Monday, May 6, 2013

Chicago Seed Library Seedling Sale May 11, 2013

In an effort to raise some funds for the Chicago Seed Library, I'll be doing a seedling sale at the Empty Bottle Farmers' Market on Saturday, May 11, 2013 12:00pm until 5:00pm. This is the first farmers' market of the season at the Empty Bottle and one of your first chances to buy a plant or two for Mother's Day in the Chicago area.

Chicago Seed Library Seedling Sale

I hope your mother likes hot peppers because I'll have a mix of them for sale this day. Peppers include: Caribbean Red, Serrano, Jalapeno, Tabasco, Caribbean Red and maybe a few others. Proceeds of this sale will go to pay for things like postage and seed packets which you run through when you're giving out seeds.

The Empty Bottle is located at 1035 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 and there will be lots of local vendors selling everything from coffee to soup on this day from 12 p.m to 5 p.m.

If you missed the seed swap at this location in March, I'll bring a few seeds of annuals that are easy to sow if you would like to swap seeds. If you're a community garden, school garden, church garden, or neighborhood beautification project: fill out the form below and I can provide you with a few seeds for your garden, or bring some of your own to swap. Got questions about gardening in Chicago? Bring them with you too! The bar of the Empty Bottle will be open during the farmers' market so while the market is free to enter, you need to be 21+ or be accompanied by an adult.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chicago Seed Library Seed Swap 3/23/13

Get your garden ready for spring by swapping seeds with Chicago's farmers and gardeners. The Chicago Seed Library will facilitate a seed swap at the Empty Bottle Farmers' Market on March 23rd 2013. The farmers' market runs from Noon-5pm and is located in the bar at 1035 N. Western Ave Chicago, IL 60622.  The bar will be open during the farmers' market so people under 21 must be accompanies by an adult.

Chicago Seed Library Seed Swap

The Chicago Seed Library will seed the seed swap table with a variety of seeds for edible and ornamental plants. In addition, I'll have some seeds from the stolen Cook County Jail tomato that I'm looking for help in growing out. My supply is dwindling and I need experienced tomato growers who can grow this tomato and return seeds that can be sent to more gardeners. I'll also have seeds for 'Fish' peppers, the 2013 seed grow out for the Chicago Seed Library.

Bring seeds for open-pollinated vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials that you saved from your own garden or farm. Please package your seeds in coin envelopes, plastic baggies or make your own seed packet.

How many seeds per seed pack? 
People who have never swapped seeds before always worry about how many seeds to include in their seed packs for a swap. It varies, really, but four or five seeds for larger plants and crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers is a good number. For smaller and more common seeds (poppies, basil, marigolds, sunflowers) I think ten to twenty seeds minimum is a good number. If you can add more that's fine.

How to label your seed packs
Your seed packs should be labeled with the name and variety of the plant so that the person who picks up your seed pack can jump online and do a search and be able to find all the necessary information to successfully grow the plant. "Pretty, red tomato" doesn't cut it. Labeling the seed pack "Tomato: 'Mortgage Lifter'" will make it easy to track down everything they need to know about your tomato. If you can, add your Email, Twitter or Instagram handle to your seed pack to connect with gardeners. Every saved seed comes with a story and we should be sharing those stories and experiences with each other.

Community and School Gardens
If you're an experienced tomato grower and seed saver, fill out the form below if you can grow out the 'Green Zebra' tomato and return seeds in the fall to the Chicago Seed Library. Community gardens, school gardens, church gardens, and block clubs in Chicago who are in need of seeds should fill out the form below and pick up a seed care package at the Empty Bottle Farmers' Market during the seed swap.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cook County Jail Garden Tomato

Green Zebra Tomato Chicago Seed Library

If you have ever grown heirloom tomatoes before chances are that you have grown ‘Green Zebra.’  It is often sold as an “heirloom” even though it does not meet the age requirement most people expect in heirloom garden varieties. While there is no consensus on the age requirements, most would agree that plants that are 40-50 years old are heirlooms. ‘Green Zebra’ was introduced by Tom Wagner. In my preparation to launch the Chicago Seed Library I was doing research on the provenance of ‘Green Zebra’ and came across a forum post by Tom in which he stated that there was a lot of misinformation about the heritage of many of his tomatoes. Wanting to make sure I had the story straight I gave Tom a call. It was one of those relatively short conversations that you would swear lasted hours because of how much information he packed into our exchange.

Why ‘Green Zebra’ is not an “heirloom” tomato.
Tom introduced this tomato in 1980s in his Tater-Mater Seed Catalog. Because ‘Green Zebra’ does not meet the age requirements of an heirloom, it is described as a “heritage” tomato. 'Green Zebra' has an interesting history that includes four heirloom tomatoes. It began with a fascination with 'Evergreen,' a green tomato from Gleckler's catalog. He crossed it with crack-resistant red tomato, which developed a red tomato that evolved better green coloration by the F-5 filial generation. Through a process of selecting, crossing, and reselecting for taste, color and crack resistance the 'Green Zebra' that we know today was born.

During our phone conversation, I asked him if he would be OK with me starting the Chicago Seed Library with seeds that were saved from a ‘Green Zebra’ tomato. Technically, I did not have to ask for permission as ‘Green Zebra’ is an open-pollinated tomato and is not protected by a patent. Nevertheless, I thought it would be nice to at least ask and get to speak to the man behind such a famous tomato. Tom reassured me that he would be fine with it. He describes gardeners saving and trading his seeds as an honor, and mentioned a European grower who had been growing and saving ‘Green Zebra’ seeds for 19 years. “They’re open source seeds, once you get it- it’s yours,” he says. 2012 marks Tom’s 59th year of breeding tomatoes and making them available to gardeners.

The summer of 2010, I attended the harvest festival at the Cook County Jail. At the time, the jail garden had a working relationship with the University of Illinois Master Gardener program. Non-violent offenders participated in the project, worked in the garden, and completed training that allowed them to be certified as Master Gardeners. The festival acted as a graduation ceremony for the inmates and the food harvested went to local pantries. On the day of the festival, I spotted one ‘Green Zebra’ tomato that had not been harvested that was ripening on the vine and I took it. Yes, I stole a tomato from the Cook County Jail garden. When I got home, I carefully ate the fruit and saved the tomato seeds that I then passed onto my friend Monica to grow them out for the Chicago Seed Library.

Cook County Jail Garden Chicago Urban Farm
Inmates & Chef Cook County Jail Garden

I have a limited amount of these ‘Green Zebra’ tomato seeds available that I want to distribute to people and groups who are interested in becoming “branches” of the Chicago Seed Library. I will provide you with the seeds and you will grow them out, return some to me, keep some for yourself, and circulate the rest in your community. By doing this we will create a network of seed banks in Chicago that share seeds, encourage seed saving, preserve genetic diversity and inspire new gardeners. To apply to become a branch of the Chicago Seed Library fill out the form below. Please do not sign up if you cannot commit to the project (and keeping the seeds pure) or just want a free pack of seeds. If this works, we will have plenty of seeds at the end of the growing season to give out to gardeners around Chicago.

You can learn more about Tom at his blog, Tomato-Mater and on his forum for tomato growers, Tomatoville.