sip of refreshing water, leaving my mind and heart clear about our purpose. Food, Friends, Seeds, Traditions, Plants, Cooking and Eating!

Another Seedy Saturday

Early this February Ben and I enjoyed watching another Seedy Saturday unfold. This was our third year organizing this awesome event, and we were very happy with the turnout and the vibe this time. With a few seasons under our belts, the organizing tasks feel easy to accomplish. Like putting one foot in front of the other.


The event hosted over 300 attendees, 35 vendors and exhibitors, three free community speakers and a full day of skills-based workshops on Sunday.  I taught a workshop for the first time to a small number of interesting gardeners, about saving seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family.  I like sharing what I know, and it felt good to get over my public speaking jitters. It is wonderful to see the farming and gardening community come together at the beginning of a new season. We love shopping the stands for some new varieties to try, and talking to the seed growers who are as passionate as we are.

We brought a small selection of our own seeds grown in 2017. Its very special to me putting our labels on the packages and measuring seeds for someone else’s garden. It is a comfortable ending, and an exciting new beginning! Both! Ah, seeds.

Almost There! Season 3 has come and gone.

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It has been a while since we had an opportunity to update the blog, and much has happened since. Kaleigh and I have been overjoyed to see the success of another season, and to see that we are, in fact, getting better at this vegetable thing. Our crops were better tended, our timing was better on most crops, and we planted the right amounts of the right foods. We have also seen myriad ways that we could improve on next season and we are already planning how to approach 2018 to make it even better.

This week we finished up our Garlic bed preparation and planted the majority of our cloves. Tomorrow we will finish that up, and leave the mulching til next week. It is obvious that the rainy season is going to come fast and before long we will be knee deep in mud at the south end farm, so best to hurry up.

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This season we left ourselves with a lot more fresh food in the fields for November and December thanks to our new caterpillar tunnel, and lot of Radicchio family plants. Chard, Mustard, Lettuce, and spinach are still growing and we hope to harvest these all the way up until Christmas. That is our big hope, to market continuously until Christmas with some fresh greens at every market. We really noticed that the stand pops a lot more with fresh greens, and it helps to sell the sometimes dull, or humble roots and hard squash crops that do remain through that season.

This is also the season that we turn our attention to our seeds, and the toddlerdom our our beautiful seed company. We have harvested a bunch of crops intended for seed and are preparing to screen and clean them in the coming months for sale in the Spring. Mixed into this post are photos of us parading about and enjoying some time with these more fun and less stressful crops.

Thanks for reading and see you at the market!

Ben

Hand Pollinating Zucchini

Last week our intern, Gavin, and I completed the first hand-pollination of my favorite zucchini variety, Romanesco. The fruits are long and thin with green and white striped ridges. It is very attractive and productive. Several customers have let me know it is the most flavorful. I want to grow this vegetable every year! All of the above reasons make it a great candidate for seed saving.

The above photos from right to left show an open female flower; a female flower which was tied the evening before and a male flower, petals pulled back to show the stamen; the ovary at the base of a female flower which will become the fertilized fruit; the act of transferring pollen from a male flower’s stamen to a female flower’s stigma. It is remarkable how easy this is!

I would encourage everyone who enjoys growing zucchini to try this out. The process is simple, and the flowers are large which makes it easy to learn. A single fruit will produce enough seeds to plant out an entire 70ft row of squash or more next year.  Soon I’ll post more about growing the fruit to full maturity and harvesting the seeds. But not until the end of August at least….

Kaleigh

CuCURBit Appeal

One of my personal goals this season is to successfully hand pollinate and save seed from a member of the Cucurbitae family.  Potential candidates include: winter squash, zucchini, melon, and cucumber.

Hand pollination is a great skill to have under one’s belt as a seed saver. It means you can selectively isolate varieties that you love from varieties that would change the genetics unfavorably. Great news for us as market growers who like to grow a wide diversity of crops which share a species with one another. Hand pollination also allows the seed saver to become a seed breeder! Now you are in control of the selection of both parents for your new generation of plants. One can select the best representatives of a variety from the population, or go right ahead and make a cross, creating a new variety completely!

I have done some reading about it, and the process is fairly simple. First,  we select a variety to save and a plant(s) in the population to save from. We wait for the flowers to mature, and tape the female flowers shut in the evening before we plan to pollinate. The next morning, a male flower is selected and used to “brush” pollen onto the recepters of the female flower. The female flower is taped once again, and the fruit is left to develop.

What is not so simple, for me, is of course, the timing. It is difficult for me to know when I will be able to visit the same farm in the morning and at night, and to allocate the time for this seemingly non-essential task.

Another important step, as with all seed saving activities, is to label both the plant and the fruit that is to be reserved. Because fruits like zucchini and cucumber are eaten at the immature stage, it is slightly more complicated to leave fruits to mature on the plant, meanwhile harvesting around them on the same plant. With winter squash and melons, we eat the fruit at a more mature stage, where the seeds inside are probably viable at the time of harvest. This makes for a slightly more simplified workflow, since the seed harvest and the food harvest happen on the same day. This concept has become important to us as we integrate market farming with seed saving, and informs many of our choices when it comes to what seed crops we are going to busy ourselves with.

I’ll post again when the time comes to complete the task. Luckily, our cucumbers are already putting forth their first little yellow flowers!