Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are You A Chicago Gardener? Take This Survey

 Basil seed from 2012 for 2013

Our friend John Taylor, a PhD candidate at University of Illinois, has a provocative idea: survey Chicago-area gardeners to find out what vegetables grow well here. But that's just the start. Here's more from John:
Urban gardeners and farmers face many challenges, some of which can be addressed through plant breeding. Unfortunately, with the continuing consolidation of the seed industry, private and public breeding programs largely focus on the needs of large-scale growers and on agronomic crops like corn and soybeans.

I'd like to initiate a conversation with Chicago's gardeners and farmers about how to evaluate existing vegetable varieties and to potentially breed new varieties that are adapted to local environmental conditions, gardening and farming practices, and cultural preferences. With the assistance of my advisor, Sarah Taylor Lovell, I'm developing a proposal for a research project--funded by a USDA postdoctoral fellowship--that begins to develop a framework for that conversation.  I'm proposing the development of a participatory selection and breeding program for vegetable crops for sustainable production in greater Chicago.

Gardeners and farmers would be involved in all phases of the project, from developing program goals to evaluating varieties in their own gardens/farms to disseminating the results of the study, including seeds.  The program would focus on open-pollinated varieties that could be saved and distributed through gardener and farmer networks.  No genetic engineering would be involved.

Funding is for two years, so to get a head start on the process I'm surveying Chicago's gardeners and farmers about what they're growing--down to the variety level--and how they're growing it.  If you grew vegetables in 2012, live in the greater Chicago area, and are over 18, I would love to hear from you.  I'm hoping that, in addition to collecting important information, this survey demonstrates to the USDA that people are interested in and enthusiastic about developing more local control of this part of the food system.

Please fill out the survey today. Thank you.
The survey is a good way to review your seeds for the quickly-approaching 2013 growing season, offering a chance to ponder what grew well and what didn't. Also, you can stop in the middle of the survey and get a link to return to it another day. Check it out.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Komatsuna Seeds via Hudson Valley Seed Library (HVSL)

Komatsuna...Extremely cold hardy, ultra-mild Asian mustard green. Almost as sweet as spinach, but even easier to grow.
It took just 3.5 days for these greens to germinate. It's a mustard variety from Hudson Valley Seed Library, one of our favorite seed companies. 

Could it be that seed grown in upstate NY has an affinity for Chicago weather?

Also planted from HVSL: Chard Silverado and Collards Vates. 
Plus from Franchi: Spinach Winter Giant and Lacinato kale. 
We love the promise of spring greens...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diminishing Heirloom Seed Choices

As we've come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared. It's hard to know exactly how many have been lost over the past century, but a study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International gave a clue to the scope of the problem. It compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. The survey, which included 66 crops, found that about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct. 
 Full-size doesn't fit in blogger. You can view it here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rooftop Hot Peppers 2012

In our hellishly hot Chicago summer, hot peppers thrived. We grew two types:
Named by its Pennsylvania Dutch* growers, the ‘Hinkelhatz’ is a rare heirloom pepper which translates to “chicken heart,” a description of its size and shape. The variety is one of the oldest preserved by this group of Mennonites, cultivated for well over 150 years.
It grew happy happy in its SIP, with a lovely umbrella-type effect, leaves on top and peppers hanging down. Thanks to Debbie for sharing seeds in a seed-swap.

A perenniel favorite here, its growing habit is precisely opposite: peppers pointing to the sky.

I toss a few of either type into any vegetable or chicken stock I'm making, and also into brewing tea. They impart just a hint of heat.

In the fall, we clip the large stems of these peppers and hang them on a sculpture to dry and use over the winter months.

Are you growing anything hot this year?