When Planning Planting it All Starts With the Seeds

When Planning Planting it All Starts With the Seeds

Katie English recently posted on the Dawson Community Garden Facebook page reminding us that it’s time for planning the coming season’s planting.

As January is upon us, so too is the gardening season. The New Year marks the time for getting your plans and dreams in order. Seeds are selected and ordered, gardens get planned and it is even the month for some of our earliest starters.

If you are anything like Katie, then seed variety and quality is of utmost importance. For a seed is where it all begins …. Seeds can be the carrier of many of the diseases we find later on our grown plants or starters, furthermore poor quality seeds can mean poor quality germination, so quality is important. Katie is big on heritage and heirloom seeds. She looks for high quality organic seeds so she can later save the seeds she obtains from her own growing for the future.

> Visit our Seeds page to see recommended varieties from local Dawson growers that have been successfully cultivated in the Northern climate 

Katie likes to know the long history of the seed and how it was saved over generations, and looks for interesting varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store. She also supports the small companies that are working hard to save our heirloom varieties and to produce organic seeds.  She points out that 60 per cent of the world’s seeds are owned by big chemical companies and avoids those seeds makes sure she does not support those corporations.

Monsanto, and a handful of other corporate biotech giants, such as Pioneer and Syngenta, have been using their profits to buy up small seed companies, acquiring more than 200 over the past 15 years or so.

They are doing so to dominate the seed market, not just by owning the source, but also to acquire the DNA of heirloom and open-pollinated seed varieties for use in their future GMO products. Most of the advantageous plant traits that megacorporations like Monsanto boast about bioengineering, such as drought tolerance, higher yields, or resistance to insects, are in fact the result of traditional breeding over many generations to produce superior seeds. Once the acquisitions are finalized, however, these biotech corporations can splice in their own modified proprietary genes, and patent the resulting seeds.

For those looking for organic or non-GMO seeds, here is a list of seed companies who have taken the safe seed pledge as presented by the Council for Responsible Genetics. Scroll down to see the list of Canadian companies.

> See the Safe Seed Resource list

Asparagus Does Grow in the North!

I always thought of asparagus as an exotic vegetable.

But guess what, it will grow in the North!

Several Dawson gardeners have been successful growing asparagus and generous in sharing some of the harvest with me this year — yum!

For all your asparagus cravings dine on firewood shoots in May and garden asparagus in June and July!

Tips if you want to try growing your own asparagus:

  • Buy roots, not seeds
  • Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand
  • The harvest will be in the second year
  • Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting

To check out varieties that have grown well in the North, check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide.

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Northern Popcorn?

Bowl of popped Tom Thumb popcorn. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Corn is notoriously difficult to grow in the North.  Even with nearly 24 hours of sunlight in June and July, our growing season is just not hot enough for long enough.  Last summer, Dawson had only 66 consecutive frost-free growing days.

When I was thinking about eating local to Dawson for one year, my mind went immediately to what I would miss.  Popcorn was right up there!  I know it is not an essential food item. But a large bowl of popcorn smothered in melted butter and nutritional yeast has, for years, been one of my favourite snacks and one of my comfort foods.  Call me a ‘popcorn geek’ – since high school, I have carted my hot air popcorn maker around the country – to various universities and job sites.  In fact, I still have it.   And Friday Night Family Movie Night has always been accompanied by several large bowls of popcorn.

Grant Dowdell, who has been farming on an island up river from Dawson City for over 30 years, has the best luck growing corn in this area – in part due to his farming skills and in part thanks to the unique microclimate on his island.   Grant has tried many varieties over the years and Earlivee (71 days to maturity) is the only one that has ever been successful.

Corn growing in the field on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

That is until last year.

Last year, I asked Grant to grow Tom Thumb popping corn for me.  With the shortest maturity date of any corn I know – only 60 days – Grant agreed.

Tom Thumb popcorn proved to be both Northern hearty and moose hearty.  Moose pulled out all the stalks early in the summer but Grant and Karen stuck them back in the ground and they continued to grow!

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I let the cobs dry for a month and then crossed my fingers and tried to pop them.

Failure.

The kernels cracked, but didn’t actually pop.  Having never popped popcorn that didn’t come from a store, I wasn’t sure if they were too dry or not dry enough.  Distraction intervened and I let them hang for another month before I had a chance to think about them again.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

This time they did pop!  And they popped really well, with very few kernels leftover.  The popcorn is small, but very tasty. So good the kids say it doesn’t even need butter!  My winter is saved.  Bring on Friday night movie night!

Tom Thumb popping corn seeds, which date back pre 1899, can be ordered from HeritageHarvestSeed.com

> Download GrantDowdell and Karen Digby’s seed guide

Suzanne’s Blog: It’s Seed Catalogue Time!


I definitely did not have a green thumb prior to starting this project.  Never ask me to take care of your house plant.  I’m not sure my thumb is yet brilliant green, but it is several shades closer than it used to be.

So this year I am excited to pull out the seed catalogues and decide what to order for the upcoming growing season.  In the North, tomato seeds are started indoors the end of February and most everything else gets started indoors in March and April.

As you get ready to dog-ear pages in your seed catalogues, check out the seeds that have proven themselves to grow well for other Northerners on the First We Eat Seeds page.  And if you have some favourites that grow well in your part of the North, let us know (there’s a contribution form on the page) and we will share it .

Here are my seed ordering tips for 2018:

Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach.  Spinach is notoriously difficult to grow in Dawson.  Sure we have a short season.  But our short summers are really hot!  And regular spinach just bolts up here.   Both New Zealand Spinach and Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach grow well in Dawson and do not bolt.   I tried them both last year, but preferred the texture of Fothergills.

My favourite tomato last year was Black Prince.

And while you’re at it, consider growing some GMO-free sugar beets.  They grew well in several locations in Dawson last year.  They are a delicious white beet to eat and the pot liquor you cook them in can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup!

Salt Spring Seeds, based on Vancouver Island, only carries organic, non-GMO seeds and is your one-stop shop for Fothergills Perpetual Spinach, Black Prince tomatoes, and non-GMO sugar beet seeds!

 

Tom Thumb Grows Up … But Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby were attempting to grow popping corn for Suzanne on Grant’s Island, located about 10 km upstream from Dawson in the Yukon River.

Grant has tried many varieties of corn in the past and the only one consistently successful has been EarliVee sweet corn  (See Grant’s Seed Guide) which takes around 70 days to reach maturity.)

This year, however, he agreed to give the Tom Thumb variety of corn a try, since it has a short growing season (only 60 days to maturity). He used seeds from Heritage Harvest Seeds.

Tess at work in the popcorn field. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Things looked iffy when a hungry moose visited Grant’s Island and pulled up the crop early in the season but Karen popped them back in the ground and they grew!

Recently Suzanne and family harvested the plants, hoping for a favourite family treat to accompany their movie watching. Unfortunately, first attempts at popping have been unsuccessful. Suzanne’s not sure if the kernels are not dry enough — or perhaps they’re too dry.  She will keep experimenting, but any suggestions are very welcome. If anyone has grown and successfully popped their own popcorn, let us know.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.