By Guest Blogger, Petra Page-Mann, Fruition Seeds
Lettuce & many dry-seeded crops are challenging to produce in humid climates, like the Northeastern U.S.
Our hot, humid summers make saving certain kinds of seed nearly impossible. Carrots, basil, onions and beets for example produce “dry” seeds that are completely exposed to the elements and very fragile at maturity. These crops were originally domesticated in environments much more arid than our own summers full of thunderstorms and heavy dew, making these crops more challenging to save consistent, high quality seed of here in the Northeast.
We are undeterred!
Hoop houses protect dry-seeded crops from rain and dew.
To protect these crops, we put up hoop houses to keep the rain from falling on the seedheads. Crops under these houses won’t have their seeds disbursed prematurely by rain, they also won’t be as prone to disease from the daily dew. With open ends and 4-5′ openings on each side, there is plenty of air flow to decrease humidity (key to decreasing disease susceptibility) and insects can easily come and go as they please, pollinating our crops as they go.
Hoop houses are typically used to “extend the season” for market farms, making the inside environment warmer than the surrounding climate. How are we using these hoop houses and still producing regionally adapted seed? We grow these crops in our fields, under the sky, to full edible maturity before we put the hoop houses over them. Additionally, crops like lettuce we select to be late-bolting by removing (‘rogueing’) the first ten percent of the population that bolts.
Here are a few “dry-seeded” crops we grow under hoop houses to ensure the highest quality, regionally-adapted seed for our region:
We love growing lettuce: the diversity of its colors, shapes, textures and temperature tolerance is vast and we now have access to thousands of years of selection from all over the world! Lettuce is a case-study in spirals, but you’ll only notice as you’re saving its seed. Its leaves spiral up the seed stalk and branches spiral outward at the top, their beautiful butter-colored flowers blossom in a spiral! Once most of the seed is mature, we cut the plants at ground-level and allow them to dry down on tarps for a week before we separate the seed from the stalks.
A biennial, we select only the finest of the onions for our second year seed crop, re-planting them in early May. Once they’re 4′ tall and flowering in mid-June, the hoop houses are over them to protect the thousands of delicate seeds that will form on every stalk!
Baring is tiny, black seeds under the brittle, brown sepals of the former flower, basil is prone to letting it’s seed go prematurely. Growing basil under hoop houses allows us to harvest its seed more consistently! (The smell is so, so fabulous by the way.)
Another biennial, we select the best roots from our root cellar and re-plant them in early May. They quickly send out dozens of thin, meandering stalks covered in clumps of seed!
This is one crop that we do rely on the “season extension” of hoop houses to produce seed! This is because our domesticated carrots cross with wild Queen Anne’s Lace, up to a mile. To ensure some carrot flowers blossom before the Queen Anne’s Lace, we take the carrot roots out of the cellar and re-plant them in the hoop house in early Spring, giving our carrots a huge “head-start” over the Queen Anne’s Lace, it’s roots still dormant the frozen Earth.