big Pink Beauties remain mild and sweet

Last Saturday we hosted the first farm/garden tour for members of the new Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op – lots of gardening info shared and progress compared, followed by a totally delicious potluck lunch featuring plants from each of our gardens — fresh turnips, kale, and lettuces, last year’s dried tomatoes and peppers, plus rhubarb pie. We also taste-tested the radish varieties and some of the lettuces from our current trials. Among six radishes the winner by a slim margin was Pink Beauty. The lettuces were even harder to judge, being almost equally delicious, but Mayan Jaguar (bred by Wild Garden Seeds) and Marvel of Four Seasons (from seed selected and grown by Julianne Ash of Anacortes, Washington) edged out the others. The variety trials continue, as we wait to see who holds their flavor and refrains from bolting as the weather warms.

The seed growers co-op enters its first season with lots of yummy locally adapted vegetable crops planted in 18 different locations. Growers range from veteran seed-saving market gardeners to beginning seed-savers with backyard plots. There are even a few politically motivated gardening newbies. Yes – rescuing the genetic heritage of our food sources from the jaws of Monsanto, one heirloom variety at a time, and just in time. The geographical hub of this activity is Laytonville – ideally situated for seed-saving with widely scattered gardens tucked in the folds of forested hills. There are also participating growers in Willits, Redwood Valley, Ukiah, Hopland, and on the coast.

Fifty summer vegetable varieties are being grown for seed by co-op gardeners. Among them are two notable pole beans that have both been saved in Mendocino County for many years: Rattlesnake, in Laytonville, and what we can call Cow Mountain after its Ukiah location on land once tended by renowned plant lover Carl Purdy (the Cow Mountain beans are being grown after ten years in a jar on the property – here’s hoping they do well). Two other already locally adapted varieties grown for the co-op this year are Crane (aka Eel River) melon and Shintokiwa cucumber. There are ten great squash varieties and a dozen tomatoes, including Malachite, San Marzano, and Japanese Black Trifele – and it’s shaping up to be a bountiful tomato year here like we haven’t had for the last two. Our hopes are up for tomatoes in July.

The co-op’s aim for this year is first to produce seed for member growers, with additional seed shared within our region via seed swaps and the newly forming Lake-Mendocino Seed Bank – and hopefully enough to offer the most successful varieties through Laughing Frog Farm seeds. You can participate – July is the time to plant fall crops. Email me with questions. And if you missed the info that jump-started this project, here’s a link to Why Save Seed.