Plant and Seed Information Library

The purpose of the library…

The purpose of this library is to provide background information as well as suggestions on the technical growing and seed saving requirements of our seeds. The information here is organized by the plant categories below. Most varieties of these species are available in the Seed Store.



Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)

Ancient Mystery Grain

Amaranth was a staple of the Aztecs and Incas, however, it was banned by Spanish conquistadors due to its association with pagan rituals.

Amaranthus is Latin for unfading; everlasting, probably due to the long lasting flower heads of its species. The Amaranthus genus is comprised of about 60 species, among them, crop plants and aggressive weeds. They use C4 photosynthesis (like corn) revered for its efficiency. Several species are raised for grain in Asia and the Americas. Amaranth is considered a grain, but not a true grain because it’s a dicot. One plant can produce as many as 50,000 seeds, which range in color from white to orange to black. White seeded types are much better for popping and consumption than the black seeded types, which are typically ornamentals. The plants are adapted to growing in marginal soils and resist drought, heat, and pests. The grains are about 90% digestible and contain 30% higher protein than cereals with similar essential amino acids. Try the grains popped or ground into flour (good in chapatis), or add to wheat flour for a complete protein source.

The primary grain species are A. hypochondriacus, A. cruentus, and A. caudatus. They rarely cross, but some documented crosses are known as A. hydridus. These are all wind pollinated, producing male and female flowers on the same plant. Because of this, an approximate two-mile isolation distance between varieties recommended. However, we let a number of different lines cross freely to produce our own grain amaranth bulk.

Harvest seed heads once mature and hang to dry. Seed may shatter out so place a tarp below. Once matured, thresh, winnow chaff, and collect seed; wear gloves and a dust mask!

Can be directly seeded in May where seasons are warm and long. Where seasons are short it’s best to transplant in ~June and hope plants mature before the first frost around Labour Day.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)–Spinach is dioecious—that is having male and female plants. Spinach has a rosette growth habit (like lettuce) under cool temperatures and short days. Day length longer than 12 hours tends to trigger bolting. Commercial seed crops are separated by >5 miles, however, polyester fabric lined cages can help limit pollen dispersal on a small scale. A good ratio for pollination is 1 male plant for every two females. Seed can be harvested when dry and striped from the stalk.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)–An ancient pseudo-grain from South America. Most of what you see in the grocery store is from the Altiplano, South America and do not produce seed well when grown in North America. The varieties offered here are adapted to both lower and higher latitudes and can be very productive in a typical garden situation. Plants can take some frost, so planting at the same time as lettuce is suggested. Harvest once the leaves senesce, and finish drying in a sheltered location. Thresh and winnow. Before consuming, the protective saponins need to be washed off in a series of rinses.

Beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)–This population is a bulk of many varieties, as this species primarily outcrosses.

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Wheat (Triticum spp.)

A Modern Mystery Grain

Ethiopian Blue Tinge emmerWheat…what? Yes, wheat! Why not?

While wheat is a major grain crop and is one of the cheapest food commodities, it is also a staple of civilization. Wheat has been industrialized to the point that if a gardener wanted to grow commercial varieties they’d probably have little success. Wheat makes a great rotational crop for vegetables and provides a grain that can store for years.

Wheat is simply classified into hard red (bread), soft white (pastry), and durum (noodles). We also offer emmer, which is a hulled wheat or ancient grain. Durum types typically have the highest protein, which is why noodles hold together so well. Hard red is next, and its high protein usually results in good quality bread. Higher protein is often the result of wheat grown under stressful conditions. Too much stress, however, results in yield loss. Because nitrogen is a component of protein, organic systems will often produce lower wheat yields—conventional systems rely on anhydrous ammonia applications. Don’t be discouraged, though, low-input systems can produce good quality wheat if selected plants are those which tolerate garden conditions without inputs. Emmer is a great choice for low-input systems.

Disease problems can be minimized with resistant cultivars and variety mixing. Variety mixing involves planting several different small-grain varieties in a mixture, each with a different type of disease resistance. Mixed fields may lose individual varieties to specific pests or diseases, but the chance of total crop failure is greatly reduced. Weed control can be effective with crop rotation and a limited amount of mechanical cultivation. Narrow-row spacing, intercropping with legumes, or planting in beds can make cultivation less burdensome. We try to remove any plants with susceptibility to disease in our climate, but remember, the diseases we have here may not be the same diseases you have in your locations.

Wheats are further characterized by spring and winter types. Winter types are planted in the fall and ripen in July, while spring types—not very hardy—ripen in September. Spring hard reds are a primary to good bread.

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Corn (Zea mays)

Gift from the gods


Corn, or maize is arguably the most important grain crop today and forms the basis of many diets around the world. High fructose corn syrup is in just about all North American foods and most livestock are ‘finished’, if not completely raised on corn. But before modern processed foods, indigenous cultures of the Americas often soaked corn in an alkali solution prior to consumption. This process of nixtamalization converts bound niacin to free niacin, making it available for absorption, reducing the amount of protein, but improving the balance of amino acids, increasing calcium, iron, copper, and zinc. This process also reduces mycotoxins present in the grain.

Although much of the corn grown in the United States is the standard yellow (#2) dent (>85% transgenic) and fed to animals, there remains quite a diversity in types ranging in colour, form, and function. Humans can eat more than just sweet corn! Corn is categorized into five general groups: flour corn, popcorn, dent corn, flint corn, and sweet corn. Popcorn is probably the oldest type, while sweet corn is probably the most recent to be introduced. Sweet corns have different flavour profiles depending on how the starch biosynthesis pathway has been manipulated. Modern super-sweet cultivars can be desirable or undesirable depending on the taster. We offer two types: a painted mountain sweet corn and a bulk flour corn. Unlike field corn the flour corn is quite sweet up until the grains are mature.

Remember, sweet corn and field corn can and will cross. This is why sweet corn planted near field corn will often lose its sweetness and become more like field corn. Corn is outcrossing and wind-pollinated making isolation distances difficult to maintain. Two-miles are often recommended for an adequate buffer. Pollen is produced by the tassel, located at the top of the stalk. The silks emerge from the ears and facilitate fertilization of the kernels. When growing either type, try to plant 100 plants (an optimal number—or plant as many as you can) in a block. Remove off-types throughout the season and bulk the seed from the remaining plants to reduce any inbreeding depression.

Harvest once dry and store dry. The kernels can be left adhered to the cob or threshed once completely dried. Bulk seed in a paper bag, or plastic pail and use a portion for next year’s crop. The rest can be ground up for corn bread or processed (nixtamalized) for some of the tastiest tortillas you have ever eaten.

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Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Purple-podded-beanBeans produce some of the most amazing seeds! The diversity of types is endless and new types are infinite. The common bean cohort can be divided into pole and bush types, although there are ones that we call semi-bush types, falling somewhere in between. These can be further categorized into snap, string, wax, shell, kidney, and dry beans. There are more types than you will find on the grocery store shelves, with Seed Savers Exchange offering over 2,000 alone.

Another great advantage to saving beans is they are pretty well inbreed, which means varieties can be planted much closer together than outcrossing species. Insect cross-pollination does occur, but if distinct types are grown you should be able to tell if they have crossed by looking at the seed coat. Keep alternative pollen sources and habitats for pollinators, as pollinators will visit beans only if nothing better is available.

An early frost, as happens in our area, can leave one harvesting beans when they are ripe but not yet fully dry. If so, harvest green plants prior to a freeze and store in a cool dry place upside down until dry. The pods can be threshed by flailing. The recovered beans, if intended for storage, should be dried to the point where a hammer blow will shatter, rather than mash the seed. Beans do take up moisture, and smells, so an air-tight container is recommended.

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Soybean (Glycine max)

Believe it or not, soybean is not just for rotation with corn. It can be grown in other areas besides the Midwest US, although they’re not the easiest in eastern WA. We offer three early edamame types. Soybeans are essentially inbreeding, so isolation distances are not necessary. They are photoperiod sensitive, so latitudinal difference in maturity should be expected.

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Peas (Pisum sativum)

Arista Green

Peas can be separated into starchy (smooth seeded) and sweet (wrinkled seeded) types. They have been further selected for edible young leaves and pods. The sugar snap types, which we don’t offer, are a relatively recent introduction of the late 1970s; we prefer and offer heirloom pea varieties instead. Pisum sativum var. arvense (pigmented seed) are starchy types adapted to cool weather and are typically grown for forage, although the seeds have a rich flavour. Peas are inbreeding and rarely cross, however, if absolute purity is desired, isolation distances of 100 metres (just over 100 yards) are suggested.

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Mustard Kale

Species of this family have four petals that form a cross. Typically all members within each species can cross with one another, therefore, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, collards, cauliflower and kale can all cross as they are all Brassica oleracea. This makes seed saving quite difficult in the Brassicaceae. Flowers are pollinated by insects and are often self-incompatible leading to out-crossing. At least a half-mile isolation distances or caging will restrict unwanted pollen flow. Seed development is influenced by maturity. Plants should be allowed to fully mature prior to harvest as seed viability will be reduced otherwise. However, this is at the risk of seed shatter. Another risk is asynchronous maturity. Seed pods will mature as a function of pollination. Earlier pollination results in earlier maturity and dehiscence (shattering). Hot water treat seeds if root rot disease is observed.

Siberian Kale (Brassica napus var pabularia)–related to rutabaga and rape seed–is harvested for its nutritious greens. Protein content ranges from 15% to 20%. Grows well in cool climates<75F. This species can self-pollinate, but isolation distances are still required. They are also biennial and are quite tolerant of most winter conditions if planted during the correct time in autumn.

Brassica rapa– Raab–Leaves and buds are eaten like broccoli. Bolts in hot weather.

Brassica rapa var. chinensisHeading and leaf mustard.

Radish (Raphanus sativus)–Collect seed from late bolters. Can cross with wild radish.

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Members of the Cucurbitaceae are identified by tendril-bearing vines with alternate leaves. Plants produce male and female flowers and are insect pollinated. Varieties are easily kept separate through hand-pollination, however, we let ours open pollinate, since different species are incompatible. If self pollinating, use siblings as parents to keep genetic diversity. Try to keep at least twenty plants if open pollinating.

Harvested fruits should be stored for an additional month at least. This post-harvest ripening period allows the seed to finish growth, increasing seedling vigor. Seeds can then be removed, rinsed, and fermented. Some cucurbits will have higher germination rates and less disease when fermented.


Cucumber Cucumis sativus–Green pickler, holds up very well. Not frost tolerant.

Hulless pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo)–Medium sized fruits average 5-8 lbs. Plants have semi-bush habit and yield 1-2 fruits per plant. Seeds are unlike normal Curcubita seeds in that they do not have a seed coat, which gives them a distinct green colour. The seeds can be roasted or pressed for oil but the flesh of the pumpkin is quite fibrous and practically inedible. There are some problems maintaining seed viability with hulless types depending on handling. While squashes mature during the storage period, the hulless types do not store as well as other storage types of pumpkin and can rot from the inside out. We only select the best each year for replanting.

Kabocha winter squash (Cucurbita maxima)–This is the squash for eating, and the seeds are not too bad roasted either. Sweetens during storage.

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potatoes All members of the Solanaceae family have a flower shape that is easy to identify. Petals are connected symmetrically around a wheel-shaped corolla with the stamens attached near its base. Cultivated species are self-pollinating but insects will pollinate in some cases more than others.

Eggplant (Solanum melongena)–Eggplant loves the heat. Near freezing night temperatures during the spring can set back plants and ruin a season’s crop. (This makes it a marginal crop in eastern WA). Eggplants are primarily self-pollinated so 50 feet of isolation is adequate. Flea beetles can be an issue early in the season and fusarium is a pathogen that can build up in soils or from poor seed. Fruits should be harvested after maturity, prior to a hard frost. The fruits should change to yellow or brown colour and be quite hard. Fruits should also be post-harvest ripened to maximize seed vigor. Seeds are easily extracted by immersing fruit in a bowl of water and squeezing out the seeds. The viable seeds will sink.

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)–Tomatoes with retracted styles (female part) limit cross pollination and may exclude foreign pollen all together. Potato-leaved and beefsteak types tend to have protruding styles so care must be taken when these are grown in proximity to each other. Tomato seed can be fermented to aid in cleaning and disease control. Viable seed will sink in the water. We have too many to list. If interested please contact us.

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Members of this family have composite flowers, where each flower has multiple florets and multiple seeds per head. The classic example is sunflower, but lettuce, too, is included in the family. Some species self-pollinate, while others require cross-pollination. Insects are the main vector of pollen dispersal as they are attracted to the showy flowers.

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)–Lettuce is primarily an inbreeding plant. If insects are abundant (~5% crossing can occur if grown side by side), an isolation distance of >15 feet is recommended. Each flower can produce >4 seeds depending on the cultivar. Some suggest that L. sativa can cross with L. serriola, the wild lettuce, so care should be taken if local populations of either exist. The six types of cultivated lettuce are crisphead (tight heading types), butterhead (loose heads), cos (romaine type–upright head), leaf (non-heading), stem (celtuce—stem edible), and latin (rare in N. America). Heading types can have difficulty bolting, which will occur in response to long days and warm temperatures. If saving heading types, it is common to select the best heads and slit the tops to allow the flower stalk to emerge. All varieties offered here are quite resistant to bolting and do not require any additional maintenance. Seed matures asynchronously, so as the first flowers start to show ‘feathers’, harvest the whole plant and let ripen in a protected spot. The remaining seed will ripen and they can be threshed and winnowed easily.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)–In the past these native plants were eaten as a vegetable and had a wide range of uses, including bean poles, animal fodder, paper, and a tobacco substitute. The oil rich seeds are about all commercial producers grow sunflowers for today (some are still used in sunflower seed snacks and bird food). Sunflowers are easy to grow, but when the seeds ripen, you’ll wonder where all the birds came from. It is important to remember that different types easily cross, leading to the loss of desirable characters. Different varieties must be isolated by ½ to 3 miles depending on the size of the population being grown. Heads can be isolated by bagging, hand-pollination (rubbing two heads together), and re-bagging.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)–Used for treating skin. Flower petals are infused into oil and made into a lotion.

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Members of this family have flowers called umbels, like Queen Anne’s lace. The first flower head often produces the highest quality seed and is called the primary umbel. The family is split into types for foliage or roots. They are both typically biennial, requiring vernalization. Pollination occurs by insects and few seeds are produced without them. With the added difficulty of small flowers and asynchronous flowering, isolation distances are probably the simplest way of saving seed. However, isolation distances of 3 miles can be difficult on a small scale. Remember, Queen Anne’s lace has been known to cross with cultivated carrot, so care must be taken if local populations exist. Seed is harvested dry and must be separated by weight for quality seed. Separation can be done using an air column or a series of fans.

Celery (Apium graveolens)–We offer a mix of 5 cultivars. Seed is produced by planting in late-summer and holding over winter under controlled conditions. Bolting resistant and productive.

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)–Plant early in spring but expect slow and erratic seed emergence. Plant radish to mark rows. Easily overwintered. Parsnip seed is notoriously short-lived and often doesn’t make it one year, while celery has good viability, lasting 5 or more years.

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Herbs & Flowers

Borage (Borago officinalis)–This herb reseeds in the garden well, smothering weeds. We hear it can be eaten like spinach but have yet to try it. We offer the white flowered variety.

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Misc. legumes



Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)–Heat and drought tolerant. Used in curry and to boost breast milk supply.

Lentil (Lens culinaris)–Lentils are great to eat but are low yielding on a per plant basis. Seed early and thick.

Lupin (Lupinus albus)–The white lupin is an ancient pulse of the old world that was replaced by other pulses that do not require leaching of the bitter alkaloids. Plant like peas, or even better with them.

Perennial lupine (Lupinus spp.)–Perennial lupines are not for consumption but make a great green manure or cover crop. Plant early or late in the   season.

Tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis)–A domesticated lupin from South America that has disappeared, like the white lupin, because of the extra labour required for de-bittering. Traditional uses were for green manure and intercropping with quinoa.

Runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)–Runner beans tend to like it warm, but these originated as a bulk from a farm near La Conner, WA and have done fine so far in eastern WA.

Faba bean (Vicia faba)--We have discovered faba bean, aka broad bean, to be a multi-purposed legume that is highly productive with good nutritional attributes. Great as a green vegetable or in its dried form. Also the young foliage can be steamed or eaten fresh as one of the earliest greens from the garden. If that isn’t enough, incorporating the nitrogen rich foliage at full bloom is one of the best green manures available.

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Garlic (Allium sativum)

GetAttachmentAn excellent resource is “Growing Great Garlic” by Ron England. The inter-mountain northwest is a great environment for most garlics, as it resembles its Central Asian origins. With that said, garlics do have preferences for warmer, or colder winters, moisture, temperature, and soil type. Garlic strains will respond to differences in these environmental stimuli, resulting in different bulb sizes, number of cloves, and flavour (or heat-spice).

Garlics are split broadly into hard and soft necks. The hard necks are typically more winter-hardy than soft necks, which tend to mature earlier and are therefore, more

GetAttachment-1adapted to dryer locations. Furthermore, subdivisions include, asiatic, turban, purple stripe, artichoke, rocambole, porcelain, and silverskin. Even further subdivisions can be made, but for the meantime, we are only offering a few and will post further descriptions throughout the growing seasons. Bulbs will be ready to order by August/September and should be planted before the ground freezes in your location. Garlic can be planted early in the spring, but bulbs will not size up as well as if they are fall planted. Our garlic is all hand-planted, weeded, harvested, and packaged. Like all of our seeds, our garlic is non-certified organic. Price is 10$/lb. Limit one pound per order please.

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