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!

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Off-Grid Pump House

I am so behind in a lot of my posts.  Sorry.

A lot has been happening around here.

Last March I started telling you about the pump house we were building.

You may recall that framing the walls was next on the agenda.  If you havent seen that previous post, you can catch up by clicking HERE.

Since we drilled the holes in the sill boards for the J-bolts and PVC conduit pipes, then set everything in place, tightening the bolts tight, the concrete was able to cure with everything in it’s proper place.

We decided to re-use the lumber that we used for framing the concrete slab (reduce, reuse, recycle!), so I spent some time scraping off the cement from the boards.

We began framing one wall at a time, which was definitely a two person job.  Sometimes I needed three arms to hold everything up while dear hubby Ray screwed it into place, but after a lot of groaning and a few colorful words, we eventually got the walls up.  As mentioned in the first post about this pump house, we used 2 x 6 lumber (2 x 4 in a few spots for bracing) which fits nicely with the 6″ wide concrete block, and also so that in the future we can super insulate the walls and ceiling.  

Once the walls were in place, we installed a window.  We went to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store to purchase a few items for this project.  We got the Marvin window for about $35 and hinges for the door for $1 each!  I love going to these Re-Stores and spending an hour or so just looking around, because you never know what you might find!  We have been to several and each one is different, which makes the shopping adventure just that much better!

We needed to put a window into the pump house not only for the natural light, but also in case we need to pull the pump out of the well.  The window was positioned right in front of the well head, and it’s big enough to slide open and pull the pump through.

Next came the roof.  We bought these metal “hangers” from the big box store to make it easier to secure the rafters to the top plate of the framing.  They worked great!  When we (meaning me) first put them on, we got them upside down.  Oops!  Ray corrected my mistake.  🙂

Then we added a bit more structure to the gable ends and jack studs horizontally between the regular studs, to give the building more structure and strength. On the front side (the picture to the left is showing the back side) we also installed a vent. Eventually we plan to install a solar panel on the roof to provide a task light on the inside and a motion detector light outside, and also as a trickle charge to batteries that we can use for pumping water on cloudy days.  We have decided to leave the power to the pump separate from the power to the house because that system is already in place and running.  Ray has all that stuff worked out and I am sure glad he does, because when it comes to anything electrical (watt?  amp who? voltage where?), I am the consummate dummy!  But that’s okay because it just makes him the yang to my yin!  After 41 years of marriage, this has worked well.

So… I just nod and smile when he is telling me about all of that “stuff”.

Then the rafters went up.  Holy canolli, what a job!  They were heavy and cumbersome and we decided to put them up on a windy day.  Why would we do something so silly? Because rain was in the forecast and we wanted to get the roof on ASAP!

Now it’s actually looking like a building!  Wahoo!  The hardest part is done… right?

Well, No.

For us, the hardest part was the plywood and metal roofing.  Why?  Because the plywood is heavy (really heavy), the metal roofing is sharp, and we are both just a little nervous about heights! :O

It was a bit difficult getting the plywood exactly centered and leveled on the rafters because, unfortunately, a few of the rafters were just a bit warped and twisted. And we aren’t professional contractors. And did I mention those suckers are heavy? Oh well. You really can’t see that from the outside, so we’re good.

Just don’t look too close…

Our next task was to wrap the house and install the siding.  Since we live in an area that is prone to wildfires, we try to use fire resistant products whenever possible.  We decided to use the James Hardie Planks, just like we did on the tool shed (turned into our little cottage bunkhouse), with the James Hardie 4×8 sheets on the gable ends, for a little bit of interest. This product is fairly noncombustable as it is a cement based product.  The truth is that ANYTHING can burn… even concrete, but every little bit of prevention helps in a wildfire situation! The trim was also made from this product. The siding took the longest time to do – several days – but I think it turned out well!  We also used the Hardi Planks to close up the soffits.  Closed soffits are also an important component of a structure in a wildfire prone area.  If no sparks can get into the attic, it is less likely that the building will burn!  One thing I will say about using the James Hardie products is that they are NASTY when you cut them!  We learned from experience the first time we used this product.  It is imperative that safety goggles (the kind that completely enclose your eyes) and breathing masks be used, otherwise your snot turns to concrete marbles and your eyes will weep rocks for days!

Seriously!

The door was our final piece of construction.  When we were planning how big to make this building, we knew that we had to make the door big enough to be able to remove and/or replace the water storage tank.  But we also knew that we didn’t want a door to be that big, because it would tend to sag and warp.  So, we decided to make a double door system where only one door is used and the other, while useable when necessary, would usually be pinned shut with a bolt going through the door and into the concrete on the bottom.  We bought the hinges at the Re-Store and the handle and lock system at the big box store.  Once the doors were constructed, we trimmed them out with the Hardi Board to match the gables and… voila!

I couldn’t wait to hang my sun on the side of the building!

Now, all we have to do is paint!

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Our Bees – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Ray and I are fledgling beekeepers – we are newbees!  🙂

We started in this venture two springs ago with our newly built Top Bar Beehive.  We decided to use Top Bar Hives not only because we could make them ourselves (which saves money), but for quite a few other reasons you can read about on my previous blog post about top bar hives HERE.

I thought our first attempt at beekeeping would be successful, but noooo.  I circled in red some of the dead bees that were literally buried face first into the honeycomb, which indicates they were starving, yet there was honey still in the hive!

Lets start with the Bad.  Our first bee colony died.  We were so sad. 🙁  But we had been warned that this might happen, especially since we were new at this.  So what did we do?  We built another Top Bar Beehive and bought TWO bee colonies to populate both the old hive and the new hive.

Those bees did great!  Although we had a serious problem of predation of the bees by bald faced hornets and yellow jackets this last summer, the colonies themselves seemed to be largely uneffected and both entered winter weather fairly strong in numbers.  In fact, to help them along, we insulated the hives with – well – insulation!  And, since too much moisture in a beehive is not good, we placed a few diapers over the top bars, hoping that they would absorb any excess moisture within the hive.  We were trying to cover our bases.  Apparently, this strange approach worked.  We had bees sunning themselves on their doorstep and even foraging on warm sunny winter days!

We packed the rigid insulation in pretty tight, right up to the comb furthest back in the hive, and planned to remove a couple pieces a week as soon as the weather started to warm in the spring and some flowers were starting to bloom.

The Ugly?

Well, this past winter when I was away visiting a friend, Ray decided to spray our orchard with a pesticide that killed tree borers.  A couple of our fruit trees have boring pests in them and we were hoping the spray would help. Although we are trying to be as organic as possible, it was either spray or have dead fruit trees. Our two top bar beehives reside in the orchard, and, unfortunately, Ray forgot to cover the hives before he sprayed.  He didn’t even close their entrance holes!  Uggggghhhhhh!

I wasn’t aware of this until the next day revealed untold carnage.  I couldn’t figure out why our poor girls (all worker bees are girls) were dying by the hundreds outside of the hive! My first thought was that our neighbors, who are pot farmers, had sprayed their crops with pesticide.  But it was too early to have “those” plants out!  But then, when I showed Ray the carnage, he admitted that he had sprayed the fruits trees and forgot to close the hives for a day. Those poor girls weren’t even able to get back inside after they had found pollen for the new brood… they were just too weak from the poison.

These poor little girls didn’t have a chance!  And they worked so hard for that pollen!

Ray endured a few choice words from me, and they weren’t kind words.  Lucky for him, somehow both hives survived, but were undoubtedly weakened.

We are now thinking that the hives shouldn’t actually be in the orchard!  Right next to or even down the lane a bit, but if we ever need to spray ANYTHING on the trees to control a pest or a fungus, it would be better not to have the hives within the spray range.

mistakes in beekeeping

One of our local native bumblebees dancing in the blooming broccoli.

In the middle of March both hives were still alive.  It was still cold and rainy, so we didn’t want to open the hives to see how strong they were, but we certainly didn’t see many bees through the observation windows.

This picture was taken of the new hive (hive #2) after Ray had sprayed the orchard. There were bees still present, but not very many.

I actually thought we had made it through the winter, which is like winning a beekeeper’s medal!

WAHOO!  (happy dance)

Um

Nope

I was watching the hives right around the first of April and noticed that no bees were coming and going from the new hive (hive #2).  It was finally a warmish day, so Ray and I decided to open up the hive and see what was going on.

We were devastated.  It was UGLY!  There were just a few live bees left clinging together in a clump on the comb.  Since they weren’t all dead, we thought it would be best to just close it back up, leave it alone and watch for a few days. Well, a few days later there were no live bees left in the hive.  Bummer.

When I was cleaning out the hive and trying to figure out where we went wrong, I found a huge dead yellow jacket queen in the hive.  She was big and we couldn’t figure out how she had squeezed herself into the hive, but somehow she did.  Worse yet?  There was no brood.  None.  Nada. Who knows how many times the Yellow Jacket queen had come and gone.  Worse yet, there may have been more than just the one yellow jacket queen.  I guess the main reason we are sure the Yellow Jacket(s) was responsible is that while there was no brood, there was still a lot of honey.  Yellow Jackets are huge predators because they are carnivorous and feed insects (or pieces of your picnic hotdog) to their brood. She must have either killed or taken our honeybee queen (we never found her), and stolen all the brood to feed her own.

bull hornet

This is a picture of a Bald Faced Hornet that I took last year. Between this bee predator and the huge queen Yellow Jackets we have, our poor beehives are constantly under attack!

Urrrrgggghhhhhhh!  🙁

We figured this probably happened because the hive was weak due to the spray Ray had used a few weeks before.

Nuts!  Shoot!  &%$#@&%!

I’m not sure what we are going to do about this problem in the future.  We have reduced the entrance to the hives and we have hung numerous wasp traps, but the yellow jackets and hornets keep coming.  We haven’t seen any hornets yet this spring, but we know they will be coming soon.  Anyone have any ideas, because we are just stumped.

The good?  We decided not to give up.  Not yet.  We are almost there, but wanted to try one more time, so we bought one more package to replace the dead colony.  We will be installing those next week.

Installing bees into a top bar hive

Here’s a picture of Ray installing a bee package (3 pounds of worker bees and a queen) last year in the new (#2) hive, which is the one we need to replace. We hope to be successful with the install this year also!

So the saga continues.  We need prayers, good thoughts and some old fashioned luck sent our way, because if we lose these two colonies, we will have to just give up beeing beekeepers!  It’s sad, but sometimes you just have to understand your limits.  Besides, each box of bees and a queen is costing $125, which can make beekeeping a fairly expensive hobby.

Please don’t let me discourage you if you would like to keep bees.  Each situation is different, and I think living in a forest with all the wild creatures to contend with, our situation may be more difficult than others.  However, if you have been a follower for very long, you know that I always “tell it like it is” and prefer not to “sugar coat” anything.  Why tell a story if you can’t tell the truth?

So… any suggestions?

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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:  http://www.edibleperspective.com/home/2012/7/23/popped-amaranth-cereal-puffmaranth.html

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!

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