Podcast

Jere Gettle: Growing Heirloom Plants

Our foodstock's future lies in preserving its past
Saturday, August 3, 2013, 9:47 PM

Jere Gettle runs one of the country's largest heirloom seed catalogs. His mission is to preserve long-standing plant varieties and combat the growing homogenization of our food stock, along with the genetic manipulation that Big Ag is responsible for.

Preserving heirloom strains and expanding their use among small farmers and backyard gardeners is important for many reasons, including:

  • reducing the impact of a large monocrop failure (heirloom strains preserve genetic diversity)
  • preserving natural food-plant strains (a growing number of GMO foods have DNA not just from other plants in them, but from animals, too)
  • keeping public access to seed stocks (the "growing rights" to many GMO seeds are locked up by large & litigious corporations)
  • growing vegetables affordably (Big Ag practices have been driving up the price of basic foods)
  • healthy eating (many of these heirloom varieties are packed with more nutrients that the monocrop produce found in grocery stores)
  • sustainable farming (these seeds can be grown without the heavy chemical and fossil inputs Big Ag uses)
  • preserving history (many heirloom strains have truly fascinating back stories)

In this podcast, we discuss the origins of heirloom seed preservation, the dangers of GMOs, the importance of seed saving and seed swapping among small farmers, and how the interested backyard gardener can participate in keeping these old and fascinating heirloom strains alive.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Jere Gettle (35m:12s):

Transcript: 

Adam Taggart: Hello, and welcome to the Resilient Life Podcast. Resilient Life is part of PeakProsperity.com. It is where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I am your host, Adam Taggart. And today’s guest is Jere Gettle.

Along with his wife Emily, Jere owns and operates Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and its website rareseeds.com. Jere’s goal is to save heritage plant varietals from being lost to genetically modified mega-plants and to wave the banner for way of life he sees rapidly disappearing.

Jere and Emily also work extensively to supply free seeds to many of the world’s poorest countries as well as here at home in school gardens and other educational projects. It is their goal to educate everyone about a better, safer food supply and fight gene-altered Frankenfood and the companies that support it.

I have invited Jere here on the program to discuss the importance of maintaining heirloom-variety foodstocks and how the backyard gardener can contribute to the effort. Jere, thank you so much for making the time to join us today.

Jere Gettle: Oh, sure. I really appreciate being on this show.

Adam Taggart: Great. I was hoping we could start at the beginning. Could you explain what motivated you to become a champion of heirloom plants and to found Baker Creek?

Jere Gettle: I guess what really gave me the interest originally in plants was my parents and grandparents and my aunts and uncles. As a small child in the Boise Valley growing up in the early 1980s, I would walk around in their gardens and see what was growing. And when I was about three years old, I started planting my own little garden with their help.

And it just amazed me to see a tiny little seed turn into so much produce or flowers or whatever it might be, and the genetic diversity of scalloped squash, and yellow pear tomatoes. All of these varieties were bright colors and interesting shapes, but also had history. It might be that we might have been planting something that came from Japan or planting a variety of watermelon that came from Texas. All of them told a story.

And even as a small child, I was very interested in not only the fruit, but also the stories behind the varieties, as my parents would read me seed catalogs. And as I got older, I started requesting seed catalogs on my own.

When we moved to Missouri in my teen years, by then I definitely knew that I wanted to somehow work in the seed industry. I always knew that I wanted to be somehow a part of the seed industry. But in my teen years, I really became more and more solid that I wanted to do something to save vegetable seeds. Because I noticed a lot of the seed catalogs at the time, in the early 1990s, were dropping the “different seeds” – unique and different, unusual, and heirloom seeds – from their catalog. And that inspired me to try to save some of them.

In 1998 is when I started sending our first – actually, it was like a 12-page – price list with about 70 different varieties. And we sent them out to about 550 people. And from there it has grown every year since then. And it has been a lot of fun and a lot of work, but there are definitely a lot of varieties out there still that we are collecting every year.

Adam Taggart: That is really fascinating. And we will get into the stories behind the plants in just a little bit. But before we do, let us start really helping people understand what the word heirloom really means. I think the novice gardener may have heard that before; maybe you hear people talk about it when you go to the Farmer’s Market. What exactly does “heirloom” mean?

Jere Gettle: Fifty years ago, basically all produce, almost all produce was heirloom that was in the market, 50, 60, 70 years ago. And that has kind of changed. Basically, the word means just something that has been passed down from generation to generation, similar to the word antique or vintage. It is basically a word that does not have a lot of meaning other than it is a traditional variety. And that is what the most important thing is. These are varieties we saved and passed down to future generations. They are not patented or genetically engineered or in any way controlled by corporations.

So if you want to save this radish and pass it to your children and save seeds on it year after year, you are welcome to do that. And as far as the meaning of the word, it is different for different people. Some people say it is 50 or 100 years old. But I think the dictionary definition is not quite so strict. It kind of depends on the person. Because to some people, an antique or an heirloom is something hundreds of years old, and other people is something maybe 30-40 years old. So it kind of depends on the person and also the age of that person, depending on what they think is old.

Adam Taggart: Okay. But it is basically meant in the context of seeds here, to separate it from those seeds that have been either altered in some way artificially or controlled in some way from a rights perspective by a corporation.

Jere Gettle: Correct.

Adam Taggart: Would that be accurate?

Jere Gettle: These are seeds that are like public domain software. They are seeds that are of the people. There is no control over them.

Adam Taggart: Okay. They are an open-sourced seed stock, if you will.

Jere Gettle: Correct.

Adam Taggart: I think it is probably very hard to have the discussion about heirloom varieties then without also having a discussion about genetically modified foods, frequently referred to as GMOs. I am sure you have got a lot of opinions on that debate. You certainly would read about both sides of it a lot in the papers these days. In your opinion, what are the facts that the curious citizen should know in this debate about GMOs versus heirloom seeds?

Jere Gettle: Well, there are so many different things. With hybridization, it is basically controlling the seeds through hybridizing them and selling them, and that was one thing. But we now we have genetically engineered seeds that is – basically now it is not just a cross between two tomatoes. Now we actually have genes coming in from a fish, or genes coming in from bacteria or insect or even human genes being inserted into plants. So we have a lot of new possible risk.

And then we also have chemical companies being able to sell huge amounts of their chemicals because they are developing these plants to resist the very chemicals that would normally kill any plant out there. Now they can resist these really strong chemicals, like Round Up and other chemicals as well.

So basically what is happening is the chemical companies are making more money off of it, plus the seeds themselves, which are often owned by the chemical companies, are also – the prices went up about five times in the last ten years. Basically now, we are talking $200-300 bags of corn seed. Whereas in the 1990s, farmers were still buying a lot of the corn for $50 a bag. So the price of the corn has skyrocketed. And the amount of chemicals that we are putting on the land has almost doubled in the last, about, well, 10-12 years.

All these different things going into the question of, is this really good for us long-term? Even if gene-altered foods prove harmless, all the chemicals on the other side are already proving harmful. And also, many studies are also questioning whether the genetic engineering itself could be harmful.

Adam Taggart: Interesting; okay. So you have talked about the fact that obviously modern farming requires a lot of chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. And you are saying that in breeding plants that are tolerant to these chemicals, it obviously allows greater use of these chemicals, which has also taken on effects that perhaps we do not fully understand enough yet.

There is a question about health issues, which is just, are genetically modified foods different in some way for our bodies? And I think there is also a third issue out there, and you probably know more about this than I, but it is crop resilience. Meaning, you have certainly read that it seems that the number of strains of different vegetables and whatnot that we grow today are much fewer than they were in the past. And therefore, if all of the sudden there were to be a blight of some sort that targeted one of these strains, we could lose a large percentage of our food crop quite quickly. Whereas, if we had a lot more diversity genetically amongst the food crop, we would be much better insulated against a shock like that. Is that true?

Jere Gettle: Correct. It is definitely true. And there are several different elements on that side, as well. For one example, and even without genetic engineering, even just patenting, but with patenting and genetic engineering between the two, most of our seed supply is wrapped up in the hands of a few corporations which they – for example, one corporation controls, say, 55 percent of all lettuce produced globally for seed. If that company itself, even if they do not have a crop failure, but if that company, say, just goes bankrupt, all of the sudden our global lettuce supply is minus 55%.

Man-made or natural causes can cause the problems. And then, personally, our biggest issue, we are already feeling the effects of it because every year we have been growing corn. And for about the last 10 or 12 years, we have been testing our corn, because genetic engineering had become a problem by then. And as we started testing our corn from different farmers over the last ten years, we found almost 50 percent of the seed that has been grown for us by the different farmers to come back contaminated. Which affects the farmer, because they are not able to sell the seed, we are not able to sell the seed, and in some cases, we are in it if it is a rare strain.

Say one example is Arkansas Red and White Corn. It was lost. We were not able to find any clean seeds. So that variety disappeared. And that is one of the causes for varieties to disappear, especially in corn. Corn is the main crop right now. We are actually losing all varieties due to the contamination.

Adam Taggart: That is interesting. So you are actually sort of having a species extinction, if you will, in these different varieties, due to the contamination from the predominant GMO strains.

Jere Gettle: Correct. And in the last ten years, between our company and our growers, it has cost us several hundred thousand dollars, which is kind of compared to the national damage, when you can multiply that out with all the farmers in the country that suffered losses. And now, for example, the wheat situation up in Washington and Oregon and the Northwest, when they found the contaminated wheat. So many countries are questioning whether they want to buy it now.

And that is the same as what happens with the corn crops as well. Organic farmers, if they get a little bit of contamination, they are not able to sell their crops. There are also some companies that are not buying their crops and taking them to Europe. So there are a lot of issues out there that are affecting us nationally, financially, especially the small farmers. Unfortunately, that is who it is really affecting. The large corporate farmers, it does not affect them. Actually, in cases, it favors them.

Adam Taggart: Interesting. And what defenses, if any, are there against this type of contamination?

Jere Gettle: Well we are working on different things. One project we are working on this year, but it is very time intensive, is actually pollen bags and hand-pollinating the ears of corn. That is something that we are doing on a trial basis. Other things that we do is, of course, plant the most isolated farms we can find. And unfortunately, since corn is wind-pollinated, even if a farm is say eight or ten miles away from a farm that is planting a gene-altered crop, there is still a chance of contamination, unfortunately.

You can be growing in greenhouses. But all these different issues all require extensive [measures], beyond the means for most farmers to do. So that is the biggest problem. A lot of farmers do not have the luxury of having ten miles, if that is even enough.

Adam Taggart: Right, right. We also hear stories too of the farmer who finds he has got some GMO crops growing in his fields because of contamination. And then you have these big corporations come in and basically sue the small farmer because he is technically growing their product without their permission.

Jere Gettle: Correct.

Adam Taggart: Is that still a factor there, too?

Jere Gettle: It is kind of, the farmer is already possibly losing his livelihood. And then in some cases, it appears that losing the livelihood is not enough when they lose their crop. And then there is also a chance that if they try to sell it, then there is also a chance of getting sued on top of it. So it is basically taking the farmers’ rights away from their crops, and in some cases basically their land, because in many cases, farmers cannot go on year after year without a crop. One year, in many cases, will sink a farmer who already has lots of debt and other issues. So it is basically taking their right away, their right to sell, save, and pass down both their crop and their farm.

Adam Taggart: I assume that if that happens to a farmer, they probably do not have too many other options besides just to sort of tear up everything they have and then try to buy seeds from someone like yourself to try to reintroduce pure stock. Is that true?

Jere Gettle: There are different options, but the biggest thing is to be diversified. That is the biggest thing farmers need to do. Because the biggest problem is, if you are just growing corn, especially in this day and age, you are taking a chance, especially if you are trying to grow organic corn. If you are falling into the system and buying gene-altered corn and going along with everything they tell you to do, then you are probably okay, as long as the markets keep buying the crop.

But on the other hand, if you want to do everything naturally – the way things have always been done until recently – and grow crops and save your own seeds, you really need to diversify into not just one crop. The farmers, small farmers that are really making it, if you are going to stay small; you have got to be producing something for your market as much as you can, greens and tomatoes, corn, and potatoes. As many different crops as you can produce in your area well instead of just producing a monocrop. You also reduce your disease problems that way as well.

Adam Taggart: Okay. Well let us say you are not even a small farmer, but a backyard gardener. And you actually like to help the effort here in terms of trying to preserve diversity and trying to bring back some of these rare heirloom strains. What are some of the things that a person could do?

Jere Gettle: Well, one thing they could do is, of course, either get seeds from their neighbor, buy seeds, and find seeds somewhere. There are a lot of seeds around that still can be collected, even in most neighborhoods. If you live in the city or in the country, you can talk around to your neighbors and find a local heirloom that you can help save and pass on.

Another thing you can do which needs to be done is plant a diversity in your own garden, a lot of diversity. And save seeds from some crops each year if you can. But then also plant varieties of things that do well for butterflies and bees. Because the population of bees are also dwindling, not in every place, but nationally overall the populations are going down. So plant milkweed and bee balm and different things for the pollinators. We have been doing that here, and it is amazing how many more insects you get to your farm, which not only helps your farm or garden, but it also helps the populations of these insects. Which, now due to the spraying of RoundUp, they do not have a whole lot of pollination sources left on a lot of farms.

So those are the two simple steps, as you know. Find a right ear, too, and also plant things to keep the pollinators alive so we can keep these old varieties pollinating.

Adam Taggart: You mentioned something earlier that I just want to ask you to give a little bit of clarity on: the practice of seed saving. I think a lot of us have heard the term, and I think we can sort of imagine what it means. But what exactly does it mean? If you have got a garden and it is your first time growing it and you have planted from either seeds or starts, but you want to actually do some seed saving, what do you need to look out for? What do you need to do?

Jere Gettle: It is different for every different species of plant. But to start out with, it is best to start with something if you do not feel adventurous. And it is okay if you mess up, especially at first. I mean, it is good to buy some common varieties before you try to start with maybe your grandma’s rare bean. Start with something that is common and make sure that you know what you are doing for a year and then try to move on. But basically it is a different process for a different crop. Some crops, like tomatoes, for example, are generally self-pollinated, which means they do not actually require insects to pollinate them. And they usually pollinate actually before they open. So they are great crops to start with, because unlike, say, squash, if you plant two different squashes in your garden or if you have a neighbor growing squash, it is very easy in most cases for the squash to cross-pollinate with your neighbor’s zucchini if you have zucchini.

But the best thing to do is start with tomatoes. Lettuce is another good one. Find some crops that are self-pollinating, and you can look them up online and figure out which ones are self-pollinated. But start out with those. And then get a good book. There is Seed to Seed. You can get it from a library. There are other seed-saving books out there. And go through that and figure out which crops you would like to try. The best thing is to start out is do it with just a few crops and then move on. Within a few years, I know some people that went from saving just one or two varieties to 30, 40, 50, or even a couple hundred varieties every year that are real passionate about it.

Adam Taggart: Let us talk for a moment about exactly what seed saving means. And let us say that I did get a tomato. I grew a regular, common-variety tomato. Do I pluck the tomato and then when I cut it open, I actually remove some of the seeds and dry them and preserve them for next spring? Is that pretty much the system?

Jere Gettle: Yeah, there are various different ways. Often times, actually, on tomatoes, if you have a cherry tomato and you do not – even if you do till, but especially if you do not till the patch where the tomatoes were, most likely you are going to have tomato seedlings the following the year. That is the simplest. One way some gardeners do it is just let a lot of things in their garden to volunteer.

But if you really want to save an amount of seed and know that you have like a half of a pound or an ounce or whatever, the best way to do it on tomatoes is just take the tomato, the whole tomato. What we do is put them in a bucket. We grind them up, actually, in a grinder, but you can smash them up with a baseball bat or with some kitchen utensils. Basically, chop the tomatoes up. Put them in a bucket of water with just a little bit of water, just enough to cover the tomato slurry that you crush up and let it sit for about three days.

After three days, everything that is pulp actually floats to the top and the seeds sink to the bottom. You pour it all off and rinse it a couple of times. As long as you pour it slowly, the seeds will stay on the bottom, as long as you let it stay more than about three or four days. And then you just pour the seeds out after you have poured all the water off. Pour them out on a screen or a newspaper and often times near a fan or where there is air circulation and it is not too hot and they will dry in a matter of about a week or so.

Adam Taggart: Well, thank you for walking through that. That actually is really pretty fascinating, how you do that with tomatoes.

Jere Gettle: Every crop is a little different in general, so it is really a – it is not technical. And often times, nature does it for you. Especially when you are starting out, if you just let things fall here and there, and then next spring watch for them and remember what the plants look like, often times, you will find them coming up again in your garden anyway.

But if you want to make sure that you have a supply, you need to really kind of learn about each different one. And there are also seed-saving classes in a lot of different areas if you watch for them.

Adam Taggart: Okay, great. And you mentioned a book there, Seed to Seed.

Jere Gettle: Seed to Seed is a great seed-saving book. But it is just one. There are also courses and videos online you can watch. And also just learn from – often times, you can find a seed saver in your area if you talk to your extension service or your garden club. They will help you out as well.

Adam Taggart: Great. Now, we have got a number of people listening to this podcast who are experienced gardeners. But I believe we also probably have a healthy amount of people who have not done much gardening, or if they have, have mostly gone out and purchased starts at the market versus growing from seed. Are there any kind of best practices to know for somebody who is growing a plant from seed for the first time?

Jere Gettle: Well there is generally not a lot to it. It is really not that much different than setting out plants, other than you are maybe a little behind if you are planting direct. If you are starting in the house, it becomes a little bit more difficult. The main thing that most people have a hard time with – well there are two things. One is getting soil that actually – if you are starting inside and you are starting your little tomato plants or peppers or anything else, you really need to get a soil that actually does not have soil in it. You need something based out of peat moss or coconut hull or anything that does not carry the viruses that soil has in it. Soil is also heavy, and in a little container it gets like a brick. So you want to avoid soil, starting out the first time. You want to go with a potting mix. You can find a lot of good organic potting mixes that do not actually have soil. Or you can make your own if you look online.

The second thing is really a lot of seeds do better if you actually plant them directly in the garden. For example, this year we started tomatoes. But unfortunately, we lost some of our varieties that we started. We actually had 200 varieties that we were starting for trial. And out of the 200, at least probably six or so of them, we either spilled the plants or they broke off or something ate some of the plants. So we ended up going and putting seed back in the ground, just directly in the ground, at the same time we put the transplants out. And the seed caught up now and we are harvesting tomatoes. And we cannot tell the difference between where we planted seeds and where we put out transplants.

So, if you have a decent growing season, if you are in a very short northern climate or you want really early tomatoes, you are going to need to start with plants. But otherwise, many of these crops can be directly seeded into your garden once it warms up outside.

Adam Taggart: Okay. That is great to know. And earlier you mentioned people exchanging seeds with people in their local community. I take it then you are a pretty big fan of seed exchanging amongst interesting gardeners.

Jere Gettle: Yeah, the more the better. The more we can get seeds back into the local communities like they always were. Seeds were always something that was traded over the garden fence with the neighbor, and you got them from your grandmother, and you passed them on to your kids. You passed them to your uncle and he sent you something else. Thomas Jefferson was doing this. George Washington was doing this. All of our forefathers, basically, who were interested in gardening at all traded seeds back and forth. And that was part of our culture, with passing on the seeds and also the story. I got this from your grandmother. Please keep it alive. It is a great tomato. Or we brought this over from Germany when we came. This was our local variety there or whatever.

With farming becoming more and more corporate and gardening becoming less and less through the 50s and 60s and 70s, unfortunately, a lot of these stories and varieties were disappearing. But thankfully, in the last ten years, that trend has kind of slowed and almost stopped. Now we are getting so many new gardeners who are looking for varieties and stories and things they can pass on to their kids. It is just getting the knowledge and the time. People are so busy now getting the knowledge and time to actually put it into practice and save the seed.

Adam Taggart: Yeah. Well, two things on there. The first is, I just want to make sure those listening to this podcast are aware of the launch of a seed exchange group on PeakProsperity.com. So we have actually created a group where people can exchange seeds so with anyone across the country. If you have got extra amounts of one variety or if you are looking for a particular variety, you can put that there on the exchange, too, and let people know you are in the market for those seeds. For all the reasons that Jere just mentioned, we are very excited about it. We think it is a great idea.

Secondly, Jere, I completely can relate to what you are talking about in terms of just sort of the fun and the enthusiasm that comes from learning the stories behind these plants. I live not too far from one of your seed bank stores that you offer, the one that is in Petaluma, California. And it is such a fun experience walking into that store. First, because it is in an old bank building, so it is really funny to see a seed bank inside a tall ceiling, very ornately carved marble bank environment. It is just a perfect setting for it, a much better use for the bank building in my opinion than its original reason for its creation.

But you go in there and there is just really endless rows of different varieties of all sorts of different vegetables. And on each of your packets, you give a little bit of background in terms of how old that particular variety is, where it started. And it is just sort of like taking a step back in time and becoming part of history. And then to take that seed that you know somebody planted – in my case, tomatoes that looked just like the ones that are now growing in my garden, they were first planted by Spanish immigrants to America back in the late 1700s. It is pretty amazing.

Jere Gettle: Yeah, it is. The other night I was looking through an old Japanese seed catalog, actually, from the 1940’s. It was a wholesale catalog they shipped to the United States. And we had a white-fleshed – it is actually cream-fleshed – Japanese Watermelon in our catalog. We have had it – somebody sent it to me about 12 years ago and he since passed on. And I always wondered where this watermelon came from and who originated it. But looking through the catalog, I was looking in there, and it was 1940. I looked down and saw that variety. It is the same name and the description there. And it said “new that year.”

So it is always fun to go in and verify. Because I did not even know for sure if that variety was actually Japanese. I did not know if somebody just put the name on it or where it came from. But now, looking through the catalog, now I know when it was introduced and a little bit more about. So now when I grow that variety, I will actually know that it comes from 1940. So it is always fun to get those little bits and pieces, especially about a unique variety that you do not really know anything about and somebody sent it to you in the mail. And now you know kind of the rest of the story on it.

Adam Taggart: Yeah, and to your point to the variety, I am still a relatively new gardener. This is my third year. And my first two years were doing just very small, not even raised beds. I mean, they were too small to really be called beds. But this year, I put in a garden that is about 21 feet by 17 feet or so, which is a decent size for one person to handle. But it really is just four main raised beds and then a few other things I am doing. So in preparation for this podcast, I just sort of went and did a quick catalog of what is growing in there. And it is well over two dozen different varieties of plants.

Jere Gettle: All right.

Adam Taggart: And I surprised myself. Had you asked me before I did the count, I would have said maybe nine. But it is just amazing how much diversity you can get into even a plot of land that small.

Jere Gettle: Yeah. I was watching, in our flower garden, for example, it is flowers and herbs and fruits. It is probably about 60’x60’, but we have around 250 different varieties growing in there. And it is all herbs and flowers and things like strawberries and small rhubarb. We have it really crammed in there. But it is amazing walking through and thinking people with even a 6’x6’ bed can get a tomato and a pepper and a cucumber. And they can get quite a few. In the middle of summer, when these things are really producing, they can get quite a bit of their daily diet out of even a 6’x6’ bed.

Adam Taggart: Yeah, I definitely got a couple beds where I would say there is maybe six to eight different plants coexisting in there. And they all kind of learn how to find or fight for their own patch of sunlight. So to your point, it is – well I think to your larger point, to the extent that we as sort of small independent groups of citizens want to sort of take back our food security, if just a relatively small percentage of people get on this bandwagon, we can multiply the diversity pretty quickly because you are able to grow so much in spaces that are not even all that large, at least by industrial farming standards.

Jere Gettle: Correct. It is amazing how much – and there are so many different crops out there, too, if you enter plants in it also. We found when you grow all tomatoes in one spot or all squash in one spot, although it works in many climates in many places, here we like to grow in as many small little spaces and plots as we can and intermix it with flowers and herbs as much we can. Both because often times, I think, the squash bugs miss things if they are not all planted all in one place. And also if a crop does die, the other crops kind of fill in the gaps. And you also just attract so much diversity to your garden. You have so many different pollinators. And also, many of the flowers like the nasturtiums, we are also eating those in our salads and they are also making flowers. And then there is the purslane and a lot of these green leafy ornamental plants, some of them come in red and different colors. They are great in a small bed. They are also high in anti-oxidants, all sorts of minerals, and vitamins that the normal person is not getting in their diet.

Adam Taggart: So they are – so multipurpose plants, in a way, you get more out of them than just one function.

Jere Gettle: Correct. So many of the flowers and herbs that people think are just – like Thai basil for example, a lot of people think it would just be used to season curry or stir fry just a little bit. But it actually is a delicious green if you just take it and steam it and put a little olive oil on it or sesame oil. A lot of these things – a coleus is another flowering plant that people can steam, and in many countries they do. So a lot of these crops that people plant are ornamental, and then you ask. You’ve got to be careful because you’ve got to know which ones are saved. But probably the majority of them – in other parts of the planet, people are actually harvesting these things and eating them on a regular basis.

Adam Taggart: Oh, that is just fantastic. So as we close up here, how can folks that have been interested in this podcast and then the whole heirloom seed movement, how can they engage with your offerings? I know you have a catalog. You have physical seed stores. I think you produced a festival or two. It sounds like you have opened a restaurant recently, and you have these volunteer efforts around the world. What are ways some interested people could engage with you?

Jere Gettle: We would love to have people stop by the place here in Missouri or California. And we also have a store in Connecticut. But if not, they can go online to our website. It is rareseeds.com. We are also on Facebook. We are quite active on Facebook. They can see what we are doing get gardening tips and recipes. But also, we have events both here in Missouri –

we have a spring planting festival here – and then in California, coming up, around the 10th to the 12th of September every year. And this year is the 10th through 12th – 10, 11, and 12 of September in Santa Rosa at the fairgrounds there, the Sonoma County Fair Grounds. We have the National Heirloom Exposition, which we help sponsor with multiple organizations to help bring it on. But it is basically a celebration of heirloom food, historic produce, and then speakers about pure food and gardening, chefs, chef demos, historic lifestyle crafters, and about 30 different seed companies and seed organizations, as well as about 300 different pure food organizations and organic food – small-scale organic food companies and food producers.

Adam Taggart: That sounds great. And the Santa Rosa one happens to be practically in my backyard. So I will be going to that and look forward to meeting you in person there, Jere.

Jere Gettle: I would love to meet you. And I am sure you are going to enjoy the event. California that time of year is mind-blowing, the amount of diversity in Northern California, let alone the whole state and Oregon and other places where people bring produce from.

Adam Taggart: Well, as I think I mentioned to you when we talked earlier off air, Luther Burbank, who is the Father of American Botany, grew up in Maine, and actually – well, we know this random fact because he is sort of a distant ancestor of mine. But he made his way across the country during his career and ended up in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and decided to stay here. And he created an experimental farm here and everything. And his reason for planting his roots here was that everything you put in the ground here grew. And I am certainly learning that, as a relatively new resident in this place. And just going online to the webpage for the festival coming up in September, just the unbelievable diversity there of what is displayed at that festival is sure a testament to that comment about everything here growing.

Jere Gettle: Yeah, it is unbelievable. I mean, the pumpkins that grow there – there are several growers there just in Sonoma County and Napa County every year, that each have pumpkins that approach 1,500 pounds plus. It is unbelievable. Other parts of the country struggle to get 500 pounders. And that part of the country – there are other parts that also do it, but in particular, Napa and Sonoma Counties are producing some of the largest.

Adam Taggart: I look forward to seeing the pumpkins and you at the festival in Santa Rosa. And if anybody else that is listening to this comes, hopefully we can have a little Peak Prosperity group meet-up there.

Jere, I really want to thank you for your time today and for the expertise you have shared. It is definitely a very needed and very noble effort that you are pursuing with Baker Seeds. And we wish you all the best in that. And hopefully, at some point in time, we might have you back on to discuss some more gardening tips.

Jere Gettle: Well, I sure appreciate it. And am wishing you a great gardening year. We are excited. This is a great time of year. We are looking forward to being out there and meeting everybody. And I cannot wait to actually get out to our farm out that way and harvest the melon again. Nothing beats a melon out that way.

Adam Taggart: All right, Jere. Thanks so much.

About the guest

Jere Gettle

Jere Gettle always had a passion for growing things, and at age 3 he planted his first garden. Ever since that day, he wanted to be involved in the seed industry. So at the age of 17, he printed the first small Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog in 1998. The company has grown to offer 1450 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs—the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the U.S.A.

Baker Creek carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. The company has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage. Our company and seeds have been featured in The New York Times, The Associated Press, Oprah Magazine, Martha Stewart, and many others. Gardeners can request a free 212-page color catalog that now mails to 350,000 gardeners nationally.

Baker Creek started hosting festivals in 2000 as an idea to bring gardeners, homesteaders and natural food enthusiasts together to exchange thoughts, seeds, listen to speakers and enjoy vendors, old-time music and much more. These festivals gave birth to the idea for our pioneer village, Bakersville. Other projects include our trial gardens, seed collecting expeditions, our popular online forums at idigmygarden.com and educational produce exhibits.

Over the last several years, Jere Gettle and his wife Emilee have branched out into other related projects as well, including the nationally distributed, Heirloom Gardener magazine, which is now in its eighth year of publication. They have also expanded to a location in Sonoma County, California, in the beautiful town of Petaluma. Their most recent project is the restoration and preservation of the Wethersfield, Connecticut landmark, Comstock, Ferre & Company, the oldest continuously operating seed company in New England. They have written two books with Hyperion, a division of ABC/Disney. These works feature heirloom vegetables and their work with seeds and food.

Endorsed Financial Adviser Endorsed Financial Adviser

Looking for a financial adviser who sees the world through a similar lens as we do? Free consultation available.

Learn More »
Read Our New Book "Prosper!"Read Our New Book

Prosper! is a "how to" guide for living well no matter what the future brings.

Learn More »

 

Related content

10 Comments

treebeard's picture
treebeard
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 609
Great information

Glad they have a store here in CT, will definitely check it out.  Thanks for the possitive information, have not gotten into seed saving yet, this interview was very encouraging.  This is a nice counter balance to listening to Paul Craig Roberts and Gerald Celente, things are about as bad and depressing as they can get.  Eating home picked peaches and blueberries this morning are about the only cure that I have left.  Keep the possitve stuff coming too.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
resillient seeds

Wondeful podcast, Adam.  It was great to hear from Jere on this subject

Seeds you save yourself are a very important part of resilliency: if you cannot obtain seeds, it does not matter how good a gardener or small farmer you are. If you save have your own seed from things that work in your climate, you can grow things you are comfortable with and turn food security into a lifestyle.

I was involved in the Seed Saver Exchange back when it was all mail-order when I was in my 30s. Even then, we talked about biodiversity vesus monocropping. And, after Adam's informal cesus, I wondered what sort of diversity we have in our garden. We are growing 40 varieties in 18 raised beds. This is not counting vines and trees: two varieties each of grapes, figs, apples and peaches - plus a mulberry. Just like Adam, I was shocked at how far I had come in a relatively short time, in the four years since I moved to SC.

I've ordered from Rare Seeds, and recommend them. For people who live in the South I also recommend Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: they have a huge selection of heirloom seeds.

Now excuse me. I have lettuce to replant and figs to pick...

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 4 2012
Posts: 572
methods for long term seed storage?

I am just learning how to save seeds. Can anyone give me tips on the best way to save them for the long term e.g. to create a 4-5 year rotation? I live in a high humidity environment so that needs to be taken into account.

Thanks,

Jan

Tall's picture
Tall
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2010
Posts: 564
Plants have various requirements

as to the basic numbers of a plant needed to prevent 'inbreeding depression'. I ran into this problem with leeks. I was growing way too few individuals to preserve a viable seed line over the long term.

Here is a basic chart: http://sustainablemethow.net/documents/SeedSavingGuide.pdf

jasonw's picture
jasonw
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 1024
Resources and first steps

Jan,

Great to hear you have started the process of saving seeds.  I would first recommend getting the Seed to Seed book as a reference to help guide you through the process of prepping/harvesting each type of seed you want to harvest.  Sometimes there are special steps that are necessary before pollination / harvesting  occurs to ensure you are getting true seeds and not some new hybrid.  Then determine which plants you want to start saving seeds from and figure out how long you have to keep those plants in the ground. 

I have found that I have conflicting timeframes for harvesting and saving seeds.  I want to harvest all the ripe produce when its ready and prep the bed for the next planting when it is past but then get conflicted when I want to save seed and have to hold off.  Plant new food or let it go to seeds and wait?  But there are still lots of varieties that can be had without waiting.

As far as long term storage - we keep all our seeds in white paper envelopes or the original packaging and those are stored in plastic coupon tie folders sorted by type of plant (tomatoes, brassicas, lettuce, beans, etc) Then the folders are stored in a plastic bin that is then stored in a cedar chest with other seed starting gear (catalogs, popsicle sticks, pens, etc).  So far this has turned out very effective. 

Will will also be experimenting this fall with using our vacuum sealer and the Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer attachment to "put away" bulk seed in quart jars (still placed in envelopes).  Then we will place these jars in our cheese cave to keep them at 50 degrees. We did try to use some frozen bean seeds this year and had very poor results, so we are avoiding freezing seeds for now until we do more research on that. 

But seeds are very resilient themselves.  As an example, this year we started some tomato seeds that were harvested from my wife's backyard garden in 2002 and not properly stored and have traveled thousands of miles during our moving adventures.  We have 4 great looking plants growing in the garden as I type this.  Took an extra 3 weeks to germinate but they did finally grow. 

So I hope this helps and good luck with the seed saving.  I think I will harvest some basil seed this week.  That is an easy one. 

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
a good book om seed saving

Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon is a great book that has lots of information on seed saving. Steve ran a seed company for about a decade and the book offers reams of practical advice.

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 4 2012
Posts: 572
thanks

Thanks everyone for the tips - much appreciated! smiley

DGCanuck's picture
DGCanuck
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 8 2011
Posts: 9
Resources

One of the best ways to learn about seed saving is to join a local group.  In my area, we have a thriving community of growers and seed savers committed to conserving and preserving genetic diversity.  We have a seed bank, an annual seed sale in March, a plant sale in May, quarterly newsletters, and monthly meetings where we bring in speakers to talk about local challenges.  We focus on education, supporting school programs and community events.  I can post a link to our website if that would be of interest.

 In the face of all the doom and gloom gathering on the horizon, it's very heartening to come in contact with other people with exactly the same goals.  Thanks for the post.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 3099
Beautiful heirloom tomato harvest

In this podcast, I made an off-hand mention about the first heirloom seeds I purchased from Jere's company. They were of the Morado tomato, a variety from Spain :

This very rare tomato produces delicious 1-lb fruit that are dark purplish-pink in color, with green shoulders. The plants have excellent production, and fruit is uniform and crack resistant. Another great-tasting "black" tomato that should be a good variety for the market grower.

It has been over a year since I initially bought the seeds, and I've been waiting eagerly all season for the plants to grow and ripen.

I'm happy to report that the wait has been worth it. I just harvested these beauties this morning:

These tomatoes have a thick, succulent meat that's really perfect in a meal on a hot summer's day.

The harvest also included this monster, which was roughly the same size as a grapefruit:

Very happy to be growing healthy and wonderful-tasting heirloom food from seed. Hard to eat any more nutritiously or tastily than that!

If you're not already planting at least some heirloom varieties in your garden, check with your local nursery or farmer's market for guidance on where to get seeds/seedlings. Or purchase some from a catalog company like Jere's. Your local bio-diversity and your dinner table will be better off for it.

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 21 2013
Posts: 68
2 years in growing heirloom

Some great tips on seed harvesting!  Thanks everyone.   We've been ordering and growing heirloom veggies for a couple of years now and want to start reclaiming seeds for the following year.   Like most things, it's something that seems to be a skill that needs time (and wisdom!) to develop.  We have a ways to go yet....   Having good sources of credible knowledge is a big help.

 

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments