Elixir Farm is a certified organic and biodynamic integrated vegetable and cattle farm in Ozark County, Missouri. The farm consists of 4 acres of terraced beds, 80 acres of pasture and 260 acres of forest. The farm is surrounded by forest held in land trust and under conservation easement, so it is possible to grow seeds with minimal possibility of –drift– from other farm lands, which is often a factor when attempting to grow certified organic seeds.
The other project collaborators were Hawk Hill farm and Isaksson Farm, in nearby Douglas County.
Elixir Farm has been farming organically for 38 years, with certification for the last 21 years.
Practices at Elixir include the use of vegetable oil fuels in tractors and farm vehicles (5 years), solar power for farm lights, refrigeration, and powering the well pump (4 years), cover cropping (20 years), green manures, ridge till cultivation, rotational grazing (3 years), and selective timber harvesting to sustainably maintain the surrounding forest land (4 years).
Hawk Hill farm produces lettuce through organic farming methods (2 years) and manages a small cattle herd.
Isaksson Farm grows vegetables and manages free range turkey, ducks and guineas (4years). At Isaksson Farm, many permaculture practices are in place, including the use of bio-char (in which large amounts of charcoal are added to soil), cover cropping, and no till farming.
The goal of this project was to evaluate heritage seeds for the Ozark region. When possible, seed lots resulting from these trials were to be saved and shared through the non profit Ozark Seed Bank located in Brixey, MO.
The collaborating seed savers started with seed varieties from the collection of Arkansas Central University, which have been grown in the Ozarks for years by traditional seed savers. The participating farmers intended to practice professional seed saving techniques, and hopefully produce pure seed samples without significant genetic variation.
This project intended to make more seed varieties (and especially more Ozark heritage seed varieties) available to local farmers. The ultimate desired result of this project was an increased interest in regional seeds, increased seed saving capacity on the part of farmers and gardeners throughout the Ozarks, and improved crops and increased economic viability of farms in the Ozark region.
Our first step was to gather information about the seeds that were provided by Arkansas Central University. The seeds had been gathered from seed savers in the southern Ozarks. Some of these growers had practices which ensured that seeds were free of genetic crossing with outer varieties, but some growers were more casual about the possibility of mixing the genetics of their seeds.
After seeds were selected, the planting was ready to begin. All the planted areas were organically managed and had been cover cropped with triticale and Austrian winter peas. The cover crops were mowed and tilled in using a Spader farm implement, which tills the soil while preserving the soil structure more than when a roto-tiller is used.
Drip irrigation was placed over most of the planting beds and, where needed, 7-foot-tall deer fence was erected.
In the case of melons and squash, only one variety was planted on each farm, to prevent genetic crossing. Beans varieties were grown at distances of 100 feet apart, tomato varieties were kept at 150 feet, and pepper varieties were isolated at 200 feet.
Stacey Hambletlon is the Missouri University Extension representative in Ozark County, Missouri. Stacey arranged a presentation in Gainesville, Missouri at the annual meeting of the local branch. Forty-three farmers attended the educational presentation.
Andy Reade, the south-central Missouri University Extension Horticultural Expert, helped share information about the project with other agency offices. Andy also provided seedlings in spring 2010 to community gardens. The seedlings were started and cared for by Willow Springs FFA students in the high school greenhouse. The seedlings were grown from seeds produced in early seed trials conducted in 2009.
Seed descriptions and outcomes of the project were listed on the website of the Ozark Seed Bank, a non profit seed bank promoting local seed saving and the preservation of unique seed varieties well suited to the Ozark region.
In spite of weather challenges, seventeen of the seed trials conducted yielded favorable and useable evaluations, and in nine of these cases, a useable seed harvest resulted as well. In the case of four crop trials the weather conditions made more clear the value of resilient, regionally adapted heirlooms. The beans and rice peas were a strong display of resilience in adverse conditions, from a wet late spring to an extremely hot and dry late summer. In the case of the beans, this last year was a year in which many farmers saw very poor setting of flowers on pole and bush beans, so the success of the trial was worth noting.
In addition to these trials, we hope to continue in the process of selecting excellent heirlooms and regionally adapted varieties, and including help of other interested farmers. The results of these trials are available for others to view on the website of the Ozark Seed Bank, and there are opportunities on the site for farmers to share results of trials conducted on their farms.
2010 Seed Trials–A Project Of North Central SARE
INCREASING THE BIODIVERSITY OF OZARK SEEDS
Below are the favorable outcomes of seed trials, followed by brief summaries of conclusions about each one.
—RED RIPPER COWPEA— Soil condition of test plot: 8 inches of garden soil over gravelly subsoil, amended with rabbit manure and compost. Irrigation used: watered with sprinkler 2 or 3 times per week. Other notes: grown among buckwheat and sunflowers. CONCLUSION: Plants were very vigorous and easy to tend. Vines covered trellis, fencing and sunflower stalks, producing numerous 8 to 10 inch pods averaging 12 seeds per pod. A reliable and productive cowpea, good for forage or soil improvement.
—RICE PEA— Soil condition of test plot: 8 inches of garden soil over gravelly subsoil, amended with rabbit manure and compost. Irrigation used: drip irrigation 2 or 3 times per week. Other notes: grown over cattle panels as trellis. CONCLUSION: This heirloom, brought from the Appalachian region to the Ozarks, is also extremely vigorous, and climbed beyond the trellis into adjacent crop areas. The plants produce 4 inch long, slender pods that can be eaten green but are best as dry peas. Dry peas are cream colored, 4 to 6mm. with a darkish spot around the hilum. Plants are VERY productive, producing four pods at the end of the stems, and will produce a new set of pods even when the dry pods are still on the plant.
—LITTLE BLUE BEAN— Soil condition of test plot: 8 inches of garden soil over gravelly subsoil, amended with rabbit manure and compost. Irrigation used: drip irrigation 2 or 3 times per week. Other notes: grown over cattle panels as trellis. CONCLUSION: This productive pole bean provided continuous harvest — 3 pickings. I harvested 3 to 4 inch green beans from these plants for eating, then collected the dry beans for storage and planting. The green beans had very good flavor, but they did need to have the strings removed before cooking. The plants were very productive. Crop description: small oblong dry bean, 13 to 14 mm. long, very pretty with bluish mottling and solid dark blue around the hilum and one end. Assessment: This was a very productive and useful climbing bean. In a very small space, it produced many easy-to-harvest green beans for a reliable and consistent long harvest. Hardy, easy to grow, didn’t seem to have many insect or disease problems. Although there was a leaf footed bug that was seen on the plants, there wasn’t a huge infestation and damage was minimal.
—Lab Lab Purple Hyacinth Bean— Seed provided by Diversity organic collection. Growing conditions: sandy soil amended with compost. Irrigation: soaker hose once per week in mid-summer, no trellising. It was intended that seed would be evaluated and perhaps saved, and from 2009 trials, it was learned that a long season was needed for seeds to flower form. The same result occurred in 2010; thick and vigorous mat of vines had no susceptibility to drought, unlike other legumes, however the plants were slow to flower. Flower formation was delayed into near frost dates, and pods never set on stems. Conclusions are that Lab Lab appears to be a very effective cover crop, and perhaps forage, but seed crop requires a long season.
—SEMANKA melon— seed provided by J. Henderson, Alton, MO. Soil conditions: very sandy, well drained river bottom. Grown organically. Irrigation: soaker hoses used once per week in mid summer. Mulched with hay, to retain moisture and reduce the need for watering. Semanka melon is remarkable for its coloring and size and flavor as well. Melons are small averaging 7 or 8 inches across, and uniformly pale yellow inside and out. The skin has some marbling (or netting as one would see on a muskmelon), but this seemed to be a genetic variation, with some fruits bearing a smooth skin, while others were rough. Selection of fruits the second year focused on smooth skin melons. This was a very reliable melon type and required minimal care. There were flea beetles present early in the season, which caused some leaf damage, but plants endured after beetles were gone, and continued to set 5 or 6 melons per plant. An exceptional variety.
— Bolivian Rainbow Pepper— From Diversity Organic Seed Collection. Growing conditions: planted in greenhouses, rich soil fertilized with composted cow manure and hay. Greenhouses had no shade cloth, or fan ventilation. Irrigation: watered by hand with hose daily or every other day. The name of this pepper apparently derives from its multicolored fruits. Flowers are white or purple, and tiny peppers start green, then turn purple, orange, and finally red. Unique appearance could almost make them a novelty or ornamental plant. The peppers are very flavorful and hot when eaten. This was a trouble free variety, undisturbed by insects or temperature and moisture fluxuations.
— Giant Musselberg Leeks— Growing conditions: planted in greenhouses, rich soil fertilized with composted cow manure and hay. Greenhouses had no shade cloth, or fan ventilation. Irrigation: watered by hand with hose daily or every other day. This variety needs as much water and care as most common leek varieties, but with an unusual and very helpful added benefit: They multiply from the root, as well as setting small seedlings from their round seed heads. Because the plant reproduces in these three ways, the usually lengthy process of starting new seedlings is vastly reduced. Countless seedlings have matured to the month old or six week stage when the crop is finished, so successions are easy to maintain and a continuous crop takes little effort. Seeds are very numerous, so a small planting of 5 or 10 leeks, if left for seed, will give enough seed for several thousand new plants.
— Andean Sweet Pepper— from the Diversity Organic Collection. Growing conditions: sandy soil, very loose and amended with composted cow manure and hay. Mulched with hay. Irrigation: soaker hoses. Andean is a remarkable pepper for its similarity to most sweet/hot Anaheim-type peppers, but with peppers twice or more in size than an Anaheim. Averaging 6 peppers per plant, this is a very promising crop choice for market gardeners or farms that service restaurants and chefs. Not a difficult crop to grow, and seeds were plentiful and easy to harvest as well. The plants had no significant disease or insect problems, and did not require excessive irrigation.
— Golden Self-Blanch Celery— from the Diversity Organic Collection. Trials planted in 2 circumstances: one was outdoors in a sandy soil amended with composted cow manure and irrigated with soaker hose; the other trial was inside greenhouse with overhead water daily. The celery performed well in both circumstances, although the plants receiving heavy water in the greenhouse flourished, reaching twice the size and continuing to become a 4 foot tall bush producing plentiful seed. It is nor clear what the name self blanching might refer to; the plants outdoors did start to go white as the summer heat set in, but that appeared to be an indication of failing plant health, rather than a natural transition in color. The vegetables outside had stalks about 8 to 10 inches long, with plenty of leaf. A modest crop, not very productive, but flavorful and not a very demanding crop, other than needing good weeding at the start and steady irrigation as they mature. Outside spacing was 8 inches, and this appeared to be almost too close as the plants reached full size.
—Yellow Belgium Tomato — from Diversity Organic Collection. Growing Conditions: fertile, sandy soil amended with lime and composted cow manure. Irrigation: soaker hose. Planted at 24 inch spacing (between plants and between rows). This is a bush type tomato, with short stocky plants that bear an average 8 or 10 fist size tomatoes per plant. The plants become very substantial, although short, and staking is definitely required as the fruit starts to set. The tomatoes are a slicing type and similar to other heirlooms, with a more fragile skin than is expected from most commercial tomatoes that are shipped significant distances to market. For a local market farmer, however they could be worthwhile because of the favorable quality of the flavor, size, and appearance. The tomatoes are pale yellow and mid-sized to large.
— Bartley Okra — from University of Central Arkansas.Growing Conditions: normal garden soil for the Ozarks: about 6 to 8 inches of soil on top of gravelly subsoil, amended with compost and rabbit manure. Irrigation: drip irrigation 2-3 times per week. These plants grew very large, like little trees. The stem/trunk measured 1 inch to 1 7/8 inch in diameter at the base, and the overall height ranged from 4 feet to 6 feet. Flowering and fruiting was delayed, compromising the harvest. By the time the plants were fruiting, the weather became too cold for continued production. The first frost was the night of October 26, and the outer leaves were damaged. The plant subsequently grew more leaves, and the pods that were left on the plants persisted but did not grow bigger. I planted late (July 1) for this large a plant. It needed 3 months to grow to maturity before producing fruit. I harvested 3 inch okra pods to fill 2 quart jars (for pickles) and the rest of the pods were left for seed. The plants flowered and fruited late. Seeds are dark grey and plump (5 to 6mm when fully formed).
— Genovese Basil — from Diversity Seed Collection. Growing Conditions: greenhouse; fertile, sandy soil amended with composted cow manure and hay. Irrigation: daily overhead watering. This basil was very prolific and experienced no disease or insect problems. It thrived through the summer, and went to flower after the hottest part of the season. Extremely plentiful seed from very few plants. As plants dried, seed released from stems were well formed and of high germination. a good seed saver, and a consistently flavorful herb.
— Bushel Basket Gourd— from Diversity Organic Collection. Growing Conditions: river bottom field with no amendments, irrigated twice as a seedling, then no added water. Fenced from deer. This gourd was aggressive as a vine, though only a handful of plants were started. The expansion of the vine crept 20 feet or more in diameter, and managed to cover other watermelon and squash vines. It produced 10 to 12 gourds per plant, and might produce much more if grown with irrigation. The plant required almost no maintenance, not much weeding, and not much squash bug removal. Squash bugs were present, but not problematic. On 2 occasions, leaves were checked for squash bug eggs, with eggs removed as they were discovered. The insects subsided after this. The gourds averaged 15 inches in length, much smaller than the name would suggest, which perhaps indicates again that a different outcome would result from more watering, or perhaps more fertility of the soil.
All participants in the project were pleased with the quality of the seed varieties that were evaluated. Although outcomes were uncertain, and there were no guaranteed about the heritage seeds we were given, yields were unexpectedly high and the varieties were surprisingly resilient. Especially the beans and peas proved to be vigorous and unique varieties that thrived under the local growing conditions. Both the rice peas and red ripper cowpeas were vigorous enough that the grower intends to replant and allow the legumes to become part of her annual covercrop rotation.
The opportunity to do this research allowed us to identify several seed varieties which will continue to be useful to us in the years to come.
While all of these heritage seeds hold some promise, the process of verifying which ones will really excel can be time consuming and more costly (in terms of farm resources, time and energy) than many farmers can afford. There is always the possibility, when trialing a seed variety, that it will not prove to be a good choice for saving or sowing in the future. Because this was a collaborative project, the extra effort of research was shared by multiple farms; a model that really helps accomplish more than a single farm could during the same time frame.
Unusual weather was a factor for both years of this project. Heavy rain created difficulty the first year, and heavy moisture, followed by drought, made 2010 difficult as well. The inconsistencies of weather suggest a need for research over a longer period of time.
The success of our project, while it is satisfying to those participating, is not only due to the efforts of the researchers. As with all work involving seeds, the credit for unique and quality seed varieties belongs with all the farmers and gardeners who have preserved the seed genetics throughout its history. It was very rewarding to take varieties which were selected for some desired traits and confirm their value. It was especially rewarding to save the best varieties for another season and in larger amounts that will be available for sharing with other farmers.
Project results were shared through presentations at community and sustainability events in several counties of southern Missouri. Events included:
• The West Plains Sustainability Fair of Spring 2010, results were shared with 72 farmers and gardeners
• The Annual meeting of Ozark County Extension in April 2010. 43 farmers participated.
• Monthly meeting of Ava Garden Club, Douglas County, Aaugust 2010, 26 farmers/gardeners
• Ozark Celebration at Missouri Southern University, September, 2010, 115 farmers and gardeners received information about the project and participated in seed saving demonstrations.
The list of trials and results is also posted at the website onegarden.org at the page:
Outreach in 2009: We shared information about our project and results at events which attracted local farmers. The earliest event was last May, at the West Plains Sustainability festival. (We spoke with 47 farmers at this event)
In September, we participated in the Ozark Heritage Festival in Springfield, MO on the university campus. Seed Saving tools and techniques were demonstrated, and many children helped with seed cleaning. (We spoke with over 100 farmers at this event and 15 children helped clean seeds)
In late September, Daniel Roth joined Seed Savers from the Saving Arkansas’ Agricultural Heritage project in a panel discussion at Missouri Southern University in West Plains, MO. (33 farmers attended Daniel’s presentation).
In November, Daniel presented a PowerPoint presentation on this project at the Ozark Area Community Conference. (26 farmers and gardeners attended this presentation).