Late Winter Update, 2016

IMG_5250There is a noticeable change on my website for this coming spring; the absence of a list of plants intended for sale. This is no error. I am not selling plants this spring. As my involvement in variety trials and seed saving expands, I find that I do not have the time to raise plants to sell here at my farm and at the local farmers market. Last spring was extremely challenging, to say the least, as I strived to get all my crops planted, and take care of thousands vegetable starts. I have decided to pool all of my energy and time into working with the seed lines I currently have, and trialing out new heritage and heirloom varieties, with an eye towards finding crops that work well here in my region. The absence of spring plants will only affect my local customers, as I do not ship live plants via my website.

After three seasons working with various grains and legumes, I feel I have a solid, basic selection that has consistently performed well under difficult conditions. These varieties I intend to continue growing out and selecting for attributes like:  early maturity, disease resistance, extreme weather tolerance, etc., and plan to continue to offer these as seed through this website. This would include varieties like Kwintus Pole Beans (a customer favorite), Einkorn and Banatka wheat, all of the heirloom soybeans listed this year, etc.. The list would encompass most of what is currently available on this website, although I have dropped a few items in the past 2 years. Things like cotton and moth beans, which proved to be not well-suited for the North.

Aside from maintaining the lines I have been working with, I am also planning to trial out a few new crops, like lentils (8 varieties), Cowpeas (4 varieties), garbanzo beans and fava beans. I am also raising 6 new varieties of heritage, cold tolerant rice; 2 lowland varieties and 4 upland varieties. The Duborskian Rice has done well for me here in a zone 5b, but it has proven challenging for folks in regions with cooler summers and shorter seasons. One of these new cultivars ripens in 95 days and is suitable for zone 4. That would be amazing!

Wheat has continued to prove difficult for me here in Northern Indiana, given the excessive rainfall during the spring and early summers of the past two seasons. I have located a few landrace varieties from Eastern Europe (Georgia), Tsiteli Doli, Dika and     Timopheevii. These were brought to my attention by an article written by Eli Rogsa , of The Heritage Grain Conservancy. In SARE funded trials conducted in the North East (2013), these Georgian wheats were totally free of Fusarium, even in excessively wet seasons. In addition, they are reported to have great rich flavor for baking. Plant breeders have used these wheats for years in developing, new cultivars of disease-resistant wheat. What has been neglected is the possibility of growing the landraces themselves, as some small farmers continue to do in Georgia.  I received some of my seed from the USDA’s Small Grains Collection (NSGC), as well as some from a long standing SSE member in Vermont.  I also have located seed for a promising strain of einkorn that is supposed to be easily dehulled without special equipment. That would be a real find for both small scale farmers and homesteads! There are a number of other cereal grains I am planning to trial out this season. I will discuss them in a future post.

I will be growing a millet variety with the extremely-rare glutinous-trait (amylopectin starch). It is a landrace variety from Japan, called Tobi Bread Millet.  I am planting this out along with an interesting short season (75 days) “grain” sorghum  and  two “popping” sorghum varieties. Most of the sorghum varieties I have grown in the past averaged 110 – 120 days to maturity.  These may prove to be good options for zone 4!

These are just a few, of this upcoming seasons projects. I am working to streamline my

Darwin John Corn

Darwin John Corn

data keeping for future variety trials. I want to be able to share more precise information about each crop, on this website. In the last two years, I have made some wonderful connections with other grower/researchers working on similar projects. I have been able to share a lot of my seed and data with these folks, and have received a lot of great seed and knowledge in return. There is also the opportunity now to duplicate some trial plots in multiple regions, with different soil types, and variances of climate. These would all be reflective of Northern regions, extending from the Northern Plains, through the Great Lakes Region and into the North Eastern parts of the US. I am also hoping to get feed back on some of my varieties from farmers who have the ability to conduct larger field trials than I am able to do. That will add a whole new layer of meaningful data to help me and other folks determine suitable staple crops for their gardens, homesteads, and small scale farms!

I could go on but I will simply end with a, Thanks!  Thanks, to all my customers and partners in this endeavor to bring back bio-diversity and common sense to agriculture. My primary goal is to locate, trial, increase seed stock, and make these incredible, overlooked varieties available to gardeners and farmers!!




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9 Responses to Late Winter Update, 2016

  1. Lisa says:

    I have family who are thinking of trying their hands at growing a sustainable crop. Neither are expecting to make money the first couple times out; they want to experiment and use the product themselves. One lives in Sanford NC (near Fort Bragg) the other in Central Florida. The sister in Central Florida says she has been told that our land stays too wet to grow grains. Yet just about an hour away we have massive corn festivals.. So wondering if this is true. And the brother in NC thinks he doesn’t have enough land. However he used to rent it out to a farmer who did rotation crops. What is the minimum amount of land one would need? Also will you be selling seeds? Love reading your articles! Lisa

    • John Sherck says:

      Lisa, How wet is wet? My farm was hit with heavy spring/early summer rains the last two seasons. Some of my plots never fully dried out until mid summer.
      Standing water is an issue. Wet ground can be a problem, or something you could work to an advantage. Heritage rice might be a good crop in wetter soils.
      Upland varieties like Violone or Loto can be grown without flooded paddies. Grain sorghum and millet might be another option. If you want to try corn, or
      any other grain, I would suggest planting some trial plots. 100 – 500 square feet. Evaluate for one season and then make a decision. I have found many
      crops that are drought tolerant to also be tolerant of wet soils (heavy rains). I believe if you look to heirloom strains, you will find crops that can
      grow in any region. Research what Native Americans were growing in your region 150 years ago and you may find some surprises. I am no expert on crops
      suited to NC or Florida. Check out Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They offer seed suited to the south!

  2. Sean says:

    I can’t wait to hear how those wheat landraces do. Are they in the ground already as winter wheat? I have a lot of faith in Georgian wheat varieties, more than the Afghanistan and other warm weather strains I am trialing.

  3. Sean says:

    I am trialing Poltavka from the Heritage Grain Conservancy for the first time this year. It’s from Georgia and is supposed to be almost resistant to fusarium. It over-wintered better than my Italian, Afgan, and Californian wheats. Now we’ll see how it likes hot, humid springs. If I remember, I’ll let you know how it does before sowing time in fall.
    I’m in central/southern Indiana. As you well know, trial and error is the name of the game when it comes to finding varieties suited to local climate. Considering relatively few people do this kind of research, we are forced to lead the way in finding crops suited to our own regions.
    I enjoy reading your posts. I plan to place a seed order soon.

    • John Sherck says:

      I hear you on that, Sean. We can’t rely on universities or the government to do research. For too long farmers have relied these
      agencies to tell them what to grow. Farmers instinctively know what to do on their farms, including seed saving and variety
      adaptation. I am no expert by any means. Just doing what seems logical. I would appreciate hearing about how your trials come out.
      I was just looking yesterday at all the wheat accessions in the Genesys database (it would include everything in the USDA). There
      are 378,650 listed accessions. Some were put into the seedbanks in the early 1900’s and have never been requested. If I grew out 25
      new trials per season to evaluate, it would take 15,146 years to get through them all.

      Maybe we can share/exchange some seed stock in the future?

      • Sean says:

        I’ve never used the Genesys database before. Do they describe the growth habit anywhere(height, lodging, ect)?

        I would be glad to share some seed in the future. I don’t have much to offer of interest right now, though. I’m still pretty new to this. It’s a difficult balance for me to plant enough square footage in common crops that I use a lot of(sweet corn, tomatoes, potatoes, etc), and still allow enough space for trialing old varieties of wheat, oats, dry beans, etc. I hope to get a little better and learn more each year.

  4. Tony Stonecypher says:

    My Father-in-law and I are very interested in growing heritage grains. Our particular interest is in Einkorn, and we hope you have some, but we are open to advise on the benefits of others. We are in NW Missouri, zone 5.

    • John Sherck says:

      Hello Tony, I am sold out of Einkorn until next Fall. The only other heritage wheat I have at this time is the Banatka.
      It is a winter wheat that has done very well for me. If you are looking for Einkorn I can suggest you go to the
      Bountiful Gardens website. I believe they have White Einkorn. I highly recommend them as a seed source.

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