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Archive for the ‘Gina Covina’ Category

Gina Covina: Bearing Witness to Little Lake Valley Destruction…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on March 23, 2013 at 6:30 am

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From GINA COVINA
Laytonville

Early yesterday morning, standing on the hillside across 101 from the Warbler’s tree-sit, at the south end of the proposed bypass. Orange traffic cones on both sides of 101 in both directions to keep cars from stopping. At the tree-sit pull-out, the many banners and signs of the people who can visualize a much better way, the table with maps and flyers and petitions and the notebook in which visitors write encouraging messages to the Warbler – all that, gone. Replaced with five CHP vehicles, a mix of black-and-whites and those beefy paddy-wagon-type pick-up trucks, a few CalTrans vehicles, a contractor’s truck, and directly under the Warbler’s tree, a clanging backhoe scraping the roadway wider. Way up the tree, the Warbler saw it and heard it loudest and clearest.

Over at East Hill Road the police presence was equally extravagant, with seven vehicles parked along Sanhedrin Way and patrolmen stationed all along the newly erected fence that cordons off the construction zone. Several hundred yards in is a ponderosa grove inhabited by new tree-sitters, Rain and John, one on a precarious-looking platform strung between two trees. Beneath them was the incessant roar and shudder of machinery that witnesses outside the perimeter fence couldn’t quite see. Over the top of the Manzanita/blackberry tangle that borders this woods, we saw the hardhat of the operator moving his machine back and forth as branches cracked. Moving along the perimeter revealed occasional clear views of the result – absolutely bare ground. Off to one side, the pile of trash that used to be a living web of grasses and insects and manzanitas and poison oak and little birds picking their nesting spots.

I hadn’t realized before just how essential the act of bearing witness to this destruction is to the process of change. To simply stand and watch, to allow ourselves to feel the obliteration of life that proceeds via fossil-fueled machinery, in the name of consecrating more ground to the domain of fossil-fueled machinery. Presiding grandmother-in-chief Sara Gruskey paced the perimeter fielding phone calls with tears lining her face. The prevailing mood held great sorrow and wild frustration, and at the same time an ever-deepening commitment. We know that when enough of us stand together More…

Gina Covina: First Harvest for Laytonville Seed Growers Co-op

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on January 22, 2013 at 6:27 am

seedcoop

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Here’s a visual report on the first seed-sharing gathering of the Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op – at this point more accurately called the Laytonville Seed Growers Co-op, as that’s who came to yesterday’s event at the Laytonville Grange. It looked like a small group of gardeners – a baker’s dozen in all – until we got out our seeds. An altogether awesome collection, many with amazing stories and long local histories. By the end of the evening I was overwhelmed by the abundance of valuable genetic material, the breadth and depth of information exchanged, and the commitment to the future of food shown by beginning seed-savers and old-timers alike.

Above are some of the contributions, clockwise starting at the top: Crane melon, Bale bean, Orca bean, San Marzano tomato, hull-less pumpkin, Sweet Meat squash, Principe Borghese tomato, red mustard, Trombetta squash, Cannellini bean, Shintokiwa cucumber, Mache (aka corn salad). And in the center More…

Gina Covina: Laughing Frog Farm News…

In Gina Covina on January 10, 2013 at 7:47 am

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From GINA COVINA
Laytonville

Winter being all about the seed, I happily do my part. Baking Blue Kuri kabocha squash pies in order to extract the seeds and add them, after drying, to the big jar. Cleaning Divina lettuce seed, outdoors on a rainless day, pouring from one tub to another and letting the breeze carry off the downy fluff. Germination testing: four days in, and most of the seeds, old as well as new, have already sprouted, many at 100%. I feel wealthy with so much concentrated plant potential all around.

Blue Kuri is a Japanese heirloom Kabocha squash

Another cause for celebration is the arrival in print of a reliable and comprehensive seed growing textbook, finally: The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio (published by Chelsea Green). I’ll continue to use the Organic Seed Alliance’s handy booklet, A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers (for which Navazio is co-author), and beginning seed-savers need look no further. The Organic Seed Growerprovides the hard-core next level of understanding for gardeners, farmers, and communities moving toward local and regional resilience and food sovereignty. It’s got both the macro – agricultural seed history, reproductive biology – and the micro – pertinent details for a wide array of vegetable crops. More…

Gina Covina: Fall Equinox…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Here we are at the equinox, that small moment of balance between summer and fall when day and night divide the hours equally and half the summer garden is finished. I’m feeling the expansive generosity of summer’s abundance and the anxious urge to hoard for winter in equal measure, spiked by sudden washes of sadness at all the endings.

The weather has been combining summer and fall in equal portions for the past week – lows in the upper 30s, making early morning chores something to wrap up for (or postpone), while afternoons still reach at least the upper 80s. In the cool evening I make the rounds of the gardens retrieving layers of clothing shed during the day.

While some of our summer crops are through for the year – melons, winter squash, corn, soybeans – others gamely continue to produce, albeit at a slower pace. Now is the time to assess the cold tolerance of tomato varieties – Japanese Black Trifele, Greek Asimina, and Black Cherry have barely slowed their pace, while others balk. Asian cucumbers keep on (with hoop house protection). The bulky Feherozon paprika peppers are finally moving through orange to red, after months standing pale yellow on the plants (the yellow stage is delicious, but we’re growing them for seed this year so all summer we’ve just looked).

This moment of balance at the equinox is spacious but brief – already it’s time to resume the harvest, make apple sauce and raisins and pie, water the fall garden starts – to fall headlong into the new season. It’s not called fall for nothing.
~~

Gina Covina: Repurposed plastic cups provide predator protection for pears…

In Gina Covina on August 13, 2012 at 5:30 am

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From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Thanks to Viva for the idea and Pour Girls for the cups. They can be re-used as many years as the plastic lasts — we’ll see. I just covered the pears I could reach without a ladder, leaving the treetop fruit for the neighborhood rowdies — who came by last night for the first party of the season. Raccoons by the look of it — small branches snapped, two dozen pears on the ground, some whole and others partly eaten — “Eeww that’s not sweet yet, try another.” No damage to the fruit in pear protectors. The raccoons went after the Red Bartlett first of course — not only is the fruit red from the start, attracting attention, but it’s also the earliest to ripen (maybe three weeks off).

I was thinking more of thwarting the ravens, who last year pecked into More…

Gina Covina: Laughing Frog Farm News…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on July 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

We made our first trip to the Mendocino Farmers Market last week, with a new crop of onions, beautiful carrots, the first Dark Star zucchinis and Asian cucumbers, and an assortment of greens. Not a huge amount of vegetables, but I’m amazed we have anything, what with this year’s bumper crop of plant-eating insects, industrious gophers, and a gang of feral peafowl that removed most of the sweet pepper plants from inside the hoop house.

I’ve had to eat pesto constantly (darn, my favorite) since the basil was too cosmetically challenged to go to market after the cucumber beetles got to it. I’ve held off on using even organically-approved insecticides like Neem oil because so many frogs live in the vegetables. Instead we pinch any beetles we can catch More…

Gina Covina: Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op Meet…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on June 14, 2012 at 5:48 am


Big Pink Beauties remain mild and sweet

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

[Fifty summer vegetable varieties are now being grown for seed by local co-op farmers and gardeners, for Mendo/Lake farmers and gardeners, and why you should care... -DS]

Last Saturday we hosted the first farm/garden tour for members of the new Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op – lots of gardening info shared and progress compared, followed by a totally delicious potluck lunch featuring plants from each of our gardens — fresh turnips, kale, and lettuces, last year’s dried tomatoes and peppers, plus rhubarb pie. We also taste-tested the radish varieties and some of the lettuces from our current trials. Among six radishes the winner by a slim margin was Pink Beauty. The lettuces were even harder to judge, being almost equally delicious, but Mayan Jaguar (bred by Wild Garden Seeds) and Marvel of Four Seasons (from seed selected and grown by Julianne Ash of Anacortes, Washington) edged out the others. The variety trials continue, as we wait to see who holds their flavor and refrains from bolting as the weather warms.

The seed growers co-op enters its first season with lots of yummy locally adapted vegetable crops planted in 18 different locations. Growers range from veteran seed-saving market gardeners to beginning seed-savers with backyard plots. There are even a few politically motivated gardening newbies. Yes – rescuing the genetic heritage of our food sources from the jaws of Monsanto, one heirloom variety at a time, and just in time. The geographical hub of this activity is Laytonville – ideally situated for seed-saving with widely scattered gardens tucked in the folds of forested hills. There are also participating growers in Willits, Redwood Valley, Ukiah, Hopland, and on the coast.

Fifty summer vegetable varieties are being grown for seed by co-op gardeners. Among them are two notable pole beans that have both been saved in Mendocino County for many years: Rattlesnake, in Laytonville, and what we can call More…

Gina Covina: Rooster Fog…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on June 6, 2012 at 5:25 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

People who don’t know chickens personally often don’t realize how smart they are, how precisely they manage to communicate, or how gallant roosters can be with their hens. A few weeks back we sold our blue Marans rooster Fog and three of his girls to neighbors Kitty and Ray. We’re making room for the younger generation – and truth be told, Fog never got along with our other roosters, who we expect to live peaceably together in bachelor quarters for much of the year. The next time we saw Ray and Kitty in town, they shared this story.

Ray and Kitty had been gone for the day, and when they returned Ray went to check on the birds. Fog stood beside the almost empty water dish, glaring first at Ray and then at the dish. Ray didn’t pay much attention until Fog tipped the dish off its stand and looked back at him again. Then Ray refilled the dish, and Fog stepped up and drank, on and on. None of the hens came over to drink – which is when Ray realized Fog had gone thirsty all day so his hens could have all the water they needed.
~~

Gina Covina: Laughing Frog Farm News…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on May 14, 2012 at 4:00 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Days in the 80s, nights above 40. we may after all be heading into that rare season with an early start. If so, we’re ready for those mythical July tomatoes. Just about all our summer crops are planted out, most in the ground a month earlier than ever. I’m still ready to cover everything in a freeze, but I’m beginning to think that may not be necessary.

Once in the ground the plants face new dangers, chief among them – so far this year – gophers. What about our newest hoop house, the one with a hardware-cloth liner for its raised bed, with seams carefully wired together and edges turned to climb the sides? Oh yeah, the “gopher-proof” one. Last week I found a potato plant pulled most of the way underground in that armored bed, only its wilted top showing. A line of dino kale along one side has lost half its number, unnoticed at first because the plants disappear so completely, leaving no trace but a small hole. So much for my vision of the dino kale as a row of miniature palm trees in the hoop house landscape. Not to mention so much for gopher-proofing. (My theory: the young apprentice rodent-hunter cats, playing with a gopher caught outside the hoop house, casually toss it up over the hay bale side, as it squeaks “No, anywhere but there, don’t throw me into that gopherless realm of the most delectable roots.”)

The bonus in all this planting is the simultaneous harvest of winter crops to make room. The glorious nettle plants made the newest 10’ x 10’ compost pile more than a foot taller (nettles make for a fine-textured mineral-rich compost). Kale, spinach, and chard supply us with daily green smoothies, greens for friends and neighbors, and popular chicken feed. Yellow dock and dandelion roots (not purposefully grown as winter crops but encouraged around the edges of the gardens More…

Gina Covina: Is anything gained by starting vegetables early?

In Gina Covina, Guest Posts on May 2, 2012 at 7:14 am


Apples and pears are blooming – here’s Pink Pearl apple

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Is anything gained by starting vegetables early? Lucinda set up an experiment to answer this question some forty years ago. She planted seeds of various vegetables at one-week intervals, and charted their performance and yields over the entire season. Results across the board: no advantage in starting early.

“So does that mean you’ve never since tried to get a jump on the season?” I ask her.

“Well, no,” she admits.

I too find premature planting irresistible in spite of all past experience. Last year our sweet peppers, started in early April and transplanted to the hoop house in early May, just sat there dumbfounded in the cold, unable to grow at all. Finally we replaced most of them in early June with younger more vigorous starts that had never known the chill of April. Did we start the peppers later this year? Yes, but only by a week. And I’m moving them to the hoop house tomorrow, when night temperatures rise into the 40s for at least a few days.

We’ve planted out forty tomatoes (half the total), and Lin direct-seeded half the Dark Star zucchini a few days ago. Its sprouts emerged yesterday – that’s a month earlier than I’ve ever planted squash here. We’ll see how Dark Star lives up to its reputation as cold-tolerant.

More…

Gina Covina: On-Farm Seed Variety Trials…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on April 10, 2012 at 6:30 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

This year we’re progressing from “trying out new varieties” to “conducting variety trials” – same thing but with more attention to making growing conditions the same for each variety and keeping track of results. Since neither Lin nor I have the slightest tendency or training toward scientific rigor, we’re looking to the Organic Seed Alliance’s excellent booklet, On-Farm Variety Trials: A Guide for Organic Vegetable, Herb and Flower Producers (download here) for inspiration and instruction.

Here’s the gist: Plant in a location that will provide the most consistent conditions possible – not shady at one end, or different soil types. You want the differences that show up to reflect genetic variations rather than cultural ones. Include one variety you’re familiar with and have already grown. That way if the summer is cold and not one of your tomato varieties ripens until September, not even your old favorite that usually ripens by early August, you’ll know to blame the weather, not the new varieties.

Set up your trial bed with more than one block of each variety, arranging their order so each variety has a chance at an end and middle position to further rule out environmental variables. Plant the entire bed at one go, and care for it the same way – weed the whole bed at once, water every part equally, etc.

Make a list of traits More…

Gina Covina: Saving tomato seeds from different varieties…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on March 27, 2012 at 5:54 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

[Mulligan Books & Seeds is working with Laughing Frog Farm, Sustainable Seed Co, Transition Ukiah Valley, and others to localize organic seed breeding, growing, saving, and trading with seeds adapted to our particular soils and climate... providing a more secure local food system. We plan to establish: a network of organic seed growers in Mendocino County, a local market for locally-grown seeds, and a seed bank. Please see Underground Seeds By Hand.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers from Organic Seed Alliance condenses years of farming, gardening, plant breeding and seed saving wisdom, as well as conversations with many prominent seed experts. The guide covers the basics of seed growing from choosing appropriate varieties for seed saving to harvesting, processing, and storing seed. Download it here. -DS]

Do tomatoes cross-pollinate? That’s today’s burning question. Can you save seed from different varieties grown in the same garden? And how far apart do different varieties need to be? You’ll find as many answers as there are tomatoes, all contradictory, with the majority tending to the self-pollinating end of the spectrum, which is where I started when I first saved tomato seed. I did it casually, with no thought of isolation distances, and the first few times it seemed to work – the next year’s tomatoes were recognizably similar to the ones from which I’d saved seed.

Then I grew Big Rainbow, a beefsteak heirloom with swirls of red/yellow/orange inside and out, and so delicious I saved seed and eagerly waited for the next year’s crop. Which turned out to have the coloring of Big Rainbow, but a size closer to a cherry, and a taste so bland only the chickens would eat it.

There are two factors, it turns out, that contribute to a widespread belief that tomatoes do not cross-pollinate. The first is that sometimes it’s true. Modern open-pollinated varieties have flowers that are not capable of cross-pollination (as in the photo above). The pollen-carrying stamens are fused into a tube that encloses the stigma, which is the girl part that takes in the pollen and transports it to the flower’s ovary. You can grow these varieties right next to any other tomatoes and save the seeds with confidence. Mountain Gold is the only tomato seed Laughing Frog offers that has this kind of flower. It was developed twenty years ago More…

Gina Covina: Planning ahead to save your seeds…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on February 28, 2012 at 7:10 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

[Gina's seeds from Laughing Frog Farm now available at Mulligan Books & Seeds. -DS]

If you haven’t saved seed from your vegetable garden, here are the basics you need to know before you plant. Some planning is required – you can’t reliably save seed as an afterthought.

First, be sure you’re starting with an open-pollinated variety rather than a hybrid. All the food crops we know and love were developed by countless generations of seed savers and will breed true to type from seeds you save – that’s open-pollinated. Hybrids are first-generation crosses between varieties – F1 crosses – that result in a very uniform set of characteristics (handy for mechanical harvest and for transport and sales) and a boost in robustness that is known as hybrid vigor. Save and grow the seed from your hybrid and the result (the F2 generation) will revert to a large range of characteristics, with most plants being unsatisfactory from an eater’s perspective.

Hybrids were developed as a way for seed companies to create and hold a market More…

Gina Covina: Saving squash seeds…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on February 18, 2012 at 5:21 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

We’ve spent the last week in the heady thrill of garden planning. The process used to be an orgy of seed catalog porn, but now we’re in transition to sustainability, so the first step was identifying the crops we want to grow for seed this year. That list included way more than we can grow ourselves, so we brought our favorite candidates to the Laytonville Seed Swap on Sunday and found growers for them from the ranks of the newly evolving Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op. The near future is looking good for local seed.

Here’s one example. Squash divide themselves into three main species (and a couple more minor ones) and within those species they cross-pollinate like crazy. Between species, no. Cucurbita pepo includes most summer squash, as well as acorn, delicata, and many pumpkins. Cucurbita maxima includes a long list of buttercups, Hubbards, turbans, bananas, and more pumpkins. The third, C. moschata, has the butternuts, cheese, trombetta – and yes, more pumpkins. A gardener without near neighbors can grow one variety from each species and confidently save the seeds without having to resort to hand pollination. Our only C. pepo this year will be Dark Star zucchini, the result of Bill Richards’ many years of breeding work on the Eel River flood plain. Delicious, prolific as the hybrid zucchinis, deep-rooted (Richards grows without irrigation), and cold-tolerant beyond the limits of other zukes.

But we also have More…

Why Save Seeds? Here’s the Big Picture view from last week’s Laytonville Garden Club meeting…

In Around Mendo Island, Gina Covina on February 9, 2012 at 6:22 am

From GINA COVINA
Laughing Frog Farm
Laytonville

Agriculture began as a partnership between people and plants. Every plant we know as food was co-created, sometimes over a thousand years of growing seasons, by the equivalent of a backyard gardener in partnership with the plant. Someone started selecting the best teosinte seeds from that wild Mexican grass, planting and nurturing them with special care. By the time Europeans arrived in the New World, indigenous gardeners in partnership with teosinte had created 7,000 distinct varieties of corn, some of them adapted to thrive as far north as New York.

This is plant breeding. As William Tracy (dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison) pointed out at the Organic Seed Growers Conference in Port Townsend, Washington in late January, plant breeding is not a science but a technology. “Plant breeding is working with plants – the breeder selects, and the plant creates solutions.” It’s a process ideally suited to small ecological farmers and home growers, whose success depends on close observation and careful selection. Every discerning seed saver is a plant breeder, as long as they pay attention to two important conditions: the minimum population necessary to ensure the particular species’ genetic diversity, and sufficient isolation from related species that could cross-pollinate with undesirable results.

Where does our seed come from today? The exponential curve of seed industry consolidation is the same curve shown by wealth consolidation More…

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