Cell Fusion Hybrid Seed is Creepy

Cell fusion CMS is truly anti-evolutionary and is contributing dramatically to the the loss of agricultural biodiversity in the seed industry, as the genes cannot be recovered from cell fusion CMS hybrids.

Recently I have been asked by several farmers and seed savers to write up a little something about a technology few people know about that is becoming more and more prevalent in our food system. When I bring it up in passing everyone seems to want to know more and their first question is often, “Why have I never heard of this?”  After discussing it with many other organic farmers a question I always get is, “Is that illegal for organic farming?” I answer by saying “No, not yet at least.” And then predictably they say, “Well, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

This technology has been called “cell fusion CMS” and it is used to create male-sterile breeding lines, which are then used to create many common F1 hybrid seed varieties. These hybrid varieties are found in many seed catalogs and including many hybrid cabbage, broccoli and interestingly Belgian endive among other crops.  The technology has been around for the last few decades and is sometimes called hybrid seed from protoplast fusion cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS). I  have nicknamed it “transgeneric cybrid seed.”  It is a kind of a biotech revision of a naturally occurring breeding technique that now straddles the border of genetic engineering. I said revision because some cytoplasmic male sterility can occur naturally – but cell fusion CMS does not occur naturally.

Chicory Flower

In organic agriculture, GMOs are of course expressly forbidden. I was confused whether this cell fusion CMS technology was GMO or not so I looked up the definition in the IFOAM Standards. IFOAM is the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and they say:

“Genetic engineering is a set of techniques from molecular biology (such as recombinant DNA) by which the genetic material of plants, animals, microorganisms, cells and other biological units are altered in ways or with results that could not be obtained by methods of natural mating and reproduction or natural recombination. Techniques of genetic engineering include, but are not limited to: recombinant DNA, cell fusion, micro and macro injection, encapsulation.”

So by international organic certification standards cell fusion is considered GM, but not necessarily in the United States or in many other countries that disregard the IFOAM standards.  Maybe we all should just start calling it a GMO and have some actual parity in organic standards.  I will now try and explain how it works with as little jargon as possible.

 Let’s create a cytoplasmic hybrid cell… aka a cybrid

My favorite example is based on the the 1996 patent for making chicory hybrids with sunflower mytochondria. Many of the new hybrid Belgian endive (aka witloof chicory) varieties are the result of this type of technique. A cell of a Belgian endive (Cichorium intybus) and a cell of a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) are taken and the cell walls are dissolved away with an enzyme. The chicory cell has its cytoplasm including its mitochondria irradiated and destroyed and the sunflower cell has its nucleus irradiated away. These two broken cells are then fused together into a single cell with electric shock stimulus or a special chemical. What is left is a new plant cell that is transgeneric if not transgenic. The cell is then grown in the laboratory into a plant and is then crossed to another plant to make it more likely to survive outdoors. The chicory nucleus and sunflower mitochondria don’t quite like to be in one cell and create a plant that does not produce pollen and can be used to make hybrid seed. This is evolutionarily dubious and in the wild this situation would be evolutionary suicide.

Without this type of male sterility these seed companies would need to use hand pollination or spray pollen-killing chemicals (male gametocides) or find naturally occurring male sterility or self incompatibility. Many companies prefer cell fusion CMS for various reasons. However, it is probably impossible for a sunflower to cross with a chicory naturally and who knows what the risks of swapping cytoplasm pose to our health, the environment or to the foundation of our food system. The thing that bothers me most about this technology is not whether it is pseudo or actual GMO, but that it further concentrates control over our seed supply in the hands of a few companies whose goal is not to feed us, but to profit off of us.

And yes, seed of varieties produced using this technology are currently allowed on organic farms in the United States and in Europe. Why? Because if we want to eat organic broccoli it must be allowed. (Hear my sarcastic tone?) Honestly, there probably is not enough non-cybrid seed available to sow because most of the big broccoli breeding companies are producing exclusively cell fusion CMS hybrids.

In 2009 there was a meeting organized by The European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB) and they discussed what some people call cybrid seed. They produced a very interesting document that I have linked to below for further reading. It is some of the most thought provoking and well considered writing I have read in a long time. It shows that the Europeans have put much more thought into this than us Americans.

Some conclusions they reached were:

  • The scientific definition of GMO in Europe and the United States is different than the political definition, meaning Cell Fusion is scientifically a GMO, but is not regulated as a GMO.
  • Lack of labeling of cell fusion CMS hybrids makes it nearly impossible to know which varieties are cell fusion CMS hybrids and which ones are not.
  • Certified organic seed is generally acknowledged to be cell fusion CMS free, but it is not required to be so and may become predominantly cell fusion CMS in the future if nothing is done to prevent this.
  • Cell fusion CMS is truly anti-evolutionary and is contributing dramatically to the the loss of agricultural biodiversity in the seed industry, as the genes cannot be recovered from cell fusion CMS hybrids. To quote plant breeder Jan Velema:

    “Breeding should contribute to a durable and sustainable use of cultivated plants instead of exhausting diversity without leaving anything for our future.”

What Do We Do About It?

If it was up to me no cell fusion CMS seed would be allowed in organic agriculture. However, the more realistic compromise proposal that pops in my head would be to require that only open-pollinated and naturally produced hybrid seed can be certified organic. It is as simple as that. We wouldn’t need to change anything else at least in the short term.

Currently organic farmers can use non-organic seed if an organic substitute is not available. So the big farms that “need” to plant their transgeneric cybrids could continue to do so. Cell fusion CMS hybrid seed should be phased outover time as enough organic seed becomes available. Ideally, organic farms should be strictly sowing organic seed but that is not currently possible, due to current seed supply.  Maybe someday.

If cell fusion is truly classified as a GMO then there will be some interesting fallout. What if the Safe Seed Pledge included cell fusion CMS as well as GMOs? If the Safe Seed Pledge is supposed to guarantee to people that seed companies are not selling GMO’s then should those seed companies continue to sell cell fusion CMS hybrids? Unfortunately if this were to happen immediately then more than half of safe seed pledge signers would probably not be truthful, because so many seed companies are reselling these suspect seeds.

As an organic farmer, I currently buy exclusively open pollinated, non-hybrid seed to avoid cell fusion CMS and I have to be very careful where I get that seed from. If a farmer like me wanted to avoid cell fusion CMS they should be able to buy certified organic seed and be confident that it is not cell fusion CMS. I buy certified Organic food because I can be sure it is not GMO. Seed should be no different.

To quote ECO-PB:
“Protoplast fusion is a breeding technique under the (EC and IFOAM) definition of genetic engineering. Therefore it must not be used in organic plant breeding and seed originated from it should not be allowed in organic farming.”

Bringing Biodiversity Back

2013 Rye Ramble (reprinted from the Adaptive Seeds printed catalog.)

—-

Bringing Biodiversity Back for Real, Explained…

We don’t simply write long variety descriptions because it is interesting and we don’t choose rare varieties because they are simply novel.

I feel that seeds, with the biodiversity and cultural knowledge they embody, are a doorway into the mystical realms of our reality. That sounds a little funny and I am not trying to lose you into a woo-woo made-up universe here. I am just trying to explain some reasons for why we do what we do. And predictably every year we discover more reasons for doing this seedy thing.

Frosty Fennel SeedWe write long descriptions and choose rare varieties for the sake of conservation, food security, the joy of the experience, and the encouragement from others to continue the hard work; these are all good reasons. But these reasons are like the layers of a leek stem. Every reason we give is a layer of the leek and we keep getting closer and closer to the core. One day we will get to the apical meristem and continue to peel and there will be an empty space where there was a growth point, mysteriously keeping its secrets from us. And yes, this is yet another reason we give ourselves to continue this journey, because we won’t know every reason.

So why do we write these long descriptions when other seed companies write one sentence and sometimes even get the color wrong? What it comes down to for me is that cultural knowledge about seed varieties has eroded even faster than the seed varieties themselves.

An agro-ecosystem, like any ecosystem, can lose genetic diversity. (You probably already know this next part and it’s probably why you came to our seed catalog.) Over the past few centuries the industrialization of agriculture has contributed to the near total loss of all agricultural biodiversity. You might say it is an exaggeration to say near total, but according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, we have lost 75% since 1900 and continue to lose 2% every year. When considering losses before 1900, and that most of these estimates include the varieties kept in gene banks that are considered “saved from extinction,” then you must estimate that nearly all agricultural biodiversity has been lost.

There is a big difference between biologically lost and culturally lost. If you think about how few varieties are still being grown by farmers and gardeners that are saved year to year to further adapt them to local conditions, then one might say nearly all diversity has gone culturally extinct, too.

Of course there are different levels of genetic erosion. The loss of genes within a variety is less obvious than the loss of varieties altogether, but it is also important to work to preserve diversity on this level. Then there is the extinction of species or the loss of entire plant types.

Open Oak Party Mix CornWhen thinking of all of the layers to this leek stem, it is easy to see why most people would rather contribute money to a conservation organization than do the real work of preserving and increasing the biodiversity that does exist. But when it comes to preserving this type of agricultural diversity, the real work is not nearly as difficult as preventing the clear-cutting of rainforests:The real work can be as easy as saving seed and breeding new varieties of vegetables in your garden.

Here at Adaptive Seeds, we are engaged in that real work of trying to bring biodiversity back to growing food. Many seed companies have taken up this charge lately and we may have come to a turning point. However, the conversation about seed diversity has been profoundly shallow. How do we bring biodiversity back for real and not just for show? Focusing on heirloom tomatoes and squash is nice but the myriad of other crops and different kinds of heritage beyond heirloom is where the real magic is.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself when I want to dig deeper:

- How many species of food crops are in my life and what is the real quality of the crops I eat and grow?

- Should seed be relegated to gene banks and history books or be associated with antique collectors, and why does the term “heirloom” bother my sensibilities?

- How do I want to evolve culturally with my seeds as they adapt biologically to the environment we share?

It is now obvious that the missing diversity of our food system effects us profoundly. The current industrial food system works in opposition to our ability to adapt to the changing environment and the loss of biodiversity in this situation could have devastating consequences for us humans in the short term. In the face of an uncertain future, we will need the resources at hand, and the knowledge of what to do with these resources, to make the best choices for our communities.

This is where the cultural aspect comes in. I see our catalog not only as a resource for biodiversity but also as a resource of some of the cultural knowledge we still retain. I see both parts as essential, each tragically flawed without the other. Additionally, when a seed is grown it is new and excited for the possibilities ahead. This gives us countless, priceless opportunities as “evolutionaries.” It can lead to many more paths up the mountain, many more options than we currently have –a diversity.

This is where we need your help. The more diversity grown in our communities and the more experiences we have with that diversity the better. We will have a more profound relationship with nature and we will exist within nature instead of trying to be separate from it. We will also open up the possibilities for a future based on a foundation of biological and cultural inheritance. That is a future I want to be a part of and I hope you do too.

Andrew Still  -  January 2013 – Adaptive Seeds Catalog

Willamette Winter Gardening Chart

I know it is mid winter and winter gardens get planted in August at the latest, but we have been looking at an acre of winter vegetables and have been inspired to complete a long needed update of this document. It is version 4.0 and full of new info and opinions. Let us know what you think and we will update it like open source software, slowly but surely.

Big Willamette Winter Garden Chart 4.pdf

Seed Swaps for Everyone – “How To”

The world could always use more seed swaps and here are a few tips for organizing your own Seed Swap. (Thanks to Kim in central Virginia for the e-mail prompting this blog post.)

The folks at Seedy Sunday Brighton have a whole page devoted to hosting a seed swap. Food not Lawns also has a bit about organizing one.

The first thing is to get some friends involved, because it can be a lot of work (organizing, set up, clean up, promotion, etc.). If you don’t know anyone that will help you, post some fliers at garden stores or your local natural foods store, or maybe even the community garden bulletin board if your community is lucky enough to have one.

We have seen a few ways seed swaps can be organized. You have to decide which is best for your group.

Seedy Sunday Brighton has a central table, and when people come in, they give their seeds to the table, then volunteers organize them for redistribution. This way seems overly centralized and impersonal to me, but it works for them, and it may be necessary to do it this way at an event that draws upwards of 1,000 people. They also charge a small entrance fee to cover their expenses and require either a straight across swap of seed for seed or 50 pence for a seed pack, partly because “people don’t value that which is free.” At every other seed swap I have been to, everything is free.

A second way is to set up tables and have people stand near their stuff, so they can explain it to others that might have questions. This is what we do at the smaller fall seed swap.

A third way, which is also good, is to set up tables and have designated areas for different types of plants: flowers, herbs, tomatoes, etc. this is what we do at our large spring seed swap.

Most seed swaps descend into a sort of chaos even with the rough framework, so you could just have some tables and have people toss their seeds wherever they land. Then it’s a real treasure hunt!

Some other tips:

* If the group is 30 people or less, it is nice to stand in a circle and have people introduce themselves and what they’ve brought. This gives the swap more of a community vibe.

* If you know any seed geeks or old gardener types, be sure and personally invite them to help ensure there are some good seeds there.

* In your promotional materials, remind people to bring envelopes, tea packets, or paper to make origami cups. As an organizer, be sure to bring plenty for those that have forgotten.

* It is also good to bring pens and tape them to a string attached to the table, so people can label as they pack up their seeds.

* Remind people at the event to clearly label everything they’ve brought to the best of their ability.

* Ask that people deflate and then close the bags/packets when they are done with them. Ask a few volunteers to go around closing bags that were left open.

* Some seed swaps have a rule that people only take 1/2 or less of the seed from each bag/package. I prefer to remind people to only take that which they are sure to plant or sure to share with others.

* On your fliers, make sure to note that people are welcome to come empty-handed, or may bring potted plants and root divisions, or anything they have a surplus of, whether it be dried herbs and tinctures, jams, winter squash, honey, home brew, etc.

* A bouquet of flowers really makes it feel nice.

* If your group is passionate about seed saving, consider inviting people to form a Seed Sovereignty Network, also known as a Seed Circle, where people can coordinate future seed grow-outs: someone grows Red Russian kale, someone grows rutabaga (hopefully these two aren’t neighbors, as they will cross-pollinate), someone grows beets, someone grows chard, etc. This is especially good if the people are city folk and don’t have space for lots of large seed grow-outs, but maybe can do one or two species that require large populations.

* Print up a few dozen copies of our seed saving zine (pdf 3.5mb). This file is ready to be printed with two-sided printing (duplex), so if you do not have two-sided printing ability you can print one page at a time and flip them over and back in the printer for the back side of the page. Offer them for free or for sale by donation (donations for you, not us). It usually costs us about $1.50 per copy to print them, and we ask sliding scale of $2 – $5 to help cover our gas costs and whatnot (we live about an $8 drive from town).

* Bring a broom and dustpan to sweep up the potpourri of seeds that get spilled. Then ceremoniously sprinkle them in unplanted garden beds around the swap.

* If you have lots of seed, or older seed of questionable germination, consider having a seed ball making playshop for kids and adults. (Just google seed balls for loads of how-to’s).

If this is your community’s first seed swap, don’t be surprised if people only bring leftover commercial seed packets. As people get more excited about and familiar with seeds and seed saving, the commercial seed packs all but disappear.

That’s it for the moment. If anyone has any other tips to add, please do!

Seed Saving Zine – 4th Edition

Here is the 4th edition of our Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide.

“A Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship & Seed Sovereignty”


Seed Saving Zine 4 hand out (3.8 MB PDF) This handout formatted version is your best choice for printing and reading if you do not have one of those fancy zine staplers.

Seed Saving Zine 4 duplex (3.5 MB PDF) This zine formatted version is for printing in a duplex printer and folding into a Zine. That is why the pages seem to be in a weird order. If your printer does not have duplex ability you can print it one page at a time, flipping each page over to print the back side.

Seed Saving Guide 4th edition

 

Enjoy your seed saving adventures

Southern Willamette Valley Seeding Calendar

christosneon
A Southern Willamette Valley Seeding Calendar

Including season-extension using propagation greenhouses or hotframes

v. 2.12 February 8, 2008

  • January seeding in the greenhouse is for the pros, with two possible exceptions: Alliums and salad greens. Asian greens, mustards, arugula, bok choi, especially, are strong germinators in cool soils, with no supplemental heat required. Plant out by early March, harvest by early April. The fast, early crop. Wherever possible, use freshly-saved seed – freshness lends significant impetus to seedling vigor at this time of year.
  • February is the month in which inexperienced gardeners tend to sow too early. You will lose little and gain greatly by waiting. However, with appropriate resources, commitment and incentive, February is the month advanced gardeners get serious about season-extension in the greenhouse.
  • For direct seeding without the assistance of a propagation greenhouse, the spring seeding schedule takes the following course: there is pea and fava bean planting time in the weeks around Valentine’s Day. Then it’s time to direct-seed cool-weather spring greens. Then corn, then squash, then beans. The pea/fava planting time still has hard freezes and is mostly cold weather, but with occasional cool periods. Peas and favas can grow when the temperature is not much above freezing. The cool-weather greens can tolerate freezes, grow well in cool weather, and have photo-period requirements that fit this schedule. The early corn-planting time can still have occasional light freezes – but the weather then is still considerably warmer than earlier in the season. Corn needs warmer weather to make good growth than peas or favas do, so there is little point trying to get it in earlier than this. Squash and beans are normally killed by frost, and thus are put in after most danger of frost is past. Timings suggested in the seeding calendar below, include the earlier sowing times for transplants afforded by ‘indoor’ propagation aids, such as greenhouses or, for home gardeners, hotframes or basements with supplemental light and heat.
  • Feel free to copy, re-purpose and circulate. This calendar was assembled by gardeners and farmers with the School Garden Project of Lane County and Food For Lane County. Bookmark to check back for continuing updates.
  • Feedback, additions and corrections are encouraged. Please forward them to Nick Routledge.

 Southern Willamette Spring Seeding Calendar 2008 (pdf)

seedcalender2008

All about Russian & Siberian Kale

Originally arranged 8/06 by Andrew Still and updated 7/07 with small update 8/14.

Introduction

Brassica napus

It is hard to convince everybody of this fact, but kale is the swellest of vegetables and Brassica napus is the best of the best. The Russo-Siberian Kales mostly have come out of Northern Europe and Northern Asia, though in the past century they have been shuffled back and forth across the globe like many of our cultivated plant species. Red Russian and Siberian are the two most well known varieties in the United States, however many others have been developed from these lines.

These kales are typically more tender and have a milder flavor than the European “oleracea” kales and are therefore the young leaves are better for salad use. They are always superb as a cooked vegetable when the leaves have grown to full size. Most Varieties are great for used for their springtime sprouts (similar to broccoli raab), although some varieties are specially bred for that use.

Napus kales are super hardy winter survivalists. They are hardy to at least 10°F once established and some sources claim them to be hardy to -10°F and maybe -20°F. Survival at these extra low temperatures may require a good mulch and/or snow cover. There are many factors known and unknown that can effect winter hardiness and there can be no real guarantee for how cold a crop can go. Wind can be an important factor in killing plants and a pattern of freeze thaw freeze thaw can also be detrimental. They Perform best in cool weather but many varieties of napus kales tolerate hot weather. It is widely known that the flavor of Russo-Siberian kale sweetens dramatically after first frost. It can be grown anywhere in the US and even in Alaska.

Being variable in its forms, Brassica napus is divided into three groups or subspecies. The Rutabaga (Swedes in England) is ssp. napobrassica or rapifera and are grown for grown for their swollen stems/roots that resemble turnips (B. rapa). Russo-Siberian Kales and Hanover Salad are ssp. pabularis or pabularia and are grown for their leaves that may resemble those of the European kales (B. oleracea). Winter rape and canola, colza in India, are grown for their edible leaves, livestock forage, or for the oil rich seed. All have large, flat leaves 12-20 in (30.5-50.8 cm) long and 8-15 in (20.3-38.1 cm) wide, stand 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) when mature, have yellow, cross-shaped flowers with four petals and the small seed develops in sickle shaped pods.

Presently, the species Brassica napus is thought to have originated from a chance hybridization between Brassica rapa and Brassica oleracea. This cross probably happened in European gardens during the Middle Ages. The rutabaga, kale and rape may have all originated from separate chance hybridization between the diverse forms of B. napa and B. oleracea. For example, napus kale could have been derived from B. oleracea ssp. acephala (kale/collard) crossing with the B. napa ssp. chinensis (Asian mustard). The rutabaga could have been derived from B. oleracea ssp. acephala (kale/collard) crossing with the B. napa ssp. rapifera (turnip).
The red Russian type of kales may have a different story. Tim Peters of Peters Seed and Research did an experiment to retrace the evolution of B. napus. He first crossed a Chinese cabbage (B. rapa) with a European kale (B. oleracea). He did these crosses with a bud pollination technique, which he says “lets the two species have more time to get to know each other”. After the first cross the result was a beautiful Siberian kale  (B. napus). then he crossed in black mustard (B. nigra). This resulted in the red Russian type (B. napus?) with its distinct color and leaf shapes. So some of the B. napus species are two way mix-ups and some are three way mix-ups. How wonderful! This throws a wrench of doubt into the machine of the probable genealogy of plants, such are the ways of science.


Classification Information for Brassica napus ssp. pabularia

Kingdom
Plantae (Plants)
Subkingdom Tracheobionta (Vascular plants)
Superdivision
Spermatophyta (Seed plants)
Division
Magnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
Class
Magnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
Subclass
Dilleniidae
Order
Capparales
Family
Brassicaceae (mustard family)
Genus
Brassica (mustard genus)
Species
Brassica napus (rape species)
Variety/Subspecies
pabularia (Siberian kales)

Botanical Epithets: nap = turnip; apus = stalk-less; pabularia = of fodder


Cultural Information

Seed Sowing and Transplanting:
Spring - Sow indoors in march then transplant when the soil can be worked.
Summer - June through august 15 th . Just after the 4 th of July is a good time.
Fall / Winter – six weeks before the first frost so that the plants can become established before winter. Plants are surprisingly hardy when small but may not feed you until spring.
Direct Sowing – Anytime after danger of hard frost has passed once the soil can be worked and once the soil has warmed up a bit, or at least six weeks before the first frost.

Placement:
As a fall/winter planting it may follow in the same bed after green beans, peas, potatoes or some other planting that has occupied the ground through summer.   Kale is a biennial and it’s seed stalks can reach 6 feet and may flop over. This is a long time to occupy an area and it may shade nearby plants. Plan accordingly.

Seed Weight:
- 215 seeds/gm or 6,000 seeds/ounce. (Wild Garden)
- 300 seeds/gm or 8,400 seeds/ounce. (Territorial)
- 355 seeds/gm or 10,000 seeds/ounce. (Jevons)

Germination Temperature:
Optimal 55-75°F

Days to emergence:
3-8 Days Minimum or 5-15 Days maximum

Legal germination standard:
75% minimum

Soil and Fertility:
All kales are fairly heavy feeders, however they tolerate low fertility better than other brassicas (like cabbage and cauliflower). If under fertilized kale plants will grow smaller and slower but still retain good overall plant health. Be thoughtful with the fertility issue. Pests such as aphids can zero in on kale when stressed. Too much fertility can cause problems too. Most sources suggest to amend well with a rich compost or composted manure or use 1/4-1/2 cup of a balanced fertilizer per plant. As with other Brassicas, early varieties may require more soil nutrients than the later maturing varieties. They will Tolerate a pH range of 4.2 to 8.3, but prefers somewhere closer to 7 pH. The application of agricultural lime is advised if the soil is naturally acidic, as it tends to be in the pacific northwest. The plants prefers sandy/light, loamy/medium or clay/heavy soils. They Prefer well-drained soil, but they will grow in heavy soil.

Seeding Depth:
1/4-1/2″

Spacing:
Biointensive – 15 in. equidistant, 84 plants/100 sq. ft. in raised beds.
Traditional – sow 1-2 in apart in rows 24 in apart. thin to 16-24 in. Thin at 3rd true leaf and use thinnings in salad, leaving the strongest plants.

Water Requirements:
Moderate. Do not over-water to an extreme sogginess and do not let the plants wilt heavily due to lack of water. While growing best in moist soil, some varieties are more tolerant of temporarily water-logging and/or drought.

Light Requirements:
Full Sun/Partial Shade (light woodland), Full Sun is optimal.

Temperature Requirements:
Cold temperatures below (-4°C) may either kill or injure seedlings. However, temperatures of -2°C has no affect when the plants are more than one month old (Plants for a Future).

Other Techniques:
A mulch applied in cold weather will help plants live through very cold temperatures and will help plants stay vigorous to promote good growth in the early spring.

Harvest:
Pick when leaves are large enough for raw salad use or pick when outer leaves are 6-14 inches long for cooking greens.   Avoid picking the smallest inner leaves to not damage the growth end. Pick early in the day and cool quickly by dunking in cold water. Store as close to 100% humidity and 32°F as possible. Usually at least a 17 week harvest period, weather dependent.

Yield:
Biointensive – 114#/100 sq. ft., 0.9-1.8#/plant
Average US -16#/100 sq. ft. (Jevons)


Pests and Diseases

All Kales are less susceptible to insect and disease damage than their cousin brassicas (like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) and napus kales are no exception. Here are a number of problems that might arise or not arise at all.

Insect Pests:

Aphids – May infest plants rapidly when vigor is low, as in the early spring. Common when plants are young and when flowering and seed formation has begun. Avoid by transplanting plants that have not been stunted and growing healthy plants in fertile soil. Most infested plants will pull through when vigorous growth begins. Avoid by planting out later in the season when aphid populations are at their low. Control with Insecticidal soap, hot pepper wax, a hard spray of water. Balance formative forces with horsetail tea (Storl). Encourage predatory insects with insectary crops.

Fungus Gnats – mainly a problem in greenhouses. Can slowly kill young seedlings or set them back in growth drastically. The larva eat organic matter in the soil and love brassica seedling roots.

‘Cabbage White’ Larva/root maggots/loppers/cabbage worm – exclude pests with row cover/fleece such as reemay or agribond. Use summer insect barrier netting or mosquito netting if temperatures are too hot for row covers.

Flea Beetles – exclude pests with row cover/fleece such as reemay or agribond (this is not always effective). Use summer insect barrier netting or mosquito netting if temperatures are too hot for row covers. Predatory nematodes may be an effective deterrent, but must be applied every year. Avoid growing during time of peak beetle population.

Symphylans – Tiny white centipedes that can do lots of damage to roots. They tend to avoid healthy plants, but not always.

Disease:

Club Root – An infection that causes white club-like swollen roots. This hinders the plants ability to take up water and nutrients, generally stunting growth. In severely infected plants, it will cause severe wilting even when soil is moist and eventually will kill the plant. Some varieties are more resistant than others. Napus is not as affected as other brassica species. This disease is virulent once established and extremely difficult to eradicate.

Damping Off – Young plants fall over and begin to wilt. The stem looking pinched and rotten at the soil surface. It is mainly a problem with young transplants in flats, especially in greenhouses, and is avoided with good air circulation and dry soil surface on cool evenings.


Saving Seed

Pollination:
All B. napus (including rutabagas, napus kale, and rapeseed) are inbreeding, although they do a lot of cross pollination between plants. Unlike B. oleracea it is possible to self a single plant without much inbreeding depression and B. napus does not have a self- incompatibility mechanism. The flowers are perfect and are primarily crossed by insects. Due to this, any varieties of B. napus should be isolated by one mile or through other methods such as caging or time isolation. The plants may flower for 2-3 months and this make time isolation difficult. B. napus can be crossed with other brassica species however this must be done with hand bud pollination before the flowers have opened. Natural crosses between species are very rare and although they do happen, they are often not noticed or are discarded before they are fully seen.

Seed Production:
First grow the plants as normal for food production and harvest as much as desired as long as the growth tips are not damaged. Because they are biennials (flowering usually starts in April for overwintered plants) they must be overwintered or dug and stored in a cooler or root cellar in extreme climates. This is usually done in sand or sawdust filled crates at 32-40 F and 90-95% humidity. Plants can be overwintered outside in almost any climate if a heavy mulch is applied. Digging and replanting the plants is always useful if you want to inspect the root system of each plant for selection purposes. Only save seed from top quality plants and a culling percentage of over 50% is common and beneficial.  It is wise to grow at least 10-50 plants to check for off types and to preserve the genetic diversity of the population.

The seed stalks are 3 feet tall or more and provide excellent forage for bees and beneficial insects. Harvest the seed pods after they have turned tan and dry.  Cutting down the entire plant and letting it dry further for a day or two can be done when a large percentage of the seed pods are ripe. Thresh the pods by dancing or jumping on the plants placed on a tarp. Remove the bulk of the shattered plants and then winnow. Winnowing can be done in a breeze or with a fan in order to blow away the chafe and leave behind the seeds. Continue to dry the seeds out of direct sunlight on a flat well ventilated pan, tarp or surface. When dry store safe from insects and rodents in a dry cool location or in an airtight container if the seed is very dry.

Seed Viability:
5 years maybe more if stored under normal ideal conditions. 10 years or more if dried properly and frozen.

Seed Yield:
- 3.8 lb/100 sq. ft. Max yield (Jevons)
- I heard Frank Morton say that predicting the seed yield of a brassica crop can be a “crap shoot”.
Other Information

Culinary Uses:
The Leaf is eaten in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter (for best flavor). They may be eaten raw, in salad, steamed, boiled, soup, saute, stir fried or roasted. The young flower shoots (napini/raab) are eaten in spring and are very sweet, can be cooked like and have the texture of broccoli or asparagus. They may be eaten raw, in salad, steamed, boiled, soup, saute, stir fried or roasted. Oil made from the seeds can be used as a cooking oil or salad oil. Be warned that The oil contained in the seed of some varieties of this species can be rich in erucic acid which is toxic. Although, modern cultivars have been selected which are almost free of erucic acid. The seed can be used to start sprouts to be used the same as alfalfa sprouts. The seed can also be used as a mustard flavoring.

Medicinal Uses:
The root is emollient and diuretic. The juice of the roots is used in the treatment of chronic coughs and bronchial catarrh. The seed, powdered, with salt is said to be a folk remedy for cancer. Rape oil is used in massage and oil baths, it is believed to strengthen the skin and keep it cool and healthy. With camphor it is applied as a remedy for rheumatism and stiff joints. (Plants for a Future)

Other Uses:
The seed contains up to 45% edible semi-drying oil. This oil can be used as a luminant, lubricant, in soap making, fuel for diesel engines etc. (Plants for a Future)

Naturalized Range and Habitat:
Wild populations of Brassica napus are found throughout Europe and the Mediterranean (including Britain), India, most states in the US and probably many other countries. Its preferred habitat can be the banks of streams, ditches and arable fields. (USDA)

Nutrition Facts:
This is probably the nutrition information for B. oleracea kale, though it may be very similar.
128 calories/lb.,14.1 grams of protein/lb.,  601 mg calcium/lb., Very high amounts of vitamins and minerals. (Jevons)

Leaf Kales Varieties

Some of the seed sources below are outdated and should be used for historical reference.


Bear Necessities
– A collection of different skeletal leaf kales. Derived from Russian and Siberian kales (B. napus) crossed with mizuna (B. rapa). A great cold tolerant salad mix item that is mild and very sweet. The leaf shapes are completely unique with a range of leaf colors. Origin: Bred by Tim Peters, Peters Seed & Research, Riddle, Oregon.
- Source: 2006 PSR; 2015 Adaptive Seeds.

Blue Siberian – Siberian type with waxy smooth leaves.
- Source: 1998 Se2 (not available commercially since 1998)

Budget Cuts – Heavily dissected finely cut leaves are very bright and shiny green. Similar to Bear Necessities. One of the best baby leaf Kales to come out of the PSR breeding program. Result of crosses between B. napus and B. rapa, made to create a more hardy salad green. Origin: Bred by Tim Peters, Peters Seed & Research, Riddle, Oregon.
- Source: 2006 PSR

Dwarf Siberian (German Sprouts) – 60-70 days. Broad thick plume-like blue gray green leaves with slightly frilled edges. Hardy and very productive. Not as curly as scotch kales. The Plants grow 12-16″ tall and 24-36″ wide.
- Source: 2004 Bo19, Hig, La1, Sau, WI23; 2006 baker creek

Frilly Kale – Salt Spring Seeds claims this is Brassica oleracea kale but also claims that it is a sport of Russian Kale. Seedlings appear normal for the first month, then start producing green leaves so frilly along their edges that they resemble curly parsley.
- Source: 2006 Salt Springs Seeds Canada

Greenpeace – 32 days. Rare Russian strain, greenish blue plants purple stems, highly variegated leaves. Origin: Greenpeace experimental farm on Denman Island off British Colombia.
- Source: 1998 Se8 (not available commercially since 1998)

Gulag Stars – A mix of Russian and Siberian kales from the original Gulag. Contains some completely unique leaf types and incredible colors. Same great Brassica napus eating quality. Very adaptable and diverse population. Seems to have a bit of B. rapa mustard mixed into its genetic make up. Origin: Bred By Tim Peters at Peters Seed & Research in Riddle, Oregon.
- Source: 2006 PSR; 2013 Adaptive Seeds.

Hanover Salad (Meyer’s Brand Spring, Plain, Smooth, Spring, Spring Sprouts) – 30-90 days. A fast growing, cold hardy, Siberian kale that is said to actually be a rape. Slow to go to seed in spring. The scalloped edged, smooth leaves have the best eating quality when young and tender. The leaves form a rosette that is similar to that is similar to turnip greens, but the root is not tuberous. Can be Sown in Spring or later and overwintered. The leaves are used as cooking greens and in salads.
- Source: 1998 Abu, C13, So1, SOU, Wet. 2004 Cl3, Ho13, ME9, So1, SOU, Wet.

Long Seasons (Late Hanover, Long Season Slow seeding) – 75 Days. Smooth, notched leaves. Cold hardy and will yield late fall or early spring harvests if sown in August or September. Later to mature than Spring Kale due to its slow growth, but it goes to seed later than other varieties. May be the same or very similar to Hanover salad.
- Source: 1998 Abu (not available commercially in 2004)

Long Standing Siberian – Last offered Commercially in 1991.

Red Russian (Ragged Jack, Russian Kale, Canadian Broccoli) – 25 days baby, 50-60 days mature from transplant. Stems and veins are red/purple and the leaves are deep gray/green. Flat leaf with toothed edges. Vigorous plant grow up to 18-36 inches tall. Hardy to -10F. Used as in salad or as a bunching green. [Origins in Russia and may predate 1865. A late variety that is extremely resistant to cold with leaves harvested all winter. Flavor being improved by frost. (Koko)] [Documented since 1885 and reintroduced by Canadian herbalist Betty Jacobs in 1977. (SSE)].
- Source: Widespread availability

Red Ursa – Selected among the 5 Best New Vegetable Introductions of 1997 in the National Gardening Trials. Combines the broadleaf frills of ‘Siberian’ with the color of ‘Red Russian’. Tender, good bulk and flavorful for salads. Bolting purple stems of overwintered plants are very sweet and colorful for salad or for light cooked like asparagus.
- Source: 2014 Wild Garden Seeds

Russian Frills  – “An extremely frilly red Russian type. Appears to have frills on frills upon frills. Seems to be more resistant to aphids & heat than other kales. Good for making high volume bunches easily. Also great for salad mix before the frills start truly frilling. A reintroduction of a nearly extinct Oregon variety bred by Tim Peters. Commercially lost in the US, but we found it in Belgium with Seedsman Peter Bauwens.”
-Source: 2014 Adaptive Seeds.

Russian Hungry Gap Kale - a very rare variety preserved in the Heritage Seed Library’s Seed vault in Ryton, England.  “Red Russian type with broader leaves, lighter red coloring and more jagged leaf edge. Very hardy and extremely rare. The most vigorous of 6 B. napus kales we grew in 2010. Looked very healthy all winter. As the name suggests, bolting in the spring is many weeks later than other kales filling th e hunger gap of May with excellent kale raab. This kale is praised by Carol Deppe in her book, The Resilient Gardener. We found this variety tucked away in the seed vault at the Heritage Seed Library, England. !”
-Source: 2014 Adaptive Seeds.

Siberian (Early Siberian, Siberian Curled, Early Curled Siberian) – 60-70 Days. Extremely hardy, vigorous, rapid growing. Blue green, huge, feather shaped, slightly curled leaves. Non heading 12-16 in leaves. Spreading plants sow in spring or fall. Popular in the south. Light frost improves tenderness and flavor, often used for stock feed.
- Source: 2004 lots of sources

Siberian, Dwarf Improved – Can be harvested later into the spring than other varieties because it is slower to go to seed. The very frilly dark green leaves form a 24″ rosette.
- Source: 2007 Ter

Spring Sweet – A selection of the red Russian type that is sweeter in the spring. Oak shaped leaves have less color than others. From PSR breeding Program.
- Source: 1998 PSR not currently commercially available.

True Siberian – 70 days. 24-30″ tall. Extremely cold hardy, fast growing plant with large, frilly, blue-green leaves on non-heading sprawling plants. Can be picked through winter in many areas. Huge root/stock with many growth points. semi-ruffled leaves. Possibly the most productive kale.
- Source: 2007 SOC, PS; 2014 Adaptive Seeds.

Western Front – This Red Russian kale mixture has survived a variety of growing conditions that killed all Scotch kales and over 90% of everything Russian or Siberian. Eating Quality is quite good. Up to 50% will regenerate from base of plants for up to 4 or 5 years in wild plantings. Seed Origin: PSR Kale Breeding Program.  “Another excellent selection made by Tim Peters of Peters Seed and Research for the most cold hardy kale available. Selected from the 10% of survivors of hard freezes that killed all others including Scotch, Russian and Siberian kales. It has some variation, a few white-stemmed plants and some broadleaf types, but mostly with a classic Red Russian theme. Noted to have a higher rate of perennial regrowth. Perfect for the winter rotation as it grows actively through the winter unlike many other kales.”
- Source: 2006 PSR, BG; 2014 Adaptive Seeds.

Wild Garden Kales – Survived 10F lows in Eugene, Oregon 2006. The mother gene pool from which all Frank’s wild garden variety of napus kales have been derived. Originated as a cross between ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Siberian’ ca. 1984. Intended for mid-July-Aug sowing, fall cropping, and successful overwintering in milder climates to produce copious leaves and “napini” of various shapes and hues. A genetic gold mine for farmers who wish to select strains adaptable to their own farm environment.
- Source: 2006 WGS, Ter; 2014 Wild Garden Seeds

Wild Red – 55 days. Variation on red Russian. 2 foot plants.  Silver green foliage overlain with bright red on the stems and leaf joints. Extremely hardy and productive. “first composed by John Eveland in 1998, when he selected his favorite red types from a patch of ‘Wild Garden’ kale, then let them flower together. The results were spectacular for the depth of color, the wide range of leaf shapes, and the degrees of dissection that the leaves attained. Some of these are truly ‘moss curled’ kales of the sorts found in the 1885 classic, The Vegetable Garden by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux.”
- Source: 1998 Hud, Ni1; 2014 Wild Garden Seeds

Winter Red – A red Russian type developed by Tim Peters of Peters Seed and Research for good uniform color and cold tolerance. A tender salad kale that is said to have a little wild mustard in its sap. Works well in a crop scheme with other kales to supply harvests from early fall – spring. Napini from this variety is a month ahead darker red and thinner than other napus kales. A vigorous Red Russian kale that colors up well even before cold weather, but especially after cool weather. The oak-leaf shaped leaves of this kale are more deeply cut than some other common strains of Red Russian kale. Excellent for salad greens when leaves are thumb size; larger leaves make delicious and nutritious cooked greens. Origin: developed by Tim Peters, Peters Seed and Research, Riddle, Oregon.
- Source: 2006 Ter, PSR; 2014 Wild Garden Seeds

White Russian – 50-60 days. Judged most cold hardy kale in trials at Garden City Seeds, Montana 1995. Has a delicate sweet flavor and voted the best tasting among farm crews at Garden City Seeds and at Gathering Together Farm. Tolerates saturated soil better than other kales, lone survivors in two flood years and the annual low spots. Leaves are dissected like Red Russian, but with whitish stems and veining. Very vigorous growth. Origin: Developed by Frank Morton, Gathering Together Farm, Philomath, Oregon.
- Source: 2006 WGS, SOC, HMS, Ter, 2014 Wild Garden Seeds

 

Kale Raab (Napini) Varieties

Napini kales or kale raab are planted in the fall and overwintered to produce buckets of sweet and tender flower shoots once day length exceeds 12 hours in March. Hardy against frost all the way through spring, it is a great early season food source through the “Hungry gap”. All varieties of B. napus produce great raab but the following varieties are excellent for the purpose.

Purple Napini (Purple Rapini) – [Flat grey/green leaves with purple stems and veins. Not as sweet as leaf kales but the snappy green shoots are thick and doubly sweet. The primary shoots are tender, up to 18 in long and are used like Raab, broccoli, or asparagus. The dozens of smaller shoots that follow are great in salads. Bred by frank Morton of wild garden seeds.(WGS)]
- 2006 source: WGS

Hot Shot Mix – [A Mix of crosses between Purple Napini kale and other napus leaf kales. Mix combines big napini traits with attractive and sweet leaf traits in the same gene pool. Good selections. (WGS)]
- 2006 source: WGS

Russian Hungry Gap Kale – a very rare variety preserved in the Heritage Seed Library’s Seed vault in Ryton, England.  “Red Russian type with broader leaves, lighter red coloring and more jagged leaf edge. Very hardy and extremely rare. The most vigorous of 6 B. napus kales we grew in 2010. Looked very healthy all winter. As the name suggests, bolting in the spring is many weeks later than other kales filling the hunger gap of May with excellent kale raab. This kale is praised by Carol Deppe in her book, The Resilient Gardener. We found this variety tucked away in the seed vault at the Heritage Seed Library, England. They generously shared a little seed with us — Thanks HSL!”  2014 Adaptive Seeds.

 

B. napus as animal forage

Establishment: Apply appropriate lime and fertilizer prior to planting. To control weeds and grasses, use a burn program to benefit establishment. Sow seeds after the soil reaches 55F or higher. Brassica forage crops may be seeded alone or with grasses.

Seeding: 1/4-1/2″ deep in well prepared firm seedbed, at a rate of 3-4 lbs/acre.Soil: Best in well drained, fertile soil with a slightly acidic pH between 5.3 and 6.8.. With their extensive root system, brassicas have very good drought tolerance once established.

Caution: If proper management is not practiced, health problems may occur in livestock from pasturing high protein, low fiber forage brassicas. Avoid feeding brassicas that are flowering and 80% brassica forage is best.

Dwarf Essex Rape has a high amount of leaf for the amount of stem and the stems are very palatable. After a 75 day establishment period it can be cut or grazed every 30 days. The Forage that is produced may contain 18-20% crude protein. It has great cold hardiness that makes grazing or harvesting late into the fall possible.

Siberian Kale is a very palatable and very high yielding forage crop. It can be cut or grazed summer through fall. It is appropriate forage for sheep, beef and dairy cattle. Siberian kale has great lodging resistance and is ready to graze 70-90 days after it is planted.
Recipes

Sesame Kale

2 big cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound kale (about bunch)
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper if desired

Mince the garlic cloves. Wash the kale and shake it over the sink. It should remain a little wet. Remove and discard the stems from the kale and tear it into bite-size pieces. Save the stems for another use, such as vegetable stock.

Heat the sesame seed oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic to the hot oil and sauté for about 20 seconds. Add the kale and water to the garlic and oil, and cover the skillet.After 1 minute, stir the kale, then re-cover. After 1-2 more minutes, when the kale is wilted, stir in the soy sauce and sesame seeds. If desired, add salt and/or pepper to taste.

 

Resources

Books:

Ashworth, Suzanne, Seed To Seed

Deppe, Carol, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

Garden Seed inventory 5th edition (GSI5), 1998, Seed Savers Exchange
- Information for 18 varieties of napus kales, mixed up with the oleracea kale section.

Garden Seed Inventory 6th Edition (GSI6), 2004, Seed Savers Exchange
 - Information for varieties of napus kales, mixed up with the oleracea kale section.

Jevons, John, How to grow more vegetables 5th edition,
- little information on kales but tons of information on general Bio-intensive gardening

Seed Savers Yearbook 2006 (SSYB)

Dominique Guillet, Seeds of Kokopelli Kokopelli,
- A manual for the production of seeds, A directory of heritage seeds

Storl, Wold D, Culture and Horticulture, 1979, biodynamic literature
- no specific information on kales but tons of other related information about general biodynamic gardening.

Colebrook, Binda, Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, 1989, Sasquatch
- one of the few winter gardening books and some of the best information on the subject. Contains a some information on oleracea and napus kales.

Seed Catalogs:

Bountiful Gardens (BG) www.bountifulgardens.org
High Mowing Seeds (HMS) www.highmowingseeds.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (JSS) www.johnnyseeds.com
Peters Seed And Research (PSR) – No Longer in Business
Salt Spring Seeds www.saltspringseeds.com
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) www.seedsavers.org
Seeds of Change www.seedsofchange.com
Territorial Seed www.territorial-seed.com
Wild Garden Seed www.wildgardenseed.com

Websites:

New Century Seed & Steyer Seeds, Web site (NSC)
www.ncseedexpress.com

Permaculture Information Web
http://permaculture.info/cgi-bin/eden?search=”Brassica+napus”&button=Search+PIW

Plants For A Future
www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Brassica+napus+pabularia

Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products
www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Plant Database
http://plants.usda.gov/java/ClassificationServlet?source=display&classid=BRNAP

Tim’s Quiet Triumph

By Nick Routledge

” We are all responsible for everyone else, but I am more responsible than all the others.” – Aloysha Karamazov, in The Brothers Karamazov

The defining priority of permaculture is the hitching of our wagons to the evolutionary drift of the landscapes of which we are a part. In other words, we rely more on working with natural processes than in transforming the landscape and our lives through high energy inputs – such as repetitive labor for example.

It’s an approach that puts greater emphasis on ‘perennial’ as distinct from ‘annual’ food crops. Admittedly, this shift in fundamentals is in its cultural infancy, not least because recent historical trends have combined to ensure that the foundations of our diet and the overwhelming majority of research and development associated with it is geared toward high input, conventional, monocrop, annual agriculture. Quite simply, we do not yet possess the range of food crops or experience to supplant this construct.

And yet, behind the scenes, almost completely unnoticed, the visionary food-plant breeders in our midst have been quietly but assiduously devoting their lives to transforming this model. One of the most promising areas of exploration relates to grains – the staple food for the majority of humankind – and the emerging story of the decades-long efforts to perennialize them.

For complicated reasons, the creative tensions which hold all life in balance, appear particularly potentized in efforts to shift grains from annual to a perennial habit. It has not been uncommon to see decades-long breeding programs flounder as the dynamic interplay of genetics runs into a brick wall.

But, as we might hope and expect, the challenge to creatively balance genetics in a way that Nature hasn’t yet managed has attracted the attention of the brightest and the best, and right at the forefront of this global effort is an Oregon native, Tim Peters, most recently out of Myrtle Creek, about two hours south of Eugene. .

Tim has been breeding plants for about 30 years. Passionately devoted to the Great Work, he possesses legendary status among that small tribe who have any idea what he has been up to all this time. Tim has devoted almost two decades work to perennializing grains. In a visit and series of phone conversations over 2004-2005 Tim gave context to my own fledgling efforts to root the perennial grain archetype in my own backyard.

Food Crops with an inherent ability to resist extinction

“Every garden’s like a snowflake, and of course every plant breeder’s approach will differ, too,” observes Tim. And if Thoreau’s dictum “In wildness is the salvation of the world”, holds any weight, then Tim’s life and work has particular relevance for our understanding of ‘what works’. That’s because ever since he began his breeding work as a teenager, Tim has been fascinated by the interplay of food crops with Nature “red in tooth and claw.” Arguably, no plant breeder alive has surfed the interface between domestic & wild cultures as keenly as he.

When I visited him in 2004, checking out his breeding plots included a long drive around the surrounding hills to look in on multi-year breeding experiments in clearcuts and along roadsides, well off the beaten track. It is this decades-long fascination and experience with how food crops interrelate with wild nature that has moved him slowly but inexorably toward his recent successes breeding staple foods with an inherent capacity to resist extinction.

Reconciling paradoxical plant traits

It’s an effort that has been almost 20 years in the making not only because it has taken time for the necessary complements to come together in a genetic interplay with the environment, but also because breeding perennial grains makes for a unique challenge – it involves reconciling some fundamental, but apparently wildly contradictory plant traits. It has been the failure to establish harmony among these ‘breeding paradoxes’ that has put paid to many of the efforts of Tim’s forbears and contemporaries.

For one, the qualities of edibility and survivability are typically at odds with one another – the same qualities that make food palatable to humans, also make them desirable to critters: “Animals are supremely efficient foragers,” says Tim. “They gravitate towards the most edible foods as if by spiritual guidance”. Palatable root crops tend towards quick degeneration and/or extinction in the wild, for example, because desirable roots and the roots’ relative physical proximity to key predators, make them especially vulnerable. Stringy roots with noxious flavor typify plants in the wild, because sweeter genetics get eaten out of existence. Not surprisingly therefore, we see a direct correlation between plant edibility and plant domestication through the centuries. For example, as we bring plants into the protection of our gardens we can actively reduce high tannin levels to increase nutritional benefits, but in the process we remove a trait that makes plants less palatable to critters and prevents them from rotting.

“Now there’s a place for royalty you might say, the delicate things of the plant world,” Tim observes, “but we definitely need crops possessing more of the mountaineering aspect… drought resistance, tolerance to low fertility (which means the ability to proliferate roots in search of nutrients), disease resistance, the ability to continually reproduce in the wild, and suchlike. The more energy a plant has, the more robust it is, the more likely it is to overcome the difficulties in a more natural environment.”

Fundamentals of long-term nutrition

“One does not discover new land without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

A lifetime devoted to breeding a wide variety of food crops in domesticated, fertile gardens and infertile, wild mountain situations has gifted Tim precious comparative insights into the fundamentals of robust, long-lived cultures. “There’s things that time will tell you that nothing else will,” he remarks. For complicated reasons, Tim feel that perennial grains lend themselves to combining many of the essential qualities he has been seeking to usher forth, in a food.

Structurally, for example, they represent a starchy, staple food crop and yet the focus of attention isn’t the plant base – a big plus in circumventing the predatory intent of ground based critters such as gophers. “And although small herbivores like squirrels will topple grains like falling timber, and go stand on the stumps and shuck them with their hands to get at the good stuff, the bigger herbivores, such as deer have to use their mouths. They can’t strip the awns. If they try to eat them they choke to death.” Most perennial grains have awns.

The robustness of grasses, and perennial grasses at that, lends them added ecological horsepower, too. “Grasses pretty much hold their own until trees shade them out in 5-15 years,” Tim avers. “I mean, look out the window. And although there are places where annuals hold their own – deserts for example – in the western states, at least, perennials always have the advantage.” Why? Because unlike annual grains, the perennials photosynthesize more months of the year, and put down a root system that keeps on going deeper, like trees – which gives them the capacity to ‘dig in’, reach sources of nutrients, and create symbiotic relationships over time.

Fast yields and perenniality: the union of opposites

Perennial grains are fast, moving quickly to yield. On fertile soil, sown in fall, they will produce a bountiful crop within a year. On poor soils, within 2-3 years.

The quickness is evident from day one. I have personally witnessed the vitality of perennial grains relative to other plants. They germinate quickly, with great vigor. Almost immediately, the root systems develop an astonishing tenacity. The plants are tough: they survive neglect. This speed to yield on the one hand, and the tendency to perennialize on the other, perhaps marks the highpoint of Tim’s achievement, because it elegantly conjoins what have historically proven to be two highly contradictory evolutionary traits.

Seed making – a trait we wish to encourage in a grain food plant – typically sounds a grain’s last orgasmic hurrah before it dies. A ‘petit mort’ that ain’t so ‘petit’. This fundamental tendency for high yield grains to race to maturity and dry down and hence ‘kill themselves’ naturally sits wholly at odds with a tendency to perennialize.

Tim seems to have found a way through this incompatibility – solving a conundrum that has stymied some of the world’s most tenacious plant breeders for the better part of a century.
Essentially, by stewarding the plant away from ‘focusing on nothing but maturity,’ by encouraging a reversion to a ‘juvenile’ or leafy state a a critical stage of its evolutionary cycle, he as reduced grain’s ‘annualness’.

We can witness this same tendency to revert to a juvenile (vegetative) state in some varieties of brassicas – in the purple and white sprouting broccolis for example – where the inclination of the plant to ‘mature’ early in the year ensures that it does not fall to the hot weather and hormonal and day-length cocktail (of later maturing ecologies) but instead reverts to a leafy state and avoids the run to seed. (These, and other varieties such as ‘Pentland Brig Kale’ harbor genetic promise for those seeking to perennialize brassicas of other forms perhaps.)

Where do the stands stand?

“Is the cycle any easier to accept in the garden than in a human life? In both cases there is a sense not only of obligation, but of devotion” – Stanley Kunitz

To grossly oversimplify his achievement, Tim’s worldwide search for a complementary interplay of genetics gifted him wild perennial grain varieties furnishing the bedrock tendency to perennialize, and highly productive, strongly winter-hardy annual grains. Introducing these patterns to one another in a manner that Nature hadn’t yet orchestrated, Tim has navigated around fatal tillering habits, chromosomal incompatibilities and a slew of other hiccups, to emerge from his lonely decades of devotion with an array of perennial grain material that characteristically sizes up into a winter, thus producing a vigorous seedburst into seedstalks in spring, encouraging reversion to a vegetative state, and the ability to forge on through the years while concomitantly shaking off the challenges of critters, disease, drought, low fertility, and other potentially fatal vectors including that of a larger culture in the grip of a form of mass insanity. Not bad for a self-taught lad.

Tim’s breeding efforts are still a work in progress. He has individual lines and plants exhibiting all the traits he is looking for. What remains, over the short term, is the fine-tuning to develop a stable profile of these complements.

But he has been releasing this material to the public. Perennial grains are almost impossible to come by. Indeed, I believe Tim’s is the only seed catalog in the world making perennial grains readily available for trial – and perhaps the finest examples of the archetype, at that.

Invest now

Why consider growing these crops just now? Well, for the sheer beauty of the plants, for one. With stalks tillering to 6 feet in height, they make a striking addition to the character of a garden. And I have noticed the fundamental appeal in my own response, and those of others, to this plant – the puppy dog call. Perhaps this has something to do with the great longevity of the humankind-grain relationship, which touches upon some atavistic nostalgia in the human soul. Sheaves of grain lying around my home always appear to induce an awe of sorts in visitors.

Planting these grains now also represents an opportunity to begin familiarizing yourself with a crop destined to move toward centerstage in our collective endeavors to handhold the emergence of a robust, healthy, regenerative culture. These crops may not be feeding our tribe today. But they will soon. How do we become familiar with the little uniquenesses of growing them? How do we harvest grains and process them as food? How do we do it speedily? These questions can only be answered by doing.

We’re also presented with an opportunity to step into a big story at an absolutely fascinating juncture of its unfolding. In a forthcoming issue of ‘Permaculture News’ I hope to outline some of the simple steps we can take to help play a primary role in selecting and stewarding these plants into more sophisticated/simpler iterations.

And most important of all, perhaps, as we begin embracing an entity that potentizes qualities of vigor, nutrition, hardiness, resistance to extinction and a whole lot more, in a distillation co-designed by Nature at its wildest (and ‘least deceptive’) we are proffered insights into how these archetypal qualities can help inform the Integrity of our own lives. As Jonathan Swift put it: “A man can no more know his own heart than he can know his own face, any other way than by reflection.”

Where to begin?

Tim suggests considering 4 varieties of perennial and annual grains. They are:

* Mountaineer: Perennial Rye
* PSR 3628: Perennial Wheat
* Stephens: Annual Wheat
* White Popping Annual Sorghum

When?

For a bountiful wheat & rye harvest by late July, between October and the end of December is perfect time to plant (seeding between January & April will give you a harvest later in the year, but with much reduced yields). Seeding into flats, 3 seeds per cell, & culling back to 1 allows you to begin selecting for vigor from the get-go. Transplant out between mid-Dec & February onto 6″-12″ squares. The more room the plants have the more they will tiller.

Where?

Plant into as clean a ground as possible. Once the plants are established, it is easier for them to fend for themselves. Balance is necessary, but be aware that much as most current human ailments stem from a culture of excess, so fertility can be an enemy of life to plants. Sorghums excepted, Perennial grains tend to live longer on poorer soils (Mountaineer 2-4 years on rich soil: 7-8 on poorer soils). Planting alongside a gravel driveway makes sense.

For the purposes here, treat sorghum as an annual Spring sown grain. Sow indoors Feb/Mar & transplant April or direct sow post frost. Grind & use like corn-meal or corn flour.