Archive for December, 2009

I posted this on my blog a week or two ago and a few people wanted me to post it here as well.

Last year I started paying particular attention the seeds I ordered. I have been trying to buy heirloom seeds from small seed houses that aren’t tied to Monsanto. With the introduction of a new GM eggplant earlier this year and questions by a lot of readers I thought we could talk a little about genetically modified seeds.


One hundred fifty years ago the United States didn’t have a commercial seed industry; today we have the world’s largest. Whichever catalog you order from (of the big companies), you’re probably getting the same seed as people who order from the other companies. Virtually every large mail-order garden company in the United States uses a seed broker to supply them with seeds. These broker’s find seeds at a low price then they contract with competing umbrella corporations, selling the same seed to everyone.


With the purchase of Seminis in 1995, Monsanto is now estimated to control between 85-90% of the U.S. nursery market (this includes pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers). By buying up the competition and lobbying the government to make saving seeds illegal, Monsanto has slowly been taking over all of the seeds. I don’t know about you, but from what I’ve heard about how Monsanto terrorized farmers I don’t really want them controlling all the seeds, especially the ones for the things I’d like to grow in my backyard!


It is estimated that Seminis controls 40 percent of the U.S. vegetable seed market and 20 percent of the world market—supplying the genetics for 55 percent of the lettuce on U.S. supermarket shelves, 75 percent of the tomatoes, and 85 percent of the peppers, with strong holdings in beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and peas. The company’s biggest revenue source comes from tomato and peppers seeds, followed by cucumbers and beans.

In large part, these numbers reflect usage of Seminis varieties within large industrial production geared towards supermarkets, but Seminis seeds are also widely used by regional conventional and organic farmers as well as market and home gardeners. Johnny’s, Territorial, Fedco, Nichol’s, Rupp, Osborne, Snow, and Stokes are among the dozens of commercial and garden seed catalogs that carry the more than 3,500 varieties that comprise Seminis’ offerings. This includes dozens of All-American Selections and an increasing number of varieties licensed to third parties for certified organic seed production.

The brand-name companies under Seminis (such as Petoseed) have developed, released, produced and distributed varieties common to the market farmer and even home gardener. These include Big Beef, Sweet Baby Girl and Early Girl Tomatoes; Simpsons Elite and Red Sails Lettuces; Red Knight and King Arthur Peppers; Gold Rush and Blackjack Zucchinis; Stars & Stripes Melon; and Bush Delicata and Early Butternut squashes. (Rodale Institute)


What does this mean for us as gardeners and consumers? This means we’re losing our choices of what we want to buy and grow. Thousands of varieties are disappearing. In 1981 there were approximately 5,000 varieties of vegetable seeds to choose from in U.S. catalogs, today there are less than 500. For someone like me that’s very sad. I love to grow the weird interesting things that are difficult to find.


So what are we supposed to do? Just because you buy seeds from places that offer non-GMO seeds, this doesn’t mean that Monsanto doesn’t own the rights to some of the seeds they sell. Buying organic doesn’t help you in this situation either. Here are a few of the varieties they own:

Beans: EZ Gold, Eureka, Goldrush, Kentucky King, Lynx, Bush Blue Lake 94

Carrot: Nutri-Red, Sweet Sunshine, Karina, Chantenay #1, Chantilly, Lariat

Cucumber: Dasher II, Daytona, Turbo, Speedway, Sweet Slice, Yellow Submarine, Sweeter Yet

Esmeralda, Lolla Rossa (and derivatives), Red Sails, Red Tide, Blackjack, Summer time, Monet, Baby Star, Red Butterworth

Melons: Alaska, Bush Whopper, Casablanca, Dixie Jumbo, Early Crisp

Onion: Arsenal, Hamlet, Red Zeppelin, Mars, Superstar, Candy

Peppers: Valencia, Camelot, King Arthur, Red Knight, Aristotle, Northstar, Biscane, Caribbean Red, Serrano del Sol, Early Sunsation, Fat and Sassy

Spinach: Melody, Unipack 151Spinach, Bolero, Cypress

Squash: Autumn Delight, Bush Delicata (producer-vendor), Really Big Butternut, Early Butternut, Buckskin Pumpkin (AAS), Seneca Autumn, Table ace

Tomato: Big Beef, Beefmaster, First Lady I and II, Early Girl, Pink Girl, Golden Girl, Sunguard, Sun Chief Sweet, Baby Girl, Sweet Million

Watermelon: Royal Flush, Royal Star (pet), Stargazer, Starbright, Stars and Stripes, Yellow doll, Tiger

Zucchini/Summer Squash: Blackjack, Daisy, Fancycrook, Sunny Delight, Lolita, Sungreen

So what do we do if we don’t want to grow GM vebetables, or support Monsanto and their bullying? We can buy open pollinated heirloom seeds from places like Freedom Seeds, Seed Savers, Sustainable Seed Company and Baker Creek (along with other places, if you have good seed houses make sure you list them in the comments and I’ll start a resources section that lists them all). Some small seed houses offer both kinds of seeds. I was chatting with Renee of Renee’s Garden and she explained to me why they still carry some seeds owned by Monsanto:

There are many excellent hybrids that were bred in the 60s and 70s that many organic farmers and small-scale farmers use routinely…. (for example it’s hard to beat Early Girl and Big Beef for wide adaptability all over the country, good flavor and, very importantly for gardeners in the hot and humid areas, excellent disease resistance ) Unfortunately, with all this controversy floating about, sometimes home gardeners don’t realize that hybrids has nothing at all to do with genetic engineering, which is a very different thing.

For my seed company, I pay the most attention to what does best in home gardens; so I sell many open pollinated varieties, lots of heirlooms, and also some excellent hybrids. A lot of the hybrids I sell are from Europe where flavor and wide adaptability are important considerations. We trial our varieties for several seasons before I introduce them and I
write my own packet backs based on our growing experience and we have also trial gardens in Vermont Seattle in Florida so we can be assured things will grow well all over before we introduce them.

I think she raises a great point, hybrids aren’t genetically engineered. Some hybrids are very valuable for commercial organic growing and can be very benficial for home gardeners, especially if you struggle with a specific pest or disease. You may need to grow a hybrid if you want to grow a specific vegetable in your climate.


I’m not necessarily against growing hybrids, although I think they’re a symptom of the loss of regional seeds. Long ago people grew seeds and traded with neighbors. Each area had seeds that did well in their climate and could fight off diseases and pests specific to their area of the country. Sadly, we’ve lost the treasure of regional seeds and with them a lot of regional gardening wisdom. We no longer have neighbors we can get local seeds from or talk to about which kind of cucumber does best in our climate. We’re left to guess by what looks good in the seed catalogs, sometimes they work beautifully, sometimes they fail miserably. Occasionally, we stumble upon an old timer that still grows old varieties and can tell us about them (check your local farmer’s markets).


This is one of those areas I haven’t fully made up my mind about yet. On one hand I can see the benefits of hybrids, on the other I really hate supporting Monsanto in any way at all, even if it is by only buying 1-2 packets of their seeds. I’m sure with enough trial and error I could find a viable open pollinated option for just about any vegetable I grow. I’ll keep using up the hybrid seeds that I have, but I’ll slowly phase them out. I really want to grow only seeds open pollinated seeds that I can save seeds from if I’d like to. Since I am in the place where I don’t “need” to grow my own food, I am able to experiment with varieties and experience loss. I realize some market gardeners and growers aren’t in this position. I also want to support open pollinated seeds because I want to ensure their survival. Sure, I don’t want ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes to be lost for all those that love them, but my ‘Cold Set’ performed beautifully for me here in my cold climate and I’ll keep growing them instead.

What about you, where do you stand on this issue? Do you have any great recommendations for small seed houses that aren’t owned/operated by large companies? Any great companies that specialize in open pollinated heirloom varieties?

A few good articles for more reading on this topic:

  • Civil Eats: Why Seed Consolidation Matters by Paula Crossfield
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    This is traditionally the time for introspection, for resolutions, plans, goals, etc.  We usually spend what ever quiet moments we find talking, thinking, and planning.  This year has been no different except for our focus.  That’s been a bit more intense.  We find our goals all falling with in a pretty narrow band, and find ourselves already taking action on some of them.  The reason for this intensity happened on the 21st.  We had great plans for celebrating the solstice and my birthday.  Instead we came face to face with how dependant we are on income generated from off the farm.  We got the opportunity, the gift of taking a hard look at what would happen if that income suddenly went away.  Not a happy place to go, and I know many have had to walk that road recently.

    I guess the surprising thing for me was how very dependant we are.  We have been developing our homestead for a few years now, and felt we were quite independent.  We produce all our eggs, milk, most of our cheese and butter, most of our own vegetables, and about half of our meat.  We heat primarily with wood gathered locally, and live pretty frugally.  We have a very small mortgage on the house and farm, and no other debt.  Sounds pretty independent.  Right up until we had to face the prospect of no income.  Then we remembered that without money to pay the bills there would be no electricity (including the freezer full of food), no water, no fuel for the car, no winter feed for the livestock, no flour, sugar, yeast, oil, coffee, etc.  If very short order the bank would come move us out of our home, and we would be without that as well.  Not the independent souls we thought we were.

    So our projects for the new year are focusing on increasing our independence.  Making our home, and family less dependant on the whims of some company, and more secure in our ability to meet our daily basic needs.

    The first thing we are doing is assessing what we have, what we produce, and where the gaps are.  We are starting with food, and rather than just making a list of what’s in the pantry, we are just pulling the plug.  We are going to try living on what is here for a month.  No trips to the store, no eating out, no ordering pizza, etc.  That should show us the gaps in a big hurry.  We are still discussing other steps we will take.  I’ll fill those in as we go.  I’ll also update our food experiment each week.  Should be interesting.

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    Well here we are again, teetering at the edge of a brand new year.  The possibilities are endless, the potential profound…

    The resolutions annoying!

    I don’t know about you but I make grand and sweeping resolutions each year.  I’ve had elaborate  plans in the past that were to make my home and garden a sanctuary, a haven, a shining example of beauty and orderliness.

    Then reality up and bites me and I am back to the exact same place I was on December 31st.

    I still have the same amount of kids (sometimes more from the previous year), there are still piles of laundry that won’t do themselves (darn them)  The self-cleaning kitchen of the future has yet to be invented and… the camel still eats the roses!

    So this year I am trying something new…

    Instead of making resolutions I am forming a plan.  A concrete plan with steps to implement and a specific goal in mind for both my house and my garden.

    For my garden instead of saying I will grow enough vegetables so that I will never have to buy any at the grocery store again (yes that was an actual resolution) I am going to put in a strawberry bed.  I have a spot, I have a plan of how I want to build it, it is a very specific and attainable goal.

    I have a short list of projects that are reasonable and do-able over the year.  I no longer have grand visions of garden clubs wanting to tour my garden because it is the most neat, orderly and beautiful they have ever seen…no I just want a bigger strawberry bed.

    For my home it is not about adding onto or decorating it with scrumptious fabrics and deep paint colors…it is simply about de-cluttering.  Over the course of the year I plan to go room by room and sell/give away/get rid of that which we don’t use.   I’m not going to make the resolution that I will keep my  house clean from now on…hahaha….I have 5 kids that is never going to happen, yet that has been a past resolution…one that crashed in about mid January!

    But getting rid of most of the clutter…that is attainable.  Especially if I get rid of the clutter when no one is looking!

    I  need to find a way to make it easier and simpler to keep the house clean.  Not by cleaning more, but by having less to clean…

    The same applies to the garden.  I don’t need to build gazebos to sit and drink tea under…but I do need make a few changes that will keep my garden from taking over ever spare moment of my time.  I need to work more efficiently…not more.

    So no big resolutions this year for me except this one…

    I will simplify my life

    And I have a plan to do it…

    So what about you and the new year…any plans/resolutions/ideas that you want to share with us?

    Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!

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    Sweet daughter and I are reading ‘Little House in the Big Woods’  by Laura Ingalls Wilder for homeschool.  We read about  hasty pudding and were both curious as to what that was.  We googled it (gotta love google!) and found many yummy recipes for what was called Hasty or Indian Pudding.  Its a dish that originated in England where it was made from flour. In Colonial America it was made from cornmeal and since I am always on the lookout for authentic old time recipes we decided to go with cornmeal.  Be warned though it is not even remotely ‘Hasty’, it has to be baked 2 hours…sweet daughter said is should be called “Slow Poke Pudding“, lol!



    You will need the following ingredients…

     ~2 Cups Milk (we used 2% )
    ~2 Cups 1/2 and 1/2 or light cream
    ~1/3 Cup Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal
    ~1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
    ~1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
    ~1/4 Cup Molasses
    ~1 TBSP Butter
    ~1 tsp Cinnamon
    ~1 tsp ginger
    ~Pinch to 1/8 tsp of cloves (depending on taste)
    ~1/8 tsp salt
    ~2 eggs beaten

     Note:  you could use all Maple Syrup or all Molasses whichever is your favorite…we didn’t have enough maple syrup so had to add molasses also and it was very good.  I think it would have a lighter flavor without the molasses.

     In a heavy pan scald the milk and cream…(bring to almost a boil when bubbles just form around the edges and it is steaming)


     Gradually pour in cornmeal while whisking…bring to boil stirring constantly.  After reaching a boil turn heat to low.


     While I was stirring sweet daughter measured and mixed the sugar and other dry ingredients which we then added to milk mixture…



     Then it was time to measure maple syrup…


     Next we added the butter and maple syrup/molasses to the pot…stirred well and removed from heat.


     Don’t forget to lick the cup clean!


     Start on the eggs…beat well


     Next you can either let the milk mixture cool enough not to cook your eggs when you add them or you can temper your eggs…(adding a small of milk mixture to eggs to warm them enough that you can then add them to pot of milk without them cooking into little lumps…yuck!)  Stir the eggs and milk mixture and pour into buttered 1 1/2 quart baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.



     Serve warm or cold with ice cream, vanilla yogurt, whipped cream, or applesauce…yummy!


     Since I cannot leave a recipe alone this is a combination of two different ones that we found with some changes of my own.  It has a deep rich flavor with spices similar to pumpkin pie.  Its color is that of deep caramel and the texture is rustic, not quite smooth.  It can be served hot or cold.  Sweet daughter liked it warm with ice cream, I on the other hand preferred it cold with homemade applesauce.  Either way it is delicious!


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    “Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously?”

    ~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

    There are a lot of influences in our lives that try to tell us how to live, what to buy, what to wear, what to drive, where to live and what to eat. These influences are particularly strong during the holidays with people telling us how we should celebrate, what we need to buy, how we need to decorate and what we need to do to ensure a happy holiday season. It can be tough to back away from the mainstream influences and to keep and develop meaningful holiday traditions for your family.

    Mr Chiots and I watched a special on PBS a week or two ago and it highlighted he different Christmas traditions in the countries and regions of Europe. We were delighted by all the different traditions people held and celebrated just as their ancestors had for centuries. We talked a little about our traditions and the traditions here in the United States and how it seems like we’ve lost a lot of what makes the holidays special in a traditional and cultural way. Perhaps it’s because we’re a country of many cultures, or perhaps it’s the influence of consumerism.

    I grew up in Colombia, their Christmas traditions are different than the ones here. Since we were Americans, our celebrations became kind of a mix of Colombian traditions and family traditions. Since my family was very religious, our Christmas celebrations always centered around religious traditions. We always had a nativity set out. We always lit a the angle chimes and read through the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. We enjoyed eggnog and Christmas cookies while opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. We never were a big gift giving family, a few small gifts were it, and generally they were useful items. On Christmas morning we’d wake up to stockings filled with candy and a few small trinkets, then we’d enjoy a big meal of ham and all the usual sides.

    Mr Chiots and I have tried to establish a few traditions of our own along with a few family traditions. We set up a nativity set and a few decorations, we exchange a few small gifts, which are generally useful. We enjoy a big breakfast on Christmas morning and always keep the day to ourselves, watching vintage James Bond movies all day. This year I’m planning on incorporating a few Colombian traditions, like eating buñelos with hot chocolate, which are traditional Colombian food for Christmas. My nativity set is handmade from Colombia, and it was our family nativity set. We would love to develop more traditions or pick up some from around the world.

    What are some of the holiday traditions that you keep or have developed for your family? Are they family traditions or new ones you’ve developed?

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    Homesteading For The Holidays

    Happy Holidays Everyone! 

    All the folks here at Roberts Roost hope that the Season is filled with Joy and the weather is as you would like it. (for us that’s snow everywhere except on the roads!)

    Life has been crazy for us as it is for everyone this time of year, but some of our craziness comes from our homesteading choices.  Homesteading is often a choice to do things for your self rather than buying the service from someone else.  We get many things from this kind of life, security, satisfaction, simplicity, a slower paced life (sometimes), more connection to place, etc.  Most of this comes from spending time rather than money to meet our needs.  However, in the world as it is there is a need for at least some money.  It is used to secure things we cant produce ourselves, to pay taxes, land payments, utilities, etc.  It is at this interface between homesteading systems and conventional consumer systems that life sometimes gets chaotic.  That’s what has been happening here for the past two months.

    One of our goals here at the Roost has been to produce what we need from our little farm.  This includes the money we need to live in the world as it is.  To do this we have tried several things, produce stands, egg production, farmers market, and most recently a goat milk fudge business.  We have has some success with all of these, but the fudge business seems to be fitting into our life the best.  It utilizes a resource we have in excess, it is not as perishable as produce, it isn’t mass-produced, and we can ship it all over.  Perfect… right up until the Holiday Rush.  We were ill prepared for the increase in demand that would come with the holidays.  The increase in orders used up the one resource we very little of – time.  As a result everything suffered.  Many of the thousand little things needing to get done to prepare us for winter and for the holidays didn’t get done (there are still several storm windows not put up, the last load of firewood is now buried under 4 inches of snow, etc…)  Some things got done poorly, like my recent posts on this blog, and some not at all, like posting to our farm blog. 

    So now I find my self rethinking many of the things I thought I could do.  Now that we are almost through the holiday season and the fudge shop is closed until February, I will have to take a really hard look at how I spend my time.  Blogging is one of the things I have to evaluate.  I love blogging.  I love the sharing of stories and information, the community, the friendships.  But it has to be something I’m proud of, and lately my posts don’t pass muster.  I don’t know exactly how things will work out as we go forward.  I want to keep this blog going, and remain a part of it.  I want to keep my personal blog going to.  I want to do a bit more business next year than I did this last year, but …  I don’t know how it will all fit.

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    Enough Lovely Llamas

    Most of you know I have a camel.  But did you know that there are also llamas here on the farm?

    All of our animals except the camel are either strays from the humane society (dogs,goats,sheep,rabbits) or unwanted animals from neighboring farms.

    We took in two strays not knowing anything about them.  It turned out they were one girl and one boy llama.  So…

    We have had three baby llamas in the past 3 years.  We love each of them dearly…

    They are sweet and curious…ohhh those ears are so soft!

    They have the biggest shiniest eyes that when captured just right are like mirrors…if you look closely you can see my house reflected in Oreo’s eye!

    As wonderful and charming as they are we have decided we have enough lovely llamas.  So one of this winter’s projects is going to be fencing off more of our property.  We will then segregate the males from the females…

    I am sure the daddy llama will be quite upset by all of this…

    Pretty sure the mama llama will enjoy the break from giving birth every year…then again I could be projecting!

    Oh and for you little tidbit of trivia for the day…they have actually cross bread llamas and camels trying to get an animal large and strong like a camel but sweet natured like a llama.  So far they have only gotten ugly ill tempered creatures.  Guess that proves we should just leave mother nature to her own devices in these matters!

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