(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
How Do I Store Seeds Inexpensively and Efficiently?
During the summer, save empty envelopes from mail received and carefully cut one end open to remove the contents. If it is an envelope with a cellophane window, slice open the end closest to the window. (There is now a reason to open some of that unwanted junk mail you receive.) Also accumulate empty pill and vitamin bottles and save any *tiny* jewelry-size zip-lock bags. Large mouth jugs with screw-top lids that held three to five pounds of food (parmesan cheese, dried onions, etc) make excellent containers for later holding all the partial envelopes filled with seeds.
When seeds on the paper plates are dry, cut a used envelope in half and label it with name of seed, color (if a flower), and year. The seal of the flap may need to be reinforced with tape so as not to leak seed. Gently pull together the two sides of the paper plate to form a “funnel” and pour the seeds into the prepared envelope. Fold down the top of the envelope and seal it with tape. It is now ready for your storage jar. If desired, you may also add a desiccant packet to the jug. Another option is to add a little dry rice. (If it’s good enough for drying out wet cell phones, it is probably good enough to help keep seeds dry.) For larger quantities of seed, pour them into small pill or other bottles and cap. Old mayonnaise jars are useful too. Be sure to affix a clearly legible label. I also like to generate an alphabetical list of the types of seeds contained in the super-size jars in addition to the year the contents were collected. Furthermore, I keep flower seeds in a jar separate from the one for vegetable seeds.
These steps definitely help with locating seeds in the spring! Store all seeds containers in a cool, dry, dark location. Tiny (jewelry size) zip-lock bags are quite useful for holding the “dust-like” seeds of moss rose, purslane, etc. These can also be recycled as long as they are intact.
Golden Giant Amaranth
This year we experimented with growing Golden Giant amaranth for the first time! It is an heirloom that produces tiny cereal grains the size of a pin head which are gluten-free and contain 14 to 16% protein, almost double that of corn (9%). Golden Giant amaranth grew very well for us producing huge seed heads and attracting no pests except for birds who let us know when the seed was ripe! At that point, each head was nipped off and placed into a clean wheelbarrow as the individual seed heads were too big to even fit into 5-gallon buckets. (Wear gloves!) It is best to harvest early in the morning when the seeds are damp with dew and won’t shatter as readily. Segments of old fencing were elevated on blocks off the barn floor and then covered with old sheets. The grain heads were then individually laid upon the sheets and turned every few days until dry. Yes, the grain was safe from rodents due to a large furry crew of helpful and dedicated barn cats on guard duty both day and night. Bless their little feline
From a plot measuring 7 yards square we obtained about 150 huge organic seed heads! Sounds great doesn’t it? However, dislodging the seeds can be a tedious and time consuming task, sad to say. But wait, we didn’t grow it so much as food for us but as a high protein feed for our chickens in the winter to add to other feed. Below is a description of how to process this cereal for humans (we found a way to speed it up) or for chickens (even easier) and a caution about feeding it raw to chickens. Below are three articles that provide further details if you desire to read more.
To process amaranth for human consumption we first tried rubbing it between our hands (too tedious) and walking on it (a bit better}, but wrapping two heads in a sheet and rolling over it with the truck a couple of times definitely encouraged the seed to detach! (Big grin.) The loose material was then quickly sieved through a window screen and the chaff blown off by spreading it on a pizza pan, one third at a time. The yield from two heads was only 2 ounces. That amount is far below what was advertised, but to be honest we worked quickly and may have lost a bit. The 2 ounces (1/3 cup) was then ground with organic wheat berries and baked into a tasty loaf of high protein bread with a slightly earthy flavor.
Raw amaranth seeds contain anti-nutrients such as saponins, tannins, and phytates and therefore should not be fed raw to people or chickens. However, an interesting study performed by the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Agriculture in Nairobi identified an easy method of steeping and germinating the grain thus making it nutritious for the hungry children of Kenya (and also safe for our chickens). They determined that the tannins and phytates were no longer detectable after soaking the grain for 5 hours and then allowing 24 hours for sprouting time.
We performed this process by placing a sample of two heads of amaranth in a storage tub with water for 5 hours and then pouring off the water. The grain heads were then allowed to rest in the covered tub for 24 hours before offering them as feed to the chickens.
I would suggest saving some of the seed that drops off during the drying process as your seed for the following year instead of planting that which has been run over by the truck just in case there has been invisible damage to the “truck treated” seed.
It’s Not a Seed, but It Is a Starvation Buster
What is this great food high in calories and rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene? It is the sweet potato which poor folk in the south with bad soil have traditionally grown in order to survive. However, it is possible to grow them as far north as zone 3 if special care is taken such as warming the soil. There are even space-saving bush varieties for those with smaller garden plots which helped us out decades ago when we were cramped for garden room in the Midwest. We have grown sweet potatoes for many years and are usually pleased with large harvests unless the varmints get to them. One year, a nest of mice almost completely destroyed our crop. We now have lots of cats! Moles can also be a problem. Try to eliminate them with mole repellent before they reach your garden. An ounce of prevention and all that.
Knowledge of how to harvest, cure, and store sweet potatoes is essential to success. “Sweets” can even survive until next spring if it is done right. Usually we harvest immediately after a frost. You’ll know when that happens because the plants dramatically wilt and turn black. No harm is done if you have to dig them up a little earlier due to threat of heavy rain or scheduled surgery etc. Carefully start by removing the vines and then digging from the side with a potato fork beyond the extent of the plant periphery. The potatoes have been growing on a raised ridge or hill of soil. Gently raise up the fork-full and carefully brush off the soil.
Do not bruise the tender potato skins. More and more potatoes will be encountered as you approach the crown of each plant where several will be clustered near the top of the ground. You are bound to skewer or break a few in the process. It always happens. Just set those aside and bake them later that same day in a big roaster with a little water. Yum. It is surprising and even exciting some years to see just how far deep or laterally the potatoes will grow. It is our favorite harvest of the year and a time for celebration and thankfulness. We enjoy eating them plain with butter, mashed in a casserole with raisins and crushed pineapple, fried as “cakes”, or cut raw bite-size pieces to fry with green peppers, onions, and black or cayenne pepper. Of course, don’t forget delicious sweet potato pie used in the place of pumpkin by reducing the amount of sweetener in your favorite recipe.
Do *not* drop, bump, or bounce the potatoes. Carefully place each one lovingly on the ground and later into baskets (plastic laundry) or boxes on a cart for transfer to your designated curing station that needs to be at approximately 85 degrees. Your curing station can be as simple as a concrete floor or even better a work table or countertop for easy handling. Gently place each potato on the surface and then cover them all completely with old sheets or thin blankets which are damp, but not dripping, with water. Check daily that the cloth is still moist. If not, use a spray bottle to wet it again. After ten days, the curing process is complete. Remove any potatoes that look moldy or have soft spots. Loosely wrap each good one in clean newspaper and delicately place them in layers in laundry baskets or the containers of your choice.
To generate plants for next spring, place several small sweet potatoes in a warm (75 to 80 degree) room in a box or tub in absolute darkness with a wet rag to provide humidity. Another alternative is to place the tub of potatoes next to a furnace if warm enough. After a few weeks, sprouts will start to appear. At this point, slice the sprouted tops off, insert three toothpicks near the cut base, and place them into cups of water with the bases slightly submerged. Be sure to use purified water in the cups so that it is free of growth-inhibiting chemicals. Position the cups in a window for sunlight and wait for roots to emerge from the bottoms and for the sprouts above to develop leaves. Check the cups every few days and replenish the purified water as needed to encourage root production.
After the danger of any frost has passed, plant the potatoes on a built-up ridge of dirt. You have three options to select from. The entire potato top can be planted, or cut off portions so that each has leaves and roots, or snap off slips and plant them if there is an insufficient amount of larger pieces. Slips are what you will receive if ordering from a nursery.
I hope that this article has been informative and encouraging to those who are not yet saving seeds or growing these particular crops. Remember that seed shortages, price inflation, and buying bans can affect your future access to seeds. May you never find yourself in want for seeds and may you be so well provisioned that you can be a blessing to others.