Monday, October 27, 2014

Red Ruffled Pimiento

This little known culinary treasure deserves some limelight. It is high time for cooks and foodists to try it and see just how delicious a ripe red pepper can be!

Believed to be derived from a Spanish paprika pimiento. this squat, lobed fruit is far and away the most flavorful, aromatic, and rich sweet pepper ever. We were giving out samples at Hoes Down Festival this fall at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, and everyone was in agreement: best tasting pepper they'd ever tried!

We've loved this variety for over twenty years. Steve worked professionally with organic seed growers around the country. He has kept up many of those connections, who have become good friends. One of them was John Finley of the Garberville Community Farm. 

John and his wife Lisa have been growing produce and saving seed for many years. They received the Red Ruffled Pimiento seed from grower Bill Reynolds, grew it out and made some improvement selections on it.

One of the improvements made was to the size of the fruits. They run 3-4" in diameter, and about 2" high. The walls are over 1/4" thick; much thicker than the familiar Bell Pepper.

The seed then went back to Bill's farm, Eel River Produce. We visited this past March. The photo above shows a cover crop waiting to be plowed in on this beautiful certified organic land. 

In March Bill was transplanting Red Ruffled seedlings.

By the time Steve returned, in late September, each plant held from 6-15 fully ripe peppers, and a number of ripening ones. You can easily ripen twenty fruits per plant with an extended growing season.

I love how Bill made use of his resources: he took advantage of a weed problem, datura, to provide shade for the pimientos. Peppers are by nature understory plants, and the taller Jimson Weed prevented sun scald on the peppers.

September 30th was harvest day, Steve single-handedly picked 300 gallons of ripe fruit. How many pecks of perfect pimientos can Steve Peters pick? You do the math. Pretty good for an old timer! Just part of the personal service from Seed rEvolution Now!

One of Bill's thrills is finding ways to use the bamboo that thrives on his farm. Here's a handmade seed drying screen, which was pressed into service as a pepper ripening rack. Very aesthetic!

To process the seeds, Bill ran the fruit through a Millet Wet Seed Separator. This first chops the fruit, and then passes it over a shaking tray through which water is sprayed, pushing the seed through the screen and into the sluice box. The seed-free flesh is saved for food.

Bill in his waterproof pants rubs the seed through the screen by hand.

The seed and fine pulp go down the homemade redwood sluice. 

Check dams catch all but the heavier, viable seeds.

These are caught in a mesh screen at the bottom.

Nice small-scale, low-cost operation for the on-farm seed saver!

After the seed dries, it will go through a final winnowing to blow away the flecks of dried flesh. Then it's ready to go off to farmers and seed companies. Steve is representing Bill and several other trusted organic seed producers through Seed rEvolution Now. The price is $125 per quarter pound, although he is willing to sell smaller lots as well. You can email him at, or call him at 505-660-3933.

Here's some shots of the fruit soon after it came to our home in San Mateo. I just can't say enough about the fantastic fresh eating quality of these peppers! But I'll try...

Thick, meaty, sweet, juicy, aromatic, rich and delicious!

And they make wonderful stuffers! Unlike Bell and Relleno type peppers, these have a tender skin and do not require peeling. Toothsome stuffed pimientos!

One last point in favor of these beauties: Here's a photo I just took today, October 27th, of a Red Ruffled Pimiento kept nearly a month without refrigeration! Pretty amazing, considering it was picked fully ripe! So hurry and get some of this seed to offer in your catalog or grow for your customers. Try it in your kitchen, give your kids a slice. It is just too good to pass up!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dark Star Zucchini

Steve Peters of Seed Revolution Now would like to introduce what may well be the very best zucchini, bar none, for western climates: Dark Star

The star on the flower end of the maturing fruit is indicative of a high lutein content, and shows how this variety got its name...also derived from a Grateful Dead song!

Tucked into a bend in the Eel River in northern California lies a very special, hidden farm.

This is the land of organic produce grower and dedicated seed breeder Bill Reynolds. Bill is descended from a long line of strong, independent spirits. His great grandfather, for whom he was named, was the first sheriff of Nevada County during the gold rush. Bill has lived on this land for over thirty years, learning well how to work with the local natural givens of climate, soil and water.

Bill was already one of Steve's trusted cadre of organic seed growers when, in 2006, the opportunity arose for them to collaborate with Organic Seed Alliance plant breeder Dr. John Navazio to develop an improved open-pollinated zucchini at Eel River Produce Farm.

The location was especially suitable to this project. It was well-isolated, protecting the crop from unwanted cross-pollination. In addition, the high water table of this river bench allowed Bill to grow without any supplemental irrigation. This dry-farming forced the selection of plants which developed larger root systems. Bill had enough land to enable a sizable population, from which he selected those individual plants which showed the desired characteristics.

These traits include: an open habit, making harvest easy, and straight, smooth, shiny dark green fruit, with faceted sides to prevent rolling. In addition, this particular variety offers the nutritional advantaged of a high lutein content. Because it is open-pollinated, it has a much longer season of productivity than hybrids can muster. The continuous production of both male and female flowers guarantees that late season fruits remain straight. 

Dark Star plants, thanks to their stronger root systems, are about one third larger than other varieties. Their leaf stalks are sturdier, so they don't blow in the wind as readily, and are exceptionally smooth, resulting in less scarred fruit. The extra vigor has proved to offer some disease resistance and even frost tolerance on commercial organic farms. Their ability to thrive in areas with harsh sun makes them ideal for Western dry land farming. In fact, we advise against choosing this variety in areas that are very rainy or have comparatively low light, such as the North East, as the plants do too well, and spend their energy on vegetative growth. This is a good example of the importance of bioregional seed development.

Bill was able to witness the success of his efforts in person, as his seed was used on a huge organic farm in Baja California owned by a friend who hosted him there in the winters. The farmer preferred Dark Star to any of the hybrid varieties he had tried. In the above photo the plants on the left are hybrids. The difference is clear.

This farmer's production was very large, and wound up distributed in natural supermarkets across the US. A few years ago, a killing freeze hit Baja. All of the hybrid varieties succumbed, but Dark Star bounced back. For a while that winter, it was the only variety available in the stores. We were impressed!

Bill continues to work on improving Dark Star. This is strictly a one-man, hands-on operation, in which he takes a lot of pride. 

He has come up with some ingenious improvised tools to help process the seed. Here he stirs the fermented pulp.

A home-made sluice quickly cleans the seed.

Seed Revolution Now and the Organic Seed Alliance continue to monitor this and other crop varieties on farms in many bioregions around the country. Here Bill and Steve visit Full Belly Farm in Northern California's Capay Valley, where a summer squash trial was run. Once again, you can see that the Dark Star plants, on the right, are about a third larger. They also once again demonstrated some tolerance to disease; in this case mosaic virus.

It is important to us to hear from the farmers what they think about the varieties. Steve also wants to get their ideas about what they will need in the future, to direct breeding efforts in useful ways.

 Our germination test in mid-September 2014 was 98% after three days. It wants to grow!

Dark Star is a proven performer on organic produce farms across the arid West. Certified organically grown seed is available in bulk quantities to farmers, seed companies and co-ops from Seed Revolution Now at pricing which is competitive and fair to all. Contact Steve Peters at or call him at 505-660-3933 to inquire about this and our other fine vegetable seed offerings. 

Seed Revolution Now offers other services as well, including classes, consultations, and custom seed growing.
 Call Steve; he's not afraid to go out on a limb for you!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On-Going Seed Projects in San Mateo County

Steve Peters, head of Seed rEvolution Now, is a research agronomist, organic farmer, and organic seed expert. Upon returning to California after an absence of over 35 years, he has been working to form connections with farmers to weave a seed network for Northern California, centered on the San Francisco Bay Area. Working with collaborators within a 100 mile radius of San Francisco, he always tries to be flexible and responsive to individual situations and needs. Here are just a few of his current projects close to home.

Considering that isolation is a key factor in avoiding contamination by unwanted pollen for certain crops, Tunitas Creek Ranch is a perfect place to do seed work. It lies hidden, well off a little-used road, and up a deep narrow valley. It's just the right distance in from the coast to be spared most of the fog. This lovely property has been carefully gardened for many years by our friend Aaron Dinwoodie.

Aaron is the son of a California farmer. He understands the value of seed adapted to his unusual site, and for quite a few seasons he has been saving seed from open pollinated crops that do well here. 

Here, for example is celeriac in bloom, promising abundant, fertile seed. It is  possible to save seeds from many types of crops in a fairly small amount of space. The key is in knowing and working with the reproductive strategy of each kind of plant.

Here is one of Aaron's beautiful vegetable gardens, where he does small-scale seed work as well as grows food. Seed saving can be done on a variety of scales, from backyard gardens to large fields requiring mechanized equipment.

In an on-going collaboration, Aaron and Steve are working together now on several trialing projects, including one for Steve's multi-headed broccoli selection, one for the tasty and nutritious Andean tuber, ulluco, and one for the remarkable Japanese angelica, ashitaba. This is just one of the many ways that Seed rEvolution Now is working to expand biodiversity, cooperation, and food sovereignty in the Bay Region.

These nice, fat, dense Nappa cabbages in Aaron's garden are a hybrid variety, which means they cannot be saved for seed. I show them as an example of the standard to which Steve is hoping to raise open-pollinated Nappa cabbage: to have dense, erect heads consistently throughout the population. There are very few OP Nappa-type Chinese cabbages available in the seed catalogs at this time. We are working to change that situation.

Down the coast a few miles lies lovely Fifth Crow Farm, where Steve has been working on several projects over the past two years, in a maritime climate that brassicas love.

This was made possible thanks to the generosity and vision of the three farmers who operate this productive organic farm: Teresa, Mike and John. Without their support, this work would not be accomplished.

They provided flats and potting soil, watered the seedlings, and donated row space and water in their fertile field. In return, Steve is working on seeds which should be of benefit to their operation, and has taught a seed saving course on the farm. This is the kind of collaboration we enjoy! Thanks, guys!

A year ago in the spring, Steve started over 700 seedlings each of two promising open-pollinated varieties: 'Early Green' broccoli and 'Nozaki Early' Nappa cabbage. Last year he grew these in a part of the farm which was infected with clubroot fungus. Any plants which showed susceptibility to the disease were removed. Thus, only those which displayed some resistance to the disease, as well as expressed good form, a dense, compact head, and were slow to bolt, were left to set seed. Seed was saved from each chosen plant individually. This spring each plant's progeny were set out in carefully labeled blocks, to further select for the best of the best.

Orange flags designate each "family" or progeny line. The goal is to reduce the population to only a few families, which will then cross pollinate to mingle and concentrate the best  genetics.

On arrival, Steve walks purposefully down the long row. doing a quick survey of how each "family" is expressing its unique genetic traits. At this point, he intends to remove any families which are below his exacting standards.

Plants are scoped out visually, and felt manually to judge the solidity of the head.

This head is beginning to go to seed, so it was pulled. Kimchee!

The culling is merciless. When trying to improve a variety, it is important to remove inferior plants before they can flower and pollinate the flowers of those you want to save. However, the culls can be eaten, sold, fed to livestock, or composted. No waste.

Broccoli goes through the same process. Needless to say, we've been eating a lot of Nappa cabbage and broccoli lately!

 A week later, the Chinese cabbage which was retained has almost all begun to bloom.

All, save this especially dense head. Apparently its leaves were so tight that the flowers were unable to emerge. It threatened to rot before it could flower. Steve really liked its quality, and decided to take drastic measures. He cut off the top of the head to open it up. We have seen that cauliflower does much better when two-thirds of the "curds" are removed before it bolts, giving the remaining flowering branches more room to emerge. Steve's hoping the same principle will apply here.
OK, now time to show your stuff!

 The broccoli Steve chose, Early Green, is a multi-headed type, with a 3-4" center head, filled by abundant side shoots. He has found that it makes no significant difference to the seed yield whether or not he harvests the center head, so we are happily eating those.

 Five heads bundled together. The nice thing is that the stems are quite tender and tasty, and the side shoot production goes on for a long time, making this an ideal crop for a backyard gardener or market grower seeking prolonged harvest and greater overall yield than single crown-cut hybrids provide. This winter we will be offering this seed for sale.

On another part of the farm, a row of beets is blooming. The Fifth Crow farmers were worried because their favorite beet variety had disappeared from the catalogs. This happens more and more often, as seed is maintained by corporations interested in maximizing their profit. Only the most popular, profitable varieties interest them. Fortunately, the farmers still had a few beets in their cold storage room. Steve was able to coach them on replanting the best roots this spring for an early fall seed harvest. If all goes well, there won't be any shortage of beet seed, now! In future years it will be wise to continue to select superior roots to improve the strain and adapt it to local conditions.

If you are a farmer, gardener, or community organizer who has interest in saving and selecting seed for organic cultivation, you can contact Steve Peters at Seed rEvolution Now. You may wish to become involved in our seed collaborative for the San Francisco Bay Region, or you may need Steve's help in learning how to get started. You can email Steve at: