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Status of the Farm and the Farmer / Sorry about the down-time
« on: 2017-October-27 07:30:20 PM »
The forum software crashed, and I'm just now getting it operational again. Sorry about that.

My fields are harvested, tilled, and the overwintering crops have been planted. I'm working on getting seeds ready to share.

My Varieties -- Descriptions & Grow Reports / Grapes
« on: 2016-October-11 09:06:35 PM »
I expanded the vineyard today by planting 13 more grape vines. I am currently growing:

NameDescriptionHarvest Date
CanadicePink. Seedless. Small fruits. TartMid-season.
ConcordBlack. Seeded. Mild flavor.Very Late.
GlenoraBlack. Seedless. Tart and sweet. Vigorous. Very tasty.Late.
InterlakenGreen. Seedless. Very Sweet. Vigorous.Earliest.
Pink Table GrapePink. Seeded. Sweet and Mild. Mid-season.
Two Mystery VarietiesUnknown.Unknown.

I have vineyards now which are separated in elevation by 300 feet. That should help provide an extended harvest for each variety.

Landrace Gardening Blog / Press Releases About New Blogs
« on: 2016-April-27 04:46:41 PM »
Today, Mother Earth News published the next installment in my ongoing blog about landrace gardening.

Landrace Gardening: Do It for the Taste

Growing your own localized varieties of vegetables allows you to customize the taste to your liking.

Farmer's Market / 2016 Farmer's Market
« on: 2016-March-30 02:17:52 PM »
I currently have onion seedlings ready for sale.

I'll bring them to the farmer's market with me starting in May. You can get them sooner than that by visiting me at the greenhouse. They can be planted any time from now till about the first of June. They are my landrace variety, so they have been selected to grow wonderfully in this area. I have spent a lot of effort in selecting for onions that store for a long time on the shelf in a warm/dry room.

Click on the "Notify" icon in this thread if you would like to be notified of new additions to this thread.

We kicked off the growing season in early March by having a garden party and planting 3 week old fava beans into the garden, a few days after the snow melted. We sang. We danced around a fire. We ate great food that was harvested last fall. We also started the spring harvests that day by digging sunroot tubers.

A few days later, I planted breadseeds, onions, garlic, peas, garbanzos, more favas, bok choi, and similar crops that like the cold weather.

The greenhouse is quickly filling up with warmer weather plants: Basil, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, herbs, medicinals, etc... I'm pretty much only planting my own varieties of tomatoes, but if you are local, and have a favorite variety, and would like me to grow plants for you, get some seeds to me and I'll give them a try.

Because I foresee a need for a more localized and decentralized approach to health-care, I am focusing a lot of effort this year on learning how to grow and use medicinal herbs. I'm collaborating closely with the local medicine women, herbalists,  and shaman in choosing species, and developing varieties that may work here. In so doing, I am approximately doubling the number of species that I am stewarding to around 120 species. 

Thanks for your ongoing support.

Landrace Gardening Blog / Landrace Gardening: Naming The New Varieties
« on: 2016-February-08 09:22:22 PM »

Landrace Gardening: Naming The New Varieties
By Joseph Lofthouse

When I started landrace gardening, I had to relearn how to name the plants in my garden. I was used to keeping varieties separate, and to taking great pains to insure that they remained pure. I was pretty much of the mindset that a variety has one name that it carries with it forever. As a landrace gardener, names have become more fleeting. These days, in my garden, plants are more likely to be called something like “Dry Beans”, or “That Dry Bean With The Pretty Purple Flowers."

Mega-farms which grow seed for the mass-market use a naming strategy in which each cultivar is distinct and separate from every other cultivar. The seed is highly inbred, and measures are taken to keep in that way. Fixed names and unchanging genetics are important when growing commercial seed to be sold in a national or international market. Farmers should be able to trust that the “Bodacious Sweet Corn” that they purchased last year is the same as what they are purchasing this year.

The naming strategy used by landrace gardeners is more flexible. Landrace gardeners tend to lump seeds together into groups of similar type, and then name only the family groups. To people that are saving their own seeds, and localizing them to their own gardens, the history and specific genetics of a variety don’t matter much. What matters more is that the current population has been localized to grow well in each particular garden.

As an example, with moschata squash, I separate the patch into early fruiting, which I save for seed, and later fruiting which I send to the farmer's market. Earliness is an important trait to me because I can't harvest a fruit that fails to mature. The first year of my moschata squash trials about 75 percent of the varieties grown did not produce fruits. The moschata landrace contains butternuts, and necked squash, and pumpkins. I lump the seed together and call them by their species name. The distinguishing trait is that they are squash. They look like squash. They grow like squash. They taste like squash.

In some cases it makes sense to separate the seeds a bit more, mostly for practical considerations. For example, with butternut squash, people frequently asked me for smaller fruits, so I divided the landrace into a small/medium fruited landrace, and into an extra-large fruited landrace. I grow them in separate fields so that they don’t cross.

In the early years of a landrace development project I like to plant seeds fruit-to-row. By that, I mean that the seeds from one fruit are planted together in a row by themselves. The row might only be 3 feet long, or I might plant a hill of melons all from the same mother. This allows me to see how the offspring of a particular mother compare to the offspring of other mothers. I might not know anything about the pollen donor, but I can learn a lot about the mother by watching how a sibling group grows. Because earliness to harvest is of great importance to me in melons, I typically name fruits based on the day that they were harvested, followed by a letter to distinguish the different fruits that were harvested on the same day. For example, this photo shows how I label cantaloupes as they are coming out of the garden. On these melons I also added a designation of which field they came from. I planted different populations in different fields, so that also tells me something about the family history of the fruit.

I add other details to the fermentation vat and final seed packet such as “yellow flesh”, or “tastes great”, or “10 percent sugar." Then before planting I can use those notes to decide what to plant. Offspring tend to resemble their mother.

When I am harvesting popcorn, I label the baskets with the date harvested. I pop each cob separately. I label great cobs with the date harvested, expansion ratio, number of old-maids, and unique traits, such as easy shelling or great taste. Then before planting time, I sort the seed packets to decide what traits I’d like to carry through to next year. I only keep plants separate that have some trait that I'd like to emphasize. Average cobs with average traits are saved and planted in bulk.

I do not typically label plants when they are planted. I am most interested in how the plants grow. I am not much interested in their history. Even if I could keep perfect records, there is unavoidable chaos when saving seeds. For example, one day my brother threw kitchen scraps into the fermentation bucket for my tomato landrace! So my tomato seed included seeds from tomatillos, peppers, and unselected tomatoes. The tomatillo that my brother helped me save was very nice.

I take copious photos or videos while planting, and during growth and harvest. If something interesting shows up I might be able to learn more about it from the images.

I often put a ribbon of surveyor's tape around a plant that has desirable traits, and write a note on the tape. Then the note is carried along with the vegetable at harvest, and becomes part of the name/description of the plant.

Once I get to a well developed landrace, I use names that describe the phenotype of the crop, along with a description of the location to which it is well adapted: So I grow “Joseph’s Best Cantaloupe landrace." It is the best growing cantaloupe in Joseph’s garden. I grow “Paradise Sugary Enhanced Landrace Sweet Corn." Paradise is the name of the village where the corn was developed. “Sugary Enhanced Sweet Corn" describes what the corn is used for, and “Landrace” implies that it is genetically diverse and has been localized to my garden by passing the survival of the fittest test.

Next week I will write about how landrace gardening promotes hybrid vigor and avoids inbreeding depression by encouraging promiscuous pollination.

Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively.

Landrace Gardening Blog / Landrace Gardening: Survival of the Fittest
« on: 2016-February-07 12:04:03 PM »
Landrace Gardening: Survival of the Fittest
By Joseph Lofthouse

Landrace gardening is a traditional method of growing food in which the seeds to be planted next year result from the survival of the fittest in a particular garden in previous years. Landrace varieties become attached to a region, and thrive in that region. Landrace varieties are genetically variable so that as conditions change from year to year the population can adapt to the changes.

The first landrace crop that I grew was Astronomy Domine sweet corn. It was the product of a breeding project by Alan Bishop of Bishop’s Homegrown in Pekin, Indiana. The essence of the project was to throw as many cultivars of sweet corn as possible into a field, let them cross pollinate, and see what survived and how the descendants fared. Around 200 cultivars contributed their diversity to the gene pool. Some plants grew vigorously, many grew decent, and some struggled to survive. I saved seed from the parents that thrived and that did okay, and replanted the next year. The results were fantastic! I was hooked on growing genetically diverse crops and saving seeds from them.

My version of Astronomy Domine had diverged from the original version. My population is about ten days shorter season than the original. That is to be expected because in my cold mountain valley a crop has to produce quickly and thrive in cool nights if I am to get a harvest.

After the stunning success of the sweet corn project, I determined that I wanted to explore growing other varieties of localized landrace crops. Melons seemed like a good test project, because they have traditionally done poorly in my valley, and because they are highly popular. Melons are an out-breeding crop, so they cross-pollinate readily, and can produce huge numbers of genetically unique individuals. Generating lots of variety is one of the key principals of landrace gardening. More diversity provides more opportunities to find family groups that thrive in any particular garden.

To start the cantaloupe project, I gathered together the seeds from the few melons that had produced a fruit the previous year, and I added to them as many varieties as I could obtain: from local farm stands, from the Internet, from seed catalogs, from the grocery store. I planted a packet of seeds per row until I had planted a large patch of melons. Then I sat back and watched one melon disaster after another. Some varieties didn’t germinate. Some varieties were eaten by bugs within days of emerging. Others just sat there and shivered in the cold. Some individuals shrugged off the adverse growing conditions and grew robustly. The two best growing plants produced more fruit than the rest of the patch combined.

Here are photos that demonstrate the differences. Each seed was planted on the same day, a few feet from each other in the garden. The photos were taken a few minutes apart. The first photo shows what an average cantaloupe from a seed packet grows like in my garden. The second photo shows what a well adapted cantaloupe grows like in my garden (after only one year of selection).

I collected the seed from the best growing melons and replanted it. Oh my heck!!! I was used to trying to grow maladapted cantaloupes. I never imagined that cantaloupes might actually produce an abundant harvest for me: I was harvesting a hundred pounds of fruit at a time!

Early in the process of developing a locally adapted cantaloupe population, I was contacted by a grower who grows in the same mountain valley as my farm. Since that time, we have shared seeds liberally with each other. I trust her seeds implicitly, because we share the same climate, the same soil, the same altitude, the same bugs, and the same philosophy towards diversity. Her seeds thrive in my garden because our gardens are so similar. I love our collaboration. It is nice to see the grandchildren of my seeds coming back home to grow among their cousins. Half of the watermelon and cantaloupe seeds that I planted this spring were grown by her. She provided most of my sweet pepper seed. I am coming to favor the yellow watermelons that are emerging from the collaboration. They taste excellent and grow well in our valley. When did anyone ever say that before about watermelons in our valley?

The watermelon project included collaborators from around the world. We have shared seeds liberally among all participants. The most reliable imports into my garden have consistently came from the collaborator in my valley. To start the watermelon project, I planted around 700 seeds: A few seeds each from as many varieties as we could get our hands on. The first planting included the promiscuously pollinated hybrid offspring of hundreds of varieties. I harvested about 5 fruits the first year. That is great odds for a survival of the fittest plant breeding program. One of those fruits was from the variety of watermelon that my daddy has preserved for decades in our valley.

Because of my success with cantaloupes, I decided to convert all of my crops to locally-adapted survival-of-the-fittest landraces. Spinach was among the first crops that I converted. It was the simplest for me. I planted a number of varieties of spinach next to each other and weeded out the plants that were slow growing, or quick to bolt. About 4 of the 12 varieties were suitable for my garden. I allowed them to cross pollinate and set seed. This spring someone gave me a packet of spinach seeds so I thought I’d plant it next to my locally-adapted landrace to compare them. See that little speck of green that I marked with a red dot? That is the imported spinach: Already gone to seed. I pulled it and laid it next to my landrace spinach to demonstrate the huge difference in growth. They were planted on the same day a few feet from each other.

Sometimes when I start adapting a new crop to my garden, I import hundreds of varieties to trial. Other times I take a slow and steady approach, by growing one new cultivar in the row next to my crop. If the new variety does well then I save seeds from it and add them to the landrace. If the new variety does poorly, then it might contribute some pollen. I do not try to keep varieties pure, other than basic things like keeping hot peppers separate from sweet peppers, and sweet corn separate from popcorn. Turnips are a crop that I approached by the slow and steady method. They already grew well for me, so there wasn’t any reason to search far and wide for something that would do better. I plant another packet of seed every few years, and may include a couple of roots from the new strain among the seed-parents the following year.

The dry bean landrace has been fun for me because it is tremendously colorful. It draws lots of attention at the farmer’s market. I started it by planting beans, all jumbled up together from as many species and cultivars as I could acquire. I think that there were around 12 species, many of which I had never grown before. I planted them in hot weather, not knowing that some of them are cool-weather species. I didn’t know if they were bush beans or pole beans. Nevertheless, some of them grew very well and produced a harvest in my short growing season. I collected the seeds of the survivors and planted them a couple weeks ago. This year I am expecting them to do great, because I selected (mostly) for bush types whose parents thrived in my garden. I tend to give my crops names that describe the plant or its use, such as “dry bush bean landrace”. “Dry bean” describes what the crop is used for, “bush” describes how it grows, and “landrace” implies that it is genetically diverse and has been localized to my garden by passing the survival of the fittest test. Some crops can achieve the landrace label in my garden in one growing season, other crops may take many years before I could say that they are thriving in my garden.

I could write and write about how successful landrace gardening has been for me, but it would just be more of the same: The locally adapted plants thriving, and the imports from far away struggling to survive. I hope that this post has helped show in photos why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Next time I’ll write more about naming all the new plants that arise in a landrace garden.


Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively.

Other topics in this series are at:

Farmer's Market / 2015-10-09
« on: 2015-October-09 08:46:47 PM »

This week is squash week!!!!

I'm bringing a truck overflowing with winter storage squash.. And pricing is great... $2 per squash, or buy a crate of them loaded to the gills for $10... Economically, it makes best sense to buy large squash by the each, and to fill the crate with smaller squash. These squash will keep until spring if kept in a dry place. The buttercup squash are my favorite, and a customer favorite, so I'll throw a couple into each crate but they are otherwise not part of the crate pricing deal.

There are only two more markets, so it's a great time to load up!

I'm also bringing gourds and pumpkins.

We have honey in pint jars and 5 gallon buckets. Wax is gone for the season.

We're also bringing apples,  tomatillos, dry soup beans, tobacco, onions, planting garlic, and maybe a few other things...

Farmer's Market / 2015-08-22
« on: 2015-August-30 08:46:58 PM »

Plant Breeding Projects / Runner Beans
« on: 2015-August-30 06:30:10 PM »
I have planted runner beans each year for the past 7 growing seasons. The first 4 years I got zero harvest from them. Three seasons ago, Holly from California sent me a landrace of runner bean seeds from her farm. I love her seeds, because even though she has a longer growing season, it shares my dry summers with low humidity.

Holly's  beans actually produced some viable seeds in 2013. The harvest was less than what went into the ground, and many plants produced nothing, but it was a good start.

In the 2014 growing season I replanted those seeds, and some other varieties. Unfortunately, I planted them in the sunflower row and the sunflowers way out competed the runner beans. But some managed to produce seeds.

In the 2015 growing season I planted a row of runner beans all by itself, and I kept them weeded perfectly. I put all of my seed into the ground. The remainder of Holly's original seed, and the survivors from the previous two generations, and all of my backup archive seeds. It was all or nothing... It turned out to be a good risk. Some of the plants have been flowering like crazy all summer without producing fruits. Some of the plants are loaded with seeds. Woo Hoo! My grandfather grew runner beans when I was a child. I have longed to do likewise.

Most of the plants have white flowers or scarlet flowers. A couple of them have bi-color flowers.

There are a lot of pollinators on them: Hummingbirds, bumblebees, honeybees.

First Harvest. 2015-08-26

Again this year, the yellow tiger bean dominates the earliest harvests. Pinto beans and pink beans are producing well.

Harvest. 2015-08-28

2015-08-28. Sorted by type.

This is what the patch looked like on 2015-07-17.

Here's what the bean patch looked like a week ago.

Farmer's Market / 2015-08-29
« on: 2015-August-28 08:08:21 AM »
As usual, we are bringing honey in pint jars ($10) and 5 gallon buckets ($250).

Also bringing:

Storage Onions
Decorative pumpkins

Looks like muskmelons will be ready next week.

Status of the Farm and the Farmer / Major Life Modification
« on: 2015-August-26 02:05:49 PM »
Twelve days ago, I finally left a long term dysfunctional relationship. It really sucks to just walk away, but I trust my therapist when he said  that it was the only way to deal successfully with this particular issue.

I departed precipitously. I choose to live a life full of gentleness, calm, and respect.

I managed to take most of the current seed inventory with me. I left behind a lot of older seed, and most of my garden tools, and all of my winter clothing and decent shoes. I'm biking these days. I sure feel fit. I'll really miss the greenhouse come spring. I'm not publishing a new telephone number for a few months, but those of you that like to call or text may request it via personal message.

Since it's a rain day, I'm working on taking inventory of what breeding projects and seed stashes I managed to take with me, and which are still growing in the garden, etc... The current harvests are safe for: squash, sweet corn, flour corn, watermelon, muskmelon, carrots, cucumbers, beans, favas, bok choi, garbanzos, fennel, wheat, sunroot, okra, tomatillos, peppers, and tobacco. I think that the popcorn project is set back a couple of years. I've been disliking that project anyway, because the phenotype for good popping ability is so fickle.

The true garlic seed project was severely impacted. The turnip rooted parsnip project is set back a couple years. Peas were close to a complete loss this year, mostly due to not being able to be in the garden enough as things went from bad to worse. I left behind a glorious vineyard, and the hazelnuts, walnuts, pears, apricots, and apples.

The tomatoes are doing fine... I made a lot of progress this summer, I just didn't get as many crosses made as I would have liked... I let the potato seedlings get overrun with weeds, but I'll still dig up the row to see if I can discover any tubers.

I grew lots of spinach seed this year, and made good progress on the storage onion project.

I feel great, other than the stress of making a major lifestyle change. I've been visiting friends and family that I wasn't previously able to visit very much. It's really nice to not have to spend every penny I make on buying gasoline to commute to the garden.  I've really been enjoying great food with lots of spices.

Farmer's Market / 2015-08-08
« on: 2015-August-10 06:19:44 PM »

We took:

Honey in pint jars and 5 gallon buckets.
Red Clover
Ripe Tomatillos
Slicing Onions
Green Beans
Seed Garlic
Basil Plants
Lagenaria Squash

Farmer's Market / 2015-08-01
« on: 2015-August-01 12:19:15 AM »
This week we are taking honey in pint jars and in 5 gallon buckets, turnips, beets with greens, carrots, garlic, popcorn, soup peas, whole tobacco leaf, tomatoes, kohlrabi, zucchini.

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