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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, April 25, 2013

Letter to the Irish EU Commissioner regarding: Draft Proposal for a regulation of the marketing of plant reproductive material

Dear Ms Geoghegan-Quinn,
I am the owner of one of Ireland's few commercial seed production businesses. I am very concerned about the  Draft Proposal for a regulation of the marketing of plant reproductive material, written by DG Sanco for the Commission of the EU.
Here at Brown Envelope Seeds, our work is in finding, trialling and selling the best cultivars of vegetables, herbs, oilseeds, fodder crops and grains for Irish farming and gardening. We produce over 200 cultivars, and maintain a seed bank containing many more. 

This legislation would make much of what we do illegal. It puts the future of farming into the hands of large corporations who have a track record of reducing the number of cultivars available. In a time of changing climate, both economic and environmental, farmers need as many choices as possible when deciding which crops to grow. 

The climate of Ireland is distinct from anywhere else, and therefore needs cultivars adapted to it. Our native varieties cultivated for up to 5,000 years were almost all wiped out in the 20th century. Irelands small native seed bank, guarded by the Irish Seed Savers Association, is woefully underfunded, and there is very little research into new crops being undertaken by Teagasc, Irish univeristies or other governement funded bodies. 

I urge you to vote against the proposal, because the loss of biodiversity which would result from this legislation would create long term food insecurity here, and in the rest of Europe. It is very short sighted to rely on profit motivated multinationals to care for the diversity of agricultural seeds husbanded by 10,0000 years of farming.
Yours sincerely,

Madeline McKeever
tel 028 38184

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meitheal at Martin and Yvonne O'Flynn's farm

Once a month, usually on a Sunday, we join a group of friends to help out on one of our farms. We have been doing this for a couple of years now and it means we get a group of about eight people here every six months or so. We have painted houses, weeded forestry trees, done lots of fencing, cut down trees, and this time we planted a bed of willows for Martin and Yvonne who are basket makers in the Borlin valley, near Kealkil.

Martin assembled the materials using his speedy quad.
We laid a sheet of plastic, and held it down with wood slabs and stones

We cut the willows into pieces about 10" long and then using an piece of rebar to make holes we plked them through the plastic about 1' apart.

The tea-break is always a big part of the day but I forgot to take a picture of it

Team photo

 Willows soaking in the stream before use.

The meitheal is a great way to get to know people in a different way than you would get to know people in a completely social context. It is also a great way to get a big job done, that would  be daunting on your own. We just work for the afternoon and then the hosts make a meal for everyone.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The evolution of the gardener.

Phase 1  Ape.
Small children we do not plan for the future, they eat what they find - like the jungle apes we evolved from.

Phase 2  Hunter
As they become teenagers, children start to venture out with other young people. They roam around in packs, playing team sports. They collect food from fridges, without doing anything to refill them. This is the hunting and gathering phase.

Phase 3 Nomad

Next they go to Australia for two years - and drive all around it in a car, recreating the nomadic phase of our evolution.

Phase 4 Farmer.

Next they settle down somewhere permanent, with a garden. The lawn is the farm, mowed with care every Saturday. There is a population explosion.

Phase 5 Gardener
The children leave home, and they start gardening in earnest. This is the final phase of evolution.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Vavilov and Masterkabin

One of my teachers in college was D.A.Webb, who not only taught us taxonomic botany but also a course called 'The origin of cultivated plants'. In it, he introduced us to Nikolai Vavilov the Russian scientist who travelled the world collecting cultivated plants for the first agricultural gene bank. His story which you can see a little through the link on his name is as sad as it is heroic.

His photo will be in my new office as an inspiration every morning.

I named this donkey Nick after hime

Up to now the hub of Brown Envelop Seeds has been the front room of our old house, but I have ordered a Masterkabin which will become the seed bank and office, and it is arriving on Thursday. 
It will look something like this but with the window in the end (not very glamourous but hopefully dry and rodent proof). I am  so excited.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rotavating the 'Million Trurnip' field

 The field was barely dry enough to rotovate on Friday, but having looked at the weather forecast, I decided to do it anyway. Here are  before and after photos.
 There were potatoes on the piece this side of the polytunnel last year, and this year it will be peas if it ever stops raining again.
This rock knocked one arm of the rotovator out of the tractor which slowed things down a bit.

This is the same field on the 8th of April last year. 

The peas had been sown at the end of March and were already up. 

On a good note the lettuce is way ahead of last year.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Propagating from Seed

There is a workshop on Propagating from Seed
at Brown Envelope Seeds today at 2pm. Cost €20, (but will also accept marmalade, foot massage or two hours of weeding)

In case you can't make it Here are the notes

Seeds are a plant’s way of moving around. They are also its way of evolving. Inside each one is an embryo containing genetic material from each of its parents and a store of food. In monocotyledons the energy is stored in the endosperm of the seed and in dicotyledons it is in the first two leaves which are folded up inside the seed. The bigger and fresher a seed is the more energy it has and the better its chances of survival. Because seeds are alive they respire, which takes energy. As they age, they loose energy, and this process is faster in warm, damp conditions. This is why seeds are best stored cool and dry. 
Conditions necessary for germination
Seeds are in a state of dormancy when dry, and for most, all that is needed for them to germinate is warmth and moisture. For a few, dormancy must be broken down by time, chilling or by causing some damage to the seed coat. In a few cases light is also necessary. 

Germination Testing 
It is easy to test your seed for viability. Put a few seeds on kitchen paper in a plastic box or in a small pot of compost. Then put them somewhere warm and see how many come up. The table below shows what temperature is best for germinating some vegetable seeds. Note that some seeds like it cool like lettuce and spinach. The table below gives approximate times and percentages of germination at different temperatures. The numbers in brackets denote the number of days it took for germination to complete at the specified temperature.

Some seeds become dormant and will not germinate without certain conditions occurring. Winter Purslane and Lamb’s Lettuce are woodland plants and they normally produce seed in early summer. The dormancy in the seed is useful as there would be little light for the plants if they germinated immediately. The seeds will not germinate until autumn when the leaves are falling off the trees. There are two kinds of dormancy in seeds, coat imposed dormancy and embryo dormancy. 
Seed coat dormancy 
Seed coat dormancy can act by physically preventing water or oxygen absorption by the seed, or by mechanically restraining the radicle from growing out of the seed. It may also contain growth inhibitors or prevent the release of growth inhibitors from the seed. 

Embryo dormancy 
This type of dormancy is caused by plant hormones such as the presence of the inhibitor ABA (abscisic acid) and the absence of growth promoters such as GA (giberellic acid)

Breaking dormancy
Dormancy may be broken down in different ways. Environmental factors include drying, chilling and light.  Some seeds loose their dormancy below a certain moisture level, drying them is referred to as after-ripening. Chilling may also be effective. Some seeds need a cold period while in a fully hydrated state. This applies to Lamb’s lettuce and Winter Purslane which we germinate by sowing in damp compost and then chilling in the fridge for a few days. Spinach also responds to a chill period. Many tree seeds need this treatment which is also known as stratification. The third important factor is light. Some seeds such as lettuce and docks need some light to germinate. 

Seed coats may be physically weakened by abrasion, this is known as scarification. Inhibitors in seed coats may be washed off with running water, and over time, in soil, microorganisms will break down seed coats. Seeds that are eaten by birds or other animals may have their seed coats weakened by the digestive process.

Dormancy in most vegetable seeds is minimal and has probably been bred out of domesticated plants over time. 
Different kinds of seeds germinate best at different temperatures. 
Time taken to germinate.
As you can see in the table below, tomatoes peppers, aubergines and melons are unhappy below 70ºF, whereas spinach germinates best below 60ºF. The time taken to germinate (the number in brackets) also varies considerably. It tends to be shortest at high temperatures which is what you would expect as most metabolic processes speed up at high temperature. Quick to sprout are all the cabbage family members, the cucurbits and lettuce. They will all come up in three or four days in a propagator at about 20C. The tomatoes, the onion family and legumes should all be up with in a week. Peppers aubergines and members of the carrot family are slower and can take two weeks, or more. Some seeds seem to germinate better in compost than on tissue.

Beans, lima
Beans, snap
Sweet Corn


Direct Sowing
Seeds can be sown directly in the ground when conditions allow. Crops such as carrots and parsnips, do not transplant easily and are usually required in quite large numbers so are sown directly in the soil. For direct sowing a fine seed bed is necessary so that seeds can be placed evenly under the surface and not get lost. As a general rule the depth at which seeds should be sown is one to three times their diameter. If conditions are dry this can be a bit deeper. The larger the seed the deeper it can be sown. 
A drill is made the correct depth with a stick or the edge of a hoe and the seeds are spaced along it.  They are then covered over and may be watered if the soil is dry. 

Sowing in trays or modules of compost 
Seed compost is more finely sieved than potting compost and is low in nutrients, because young seedlings have their own store of energy and nutrients. Sow seed sparingly in trays or modules to make it easier to prick out later. Gently water the top of the compost with a spray bottle or watering can fitted with a fine rose. Doing this first avoids disturbing the seed, once you have sown them.
Cover the seed lightly with compost, and if they are likely to dry our cover with a pice of plastic of paper, until they have emerged. Labeling is important so that you remember where everything is. In case the label is lost, it is also a good idea to make notes in a notebook, of where and when seeds are sown. Sowing in modules allows seedlings to be transplanted with minimal root disturbance. 
Pricking out - transplanting and potting on
After a month or so, when the seedlings look crowded it is time to pot them on.  The seedlings will have used up their internal energy store and will be producing their own leaves and photosynthates. They will now need more nutrients in the soil to grow. Potting compost is usually coarser than seed compost and can be home made using a combination of good garden compost, or farmyard manure, soil, and leaf mold. Seedlings should be handled by their leaves rather than their stems, which are more liable to get damaged. By holding onto one of the leaves and pulling gently the seedling can be eased out of the compost. It can then be put in a larger container of potting compost  by making a small hole in a pot of potting compost. The compost should be gently firmed around the seedling so that the soil level is the same as it was in the original container and then carefully watered. In the same way plants can be planted out in soil. When the roots start to circulate inside the pot they are ready to out. 
Propagating from seed not difficult and is more economical than buying plants, but it does need some time and effort devoted to it. 
Good luck!