Two Letters Re: Gardening and Seed Saving, by Carolyn W.

Dear JWR
The article by Carolyn W. on gardening and seed saving was fantastic. Having gardened all my life (60+) and converted to open pollinated seed at the urging of the Holy Spirit in 1992 I know that she has covered this subject very, very well. The one problem for most just now starting is that it will take time to learn all that is necessary to put food on the table. When I first started to grow tomatoes from seed it took me three years to be successful. I pray that others learning curve will be much shorter. Get and read the books and seed catalogs she has recommended. I have used the same sources and can tell you the info is priceless. I will add a book that will help on companion planting called “Carrots Love Tomatoes” is top of the line. It will also help when you plant properly to help keep bugs away from some plants, therefore less need to have supplies to spray or dust plants with. The only other book that I recommend on savings seed is called “Saving Seeds” by Marc Rodgers. One thing to also remember is that if you have to bug out say in September it will be almost a full year before you will have crops to store for the next winter, depending on your location. One other item that could be of interest to some is that Lehman’s has pressure canners that don’t require a rubber gasket. We have used ours for years and have never had a problem with it.

As to gun and magazine storage a friend of mine has suggested that after normal cleaning you could vacuum pack with a packet of silica gel desiccant. This works well for food so will it also work well for guns, etc? Because you can get the rolls and make the bags to any length this will also work for long guns. – John M. in Ohio

JWR Replies: To prevent rust in a high-humidity climate, applying a vacuum isn’t necessary, but the silica gel and a good seal are necessary. The silica gel will almost immediately absorb any air moisture inside a well-sealed container. It doesn’t hurt to vacuum pack most firearms items, with the with the notable exception of ammunition, because it can actually unseat bullets with a strong vacuum! And, BTW, vacuum packing is a bad idea for storing gardening seed, which needs oxygen to survive.


A couple of additions to the article on Gardening and Seed Saving: At one time I had the largest organic produce gardens in N. Ohio. I grew hundreds of varieties of vegetables. I also grew specifically for commercial seed production and sale.

Concerning soil preparation: If you are creating a new garden, I recommend you first carefully observe the strength, color, type and vitality of the existing ground cover. If the grass or “weeds” are doing poorly, or if they are of poor varieties, you will almost certainly need to do quite a bit of soil amendment to produce a fit garden in the same spot. If the existing cover is healthy, the soil is in better condition and your garden will likely also do better. Being a careful observer of everything you do, can make life much easier.

For gardening in hilly country, if you have a choice, always try to choose a south facing hill side or slope. By planting your garden facing south, you can extend the growing season significantly. Planting on a north hill will shorten it. …Actually this holds true for your whole farm. It is much better to spend a bit more money to buy a farm that is on the south side of a ridge than if it is on the north. With the increase in the sun that a south slope gathers, your crops will likely be much better than your neighbors. Even your winter heating bills will be reduced. Also, when planting your garden, try to plant the rows on a east/west axis. That way, the plants won’t shade each other so much, and they will each catch more sun.

When it comes to tillage, the “traditional”, and often used, mold board plow was originally developed to “bust ” the very heavy grasses of the western plains. A major problem with using one for “everyday” plowing, is that the bottom of the plow is flat. Every time you use that type of plow, it packs the soil beneath it tighter and tighter. Eventually, you will create a hard packed wall, or hard pan, that plant roots and water will have a hard time penetrating. Unfortunately, using a rototiller has much the same effect. Unless you yearly adjust and change the depth that the rotating blades dig, you will again create a hard pan.

It you are going to mechanically till your soil, a simple solution, that I highly recommend, is to use a subsoiler. It is essentially a long stake or bar that digs straight down into the ground, 12 to 24 inches. It is either wheel mounted or attaches to the rear of your tractor by 3-point hitch. It doesn’t turn over the soil. It just loosens the ground down deep as you pull it along, so roots can go deeper seeking water and nutrients. You can find a great deal of info., and pictures, about subsoilers by simply searching with a search engine for “subsoiler”.

Concerning choosing seeds: It has been my experience that you should never buy hybrids if you want to save seed. It’s just too chancy. I suppose a hybrid could come back true the next year, but I’ve never had it happen. One experiment I did was to save the seeds from a lovely big red tomato. The next year, those seeds produced a red cherry tomato. The third year, the “cherry” seeds produced a yellow cherry tomato. I had finally grown the seed back to it’s original seed stock. –A yellow cherry tomato is good, but it’s not the same as a big red “beefsteak”. Another problem with hybrid seeds is that some companies are producing seed that will grow a plant, but will not produce any viable seeds at all. (If you can’t save their seed, you have to buy from them, and they keep their profit.) I suggest you always start with heritage seeds, then you’ll know what you will get.

Another concern with seed saving is that if you plant two or more types of a given vegetable within a 1/4 mile of each other, they may cross. Your heritage seeds just became a hybrid. And, at the least, you’ve lost a different flavor in your diet. A simple solution is to keep at least three varieties of each vegetable. Then plant just one every year. Most seed will stay viable for three years, so by rotating your crops, you don’t have to worry about crossing your seeds. Another way to safe guard your diversity, is to choose plants with markedly different maturity times, so that they are never flowering at the same time. Also, remember, storing seeds isn’t just for gardens. You may also want seed for planting field corn, oats, wheat and soy beans, if things get really interesting in the world.

Good Luck with your gardens. And don’t wait for Spring. Winter is one of the busiest times of the garden year. You have lots of books and knowledge to gather, catalogs to ponder and seed to order. If you wait for April, you’re already too late. – Jim Fry, Curator, Museum of Western Reserve Farms & Equipment