HARVEST and SEED COLLECTION MADE SIMPLE

Back in my hometown, I loved to garden. I had a vegetable and herb garden, fruit trees, rose bushes and other beautiful perennials. The climate conditions in Southern California are perfect for growing these types of plants.

Gardening was a part of the balance in my life between those moments of challenge and those of peace. Come end of day, I’d go out into my little Eden and take the day’s annoyances out on the weeds. 

On weekends, I’d sit with my tea and magazine and watch the birds feast on the fallen fruit and feeders. I had been doing this for so long, I no longer thought about the science of it. I would just do it and enjoy every second.

As I prepared to move to a much different kind of environment, I feared that I would lose my balance. My source of both release and pleasure. These were, of course, irrational fears. Just a part of the natural anxiety that one feels when planning to remove one’s self from one’s comfort zone.

My husband’s property had plenty of open space on which to build a garden. Space that I saw during my many visits. It was full of three-foot-tall weeds and mountains of dirt that ants had taken over. Like a lot of work just to clean the slate. Not to mention, I didn’t understand the first thing about how to grow anything in a city known as “Winterpeg”.

I spent my first dark, cold, winter months reading all things gardening that were specific to Southern Manitoba. I learned a lot! For example, Southern California sees more sunny and warm days for growing crops. While Southern Manitoba actually has more sunny and warm hours per day. This allows the plants longer and more consistent periods of nutrients accumulation and growth. Not to mention all the rainfall. Science! But, there was so much more.

I also learned about gardening in Winnipeg from a historical perspective.

DID YOU KNOW…

The province of Manitoba is nestled in a region of vast, open spaces with un-impeded views for miles. In the natural landscape, small patches of trees sprouted here and there, sown by nature herself where wind-swept seeds from other parts of the province randomly landed. So, not generally known as a “forested” province. Instead, great expanses of natural, flat-land flora, such as indigenous grasses and wildflowers blanket the Earth. 

Before the appearance of European settlers, Aboriginal peoples, across Manitoba, were already working in tandem with nature. Discovering local seed-producing plants to include sunflower, amaranthus and lamb’s foot. Then cultivating and introducing these plants into their diet.

In 1870, a pivotal year in Manitoba’s history, the surge toward urban gardening and horticulture became a passionate social movement. The resulting metropolitan growth resulted in a strong middle-class, not only in Manitoba but all across western Canada.

Black and White Photo of Winnipeg Schoolchildren gardening in the early 20th century

Credit: Archives of Manitoba, Sisler Collection

Black and White Photo of Trees Grown along Manitoba roads in the early 20th century

Credit: Archives of Manitoba, Sisler Collection

Home gardening became a means by which to inject the extension of science into everyday life. To enhance the beauty of rural and urban landscapes and perhaps even encourage moral and political participation.

I can definitely appreciate the priorities of this early era, to form strong social programs with the possibility of revenue. As opposed to the reverse. I am proud to now be participating in continuing in this integral part of Manitoba’s culture.

Black and White Photo of Trees Grown along Manitoba roads in the early 20th century

Credit: Archives of Manitoba, Sisler Collection

MY FIRST STEPS into PRAIRIE GARDENING

Allow me to start by saying that collecting our own seeds is crucial to the preservation of naturally evolved crops. These varieties can be improved upon, by harvesting seeds from crops that grow to an optimum size and nutritional benefit. 

But seed production and availability are slowly being reduced to the control of just a few companies. Where genetic modifications are made more for the purpose of visual attraction and revenue generation. Making the practice of seed collection and preservation more important than ever.

Mother Nature was gentle with me during my first growing season here. Darren was kind enough to share some insight as to the best time to plant seeds. In case of minimal success, I wanted to try just a few basic vegetables. I chose heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupe. After months of optimistic and often hesitant care, we ended up with quite healthy plants and a successful harvest!

Bucket after bucket of tomatoes, I’ve hauled into the house. I realized later that I planted the seedlings too close together not expecting the plants to get so big! The mass of plants looked like a giant octopus!

During collection, I searched through different sites to find various ways to preserve these jewels of summer in order to enjoy them on a soon-to-arrive frozen day.

I learned ways to not only can them but dry them and freeze them for different recipes. I also wanted to preserve the seeds for next spring’s garden. Again, why buy new seeds when mother nature offers them free of charge?

NEXT STEP: SEED COLLECTION

De-seeded Tomato on cutting board

I started with some of the smaller tomatoes, cutting them in half with a sharp knife. Using a small spoon, I scooped out the seeds, juices, pulp and all into a small bowl. I poured the mix into a strainer.

De-seeded Tomato on cutting board

With the back of the spoon, I strained the soft pulp with the help of a little cold, running water.

I spread the remaining seeds out in the bottom of a coffee filter and let them dry overnight. You might end up with some paper bits from the filter still on the seeds after drying but that’s ok. The seeds will still germinate just fine next spring. 

I followed the same de-seeding process with the cucumbers and harvested a pretty decent amount of seeds for next year. Unexpectedly, some of the cucumbers turned a bright yellow color while growing. No worries! They taste just as good and Darren and I will be using the cucumbers in a delicious salad soon.

Same with the cantaloupe, lots of seeds. The cantaloupes didn’t grow very big this first time. So, I used them to make a nice sorbet.

I was pretty proud of my first seed collection efforts. With any luck, it will improve with every new crop that Darren and I add to our little piece of heaven.

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” – D. Elton Trueblood

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