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I like to know if anyone is looking at my blog so please comment, if you can think of something, to say or e-mail me at madsmckeever@eircom.net

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2010 Catalogues Arrive

The fabulous 2010 Brown Envelope Seeds Catalogue has arrived! It looks really nice, printed by Matthew Walsh of Ecoprint Ltd. on recycled paper from Klee Paper, and full of handsome vegetable flower images created by the very handsome Mike Sweeney. It has of seedsaving tips too, to help me into an early retirement. If you ordered from us in 2008 or 2009 or have requested a catalogue, it should be on its way to you by the efficient An Post service very soon. If you don't think you are on the list and would like a copy email seeds@brownenvelopeseeds.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seed industry

I found this interesting diagram on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog It was created by Philip Howard, and you can see an animated version here. Funny, I can't find Brown Envelope Seeds on it anywhere.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gift Boxes

All your Christmas shopping problems can be solved by the
Brown Envelope Seeds Gift Box. We have Children's boxes,
Still stuck? Have a look at Paul and Jacinta's Woodkerne

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Events in 2010

We are still trying to get the 2010 catalogue to the printer. All going well, it will be tomorrow. It has focussed my mind on what events we want to hold on the farm next year, as that goes into the catalogue. And so we have decided to have an 'Open Day' on Sunday June 6th 2010 and a 'Seedy Weekend' over the August bank holiday weekend. We will have a beginners seed saving workshop on 31st of July, and on Sunday 1st August, a workshop on beginning plant breeding. Please email madsmckeever@eircom.net to book. If you want to buy a workshop voucher for someone special we can do that, at no extra cost. Cost €30 per day. (2days €50). Participants are welcome to camp on the farm. That leaves Monday the 2nd open for another event. Anyone want to run a seed related workshop? Or, would it be a nice day to have a gathering of seed savers who just want to hang out. What do you think?

And by the way, the cabbage is 'Gortahork' and we haven't got seed off it yet, ISSA probably do though. Hopefully we will this time next year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Well done Sophie.

The wind is howling here, and its time for a bit of sofa gardening, or perhaps Sophie gardening. Last summer we sponsored the vegetable plants for a show garden at Bloom. There is an earlier post here. Last week the garden, designed by Sophie von Maltzen, has won the Irish Landscape Institute Design Award 2009 in the category of Residential Landscapes. It was filmed by TV3 which you can see here and view it 3D here. Perhaps a few of the design elements could go in your garden plan for next year. The garden is still looking for a permanent home where the maximum number of visitors could benefit from it. It could also act as a hub creating a community park around it. If anyone has any ideas, a transition town project perhaps, do get in touch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Catalogue Germinating.

This time of year is when we put the new cataolgue together and although there are still some aubergines and squash to be de-seeded, the growing season is officially over. The image below is probably going to be on the cover. It shows the old house on the farm where all the seeds are stored and where we have the office. In there, Ruth has tested and made an inventory all the seeds. Mike and Ruth have also been as busy as Santas elves, getting gift boxes ready to get in the shops for Christmas. Drop us an email, seeds@brownenvelopeseeds.com, if you would like a copy of the new catalogue.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Students from An Tionad Glas

We were delighted to have two students from An Tionad Glas last week.
Joseph and Elaine podded lots of beans.
Then they saved the sweetcorn from the badgers by digging it up and putting it in the polytunnel. And that was just Monday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bean promiscuity

A few red flowered beans turned up this year amongst the drying beans, Black Coco and what we call Turin (almost certainly fagiolo zolfino) and the green beans Tendergreen. The plants look intermediate between Phaseolis vulgaris, the commmon or 'French' bean and Phaseolis coccineus, the runner bean. The beans inside look like runner beans. So, I am wondering if these plants are hybrids. Last year all the vulgaris varieties were grown in the same garden as the Black Magic runner bean which has black seeds. Has anybody out there had any red flowered plants in their beans or know of any cases of these two species crossing?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tom Wagner workshop

This weekend could be one of those ones, that completly change my life, like the chance afternoon that I spent at Johhny's Selected Seeds, in Maine, way back in 1985. I afraid that if I take up the tweezers and paintbrush, all the equipment that you need to make deliberate crosses, that I will get hooked. Seed saving is like learning a tune that someone else has written, plant breeding is the equivalent of composing, a creative act. I am quite tempted to try on-line poker and heroin but I know its not a good idea. However plant breeding is a good idea but might cause me to compromise most of the other areas of my life and become the addiction it is for Tom.
.Here is Tom looking at a potato in my garden that I grew from true potato seed from a potato from Tibet. Below he is standing beside the mass grave of over 9,000 people who died in Skibbereen during the Great Famine.
He has created new varieties of potatoes using the old 'Lumper' variety, whose failure was the major cause of the Famine. By crossing them with blight resistant varieties he has restored them and he symbolically sprinkled their seeds on the graves of the famine victims.
What is preventing famine here now?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How much food do we need?

This time last year I gave a talk in Clonakilty on How much space we need to grow enough food for ourselves. I meant to put these diagrams up before now but didn't quite get around to it. they are based on some fairly sketchy research mostly from the internet and are probably not very accurate. The first one shows the yield per ha of some basic foods grown without artificial manure. The beef figures are based on a grass only diet.

This next one shows the amount of each food type needed to give 2700cals or enough food for a person for a day. Its a lot of cabbage.

This one shows the price per kg of the same foods.
This one shows the price of a million calories of each which is the number of calories an adult would need per year.
And finally the number of sq meters needed to grow a years supply of food for one person eating a diet of 40% cereals, 5% pulses, 30% fruit and veg, 20% nuts, meat and dairy, and 5% oil.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

sorry about the spam

I tried to put my customer address list into a Google group, so that people could subscribe and unsubscribe to my rare newsletters. It was infiltrated by spammers today, offering video sex chat, which would probably be more entertaining than my newsletters, however I deleted the group, and that should put an end to it. I will just post my warblings on here and not try and email newsletters any more. On a brighter note. The yacon, winged beans and perilla are all trying to flower.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ballydehob food festival

Ballydehob food festival was great fun this year. I am always a
bit wary of events up at An Sanctoir, a bit afraid I'll have to
hold hands with strangers and do a circle dance, or justify
raising animals for meat, but it wasn't a bit like that. There was
rabbit stew and a barbeque full of beef and fish.

Apple juicing, music, face painting, a demonstration on how not to damage your body when gardening.
There were talks about CSAs and bees, me going on about how much food it takes to feed people. Below is a display we
brought of food types, each screen containing to about 2,700
calories, or a days worth of food an active adult.
What I like best about things like this is I get to meet new people. Like Paul, who teaches horticulture at the Kinsale permaculture course. We got to talking about how to scientifically test if
biodynamic treatments work which is a subject under discussion on Zone 5. We also talked about whether Alaska Giant worked. I am hoping that they can come up with an experimental
design in Kinsale that could test this sort of thing and maybe get
the permaculture students to carry it out. Maybe some of the
students at Án tIonad Glás could replicate them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Irish Seed Savers Associaton Apple Day

Sunday, we drove to Clare to commune with the ISSA and talk about de-hullers with other interested parties.
It was a great day, the place is looking terrific, the apple trees are now trees. What a lot of work has been done over the years.

One of the really nice things about the day was meeting people in the bus queue. We met a farmer growing Miscanthus, and my godson turned up with his family. Bepe's father, Nicola has been block laying through the celtic tiger years but is now selling Italian food specialities in Markets. Lynn, his mother, is teaching vegetable growing and chicken keeping.

There was a quiet optimism in the air, and nearly every family took a tree home. What could demonstrate faith in the future more than planting an apple tree in your garden?
And there was music.....

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The kiwanos are coming along. If I restrained myself to growing one plant, as they weren't that successful last year. However, if I gave up trying things that didn't work in the first year, the catalogue would be a lot smaller. It was in a pot outside for most of the summer and I brought it in the polytunnel when the nights got a bit cool. I hope they will ripen now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What is the matter with my rice?

Its not producing any. Carefully situated where the watertank overflows in heavy rain, it has grown nicely all summer. Surely it should have produced a few heads by now. Has anyone got any ideas?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Its funny how you can be walking past something for twenty years and then see it. It was really warm yesterday, when I set off up the road for a walk. Right outside the gate, the ivy was buzzing with all kinds of pollinators.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Skibbereen Food Fair

Lots of biodiversity here from Woodkerne Nursery's (sorry they are sideways), display of apple varieties, to the teddies at the picnic. We were there too, exploiting free labour to pod peas.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Its a great idea. You form a group in your local area, hold a meeting once a month, with a speaker, and network among yourselves about Growing It Yourself. It was started by Michael Kelly a journalist who gave up the fast life for the "Good Life". He and his team organised a conference in Waterford on Saturday. Mike and I went up to it and had a really enjoyable day. In the morning there were speakers such as Michael Kelly himself, Trevor Sergeant, and Joy Larkom. After a local food lunch, we were divided into 'pods', to discuss starting GIY groups in our own areas, and then given a chance to attend a workshop, on a subject such as permaculture, or nutrition or seed-saving. GIY groups would be a perfect network for seed swopping, as all the groups would be able to be in contact through the forum. I might try and start one here. Maybe it would lead to a CSA. We missed the threshing but it was all recorded and put up on U-Tube by Ron.

We then went on to visit Highbank in Kilkenny. I was in college with Julie many years ago and it was great to see her and Rod again. We are thinking about going to Bloom together next year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This year's squash.

This year's squash have done Ok. The wet August went against them but the warmth in July was enough for them to make a crop. time will tell if the seeds are good, this week's sun will have helped a lot.

It is a bit confusing remembering the names of squash and which ones cross with which. The green Buttercup in the top picture is Cucurbita maxima, as is the orange, Ushiki Kuri, in the next picture, and would cross with it.

The Butternut squash, above, growing outside have set some fruit, as they did last year. However last year's did not have any seed in them and any seed we got was in the tunnel produced Butternuts. The plants in the tunnel are further along than those outside. They are Cucurbita moschata and only cross with other beige coloured squash.

The Cocozelle courgettes, which are Cucurbita pepo, in the polytunnel are very different to the Green Bush down in the orchard, (also pepo) which are shorter and fatter. I will be interested to see how different they will be to eat. I am assured by some people that they are completely different. I won't be taking the seeds out for a while yet as I think they are still maturing inside the fruit. We are growing a third pepo variety, Delicata. I haven't grown them for a few years. Most of the plants have got mildew on them now but a few are growing strongly

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I'm so disappointed we are going to miss the oat threshing on Saturday. We are off to the GIY conference in Waterford which will be a summer holiday of kinds. Well, the summer is happening this week. The sun came out today fora trial run.

This post concerns the oats that were combined a couple of weeks ago, and some of which are drying in our barn. Using the grain mill opposite I tried to de hull some of them, as they are pretty inedible with the hulls on, and de-hullers cost about €20,000, or are a long way away.

It took several hours to prepare the one bowl of porridge. first I ran some oats through at various settings on the mill and tried to screen off the hulls using different sizes of sieve. Then I tried to winnow off any remaining hulls. It didn't work very well because some of the oats were very small and so nomatter what size screen I used I still got some small oats. so, I tried again first screening off the small oats then running them through the mill at a coarse setting which mostly just broke the oats in pieces.
Most of the hulls came off and it was easy to screen off any un-hulled whole oats. Most of the hulls winnowed off fairly easily but so did a lot of the smaller pieces of oat and oat dust. There were still some hulls mixed wit
h the bits which I gave up on but when I got bored, and hungry.

I put the mix in a pot and added water and of course most of the remaining hulls floated to the top. I had a nice bowl of porridge although there was still the odd annoying hull in there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tom Wagner workshop

Tom Wagner is coming to Brown Envelope Seeds to do a workshop on potato and tomato breeding. It will take place on Saturday and Sunday 17th-18th October.

If you would like to come to the workshop email me at madsmckeever@eircom.net It will be a really great weekend and hopefully a good chance to network with other seedy characters. The workshop costs €80. Workshop fees will go towards Tom’s travel expenses in Europe and towards the introduction of some of his important new varieties. As Tom devotes more and more of his time to being a seed ambassador of sorts, these fees will help continue his future workshops.

Tom is touring France in September and giving workshops there, before moving on to Denmark and Germany, then he will be in Ireland before visiting the Isle of Man where his grandfather came from, and finally the UK.

To get an idea of what he does have a look at his blog Tater Mater.

Tom has been breeding potatoes and tomatoes for over 50 years. He has created hundreds of varieties including potatoes resistant to blight,

He will be talking about what an independent breeder of tomatoes and potatoes does and possible release of new lines of potatoes and tomatoes.

Some of the topics that will be covered will be:

The history of Tater Mater Seeds

The development of some of Tom’s classic tomatoes such as the Green Zebra, along with dozens of other varieties that are available in the open market.

How Tom is rapidly accumulating a large germplasm of potato clones and TPS (True Potato Seed)

Hands on demonstrations of how to cross tomato and potatoes, many times with actual plants and with video and power point presentations.

Tom will talk about how he has taken just a few varieties of potatoes and tomatoes and created a vast diversity of seeds for the future. By using heritage potatoes and tomatoes, and adding some newer releases to cross with, Tom is working with these to create tomorrow’s heirlooms.

Tom will discuss making F-1 hybrids that anyone can make over and over again. He will talk about making backcrosses and taking each year’s seed increase to the filial level of F-5 on tomatoes which indicates a rather stable line. Tom will illustrate how his potato lines have better berry production which aids hybridization efforts.
Tom will talk about the nutriceuticals of tomatoes and potatoes; the essential nutrients that these crop could contain with a bit of breeding expertise. Enhanced antioxidants, anthocyanins, carotenoids, lycopene, are but a few. Fast cooking times in his new potatoes clones that cook in 5 minutes in boiling water will be featured in his topics.

Through a variety of breeder/grower initiatives beginning with the workshops, there will likely be many cooperatives dealing with plant breeding and variety development starting with seeds of Tater Mater.

These workshops will be part of an effort to keep seeds free and available to the public and not be allowed to be controlled by major seed companies, universities, or governments.

A concerted endeavor will be launched to work with local heritage varieties to incorporate them in variety improvement and to avoid GMO’s at all levels.

Potatoes can be grown from true seed and avoid the virus contamination of tuber trades. TPS is but one way to foster diversity and reach local needs for flavor, storability, yields, disease resistance, all with organic growing methods

The workshops will features many ways to look at seed extraction, seed saving, clonal selection.

Single seed descent and bulk population breeding and variety maintenance will be discussed.

The workshops will try to feature local gardens and local growers.

The goal is to find ways for this to help Tom in his work and how he can help local growers in return.

Video and audio recording will likely be part of many of these workshops. Some of those may be shown at succeeding workshops to show the growth of the information exchanges. A few clips of how to cross potatoes and tomatoes may be linked to the Tater Mater blog. Many still photos will be shown of his tomato and potato varieties.

Each of these workshops will invite anyone to submit questions to answer during the workshops and/or later in an interactive format. With sufficient interpreters present, these answers will be delivered in the original language.

The goal of Tater Mater Seeds is to get young people involved in plant breeding, therefore, if Tom can be a mentor and teacher for many potential plant breeders, justice is done.

During Tom’s 56 years of breeding plants, he has not only proven that anyone can be a home garden plant breeder but will show many how they, too, can be plant breeders. His unique collection of proprietary seeds of tomato and potatoes will be a great resource for plant breeding groups in each nation.

Tom started out breeding plants on his family farm near Lancaster, Kansas. He kept a family heirloom bean alive and growing each year in his gardens from a few beans his great grandmother brought to the USA in 1888. He kept growing new selections out of his breeding work even while he obtained degrees in Anthropology, Botany, Geography, and Education. His career includes farming, managing garden centers, managing greenhouses, potato buyer, potato and tomato breeder under contract, teaching, seed catalog, and a wide host of other professions. He has offered many of his creations in Farmers’ Markets and has introduced his varieties to other organic growers.

Tom stays busy with his TaterMaterSeeds forum and is a moderator on the Tomatoville.com for CrossTalk and Potato sub forums.

Tom currently lives in Everett, WA. His plots are all organic and shuns any chemicals applied to the soil.