Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Are farms like computers?

Ours certainly is! One of the most important pieces in our system is our software, that would be our seed bank! Much like I and my tractor, land, and implements are the hardware of the farm, the seeds represent the programs that I am running, sure I could do some things with temporary software, but why not upgrade to something more..."self sustainable" that you don't have to buy from Microsoft every year or two.
Here on the farm we maintain a seed bank with a ton of saved and bought seed as well as trades that we receive from the world over. Most of the seed is open pollinated but also a few hybrids and a number of breeding experiments as well as our work de-hybridizing or de-segregating popular or out of production hybrids so that we can come up with a good open pollinated version that approximates the originals good qualities so that we can curb the heavy expense of seed in today's agri-business world, if you could buy a Microsoft program once and copy the code and improve it and duplicate it to run on multiple computers (legally) then why wouldn't you want to?
I do think that seed saving is one of those things that a lot of market farms just don't get around to doing, either because there is just too much going on (I run into this occasionally, having to harvest three times in a week from one crop, one for market, one for home, and one for seed, can become very tiring) or because they just aren't sure how and think it is some high science to learn to do so, but the truth is that with a little bit of investigation it's pretty easy to learn how and never be afraid to ask questions of your peers.
Our seed room includes four of the toolboxes like those above (new and re-organized into "greenhouse seeds", Watermelon/winter squash/summer squash grow outs, de-hybridization projects, and "other". These boxes are mostly for short term storage of seeds that I need to grow out for bulking up which were bought commercially or traded for or which are on the list for breeding experiments. The seed closet also contains two five gallon buckets full of saved bulk seeds of everything from watermelon and tomatoes to sunflowers and taggettes, there are also a number of coffee cans full of corn seed, squash seed, brassicas, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, beans and a lot more. In this one little closet you will find every color of the rainbow in just about every common food plant grown in the world along with a number of rare accessions and breeding projects we have grown here on the farm and a growing number of flowers to be used for cutting and breeding.
About the only thing you won't find in the closet is potatoes and onions and that's simply because we always sell out and very rarely are there enough left to feed my family let alone save some tubers for next years crop, a dilemma I am currently planing to curtail with much larger plantings for the '08 season (plus "all red" and "all blue" cost entirely to much to buy every year!)
You also won't find much hybrid sweet corn (other than our own crosses), mostly because sweet corn will not last much more than two years at the most and we usually just wait until early spring to start buying our seed stock for planting. However you will find various filial generations of sweet corn in the closet due to our current de-hybridization of some of the more drought and cold tolerant, early season hybrids for future work here on the farm.
I love looking in the seed closet in the winter, it always reminds me that spring isn't too far away and that there are literally thousands of possibilities in the genes represented in each of the seeds within the closet, it's also a reminder that the lull of winter is good for recharging batteries so that I can suit up to make some money for next season. There are even a number of experiments in this closet they may end up growing in your home garden one of these days, a lot of hopes and dreams tied up in each and every little seed! Sometimes I pick up a handful of corn seed and swear I can somehow "feel" that it is alive and wants desperately to have the chance to grow and reproduce and show it's true beauty and redeeming qualities.
If you aren't maintaining some "soft ware" on your small farm or for your home garden it might be time for an upgrade, there is nothing to loose and a whole lot to gain and teach others!

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