Wednesday, 8 October 2014

09:04 – Barbara leaves Friday for a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with her sister, brother-in-law, and friend Marcy. They’ll return Monday, but as usual Colin is afraid I’ll forget to feed him while Barbara’s away.

I got a bit done yesterday on the chapter on food storage, preservation, and production. One of the things I intend to do with respect to the last item is sell packages of heirloom (AKA non-hybrid, open-pollination, or true-breeding) seeds for long-term storage. That’s not as simple as it sounds.

Even choosing which varieties to include is non-trivial. For example, different varieties of onion are adapted for different latitudes. So-called long-day varieties are adapted for northern latitudes, where summer days are much longer than they are here in the Southland. Long-day onions are completely unsuited to the South, because the days never get long enough to cause them to bulb. Conversely, short-day varieties do not do well in Northern latitudes. I’ll probably end up including either an intermediate-day variety or a day-neutral variety or both. But day-length preference is just one characteristic that needs to be taken into account. Soil preference, disease resistance, days-to-harvest, and other characteristics are just as important.

Then there’s the matter of storage. Most ordinary seeds don’t store well. For example, a particular seed that has an 80% germination rate if planted the following year may have only a 50% germination rate after two years, a 10% germination rate after three, and a 1% germination rate after four.

The solution is to dry the seeds and then freeze them. By itself, drying the seeds greatly extends their shelf life, typically to 10 years or more. Freezing them extends the shelf life indefinitely. That’s why many large-scale heirloom seed banks are located north of the Arctic Circle. But freezing seeds without drying them first damages the seeds.

On the other hand, drying them too much also damages viability. The ideal is about 8% moisture by weight. Much less than that, and the seeds become “hard”, which means their shells become so impervious to moisture that they won’t germinate even in ideal conditions. Much more than 8%, and freezing will damage them.

The problem, of course, is to determine the initial percentage of moisture in each type of seed. That means I’ll have to weigh specimens of each seed, dry them to constant mass, determine the moisture percentage of each type, and then dry them accordingly. Then I’ll have to test them to make sure the initial germination rate is acceptably high. Assuming that’s true, I’ll package each type of seed in zip-lock snack bags and heat-seal those bags in laminated Mylar/aluminum bags.

I’ll probably design each seed kit to contain sufficient seeds of a couple dozen types to sow an acre or so of land. That may not sound like much, but it’s sufficient to produce literally tons of food along with enough seeds to sow several acres the following year.