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Friends | New World Seeds & Tubers

The picture at the left show Taryn Koerker at a public tomato-tasting event she organized, hosted at the local Junction True Value Hardware store. The event featured many of Tom’s tomatoes. The two qualities that seemed to interest tasters the most were color and sweetness.

I’m about to disable the seed shop for the season because the site is desperately in need of maintenance. For one thing, the shopping cart software is barely functional and needs to be replaced. For another, as many of you have noticed, and commented, our seed stocks are very low. Right now I am busy cleaning tomato seeds to restock it with.

Thank you for your patronage. We’ll be back early next year, hopefully no later than January. I’ll send an announcement when we’re back. If you’ve “liked” our page on Facebook, you might get minor announcements from time to time, if the news filters decide to forward them to you. We have no control over that, but I think you might have some control via your own settings. I’ll look into that later and send a Facebook announcement if I figure out what the setting is.

If you have an outstanding order with us, it’s still in the queue to be processed. Thank you for your patience.

If you don’t hear from us before next year, we hope you had a great harvest, and enjoy upcoming holidays with those dear to your hearts. Warm regards from Tom and Rob.

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First some news about your orders: as you’re probably aware, we were flooded with orders even before I announced that I had listed new seeds. Someone did something like a pingback to watch our site, was alerted instantly when I posted the new listings, and spread the news before I had a chance to make the announcement myself. I wish some of my other lines of business would go viral like that!

What you probably don’t know is that we were also flooded with customer service inquiries. A lot of them have to do with outstanding orders, such as people who want us to change their shipping address or billing method. Hopefully, I spot those before the orders get shipped out. If not, we’ll do our best to fix the problem; we want you to be satisfied with your order.

Some of them are questions people have before they can make an order, and they’re probably feeling anxious about not getting what they want. Some items have sold out, but the good news is more items will get listed as soon as we catch up with our backlog and have time to inventory and list them.

Some of our backlog of inquiries are setting high expectations for how much attention we can give any one potential customer. In order to serve everybody, we’re going to have to make some of these interactions brief. The problem is probably a result of scaling up operations; Tom used to have plenty of time to interact with customers when he was only sending out dozens of potato packets and seeds. What might make sense as a solution is for us to provide more information up front, so that we’re not answering the same questions over and over (though we do get a lot of questions that are already covered in our “Frequently Asked Questions”). It’s just one of those growing pains that will get sorted out when we have enough “efficiency of scale” to handle the overhead.

Speaking of which, kudos and thanks to Jane for volunteering to help Tom organize and pack orders. We really appreciate that. I’ve talked to Tom regarding how we can reciprocate. Tom has been blessed with the generosity of many people like Jane.

Now that administrative matters are out of the way, here’s another important matter you might have heard about in the news:

A few weeks ago, shipments of Brazilian orange juice destined for the United States tested positive for a fungucide called carbendazim. Not surprising as it is legal to use in Brazil. European regulations allow higher concentrations, and Japanese and Canadian regulations still higher; the juice would probably be allowed in those countries.

Here is what Wikipedia says about carbendazim:

Carbendazim is a widely used broad-spectrum benzimidazole fungicide and a metabolite of benomyl.

The fungicide is used to control plant diseases in cereals and fruit, including citrus, bananas, strawberries, pineapples, and pome.[2] It is also controversially used in Queensland, Australia on macadamia plantations.[3]A 4.7% solution of carbendazim hydrochloride is sold as Eertavas and marketed as a treatment for Dutch elm disease.

Studies have found that high doses of carbendazim cause infertility and destroy the testicles of laboratory animals.[4][5] Carbendazim was included in a biocide ban proposed by the Swedish Chemicals Agency [6] and approved by the European Parliament on January 13, 2009.[7]

I don’t know what the ramifications of carbendazim traces in orange juice are at the levels found. Since I don’t know, it’s probably best to avoid Brazilian orange juice, since that fungicide is in wide use there.

I recently bought some orange juice, and it probably contains concentrates from any of multiple countries, depending on where it can be found most inexpensively. It probably contains plenty of Brazilian orange juice, that got through before the testing was done. There is discussion of a ban on Brazilian OJ imports, but I would guess that economic factors will weigh against it, as otherwise orange juice prices in the USA would rise significantly more than they already are.

I’m actually all for “free trade”, as long as it is informed trade. It is unethical to sneak anything past the buyer that he would not agree to if he knew about it. The “commodization of everything” makes informed consent unlikely to happen.

The bottom line is that if you’re not sure it’s safe, think twice about buying it. The Food and Drug Administration caught this particular problem in this particular batch, but it is impractical for them to test everything, and you have no assurance they’re going to do anything about it even if they could.

What do you think?

As for me, it’s back to work packing orders and answering customer service inquiries.

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I often find myself surrounded by beauty

“If the only prayer you ever said was ‘thank you’, that would be enough.”
–Meister Eckhard

Here in the States it’s almost Thanksgiving holiday. I asked Tom what he was thankful for, but haven’t heard back from him. He told me that his family keeps him busy during the holidays and that they go “all out”.

I think he’s got watching some football with his sons in his near future. He really enjoys that time with his sons.

I know him well enough that I can probably answer for him. Above all, I know Tom loves and is thankful for his family. He often talks about his children, fusses over them a lot, and often expresses his feelings on the importance of family.

I’m thankful for my family too. I have a wife and four beautiful children. The youngest arrived relatively late in our lives but having her has worked out better than we anticipated. She’s been the light of our lives since she was born.

I’m also thankful for…

  • My extended family.
  • Having good friends who help each other.
  • Our home and our farmland.
  • Having enough good food to eat.
  • The gift of life.

I’m thankful that my parents raised me until I was old enough to be on my own.

I’m grateful for the Internet, for the opportunities it created to make business connections, and for the ability to meet people I never otherwise would have met, some of whom are truly amazing, and all of whom are special and have touched my life.

I’m thankful for my friendship and partnership with Tom.

I’m grateful for relationships that didn’t work out, but that I’ve learned and grown from.

I am thankful for hard lessons I’ve learned from enemies. Even the worst enemy I’ve ever had taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: the universe does not revolve around my needs.

I’m thankful that every day, I make my own plans, go where I think I need to be, talk to whom I think I need to communicate, and run my own business doing what I think needs to be done. I fear that this cherished freedom might not last all that much longer but appreciate it all the more so long as it does.

I’m thankful to have a life-purpose, and for as much time as I’ve already been granted to pursue it. I am thankful for the doctor who saved my life some years ago and gave me a second chance to pursue goals that otherwise would have been out-of-reach.

My life has been surrounded and infused with beauty and wonder. I have been blessed. May my life and my actions be a blessing to others.

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Tom and Arthur Lee Jacobson sitting in the trailer after work. Tom is soaked to the bone.

One of my friends sent me this link (caution, some vulgar language!!):

Seven reasons the 21st century is making you miserable

You don’t need to read it; I can summarize it briefly: having a certain type of personal freedom in life results in fewer and more shallow relationships.

For most of human existence, most people didn’t travel much and were “stuck” in the same place with the same people for their whole lives. Some would come and go–but mostly due to birth and death. This would be true even of nomadic peoples, who travel in specific groups.

Knowing this, people used to make more effort to get along with their family, friends, and neighbors.

Friends and family working together

I don’t think it’s so much a matter of getting to choose your friends, or what criteria you might use to choose them, as suggested by the article. For one thing, people used to look like and be more culturally similar to their neighbors, so they already had a lot in common. For another, people nowadays replace their carefully-chosen friends quite readily, and THAT is the heart of the issue.

I read an article that said that Americans tend to prune their friendships an average of every 2 years (an average marriage lasts something like 6 years, btw). That sounds about right to me; my wife, some of our kids, and I have all experienced quite suddenly being persona non-grata without any obvious triggering incident. Just one day out of the blue a fairly blunt hint, or sometimes even an explicit statement is delivered, that you’re not welcome to call anymore. You’ve been pruned.

What was interesting were the comments at the end of the article. No disbelief or for that matter sense of scandal: a lot of people thought it was an obvious and somehow necessary fact of life.

I read similar comments after an article in a British internet newspaper regarding how most Brits indicate they’d rather spend Christmas and other holidays with friends not family. A typical response was “well of course people would rather spend time with company of their own choosing, than with an arrangement you were stuck with by birth!”

Chris Homanics helping out with the potato harvest.

How about friends AND family? I’ve known people sociable enough to invite their relatives, friends, and then go around and round up the neighbors!

In any case, people crave friendship but the opportunity of being able to replace old relationships with new ones as a matter of convenience seems to be too tempting for many people.

I’m not sure the cost quite sinks in. Maybe these relationships are “friendships” but they’re too superficial to serve much more purpose than to validate someone’s sense of self. I have a feeling they end abruptly if they ever once fail to serve that purpose. You can always find new “friends”, and early in the relationship, before “the honeymoon is over”, they’ll be on their best behavior!

Someone I thought was a friend told me off rather bluntly some years ago. He told me about what he claimed were his real friends: “My…friends and I, we have a beer”. At the time, I was too wound up in my own “story”, but nowadays I have thicker skin and a kinder heart (not that I told him off–that’s not my style–but I didn’t tell him anything useful he needed to know to grow as a person): I would have gently informed him that no, those aren’t friends, those are beer-buddies; they won’t be there for you when you need friends. I always had been…and if push came to shove I still would be. I don’t think beer-buddies and friends are mutually-exclusive by nature, but they tend to be in practice. There’s not enough investment in the relationship to be more than very superficial.

One of my lady-friends told me about an incident in which a friend of hers was coldly told “THIS IS A PLAY-GROUP NOT A SUPPORT GROUP” when she started talking about her personal life. Now I suppose that if she were neurotic and whiny they might not want to listen to a list of complaints, thought it seems there would be a kinder way of saying so. But, I have a feeling their tolerance was low and they meant exactly that: keep the relationship strictly business! I’ve heard similar stories elsewhere: people being very blunt about wanting to keep relationships as superficial as possible: we are NOT friends.

Someone once told me this story: A luxury river-boat was sailing up the Ganges in British Imperial India. The captain noticed that the handsome cabin-boy disappeared for the night last seen in the company of a wealthy debutante. The next morning he cheerfully greeted her. She slapped him hard and informed him that “spending the night does not constitute an introduction”.

Once a discussion happened at work in which the bosses asked us what we might like as a motivating reward for achieving a certain important goal. One proposal put on the table was to send us on a mini-vacation as a group.

“WITH THESE PEOPLE?!” one of my then-colleagues asked incredulously. “Send us on our own vacations. I don’t want to spend any more time with these people than I have to.”

She was smiling but it wasn’t a joke. (She has the same type of haughty personality–and mannerisms!!–often portrayed by the late Agnes Moorehead).

That’s one reason I don’t work in a corporate environment anymore. That kind of atmosphere does not suit me.

This is how we live while working days at a time in the field.

I work with friends. We look out for each other outside of business.

I didn’t have clip art of what the media presents as bonding activities, so I went looking online. Here’s a typical article:

Male bonding activities

Number one on the list is “Grabbing a beer after work”.

That’s fine but it’s typical of modern mindsets: little ventured, no commitment, and it revolves around commercial activities. Similarly #5 activity “watching the game”. Most of the rest of the list is either commercial or recreational, EXCEPT the very last one–#10, Fixing something. #10; it was an afterthought. I have a feeling that the emphasis on recreation, entertainment, and commercial products is the result of corporate commercialism defining modern culture. You make closer friends raising barns than raising a beer.

You get out of friendships what you invest into them. People are understandably reluctant to risk a lot when they might be let down. Fair enough: what you do is keep increasing your investment as you build trust. Reciprocation doesn’t have to be equable; I have friends richer and poorer than I am; it just has to be dependable. If you’re there for me, you can expect me to be there for you.

That also means that when expectations are disappointed, paradoxically if you can resolve the dispute amicably the whole experience strengthens the relationship. “Wow, I was such a jerk and he’s still talking to me, I guess he must be a true-blue friend!” It builds trust and commitment.

You might be wondering why for a post about building friendships through work, I don’t have pictures of people working as a group. That’s because up through now there’s been no one to spare to take the picture.

Notice however that we’re happy digging, sweating, living and working like peasants…there’s no need for pretentious circumstances or bought experiences. We’re there for each other through thick and thin. That’s what I like about my friends; they have character.

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Not sure I want the police involved though. Reposting from a friend’s post on Facebook:

A man lives on a farm, he writes to his son in prison -I can’t grow potatoes this year. I’m too old to be digging up the field. Soon he gets a letter back from his son. -You can’t dig in the field, that’s where I buried the bodies! The next morning, people came from the police. They dug up the entire field but found nothing. Soon the farmer gets another letter from his son. -Now Dad, you can grow potatoes. It was the best I could do from here…

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Last week Tom and I visited Corvallis Oregon.

While there we stopped in Albany, to visit the headquarters and retail shop of Nichols Garden Nursery.

One of the owners, Rose Marie, called while we were there, and when advised that Tom was at the shop, had a long chat with him. While they talked, I went out to the back to have a look at the gardens.

There are both herbs and vegetables back there.

The herbs are arranged into landscaping, while the vegetables are in beds. However I have seen elsewhere some very attractive landscapes done using artistically-arranged vegetables.

The strappy-leaved plant in the foreground is Zingiber myoga. I recognize it because I have some too. A hardy, vigorous relation of culinary Ginger, from Japan. The skeletal figure behind it belongs to a spent Angelica herb.

Speaking of which, while there I bought some seeds for Angelica archangelica, which I haven’t grown for years. My interest in it was rekindled by someone reminding me that in the old days, its cut petioles were often mixed with rhubarb pie at a ratio of 4 parts rhubarb to 1 part Angelica, to cut the amount of sugar needed. Angelica is naturally sweet, with a mild anise-like scent with musky overtones.

I also recall that the Scandinavian side of my ancestry used (candied?) Angelica in sweet breads. Apparently the leaves and roots are useful too. The leaves can be dried and brewed as a tisane (“herbal tea”), or used young and fresh in salads.

The seeds can be used as a spice, but Fennel which is a little stronger might work better for that purpose. I use Fennel seed and a little pearl sugar to make slightly sweet rolls. Fennel seed tastes quite sweet without containing any actual sugar; it’s a good way to cut down on the use of sugar.

I also bought some seeds for growing Agastache foeniculum, and Chenopodium nuttalliae, known by its Aztec name Huazontl.

Agastache foeniculum is probably the most modest of the Agastaches, but it’s still fairly attractive. It is probably one of the finest tisane herbs you could grow, with an enticing fragrance somewhere between mint and anise.

Huazontl is a member of Chenopodaceae, which has given us so many other fine vegetables such as beets and spinach. Huazontl is used for making vegetarian dishes during Lent.

I also bought a couple of plants: Yacon, also known as “Bolivian Sunroot”, and an herb I have wanted for a long time now, Vietnamese Mint, not to be confused with unrelated Persicaria odorata, which is not a mint and smells more like Coriander leaf. Yacon is a big leafy Dahlia-like plant, a member of the same family, Compositae, whose Dahila-like tuberous roots are naturally sweet. Vietnamese Mint’s claim to fame is its tender leaves which unlike the leaves of most mints are tender enough to eat as a salad-like fresh herb.

Next stop was Stalford Seed farm, where we met the owners, the Stalfords, and the manager, Gian Mercurio. Stalford Seed farm grows wheat, oats, beans, flax-seed, and a few other crops.

Before the tour, the Stalfords treated us to a supper whose key ingredients were grown on the farm. I liked the shortbread, which was made from whole soft white wheat. We also had a dish I’ve had on a number of farms, wheat-berry salad.

Cooked soft wheat-berries also work well wherever you want to give something a little character and chewiness. I’ve had them in yoghurt. I think they would also work in soup much as pearl barley is used.

Wheat is not as hard to grow and harvest as most people seem to imagine. It used to be grown on a more widespread basis than it is now, and families would take some of their grain to the miller to grind it, bring back the flour to home, then take their unbaked loaves to the baker. Now none of that local shared infrastructure exists anymore, though I suspect that if average homesteaders and farmers knew what to do with it, they could still make effective use of home-grown grains.

While we were eating, I met David, born in Buenos Aires and currently living in Eugene. He’s a vegan. There were plenty of hearty vegan dishes thanks to the wheat and the beans.

Before the tour, we listened to a little talk about the farm and some food security issues. Gian got my attention telling us that Portland has a 3-day food supply. Although some food is still grown in the Willamette Valley, as a case of globalization, most of it gets shipped out of the country, while Portland’s food gets shipped in.

Much of the Willamette Valley doesn’t grow food anymore; it grows lawn-grass. The farmers couldn’t make a decent living growing food, so they just gave up. There are a few food crops still grown, and Tom treated us to a pint of large, fairly good local blueberries we bought at a roadside stand.

I suspect Seattle has even more tenuous connections to its food supply: more people and fewer surrounding farms. Ours some distance southwest is one of the relatively few. Most of the farms in Western Washington are dairy-farms, which don’t produce as much food for a given amount of land as say grain and bean farms. Ours is a rare exception for growing crops not cows.

For some reason I forgot to shoot pictures of the wheat fields. They looked pretty good. The wheat was getting very dry and the heads were starting to curl as they are apt to when they’ve been dry for a while.

Yesterday, closer to home, we harvested our own wheat on a smaller scale. I’m going to be threshing my share for a while so I might not be posting as often as usual. Considering that our planting was experimental as we didn’t know what would work here, it was fairly successful. Most of our cereals survived and a few actually thrived, despite challenging growing conditions. Wheat is rare in Western Washington but it does occur. It’s mostly soft white winter wheat, but it’s possible to grow red and white hard wheats too, and it’s possible to get the protein levels to respectable levels if you fertilize them in the boot stage.

More about our wheat project soon.

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Some of you might know about Peters Seed and Research. It was a small cropseed company run by Tim Peters and eventually his associate, Dave Woods.

It sold a variety of fruits and vegetables, but its primary claim to fame were a few of its specialties. It was probably the most accessible source of perennial grains in the USA if not the world. Perennial grains (typically, wheat) also show up from time to time in government crop-breeding programs, but Tim was one of the few crop variety breeders who really took them seriously and tried to develop practical crops out of them.

What we have found is that perennial grains are useful in situations where you can just let them grow, and harvest them opportunistically. They tend to perform better than annual grains in harsh-weather years like this one for us.

Tim also specialized in Cucurbits and leafy greens, and he had several early-ripening tomatoes suitable for the Pacific Northwest, where tomatoes can be a challenge to ripen especially in La Niña years.

He also had a few odds and ends worthy of Luther Burbank, but without the controversial hype. For example, “Garden Huckleberries”–that is, edible Nightshades used as substitutes for blueberries–that are bigger and sweeter than normal.

That was what was available to the public. What was still in development was tantalizing in a weirdly wonderful way. Imagine for example Hibiscus bred to combine cold-hardiness, palatable leaves, EDIBLE PODS (like Okra or “tropical cranberries”), PLUS showy, edible flowers that can be used to make smoothies.

The trick of course would be to combine traits of already-existing species of Hibiscus and related genera. That was one of Tim’s specialties, including seemingly-impossible wide crosses.

He also did work on perennial eggplants and cucurbits, and took an interest in Passionfruit.

Tim was motivated to eventually bring this stuff to market.

Eric Toensmeyer’s book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles (one of those “fun” books that keeps you up at night thinking of possibilities)
resulted in a sudden awareness of Tim Peter’s work. Unfortunately, it was too late; the company was already on its last legs. Now if you look up Peters Seed and Research on the internet, all you’ll find is a lot of inquiries regarding where to find this or that variety, or what happened to the company and would it be possible to buy his varieties from another source.

Tom and I rescued several of them. They were exceedingly hard to find. A few may have gone extinct. Too bad.

What if a small miracle happened, and some of his best varieties were suddenly available again?

It could happen. Stay tuned. Smiley

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Last weekend Tom and I (Rob) went on a junket to Corvallis, Oregon, and vicinity, to visit some interesting folks. The one pictured above is Jim Myers, godfather (in the nice sense) to the blue tomato.

He modestly told me that it was actually the idea of one of his grad students. Three of them worked on it.

Someone got hold of one of the prototypes and distributed it; somewhere along the line a nondisclosure agreement was probably violated.  It quickly made the rounds in both the USA and Europe, and got into the Seedsavers network.

Unfortunately that makes it hard to recoup their development costs, much less fund future projects.

To help them out, Tom wants to participate in the upcoming release of Oregon State University’s own variety, called “Indigo Rose”. 10% of the proceeds will go back to OSU.

Here’s what it looks like:

It’s about saladette size and type. For those of you not familiar with blue tomatoes, the color is only skin-deep (the interior of this particular variety is tomato-red), and it develops long before the tomato is ripe, which has confused a lot of people who think they’re ready as soon as they turn “blue” (eggplant purple, actually, though it is the same pigment as in blueberries).

Dr. Myers and his students already implemented some ideas for getting them as deeply-colored as possible, and they’ve got more ideas for possible ways to get the color to penetrate the flesh. Tom has been thinking about that too.

Tom would like to help work on the blue tomato project to build some synergy to help accelerate the development of blue tomatoes.


Don’t forget about the Cook’s garden fall planting promotion. Enter code FG1FREE at checkout, and get free shipping on all orders over $25. Offer ends August 2nd, 2011, so hurry.

Gourmet Garden Homepage Banner

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Grain sorghum, also known as “Milo”, isn’t familiar to most Americans. They usually mistake it for either corn (maize) or millet.

That’s because it looks like a corn plant sporting a sprout of millet on top!

I have some down at the farm, and some more in my (Rob’s) back-yard in Seattle. My backyard is basically a nursery for the farm and the seed-and-tuber business, and looks like a farm in miniature.

Three of the sorghum varieties in my back yard were bred by “the amazing” Tim Peters, formerly of Peters Seed and Research. They’re growing in my backyard for lack of other options until I build up enough seed stock to risk them elsewhere, for example, on my farm as soon as I can prepare a spot for them that will be out of the way of the farmer’s tractor. You see, Tim’s Sorghums are all perennial.

Here’s one called “Iron Mountain”:

Sorghum blossoms

Tim’s varieties are WAY ahead of the other varieties in my back yard. With this freakishly cool weather this year, might be nip and tuck getting the others ripe. All of them are rare and we need to increase them.

Speaking of Tim Peters, a lot of people have been asking what happened to his company, and where they can find his crop varieties. What happened is that he took some time off of his breeding, growing, and selling work. The good news is that more of his tomato varieties will be available from us next year. Even better news is that Tim is currently planning to be back to resume his crop-breeding work. I’ll make another, bigger announcement to confirm the fact once I see his smiling face back in the hills of southwestern Oregon next time Tom and I are down there. The plan is for him to be back in the Pacific Northwest in time for prime hardy grain-planting season. Hope so. Imagine the synergy of Tom Wagner and Tim Peters working together!

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I’ve decided to postpone our downtime so that I can do it all at once, so that nothing is offline too long. It will take me a while to re-list all of the tomatoes.

I’ll get to it after I get back to town from a day at the farm. Planting season has started in earnest. My house and back yard are full of seed trays, but some things are better started directly in the ground.

We’re receiving pictures of seedlings in our emails. Here’s a picture from one of our friends, Tom at ThreeDaughtersFarm. It’s a baby potato plant from some True Potato Seed Tom Wagner sent him.

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