Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heirloom Seed Saving

Do you save heirloom seed? Once upon a time, families saved seed because it was a way of life. Without doing so, the family would starve. There were no major seed companies distributing seed before industrialization came along. During the Dust Bowl, Russian immigrants came from their homeland with seeds sown in the lining of their clothes. Varieties from their country were grown here. They brought a wheat variety called Turkey Red Wheat. This is a hardy variety that is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.

Today seed is grown and then saved in governmental and non-governmental seed banks throughout the world. Among the 1,460 seed banks in the world, one of the largest seed banks is Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. From 13,000 members, they have 1 million varieties of seed. They have varieties of apples from the early 1900's. Since that day, we have lost in cultivation about 80% of the older varieties.

In Longyearbyen, Norway, deep in the Arctic Circle constructed beneath the permafrost sits the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is designed to withstand earthquakes and even a nuclear strike. It currently houses more than half a million seeds, many of which may survive as long as 2,000 years at the -18C temperature. It is operated like a safety deposit box, seeds are only available to be withdrawn by the country or institution that provided them.

U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation in Fort Collins has their own seed bank ranked one of the top in the world. This seed bank houses the parents of all the hybridized seed of modern times. Additionally, there are about 40,000 new varieties added each year. Even native seeds are placed here from the Center for Plant Conservation from St. Louis, Missouri.

Why save the seed in the first place? Seed-physiology scientists believe that climatic changes due to global warming will wipe out about 40% the world's crops. The scientists will be able to pull from this huge seed bank to help breeders and researchers as they have in the past when a disease or drought or some other catastrophic issue destroyed a crop.

If you wish to learn more about saving your own seed from heirloom crops, Colorado State University Extension has an on-line fact sheet titled Seed Saving, numbered 7.602.

When saving seed from heirloom crops, here are some common sense tips:

Pick mature and disease free vegetables.
Dry at room temperature. Do not dry the seeds in or on paper towels.
Store in a cool, dry place. Temperatures are best kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit but above freezing.
Store in a glass container or a white envelope.
Don't forget to date and label the envelope using pencil or permanent ink.
Keep good records of your seed saving.

Happy seed saving!

Monday, January 9, 2012


What kind of a tool is a labyrinth? A labyrinth is a circuitous pathway. You enter and exit from the same point. The design of a labyrinth combines that of a circle and spiral. Throughout the ages, the labyrinth has been used for centering, healing and meditation.

There are many classical patterns of labyrinths. Read about the many different patterns by going The Labyrinth Society on-line to see photos and find more in-depth information.

Labyrinths serve to help with right and left brain functions. A labyrinth focuses on right brain tasks of intuition, creativity, imagery and solutions to problems. As the left brain functions focus on logical thinking and analysis.

While walking a classical labyrinth the movements required mediate the functions of the left and right brain and bring them into balance. One does not over-power the other. The left brain does not over analyze and the right brain does not get too emotional or over imaginative.

Many different people have used a labyrinth for grief, loss and letting go, morale building, team building, healing anger, violence, illness and lastly, celebration. What is it about this type of tool that can transform one's life? In the physical walking of these labyrinth patterns, it takes our minds out of ego into a relaxed state for both left and right brain. So overall, the two hemispheres of the brain work together. That is a true state of balance. When we become focused while walking through a labyrinth we come into present moment. At that point, our energy is focused and we begin to see things clearer in our objectivity. It is this objectivity that helps us gain balance.

Enjoy learning and creating your labyrinth.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Get Rid of Kitchen Waste: Vermicompost

Worms need food too. Want to get rid of your kitchen waste? The preferred worm for composting your entire kitchen waste is a brandling worm, Eisena foetida or a red wiggler Lumbricus rubellus.

Why not earthworms? Earthworms, Allolobophora caliginosa, like garden soil and spend their time at the bottom of compost pile, so they would not be the best benefit for composting. According to New Mexico University Extension, there can be up to 500,000 earthworms in an acre of land. These earthworms can recycle 5 tons of soil or more a year. That is what they do best.

Brandling and red wiggler worms eat compost and manure. This passes through their bodies and is excreted as castings or worm manure. These castings are organic material rich in nutrients.

How do you get started? You can use wood or plastic recycled containers or spend lots of money and get something fancy for the kitchen. The trick is that compost bins for kitchen waster should be no deeper than 8 to 12 inches. Red wigglers are surface feeders. When you go to add bedding and food wastes it packs down in bins which are deeper. This forces air out and creates an anaerobic condition which causes the bin to smell. You always want to keep it an aerobic condition with lots of air.

How big to make the bin? This is determined by the number of people in your family and how much food waste is produced every week. So the rule of thumb is to provide one square foot of surface area per pound of waste.

What types of materials can be used for a bin? Plastic or wood are good. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Wood is a better insulator if you are keeping the bin outside. Do not use redwood or other aromatic woods because they kill the worms.

Plastic can keep the compost too moist. It has no insulating properties. Plastic is easier to keep clean. It is also easy to create drainage and air holes in plastic as well as wood.

The air and drainage holes should be ¼ to ½ inch in diameter on the bottom and sides of the bin. Rest the bin on cinder blocks, brick or gravel in a tray underneath the bin to catch the drainage. You can purchase special plastic worm bins that have several layers with the bottom layer having a faucet that allows drainage into a container. The liquid being drained at first is excess water and compost tea, later as the food waste is being composted. This compost tea can be used on indoor plants or to fertilize any plants in your landscaping.

What can you use for bedding materials?

Shredded newspapers, envelopes, but remove the plastic windows, computer paper, or cardboard, shredded leaves, straw, hay or dead plants, sawdust, peat moss, compost or aged composted manure. Bedding material high in cellulose is best to use. These materials include plants and paper. These materials help aerate the environment for the worms.

How many worms do you need to add to the bin?

Two pounds of worms can recycle a pound of food waste in 24 hours. Just add the worms to the top of the prepared bin and they will make their way into the bedding. Cover the bin with a lid or burlap because worms do not like the light. They become paralyzed and can die.

What can I add to the bin for waste?

The worms can compost any type of shredded yard waste and many kinds of food: pulverized egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit waste, grass clippings, manure and sewage sludge.

Do not add chemicals or insecticides of any kind. Do not add raw meat, bones, dairy products, garlic, onion or spicy foods. Do not add too much citric fruit as well.

It is best to use a food processor to break the food into smaller pieces and speed up the composting. Do not add food to the same place in the bin. Add food to different areas of the bin so it does not accumulate in one spot. In about 2 to 3 months the bedding material will be composted. At that time separate the composted material from any new material still in the bin. Move the composted material to one side, add fresh bedding material and wait until the worms move over to the new material then collect the composted material. Do make sure that food is covered over in the bedding material each time you add it. Otherwise, it will attract other insects and pests. Again, covering the bin with burlap and straw will help deter any pests.

What is the optimal temperature at which to keep the bin?

Bedding temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit are the best. Keep the worms from freezing. Keep the worms from getting soaked by the rain if the bin is stored outside. The worms will drown. Covering the bin with straw in the winter or even in the summer is best to prevent the bedding material from drying out. If placing your bin in the garage or basement remember to keep it between those critical temperatures of 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

How much will I reduce my family’s garbage by using a worm bin?

The Environmental Protection Agency states that on average most families throw away about 1.3 pounds daily. The challenge is to see how much you can reduce the garbage each week. Can your family get the garbage down to half a bag of trash? The biggest challenge will be what to do with all the plastic packaging. About 1/3 of all our packaging is plastic. If what you are throwing away is just all non recyclable plastic, you are doing a great job recycling and composting which in turn reduces your environmental footprint.