Category Archives: Blogs

Talking Seeds On Permaculture Voices Podcast

In December I was a guest on the Permaculture Voices podcast.

I spoke with Diego Footer about

  • the profitability of growing seeds for sale,
  • differences between growing seed crops and market vegetable crops,
  • and how much space a seed crop actually takes.

You can listen to the podcast here.

This podcast is a lead up to one of the workshops I’ll be giving at Permaculture Voices 3 this spring. At that event I’ll also run a workshop about crop planning for farm profitability.


Talking about running a Cooperative Farm

2014 Tourne-Sol team

The 2014 Tourne-Sol team

We’ve been running our farm as a workers cooperative for 10 years now. You can find out a little bit more about our experience in the podcast and guidebook mentioned below.

Interview about coops on The Ruminant

Last week I spoke to Jordan Marr of The Ruminant podcast about the cooperative aspects of Tourne-Sol farm. You can listen to the whole episode here: e.51: Building a Farm Cooperative to Thrive .

We spoke about the early Tourne-Sol years & how our systems have evolved to manage conflict, build a diversified businesses, and meet our quality of life goals.


Greenhorns  Guidebook on Cooperative Farming

In 2014, the Greenhorns  published a guidebook called Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together. It is all farming as a coop and covers different coop models and management systems. The book features a number of actual coop farms including Tourne-Sol.

You can download the book from the Greenhorns or from SARE.


Seedy Reading and Listening For The Holiday Season

I’ve been a bit slow on posts over the last 15 months. (Coincidentally about the same amount of time that Stella has been in our lives!) Nonetheless I’ve been busy with seeds and have thought of many fantastic blog posts I could write. And maybe in 2014, I will write some of those posts.

In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the seedy stuff I’ve been listening and reading.

Recently started a podcast series called Seed Smarts in which Margaret Roach interviews some big seed names. There have been 3 interviews to date:

  1. John Navasio of the Organic Seed Alliance on plant breeding and hybriditis – the tendency “where the predominant number of varieties available for any particular crop, like cabbage, or broccoli, or carrots, are hybrids”
  2. Lia Babitch of Turtle Tree Seed on running a seed company that grows a large amount of the seed they sell.
  3. Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds on, amongst other topics, why they offer hybrids though they are big proponents of OP seeds.

I’ve also been reading Joseph Lofthouse’s series on Landrace Gardening at Joseph is based in Utah and has been letting varieties of the same species cross up and selecting what does best for his location. In this way he’s developing new landraces full of potential.

Do you have any suggestions of great seedy listening or reading? If you do, please share!

More ways to clean brassica seeds

Over the last 10 days I’ve been cleaning the brassica seed we harvested in June from overwintered plants. This is to clear some space for spring planted brassica seed crops that are ready for harvest.

I’ve already written about our brassica seed cleaning techniques. However this year I used some different threshing methods:

Your choice of music is not important for the success of this method, as long as it’s loud.

I always wear gloves when handling dry seed crops. It is very easy to get splinters. Whether working by foot or by hand I’ve also started wearing a dust mask when cleaning dry seed crops.

The chaff pile also has a video on alternative brassica seed cleaning methods.

If you want to know more about the harvesting part of this operation, you can read my 2010 brassica seed harvesting post.

Now, if the thunder storms hold off, we’ll get into some serious garlic harvesting.



Cleaning Brassica Seeds

With snowy times upon us; and my regular work hours tossed around by a combination of families, friends, holiday seasons, and cross-country skiing; and putting together our 2011 seed catalog; I’ve had a bit of trouble scheduling in some computer time to write a new post. I thought it might be easiest to look back to the growing season and wrap up 2010 with a post about cleaning brassica seeds –  our biggest seed crop both in area grown and amount  harvested.

Cleaning dry seeded crops (like brassicas) usually consists of three activities:

  • Threshing
  • Screening
  • Winnowing

Let’s start off where we left when we last talked about brassicas

with piles of plants laid out on tarps in the barn. The plants stayed there a few weeks continuing to dry and mature.

In September, on a sunny Friday around 3 p.m. when we ran out of other things to do (i.e. gave up on that week’s to-do list) we put on our gloves and got


There are different machines that can be used to thresh seeds. However we thresh by hand.

We all stand around and rub the seeds off of the stems into Rubbermaid bins. Processed plants go into a wheelbarrow and then to the compost.

Do notice everyone is wearing gloves – saving seeds is asking for small (and not so small) cuts and splinters.

We always thresh on a tarp to catch the seeds that shoot everywhere. We empty the tarps in the Rubbermaid bins of chaff and seed.


Next we separate the big pieces of chaff from the small pieces of chaff, seeds, and dust …

by pouring the contents of one Rubbermaid onto a screen placed over another Rubbermaid. We shake the screen to let the seed fall through and then transfer the big bits to another bin destined for the compost.

We repeat the process with a smaller screen.

Gradually we remove most of the chaff. We transfer the large bin into a small container and proceed to


In this step, we clean the heavy seeds by blowing out lighter material.

Two fans each with 3 speeds give us a number of different wind speed variations. We start on a low setting and if it isn’t strong enough, we try again with a higher speed.

Always try to pour an equal steady stream in front of the fans.

We winnow over multiple bins on a tarp in case the fan blows a bit too hard and the seeds go flying. We also like to see what is being removed from the seed lot.

We alternate screening and winnowing multiple times to get the seeds as clean as possible.

We spread the clean seed  on trays or tarps to let it dry a week or two, before one last winnowing and then pack the seeds up.


Speaking of brassicas, I recently read a blog post at subsistence pattern about winter gardening in low tunnels in Northern Idaho with great pictures of brassicas and other hardy crops.

And speaking of winter growing, the veggie patch re-imagined has a series of posts on overwintering hot peppers indoors.

I’ll probably post shortly about cleaning beans.

Happy New Year!

What’s Happening on Organic Farms in Quebec and Beyond?

If you want to know, you can follow Gigi (Ghislain Jutras) on his blog Agriculture bio et agroécologie across the province of Quebec, and at times throughout the world (most recently California). Gigi went online just before Christmas and regularly posts profiles of farm he’s visited, agricultural news, ressources and references, and more. (Recently, he did write up Going To Seed on his blog. He’s got great taste). As an organic farmer and also a College ag. professor, Gigi blends both a practical and theoretical approach to his topic. Go and check it out!