Artisan Producers, Chefs, Cooking, Craftsmanship, Farming, Field Notes

Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seed Co.

Dan Barber

Dan Barber is more than a chef or restaurateur, he’s even more than an author. With the launch this year of the new Row 7 Seed Co., a collaboration with seedsman Matthew Goldfarb and plant breeder Michael Mazourek, Barber is now also a botanical innovator, aiming to input deliciousness into plants from the seed forward.

It’s a radical idea that’s already working. Witness the success of the Honeynut, a squash Mazourek — an associate professor at Cornell — developed some eight years ago at Barber’s request.

Boasting a higher nutritional quality and greater sweet profile than the Butternut, the Honeynut’s pure deliciousness prompted star chefs and even such outlets as Vogue magazine to support it. The exposure made this squash a culinary hit and today it’s readily available at Whole Foods Markets and other ordinary outlets.

Developed to entice a child, the Badger Flame beet has none of the earthiness of traditional beets, but is sweet enough to be eaten raw.

Barber comes to our Modern Grange on Oct. 10, 2018, to introduce Row 7 Seed Co. in an event dedicated to good farming, good cooking, and good eating with a who’s-who roster of West Coast chefs.

We expect that one of the first questions he’ll address is this basic: What’s so radical about breeding for flavor? And here’s what we reckon will be one of his answers: Flavor is typically last on the list when large seed companies are involved.

Rather, large corporations breed for portability, chemical symbiosis (as with those seeds made to interact with Monsanto’s Roundup), uniformity of size and shape, and the varied notions of attractiveness that arise when one considers such as a tomato.

Durability and disease resistance are bred into Row 7’s seeds so that they don’t need to interact well with Roundup or other chemical inputs; they’ll be robust enough to resist pests and other dangers all on their own.

Ultimately, the delectability of the produce and its nutritional value are the first concerns. Unlike other breeders, Row 7 has pledged not to patent their line of seeds, encouraging users to acclimate to their particular spot in the world. They’re even working to make the leaves and stems of their squash delicious and edible.

And of course, the seeds are non-GMO, organic, produced without chemicals, and grown in the USA. When you’re going to do something good, why not do it all the way?

That’s the idea with Row 7. To do something good — all the way. Its initial seed slate includes the Badger Flame, a sweet orange beet that can be eaten raw; the Habanada, a habañero pepper with all of its floral notes retained without the heat; a potato that tastes as if already buttered; a cucumber with the yummy bitter edge that’s been bred out of most stock; and a squash that changes color on the vine to indicate ripeness.

At our own HomeFarm, we’re supporting Barber’s efforts by growing his Habanada and Badger Flame varieties for our produce shelves. We grew Row 7’s new line of peas last spring. Our friends at SingleThread Farms are growing some, too.

One of the genius beliefs that the folks at Row 7 hold is that chefs can actually influence supermarket choices by popularizing produce through their own artistry and evangelism. Actually: it’s all genius.

Dan Barber hosts a sold-out Row 7 Seed Co. dinner with us on Oct. 10. 

Grow Your Own

About Sustainable Seeds

sustainable seeds

What does it mean to work with sustainable seeds?

Growing your own plants from seed has several advantages, not the least of which is that you can control the environment in which your food is raised, quite literally from the ground up.

This kind of growing also offers a nice lesson in self-reliance and resiliency, qualities that we can all embrace during times of climate change and other uncertainty.

Start with clean, good soil that is chemical-free — and be certain to start with the best quality seeds.

When possible, we like to use open pollinated seeds that are specific to our region. There are several different types of seeds available and it can be confusing at first!

Openly pollinated seeds are those whose parent plants begat them through the usual round of fertilization practiced by bees, hummingbirds, bats, and beneficial insects. They grow true to the parent plant and adapt over generations to their particular micro-climate.

Heirloom seeds are those in which the plant variety has been cultivated for generations, typically 50 years or more. They are generally open pollinated, and therefore well-adapted to the environment.

Hybrid seeds are developed through cross-breeding and don’t produce true to the parent. Often sterile, hybrids are good for one generation only.

We avoid hybrid seeds when possible as they tie the gardener and farmer to the corporation that developed them, which is antithetical to self-reliance.

Studies show that vegetable diversity is down about 95 percent from the vast types of food once grown the world over.

Industrialized food systems keep producing the same few types of vegetables relentlessly demanded by market pressure.

Seed saving and supporting open pollinated heirloom seed growers means supporting a larger diversity of food stuffs, which is better for our own health, as well as that of the overall planet.

Plan to try seed saving in your own garden this year. Collect dried seeds from successful plants and store them, noting where they flourished. Try them again next year and record the results.

This kind of attention to the world rewards on a level that your soul can understand. Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re out in the garden to begin with?

Grow Your Own

Starting Seeds for Your Garden

There’s nothing more rewarding than starting your own seeds. The benefits of seed starting include getting a jump on the season, having access to hundreds of specialty varieties that you won’t find at your local nurseries, and a significant cost savings.

There are just a few supplies you’ll need:
seed flats or pots
a quality seed-starting mix
plant labels
bottom drainage trays

Getting Ready
For germinating seeds, use clean starter flats or cell trays. If using recycled cell trays or flats, be sure to use a 10% bleach-to-water solution to kill any persisting diseases or pathogens. You can also make your own recycled newspaper pots, or use biodegradable CowPots made from manure, but whatever you use — make sure your containers drain well.

Get Started!
Fill seed flats or pots to just below the rim with a light, porous, seed-starting mix and set on tray for drainage.

TIP: You can make your own mix by combining one part each peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.

Moisten the mix and let it drain. Place two seeds in the middle of container. Check seed packets for the recommended planting depth, and cover the seeds with the proper amount of mix.

As a rule of thumb, cover seeds to a depth equal to twice their diameter. Label each container with the plant’s name and the date. Moisten the soil lightly and cover with dome or a floating seed cover to maintain humidity.

For seeds to germinate rapidly, they need to be kept warm. If you are starting heat-loving plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squashes, or melons), set the containers on a water heater, the refrigerator, or use a heating mat to keep the soil between 75°F/24°C and 90°F/32°C.

Most cool-season vegetables will germinate at room temperature of 65°F/18°C. When the seeds germinate, move the pots into an area with bright light and temperatures between 60°F/16°C and 75°F/24°C.

For consistent light and temperature, you can place seed flats and pots under florescent lights suspended a few inches above the seedlings and put them on a timer, making sure to give plants 14-16 hours of light a day.

As the plants get taller, be sure to keep raising the lights so that they are 2-3 inches above the tallest plant.

Transplant Time

When the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, it’s time to transplant them to the outdoors or into a larger container (if starting from flats). Fill the new containers with potting mix, moisten the mix, and let drain.

Carefully remove the new seedlings from the germinating container. Try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. Newspaper pots can go straight into soil.

Make a planting hole in the container and nestle the seedling into its new home a little deeper than it was originally.

Gently press the mix around the transplanted seedlings and water them gently to settle the soil.

Your seedlings will need a steady supply of water, but the soil shouldn’t be constantly wet.

Feed the seedlings weekly with a fish emulsion solution or compost tea diluted to half-strength.

A week before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden, begin taking them outdoors to a protected place, such as inside a cold frame or near a wall, for increasing lengths of time on mild days.

This will help them adjust to the conditions outside—a process known as hardening off. Start with just a couple of hours each day, work up to a full day, and then leave them out overnight.

When you finally transplant your seedlings to the garden, be careful not to disturb their roots. Gently pop them out of their containers, keeping as much soil attached to their roots as possible.

If you’ve used a biodegradable pot, it can be planted directly into the ground. Your plants will suffer no transplant shock, and should establish themselves immediately.

Happy planting! Visit our new online Seed Shop and feel free to share your experiences and techniques with us here in the comments.

Artisan Producers, Farming, Foodshed

Starting from Seed

Now is the time to consider starting your own seeds for planting. Growing your own plants from seed has several advantages, not the least of which is that you can control the environment in which your food is raised, quite literally from the ground up. This kind of growing also offers a nice lesson in self-reliance and resiliency, qualities that we can all embrace during times of climate change and other environmental uncertainty. (more…)