It doesn’t matter if your four seasons are like ours in the South—hot, hotter, sweltering, and a cool spell—or like those up North (cold, frigid, sub-Artic, and a warm spell), there’s probably something that you can plant in your fall garden, even if it means growing it in a green house or in a container garden in the house.
As our summer gardens are winding down, fall gardening is picking up, which includes a lot of greens and root crops. In fact, one of the times of year that your garden will produce some of the best-tasting food is during a fall gardening campaign.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: September 21, 2011
Bill: Welcome, everybody, it is Bill Heid here. Your host today with Off the Grid Radio. I’ve got a couple of special guests today. Today we’re going to talk about fall gardening and seed saving – a subject near and dear to many of our listeners’ hearts. I found that more and more people are very interested in saving seeds and given food prices I think more and more folks are interested in planting fall gardens to mitigate against that a little bit. Our two guests that I have today are our own Heirloom Solutions, Nick Huizenga – Nick, welcome to the show today.
Nick: Thanks, Bill. Good to be here.
Bill: We also have one of our seed buyers, world traveler, Aaron Wailey?? – Aaron, welcome.
Aaron: Good morning. Thank you, Bill.
Bill: Thank you guys, both, for being on here. What I wanted to do first is have a little discussion about a fall garden. We’re going to run a little special on some of our seeds. Part of our special program that we’re offering today to get you started. We’ve created a special package on fall gardening. I wanted to pick up with a little conversation that you two, I think, were having yesterday about fall gardening. Why don’t you guys – Aaron and Nick – talk a little bit. Aaron, why don’t you have a conversation – the kind of conversation you had with Nick yesterday – about fall gardening and why has fall gardening become something that folks are now interested in. What things can grow, what things can’t grow?
Aaron: Absolutely. I’ll talk about it a little bit. Nick shared with me the variety pack that you put together of lettuces and carrots and peas and turnips and about 11 different things, I believe, all together. As our summer gardens are winding down now and it’s a great time to start thinking about fall sowing. A lot of this depends upon where you’re located in the country. You really need 60 to 90 days of frost-free gardening time to make the fall garden work. But the majority of the country and the south – Texas, Florida, California, Arizona and New Mexico – still have a nice amount of time to put in these fall gardens that you put together – the kits that you’ve put together.
Bill: What do you guys think– the problem with the weather here is, above the Mason-Dixon line as you’re making reference to – here, you get these 90-degree days and the next thing you know it’s 39. It seems up north it’s a little more difficult but in the south you can plant – you need some cool weather, which you’re getting right now, but it can’t freeze, right Nick?
Nick: Well, there are a few things that can take some frost Peas do pretty well with frost. Maybe Aaron can corroborate that. Beans really do not take it very well. They generally like their soil temperature to be slightly high for germination. Then they’ll produce as the weather is tapering off. But they really don’t like the frost.
Aaron: Yeah. I think maybe just to use a specific region as an example – I know Austin, Texas – the Texas A&M system has a really good guide on there. They’re saying that the ideal – the last frost date, so they have zero frost up through November 1, and even as you go a little further south up through December 16. That really gives you a nice window right now, all of October and part of November and even half of December to put in some of these cold-tolerant crops and get a crop. The radishes and the lettuces and the chard, cilantro, arugula-lettuce mix, spinach – all of those you’re going to have plenty of time in that type of area. Even if they do get a light frost, it actually enhances the flavor. There is also some research saying that it enhances the nutrient content as well, if you’re growing these crops in the fall, cool season.
Bill: So you could end up having better tasting crops as well. What do you think it is that draws the taste out? Do you guys have any ideas?
Aaron: We struggle here with lettuces because our climate in the Midwest goes from 60, nice cool temperatures, to hot. Typically, what we find, is our lettuces and spinach can become a little bitter. Our radishes can become a little hot. But if you have these nice, moderate fall days, that tends to equalize the temperatures and I think that has a lot to do with it – they’re not the extremes that you would have going from spring to summer as you would from fall to winter.
Bill: So it’s the extremes that you guys are saying really creates – makes the radishes really hot or maybe even bitter sometimes? So steady temperatures give you a little smoother taste? Is that what you’re saying?
Aaron: I think, Bill, if you could figure out a way to have a nice steady temperature in the Midwest we would have great taste all the time. But, yeah, that’s absolutely it. If you can get into the cool weather and the low extremes then that’s really a nice time to grow.
Bill: That’s something I had no idea, that probably one of your better tasting times of year to garden – people, really, if you want to know what sparks people’s interest, a lot of people are looking for nutritional density and it sounds like you might have some traction there. But I think people really are looking for the best tasting things and maybe a fall garden would produce some of the best tasting vegetables. What about the idea, if you’re here where we live – and I’ll work on that, Aaron, by the way – I’ll work on that nice even temperature thing for the Midwest. I’m not sure how I’ll pull that off, but we’ll work on that. What about here – Nick, if you were charged with doing this and someone said “we want to grow these things right now,” could you container some of this stuff and hop it back in and out a little bit if you had to? In a northern climate?
Nick: I can’t say from personal experience that I’ve ever tried, but I’m guessing that you could with a lot of these things that aren’t going to take up too much space. A lot of these things – peppers – I grow a lot of peppers in containers and I’ll just move them into my garage when we have a frosty night and move them back out when it’s quite a bit nicer. I know that Aaron does a lot of the same thing. But containers is a great way to get started without digging up a piece of your lawn that your wife is going to have your hide for.
Bill: Which has happened to you on a few occasions.
Nick: It’s been a long road, Bill.
Bill: That’s a long struggle.
Nick: Yes, it’s been a long road.
Bill: A lot of guys have that with their bass boat. There’s all those songs about the guy is divorcing his wife and she got his Evinrude and all of that …
Nick: Fishing is another one of my vices, as well.
Bill: So, really, you have some problems that need to be handled.
Nick: Yes …
Bill: Are there any on this list that could be grown in containers?
Nick: I would say that most of these could be grown in the containers. Aaron, do you happen to know how carrots do in containers?
Aaron: Carrots will do OK as long as it’s a nice loose soil. What you’re talking about, basically, is artificially creating a microclimate. Some people might actually have a natural microclimate, whether it’s in the little south-facing corner of their house with a little rock wall in the back that still gets nice sun through the winter. That would be an area where you could still plant outside. One thing that comes to my mind are some of the commercial growers that we work with that are using – they’re basically growing 10 months out of the year, even in the Midwest, by using portable high tunnels. That’s probably another topic, but basically they’re creating this little microclimate where they’ll get a light frost in there. It’ll still drop down into the 20s, but they’re able to grow really nice greens all through the fall up through Christmas and then start again in February when the days start to turn nice – the last days of February, first days of March.
Bill: So you can create your own little greenhouse or high tunnel as you say. That’s a great idea. If you’ve got some space in your yard, around a building, where you’ve got a south side that’s protected, you probably aren’t going to get that damage from the frost and the cool and you’re going to have a little warmer days. I know when I was young we used to talk old windows, and of course everyone wants to get rid of old windows – I always say never throw those away because you can – we would always tilt them, put a couple of bales of hay on each side and I would grow stuff. I would start my stuff earlier in the spring and I could grow things later into the year. Sometimes I wouldn’t even set these little things up. Really, all you need is a couple of bales of hay and an old window. There’s people that’ll give you their old windows. You create these little microclimates. Aaron, I think you touched on something really interesting. You create these little microclimates on parts of your property that are already protected. Is that what I hear you saying?
Aaron: Right. I think it’s just trial and error, but you see these things being done on a larger scale, very successfully – commercially growing greens and different vegetables for market. If you can take some of those ideas and apply them more towards the home gardener scale, the possibilities are endless. As long as you have time and you’re willing to experiment, I think it’s a great way to try to create some of these microclimates. And, just like Nick said too, you can always move things in and out as well. Or, if there’s going to be a really cold night, cover it up. We can have nice weather here in the Midwest all the way through Christmas some years.
Bill: You bet. That’s something that our listeners ought to really pay attention to. I think it’s time to start looking at what would it take if you absolutely had to grow a garden? What would you do? There’s no year like this year; there’s no time like the present to try to do as Aaron’s saying, try to do some experimenting. See what you could grow. Pretend that you absolutely have to grow something. Set out on your experiment and see what you can come up with. By next year you may have learned what works, what doesn’t, what makes your wife mad, what makes your wife happy – all of those things that you can pay attention to. We are going to go on a little bit of a break. Before we go on to the break, I’d like to remind everybody that this weekend we’re having our grand opening at our place here, Solutions from Science and Heirloom Solutions and Heirloom Market – our new market that we’re opening here on Highway 84 in beautiful, sunny Thomson, Illinois. We’re going to have some seed saving demonstrations. We’re going to have Aaron and Nick working on these. When we get back from the break, we’re going to talk a little bit about saving seeds for next year’s crops. We’ll be right back.[0:12:13 – 0:14:30 break]
Bill: We are back with different paradigms today. We’ve got Aaron Whaley one of our seed buyers, and our own Nick Huizenga here – talking about fall gardening. We’re also going to talk about seed saving. Let’s talk, guys, one more little section about fall gardening. Nick, do you want to go over the things we’ve got in this kit one more time? Read them off? Do you have your kit with you?
Bill: We’ve made a special offer for folks that want to get into this. We’ve picked these varieties – Nick has picked them, along with Aaron’s consultation, if you want to start a fall garden, what’s your best bet. Aaron mentioned, what’s very interesting to me, if you want to start a small garden you’re going to probably anticipate some better tasting vegetables and perhaps some more nutritional density as well. Here’s the kit that we put together.
Nick: Well, Bill, it’s just a basic selection of things that will grow well during the cool season. It’s lettuce – we have three different kinds of cutting lettuce in our mix – Detroit dark red beet, Bloomsdale Spinach, Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard, arugula, Scarlet Nantes Carrot, Little Marvel Pea, Early Scarlet Globe Radish, Purple-top White Globe Turnip, cilantro and Provider Beans.
Bill: So that’s our kit. There’s about $100 worth of seeds there if you had to go to the retail store and buy them. I think we’ve packaged them for $49 as a special kit. There’s also some planting instructions in there as well?
Nick: Absolutely. We send planting instructions with everything that we do.
Bill: OK. Aaron, could you touch base on where that Texas A&M thing is? I know that’s for the south but …
Aaron: There’s several. You can always go to your local cooperative extension office and ask around and also ask people who are the older gardeners in the community. But there is one really nice one was under the Texas A&M system. I know also that UC Davis has a nice guide too under sacramentogardening.com. I believe there’s another one too, for Zones 8 through 11, under gardening – it’s about.com but then it’s gardening.about.com? – their warm climate gardening guide. Those would be good resources for a lot of folks in the south.
Bill: Good deal. Also, we were talking at the break about some other ways to postpone or extend the season. I’ve heard Al Gore talking recently about his perspective on global warming but I think the trends in many ways are actually more of a cooling. Gardeners have to put up with … gardeners would be happy if things were warmer and we had extended seasons, but I think many gardeners are finding that the seasons are actually shortening up by virtue of the global cooling that’s at least taking place in some climates. What were we talking about, Nick? What are some other ways that folks can extend the season for their growing for their garden?
Nick: From as simple as your hay bales and old windows all the way up to expensive cold frames that you can buy from a mail-order company. These things will help you. You can produce your lettuce there. You don’t really have to worry about frost. Radishes take 20 or 30 days so you can do crop after crop of those. Peas, you’re talking about 60 days before you get some peas off it. But floating row covers, Reemay and, like Aaron says, check with the people in your neighborhood, in your town, in your county that have experience. There’s nothing like experience.
Bill: I just went and Googled cold frame gardening, which someone should do if they want to extend their season a little bit. There’s a lot of stuff on here for around $100 you can get started with a nice little kit. I’m sure you can buy something as exotic as our high tunnel that we have out back. You guys were telling me that with our high tunnel we have out back that we did our starter plants with that we could be growing stuff back there and extending our season too?
Aaron: That would be a really good example of where with some pots you could certainly extend your season back there, way into the fall. I’ve seen a lot of those high tunnels too where they’ll actually store up some water in black containers to absorb the heat during the day and then they have their little beds right beside all of the black containers of water. I think you’re only limited to your ingenuity and your imagination. You can do a heck of a lot just with some plastic poly and some bent pipe for creating these little microclimates in your own backyard or driveway.
Bill: I think this is something that more and more people, as prices continue to rise for food, and as more and more folks are interested in taking control over the foods that they put into their bodies for themselves and their families, these are more tools that can extend your control over what you eat. I think that’s going to become, as I said, more and more important as we move into 2012. Get your feet wet – I don’t mean that literally – but take a chance and try this, whether you get our seeds or somebody else’s. It’d be a great year to start a fall again. Also, guys, just to remind people, we are going to be having a seed saving seminar or workshop, as we like to say around here. We’re going to have four of them. Jeremy, what are the times that we’ve got? 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30. So anybody that’s within strike range of Thomson, Illinois should come and see us on Saturday. We’re having Aaron down and he’s going to be putting on instructions for those that want to save their seeds for this year’s plants to start their spring garden. Some people are going to live in Texas and say “I can’t possibly come there,” but you should still try – you should make your plane reservations and try … also, we’re going to try to make some of this available online. We’re going to put up a webcam. I don’t know if we’ll get the seed saving thing available online. But this Saturday, again, it’d be a good thing, if you were in the area, to come and visit us. See our retail store and also meet Nick and Aaron. If you’ve got questions about fall gardening, I’m sure they’d love to address them. Also, questions about seed saving, which we’re going to try to answer. Guys, another thing that was really interesting to me is, I’ve mentioned seed saving to a few people and I’m shocked at how many people want to save their seeds and have questions about seed saving. Just casual acquaintances, I mention this to them – people that I didn’t think would even be interested are coming. Aaron, do you want to kick off – let’s talk a little bit about it and give folks some tips now. I know some things are better demonstrated visually but what’s some basic protocols for saving our seeds for next year?
Aaron: Well, it’s wonderful that your company offers all open-pollinated varieties, because that is going to give your customers the option of saving their seeds from year to year. One really neat thing about saving your seeds from year to year is gardeners always gravitate towards the best plant in their garden. Whether you think about it or not, you’re actually selecting – you’re artificially, naturally, or however you want to look at it – you’re going after the best-producing tomato plant in your garden. Then you’re going to keep actually improving these varieties, whether that one plant is a little more adapted to your climate than another. Whether you’re thinking about it or not, you’re actually selecting the best varieties for your area based upon how they’re performing in your garden. Having the open pollinated varieties and having that option is really great. During our workshops, I think what we’ll do is talk about the isolation process that you need to successfully save seed on a whole array of different crops – what varieties are out-crossers or what varieties are self-pollinating, isolation distances. Then I think we’ll go through some of the processing – the mechanics of how do you get – OK, now I’ve selected all these great tomatoes, how do I get the seeds out of these tomatoes? How do I get the seeds out of these peppers and the cucurbits and sunflowers easily and also successfully so that you can save your seed for the following season.
Bill: That’s really exciting. Nick, can a guy carry this too far? You’re my foil again for this today, but can a guy carry this whole selectivity thing too far and drive your family literally nuts with it? Is it possible to do that?
Nick: My wife would say yes, but I would contend that that is not possible.
Bill: [laughs] You can never go far enough into saving your seeds …
Nick: I don’t think so.
Bill: I know you’ve talked to me – ever since I met you, Nick – you and I have talked about saving seeds. I’m joking around with you, but if it’s a passion of yours, trying to find what Aaron just talked about – trying to find, for whatever reason, some plants are better than others. And you’ve, as a closet botanist, you’ve loved the idea of continually improving the varieties in your garden.
Nick: That, I think, is the neatest thing, is that as you grow this, throughout the years, this plant is going to become more and more adapted to your soil conditions, your climate in that particular region. You can come up with a million different sports where the plant actually mutates within itself and produces a different variety off one branch. Then you can save the seed from that. There are multiple tomatoes out there like that, that are developed from other open-pollinated tomatoes. It’s new life, it’s a newer variety. You get to continue to develop it. In some cases, if you do a good job developing it, you actually get to release it to everybody else, and that’s really what it’s all about – everybody else having what you think is great.
Bill: That’s what we see in a lot of the seed catalogs, certainly in our catalog. As we put together next year’s catalog, we’re trying to put together some of what you just said – what we consider, Aaron considers and you consider – the greatest seeds available. But there is a pride associated – don’t you think, Aaron – there’s a pride associated with coming up with a variety? And sometimes your name gets stuck on it. Sometimes you name it something and that name sticks. It’s an exciting world.
Aaron: Absolutely. I know for your catalog next year, you’re going to be offering one of your new offerings is going to be an old variety called “Aunt Ruby’s German Green” from the south. This is a great old tomato variety that Aunt Ruby, obviously, grew here whole life. There are hundreds and thousands of these – just talking about tomatoes – varieties of tomatoes like this that gardeners have selected over the course of their lifetime. Many of them are deceased, that’s why we call them heirlooms, because they’ve literally been passed from generation to generation. If you can imagine, saving and selecting your best seeds over the course of a hundred years, over the course of 150 years, you really come up with some spectacular varieties.
Bill: I was talking to a fellow that produces seeds. I met this fellow at our embassy in Mexico one night. Just polite conversation at a party at an embassy – actually, it was at the ambassador’s home. We’re talking about what we like to do and this gentleman grows and tries to maintain a lot of the plants, a lot of the vegetables in the garden at Monticello – Jefferson’s Monticello. They claim to even have some of the same varieties that Jefferson enjoyed growing. That just tickled me to have a conversation – I wasn’t expecting that conversation – but we had a lot in common. Just the interest there is in some of these heirloom varieties, and I think it’s an interest that for certain segments of our population is really on the rise. I think the average American just says “let me go to Wal-Mart or the big box grocery store and I’m buying my stuff and I’m living my life.” Our customers are interested in taking back a little part of their life and I think there’s a part of this whole thing where you get to enjoy … it’s almost like, guys … I enjoy coins – old coins – and you have a similar sense when you see an old coin, yeah there could be gold in it so you’ve got the value there, but the history of that coin is always part of the narrative. I think for Americans that care about family, community, individuals, whatever, we’re always talking about the narrative – what’s the story behind something? I think that is such an important part of where we want to go. But Nick, you said something earlier – and Aaron and I have had this same conversation – why is it important to start looking through your plants in your garden to look for the best ones? There’s this idea of what adapts best for a particular climate, right?
Aaron: There’s a lot of talk right now with climate change and a term that a lot of people throw around is “participatory plant breeding.” That’s a big word for gardeners and growers to take a part in the seed saving and the seed selection process. Focusing in on these – again, we’re talking right back to these microclimates if we want to call them that. What does well in central Illinois along the Mississippi River? You’re going to find those out. That’s probably going to be a different variety that does well – a different variety from something that would do well in northern Minnesota or Georgia or Alabama. You have all of this plant breeding taking place and these selections and that’s wonderful.
Bill: So it’s incumbent upon anyone that’s going to grow their own garden to say “how can I pick out these best plants? How can I produce the most nutritionally dense, the most delicious plants?” Nice mixture there, right Nick? In terms of what you’re trying to grow? Do you test for Brix at all? Do you ever do a Brix test?
Nick: No, we never have tested for Brix in-house, which wouldn’t be a bad idea. Brix – that’s the sweetness thing, correct?
Bill: It’s the sweetness, yeah.
Nick: The amount of sugars in it.
Bill: Some people think that just because it has sugars that it has some other things too, and I think there’s a whole science about what a Brix test is. Testing for nutritional density is another interesting part about it, but when you grow your own plants and especially when you pick your own varieties that are doing well, you probably get better nutritional density as well, just as opposed to finding seeds that maybe would work, as Aaron said, in Georgia. You bring the seed here – it’ll grow but then what’s interesting is, you may be able to start a variety of that seed based on your own choosing in your garden, of that seed that had its native area in Georgia – you might find a variety of that seed that tends to want to grow. A couple of plants in your garden might thrive and those would be the ones you’d keep, right?
Nick: Absolutely. Or it could be taste. A couple of examples come to mind. Beam’s Yellow Pear is a great selection from the classic yellow pear. It tastes phenomenal. There are so many different variations of these things. If you have a keen eye, you can pick these things out, as a gardener yourself, and continue to develop your own selection of a particular variety.
Aaron: It’s funny, Nick, you keep coming back to tomatoes, which are probably the most popular crop with American gardeners. There are some estimates that say that there’s probably somewhere around 15 to 20 thousand different varieties of tomatoes in the world – named varieties. A lot of those probably have been renamed, but still, when you think of that many varieties. How many yellow pears do you think there are? There might be 100 or 200, so definitely if you can pool all of these together … if you ever did have the luxury of growing out 100 different varieties of yellow pears, it’s certainly a good opportunity to compare them and tinker around with it.
Bill: This is fun stuff. There’s also a little – not a darker side, but a little more of what we would sometimes say a survivalist side – where you really want to start saving your seeds because if something ever happened, if there was some kind of an issue – who knows what that could be – you really are in control of your own gardening. If you know how to save your own seeds, if you know how to plant and cultivate, you’re truly in control of your own food supply. Again, Americans, it would do us all well to take a little of that Old World back, learn how to cultivate a lot of these varieties, learn how to adapt and pick out the best ones, just to create a successful garden. I’d like to remind everybody too, one more time, that we’re going to be giving seed saving demonstrations at our workshop here at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 on Saturday, September 24. It’s our grand opening. We’ve got a place for you to come and look around, see everything that we’ve got. We’ve got a petting zoo. We’ve got magicians. What else do we have, Jeremy?
Jeremy: Camel rides. Grass-fed beef.
Bill: Camel rides. Grass-fed beef. All kinds of things. You can come in and see our solar generators. You can see the geothermal systems that we have for sale. There’s a lot for everybody. We’re having a little bit of a ribbon-cutting at 9:30. We’d like to invite all of our friends online – we realize a lot of you can’t make it – but we’re so happy to finally have a place that we’re proud of, that we spent a lot of time and money fixing up. Really, we’d love to show you how to save seeds, so come on over on Saturday and check it out. Anything else? Any final comments, guys?
Aaron: No. Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. We’ll have plenty to talk about with seed saving.
Bill: OK, guys. Thanks again for being with us. We’ll get together on Saturday and get this party started.
Nick: OK. Thanks, Bill.
Aaron: Thank you, Bill.