Synthetic Inputs Explained

Generally it can be said that certified organic produce is grown without synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. However, there are some synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production. Here is a picture of one of our certified organic garlic beds. Can you find any synthetic inputs in the this picture?

Certified Organic Garlic

Certified Organic Garlic

Well, there are two. The first one is the sticky trap. It’s allowed as an insecticide. The Pennsylvania  Department of Agriculture is setting sticky traps for the Allium Leafminer. It has infested leeks and onions in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania; the 1st confirmed infestation of that pest in the western hemisphere. We are monitoring our field. This is really not good news to hear, and we are during our part to monitor for this new pest. The stinky traps were collected this week (no report back yet), and the PA Dept. of Ag person did mention that the leafminer has also been recently found in Dauphin, Delaware, Chester, and Lehigh counties. So, that’s more bad news. The second synthetic is  the shredded paper. It’s allowed as a herbicide or weed barrier. Newpaper or other recycled paper can be used as mulch with the annotation that it must be without glossy or colored inks. The Coudersport Elementary School 6th grade class runs a recycling program during which they shred white school paper at the rate of five to six 30-gallon bags per week. In order to keep this program going, they needed a source to take the shredded paper for free twice per month.  We use the shredded paper as mulch for garlic plants.  We all can agree there is a definite benefit from reusing paper products, which reduces costs and the need for their disposal in overcrowded landfills. In the above picture, in between the garlic beds are winter rye. This is an example of a non-synthetic or living mulch. The idea is to mow the winter rye cover later in the spring and use the clippings as mulch for the garlic. Then, we will run a furrow down the middle of the mowed winter rye strips and plant the Georgia Candy Roaster squash later in May or ealy June. The cut winter rye will also provide a layer of mulch under the squash, and act as a natural weed barrier. And, finally here is a picture of the students participating in the Coudersport Elementary School 6th grade class recycling program. This is a very worth well program, and we are very happy with the results.

Paper Shredding Program

Paper Shredding Program


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Grafting Solo

What to do on a cool, rainy day in April? Grafting apple scion wood is something that works.  This was my first time grafting after attending a couple of training sessions. It went well.

Tools used were a Barnel grafting knife, nursery grafting tape, aluminum label tree tags and Kevlar gloves. Rootstocks were 1-year bare-root G.222 from Cummins Nursery of Ithaca, New York. Skills used were an abundance of patience with attention to the details. 

The grafting resulted in 19 rootstock bench grafts, including the following varieties. These scion were from Nick Botner’s Orchard near Eugene, Oregon:

Local heritage orchard (early NY/PA/NE): Empire, Spitzenburg, Swaar, Tompkins King, Yellow Belle fleur,  Westfield Seek No Further, Winter Greening and Golden Grimes

Some other favorites: Pendragon, Niedwetzkyana, Famuse, Nutmeg Pippen, Hooples Antique Gold and Hudson’s Golden Gem and more…

The cider wood: Herefordshire Redstreak, Porters Perfection, Yarlington Mill, Giant Russian Crab and Gravesteins scion went to Jim Lord’s Orchard in Coudersport, Pennsylvania .

This video tells the story about the Nick Botner Orchard . Special thanks to Chris Homanics for the scion. We feel lucky to be given these wonderful gifts and we treasure these special varieties.

The grafts went into the root cellar for a few days to heal, and then they will be transferred outside into containers later this month.

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Antiquing Vegetable Seeds

Specialty crop farming is a fulfilling business. Sometimes it’s like antiquing.  In this case, the collector is looking for those rare heirlooms of the past before our food became mass-produced by commercial farms.  We target certain antique vegetables to grow and like to gather up additional information and knowledge about the rarity in order to give a history  and tell a story. Here are two such recent rare finds.

Garnet Chile Tubers

Garnet Chile Tubers

Garnet Chile Potatoes were developed in 1853 by the Reverend Chauncy E. Goodrich, an Anglican minister in New York State. One parent potato was the Rough Purple Chile potato, which he had obtained from contacts in Chile. At the time, potatoes in North America were suffering from blight; Goodrich’s theory was that stock had grown weak through cultivation and selection, and that re-introducing more vigorous stock from South America would help.  The Garnet Chile potato contributed over half of the genetics to Burbank’s Russet.  And it is significantly related to over 150 potato varieties now planted across North America and Europe.  In short, Chauncey E Goodrich’s work in his backyard garden produced a genetic taproot for nearly all ‘modern potatoes’ grown today [1].

We’ll  grow out these tubers using the “pull start” method. We have one pound of seed potato, and from them we should be able to pull all of the sprouts we need to plant our garden.  This procedure is to put the seed tubers in a tray and cover them with a moist soilless media. In a few days, we’ll have several sprouts rooting and elongating from the tubers. So, we’ll pull the sprouts and plant them in the garden or in a container; and return the tubers back into the soil. And after a few days, the tubers will  grow new sprouts again. And, we repeat the procedure until there is no more life in those seed tubers.  Eventually, the tubers become soft mush when no new sprouts emerge.

North Georgia Candy Roaster Seeds

North Georgia Candy Roaster Seeds

This other find  shown here are the seeds of a nice small banana-type squash from Appalachia. Also, described as a “curious heirloom with fantastic flavor”.  This rare fruit weighs about 10 pounds and is pink skinned with a distinctive greenish-blue blossom end mark. It’s a banjo playing Appalachian variety squash that you’ll be seeing at the market this summer.

These squash seeds we’ll sow into rows of crimped winter rye. The winter rye was planted last fall into the rows used for last year’s garlic crop. Crimping mechanically kills the growing winter rye to create a layer of mulch to help with weed suppression and protect the soil until the squash plants emerge later this summer. Rodale Institute researchers have developed this method for reduced-till.  It was one of the many topics presented at the organic agriculture seminar held on February 20, 2016 at the Genesee Environmental Center.

[1] Source: Cook’s Info founded in 1999, the site is now the largest food encyclopedia on the Internet.

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Rare and Sacred Seeds

1000 Year Seeds

1000 Year Seeds

We have some seeds waiting in the wings sent by Doc Cawley. And as you can see, these seeds aren’t your usual seeds.  There is an extremely rare Mohawk potato bean,  and the bean that was carried over the “Trail of Tears”  by the Cherokee and the Iroquois white flint corn that thrived  in the Americas before Columbus.  And, we also have the strawberry bean, an old red kidney bean and an old pinto bean.

Of course, these seeds are the beginnings of an authentic three sisters garden.  The remaining sister is squash. And, we have been given the Seneca pumpkin which is also an 1000 year seed. We hope to generate more of these seeds for future plantings and to share them with other rare seed gardeners. A garden design comes again from Doc Cawley. Seen below is the garden found at in the Smithsonian on the National Mall in Washington DC.

“It is 100 paces around the central circle in which they have Indian corn and field peas and actually, for winter, lots of Brussels spouts.”


And From: The Wealth of Sight by Caroline J. Crain, 2014 (part of the Crain Collection of Books)

“For the past few years, I have been somewhat involved with the Seneca of the nearby Cornplanter Reservation. I have gained a remarkable amount of respect for some of their customs and celebrations. The tradition of the Three sisters garden is presently taught in their own language at the Seneca Faithkeepers School, run by Dar and Sandy Dowdy. At this school, young Seneca are taught the ceremonies and traditions of their native ancestors. The three sisters are symbolic of everyone helping everyone else, not only celebrating community closeness, but also the interconnecting of Community itself. This is done by creating a symbolic planting each year, and retelling of the ceremonial story, and the symbolism of each of the sisters. The oldest sister is the Tuscarora, or white corn. She stands tall, and as the eldest, watches over and gives support to her younger sisters. The middle sister is the bean, of which there are several varieties. The middle sister winds around and protects the corn. The bean plants also give nutrition to the soil of the garden. In the traditional three sisters garden, the youngest sister is the squash. With her large leaves and twining tendrils, she shades the other sisters, keeps the moisture in the soil, and discourages the weeds. Seneca squashes included summer types, such as yellow and green crooknecks and zucchini, winter types such as acorn, butternut, and Hubbard. And also Seneca pumpkins, which are often smooth-skinned and light colored. This whole ritual planting is to be done in May, as a community project, by getting as many people involved as possible. Traditionally, the garden is begun by having a community soil exchange.

This requests that everyone who comes is to bring a small basket of their own soil, along with a tag with their family name for the record. Records might be kept in the local library through each planting season. This exchange reminds us that, in the end, soil is our most valuable asset, and one which must be treasured and preserved.

All of the different collected soils are placed onto a sheet, mixed, and then put onto the garden. The three sisters are planted in a number of mounds (often seven) within a circle about 20 feet across. The circular plan of the garden is said to represent the sun, the source of life itself. The mounds are made for the corn seed, which is planted first. Then the bean and squash seeds are planted in the same mounds. Often, each separate mound will have a different kind of bean. The Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant a dead fish in each mound–and I would suggest that you fertilize your garden well before you plant, if dead fish are not available. The planting is followed by an evening pot-luck dinner, with a campfire, and should include lots of home-made corn bread. Around here, we say that the corn should be knee high by the 4th of July. The second ceremony of the garden includes the first community weeding of the garden, and the mounding up of the soil around each of the plants. This is known by the Seneca as the hoeing ceremony. This can be celebrated with another potluck dinner, based around homemade corn chowder. In August comes the Green Corn Festival, featuring fresh corn on the cob, along with the pot luck dinner. The other things that are served during this time is Green Corn Soup, and Summer Garden Stew. The last garden celebration occurs after the first frosts, or just about Halloween. This is the celebration of the Harvest. This is equivalent to our Thanksgiving. At this time, the dried corn and the dry pods of the beans are collected and stored away. Acorns are harvested and also stored. The feast of the Harvest. Often, in our area, the churches and fire halls would go all out for their public harvest dinners, to promote goodwill and sharing of community, which seems to often be lacking in small towns these days.”

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Aboard the Seed Train

A seed train hosted by the Kenosha Potato Project made a stop in Potter County, Pennsylvania this week.  It carries onboard many unique botanical potato seeds also known as True Potato Seed (TPS).  Each seed packet contains specific TPS that can be likened to railcars traveling along on a train.

TPS Arrivals on Seed Train

TPS Arrivals on Seed Train

Seed sharing with others who have a similar goals is an age-old practice that helps preserve seed diversity. This method of seed swapping uses the US Postal Service to exchange seeds.  The concept is a Pinch for a Pinch.  Each seed swapper on the mailing list pinches out some seeds of their liking, then adds their own seed packets to the mailing, and mails it on down the line.  We’ll select some of the seeds grown by the other participants who sent along seeds from their harvest.  And, we’ll soon be sending the mailing on down the line, along with our local TPS tributes as passengers onboard the outbound train. This year, we contributed RED THUMB, RUSSIAN BANANA and MAGIC MOLLY seeds from our TPS harvest.

We’ll grow-out a few of these TPS offerings as an alternative way to farm potatoes for eating, fun, learning and research. By doing some of our own plant breeding over time, we hope to evolve some reliable localized performers, known as landraces or “folk varieties.”

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Grassroots Seed Saving

The Seed Saver Exchange is a gardener-to-gardener seed swap that takes place online and through an annual yearbook. Their mission is to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse food crop for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

This year, we have contributed five (5) varieties of  botanical seed harvested from potato berries which were open-pollinated by bumble bees. Why is this important?

Harvested Potato Berries

Harvested Potato Berries

Recently, there has been a monopolistic tread toward a few large commercial seed suppliers instead of the traditional seed-saving by many home gardeners. Open pollination is an important aspect of grassroots seed saving. Plants that reproduce through natural means tend to adapt to local conditions over time, and evolve as reliable performers, particularly in their localities, known as landraces or “folk varieties.”


True Potato Seeds (Russian Banana, Magic Molly and Red Thumb)

These seeds are the local tribute to the Seed Saver Exchange to give a horizontal resistance to the commercial suppliers. Here are the links to the Seed Exchange annual yearbook.

Russian Banana True Potato Seeds

Papa Cacho True Potato Seeds

Purple Sun True Potato Seeds

Red Thumb True Potato Seeds

Magic Molly True Potato Seeds


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Apple Stories

Here’s an apple story guessing game. Can you name of the apple from stories described here? Some of these apples are widely known and some are lesser known.

Apple Story One

Can you identify this Apple?

Can you identify this Apple?

Did you know that Hurricane Camille brought forth an apple? Camille brought devastating rains and flooding to Nelson County, Virginia in 1969, and the orchards of Clyde and Frances “Ginger” Harvey were badly washed out. In recovering the few of the surviving trees around the edge of the Winesap orchard, an apple tree was found which Clyde Harvey recognized as being different. It was replanted with the rest, but was found to produce yellow rather than red fruit of the Winesap. The variety was eventually named after Clyde Harvey’s wife. It is one of the first yellow apples to ripen in the fall, and the quality and consistency of its bearing is very suitable for eating out of hand.

(Note: The answers are place below at the bottom of this blog post so that the reader can find it, but cannot see it immediately.)

Apple Story Two

Here’s another apple story. Can you guess the name of these apples?

Every apple has a story. Well in this case, this apple has two stories that have developed into a sort of apple fisticuffs, West Virginia vs. Idaho. Some say it was a chance seedling with heritage back to the very famous apple of 1890 Clay County, West Virginia that was originally named Mullin’s Yellow Seedling with parentage to the Golden Reinette and Grimes Golden. Idahoans say the apple was found in Idaho as a random open-pollinated seedling from around 1960 and is not a sport to that famous Clay County apple. Everyone seems to agree that it’s a good eatin’ apple with a flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of a peach.

Can you Identify this apple?

Can you Identify this apple?

Can you guess the name of this apple? Also, do you know the name of the famous Clay County apple that was first called Mullin’s Yellow Seedling? Hint: In 1914, the Mullins Yellow was renamed by Mr. Lloyd Stark. And this famous Stark apple has since become the ancestor of millions of such apples.



Apple Story Three

Here’s another apple story. Can you guess the name of this apple?

This apple was developed in 1898 by Professor S.A. Beach at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva and named for a nearby county. An older American variety, it is a cross between the McIntosh and Ben Davis apple. It has long been one of the most commonly produced apples in New York, consistently ranking in the top ten in the state. This apple is known for its ability to thrive in cold weather and can be found growing in apple growing regions on the east coast as well as on the west coast.

Can you identify this Apple?

Can you identify this Apple?

Described as, “One of the more successful McIntosh offspring, with all the usual characteristics, including the sweet vinous flavor”.

Professor S.A. Beach wrote “The Apples of New York” first published in 1906 with color plates of apples throughout. It’s highly collectable and this book is a great reference with very detailed descriptions.

Apple Story Four

Here’s yet another apple story. Can you guess the name of this apple?

Can you identify this Apple?

Can you identify this Apple?

Here’s an old apple tale about a Scottish apple. It has a strange tale to tell. The story probably happened on a cold, damp night not much different than this one; but not here, and not recently. Let’s say a night like this one in Gowrie, Scotland sometime in the 1880s. An unfortunate ploughman was caught stealing apples from the estate landowner’s orchard. He was shot dead by the gamekeeper. His wife got the bag of pilfered apples and in her grief tossed them away. Well what happened is that one of the seedlings that emerged from these discarded apples was rescued by a farm worker and planted near the grave of a ploughman. And, as the story goes, from that replanted seedling grew a tree, which bore this variety of apples. It has a knobby skin and a crimson-red color, and the flesh is stained red as well.





Answer 1: Ginger Gold is the namesake of Ginger Harvey.

Answer 2a: Golden Supreme has the disputed origins.

Answer 2b: The famous stark apple of Clay County origin is the Golden Delicious. Some say of the Golden Supreme is a little firmer, has smoother skin and is more highly-flavored than Golden Delicious.

Answer 3: Cortland was named for Cortland County in New York

Answer 4: Bloody Ploughman Apple which turns out to be an apple common in the United Kingdom and not-so-common in America. But, it’s my favorite apple story.

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