Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter                           March 1, 2016

It is the first day of meteorological spring. The coldest 3 months of the year are behind us and it sure looks like spring is here. Has anyone got any snow left in their yard ? It is a serious understatement to say this has been one weird winter.

The river didn’t freeze over until early January (typically mid November) and just before this dip back to historical normal temperatures the ice was starting to break up. If the frost has not gone out, it is pretty rotten. The water that collects in the two low spots in the spring has drained. That usually doesn’t happen until late March. The National Weather Service is forecasting a good chance that this summer will be warmer than normal.

It has been a little dry lately but the marshes and sloughs are still full of water so the soil must have held onto the rains that fell last fall.  The long term forecast is for  an equal chance of above or below normal precipitation. I could go for a warm summer with normal precipitation.

Last week was the MOSES Organic Conference so it is now time to fire up the greenhouse and get some seeds started.  Most of the seeds are inhand,  potting soil is in the greenhouse, it is time. This year I’m going to try several seed starter mixes. In the past I have just used potting mix and had variable results. In early trials with potting mix, Beautiful Land #12, and straight sphagnum peat moss, the Beautiful Land starter mix looks the best.

At the Organic Conference I did a presentation as my last official act as 2015 Farmer of the Year. I talked about Adapting and Selecting Vegetable Seeds. It is a big complicated subject  but people have been selecting and saving seeds for 10,000 years. They did not have advanced degrees, but it is hard to argue that they didn’t know what they were doing.  Until about 50 years ago it was very common for farmers to save their best crops for replanting.  Now it is unheard of.

There is something very wrong with having chemical companies decide what varieties we can plant. As evidenced by the rise of patented and Genetically Engineered commodity crops,  they are mostly interested in selling chemicals.  They also appear to have a strong interest in controlling the vegetable seed market.  If you look at the graphic in this link https://msu.edu/~howardp/seedindustry.html , you will see the consolidation that has happened in the past 20 years.

Every time a buyout or merger occurs about 1/3 of the varieties get dropped.  The dropped varieties tend to be older open pollinated or public seed varieties.  Hybrids and GE seeds have a much narrower genetic base than OP seeds.  With our erratic climate we need seeds that are able to adapt to changing conditions.  Not that all hybrids are bad, but they may not be bred to deal with less than ideal conditions.  Hybrids are usually based on two very inbred parental lines and obviously not selected for genetic resilience.

If you are planting a garden, save some of your own seeds. The Organic Seed Alliance  http://seedalliance.org/publications#publication_category_title_12  has online instructions on saving most types of seed. They are based in Port Townsend,  Washington so they have a Pacific Northwest bias, but their techniques are widely applicable. If you are in the mood to buy books, the Seed Savers Exchange has a new book on seed production “The Seed Garden”. It is a great general purpose reference.

By the way, I’ll be selling locally produced organic veggie transplants at the Birchwood Cafe  May 7th & 8th and the 15th & 16th.  A lot of the plants will be from seeds that were grown right here. The recent weird weather has made for several great years for selecting seeds for adaptability.  There will also be some outstanding hybrids like Sungold cherry and Granadero  roma type tomatoes, and their OP counterparts.  None of these plants will be stunted with growth regulators or poisoned with systemic insecticides like you may find at the big box stores.  Since Gardens of Eagan went out of business, a couple of the co-ops will be carrying our veggie transplants also.

The sun is out. The greenhouse has warmed up. I gotta go get some onions started.  See you soon.