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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Christmas, end of 2015, or whatever you are celebrating yourself

Dear Friends,
Thank you for your support in 2015.

It has been a great year here, I am so thrilled to have my daughter Holly working at Brown Envelope Seeds two days a week. She is also studying for a Masters degree in Organic Horticulture. The knowledge and experience she will gain will be invaluable to business. She has organized our new logo, which was designed by
 David Fitzpatrick It gives the seed packets and gift boxes a wonderful new look. 

Although summer was slow to get going it seemed to go on until November and we harvested the last of the tomatoes this week. The sweetcorn which is always a challenge in an Irish summer, survived the slow spring, and the donkeys, and went on to produce a good crop. We did have some crop failures like the Trombonchino squash which didn't have any seeds in them. Here is Holly with one of them. Its the last one to ripen so we haven't opened it yet.

However the fridges are packed full of seeds including some new peppers, heritage cereals, and over sixty tomato varieties.

In an effort to protect the seeds from corporate greed we have signed up to the OPEN SOURCE SEED INITIATIVE, and pledge, which you can read more about on the website.

It really feels like winter now, and with all the rain and wind it is nice to be inside beside the range, putting the catalogue together. There are still a few things to germination test, but we are nearly there. As soon as a batch of seeds passes its test it goes up on the website. So it is nearly all up now. We will be doing a paper catalogue too, so if you would like a copy do let us know. 

We will be posting out orders right up to Christmas, so if you are still Christmas shopping, do check out our gift boxes and vouchers. If we sell enough, we will go to the wonderful ORGANIC SEED ALLIANCE conference in Oregon, in February. I have been before and it is such an an inspiration, to meet other seed savers and plant breeders who are working with organic seed. 

Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Christmas, and a bountiful 2016.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Open Source Seed Initiative - Wonderings

I have signed Brown Envelope Seeds up to be a part of OSSI. I did this because I sell some varieties developed by Carol Deppe, and she asked me to. I have huge respect for Carol who is an independent plant breeder. She breeds and selects varieties to suit her largely self-sufficient diet. Her books: Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, The Resilient Gardener and The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, describe her unique approach to growing her food. They have had a major influence on me. 

It was an easy decision to put the OSSI pledge on her varieties. This is it.

The OSSI Pledge

You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

Wondering 1

I am wondering whether to put the pledge on all my seeds. I avoid using anything with any kind of breeders rights on it so I don't think I will upset any plant breeders. But would I be contravening any Irish laws or the European Seed directive? I can't bear to try and read it again. Its bossy tone and strange legal/euro/English make me cross. So I am asking you. ('Your honour, I did ask the interweb', will be my defense).

Wondering 2

I am also wondering when does a cultivar  become different enough from its parent material to merit a new name, or too poor to keep? For example if I:
1 Inbreed it and it looses vigour.
2 I consciously select for certain traits in it.
3 The environment selects certain things.
It will change. At some point it will become a different variety. The original breeder might not want me calling it by her name, or I might want to distinguish it from hers because it might become obviously different and more adapted to Irish conditions.  
Here is an example of how a cultivar can change: This year I grew Golden Bantam sweetcorn. I grow sweetcorn for seed, outdoors. Usually it fails. Often I have none on the catalogue. I am stubborn, and I am not interested in sweetcorn that needs to be in a greenhouse, it takes up way too much space. I have tried many varieties, and the only one I have EVER got to ripen its seed was Golden Bantam. Golden Bantam was released in 1902 and is still popular. It has had time to get around. I got my seed from Stormy Hall many years ago and I have grown it out several times. The plants and cobs are small and there is mostly only one cob per plant. Because I was worried that this small size was caused by inbreeding I decided to try and reinvigorate it by growing some seed, from another company alongside it. So I got some seed from a reputable American seed company and grew two rows of their corn interspersed with 2 rows from my own seed. 

Rows I and 3 are from my seed and 2 and 4 are from the other seed company.  Rows 1 and 3 (my seed) are clearly shorter  and although its not completely obvious from the photo they are also a darker colour. The point is they are very different. It is November now and the weather has turned nasty. I have harvested about half the cobs from rows 1 and 3 but none are anywhere near ready on 2 and 4.  Most plants have two cobs and some three, or they would have had if they had got pollinated, but I think (from squeezing them) that they are empty. They didn't put out their silks until they had shed all their pollen. I am sure they would be fine in a place that got a real summer, but our warmish season was not enough for them. 

I would love some feedback from seedy people on this please. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Brief Glas rant.

When Joe McNamee asked if I would do a rant in the garden tent at the Ballymaloe Litfest, the first thing that sprung to mind was the new Glas scheme. This is the new environmental scheme brought in to replace the REPS (Rural Environmental Protection) Scheme. I have been in REPs for 20 years and I suppose the farm is the better for it, and I am certainly the richer, but it is confusing. In REPS we were paid to do things like take cattle in off the land in the winter to avoid poaching. As a result the rough dry ground where you would normally out-winter cattle got totally covered with briars and furze bushes.  In the past cattle would have picked over them in the winter and trampled them down and they would have been burned regularly.

Connor from Teagasc explaining to me and the heifers why we are dispensable to Irish agriculture.

Now, I don't agree with burning, but the regular burning of rough land in the past was better then the infernos we saw this spring when land that had not been burned for decades 'accidentally'  caught fire. After 20 years of REPS, it was decided that any land not growing grass was not eligible for area aid and inspectors with fantastically detailed areal photographs came around circling any brambles or other non grass on farms and many farmers were penalised for having bushes. I was greatly peeved to be penalised €800. However,  I am used to paying for my principles and did not resort to an afternoon with a box of matches. Others thought differently.

Back to the Glas scheme. I was excited to notice that there was quite a lot of money available for chough habitat, but it turned out that inspite of the fact that coughs roost all winter in my barn that I am not in a chough designated area and so I am not eligible for that.  (Anyway you can't get the chough money if you are in the OFS Organic Farming scheme.) Where is the logic there? It turns out you can't get the 'Low input permanent pasture' money either if you are in the OFS. So what can I get paid for? Laying hedges is one option. I planted a 180m hedge on the top of the farm in REPS 1 which is now ready to lay but it turns out boundry hedges are ineligible, and if I plant any more trees I will loose more area aid. Why?

So what am I left with? I can plant a hedge, so long as its not where an existing field boundry exists, and I can lay one short internal field boundry hedge. I can put up bee, bat, and bird boxes, and atha is about it. So it is another scheme only big farmers can get a signifiant payment for.

The good thing is I don't have to keep livestock anymore, which means I don't have to produce food anymore. I could just mow the place a couple of times a year, which would probably be cheaper than making silage, housing and fencing cattle, getting them tested, etc.

I has achieved objective 5.3. in me, but not in a good way.

  1. The objectives of the Schemes are:
    1. 5.1.  To encourage actions at farm level that promote biodiversity, protect water quality, and help combat climate change
    2. 5.2.  To contribute to positive environmental management of farmed Natura 2000 sites and river catchments in the implementation of the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive.
    3. 5.3.  To promote and sustain attitudinal change amongst farmers
    4. 5.4.  To achieve a balanced and effective environmental programme over the period of the RDP. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Foraging

Ahead of the Slow Food foraging day we are doing here on Sunday, I have been doing my homework. Here are a few of my favourite wild, or semi wild, plants growing within 100yds of the house. (There is no district line between wild and cultivated plants here and a lot of overlap between perennial vegetables, wild plants and weeds.) I am a bit concerned about two things. One, by encouraging people to eat wild plants, might I contribute to the disappearance, or reduced range of some of them, and two, will anyone enthused by the workshop poison themselves.  So I am planning to show people how to identify plants and which ones are protected and rare or sensitive to a lot of picking and point out the few really poisonous things.

Everyone knows the Dandelion, Taraxicum officiale, and all parts of the plant are edible. The young leaves are great in salads and the roots can be cooked and eaten or dried, roasted and ground into coffee, although its a lot of work for not much coffee.
Chickweed Stellaria media is in no danger of disappearing around here and seeds its self  all around the garden and polytunnel. I would probably eat more of it if it wasn't so stringy when you pick it, but I do snip bits off and put them into salads, and when I remember I bring an odd handful to the hens, who really do enjoy it.
 Nettles Urtica dioica are very useful and and good for you. The tips are the least stringy to eat, and can be cooked as greens or made into soup. They are nicest in early spring before all kinds of insects move in and live in them. In fact in spring foraging it is pretty much all about  leaves. Summer is for flowers, (think elder meadowsweet) and autumn is best for nuts, seeds, roots and berries, which is obvious when you think about it, but only just occurred to me.
Fat hen is really just wild quinoa, that the early Americans domesticated into a seed crop. Early Europeans ate the seeds to and they have been found in ancient bog bodies in Ireland. I have tried eating the seeds, and its a bit like eating sand, but maybe I didn't cook it right. The leaves are excellent in salads and taste a bit like Camembert.
Watercress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum is the wild plant I probably use the most. It grows in abundance in a stream on the farm. I mostly make it into soup, or cook it up with a buch of other things like nettles. It shares the stream with the deadly poisonous Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata. It is a good thing to be able to tell them apart, or this might happen. 
from Flora Britannia by Richard Maybe (who also wrote "Food for Free").
People tend to be concerned about liver fluke which can encyst in the stems of water cress, but they are mostly below the water level and are killed by cooking, or a 6% vinegar solution. 
To my shame, I am not sure if this is common sorrel or Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetos or aceosella, hopefully someone will tell me before I have to get out Webb's flora and work it out properly. I put bits into salads and cooked greens sometimes because I think its good for me but I don't really like its sharp rhubarb taste.
 Neither am I particularly keen on Wall pennywort Umbilicus rupestris but it looks great in a salad.
Wild Garlic or Ransoms Allium ursinum is great stuff for the pesto, but also good in soups salads and sandwiches, any way you want really. It is not half as strong as the smell would suggest. It is not growing wild around here, but I put some in the front garden a few years ago and now I see them popping up around the place. I expect farmers eradicated them from around here as they would flavour the milk. It would be interesting to feed it to cows and them make cheese. 
The three cornered leek Allium triquetrum is an introduced plant, originally form the Mediterranean that enjoys West Cork hedgerows, was also introduced to my garden where it is expanding its territory, competing well with its South African neighbor Montbretia.

I will try and add more to this later.