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Soil Health & Cover Crops

in 2019/Climate Change/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Seeds/Soil/Spring 2019

A Recipe for Success in Achieving Long Term Soil Conservation

Saikat Kumar Basu

Why Care for our Soils?

Soil is an important constituent of both agriculture and forestry; unfortunately, it is taken for granted most of the time. It is a cheap, easily accessible or available global resource for which we have often forgotten to take the necessary care. We have used it non-judiciously without proper planning and vision for the future.

The concept of soil health has always been there since the dawn of human civilization—but only quite recently have we started to better understand, appreciate, and care for our soils as part of sustainable agriculture. We as humans have possibly matured over time and realized that our exploitative and non-judicious use of our soil resources can limit our long-term agricultural productivity and jeopardize successful crop production.

Unless we are serious enough to take good care of one of our most abundant yet highly sensitive natural resources of this planet, the soils, we ourselves will be solely to blame for the degradation of our soils—thanks to the self-destructive approaches we’ve used to achieve very short-term objectives of making easy profits without thinking deeply about the long-term consequences.

Soil health today has emerged as an important aspect of proper soil management as a component of sustainable agriculture to help in quality crop production without depleting or damaging soil quality and helping in proper soil conservation at the same time (Fig. 1).

What Impacts Soil Health?

Several factors impact soil health, among the most important being over application of fertilizers and pesticides. The soil represents a dynamic ecosystem and an intricate playground of delicate physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. Any chemical application on the soil therefore has some positive or negative impact on the soil quality by interfering with the physicochemical and biogeological processes associated with soil formation. These changes include shifting the soil pH due to various anthropogenic activities that slowly impact the soil quality. Drastic reduction in pH makes soil acidic, while rapid increase in pH leads to alkalinity or salinity; both conditions make the soil unsuitable for a long time for quality crop production. Furthermore, increased emphasis on monoculture associated with our modern industrial agriculture year after year depletes the soil of essential macro and micro nutrients necessary for maintaining optimal soil health (Fig. 2).

Fig 2. Increased emphasis on crop monoculture is detrimental to long term soil health.

Over application of synthetic chemical fertilizers and various pesticides to secure crop production adds too much pressure on our soil, impacting not only the physicochemical and geological processes active in the soil, but also negatively impacting the soil macro and micro flora and fauna devastatingly over a long period of time. Several beneficial microbes like soil bacteria, Cyanobacteria, soil fungi, soil borne insects, spring tails (Collembola), earthworms, and other critters essential for maintaining soil health suffer population collapse due to non-judicious over application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Many such chemical residues remain in the soil for prolonged period and often percolate deep into the soil, reaching the groundwater table or adjacent surface fresh water resources via surface run off, with long term negative impacts on both soil and water. Often the beneficial soil macro and micro flora and fauna are altered or replaced by harmful species that prove detrimental to soil health and significantly impact crop production and forest ecology. Random unplanned crop rotations and fallow harm our soil more than we actually realize; making them susceptible to weed and pest infestations (Fig. 3), loss of precious top soil and lower crop production due to poor soil health.

Fig 3. Untended soil is subjected to weed infestation that interferes with quality crop production.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Promoting Sustainable Soil Health

To maintain optimal soil health for long term success in achieving quality crop production we need to take necessary steps and plan carefully. This takes needs patience, and deeper understanding, as well as painstaking observations to implement good soil health practices on cropland.

Regular soil tests are important to ensure that we are aware of the excesses as well as depletion of necessary macro and micro nutrients in the soil. We also need to look into the topography of the crop field, the low and high spots in the field, the areas impacted by acidification and salinity issues, detailed history of fertilizer and pesticide applications over the years and the successive crops grown. Any past issues associated with the soil should be recorded for future reference. The nature of pest and weed infestations should be recorded to identify any specific patterns with respect to local pest and weed populations. Such detailed record keeping together with advanced GPS- and GIS-generated high-quality images of the field over the years will provide a farmer or crop producer or a professional agronomist ample reference to make judicious decisions to secure comprehensive soil health strategy and crop management for the future.

Based on the above information, we need to adopt a specific crop rotation plan to ensure that the soil is not exhausted of essential soil nutrients. Application of fertilizers and pesticides should follow manufacturer’s guidelines stringently to avoid over application (Fig 4).

Fig 4. It is important to keep track of weed and pest species impacting crop production in a particular field for making judicious decisions regarding appropriate chemical applications at the appropriate stage and dosage following manufacturer’s instructions.

It is also important to note if soil compaction is causing a problem for the field. If this is an issue, then highly mechanized farming activities and movements of heavy vehicles need to be restricted to a specific easily accessible area to reduce negative impacts of soil compaction on the field.

Intercropping could be practised depending upon the farming need and also to use the soil resources judiciously. This can enhance crop production and add crop diversity to the field important for maintaining soil health.

Role of Cover Crops in Promoting Long-Term Soil Health and Soil Conservation

Cover crops are an important aspect for maintaining general soil health if used with scientific outlook and proper planning. Several cover crops choices are available. Annual and perennial legumes, various clovers and sweet clovers, bird’s-foot trefoil, hairy vetch, common vetch, cicer milkvetch, sainfoin (Fig. 5), fenugreek, fava beans, soybeans, field pea or forage pea, cowpea, chickpea, green pea, black pea, different species of beans, oil crops such as annual and perennial sunflower, safflower, flax, forage canola, different mustard species (Fig. 6), brassicas such as forage rape, turnips, collards, radish, forage crops such as tef grass, Sudan grass, sorghum, sorghum x Sudan grass hybrids, corn, cereals such as winter rye, wheat and triticale, different millets, such as Proso millet, Japanese millet, German millet, red millet, special or novelty crops such as hemp (Fig 7) , chicory, plantain, phacelia, buckwheat, and quinoa are only a handful of choices to mention from a big basket of abundant crop species currently available across Canada.

Fig 5. Mustard cover crop in full bloom.
Fig 6. Perennial forage legume sainfoin is an excellent cover crop that can be successfully used in crop rotation cycles. Sainfoin is also exceptional for pollinators, attracting bees and other insects in large numbers.
Fig 7. Hemp is a new speciality crop for Canada and has been generating serious interest among farmers for agronomic productions. Hemp has been found to attract diverse species of insect pollinators too.

Several grass species such as orchard grass, tall fescue, short fescue, meadow fescue, creeping fescue, chewing fescue, festulolium, timothy, annual and perennial rye grass, Italian rye grass, and various other forage and native species are being used in specific legume-grass mix, in highly planned and organized crop rotations or in soil reclamation and pollinator mixes for attracting insect pollinators to the crop fields and in checking soil erosion effectively.

Cover crops should be selected based on the agro-climatic zone and soil zones of the region and used in planned rotations. Species or different appropriate cover crop mixes are to be selected based on the long-term objective of the crop production. For example, cover crop mixes used as pollinator mixes could not only be planted in the field during a fallow; but can also be used in agronomically unsuitable areas, along field perimeter, under the centre pivot stand, hard to access areas of the farm, shelter belts or adjacent to water bodies or low spots in the field too.

Forage cover crops could be used where the field is partly subjected to animal foraging or grazing or ranching. Similarly, oil crops, pharmaceutical or neutraceutical crops, or specialty or novelty cover crops could be used in crop rotations with major food or industrial crops grown in the particular field in a specific agro-climatic region.

Fig 8 Cover crops rotations can be an effective long term solution for managing optimal soil health with long term positive impacts on soil quality and soil conservation.

Cover crops not only play an important role in crop rotation cycle; but, also help in retaining soil temperature and moisture as well as protect top soil from erosive forces like wind and water. The presence of live roots in the soil and a rich diversity of crops stimulate the growth and population dynamics of important soil mega and micro fauna and flora for sustaining long term soil health, soil quality and soil conservation. Cover crops help in balancing the use of essential soil macro and micro nutrients in the soil, as well as promoting better aeration, hydration, nitrogen fixation, and recycling of essential crop minerals, assisting bumper production of food or cash crops due to improvement in soil quality for successive high-quality crop production.

It is important for all of us to understand and appreciate that soil is a non-renewable resource and needs special care and attention. Unless we are careful to use this special resource so deeply associated with our agricultural and forestry operations judiciously, we may be slowly jeopardizing crop productivity—and our common future—in the not so distant future.

Proper planning and scientific soil management practices can play a vital role in keeping our soil productive as well as healthy. Use of crop rotations and cover crops are some of the important approaches towards long-term soil health, soil conservation, and crop productivity. We need to learn more about our local soil resources for our future food security and incorporate more soil friendly practices to prolong the life and quality of our soil.


Saikat Kumar Basu has a Masters in Plant Sciences and Agricultural Studies. He loves writing, traveling, and photography during his leisure and is passionate about nature and conservation
Acknowledgement: Performance Seed, Lethbridge, AB

Featured Image: Fig 1. Scientific management of soil health contributes towards long term high quality crop production as well as soil conservation. Image Credit: All photos by Saikat Kumar Basu

Ask an Expert: BC Seed Security

in 2019/Ask an Expert/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Seeds/Winter 2019

Scaling Up Organic Vegetable Seed Production in BC

Emma Holmes, P.Ag

The organic seed sector will be getting a boost through a comprehensive project that includes seed production, business, and market supports.

FarmFolk CityFolk, which has been working to cultivate local, sustainable food systems since 1993, will be leading the project with funding provided from the Governments of Canada and B.C. through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership. The five year, $3 billion Canadian Agricultural Partnership launched on April 1, 2018, and includes $2 billion in cost-shared strategic initiatives delivered by the provinces and territories, plus $1 billion for federal programs and services.

FarmFolk CityFolk will specifically be working on:

  • Developing a mobile seed processing unit to help small and mid-scale seed farmers efficiently and affordably process seed
  • Expanding seed production skills training in the Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Kootenays and North through focused in-person training and webinars
  • Supporting new entrants and small seed businesses with “Seed Enterprise Budgets” to help farmers plan and prepare for expenses, revenues and inventory management
  • Supporting Seedy Saturday events around the province by developing shared event planning resources

This project builds off of FarmFolk CityFolk’s previous work with the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, as well as Dan Jason’s Seed Resiliency report commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture this past winter. Jason’s report included an inventory of seed assets in the province as well as recommendations for increasing seed resiliency in BC.

Beet seeds. Credit: Chris Thoreau

British Columbia has the greatest diversity of crops and growing conditions of any province or territory in Canada. This provides a great opportunity to work with a wide range of ecosystems to create regionally tested and locally adapted seeds that support our local foodsheds in uncertain climates and that can also thrive in diverse climates around the world.

Seed production provides BC organic farmers with an opportunity to diversify their farm production and increase revenue. The market for certified organic seed is expected to continue to grow in the coming decades as the consumer demand for organic products increases and certifiers are adopting stricter enforcement around purchasing certified organic seed when available.

FarmFolk CityFolk will be collaborating with other organizations in BC focused on seed, such as the UBC Farm Seed Hub, KPU’s new lab for seed testing and cleaning (a major new asset for the province), and the BC Eco Seed Co-op. The strengths of these organizations, combined with the incredible passion and energy of local seed savers, farmers, and growers, will go a long way in supporting the development B.C.’s organic seed sector, the base of resilient communities and thriving food systems.

bcseeds.org


Emma Holmes has a BSc in Sustainable Agriculture and an MSc in Soil Science, both from UBC. She farmed on Orcas Island and Salt Spring Island and is now the Organics Industry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

Feature image: Examining carrots as part of the BC Seed Trials. Credit: Chris Thoreau

Local Seeds for Local Food

in 2019/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Seeds/Winter 2019

Michael Marrapese

Agriculture as we define it today has existed for roughly 12,000 years. Though the practices have been refined over millennia, modern farmers would still recognize the intent and the activity as ‘farming.’ We can find examples of plants we recognize as cereal grains, peas, barley, wheat, rice, and squash dating back 10,000 years. What makes this possible is that all these food plants produce seed.

Chris Thoreau, BC Seed Security Program Director at FarmFolk CityFolk, notes that seed is also the most efficient way to move food. “Growing seed allows you to ship food in its simplest form,” he says. “Moving lettuce seed across the border is different from moving lettuce across the border. Many of BC’s seed companies are already doing this through online sales.”

Thoreau started farming in 2001 knowing very little about seed. “My introduction to farming was the small scale organic vegetable production that is very prevalent on Southern Vancouver Island,” he says. “Which is also how I got introduced to seeds. It really was by default. There was a lot of local seed production happening in the region. We still had a good dozen seed companies in BC. Seedy Saturdays had been around for 20 years so it was a very active community.”

Rows of seedlings in a field with labels
BC Seed Trials. Credit: Chris Thoreau

In 2006 Thoreau worked on a survey of organic growers to get a sense of what seeds they were buying and from whom. He observed that “growers sourced their seed from places you’d expect like Johnny’s and High Mowing but were also sourcing from some local seed companies like Salt Spring Seeds and Stellar Seeds.”

Thoreau returned to Vancouver to study Agroecology at UBC. Still wanting to grow food while at university, he started Food Pedalers, a microgreens operation in East Vancouver. “It was very paradoxical to be attending the agroecology program but leaving the farm to do that,” he recalls. “I thought growing microgreens was the only way to make enough money for a viable urban farming business in Vancouver. The return per square foot from micro-greens was much higher than any ground crop I could grow. We were doing about 10,000 pounds of microgreens a year. During that time we were buying seed by the pallet load. I draw a lot from my time growing microgreens to help inform my seed work now.”

Thoreau joined FarmFolk CityFolk in 2015 to coordinate the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security (BFICSS). He’s extended his interest in seed production and education, coordinating seed workshops, public events and seed trials throughout BC. The BFICSS project is focusing on locally adapted organic seed to meet the needs of organic farmers. Thoreau notes that “seed optimized for organic production must be bred and produced in organic systems.”

Chris Thoreau and Shauna MacKinnon from FarmFolk CityFolk, and Alex Lyon from UBC, inspect a golden beet seed crop at Local Harvest Market in Chilliwack (2016). Credit: Michael Marrapese

Today, a vast array of seeds are owned, patented, and marketed by a few large corporations. With less than two percent of our population actively farming, our connection to seed and its critical role in our lives is increasingly tenuous. Thoreau points out that seed can play many roles. “Seed production can be a profession or a community building activity or even a therapeutic activity. All are quite different. Small-scale seed growers in BC have great community reach, a pretty good diversity of seeds, but what they don’t have is bulk seeds to sell to farmers.” When he first started farming most of the local seed companies were just doing packet sales. Packets were fine if a farmer was interested in trying a new variety. If they wanted to do a couple of thousand row feet of something, no BC seed grower could accommodate that. “And that is still very much the case today,” he notes.

With a predominately corporate controlled seed system, there are many issues that undermine our food security. Chief among them are irregular seed availability and degraded biodiversity. A century ago farmers may have grown as many as 80,000 different plant species. As more seed is controlled by a few large corporations, the bulk of our food comes from only about 150 different crops. Corporate ownership, patenting, and gene licensing limit the genetic diversity available to farmers. Any biologist will tell you that this is a perilous enterprise.


Chris Thoreau and Shauna MacKinnon from FarmFolk CityFolk, and Alex Lyon from UBC, inspect a golden beet seed crop at Local Harvest Market in Chilliwack (2016). Credit: Michael Marrapese

Farmers are often at the mercy of big seed producers who may be growing for large commercial markets. Specific varieties regularly disappear from catalogues. “That’s one of the reasons people start growing seed themselves,” Thoreau observes. “If they want to have a particular seed that works well in their environment and their operation, the only reliable way to do that is to grow it themselves. A big benefit to this is that evolving a seed crop on your farm year after year, you are going to come up with a new variety uniquely suited to your environment.”

One of the goals of the BFICSS program is to get more BC farmers growing and saving seed, to scale up production in the region, not only for themselves but to share, trade, and sell to other farmers. This process will ensure the genetic diversity and adaptability of seed in our region.

But there are political issues that hinder a regional and more diverse seed economy. Not all seed is available or appropriate to grow for sale. Hybrid seeds do not breed true; the next generation of plants will have a lot of off-types. Many seeds have plant variety protections on them which means farmers can’t grow and market them. Thoreau notes that this actually encourages seed breeding. “In fairness, if I spend ten years developing and growing ‘Chris’s Super Sweet Carrot’ and I start selling it, I do need to recoup the cost of breeding that seed.” Genetically modified (GM) seeds are generally licensed; farmers never actually own that seed so they can’t use it for seed saving. Most BC seed growers are growing heirloom varieties or rare varieties that aren’t protected by intellectual property laws.

Graceful carrot seed umbel. Credit: Chris Thoreau

Thoreau believes there are enormous possibilities for more seed production in BC. Oregon and Washington State are major global seed producers for crops like beets, carrots, spinach, and a lot of the brassicas. Southwestern British Columbia has similar climate conditions so he sees potential for some of that sector to be developed here. He also believes there is an enormous opportunity to produce more organic seed.

Growing trays of microgreens taught Thoreau the most important lesson about seed. Doing a hundred crop cycles a year, he began to notice differences in how temperature, watering, and daylight hours affected the plants. However, he notes that the biggest determining factor is seed quality. He’s convinced that “you cannot override the poor quality of the seed with good growing practices.”

bcseeds.org


Michael Marrapese is the IT and Communications Manager at FarmFolk CityFolk. He lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative, one of BC’s longest running cooperative farms, and is an avid photographer, singer and cook.

Feature image: Karma Peppers. Credit: Chris Thoreau

How to Think About Bioregionalism When Growing Seeds

in 2018/Grow Organic/Seeds/Spring 2018

B.C. Eco Seed Co-operative

Meagan Curtis

For some, bioregionalism may seem like a practical concept useful for creating ecological dividing lines between regions, but the concept’s meaning extends into social, cultural, and economic realms. One of the foremost ecotheologians of the 20th century saw bioregionalism as critical for the next era of human life on earth, feeling it should encapsulate “a self-propagating, self-nourishing, self-educating, self-healing and self-fulfilling community.”[1] With “bio” standing as its prefix, the concept refers to anything within a region relating to life. This means that it is not just the ecology of our region we need to consider, but also factors such as ethics and economics that are dominating that region.

For the BC Ecological Seed Co-operative (BCESC), our focus is on vegetable, herb, grain, flower, and cover crop seed that is ecologically grown, open-pollinated, regionally adapted, held in the public domain, and GE-free. We want to increase the quantity and improve the quality of ecological and organic seed grown in BC and believe that seed sovereignty is an essential part of sustainable bioregional food systems. This means that when we think about growing resilient seed—seed that performs well in an uncertain climate—the co-op considers a variety of factors from ethics to ecology.

The Bioregional Ecology of Seed

Most of the seeds we use in our BC bioregions, for our gardens or on our farms, are not descendants of native species from our bioregions. With the notable exceptions of berries, pumpkins/gourds, sunflowers, various herbs, and wild rice, most of the crops we grow across the country stem from a very recent part of Canada’s history. [2]

Immediately it appears there may be a disconnect between the ecological emphasis in bioregionalism and the vegetable seeds we grow and produce. This is further complicated by the fact that as seed producers, we know (and maybe even enjoy) the fact that seed is shared across regions, countries, and continents. Seed always has and will continue to travel across borders – if not purposefully, then in the hair of animals, on the boots of travellers, or by the prevailing westerlies.

Right now, most seed bought by gardeners and farmers is not seed originally grown in their bioregion, not even within their own country. By growing seed within bioregions across the province on farms with published locations, the BCESC is working on localizing seed so that buyers know where the seed is coming from and are assured that it performed well in that particular region. In this sense, BCESC seed is regionally-adapted as well as regionally tested as our members trial seed from other member’s farms across the province.

Sitting at approximately 944,735 km2, our province happens to have quite a few different bioregions. Therefore, it should not be assumed that because a lettuce variety does very well on the coast at UBC Farm, it will not perform well in Southern Ontario or that it will perform fantastically in the Okanagan. A certain bioregion in BC may be more similar to a bioregion in another country than to some within our own province. Because of this, the co-op grows its seed with wide spectrum selection in mind in order to create horizontal resistance,[3] making it suited for multiple bioregions across the country. Our growers use large population sizes and shy away from selecting narrowly for one trait so that a wide diversity of traits are preserved and the plant is theoretically more resilient in the end. This means that although BCESC seed is grown and adapted to a bioregion, it also carries enough diversity to potentially thrive in other regions. In the end, the diversity our plants carry emerges from regions and then flows across regions as the seed’s resilience is shared within our province and beyond it.

The Ethics and Socio-Economics of Resilient Seed 

Aside from ecological considerations, there are multiple tangible social, economic, and ethical benefits to investing in seed grown within your bioregion. The transparency within an organization like the BCESC means that a dialogue is possible with seed producers and growers in a way impossible in other circumstances. BCESC can respond to varieties that growers in their region would like to see preserved, improved, or increased. For the same economic reasons that we tell people to eat local, we should buy local seed. The economic sustainability of inhabitants of a given bioregion is critical to a healthy society. BCESC’s purpose is to be able to offer farmers the quantities of seed they are looking for. We also offer packet size seed for those with a smaller area or who want to test a variety.

Difficult issues relating to agricultural and food sovereignty can be overwhelming to consider at the international, national, or even provincial level. What may be more available to us is the opportunity to think about, and work on, the socio-economic and ecological health of our bioregion. Working at this level, we may more effectively create the kind of life and systems we want to see flourish. Resilience within a bioregion may also mean transforming our cultural norms and adapting our social relations in order to foster cooperation and collaboration. Bioregionalism indicates to us that perhaps feeding ourselves and future generations in uncertain climatic times involves not only ecological solutions, but social, economic, and ethical as well.

The full range of BCESC inventory is available online at bcecoseedcoop.com. You can also find a selection of packets in racks in local communities across BC:

Vancouver: Figaro’s Garden, 1896 Victoria Dr.

Langley: Cedar Rim Nursery, 7024 Glover Rd.

Nelson: Kootenay Co-op, 777 Baker St.

Prince George: Ave Maria Specialties, 1638 20 Ave.

Smithers: Alpine Plant World, 3441 19 Ave


Meagan Curtis is member of the BC Eco Seed Coop in Port Alberni—on Instagram @mtjoanfarm. Inspired by EF Schumacher, her farm has three goals: health, beauty, and permanenc—productivity is attained as a by-product.

Photos: BC Eco Seed Coop

[1] Berry, T. (1988). The Dream of the Earth. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press. https://gaiaeducation.org/news/cosmopolitan-bioregionalism/

[2] For the origin of geographic origins of our food crops – where they were initially domesticated and evolved over time, see: http://blog.ciat.cgiar.org/origin-of-crops/

[3] Resistance based on the result of continuous selection in the face of adversity based on many genes working together resulting in a healthy plant (Morton, F. (2018). Horizontal Resistance: An Organic Approach to Selection. Wild Garden Seed Catalogue. p. 100: https://seedstory.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/franksessays-1.pdf )

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Footnotes from the Field: Seeds of Resilience

in 2018/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Seeds/Spring 2018
Leet and onion starts at a plant sale

Seeds of Resilience for Thriving Bioregionalism

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

Bioregionalism is a philosophical concept that promotes the harmonization of human culture and activities with those of the environmental bioregion they reside in. There is also an emphasis on local food production for local markets, including indigenous plants and animals.

The organic community has developed into a proactive global sub-culture phenomenon whose regulatory standards happen to work hand in glove in implementing some fundamental bioregionalism concepts. Case in point, the use of organic seed when and where possible.

CAN/CGSB-32.310-2015 Clause 5.3 Seeds and planting stock: Organic seed, bulbs, tubers, cuttings, annual seedlings, transplants, and other propagules shall be used…

The tenants of bioregionlism recognise the uniqueness of each ecosystem’s bioregion as defined by its natural boundaries. Often these natural boundaries are not related to national boundaries: for instance, the bio-geoclimatic subzone of the Okanagan Valley stretches through southern British Columbia into Washington state. The organic sub-culture spans the globe and in this sense the bioregion or ecoregion that is defined is the entirety of the earth system herself.

In some ways Bioregionlism harkens back to a time before modern industrialization, when food production was still predominantly local and relied on hardy regional crop varieties that were grown using traditional farming methods and largely consumed by local peoples. In that pre-industrial model, each community had its own work force that could produce enough local foods to support its local population base.

In a world comprised of unpredictable natural disasters and volatile global markets subject to politico-economic shifts, we find that the organic regulatory requirement for the use of organic seed brings the concept of “resilience” into the bioregionalism equation. On a global basis, the organic community directly supports the establishment of local seed reserves, local seed exchanges, the maintenance of open pollinated heritage varieties, the conservation of regionally hardy varieties, local seed producers, and a seed saver aware community.

This is in contrast to the reduction of seed diversity and the increasing vulnerability of seed supplies managed by the multinational conglomerates.

In the past 60 years we have witnessed a rapid consolidation of smaller regional seed companies into a handful of multinational seed producers. The vast majority of seeds are grown out in select regions of the globe and shipped back to farmers. Risks are inherent when you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. A traumatic disruption, such as a volcanic eruption or an untimely winter freeze could wipe out the majority of seed for one crop in a production year.

Forty percent of all hybrid onion seed grown for commercial production in North America comes from a few hundred acres in the Yuma, Arizona. Jefferson County, Oregon supplies 45% of the global market for hybrid carrot seed and supplies 55% of the US domestic market. A main carrot seed producer has reported losing his entire crop due to a winter freeze, significantly reducing seed supplies for a commercial carrot crops.

Another vulnerability that comes with consolidated seed production is hybridization which inherently limits variety and loses some plant characteristics available to open pollinated varieties. Hybrid seeds are a dead end for seed savers as progeny diverge from parent genetics after the first generation. As well, hybrids have not been selected for local characteristics and regional hardiness, as open pollinated seeds are through rogueing.

In Canada, seed production for onions and carrots is a two year process as the plants are biannual seed producers. Contrast that with the longer growing seasons of the more southern USA, where onions and carrots can be an annual crop. Under annual crop growing conditions rigorous rogueing for carrot variety cannot be conducted as only the leaf tops can be checked for shape. Here in Canada, carrots are dug up and the roots rogued out for desired characteristics and replanted the following spring as ‘stecklings,’ with seed harvested in the fall of the second year.

The organic standards provide a globally unified conversation around seed production ideals and philosophy that actively seeks to build bioregional communities with seed and food resilience at their core. The use of organic seed embodies much more than just a commercial value or niche market item as it is the ‘seed core of resilience’ for thriving bioregional communities. Without the seeds of diversity and regionalism we lose the strength of resilience in an uncertain world.

Happy seed saving!


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

Photo of leek and onion starts at a plant sale: Moss Dance

References:

1. Onions: cals.arizona.edu/fps/sites/cals.arizona.edu.fps/files/cotw/Onion_Seed.pdf
2. Carrots: oregonstate.edu/dept/coarc/carrot-seed-0
3. Carrots: www.farmflavor.com/oregon/oregon-ag-products/seed-needs/

BC Seed Gathering 2018

in 2018/Organic Community/Seeds/Winter 2018

Uniting Community, Spurring Plans for Action

Shauna MacKinnon

The BC Seed Gathering is not your typical conference. The foundation of the event is a deep commitment to responding to community needs and providing a place for experienced and new seed growers to come together to learn, network and strategize together. The Gatherings are a connection point and forum to discuss what is needed to propel BC seed systems forward.

At the 2012 Gathering plans for the BC Eco Seed Co-op were hatched. The Co-op was launched at the 2014 Gathering and 2017 offered an opportunity to keep building the momentum. The Gathering participants were ready to do just that—the energy and enthusiasm in the room on Friday evening for the official opening was incredible! Perhaps people were already buoyed by conversations during the field tour of the BC Seed Trials at UBC Farm or in the afternoon BC Eco Seed Co-op, Community Seed Organizers, and research focus group sessions. Or maybe folks were just happy to have a chance to relax and connect after a long season. Regardless, the positive energy of the participants set the stage for a productive and inspiring event.


The official opening began with remarks by Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Elder in Residence Lekeyten and Kwantlen First Nation’s Education Coordinator Cheryl Gabriel, who set the tone by emphasizing the importance of seed work to future generations.

Dr. Michael Bomford, a professor in the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at KPU, Dr. Hannah Wittman, Academic Director of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, Harold Steves, Richmond’s longest standing city councillor, and Arif Lalani, the Assistant Deputy Minister for the BC Ministry of Agriculture each spoke on Friday evening. The common theme shared by these speakers was their interest in supporting the BC seed sector and vision for how seed can and should be the foundation of sustainable agriculture in BC.

What set this year’s Gathering apart from past events was this unprecedented level of support from multiple academic institutions and the Ministry of Agriculture. “My goal is clear—I want to help create opportunities for BC farmers and food producers and this includes seed producers,” said Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. “As a former farmer myself, I know how important the BC seed sector is to BC agriculture. I want to thank our seed growers for the important role they have in ensuring we have food on our tables and jobs in our communities.”

New Assets for the Seed Community

KPU has long supported the BC Seed Gathering as the co-host for all three events. This year, support ratcheted up a notch with the unveiling of the new KPU Seed Lab and introduction of the Garden City Lands where variety trials for seed will take place. These facilities will be put to use to further KPU’s commitment to providing post-secondary education, extension programming and research focused on fostering a sustainable, regional food system. These new assets were developed in response to several years of consulting with partners to identify priorities for research and teaching programs. Research support for the growing organic seed sector was consistently identified as a priority and an appropriate seed testing facility focused on vegetable seeds was a gap that KPU knew they could fill.

The Seed Lab and variety trials at the Garden City Lands are part of KPU’s vision of organic seed production becoming an important component of the agricultural landscape, providing exciting opportunities for growers to have a broad impact on seed diversity and quality.

Similarly, UBC and FarmFolk CityFolk have partnered to deliver the BC Seed Trials where over 25 participating farmers have conducted variety trials on their own farms along with the primary research site at UBC. The BC Seed Trials offer opportunities to strengthen farmers’ skills in trialing crops while also providing much needed data on how bioregionally produced seed performs in comparison to commercial varieties. Ultimately, the trials will help determine which varieties are the best candidates for further breeding and seed production. This project has increased UBC’s interaction with the seed community and laid the groundwork for more research in the future.

Skills Sharing

The participants themselves are a huge part of the draw of the BC Seed Gathering. Over 100 seed-loving folks gathered together this year from as far away as Smithers, Moberly Lake, and the Kootenays. Getting the perspective on seed from these communities enriched the conversation about what resilient BC seed systems really mean. Any Canadian seed event should include conversations about the challenges of growing seed in mountainous or northern climates and the value of dedicating a seed library exclusively to seeds with short days to maturation and cold hardy plants.

The Gathering featured over 25 presenters, each bringing their own unique experience and deep knowledge of their subject area to share with participants. Keynote speakers Steve Peters (part of the staff team for Organic Seed Alliance in California) and Dan Brisebois (founding member of the Tourne-Sol Co-operative in Quebec) shared their perspectives on the potential of open-pollinated seeds to outperform hybrids and how to improve the business side of growing seed. BC speakers included Mel Sylvestre from UBC Farm on how to integrate seed into your vegetable production, Rupert Adams on growing seed for medicinal plants, and Vanessa Adams on growing seed and propagating native plants for habitat restoration. Many of the presentations and session notes can be downloaded at: bcseeds.org/gathering

Community Seed Advocates Connect

A true highlight of the Gathering was the number of Seedy Saturday and Seed Library organizers that participated. The “community stream” started on Friday afternoon with a strategy meeting and continued with a full day of programming on Saturday. By the final session on Saturday community organizers wrapped up their time together by identifying 11 action points to increase the collaboration and connection between community initiatives and concrete steps to support more resilient seed systems. You can view the 11 steps at:
bcseeds.org/gathering

What’s Next

The format of the Gathering socials and sessions were designed to generate feedback in the form of individual written portraits, flip charts, and evaluation forms. As we continue to build and shape the BC Seeds program at FarmFolk CityFolk we will be putting all of this information to good use. One thing that came up again and again is the request for more regional Gatherings, training, and networking opportunities. We heard you! Stay tuned for expanded regional training opportunities in 2018.

A big thank you to our co-host KPU, our many sponsors, volunteers, and Gathering Advisory Committee members—without you the event would not have been possible!


KPU Seed Lab

KPU secured funding support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund to establish a Seed Testing Lab and Research Farm at their Richmond campus. The lab is currently under construction and will have equipment such as growth chambers for germination tests, optical seed sorters, seed driers, density sorters, and gravity sorters. The research farm will provide a site where variety trials, new crop development research and production systems research can be carried out. The type of research and services the lab can provide will assist in the development of performance metrics and research-based best management practices for seed production in BC to ensure and enhance the quality and diversity of seeds offered. The lab is expected to be operational by Spring 2018 with the aim to begin conducting analysis on 2018 crops. Growers and retailers can connect with KPU to let them know how they can best be supported. For further information contact Rebecca Harbut: Rebecca.Harbut@kpu.ca


Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food issues for over a decade, from running environmental campaigns to holding the position of BC outpost for the Canada Organic Trade Association. She recently joined the BC Seed Security Program, a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and FarmFolk CityFolk.

All photos: Michael Marrapese

BC Eco-Seed Coop: Seeding the Future

in 2018/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Seeds/Winter 2018

Meagan Curtis

As a physical embodiment of the next generation, seeds compel us to respect the concept of intergenerational justice also known as the seventh-generation principle followed by many First Nations in Canada. To achieve this, agriculture is practiced in a precautionary manner so that harm is prevented to our crops, the seeds they bare, and the soil they grow in whenever possible—especially when evidence regarding the effects of other potential practices is unclear or unavailable. A precautionary approach ensures that future generations are cared for and that intergenerational justice is upheld so that these generations can reach their full potential.

The principle of care and precautionary principle are embodied in the BC Ecological Seed Co-op’s (BCESC) commitment to open pollinated varieties that are ecologically grown, GE-free, and held in the public domain, emphasizing our belief in the democratization of seed (‘open source’ seed). The essentially co-operative nature of the BCESC relates to the principle of care in multiple ways.

At the heart of the co-operative model are values of self-responsibility, democracy, equality, solidarity, openness, and social responsibility. These values contribute to the realization of the principle of care as well as offer an alternative approach to agricultural practices that are premised on the manipulation and exploitation of land and plants.

These values also inform how we envision the natural world and its inherent regenerative capabilities. Rather than modernizing seed with reductionist scientific technologies or practices, the principle of care appears to lead to an approach that is instead both humble and cautious so as not to potentially produce deleterious consequences to seed diversity and health for the next generation. Instead of capitalizing on potential gains through the reduction and commodification of natural diversity, this principle instead positions seed growers as guardians of nature who act with respect for the future while utilizing wisdom from the past.

Photo credit: Michael Marrapese

Although the principle of care may not be commonly applied in many contemporary decision-making processes, it is inherent in the historical art and science of seed saving. The BCESC works with this principle to address a challenge that BC farmers face yearly—the lack of reliable access to good quality seed for the varieties they desire. Most organic farmers in the province still rely on conventionally produced seed for at least part of their operation. BCESC hopes that their collective knowledge and work may give farmers another option and begin to address the deep philosophical questions in agriculture that society faces and that we live out every season on our farms.

For more information about the BC Eco Seed Co-op find them at www.bcecoseedcoop.com.


Meagan Curtis is working on developing farmland in British Columbia and is interested in the gaps between our practices and ethics and the possible ways we may make these gaps narrower. 

All photos: BC Eco-Seed Coop unless otherwise noted

References

www.cela.ca/collections/pollution/precautionary-principle

www.slvrec.com/content/7-cooperative-principles

The BC Seed Trials

in Crop Production/Fall 2016/Seeds
BC Seed Trials Field Day in Chilliwack

Shauna MacKinnon

Scaling Up Ecological Seed Production

British Columbia is home to a vegetable industry worth $2.8 billion annually, but nearly every seed planted to grow those veggies is produced outside of Canada. While local, organic vegetable production is on the upswing, seed production is lagging. That may not appear to be a problem when browsing through a thick seed catalogue, but behind the seeming abundance of seed available there is a narrowing of diversity and neglect of varieties that perform well under organic or non-industrial agricultural practices.

The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security was initiated four years ago with a mission to conserve and advance seed biodiversity, keep seed in the public domain, and promote ecological seed production. In BC, passionate seed growers have long been at work in support of these same ideals, but the lack of commercial-scale seed production still prevented most BC farmers from using BC seed in their market operations. To fill this gap, the Bauta Initiative, carried out by FarmFolk CityFolk in BC, is focusing on increasing the quality, quantity and diversity of ecologically grown BC seed.

Inspecting golden beets at UBC Farm
Inspecting golden beets at UBC Farm Photo: Chris Thoreau

We do not need to look far for inspiration. Just over the border, Washington State has a well-established and very profitable seed production industry. Like the coastal areas of BC, Washington’s cool valleys west of the Cascades are one of the best areas in the world to grow seed for cool weather crops like spinach, beets, and brassicas.

❥ Washington state’s Brassica vegetable seed crops gross from $1,500 to over $6,500 per acre (1)
❥ Washington growers earn over $5 million on beet seed crop alone (2)
❥ The vegetable seed industry is a significant contributor to the diversity and economic viability of Washington state’s agricultural community

Going from a small number of experienced seed growers producing seed for backyard gardeners to seed production for commercial growers is not a simple transition. The BC Seed Trials project is helping to facilitate that transition by harnessing the passion and experience of BC seed growers and rising interest in diversifying local agricultural production to lay the foundation for a BC seed industry.

Beets in bins ready for evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.
Beets in bins ready for evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.

BC Seed Trials

If your goal is to grow seed for the best performing and regionally adapted crops, it is crucial to know which existing varieties perform best under local conditions. The BC Seed Trials project is seeking to do just that by trialing numerous varieties of beets, spinach, and kale on farms throughout BC to better understand which varieties are best suited to BC seed production. The three-year project began in early 2016 through a collaboration between the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and FarmFolk CityFolk.

The project includes variety trials, seed quality tests, and field training aimed at engaging farmers in seed development. The research is participatory, which means BC vegetable farmers will be directly involved in growing and evaluating the crops. Academics and farmers will be working together to help identify varieties that perform best in local conditions and are good candidates for local seed production.

The first year is off to a strong start with 14 farm participants primarily representing growing conditions in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. BC Seed Trials Lead Researcher, Alexander Lyon, along with UBC Farm Seed Hub Coordinator, Mel Sylvestre, are overseeing the organic “mother” site at UBC Farm, where a full set of trial varieties (in triple replicates) will be grown, while Renee Prasad from the University of the Fraser Valley is coordinating growing efforts at Wisbey Farm in Chilliwack, the BC Seed Trials conventional “mother” site.

Mel & Alex evaluating beets at UBC Farm. Credits: Chris Thorea
Mel & Alex evaluating beets at UBC Farm. Credits: Chris Thoreau

The “baby” sites on participating farms are trialing a sub-set of beet, spinach, and kale varieties. Each participating farmer observes and records how well each variety grows (germination, vigour, presence of disease, pest damage) and the quality of the harvestable product (upright stature, uniformity, visual appeal). This information is collected and provided to the BC Seed Trials research team, which will analyze the data to determine the best performers.

At the end of three years, the BC Seed Trials will have helped to determine the best stock varieties for seed production in a number of crops that are well suited to our climate. But perhaps more importantly, a network of BC farmers will be well versed in the trial design and crop evaluation that is crucial for successful seed trials and plant breeding. These farmers will have practiced the first steps of choosing plants with the best genetics for improving varieties and growing superior seed as we work to scale up BC ecological seed production.

Golden beet evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.
Golden beet evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.

BC Eco Seed Co-op

A great complement to the BC Seed Trials in this endeavour is the BC Eco Seed Co-op. The BC Eco Seed Co-op was incorporated in 2014 in an effort to help BC seed growers scale up their seed production while marketing that seed on growers’ behalf.

The co-op allows growers to pool production and marketing resources while providing educational opportunities to growers to help them provide high-quality bulk seed to BC vegetable farmers. The BC Eco Seed Co-op represent a shift away from multiple individual seed companies selling packet seeds to backyard gardeners towards growers collectively growing bulk seed to sell to farmers.

Get Involved

If you are interested in being involved with the BC Seed Trials please get in touch as we will be expanding the number of farmers and regions involved next year. Even if you are not growing a seed trial crop you can still be a part of the research. Many of the BC Seed Trials farmers will be hosting field days this season to bring the experience and observations of the wider farming and chef communities into the research process. Join a field day and be a part of the discussion of what characteristics are most desirable for plant breeding in your area, how to select for these, and the importance of strengthening our local seed system.

Follow the research journey at the BC Seed Trials blog, on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.


The BC Seed Trials project is funded in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. Additional funding is provided by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and Whole Foods Market.

Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food issues for over a decade, from running environmental campaigns to holding the position of BC outpost for the Canada Organic Trade Association. She recently joined the BC Seed Security Program, a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and FarmFolk CityFolk.

Resources:

(1) http://mtvernon.wsu.edu/path_team/EM062E.pdf

(2) http://69.93.14.225/wscpr/LibraryDocs/BeetSeed2010. pdf

Preserving and Restoring First Nations Foods and Medicines

in 2016/Climate Change/Indigenous Food Systems/Seeds/Summer 2016

Nicholas Peterson

I feel a deep connection to the land, a feeling that spans more than just a couple generations, but a feeling of millennia. Having a First Nations heritage from the Nicola Valley it’s impossible not to recognize that I am at the very place where my ancestors gathered, living on the same land they too survived upon, especially as I take my own family to gather foods and medicines. Growing up with a relationship to this place, and an understanding of being stewards of the land, organic farming seemed to be a logical fit, both for raising my family and for my own lifestyle.
 
With my love and knowledge for farming, I can’t help but see the importance of filling knowledge gaps to assure beautiful and productive grasslands for future generations. Observing land disturbance through mining, pipelines, and transportation corridors, I didn’t feel in my heart that best practices for reclamation were being used.
 
Government and industries will continue to impact and disturb natural areas, no doubt about it. This leaves an urgent and constant need for land reclamation to not only help mitigate the negative impacts of such disturbances, but also to restore stable and resilient ecosystems and the beneficial ecosystem services they provide (Dong et al. 2015). After land disturbance, agronomic seeds are typically used in restoration and the disturbed areas become swathes of land that to me are an eye sore on the landscape.
 
 
In order to restore disturbed sites to their natural, pre-disturbed condition, which should be our goal, there is a great need for a more abundant, consistent, and higher quality supply of native seed (Burton et al. 2002). Demand for the use of native plants in restoration is increasing and due to the current and growing need for native seed there is a lack of supply. As well, there is a lack of research on seed storage methods, seed viability, and germination success of native plants. Native species are often expensive and difficult to obtain in large quantities (Burton et al. 2002).
 
Fortunately, there is exciting research happening on native seeds around the world – including our own backyard. Currently, my research is focused on a masters thesis (Use of Native Seed of British Columbia’s Interior Grasslands: Seed Storage & Germination Trials Using Smoke Application on First Nations Traditional Foods and Medicines). I am exploring seed germination with the aim of filling some of the knowledge gaps on breaking seed dormancy in native plants, especially through testing the effects of smoke on seed germination.
 
Fires are and have been a part of the local natural history. Fire has also been used as a land management tool by First Nations to help ensure abundant and healthy food sources(Miller et al. 2010).Many seeds have evolved to inherit specific characteristics that not only allow them to survive fire, but to break dormancy and germinate based on cues caused by wildfires (Landis 2000). Seeds of many species appear to respond positively to the application of smoke (Franzese et al. 2011, Gonzalez et al. 2012, Landis 2000, Read et all. 1999).
 
 
The main objective is to increase the germination success of native species, which in turn will hopefully increase use of native species used in reclamation and restoration projects. Knowing that many projects are proposed years before initial construction, we can collect and stockpile seed from the very natural areas that will be affected by scheduled projects, before they are disturbed. This assures best genetic appropriateness and local plant adaptability to the area when it comes time for rehabilitation.
 
Species selection for the germination trials was difficult. Deciding to use many First Nations foods and medicines, I reflected on childhood gathering and consulted with local First Nations elders and wisdom holders. I asked if there were species of particular importance and ones that they continue to harvest and use today. Grasses are the dominant species in a grassland but because of my interest in cultural importance I knew there had to be an emphasis on the forbs. The forbs are a large and important part of the food and medicine crops harvested by First Nations. Coincidentally, forbs have a considerably larger knowledge gap in seed research with little to nothing found on certain species.  
 
 
Table 1:Species, common name, and life forms of seeds tested for germination response to smoke water. Nomenclature follows E-Flora BC database.
 
Species:
Common Name:
Life form:
Achnatherum hymenoides
Achnatherum occidentale
Achnatherum richardsonii
Allium cernuum
Allium geyeri
Amelanchier alnifolia
Arnica latifolia
Balsamorhiza sagittata
Berberis aquifolium
Calamagrostis rubescens
Calochortus macrocarpus
Claytonia lanceolata
Crataegus douglasii
Erythronium grandiflorum
Festuca campestris
Fritillaria affinis
Fritillaria pudica
Gaillardia aristata
Juniperus scopulorum
Lewisia rediviva
Lomatium macrocarpum
Lomatium nudicaule
Prunus virginiana
Poa secunda
Pseudoroegneria spicata
Rosa woodsii
Sheperdia Canadensis
Indian Ricegrass
Stiff Needlegrass
Spreading Needlegrass
Nodding Onion
Geyer’s Onion
Saskatoon
Mountain Arnica
Arrow Leaved Balsamroot
Oregon Grape
Pinegrass
Mariposa Lily
Western Spring Beauty
Hawthorne
Glacier Lily
Rough Fescue
Chocolate Lily
Yellow Bell
Brown Eyed Susan
Rocky Mountain Juniper
Bitterroot
Large Fruited Desert Parsley
Barestem Desert Parsley
Choke Cherry
Sandberg Bluegrass
Blue Bunch Wheatgrass
Prairie Rose
Soopolallie
Grass
Grass
Grass
Forb
Forb
Shrub
Forb
Forb
Forb
Grass
Forb
Forb
Shrub
Forb
Grass
Forb
Forb
Forb
Shrub
Forb
Forb
Forb
Shrub
Grass
Grass
Shrub
Shrub

I am grateful to Thompson Rivers University for the opportunity to do research and to further my education. I have high hopes of seeing more native seed used in future restoration and reclamation projects. My intention is that this research will further the practical application of these techniques in restoring ecosystems, while encouraging farmers, backyard gardeners, and anyone who manages land to include native plants in their ecosystems.


Nicholas Peterson is a farmer at Nicola Valley Produce (www.growinggarlic.ca) with his wife Vileena and five children, specializing in gourmet garlic cultivars. He is a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band in Merritt, BC, and was elected Councillor in 2013. Nicholas is currently working on his Masters of Environmental Science from Thompson Rivers University, exploring Native Seed Germination for land reclamation and restoration. Nicholas has always had a passion for growing plants and learning more about his natural surroundings. He loves learning and applying the principals taught to him through his First Nations heritage.

Photos: All photos by Nicholas Peterson

Reference Cited:

Burton, Philip j.; Burton, C.M. (2002) Promoting genetic diversity in the production of large quantities of native.Ecological restauration,20, 117–123.

Dong, X., Dai, G., Ulgiati, S., Na, R., Zhang, X., Kang, M. & Wang, X. (2015) On the Relationship between Economic Development, Environmental Integrity and Well-Being: The Point of View of Herdsmen in Northern China Grassland.Plos One,10, e0134786.

Franzese, J. & Ghermandi, L. (2011) Seed longevity and fire: Germination responses of an exotic perennial herb in NW Patagonian grasslands (Argentina).Plant Biology,13, 865–871.

Gonzalez, S.L. & Ghermandi, L. (2012) Fire cue effects on seed germination of six species of northwestern Patagonian grasslands.Natural Hazards and Earth System Science,12, 2753–2758.

Landis, T.D. (2000) Where there’s smoke…there’s germination?Native Plants Journal,1, 25–29. Miller, A.M., Davidson-Hunt, I.J. & Peters, P. (2010) Talking about fire: Pikangikum First Nation elders guiding fire management.Canadian Journal of Forest Research,40, 2290–2301.

Read, T.R. & Bellairs, S.M. (1999) Smoke affects the germination of native grasses of New South Wales.Australian Journal of Botany,47, 563–576.

Edamame: Just Add Salt

in Crop Production/Grow Organic/Winter 2016
Edamame Tohya

Sue Takarangi

North Americans are a recent converts to edamame, while our Chinese and Japanese neighbours across the Pacific have enjoyed this nutrient rich food for centuries. Edamame means “beans on a branch,” and unlike other soybeans they were adapted to be harvested when the seeds are green and plump – perfect for enjoying freshly steamed and sprinkled with salt.

This year, West Coast Seeds experimented with growing several varieties of non-GMO edamame varieties from Japan. They were direct seeded in late May at our location in Delta. The only attention the plants received was a watering once a week during our heat wave. In late August after walking past the plants many times, we finally parted the leaves and were surprised to find cascades of beans hanging from the branches.

The edamame are harvested by cutting the stalks of the plant, and they can be sold at market by the branch, much like those impressive stalks of Brussels sprouts. This makes harvesting a breeze and also ensures a fresh product for the customer.

Edamame is riding a wave of popularity in North America, driven by the popularity of sushi and a growing focus on health. Start a conversation at your Farmers Market with a table piled high with edamame stalks. After all, the frozen offerings found in grocery stores are no match for the sweet, buttery texture and flavour of the fresh beans.


Sue Takarangi is a customer service representative with West Coast Seeds. She has 15 years experience with organic growing.

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