Farm News

Harvesting Abundance, Part I

Every July, we begin a season within a season, a harvest within a harvest. In between the picking of tomatoes and digging potatoes, once the cucumbers are tucked safely in the cooler, or the onions are pulled and curing, we carve out small periods of time. From the peak of summer until fall temperatures drop, for fifteen minutes here or a half an hour there, we turn our attention toward our tiniest and yet arguably most important harvest: seeds.

Seeds aren’t a crop we sell, and with a few exceptions, we don’t eat them either. Instead, these diminutive harvests are a strategic initiative, a deposit into the bank of security. The gathering of seeds marks the start of next year’s work, an intentional act in which we collect our hopes for the future.

Garlic begins our season of seed harvesting. These porcelain bulbs of solidity pass through my hands as I select the crème de la crème for our seed stock. Wheat and rye follow, but only when a bout of hot weather, uncomfortably hot, is underfoot. We gather and work in the heat of the day, on days when water has run away to hide in the shade. This is crucial, for seeds must have a very low moisture content to avoid rotting in storage.

When the grain heads arch downward, as if bowed in prayer, we call our friends. Together, the bakers and the farmers, we cut the stalks low to the ground and thresh. The grain falls through a slender chute into a pail. This year, thirty pounds of rye berries from a morning’s work becomes the blueprint for future meals, seed by precious seed.

Every plant has distinct indicators of seed ripeness, like shrived pods or wilted petals, colors fading to tans and browns and blacks. Some seeds have sharp points, pepper-looking speckles, round balls of inky dots, spirals of ribbing that remind me of fossils. Look close and you will find the diversity extraordinary, sometimes other worldly.

Seed saving is visceral, requiring imagination, presence and patience. To be a good seed saver, you must listen, you must feel. The oats must rattle like rain on a tin roof, the wheat like the clinking of nickels in a metal cash box. Corn has to fly free from the swivel of your hand around the cob, as if it has been waiting its whole life for someone to ask it to dance. Peas must spring open from their pods, which clatter with the hollowness of dry leaves. Calendula must rustle like the grasses of early autumn tangled between your ankles.

The bread-seed poppies must roll softly with a loose timbre in their salt shaker vessel, beautiful and perfect, belying the unruly nature of their youthful frizzled blooms. At this advanced age, they have settled down into dark specks of grace, sequestered in a chalet of beauty.

I never managed to find the time in my first years of farming to catch seeds in their ripeness, on their time. But with every passing year, I am happy to witness our seed harvests growing more abundant. In the basement, our purchased seed boxes now share space with mason jars and plain paper bags, old feedsacks and manila envelopes, all with handwritten descriptions of their contents. I am far from a professional seed grower, but I am definitely a head-over-heels seed steward.

Seeds are evidence that miracles surround us. I sense the power of the infinite within them. When I am out collecting seeds, I contemplate the mystery and magnitude of life on this planet. I think of my farming journey, how each season folds into the next like one hand held by another. I can see clearly how life is layer upon layer of repeating patterns, an emerging spiral of consistency and change. Here at the farm, ends and beginnings are truly one and the same. Holding these beautiful packages of distilled potential, of enormous power, I fall in love with my work once again. ~ AJ