The secret delights of going to seed 

Seediness is fun and fruitful — and Jesse Fromowitz tells us how

click to flip through (3) PHOTO SUBMITTED - 'King of Seeds', Jesse Fromowitz.
  • Photo submitted
  • 'King of Seeds', Jesse Fromowitz.
   
 

The beans and carrots are tender and sweet; the tomatoes plump on the vine; the bees are a-hummin' around fragrant herbs and flowers: Summer's ripe and ready on time.

But wait a sec before you gather every last flower into big luscious bouquets and harvest all those sweet fruits and veggies for your dining delight. Jesse Fromowitz would be first in line to encourage you to let a few of those happy, healthy plants go to seed, then save those bitty seeds, and do it again and again.

I like to think of Jesse as the original King of Seeds, for he's saved seed from literally hundreds of varieties of herbs, vegetables, and edible, decorative plants, including chrysanthemums, pansies and nasturtiums.

"I've always found it interesting how amazing a seed is," he says by phone after I've interrupted him in the middle of stringing up garlic to dry.

"You can take this tiny little thing, plant it in some soil and it grows into this giant plant."

It really is remarkable — all the more so if you're one of those gardeners like me, who, out of habit dutifully trots to the greenhouse each spring to buy bedding plants, forgetting, as a fellow gardener once counselled, "Seeds work, you know."

For years, people in Sea to Sky have known Jesse from his good work at various market garden and farm operations, from his management of the market garden at Riverlands to his own market garden called Goodfield Farms, for his mother's maiden name. He's one of those lucky souls who knew exactly what he wanted to do in life at the ripe old age of 18. And it all sprang from a book.

"Basically, when I was 14 or 15 I picked up a book on medicinal herbs, and it interested me that all these medicinal herbs can help your health and give you nutrients in a totally different way than common food," he says.

That life-changing book was Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal, first published in 1653. Culpeper, a botanist, herbalist, physician and astronomer who spent most of his life in the English countryside cataloguing the hundreds of medicinal plants and herbs found growing there, has been the "go-to guy" for herbs for centuries.

"I was totally fascinated by it," says Jesse. So his parents let him dig up a patch in their backyard in Maple, Ont., to grow some herbs and veggies. He was hooked.

The little garden was so successful, he did it again and again, finally picking up roots at age 19 to come to Pemberton and work on Spencer Hutchin's 12-acre hemp seed farm — truly, an industrial hemp seed farm, like the kind you sprinkle on your cereal, not to be confused with a pot farm.

He was a WWOOFER — that is, a "Willing Worker on Organic Farms" or, more properly World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, the Canadian chapter of which has been around since 1985. WWOOFERs exchange theIr labour for free room and board and the opportunity to learn about organic farming.

As for the seed-saving part, Jesse got into that with his first garden.

"I just found it more exciting to use my own seeds over and over, instead of having to go out and buy common seeds that might have been contaminated with fungicides and stuff like that," he says. (See my July 3 Pique column on the latest horror. Neonicotinoids, or "neonics" for short — described by scientists as this generation's DDT — are being used prophylactically. Seeds are coated with them so that plants mature with a built-in ability to kill pests.)

The thing is, if you continuously grow your own seeds organically, each year they get stronger, becoming better adapted to local growing conditions and building up resistance to diseases and pathogens.

"Keeping the seeds is like keeping a plant that knows your own soil," says Jesse, who is now partners with Stefan and Nicholas Butler at Good Time Farming, growing on plots of land in Squamish and Pemberton Valley.

"If you keep buying seeds then you aren't putting in seed that got adapted to your soil and you aren't building up that plant's genetic coding that it needs to do well in your environment."

EASY TO GO TO SEED ON YOUR OWN

Saving seeds is as easy as, well, saving seeds. Like I was saying earlier, you can get started this year if you simply let a few of your favourite plants go to seed.

If you're a pro, like Jesse, you might want to think about planting a favourite variety, say heirloom tomatoes, in a patch far away from other tomatoes so they don't get contaminated from cross-pollination. Alternatively, you can aim to cross-pollinate favourites and see if you get a new species.

Whichever way you go, the fun is in saving and planting seeds from a plant you love. It's kind of like making a living scrapbook in green.

Tomatoes are a super place to start, but you can save seed from carrots, onions, flowers, salad greens, herbs— you name it.

"I've had tomato seeds last 10 years, and still sprout fine as long as you keep them out of the sun and in a place where the temperature doesn't fluctuate," says Jesse. Keep them in your fridge, or in a cool spot like your garage or basement. Just be sure to seal them away from rodents or pests that might get into them.

If you haven't discovered them yet, Jesse recommends Stupice tomatoes — they do well in Sea to Sky country and produce sweet, delicious tomatoes continuously.

Whatever tomatoes you use, simply squeeze the seed from ripe tomatoes that are too soft to eat, but not rotted. Squeeze the seeds into a mesh sieve and clean them with running water. Shake off as much water as you can and dump the seeds onto an ordinary sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper to dry on your kitchen counter. Don't use paper towel — it sticks.

Once they're dry, pick off the seeds and store them in a sealed, labelled container to keep for next year's garden. Even if it's a mini-garden in one little pot on your windowsill, it's as thrilling to see the first little green sprout as it is in an acre of rows.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who reminds you to look for Good Time Farming's seed-grown produce at the Whistler and Squamish farmers' markets.

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