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How to Save Kale Seeds Featured Image

How to Save Kale Seeds

 

Kale is a biennial green-leafed plant that has come to be known as a modern super food both for it’s nutritional properties, it’s hardiness, and ease of growth.  It’s also a plant that’s easy to propagate year-after-year by saving kale seeds, and it takes very little time.

Step 1: Grow Kale!

It’s hard to save kale seeds if you don’t have plants.

Grow some kale. Alternatively you can befriend another gardener that already grows kale and–once you’ve lured them into a false sense of security–chloroform them, huck their body into a wood chipper, them assume their identity and ownership of their kale plants. Mwahahaha!

Don’t be shy about harvesting leaves from the plant throughout the growing season, but as you approach the fall season select the plants you feel had the best production, and let them run wild and “go to seed.”

Step 2: Collect the Pods

As your kale matures it will form pods called siliques: structures that holds the seed until they  become viable. That’s fancy-talk for “capable of growing a new plant.” At the end of the season the pods become brittle and eventually break open, allowing the the seeds to escape and find a new space to grow in.

The pods are ready to remove after they’ve become brown, dry, and brittle but before they’ve cracked open and lost their seeds.  Basically if the pods are still green it’s too early, but if the pods no longer exist it’s too late.

When the seeds are ready to harvest, just snip them off with scissors or shears and catch them in a bowl as you go.

Step 3: Separate the Seeds from the Chaff

We need to separate the seeds from the chaff, or seed casings. There are a lot of ways to do this step, but I’ve found that winnowing works very with kale seeds.

Crush the Pods

First locate a pillowcase, an old sheet, or any other thin cloth. Dump the pods you collected into the center of the cloth and fold it in half.

Next you need to crush the pods, and there are a lot of ways you can do this.  You can use a rolling pin, a wine bottle, or anything else round and heavy and just roll it over the pods until the crushing sound stops being so obvious.  You can also just walk back and forth over the cloth full of pods and eventually achieve the same result.

Winnow the Seeds

Winnowing is the process of blowing air over across the seeds to separate them from chaff.  It works because the chaff is larger and easily caught by the air, while the seeds are too small and aerodynamic for a light breeze to have much affect.

Move your crushed-up pods from the cloth into a bowl. Shake the bowl in a circular motion. The seeds will naturally start to separate to the bottom. As you shake the bowl, blow a light current of air into it. Start very lightly and gradually increase the air pressure until the broken pods begin to take flight and leave the bowl.  Eventually you’ll be left with what is almost entirely kale seeds!

Step 4: Cleaning and Storage

You can clean your kale seeds but it’s not necessary.  If you’re concerned you might also be saving garden germs or plant viruses from year-to-year, soak your seeds for about 20 minutes in 120 degree water. You’ll probably render some of your seeds no longer viable, but you’ll also kill off most of the  nasties that could be clinging to them.

Once your seeds are dry, store them in an air-tight glass or plastic container and save them in the freezer until next year. I like to label a paper envelope, put the seeds within it, and then put the envelope in an air and water-tight plastic container.

 

Propagating Raspberries, Part 1: Digging out Suckers

If there’s one thing I love, it’s cheeseburgers.  But if there are two things I love, it’s cheeseburgers and fresh fruit! I can’t raise cows in town, but the good news is I’m pretty sure I can grow raspberries.  And if I can’t well… who wants to live in town anyway?

Last year I planted raspberries around one of the sides of my picket fence.  They’ve really taken off and the fence looks great covered in vegetation, so I’d like to extend that look around the rest of it, but I’d like to propagate the plants that I already have rather than drop a bunch of cash at a nursery. I did some research, and I found that there are a number of ways to grow/popagate/duplicate your raspberry plants, and today we’re going to talk about the easiest of those options.

Propagating Raspberries

Propagating raspberries can be accomplished a number of ways .  If you’ve got the patience of a saint, it’s possible to propagate raspberries from seed. But those of us with things like jobs who just want to nosh on some fruit need a better way. So let’s talk about suckers.

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

Well, if there were, we’d be eating a lot more raspberries.  A sucker is a shoot that grows from the base of a plant.  Raspberries propagate just fine on their own by sending out suckers a few inches or more from the base.

So let the plant do the work for you! The simplest and least labor intensive way to grow more raspberry plants is to either let the suckers mature into fruit-bearing plants, or dig them up and plant them in a more desirable location. Just be sure to include enough root to get them started in their new home!

Smashing Pumpkins

Living with Garden Vandalism

Living in town definitely poses some gardening challenges.  You run into space constraints.  You have to get creative about doing it in a way that doesn’t annoy the neighbors and of course, you’ll have to deal with pests of the upright hominid variety. In the past week someone stole and smashed all but one of the pumpkins in my garden, winning them the award for Most Destructive Garden Pest of 2014. Garden vandalism stinks.  It’s pointless destruction. It’s not funny, and if you’re friends think it’s funny you need better friends with better senses of humor.

I’m pretty livid but I’m doing my best to stay positive.  I collected one of the smashed pumpkins from the alley behind my house and I’m offering seeds to anyone in town who wants to grow them next year.  I’m sure it sounds silly given the cost of pumpkins or even your own retail pumpkin seeds, but this is the best idea I can come up with to keep the bastards from getting me down.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Giving Your Trash a Second Chance

Those of you that follow my website and my YouTube channel know I’m all about reuse: I save the scraps from my big woodworking projects to make little woodworking projects. I use my sawdust to mulch my garden and as bedding for my worm farm. I feed table scraps to my worms or throw them on my compost pile. Then I turn around and use my worm castings and compost to feed my garden. Basically I try to make my life as much as a closed ecosystem as I can and I produce very little trash. What little trash I do produce can almost entirely be recycled via my local single-stream recycling program.

Maximize Reuse By Thinking Beyond Your Own Necessities

So what about the stuff that doesn’t fit your own needs? What do you do when you have some item or materials that have absolutely no value to you but might be useful to another like-minded person with a different set of needs, projects, or priorities?

Now I’ll admit it: things that I want to get rid of that still has monetary value I’ll usually try to sell first. And why not? Living a life without money is at worst impossible, and at most completely impractical for the average person.

I’ve tried offering items to my friends and family, and that’s fine provided you limit the offerings to items like clothing, appliances, and furniture, but beyond that unless your friends are as nutty about reducing trash as I am, they might not respond, and might actually think you’re flat-out strange for wasting so much effort on keeping things out of the trash can.  I know mine do!

The CraigsList Option

You might try listing stuff on the free section of your local CraigsList, but I’ve had very little success with this. First of all my local CraigsList’s “Free Section” is where pallets and pianos go to die, and where people try to con you into cutting down trees they don’t want. In the past when I’ve listed things on CL’s free section I’ve received more spam and scams than legit replies, and those that did reply never showed up.

Freecycle

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Fortunately I found out there is a pretty large like-minded community interested in giving and receiving free stuff. I started with Freecycle, which I think started off on Yahoo Groups. Basically it was a group, or a series of geographically dispersed groups of people who would post “Offers” and “Wants:” basically things they wanted to give away, and things they needed.

Unfortunately I never had much luck with Freecycle, mostly because I have issues with the website, which are still, apparently, ongoing, and group admins are quite picky about how you word your posts.

Fortunately a website came along that streamlined the entire process of using Freecycle: it’s called Trash Nothing. Trash Nothing is basically an interface to Freecycle that lets you easily post Offers and Wants in a way that isn’t going to upset a anal group moderator. It offers other cool features like integration with Facebook so your friends automatically see your offers, email notifications when a user posts an item, notifications when a user posts a specific type of items (I have notifications for “wood” and “books”), and they even have an iPhone app. When I’m working around the house and run into something that needs to go, I take the picture with my iPhone, and in 30 seconds I can have it posted to Trash Nothing.

Trash Nothing is fantastic for three reasons: the first is, obviously, it’s free. The second is that it’s members-only, and the third is that it’s moderates. So unlike CraigsList, spamming and scamming is minimal.

Earthineer

There’s another online resource that I’m keeping a close eye on called Earthineer. Earthineer is basically a social network for homesteaders, but it’s geared toward sharing information and resources, and less towards bitching about work and begging for Farmville cows. Earthineer is still pretty small and it might be hard to find a lot of folks in your area, but the people who are there are precisely the kind of folks that might be interested in giving, taking, or bartering for things you no longer need.

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

More Uses for Strips of Scrap Wood: Garden Markers, Hand Plane Tuning

In a previous article I talked about how I cut wood scraps into thin strips. Originally I was using them as glue applicators, but discovered some new uses!

One of the primary uses of these strips is as disposable plant markers in flower beds.  I grow most of my plants and vegetable from seed, so I don’t have the markers that come with store-bought plants.  Besides: those little plastic flags never break down, and you end up seeing them poking out of your mulch years later.  These are wood strips, thinner than some pieces of mulch! They’ll totally biodegradable and should break down in a year or so.

The last use I talk about in this video is to use these wooden strips to setup your hand planes.  This was actually discussed by Chrisopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press. As you adjust the lateral adjustment and depth adjustment on your hand plane, run a small scrap of wood across both sides of the plane iron to verify that it’s cutting to the same depth on all parts of the blade.

Book Review: Worms Eat My Garbage

Well I’m stuck in the throes of what can be called a historically typical Pennsylvania winter: a difficult time for a person with an unheated workshop to feel motivated to do much of anything. On the bright side it’s given me an opportunity to finish some books, and several nights ago I finished Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

You might be wondering how a person might come to the conclusion that they should bring thousands of worms into their home. My girlfriend’s dad  has been raising red worms to sell as bait in his sporting goods store and his experience got me thinking: could I use these critters to compost my kitchen waste?

The answer to that question is: Hell yes.

Worms Eat My Garbage

The point of Worms Ate My Garbage is to teach you the basics of vermiculture and how to set up a worm bin that will compost your kitchen waste while not being completely disgusting.

I’ve tried a couple of composting methods and vermiculture (worm composting) is definitely my favorite.  My experience with Bokashi wasn’t positive enough to ever follow-up on it on the blog.  My compost bin is great–except in the winter when it’s not hot enough to process anything and it’s a pain to suit-up for the frigid weather just to toss in scraps.

My worms bins are great: since Worms Ate My Garbage taught me how to do it right the bins don’t smell, they don’t attract other pests, they eat my garbage, and they turn it into something I can use in my garden. On top of that, they’re reproducing fast enough that I can give them to the in-laws to sell at their shop.

It didn’t start that way.  When I decided to setup a worm bin I dove in head-first with no research.  I purchased 1,000 redworms from Amazon (yes, that Amazon) and an 18 gallon pastic tub.  I filled it with scraps, leaves, and a little soil. What I soon found was that moisture would pool at the bottom, eventually drowning worms at that level.  The worms up top weren’t eating the scraps fast enough and the environment became smelly and attracted fruit flies by the thousands.

My second worm bin fixed the moister problem. I designed a wooden bin with an angled bottom that directed water to a copper pipe, where it could flow out into a bucket. That worked great, until the moisture bowed the lumber and my bin was no longer water-tight.  In addition it did nothing to fix the fly problem and it created another: the thing was too heavy to move around after it was filled.

I finally decided to do a little bit of research.  I purchased Worms Ate My Garbage and Mary Appelhof’s small book about worm-raising quickly showed me where I went wrong.  Worms need bedding and moisture and I was providing neither in healthy quantities.  My bins were attracting fruit flies because I was just tossing the food on top. Instead, I now dig a shallow hole and bury scraps, then cover them with fresh bedding, then cover the top of the bin with damp cardboard.  The flies no longer make an effort to find it.

Ms. Appelhof also takes the time to talk about how to separate worms from their “casing”, which is code for worm poop so you can keep the compost and restart your worms in a fresh bin.

One thing you may have to overlook about this book is the occassional sensational comment.  In the chapter that deals with pest management the author explains that she won’t use the vacuum to eliminate fruit flies because using electricity to do it seems “counter-intuitive” to the whole exercise. That’s certainly her right, but for the rest of us who just don’t want flies in our house: break out the friggin Shop-Vac.

In the video above you might notice that my worm bin consists of an 18 gallon plastic tub inside of a similarly sized tub. The inner tub has holes drilled in the bottom.  As long as you keep food and fresh bedding in the top bin the worms will stay there, but when you’re ready to clean the bin out you can let the worms do the work for you by adding bedding and food to the bottom bin and in a few weeks most of the worms will migrate down on their own.  Then you can use the worm casting in the top bin however you please and restart your whole process by dumping the contents of the outer bin back into the inner bin. You can read all about it here.

Overall I highly recommend Worms Ate My Garbage.  It’s technical enough that science geeks will enjoy and appreciate the proper terminology, but simple and practical enough for the every-day recycling junkie to quickly put into practice.

 

 

The One-Straw Revolution

It’s fair to say that I don’t know what Amazon was thinking when it recommended I read The One-Straw Revolution.  I bought a beginner’s book on gardening once and some biodegradable dog poop bags, and I can only assume that from those purchases the Almighty Amazon Marketing Algorithm labeled me a militant environmentalist Hell-bent on removing the influence of science from that greasy mess I shove down my gullet on a daily basis.  I am not.  But I’m glad it assumed I was.

That's what we call "breakfast" around these parts.

That’s what we call “breakfast” around these parts.

Background

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a manifesto on farming, not a guide.  Fukuoka was educated as a biologist and worked as an agricultural customs inspector for several years.  During his brief government career he witnessed one of the tragic failings of man which Mark Twain described as thus:

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Fukuoka -san watched as experts kept searching for scientific solutions to problems created by other scientists, the farming industry, and the whims of consumers.  But it wasn’t until he experienced a philosophical awakening after a bout with pneumonia that he returned to the orchards from whence he came.

I suppose in the 1940’s that pneumonia was a more serious deal than it is today, and this is where Fukuoka’s story gets a bit “emo.” His hospital stay left him in a depression and facing serious metaphysical questions.  He eventually concluded that

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything at all, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.

Truly inspiring words from a man who went on to write a passionate book meant to spark a food revolution, right? (He actually jokes about it in the final chapter.) This realization led him to leave his career and return to the family orange grove where he began to experiment with what he would call “Do-Nothing Farming.”

Fukuoka's little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Fukuoka’s little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Do-Nothing Farming

Fukuoka began to experiment with “doing less” with his trees and vegetables and more with his awesome facial hair.  This process often led to failure but what he soon discovered was that his failures were caused by the damage done to the land by modern agriculture.

He soon realized that Mother Earth, much like Daryl Hanna,  was doing just fine before science came around and thought he could improve her. Once the soil is farmed using modern methods that include chemical fertilizers and herbicides, the land becomes dependent on them.  But once the soil returns to it’s natural state crops grow just fine with very little help from mankind.

Do-Nothing Farming isn’t about being lazy:  It’s about approaching agriculture in a way that works with nature instead of relentlessly trying to tame her. He used no fertilizer, no herbicides, very little compost, yet continually produced rice yields that compared with the rest of the farms in his area.

Fukuoka gives plenty of specific advice about his farming methods: plant summer and winter crops, utilize cover crops, cover the fields with the straw leftover from your crops to protect the seeds and replenish nutrients.  His instructions are pretty specific to Japanese agriculture but I’m excited to research and adapt them to my own gardening here in Pennsylvania.

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

Modern Agriculture: It’s the Consumer’s Fault

Much of this book is philosophical in nature, and considerable effort is spent discussing what good food actually is. (Depending on my mood it’s either food from my garden or a #13 from McDonalds)  Fukuoka’s definition is, loosely translated,  food you can enjoy eating which keeps you healthy without having to think too hard about it.  Basically he means local, in-season, organically grown food, and if you have to obsess over nutrition too much you’re probably doing it wrong.

The problem is that this isn’t what the consumer wants.  Like Hollywood has sold a false ideal of female beauty, so we’ve also been sold a false idea of what good food looks like.

The FDA tells us we need specific amounts of specific food groups ( these amounts often vary based on which agricultural lobby is throwing the most money around).  We think our foods have to be the perfect color, the perfect size, and the perfect texture. On top of all that, we want the perfect produce even when it’s not in-season. Consumers demand these qualities that don’t occur naturally, and if farmers want to sell their produce they’ll have to use unnatural methods to attain them.

Furthermore organically-grown produce is sold at a premium whether the growing process warrants it or not, pricing it right out of the hands of working men and women who need it the most.

consumer_whore

A Problem in Need of a Solution

I have one issue with Fukuoka’s philosophy of farming: in order for “Do-Nothing” farming to succeed on a global scale, society would have to change in a big way.  His ideas work in a world where the farmer grows for himself and sells to the local village.  On this scale the farmer can produce high yields in a natural way and still have leisure time leftover. However reality tells us that 9 out of 10 people world-wide depend on others to grow their food because they busy themselves with what Fukouka sees as meaningless human industry.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with him, those billions of people that would either starve to death or give up the convenience of modern living to pursue subsistence farming might.

Summary

What I loved most about The One-Straw Revolution is that it was philosophical in nature, but unlike so much philosophy it had energy, passion, and a goal driving every word. The author’s direct, common-sense approach to natural farming was refreshing in a world filled with the false hopes of science and technology making our lives simpler.

Use a vise grips to make quick work of peach pits.

How to Remove Seeds from Peach Pits

In the words of Nicholas Cage, I could eat a peach for hours.  But unlike that dirty pervert Nick Cage I’m talking about fruit. So it seems logical that Mr. Cheapskate Do It Yourself Caveman might want a couple of peach trees some day.  Last night after cutting up peaches at my girlfriend’s parents house I saved the pits, cleaned them, and brought them home to get them started.  Peach pits don’t crack easily with a nutcracker. A hammer certainly works but you risk breaking the seed too.  I found the easiest way to remove the seed from the peach pit is to use a s grips, and I provided a little video below.

Bokashi Anaerobic Composting, Part 1

Earlier tonight I was perusing an issue of The New Pioneer and ran into an article about manure and the role it plays in composting.  This article led me to a movement (ha! a cleverly disguised pooh joke!) from Great Falls, Montana called Gardens from Garbage which uses anaerobic composting to turn food waste from local schools and restaurants into compost used to grow food and feed those in need.

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

The anaerobic compost process, called Bokashi, has existed for centuries but a Dr. Teruo Higa improved on the process in the mid-eighties .  Do not under any circumstances confuse Bokashi with a similar-sounding Japanese sex act.  One will turn your kitchen waste into plant food.  The other will have your wife turning you into plant food when she stumbles upon your Internet history. But I digress.

I’m new to this process, but from what I gather Bokashi composting involves creating a mixture full of helpful microorganisms and binders that you sprinkle on top of successive layers of organic waste you add to your composting container.  The process is well-suited to town-dwellers like me because you don’t need much space and, because your compost isn’t breaking down the same way it would in more tradition composting methods, it doesn’t offend the neighbor’s nose-holes.

You can find the Bokashi formula online.  It begins with something called EM, also known as  Effective Microorganisms. EM contains microbes that will help break down your waste.  Apparently this concoction is not in the public domain, but you can still find it on several websites, or you can make life easy and just buy it online. But we don’t do this stuff because we like easy, do we?

You create the Bokashi mixture by combining EM, water, molasses, and some sort of “carbon-based binder.”  Most videos and instructions are recommending wheat bran, but I’m also seeing reports of success using sawdust.

As you can see below I began making my EM and provided a few pictures of the first part of the process (I’ll post more as they come). I just purchased a bottle of the official product as well.  When it arrives and my mixture is complete I’m going to make identical batches of Bokashi and see which one prevails. I’ll post a video of the results.

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