Like many other aspects of organic gardening, the art of saving seed has nearly become a forgotten knowledge. For thousands of years, humans from all corners of the globe worked to turn unruly, wild plants into primitive versions of the countless cultivars we know of today. From there we went further by selectively breeding these crops for color, flavor, disease resistance, and most importantly adaptation to the specific climate and soil conditions of a particular locale. This was the driving force behind the vast genetic diversity in our food crops that ensured bountiful harvests for years. Today, due to the loss of seed saving as common practice, only a fraction of that diversity remains. We see the results of this in conventional agriculture where only a handful of varieties are cultivated, allowing pests and disease to hone in on the remaining crops, making it impossible to grow food without the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides.
At The Lode at Woodloch’s Blackmore Farm, we have dedicated garden space to plants that we look to save seeds from to carry on the traits of a particular plant, selectively breed for enhanced traits, or cross pollinate plants to create our own unique combinations. Tomatoes, beans and lettuce are all examples of self-pollinated plants, meaning they can reproduce all on their own. We love saving seed from plants like these, because we can stock pile large amounts of seed not only for use the following season, but for easy sharing with our guests and seed swap opportunities during the off season. Cross-pollinated plants on the other hand require the genetic material to come from another or sometimes many other plants of the same species. To make certain the plant resembles the “mother” plant you are looking to save seed from, you must protect it from cross pollinating with similar plants. Or, you could take the approach of not worrying about any of that and just create new varieties! We grew a variety of broccolini for seed right next to a red, tender kale that wanted to flower at the same time. We could have forced order in the garden by ripping that kale out to protect the genetics of the broccolini, but sticking to our “order out of chaos” philosophy, we allowed the two to coexist together and most likely they crossed. After saving about a half of a gallon of seed from the broccolini, we can’t wait for spring to see what new, tasty combo we created.
So how do we go about saving seed? Well, we started with something easy- cilantro. Aromatic, annual herbs are typically quick to “bolt”, but instead of getting rid of it, we allow cilantro to flower to attract countless pollinators which ultimately leads to another edible part of the plant- coriander! You should wait until the seed pod is well dried before harvesting or hang the plant upside down over a large, brown paper bag, so as the seeds dry, they fall into the bag. Tomatoes take a little more effort due to the protective coating around the seed. First, you choose the tomato you would like to save seed from, cut it open or better yet, crush the fruit in your hands so the mess falls into a bowl or bucket, add a little water and allow the mixture to ferment for 3 or 4 days. The fermentation cleans the gel surrounding the seed so you can now strain the mess and dry your seeds on a plate or tray, but avoid paper so the seeds don’t stick to it. Once fully dry, you can package and label the seeds for next year!
This year, we are going to try and grow grains like oats, barley, and buckwheat first as “cover crops” to amend the soil and smother weeds at our new Sanctuary property, but also as an additional crop for our culinary team. Saving seed in this quantity would be very time consuming if not for a machine like the Clipper Seed Saver. This 19th century relic was picked up by The Lodge after a local farmer reached out for help cleaning out his barn and it works as well as it did in 1873. It has been updated with an electric motor in the last few decades to increase its efficiency even more. To Blackmore Farm, this piece of history represents the state of food and organic farming in the world today- we must look to the traditions of our past for progress in the future. Happy gardening!
By Derrick Braun, Lodge at Woodloch Farmicist
After receiving a Culinary Arts degree, Derrick Braun went on to complete his bachelor of science in the Culinary Nutrition program at Johnson & Wales University. While most of his classmates pursued their work share programs in medical institutions like nursing homes and hospitals, Derrick decided to learn about food and health from the “ground” level, and established an internship at The Anthill Farm, an organic fruit and vegetable farm in north east Pennsylvania.
He helped create the Lackawaxan Farm Company (LFC), a farm cooperative that is the main source of local produce for the Lodge at Woodloch and many other restaurants and families in the region. Before coming to The Lodge, he was able to help start two farm to table restaurants in the area as well, but because of his passion for the soil, he could not be contained in the kitchen for long and is now in his 3rd year as The Lodge at Woodloch’s fruit and vegetable farmer.
“I guess I always felt like a rebel without a cause, but now things like community building, land restoration, as well as feeding and educating others have replaced my fervor for writing (unanswered) angry comments on company message boards and sore throats from screaming at rallies. Food sovereignty is still my goal, but the garden is now my protest.”