Broccoli and Sprouts Seed Saving

Wikipedia describes “landrace” as this:

“A landrace is a domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species.”

Saving home grown broccoli seedsI grew my first attempt of broccoli and brussels sprouts from organic, open pollinated heirloom seeds.  Although I won’t call my first crop a success because I got only a few small heads of broccoli and no brussels sprouts at all, I did learn a very valuable lesson.  Plant sooner.  I thought that since these were cool weather crops, I needed to plant them in cooler weather!

Silly me.

But the plants did over-winter in fine shape and, since they thought it was their second year of life, they bloomed, and the blooms were absolutely gorgeous! broccoli and brussels sprouts seed saving

Our honeybees were enthralled with the blossoms, as were the bumblebees and orchard mason bees.  Serendipity!  To be honest, I couldn’t really smell any sweetness to the blossoms, even when I stuck my nose smack dab in the middle.  But then, I’m not a bee, so what do I know 😉

So, I let the blooming plants go to seed, just to see if I could grow broccoli and brussels sprouts from my own saved seed. After it looked like the seed pods were pretty plump, I pulled up the plants and hung them by their roots on our orchard/garden fence. One lesson learned from hanging the seed pods is to watch them every day, because once they are all dried the seed pods pop open and the seeds will drop and roll all over the ground.  The seeds are so small, that it’s almost impossible to find them on the ground!  What I found is that about two weeks in the sun hanging on the fence is all that is needed.  Once the seed heads were dry, I rolled them between my fingers and the seeds popped out into a clean bucket I had below.  I put the seeds into an envelope and labeled them with the variety and date harvested.saving broccoli and brussels sprouts seeds

When it was time to plant the seeds (around the middle of August, for me), I bought some more seeds at our local organic seed store – Sustainable Seed Company.  Why?Because I wasn’t REALLY sure my seeds would be viable, and I actually wanted to EAT, not just grow broccoli and sprouts! One thing I have learned from all my experimenting in the garden and in the kitchen… you should always have plan #2!

broccoli and brussels sprouts seedsI labeled the seeds either SB (store bought) or HG (home grown), with my homemade labels.  I made these out of one of the ice cream buckets that my mother gave me.  Just cut the bucket in strips and label with a permanent market and, voila!

I planted the seeds in terracotta pots because I have had better luck germinating seeds in them, though it can be hard to get the seedling out when it is time to plant. It’s also easier to keep the pots wet when put into a cookie sheet tray or old roasting pan, without the seeds/seedlings getting waterlogged.  I then watered all of the planted seeds with my homemade kelp fertilizer (which has gibirellic acid, a type plant hormone) and waited to see what would happen.seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

Some of the seeds germinated and were peeking up above the soil in just seven days!  I really think that had a lot to do with the kelp fertilizer.  Eventually it was evident that both the SB and the HG seeds were germinating at about the same rate.  I was so excited! That means I can definitely save my seeds every year, and hopefully, by careful selection, I will end up with seeds that are very well adapted to my weather and soil conditions.

saving open pollinated broccoli seedsAlas, I may have gotten my plants into the ground too late again.  Here it is October 1st and my plants aren’t very big. My biggest gardening problem isn’t timing, however, but  logistics.  Most of my raised garden beds are INSIDE my fruit orchard.  That was okay last year and the year before, but the trees are growing and are now shading my vegetable beds!

We’ll see what happens.

My plan is to every year select the healthiest two or three plants of each – broccoli and brussels sprouts – and let them flower and then go to seed.  Of course, that means that for a few years while I am developing my own broccoli and sprouts landraces, we won’t be eating the cream of the crop.

That’s okay.  I can wait!  At least the bees will be happy!

One more thing I learned from this experiment…  tomatoes don’t like broccoli!seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

You see, I was gifted the book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte a few years ago from my sweet DIL Wendy, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the book, trying to follow the planting preferences as listed in the book.  What happened is that this past spring the broccoli seeds hadn’t yet finished developing, but I needed to get the tomatoes in the ground in the same box that the broccoli was, so I went ahead and planted the tomatoes a few inches away from the broccoli.  Big mistake!  You have to click on the picture above to see it larger, but you can see that the tomato plants in the boxes with broccoli are much smaller than the ones in boxes without the broccoli!  The picture was taken about 3 weeks after the tomatoes were planted.  Believe it or not… the tomato plants started out at about the same size!

Who knew?  Obviously not me!  You learn something new every day!

So, my advice for today:  If you are growing broccoli or brussels sprouts and live in an area that has fairly mild winters, DON’T harvest every bit of produce off the plant!  Leave some sprouts and some broccoli heads on the plants, mulch heavily to get them through the winter and allow them to bloom and set seed the next year!  You will be able to take that seed and replant your next crop, which will be stronger and healthier year after year!

And don’t plant tomatoes among your broccoli!

This is where the party is:Thank Goodness It’s MondayGrand SocialMix It Up MondayCreate, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking MondaysShow & Share TuesdayThe Gathering SpotBrag About ItTuesdays with a TwistThe ScoopTwo Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me TuesdaysTuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Show Me YoursMake, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog HopWow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful Wednesday;  Waste Less WednesdayAIM LinkyHealthy,Happy & NaturalOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutThink Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend Party;  Friendship Friday;  Family Fun FridayFriday’s Five FeaturesAwesome Life Friday;  Home MattersTraffic Jam WeekendSaturday Sparks;  Dare to ShareScraptastic SaturdayShare It One More TimeHappiness is HomemadeAnything Goes Pink SaturdaySimple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  DIY Sunday ShowcaseSnickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the BlogosphereSmall Victories Sunday

Strawberries Gone Wild!

I love strawberries and would eat them every day if I could.  Alas, strawberries are at the top of the list of the “Dirty Dozen”, and so I try not to buy any that aren’t labeled as organic, which means they are usually more expensive. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that I grow my own!

When I was a child living at home, my father always grew strawberries in our backyard… way, way back in the backyard.  I would help him pull weeds and trap slugs, but generally, strawberry growing was his hobby.  Now that I look back, I realize it was the solitude he enjoyed while gardening, and I must have been quite the pest!  My poor father was truly drowning in estrogen, having three daughters and no sons, and I am sure he enjoyed his quiet time away from his three incessantly chatty daughters!  😉

Mouse trap for organic pest control

Everyone likes strawberries… unfortunately!

The first year growing strawberries up here on our homestead, the harvest was just okay. Between the birds, the banana slugs, voles and the mice, we had a hard time getting any of the harvest for ourselves! And, since we didn’t actually live here yet, we had to rely on some automatic sprinklers to water the berry plants, and unfortunately no all the plants got the water they needed.  We planted Ozark Beauty and Quinault Strawberries, because those were the two varieties we found at our local nursery. That winter I covered the bed with a thick mulch of pine needles and oak leaves.  It worked and the strawberries came back thicker than they had been the previous year. But again, we had problems with critters.

Last spring I added some Seascape strawberries, along with the Ozark and Ouilette strawberries, to a new, raised bed.  I have been extremely happy with this “new-to-me” variety.  The Seascapes are fairly large with a very sweet flavor, and produce a fairly heavy crop in the late summer.


This past winter, instead of applying the pine needle and oak leaf mulch, I used a frost blanket over the raised strawberry bed.

When I pulled it off this late winter, I was surprised to see some new growth already! Although the pine needle and oak leaf mulch had worked well, I was worried that so much organic matter might be harboring some pests, like the huge banana slugs that we encounter up here from time to time.  Well, the frost blanket actually did a better job, and I was able to check under it on warm winter days to see if there were any critters under there.  Since it kept the strawberry plants frost free and it was easy to lift the blanket to check for slugs, this is something I will certainly use from now on.

Even though I had been cutting off a lot of the “runners” so that I would have larger plants (and more strawberries) in the long-run, the plants continued to put out the runners, even in the fall.  And run they did, everywhere, apparently even during the winter under the blanket!

Strawberries gone wild!

After taking off the blanket off this spring, I saw that I needed to thin out a lot of the plants within the bed and also alongside the bed. In fact, some of the strawberries tried to set roots into our log retaining wall!

Silly plants!

So, here we were with quite a few “extra” strawberry plants.  Since I don’t have my permanent beds made yet, I had to find places to tuck the new plants. Once the permanent beds are done (another year away) I will be able to re-home these new plants into their forever beds.  And by that time, the original strawberry plants will be past their prime.  Strawberries produce best during their second year, and then usually decline in production after that.  But the runners are their way of renewing and giving us new plants.

Isn’t nature cool?

To keep out the birds, Ray built this great bird netting structure for me.  When I need to harvest the berries, all I have to do is throw the netting up over the structure to get into the bed.  It works really well.  Also, having the bed raised seems to deter at least some of the banana slugs.

We have been reading lots of books and have attended a few seminars on companion planting and land use, and realized that some of the new strawberry plants would be perfect in the pepper bed, because not only do the strawberry and pepper plants “like” each other, the large strawberry leaves would shade the soil around the pepper plants, keeping the soil a bit cooler and helping to reserve water.

I also have had a cute terracotta strawberry pot that we brought up from our previous home in the valley.  I had planted this with herbs years ago and it didn’t work very well.  So, since I had so many new plants, I decided to try the pot again.  So far, so good!

What have I done with all my strawberries?

Well, my dear husband and I just adore sliced strawberries with cottage cheese for an evening dessert.  It tastes like strawberry ice cream!

I also wanted to try out my Sun Oven as a dehydrator, and thought I would try out a batch of strawberry fruit leather.

First I washed and hulled the strawberries, then whirled them up in my little blender.

Next, I added some of our delicious honey, about 2 tablespoons, and set the pot on the stove to simmer.  The strawberry/honey pulp simmered for about 20 minutes and reduced in volume by about half.  Now the pulp was a bit thicker and didn’t spread so easily.

I placed some parchment paper on my cookie sheet and poured the pulp on.  Perfect.

Unfortunately, while carrying the pan to the Sun Oven, it tipped a bit and the pulp spread out a little more than I had planned, but I went ahead with the process anyway.

The Sun Oven worked great!  With the glass door propped open, it stayed at about 200 degrees, which was perfect!  Once I could lightly press my finger into the top of the thickest part of the pulp and nothing smooshed out, I knew the pulp was now fruit leather. You can also see that the fruit surface looks like leather!

I placed the pan inside on the table so the leather could cool down, and once it was cool, I used scissors to cut the leather into strips.  Don’t take off the parchment paper!   Now that the strips were cut, I was able to roll each one up, and then place into a glass mason jar for storage.  

That’s it!  Easy, peasy!  Nature’s candy!

Next week I am going to make some peach leather from my oldest son’s peaches.  Can you believe he already has ripe peaches?

Where I party:

Gardening in the Orchard

While we wait (and wait) to get our building permit, we have kept ourselves occupied and sane with our garden/orchard.  We made raised boxes in the orchard a few years ago, when the trees were little babies.  Now, as the trees are starting to reach a more mature height and width, many of the planting boxes in my garden don’t get enough sunlight!  So, obviously, this will be the last year I garden in the orchard.

The reason we put the garden in the orchard in the first place was because we needed to water everything automatically, as we were still living 1-1/2 hours away in the valley and coming up to water every other weekend or so.  We set up an automatic watering system with zero pressure timers (hard to find) and small tubes to distribute the water.  Now that we are living here, we can water every day by hand, if needed, and the watering system has been largely dismantled

So, here is my picture heavy post of all the happenings in the garden/orchard.

First up…  Strawberries!  Lots of them.

Next I want to show you the zucchini and yellow crook neck squash.  We put them in a raised bed that we moved to outside of the shade of the larger trees in the orchard between a couple of small peach trees.

The yellow squash has gone absolutely nuts!

Can you see the celery in there?  Ray and I attended a workshop at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year that taught us a lot about gardening that we didn’t know.  One thing they stressed was the need to plant in every available space – which provides living mulch, companion advantages (one of my favorite books is “Carrots Love Tomatoes”), and actually uses less water.  We also learned a bit about rotation of crops and succession planting.  So, we took our lesson to heart and planted the celery with the squash, peppers with strawberries, and squash with corn.

Speaking of peppers with strawberries:

They seem to be doing well together.  We have already picked off a few red bell peppers, before they got red, because the poor plants were barely big enough to support them yet!

And then there are the beans.  I love black turtle beans and plant them every year.  The first ones I planted were from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I have been selecting the biggest and best plants to collect seed for the next year’s crop.  This is the third year of saving my own seed.  The black turtle beans are bush beans, which works well for me because I put the kentucky wonder pole beans on the opposite side of the bed, where they can climb up the trellis without shading the black beans.

Of course, I couldn’t have a garden without some tomatoes, garlic and basil… right?  You can barely see them, but there is some spinach seedlings just reaching their first set of leaves up to the sky.  Sounds like a good salad to me!  Oh, and the nasturtium flowers are also edible, and add a colorful spicy note to a salad.  They will be blooming about the same time as I will be able to harvest a few spinach leaves. 

The potatoes are starting to bloom.  I have three of these potato towers in the garden.  If you have never seen this before, it’s a way of growing lots of potatoes in a small space in your garden.  This variety is the Yellow Finn potato.

I was very pleased that Steve made it through the winter.  Oh, you haven’t met Steve? Well, let me introduce you.

This is Steve, my stevia plant!  He is now four years old.

We had to uproot our two artichoke plants last year because the poor dears kept getting nipped on their toes by our &$@#%(& voles and/or gophers.  But, they are doing well nonetheless.  I can’t wait to be able to get them in the ground again, but since our perennial garden is going to be near the house, they will just have to wait.  Once house is built, we will be able to get our permanent perennial beds done.

And then, there is this monster.  It’s a spaghetti squash.  I try to grow something new every year to see if it is something I should keep in my garden.  Last year I tried Fava (broad) beans and Amaranth.


So, I thought I would plant two of the three sisters together – corn and squash.  Well, I should have planted the corn first, waited a few weeks, THEN planted the squash.  The poor corn can barely see the light of day because the squash is growing and GROWING! I put a tomato cage around it hoping to contain it, but obviously that’s not gonna happen. Seriously, I think I can hear it growing!  Since I like to name my plants, I think I will call this one Audrey!  Hopefully she won’t be a maneater 😉

To the left of the squash is my lemon balm.  I use that for my tea also, for a refreshing lemony taste without the lemon.  A crushed up stevia leaf and that’s all I need.  Ahhhhhhhhhh

Tucked in here and there are a few marigolds, some sweet pea and the nastirtums.  They are supposed to repel some bad bugs but bring in the good ones.  We’ll see.  Even if they don’t, they will be pretty in the garden anyway.

And the last picture?  Today’s harvest, of course!


This is where the party is:Thank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking MondaysShow & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Show Me YoursMake, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog Hop; Wow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful Wednesday;  Waste Less Wednesday; AIM LinkyOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutThink Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend Party;  Friendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Awesome Life Friday;  Home Matters; Traffic Jam WeekendSaturday Sparks;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Share It One More Time; Happiness is Homemade; Anything Goes Pink Saturday; Simple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the Blogosphere; Small Victories Sunday

Growing Amaranth – An Ancient Grain

One of the luxuries I have had over the last couple of years since retiring is the time to garden.  We have been planning (and planning) our new home here on our fledgling homestead for a while now, and we are hoping (and praying) that our local officials will grace us with an approved building permit soon.  But, between all the planning and preparing, one thing that keeps me grounded is my vegetable garden and orchard.

Harvesting Sunflowers

My grandson, Caden, in the garden.

Our homestead is in Northern California, at 3,000 foot in elevation, and in USDA zone 8 or 9 ish, depending on what map you look at. Our growing season is fairly average, with our last frost date around April 1st through 10th.

Growing Amaranth

We got our amaranth seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite seed companies.

Since my husband and I are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, we are trying out new plants in our garden.  Last year our new plants were Fava (broad) beans and Amaranth.  You can read about our Fava bean adventure HERE.

Why Amaranth?  Read this article about the 13 health benefits of Amaranth on the website Sunwarrior HERE.  See?  That’s why.  🙂

I started the Amaranth seedlings in 3 inch peat pots and they were the second plants of all my garden plants (the Favas were first) to germinate.  I was so encouraged!

Once they went into the garden, they took off like wildfire.  I had eight Amaranth plants, four planted on each end of my green beans.  I had no idea what to expect in terms of how tall or wide they would grow, and I thought it might be a good idea to plant them with the beans in case they needed to be tied up.growing amaranth in zone 9

I was surprised at how early I saw the flowers start to appear!  I thought our honeybees would be obsessed with these plants and the amount they were flowering, but I was wrong.  I never saw one honeybee visit the Amaranth.  I did see a few bumblebees and some orchard mason bees, but no honeybees!  Unfortunately, I also saw some yellow jackets and some bald faced hornets, but that’s another story.

amaranth - ancient grain

The flowers start early. This plant isn’t even a full three months old!

The plants grew and grew and grew!

Aren’t these plants beautiful?  Too bad our honeybees didn’t think so!

Luckily the stalks grew thick and sturdy as the plants grew tall, so they were pretty much self-supporting.  I did have to stake one up after a nasty wind blew through, because it almost broke in half, but that trooper survived despite it’s near fatal accident!  I was blown away  😉

growing amaranth

It’s harvest time! These plants did very well, in my opinion. Plus, they are so beautiful that once we have our new house built, I will plant them in my flower borders!

Once it was harvest time, in early October before the rains and when I noticed some of the seeds starting to dislodge from the plants, I cut the heads off and set them upside down in an open paper bag. In no time at all, the seeds started to dry and fall off of the plants.  But quite a few of them actually held on.  I’m not sure if this is usual, or if I may have harvested too soon, but I harvested right before a week of heavy rain, so I think I made a good call regardless.

After a bit of research I found that it was easiest to use garden shears to cut the seed heads from the thick plant stalk, and then with a gloved hand, you can rub the seed heads between your hands to dislodge the seeds and the chaff. Then, to separate the seeds from the chaff, I gently blew on them… the chaff blows away in the wind and the heavier seeds stay put.  Stay upwind of the chaff, however, lest you get a facefull of the chaff… it isn’t pretty.

ancient grains - amaranth

The seed heads have been pulled off the plant stalk and dried. Now to rub between my gloved hands to release all of the seeds.

I have heard that some people blow off the chaff with a fan and, believe me, that’s what I will do next time.

One batch down, three to go.

Also, don’t try rubbing the seeds off the stalk without wearing gloves.  The seed heads have little tiny stickers which poke like minute thorns into your fingers. Even though I put on a pair of gloves after that first batch, my hands were sore for days!

I didn’t get a WHOLE lot of seeds.  In fact, when judging my harvest with the size of the flowering seed heads, I thought I would get a lot more.  But then, seeing the size of the seeds, I realize that I actually got a decent harvest, considering. I guess I will just have to grow more amaranth!

Harvesting amaranth

Out of eight plants I got almost one quart of Amaranth seeds.

So, what did I do with the Amaranth?  I found this really cool method of popping the amaranth seeds, like popcorn!  It’s on this website I found here:

This was my first attempt at popping amaranth. Let me tell you, that stuff pops! Right out of the pan and onto my kitchen floor!   🙂

I also added the amaranth to some muffins by just adding it into the batter.  The amaranth added quite a crunch to the muffins…  still not sure I like that.  Perhaps I should pre-soften the grains in water first, before adding to the muffin batter, or maybe I should use the popped amaranth. I also found a protein bar recipe I would like to try once I have more amaranth, and I will be doing a lot more research for bread recipes using amaranth.

Will I grow amaranth again?  You Betcha!

It was easy to grow, I love the popped amaranth, and the plant itself is quite beautiful.  In fact, this could easily be a statement piece in a flower garden and most people wouldn’t be aware that it is actually a food crop.  You should try it!

I attend some of these parties:  Thank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking MondaysShow & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Show Me YoursMake, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog Hop; Wow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful Wednesday;  Waste Less Wednesday; AIM LinkyOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutThink Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend Party;  Friendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Awesome Life Friday;  Home Matters; Traffic Jam WeekendSaturday Sparks;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Share It One More Time; Happiness is Homemade; Anything Goes Pink Saturday; Simple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the Blogosphere; Small Victories Sunday

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