Our guest speaker for the February meeting was Arzeena Hamir.
here are the meeting notes prepared b y Valerie Bernier.
GUEST SPEAKER: ARZEENA HAMIR
-trained agrologist and owner of Amara Farm a local Certified Organic farm
-Has been growing in the valley for 6+ years
-Was staff agrologist for Territorial seeds Canada which became West Coast seeds
Her goal: help us growers make the best choices for our own gardens
Source of seeds
The best source of seeds is always your own because you will select the plants that do the best on your land and for you. For example, here land is wet and cold while another local farmer might have a well drained, dryer and warmer soil. If you cannot save your seeds, she encourages to buy seeds from as close to your region as possible, Seedy Saturday being a really great option! When you save your seeds, try something simple. Start with flowers or peas, beans and lettuce.
Hint: West Coast seeds as well as most large seed companies (Johnny’s, Vesseys) do not grow their own. However, WCS focus on seeds that can grow in mild, wet climate. For example, we can grow greens year round easily but we have a really hard time growing great tasting tomatoes. That is why WCS has lots of greens, lettuce, Asian Greens, etc. Ex William Dann has seeds for dryer climate and mainly from Europe–Sylvain likes them because of unique-open pollinated varieties.
As an organic grower, she must always buy organic first whenever possible and they have become more available in the last few years.
High Mowing Seeds Co, based out of Vermont and Johnny’s Seeds are also companies they often buy from as they have several organic varieties. Sylvain says: Lindenberg seeds have reasonable prices as their packets are smaller as another cheaper option.
The real cost of seeds are about $0.20 for a $2 packet but all the work and cost goes into creating the catalogues as they are very detailed. Another point of interest, farmers like Arzeena are always looking for new varieties and so seed companies need to have trial beds so they can test out these new seeds. As more new seeds get added in, the seed companies must drop some and it is often the older heirloom varieties that disappear. Many of those seed companies are based in the USA, but rarely are the seeds grown in USA and Canada. Beet and chard production are from Washington and Oregon-about 90% of all those seeds come from those states. Heat requiring crops are often outsourced in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
In contrast, High Mowing do not do outsourcing from other countries.
Salts Spring Island sedds grow their own as well as outsource locally from Amara and other farms. We can also buy Good Earth Farm here in Black Creek. You can find them at Seedy Sat, Farmer’s market and Art Knapp. They also do school fundraising programs!
Let’s decipher the catalogue.
Tomatoes: Are seperated into slicing, paste and cherries. Hybrid F-1 is First fillial generation after the cross and are generally more expensive than OP. They cross two lines of female and male tomato varieties. Hybridized seeds are more uniform, are hardier and grow faster and earlier than OP.
If you want to save your seeds, stick with Open Pollinated.
Grape tomato means a tomato slightly oblong in shape.
Semi-determinate: tomatoes, squash and cucumbers
Vine (indeterminate) you need to prune and stake –not recommended for container growing. Bush (determinate) containers ok.
In general, the more sprawling, the more production. Often bush will be earlier, but will not produce as much.
The 62 days means maturity from the time of transplanting. For tomatoes, you are adding about 6 weeks prior to that. So anything past 90 days, it will be very challenging to grow in this area unless you have a greenhouse.
Cherry tomatoes always produce quite early like Stupice.
Heirloom usually means dating pre-WWI. There are no GMO vegetables.
Heavy self seeder or reseeds itself. Know to be very careful with those or they will spread!
Early 75 days-Avalon-85 days-Polaris-92
In this region, choose early varieties as they might not have time to ripen. However, we might not get the deeper colour and flavour of the squash because of lack of heat accumulation.
IN sum, try to buy as local as possible and fill in the gaps with other companies. Baker Seeds-Missouri-Rare seeds.com are good options for the very unique, unusual varieties. They are a socially responsible company and during the war in Syria, they donated part of their proceeds to the families affected. Look for their big sale in August.
Time to start your seeds
Keep in mind how much power you use to keep your seedlings warm-wait until the cold spell passes. Celery, celeriac can be started early but they cannot go below 10 degrees. Bottom heat is used at Amara to quicken the growth and stalkiness of the plant. You will need to add supplemental light for sure before April. Arzeena uses Home Depot ballasts and fluorescent tubes like Cool white combined with warm or full spectrum. Start at 6 am to 8 pm on a timer to give full 14 hours. No more than 4 inches atop the plants will ensure they do not get leggy.
Trays–Integrity Sales & Distributors
At Amara, they mainly buy plug trays of 72 and 128 but if you can, use the plastic containers you have at your house combined with little square plastic containers. She does not prefer peat pot, paper, etc because they dry up quickly. Word of caution-the peat pucks often do not degrade easily and hold the roots together too much. What to use then? Having a clear container with a lid like a plastic clamshell containers work great! Salad containers or anything like that. If you want to avoid plastic, you can use egg cartons and put soil in an egg shell with a hole at the bottom. Remember that this option contains a very little bit of soil and need to be transplanted quickly.
1st option: Medium needs to have bacteria and fungi. They do not work in a sterile system. Amara farms do not sterilize and bleach trays exactly for that reason. Introduce worm castings to help introduce bacteria and it will help break down anything undesirable. The goal is to avoid damping off which is a fungus that lives on the top of your soil mix and thrives on moisture and air. If it is present, the seedlings will look beautiful for a while and all of a sudden, they will die. If it happens, you need to throw out the entire tray and disinfect the tray. To avoid, allow the mix to dry on top. You can also use perlite on top and it will provide perfect drainage and the fungus will not like that environment. You could also use cinnamon on the top to kill fungus. You could water with cool chamomile tea. Water from beneath is also a great way to minimize the chance of damping off.
2nd option: Sterile soil mix. In that case, make sure your containers are also super clean and sterilized.
Alternative to Peat–Coconut fiber
There is a dairy farmer in the valley that has a digester and what comes out looks like Peat-he uses it as bedding.
Buy organic potting mix. There is no such thing as Certified organic-it only means they are suppose to be inspected but makes no real difference. Sunshine is a really great one. #4 is quite chunky but you can sieve out the chunks. You can buy seed starting mix with vermiculite. It is very small particles. The finer the mix, the easier it is to start especially small seeds. You can make your own mix if you want. SharKare is a better, cheaper supplier of the individual ingredients: 50% peat and 25% Perlite, 25% vermiculite.
Every seed has enough energy to take it to a three leaf stage. So you either start out with soil with added nutrition, you can liquid fertilize or transplant into larger pots.