HUG Topic-Seed Saving with Urban Gardener Cavenaugh Nweze
Urban gardener & Third Ward community organizer Cavenaugh Nweze of Divine Leaders Inc. taught us about Seed Saving, shared some locally-saved seed and his DIG for Victory & other pro-gardening for self-sufficiency posters.
Cavenaugh started off talking about the Victory Gardens of the WWII & depression area that inspire him to spread home growing gardening for self-sufficiency, health and revitalizing neighborhoods. He is an accountant and it’s the economic benefits of gardening that attracts him. He is a completely self (& google) educated gardener.
He also took a moment to remember and thank our founder Laurel Smith who he worked with years ago in a coordinated citywide seed swap event that still happens twice per year.
From here, he basically led a discussion that rambled from topic to topic wherever the participants took it. As will this recap.
The Power of Seeds (and Okra!)
Seeds give us the power for our own survival. His favorite is Okra and he believes after years of growing & saving the seeds from a few varieties, he believes his current crop has evolved into a new variety he calls Surprise Okra. He has six plants and says he picks about 6 lbs per week. To get that kind of production, encourage branching by cutting it when it gets about 2ft tall or when the first bud appears. He also never trellises his purple hull peas and over the years, they’ve learned to be bush plants and not seek support.
Cavenaugh believes it is our right to save seeds and will perform this act of civil disobedience if it comes to that. Harvesting our own seeds and sharing in seed swaps creates a living seed bank.
Harvest seeds from the best fruit, or pod. Leave it on the plant & let it mature, wither & dry. To save seeds, you need to dry them completely. With tomato seeds being so tiny & surrounded by so much moisture, he recommends you dry slices along with the “membrane or placenta” around them. The flesh of the fruit is the best sprouting medium. Similarly, his only success at sprouting avocados is within the rotting fruit. (Note: I’ve sprouted tomatoes by placing fresh (but mature) slices on top of soil in a pot.)
He recommended the Secret Life of Plants documentary that illustrates that plants communicate & interact with their environment.
Let the Seeds Mature on the Plant
He asked the audience about any problems they’ve had saving & then germinating seeds. Okra was brought up and he reiterated that his best success rate is to leave some pods to overgrow & dry on the plant. Just leave the ones you’d already left too long on the plant to be good eating. Cucumbers, zucchini and the like should be very over grown & turning yellow before you should pick for mature seeds.
A bit about Fertilizer
Fertilize each stage: Sprouting, vegetative, fruiting. Emphasize phosphate over nitrogen once the plant is grown to stop growing more foliage & encourage fruit. Add magnesium via epsom salts if foliage in vegetative stage isn’t as dark green as it should be. Giving the plant the nutrients it needs helps it resist insects and disease.
Store seeds in a cool, dark, dry place. Put seeds like beans & grains in jars to keep out rodents. And save those desiccant packets from your vitamins, new shoes, electronics or other items & store with your seeds.
Collecting Tiny Seeds
Harvesting tiny seeds such as from the greens we will be growing soon. Let the plant bolt, which means it will put out a flowering stalk, then form seed pods. Cut the stalk & shake the pods into a paper bag. Then spread in a tray and shake the heavier seeds to the bottom & brush the lighter dry flower & dried pod bits away.
Amaranth aka Calliloo
The green variety of Amaranth is his favorite summer green & seed to save. It is also a weed known as pigweed. The tiny seeds are used as a grain, but he has not harvested enough to be used as a grain. He grows it for the greens, known in the Caribbean as calliloo, and he saves the seeds from the plants that were the slowest to form flowers & go to seed aka bolting. It is a very productive green for us here in our climate. It is best cooked. Calliloo is a Caribbean soup. His garden, and even his neighborhood, is self-seeded with Amaranth each year. He considers that his good deed.
Asked his favorite winter crops, he said kale & red clover, which he grows as a living mulch and sometimes eats as a salad green. He makes medicine from the red clover buds that he says is a remedy for eczema.
His Summer Crops
Because he’s involved in gardens all over the city, his home garden is simple. In summer, he mainly grows sweet potatoes, amaranth & okra. So he has a low growing, a medium & a tall, in the same bed.
He uses both living mulch like the clover and decomposing mulch such as leaves or hay so you never see bare soil. Sweet potato covers the ground in summer and is a good suppressor of weeds.
Nweze runs the Marcus Garvey Liberation Garden, named for the early 20th century Pan-African leader, for which Nweze won an Idea Fund grant and an invitation to speak at the 2013 TEDx Houston event, where he presented his dream of the “Living Grocery Store.”