Table of Contents
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Join Nicole and Shannie from Baker Creek Seeds as they talk about seed saving, heirloom vs hybrid vs GMO seeds and more!
What You’ll Learn
- What are heirloom seeds?
- What are GMO seeds and why should you avoid them?
- What is a hybrid plant?
- Why is seed saving important?
- What is a Seed Library?
- How to keep deer out of the garden
- Preventing rodents and birds from damaging your garden
- What are Shannies 5 favorite seeds
Shannie is an expert in heirloom gardening and farming. She works in research, writing and growing on the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed trial farm has developed an understanding of what makes heirlooms special and why they are an essential part of our food system.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds aims to help preserve and spread the rich diversity of heirloom varieties which has been in rapid decline over the past several decades. They also help to educate about heirlooms at our annual event, The National Exposition, which is the world’s largest heirloom produce display and all proceeds go to California School Garden programs.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sells only heirloom, non hybrid, non GMO varieties. Their seed catalog is famous for high quality images and chock full of history, stories and how tos. Baker Creek offers seeds, live plants, bulbs and gardening essentials. Their website rareseeds.com is a place to browse seeds and read articles, and they also offer growing guides on most crops.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Baker Creek Instagram
- Shannie’s Instagram
- Baker Creek on YouTube
- Seed Saver Exchange
- The National Heirloom Expo
- Email us! [email protected]
*Denotes affiliate links
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from heritageacresmarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now, here's your host, Nicole.
Nicole: Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. Today I'm joined by Shannie, who's here with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. And Shannie's here to talk about the history of seed saving and the differences between the different seeds and why it matters that we save them. So Shannie, thank you so much for joining me today.
Shannie: Oh, thank you for having me. I'm so excited.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm excited to have you. I really love saving seeds myself. So I was excited when you said this was something that you wanted to talk about. But for those that aren't familiar with Baker Creek, can you kind of give us some more of the background on them.
Shannie: I work for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, we're an heirloom seed company based out of Mansfield, Missouri. So we offer over 1,200 varieties of heirloom seeds and many of our varieties were offered in the seed catalogs and in the seed industry before 1900s. So these are antiquated, but really culturally important varieties. They have a lot of history. They're densely nutritious, and they were saved for really fantastic reasons like cultural importance or nutritional density and not things like shipping quality or the ability to sit on produce shelf for a long time.
Shannie: So these are really beautiful varieties that really need to be saved. And so that's what we're doing at Baker Creek. We're saving these varieties, we're bringing them back to the hands of gardeners, and we're just celebrating all the beautiful diversity of heirlooms.
Nicole: Awesome, I know that I've been purchasing seeds from you guys for several years. Back in the day I would go down to local hardware store or grocery store or whatever and buy whatever seeds and sometimes they would grow and sometimes they wouldn't, but everything that I have bought from you guys. Not only do I have a ridiculous high germination rate to the point that I have to give plants away because I started too many in February, but they have amazing harvests and the quality of fruit or vegetable or whatever it is I'm growing is so superior than anything that I've gotten from any of the other sources. They're really amazing seed and plants.
Shannie: I'm glad to hear that. There's so many different reasons why those seeds, why those heirloom varieties were kept around. Flavor, nutritional profile, so it's really nice to keep them in circulation. Essentially, what has happened in the last couple 100 years is there's been a massive consolidation of the number of seed companies in existence, let's say specifically in America and with this consolidation, essentially the diversity of seeds that are available has dwindled significantly. And so what we're really seeing is just a few varieties, a few tomatoes varieties available, a few cucumber varieties that are relatively well in a very large region. Maybe anywhere in the country, you can grow them pretty well.
Shannie: And the beautiful thing about saving some of these heirlooms is that these were regionally adapted variety. So, specifically something for Pueblo, Colorado or Block Island, Rhode Island, somebody somewhere really dedicated their seed saving practice to get seeds that are perfectly suited to a specific climate. So that's why you'll find that some of these heirlooms really perform beautifully in a certain area, whether it's because the variety was from your growing zone, or an analogous growing zone.
Shannie: We're finding a lot of really great heirlooms from China and from other parts of Asia that grow really well in the US because we actually have analogous growing climates are very similar.
Nicole: I know when I was looking through the catalog, I was surprised to see how many overseas seeds, like you said stuff from China and other places that, of course, you've never heard of them before so you're kind of wanting to try them because they're different but you wouldn't think that they would grow here.
Shannie: Absolutely, yeah. So we're getting similar growing climates that that can help. It's also really interesting and fascinating to me to harness some of the traditional medicinal plants from other cultures and also the healing foods because in so many cultures, food is considered the best medicine and so these varieties have been selected and been kept in the diet of these places because they're incredibly nutrient dense or they have immune boosting properties or whatever their health giving quality is, they've been kept around and kept in the diet as a way to maintain and promote good health.
Shannie: I love that we're introducing varieties that are popular in traditional Chinese medicine or in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, using these foods to prevent disease, to even sometimes heal ailments, is a really beautiful thing and I think we can really learn that from a lot of different cultures and not to discount, there's tons of Native American varieties that have that quality as well.
Nicole: That was one thing I was really excited about. So in our little garden setup we have, of course, we have tomatoes and peppers and everything else, cucumbers and whatever, but I have one special box. It's kind of my herbs/medicinals and I got all kinds of new ones from you guys this year to plant my little healing garden and stuff that I hadn't been able to find before. So that was pretty exciting.
Shannie: It's a real rabbit hole to get into once you start getting into plant medicine. It's so fascinating and you realize that ... even the basis for a lot of the big pharmaceutical drugs that you see today, a lot of them if you really dial way back, they're coming and maybe they're a synthetic form of but a lot of them are harkening back to plant medicine, maybe extracts and things like that.
Shannie: Its a really beautiful way to commune with nature and to get back to our roots is to learn about plant medicine and to use it carefully. I want to add carefully, use it carefully and always be wise. I hope no one's going to go out there and stop taking their medication or anything like that but it's something to work into the daily diet, for sure.
Nicole: Yeah, definitely. Maybe since we've mentioned it a couple times, can you explain the difference between an heirloom and a hybrid and a GMO?
Shannie: Sure thing. Yep. So, Baker Creek we sell only heirlooms. Heirloom actually is a tricky little definition because a few people have different definitions of heirloom. So I'll tell you the two definitions and then the one that we kind of ascribe to. So an heirloom seed is an always no matter whose definition, it's always an open pollinated variety. Meaning that the seeds can be saved reliably year after year as in, when I buy a tomato seed from Baker Creek, I plant it, I grow it, I save that tomato and I save those seeds. When I plant those seeds the next season, I'm going to get the same tomato that I ate the season before. So we are getting the same variety reliably saved year after year.
Shannie: And now, sometimes you'll have to take precautions to prevent cross pollination, but basically that is a stable, a genetically stable variety and it has been ... typically heirlooms are passed down generation to generation. So it's got to be open pollinated. That's the most important thing. That's what everyone agrees on. And then the one part of the definition of heirloom that some people disagree on is that some folks maintain that an heirloom is only a variety that has been around for over 50 years, passed down generation to generation or through the hands of several gardeners, but has been around for 50 years. I love heirlooms that have been around for 50 years. They have beautiful stories and a lot of history. However, there's some really fantastic open pollinated breeding going on right now and these are innovative gardeners and farmers and breeders who are making nutritionally dense, healthy, beautiful, colorful heirlooms, and they're new, they're not 50 years old.
Shannie: And Baker Creek, we want to celebrate those breeders and their work and we want to celebrate those beautiful new heirlooms. So we just go by the definition of heirloom as an open pollinated variety. So we're inviting heirlooms that have been newly introduced and I would love to talk about one of my favorite open pollinated breeders a little bit later, Brad Gates, so we can talk about his tomatoes in a sec.
Nicole: Okay. So what is a GMO then and what is the hype or whatever between non GMO?
Shannie: Right, all right, sorry. So we've got our heirlooms and then we've got our hybrids, which would be something that was more recently cross, was manipulated cross pollinated. Nothing wrong with hybrids, they're fantastic in a lot of ways they have hybrid vigor, they tend to grow really, really well. But we love our heirlooms because we can reliably save those seeds. It's a really secure source of your seed supply, you grow an heirloom once and then you're going to have those seeds forever as long as you maintain them correctly.
Shannie: Now, a hybrid is going to be or recently cross pollinated, especially when you get into things like the F1 hybrids. And so those seeds when you plant them, you're going to get a random genetic mix, and you're not going to be able to reliably save those seeds. So we have a fundamental difference between the heirlooms and the hybrids. And then thirdly, we have GMOs, and very controversial topic with GMOs but if I can put it most simply, a genetically modified organism, is different than an heirloom, it's different than hybrid because the genes of a GMO have been altered in a way that could never be manipulated or could never be performed in nature. So a hybrid is someone maybe taking a purple tomato and yellow tomato and crossing them and making a striped tomato will say but a GMO would be to take an entirely foreign genetic piece of material and inserting that into the tomato to make it entirely different and something that cannot be replicated in nature.
Shannie: Now, GMOs are often created in concert with chemicals, agricultural chemicals, and they're oftentimes created to be grown with those chemicals and use and the chemicals used heavily. So that's something that as a company we do not believe in. As a gardener and a farmer, with my background, I just don't believe in buying a seed that A, cannot save and plant the next year. So it's just not sustainable seed source. But then we're talking about the almost obligation to grow that variety with a lot of pesticides. A great example of a GMO that's extremely popular in the US is Roundup Ready corn. Now this isn't a corn that you're going to grow in your home garden. This is grown in major swathes across America and essentially it is resistant to the very popular herbicide, glyphosate. Roundup is the trade name.
Shannie: And so you can spray this corn with Roundup and it won't die, but all the weeds around it will die. Well, now there have been a lot of studies that have come out showing the very likely carcinogenic effect of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. And then we talked about the environmental impact of spraying your entire field and eradicating all the weeds in your field. One small example, and I say small, it's actually a huge example would be milkweed. The sole food source for the monarch butterfly. Milkweed was most often found around the edges of agricultural spaces, like big cornfields. And with the introduction of Roundup Ready corn, we're seeing farmers able to just generally spray their entire area wiping out all their weeds, including the milkweed.
Shannie: So a food source of the monarch butterfly being wiped out and probably not a consequence that anyone intended, but dire indeed, the monarch is considered a keystone species, they are an overall marker of the health of the environment, and the population is in rapid decline. And it's due in part to the loss of their food source. So there you have it, heirlooms, hybrids, GMOs, I hope I kind of explained that well enough.
Nicole: No, that totally makes sense and that gave me some insight that I didn't have before.
Shannie: So what's important to note with Baker Creek is that most of the GMOs that are available on the market are not garden variety. So we're not saying that you're likely going to get accidentally buy a GMO tomato anytime now. There's a lot of GMO developments so that could be something available in the future. But what we're saying is that we test our corn and our soybeans, anything that is in danger of being cross pollinated by the pollen of a GMO crop nearby, we test to make sure that it's not. That's really important to us. We make sure that you're not accidentally getting GMO contaminated corn because a massive amount of the diversity of corn that exists in the world is contaminated with GMO pollen and that can never be removed. For example, it took us a very long time to find a non contaminated seed source of the Bloody Butcher corn, which is an iconic, heirloom corn that's been grown for generations.
Shannie: And for many years, we were unable to find a source that had not been contaminated. So GMO pollen is ubiquitous. That corn has been grown everywhere, and we just want to offer people an opportunity to grow corn that has not been contaminated with that, whether you believe, whether you support GMOs or not, I think it's fair to say that it's very wise to at least steward some seed that has not been contaminated, so that we always have the option to have it just in case.
Nicole: I think that that makes sense. And if you have a choice, I think that most people would prefer to grow something non GMO in their own garden.
Shannie: Yeah, as a home gardener, definitely.
Nicole: I don't know if you have even heard of this or if this is a thing or something you can even speak on but this conversation made me think. I remember hearing or reading somewhere that the reason for example, wheat, so today a lot of people have celiac disease or gluten intolerance or whatever is because the wheat today is different than the wheat 50, 100 years ago during the pioneer days or whatever that everybody was eating this wheat in the end they didn't have these issues. And I believe that they thought it was because most of the wheat was GMO, and I'm not totally sold on this but-
Shannie: or sprayed with Roundup as a desiccant. Roundup is used off label, not just to eradicate weeds, but it's also used as a desiccant during harvest period for things like wheat. And this is not something that I'm incredibly well versed on, but yes. And I would say just as a general statement of the impact, this isn't specifically speaking tweet, but a general statement about the impact of GMOs on our diet, whether you agree with the science or not. I think the fact is that growing massive swathes of say, GMO corn across America to make heavily processed food, I think we can all dial it back and say that heavily processed food is not good for anyone. I don't think there's anyone who's going to like object to that statement.
Shannie: So really, when we allow massive swathes of America to grow one single crop of things like corn and soy, and then we see it processed into fake food, those are not whole foods. Those are foods that are laden with pesticides and then highly processed, they're not easy for the body to work with breakdown and they're not anyway nutrient rich. So I think that at the end of the day growing GMOs is propagating a diet full of processed food, which I think everyone can agree is not good for you.
Nicole: And that kind of then goes full circle as to why everybody should be eating heirloom variety.
Shannie: Absolutely, heirlooms are some quality hybrids, but the beautiful thing about heirlooms is the seed security. It's a really beautiful way to keep the power of our food system in the hands of people is to grow heirlooms and save those seeds, get a seed library going in your community, pass those seeds down within your family.
Nicole: So can you maybe explain more of the proper way to save and store your seeds?
Shannie: Absolutely. So you want to do a bit of research when you're going to save seeds. Here's a great example. I have a beautiful ... we were talking about watermelons before we started recording. So I have a beautiful watermelon right now, I did not expect to thrive on a small island off the coast of Rhode Island, we have pretty cool summers. They don't get incredibly hot, and we get a decent amount of moisture. That's just not watermelon weather. However, I got this beautiful bumper crop of Ali Baba watermelons. And they're thriving, I'm getting tons of fruit off of each plant, and the flavor is out of this world.
Shannie: So naturally, I need to save every seed possible. And I need to bring those seeds to my local library because we have a seed library here. So what I need to think about when I'm going to save those seeds is, are they going to be cross pollinated? And what do I need to do to get them to be able to stay reliably stored for the winter so that my friends and I can grow them next spring and the seeds haven't rotted over the winter or anything. So those are the factors we're thinking about. Cross pollination, proper curing and proper harvesting and quality control to make sure that they can store over the winter.
Shannie: And then you're thinking about other little factors like, how many years can those seeds stay viable? And what are the climate conditions and conditions we need to provide for those seeds to keep them alive and viable for years. So cross pollination first, it's going to really range between the crops that you choose. Things like tomatoes and beans and peas are super easy. They're typically self pollinating. You can grow a couple varieties in your garden and reliably get the same variety year after year. Unless you get a really aggressive log bee that really wants to cross pollinate your stuff.
Shannie: Typically, you're going to have a pretty good luck with saving your seeds on things like beans and tomatoes, you're not going to have as much cross pollination issue. It can happen but it's less likely. Then you get things like the cucurbits family, those are the squash, watermelons, melons, those are actually pretty readily cross pollinated. They require insect pollination to set fruit and they want their little flowers cross pollinated. So if you grew a few varieties of cucurbits in your garden, you may be looking at some cross pollination issues down the line. Fortunately, there are some methods you can implement to prevent the cross pollination, you can bag your flowers, you can tape your flowers shut and just hand pollinate with a little paintbrush or a feather.
Shannie: I'm not getting into in-depth with any of this because it's lengthy. So what I really recommend is that people go on the Rare Seeds website, that's the Baker Creek website, and go to our growing guide and any crop that you want to save seeds on, I have actually written a little growing guide and it tells you how to save seeds on that. So it'll tell you what the isolation distance for the plants are, whether you're going to need to bag the flowers and it will also tell you how to harvest the seeds. So that's the next thing to get to. So basically, do your research find out what the likelihood of your plants being cross pollinated or is this something that is self pollinates, it's not going to cross pollinate or is this something that you really need to put some effort into isolating because it's going to cross pollinate and you're going to get some funky freaking plant next year.
Shannie: So do your research on cross pollination and isolation distance. Next, find out how to harvest. Some things are super easy. Flower seeds can be super easy, like calendula, it's a breeze. Those seeds heads are just going to dry out for you, they look like little caterpillars. Have you ever saved calendula seeds?
Shannie: They're adorable. They look like little caterpillars.
Nicole: They do.
Shannie: I love them. The first time I saw a calendula seed I almost cried. I was like that is the cutest seed I've ever seen. Anyways, seed nerd. So I wait till those calendula heads totally dry and then I just crumble those seeds, and I put them in a cool, dark, dry place. I'm going to get to the storage conditions a little bit later. So something like flower seeds like calendula or sunflowers are so easy breezy to save. Beans are another one that are really easy. You're going to want to think about your climate conditions when you're saving seeds if you live somewhere that has a dry fall, you probably have a dry fall in Colorado.
Shannie: So you have your beans, they mature to a dry bean state, and then you let the pods turn brown and brittle and dry. And you can probably let your beans just self dry right on the plant and then you store them for the season. Me I'm up in New England, I get lots of rain and hurricanes in the fall when I'm harvesting my beans. So if I want to harvest my beans, I'm going to actually pull them up and dry them inside and let them finish up. They're going to start drying outside but then with the final, real dry down if I'm looking at some wet weather, I'm not going to trust leaving them outside for their final drying. So I'm going to bring them inside to do that. I'm going to hang them upside down in maybe a sunny window and let them dry.
Shannie: So you've got things like flowers, super easy, just pull those seeds. You've got things like beans where you got to kind of be clever about your weather and if they're going to rot, you want to make sure they don't rot. And then you've got things like tomatoes which require a little bit of doing. But I will say that the process of saving tomato seeds is totally fun. It's weird and gross but really fun. So when you're saving it tomato seed for example, it's basically you have dry seed saving which has been flowers, things like that. It is just like it sounds, it's just the seed dries dry and you just pluck it, it's easy.
Shannie: Then you have wet seed saving and that's things like tomatoes and cucumbers and melons sometimes depending on your preference. Anyways, oh, eggplants are another one. So tomatoes, eggplants, you're going to let the fruit really ripen and mature. You want those tomatoes to be a little gross, you wouldn't want to eat them anymore. Same with the eggplants, you're going to want to let the eggplants kind of turn yellow and be quite ripe soft to the touch. That's when the seed is really mature. Then you're going to squish the tomato into your cup or your bowl or whatever you have and you are going to squish that tomato and you're going to let it sit and kind of get a little on the fermenty side for a few days and basically what that's doing is it's breaking down the germination inhibitor that all tomato seeds are covered in.
Shannie: Tomato seeds are naturally covered in a germination inhibitor which is a brilliant evolutionary mechanism. It basically keeps the seeds from germinating too soon and this helps with seed dispersal for moving the seeds around. A bird can eat the seed and then expel it and it gets moved and evolutionarily the plant goes on. So in order to get that chemical that germination inhibiting chemical off of your tomato seeds so that it can germinate for you when you want to germinate it. You're going to ferment the seeds just by, again, putting them in the cup letting them ferment for a few days. Then you're just going to rinse and strain the seeds and dry them on say a paper towel or a paper plate and you can reliably save them over the winter. So whether you're doing dry seed saving or wet seed saving, those are your techniques for harvesting the seeds. Dry seed saving, wet seed saving. Hopefully I covered enough of that.
Shannie: Okay, great, great. And then you're going to think about storage. So cool, dark and dry is always how you are going to store seeds. They need to be out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight is a surefire way to destroy the viability of your seeds. Warm weather is also going to destroy the viability of your seeds, keeping them cool, like around 50, 60 degrees is lovely. If you can keep them cooler like in a refrigerator, that's great. Some people even freeze their seeds. And as long as you don't freeze something like okra or sorghum, you can even get away with freezing them. I don't freeze, I refrigerate and I think it works great. If I don't have access or space in my refrigerator because my roommates want to murder me because we already don't have enough space in our fridge and then I'm trying to put seeds in there, I put them in a cupboard that doesn't get too hot.
Shannie: Cool, dark and then dry. So if I'm storing my seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, they have to be maybe put in a ziploc bag and then put in a glass jar that's sealed, or at least in a glass jar, but make sure to keep those seeds dry. Where you're really wanting to avoid is inviting any moisture, any warmth because we don't want things to rot. So cool, dark, dry. The light would probably dry out the seeds and then the moisture or the warmth would rot them. So avoid rot and avoid drying out. Cool, dark, dry.
Shannie: And then you're going to go online, or in a seed saving book. There's a really great seed saving book called Seed to Seed by a group of authors from all different regions across the country. It's called Seed to Seed. Everyone needs to read it. If you are an aspiring seed saver, if you're a home gardener, you need to read Seed to Seed because it was a compilation of seed saving techniques depending on the region. So we've got representatives from all over the country giving their two cents about how to save seeds in their area. So anyways, look for one of those books or go online and find yourself a seed viability chart.
Shannie: And a viability chart is going to tell you how long the average lifespan of a particular crop seed is if saved properly. For an example, parsnip seed, even if you do everything right, it's only going to be viable for one or two years. And when I say viable, I mean most of the seeds will sprout, a good percentage of your harvest will sprout in the first year and two years of parsnips, then they decline rapidly. Lettuce is another one that doesn't have fantastic germination after a few years. Then you get things like beans and watermelons that have crazy long viability. And when they're stored right, like say, in a cave in New Mexico, they can last for decades, and it's even been shown hundreds of years. So it really ranges a lot and it really depends on the crop. So be sure to figure out the harvest technique, store them properly, and then learn a little bit about what you can actually really expect from the viability of that crop.
Nicole: Yeah, and I'm definitely going to check out the website to with your information on there.
Shannie: Yeah, that's a great resource. I'm so glad they gave me the time and space to write it because it was a huge project. He was like, "Yeah, can you write a growing guide for every crop that we offer?" But it was fantastic. I went to school for this, but it was really great to go over it again. And I haven't saved seeds on everything. Some things are biennial. I'm not going to keep a turnip in my yard for two years in order to save the seeds for it. I'm not that good, I wish I was.
Nicole: Well, I know that you guys' resources are amazing. I have my catalog.
Shannie: That's awesome.
Nicole: I keep it in my house and I flip through it and I read it and I go to my husband very excited and say, "What do you think about growing this one next year?" And he's like, "That's your thing. Just get what you want."
Shannie: I have an aunt like that. She said her husband's always like, "Why are you always grow the weird stuff?" and she's like, "I love the weird stuff." Clearly, I'm a direct descendant right down from her.
Nicole: Well, everybody has the regular stuff, you got to have something different. So you mentioned earlier that you and I hope I don't misspeak here that you had some favorite hybrids. And you mentioned somebody named Brad.
Shannie: Oh, okay. They're my favorite new heirlooms. So I'm really excited about some of the new heirlooms that have been introduced lately. We've got some breeders doing really incredible work making open pollinated varieties. These are welcome to the public, they're not patented, they're not controlled seeds. This is like an incredible labor of love. These are people who just want to introduce the most beautiful heirlooms to their fellow gardeners and farmers. And so one person I would love to give some credit to as an incredible breeder right now would be Brad Gates for Wild Boar Farms.
Shannie: There's a ton of really great breeders out there but specifically we do a lot of work with Brad and he has brought things like the Black Beauty tomato, which is the darkest black tomato on the market. It's stunning. Stunning black beefsteak tomato with the most incredible flavor. The Brad's Atomic Grape, which I believe was our best selling tomato last year, which just boasts incredible, nuanced complex flavors, citrusy, sweet with this great crunchy texture, and above all, it's like the easiest tomato to grow ever. It's super abundant, and it's crack resistant, and it can tolerate drought. It's such a winner.
Shannie: So I love that Brad has his finger on the pulse of what's going on with food, and farmers market trends and market trends right now. And he's really playing to what people want and making really cool stuff. He knows because he was a market farmer at the farmers market in California. And I was a market farmer as well here in Rhode Island. And so he understands that the way that farmers market culture is now you're getting more people to your table when you have a really eye catching variety. That's people are shopping with their eyes.
Shannie: So he's making these really beautiful tomatoes that you've never seen before. The kind of stuff that stops people in their tracks. So he's making beautiful varieties that stop people in their tracks or getting people to come to a farmer's market table, and they're really pushing sales and as a home gardener, I would say a lot of people are probably seeing that Brad's Atomic Grape on the cover of the Baker Creek catalog, and going, oh, wait, I've never grown a tomato in my life, but I think I need to start because those are super funky. I've never seen anything like that.
Shannie: So he's just doing fantastic work by getting everyone engaged with things like heirloom tomatoes, because even the least interested person who has absolutely zero interest in eating tomatoes is going to turn their head when they see an all black tomato and go like, what is that? Where'd that come from? How'd that happened? So hats off to Brad. There's a bunch of other breeders actually, right now they're doing really great work and I don't have enough time to name them all. But definitely I encourage people to go to the Wild Boar Farms website, or check out what we have from Brad on the Rare Seeds website. And he's doing fantastic work, beautiful stuff.
Shannie: And there's lots of other open source, open pollinated breeders doing really awesome work right now. And yeah, like I said, they're thinking about things like what the market farm of 2019 looks like, what are our needs? What does the market look like? That's why we're seeing some really cool kales come out right now because kales having such a resurgence. So we've got beautiful varieties like Scarlet kale, which is deep purple. And then we've got a new one coming out this year called Casper, and it's got wild variegated foliage that looks almost like an Ornamental kale, but it's totally edible and delicious. So I'm super excited that people are responding to market demand by making really amazing new heirlooms. I'm just really excited to grow them and work with them.
Nicole: I had bought some of the atomic tomatoes and of course, they were the one tomato the rats came through and leveled. So I didn't get any, they got eaten and then they got destroyed. And I was just about in tears. They could have touched any of the other ones, but ...
Shannie: I can't say I blame the rats. They are delicious, they are irresistible but that's a shame. I hope you have better luck next year.
Nicole: Well, I still have some seeds. So I'm definitely going to try again.
Shannie: Good. I would send you a pack. So that's a bummer. Yeah, the rats they are tough. Keeping rodents out of the garden is a challenge. But I've learned some tips and tricks.
Nicole: What are they? What are your tips and tricks?
Shannie: So if you have something like a burrowing rodents like a mole, using hardware fabric, whining the bottoms of your beds, say you have raised beds, lining the bottom with some mesh to keep them from digging upward or using mole cages. That can be tremendously helpful because those digging mammals they are coming up from the bottom and they're destroying their root system. Planting plants like rue, R-U-E, rue, that herb is absolutely repellent to bunnies. Rabbits are the most adorable scorch in the garden ever. I turned into Mr. McGregor in two seconds flat.
Shannie: I love rabbits when I see them in the wild I'm like, "Aw," when I see him in the garden I'm like, "Ugh, get out of here." So planting rue helps, planting things from the allium family, especially inter planting alliums within your veggie patch, that helps tremendously as well. Rabbits are fairly repulsed by alliums. They're totally repulsed by rue. And then I have to say, one of my roommates one time we had a garden together and she would hang Irish spring soap around the garden. And we never had a deer problem ever.
Nicole: Really? I've heard of that, but I didn't realize it was a real thing.
Shannie: I don't know if it was correlation without causation or what. I did happen to notice that no deer ever came to that garden and we had that soap hanging around. Other things that I use for deer are incredibly tall fences because it's one of the only things that can keep deer out of your garden, planting deer resistant varieties, aaagh, that's tough. Most of the stuff that we like deer like as well, but they don't like hot peppers.
Shannie: Oh, another thing you can do for your mammal pests is to spray with capsicum, which is a hot pepper spray and you can even make capsicum oil yourself just from steeping hot pepper seeds, getting that that capsicum oil set aside and then spraying it on your actual fruit. That will keep the mammal pests at bay. And you can add garlic to your capsicum spray as well. Oh, there's a trade item called Bobbex and that is made from cinnamon and eggshells and you can spray that as well to keep deer away. You can spray it around the perimeter of your garden and that helps.
Shannie: And then I'm always into planting things like calendula and marigold because they're so pungent and some mammals are totally annoyed by plants like that. So, those are my tips and tricks. I wish everyone the best of luck with rodents. They are annoying.
Nicole: Yes. Do you have any suggestions for bird?
Shannie: Oh, birds, ugh. Bird netting, scarecrows. Birds I don't know so much about. Birds have alkaline stomachs. So using things like hot pepper spray is not going to work on a bird. They don't even taste that hot pepper seed oil. They don't even taste it. In fact, one way to keep squirrels out of your bird feeder is to put hot pepper seeds in there because the birds can't taste the hot pepper but the squirrels can.
Nicole: That's some good hint.
Shannie: I wish I have more insight on birds. I don't typically have big bird issues in my garden.
Nicole: We of course have the issue where they'll just come through and they'll peck a hole, tiny little hole and then they move on to the next one. I don't mind sharing but eat the whole thing and don't ruin everything.
Shannie: Spoil it for everyone. That's not right.
Nicole: So you mentioned a seed library and we have one of those here. Do you have any suggestions on people that would like to start one in their community?
Shannie: There is a really great website and I don't remember the name, but I will send you the link and you can put it up on your show notes or whatever. I want to say it's like the Richmond Virginia Seed Library, but don't quote me. But anyways, this seed library has been really dedicated to educating folks on how to start their own seed library, and I believe Hudson Valley Seed Company, which is a good friend of Baker Creek, and they come to the National Heirloom Expo every year. They started as a seed library and so I think if you go on their website, they also have some really great tips and tricks for starting your own seed library.
Shannie: So there's lots of resources online, I did help start a seed library at the library that is in my town, and that has been really, really fun. So you can start it as something really, really small. I think our seed library started as a Tupperware container filled with some seeds. You can always contact Baker Creek for a donation for seed library to get your seed library off the ground because sometimes people don't have seeds to donate at the beginning. So get yourself off on the right foot by sending us an email at [email protected] attention donations, and ask for some free seeds for your seed library, we'll be happy to send them.
Shannie: Start small, and always remember to label everything really clearly. And I like to draft up, and you don't even have to write it yourself, you can find them online already written but drafting up some rules and guidelines for the participants of the seed library so that they know you know how to save their seeds and how to bring them back to the library at the end of the season or sample back to the library at the end of the season. Also asking your library to get a copy of Seed to Seed, another one is the Seed Savers Exchange Guide to Seed Saving, which I think is called the Seed Garden. But anyways, getting a seed saving book and putting it on display by your seed library is going to help people tremendously, it's going to save them a lot of research time.
Shannie: So educating, starting small and keeping the resources right at hand and getting a free donation from Baker Creek. Those are the best tips that I have for getting your seed library started.
Nicole: That's really awesome that you guys offer the donations because like you said, a lot of times these are probably started by an individual or really small group and coming up with seeds can definitely be a challenge.
Shannie: Yeah, absolutely. So we want to see more seed library started. That's really our goal. Jere Gettle, who started the company when he was 17 years old, he started it because he was noticing a sharp and alarming decline in the diversity of seeds that were available. His grandparents had a really beautiful collection of antique seed catalogs. Jere actually taught himself how to read out of those catalogs, and just he used to obsess over the old antique seed catalogs. He loved them, he was fascinated by them. And he was a kid during the 80s and he noticed that there was a huge consolidation, seed companies were going out of business, varieties were going extinct, and no one was saving them or Seed Savers Exchange was saving them which is really amazing. And it's one branch of how we're going to make sure that we keep all these varieties alive. It's just one of many ways that we can keep our seeds security safe.
Shannie: But that's why we began in the first place was to get more people saving these seeds. It's one of the best ways to proliferate and keep that seed diversity alive and strong is just to get it in the hands of gardeners and reminding people of why we grew these varieties and why we still should. Having a little heirloom renaissance is essential, letting people know why they're still relevant and important.
Nicole: If you had to pick five, maybe 10 of your favorite seeds, what would you pick?
Shannie: Whoo, what a good question. Okay, the Yamato cream watermelon. You would not maybe know this if you didn't know it but in Japan, there has been incredible work over centuries and centuries in breeding open pollinated varieties of vegetables. There was a period in Japanese history where much of the country was following a Buddhist vegetarian diet, so a lot of work was put into refining the most delicious vegetables, highly gourmet, fantastic texture, great flavor, just a labor of love, like really high quality vegetables. And they also are really into watermelons in Japan. So the Yamato cream watermelon is a relatively new heirloom in the last 40 years and it has the most sublime flavor like citrusy, creamy, sweet, tangy. It's incredibly nuanced, the texture is amazing and the plant grows like gangbusters. It's the best watermelon I've ever tasted. So Yamato cream watermelon is like one that I don't think I can live without. I don't think I can live without.
Shannie: Another, okay, I have kind of a small and odd obsession with the Austrian seed pumpkins. So this is growing pumpkins not for the flesh, but for those pepitas. Those green seeds, pumpkin seeds but without the skin, hulless pumpkin. So this is ... you know when you grow a jack-o'-lantern and you scoop out the seeds and then you roast them but the hull is kind of tough and a little hard eat. But then you go to the store and you buy those green pumpkin seeds and they don't have a hull and they're so easy to eat you can throw like a bazillion in your mouth at a time. Those are skinless or hulless pumpkins, and they're very popular in Australia.
Shannie: And as small gardeners we're not always producing our own seeds, nuts or grains. So I think it's really fun way to grow your own seeds that you can keep in the pantry and sprinkle in your smoothies. So love the Austrian seed pumpkins. One variety in particular is called Lady Godiva, which is cute because it's naked seeded and it's called Lady Godiva. Sweet. I'm super obsessed with that Black Beauty tomato. It's so dark black, and the flavor is really good. It's really, really richly nuanced. It's sweet, it's tangy, it's complex, it's smokey. My all time favorite tomato of all time ever, ever, ever I think has to go to good old Paul Robeson which is very similar to a Cherokee purple or a Carbon. It's a purple tomato, is super smoky flavored, you can't stop eating them. Like I could be sent to the hospital eating those. They're so good.
Shannie: So I love me a Paul Robeson tomato, Black Beauty tomato as well. Black Beauty is more of like a head turner, Paul Robeson is a beautiful tomato with probably the most gourmet flavor in my opinion. Black Beauty has fantastic flavor, but it's really that I appeal that gets you with the Black Beauty. So am at four?
Shannie: Whoo, I got to pick a carrot. I picked carrots because one of the best ways to get kids into gardening is to get them to grow a carrot, especially a rainbow carrot. I would host school tours when I was the farm manager, Baker Creek. I used to host school tours and I remember I pulled up rainbow carrots in front of the school kids and they flipped out. They were so excited, and they were like ready to brawl over who got to eat the carrot. Kids love the colorful carrots. I also love the colorful carrots. So the purple carrots are really good, Cosmic Purple is a classic it's ... oh, or then oh, but then you get the Black Nebula carrot. I'm going to choose Black Nebula carrot because it's super dark purple, really deep, really rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin which has a massive host of health benefits and super dark purple and has a great flavor.
Shannie: So Black Nebula carrot, five. I'm going to stop myself at five because if I go to 10, I'll ramble for like weeks. Your editor is going to want to murder me.
Nicole: Well, I didn't want you to feel limited in your selection. So can you maybe tell us a little bit more about the history of seed saving.
Shannie: Right, so this is something that's been going on since humans have started to cultivate plants. Since humans have started to pluck plants from the wild and make them their own people have been seed saving. Where was once the absolute crux of our food security was saving those seeds and each individual being responsible for saving some amount of seeds. And as human nature has progressed and our culture and society has progressed, we've outsourced the security of our seeds to fewer and fewer people. And I would say now we are at an extreme where a very small group is producing the world seeds. And what we're really coming to is a level of control and then chemical, agricultural chemical dependency because of the small amount of people that hold the seed security in their hands.
Shannie: So I think and I think Baker Creek we all believe that keeping the security of seeds in the hands of individuals and smaller groups and communities whose overall goal is not profit, but is the health and safety of themselves and each other, that's the safest way that we can keep our seeds. So I think that the history is also really, really important for us because it puts us in a time and place and in a context in human history. And I think that sharing our stories is actually a really great way to teach tolerance and understanding of other cultures because I think people can find a lot that they have in common through seeds stories and seed histories. And then when you share them, that's one of the greatest bonding experiences ever.
Shannie: I remember, I was a kid in a pretty homogenous town in New England and I was so delighted when I got to try vegetables from other countries that maybe my friend's parents introduced me to. One of my best friends is from Peru and her parents, they would invite me for dinner and I would get to try all these wild foods that I had never been exposed to. And it was like some of the best times of my life. Definitely best times in my childhood were sitting with her family and her dad telling me about the food that they would eat and how they prepare it. And it was just such an incredible learning experience for me. And I was so appreciative and came to such a deeper understanding of where they came from through their food history and through their gardening history.
Shannie: And now with my work, I get to do that all the time. I get to learn about the history of a people, the history of a region, through their food and through their agricultural history and I think it ties us all together better and I think it humanizes people and I really love that. We can always connect through food. That is like the best way to get people connected.
Nicole: Absolutely. So if somebody wanted to learn more about Baker Creek or how to save their seeds or otherwise, what is the best way for them to find you?
Shannie: People need to go on our website that would be rareseeds.com. That's our website. You can find us on Facebook at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. We have an Instagram account, Baker Creek Seed Company and we have a Twitter @rareseeds. But yeah, check out our website that's the best way to buy the seeds, check out the growing guide, read our blogs, get all the information possible. So definitely check out rareseeds.com. Also, for those who are really getting excited and want to come and really celebrate the diversity of heirlooms and get really deep into it, need to come to the National Heirloom Expo which is an event that we put on every year in Santa Rosa, California in Sonoma County.
Shannie: That is basically a three day heirloom seed festival. We have the world's largest heirloom produce display, and this is an opportunity to see, taste and interact with an incredible array of produce and to hear and talk with speakers, demonstrators, presenters exhibits and displays of people that do homesteading, farming, organic agriculture, regenerative agriculture, seed saving, community engagement, and people who are dedicated to the healthy food, basically anything to do with heirlooms.
Shannie: So come to the expo, National Heirloom Expo, get on our website, rareseeds.com, other good just general sites that people should be checking out, Seed Savers Exchange has been doing great work and seed saving for a very long time. So I encourage people to just get themselves an heirloom education. And oh my gosh, I can't forget, please go on our YouTube channel which is called RareSeeds and check out our videos because we do all these incredible historic videos where we go take a deep dive into the history of each variety. And we also have a tone of gardening how tos because maybe you picked up from the podcast, I really love to teach people how to garden and I love sharing all my garden knowledge that I've acquired over the years.
Shannie: So I'm in the garden real time teaching people about gardening, seed saving, whatever the topic is. So check out our how to garden videos, check out our seeds stories, learn about the history get an heirloom education and that's on our YouTube channel, RareSeeds.
Nicole: Well, sound like great resources. I know I will definitely be checking out the YouTube channel because I think that I've checked out everything else [inaudible 00:49:28].
Shannie: Clear your calendar, we have a lot of followers on Facebook but then when we start getting people to migrate over to YouTube, they go, what? Because it's like a free education. There's so much. I spent hours and hours and hours and days and days and weeks and months researching what we put together. So they're really well researched, beautifully produced videos, lots of information. We just want to get people gardening. It's like all we really want.
Nicole: Wonderful, I'm I'm excited to check those out. Well, Shannie thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and share all of your information and your resources and I'm excited to learn more myself about heirloom seeds and check out which new varieties I need to add to my garden next year. So thank you again for joining us.
Shannie: Thank you so much, Nicole. Thank you everyone at Backyard Bounty, I appreciate it.
Nicole: And as always, thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, and we'll see you again next week.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by heritageacresmarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at [email protected] Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.
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