top of page

How we farm and why it matters

Regenerative and sustainable farming? What does that even mean? Let's dig in and get nerdy!

Two humans are standing in an empty farm field, far away from each other, The filed has some green plants here and there and some yellow flowers along the edge. The human on the left is holding a square white bucket and scattering seeds. She is wearing blue jeans, a white, pink and blue winter coat, and a black hood pulled over her head. The human on the right is lunging forward, right leg stretched behind them, holding a small blue container filled with brown seeds. They are scattering seeds while wearing brown muddy pants, a purple raincoat, and pink hair. There is a brown wooden fence behind both people, with some trees, a hill and a grey sky.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is the practice of farming in harmony with nature - recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings. Viewed through this lens, farming is not just about growing food, it's about creating habitat for birds, insects, and mycorrhizal fungi, building soil health, creating and supporting healthy ecosystems, addressing social inequity, and ultimately leaving our land, waterways and climate in good condition for future generations. 

How are we sustainable?

Farming can be an extremely resource-intensive practice. At this stage in our process, we can't be zero-waste and 100% circular, but we make every effort to reduce our consumption of plastics, single-use products, water, as well as using organic practices. Some of the ways we do that include:

  • Using drip irrigation and only watering once a week, thus reducing our water usage, making sure that the water is applied directly where it needs to be and reducing water waste, but also breeding our seeds to be drought-resistant.

  • Direct sowing the majority of our crops, reducing the use of plastic trays and pots, electricity, and peat-based starter mix. When we do start seeds for transplant, all plastic trays and pots are secondhand, and potting mix is made from our own soil and compost.

  • No greenhouse - everything is grown in the field, again reducing our plastic consumption, and making for strong, hardy lineage.

  • Minimal packaging of our crops grown for donation, and what packaging we use is recycled.

  • Our seed packages are 100% post-consumer recycled paper, including the disposable backing paper for the labels.

  • When we do purchase new plastic products (bins, irrigation systems), we make sure to purchase the strongest, sturdiest products available, and we take good care of them to ensure they last as long as possible.

  • We use biodegradable twine for trellising instead of plastic netting.

  • We cover crop our fields in the winter instead of tarping or using landscape fabric.

What are pulses anyways? Why the focus on them?

Pulses are the edible seeds of the legume family, they grow in pods, and they come in a variety of shapes, colours and textures. There are ten types of pulses, according to the UN Food and Culture Organization: dry peas, dry beans, dry broad beans, cow peas, pigeon peas, chickpeas, lentils, vetches, Bambara beans and lupins. What defines a pulse is that it is grown and harvested solely as a dry grain, unlike other vegetables that are harvested while fresh.

With climate change and supply chain issues increasing, we want to be able to provide seed and food that is adapted to our ecosystem. Pulses are particularly important from a dietary perspective; they are a superfood high in protein, fibre and many vitamins and minerals, they're low in fat, gluten-free, and can be used to substitute for glutinous flours. Pulses have played a key role in many diets across many cultures for thousands of years, the earliest evidence of them being used for food is from 11,000 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent! 

 

Pulses are an affordable, healthy and sustainable way to ensure that your diet includes those necessary nutrients without relying so heavily on animal-based products.

 

From an ecological perspective, pulses are powerhouses! 

  • Pulses bring nitrogen into the soil, which reduces the need for applying nitrogen-based fertilizers, like compost or manure. That's a big deal! When fertilizers break down, a portion of the nitrogen is converted into nitrous oxide, which accounts for 46% of greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture. 

  • Pulses are hardy plants that require little water, as most of them have adapted to growing in dry environments. They do just fine during the inevitable summer droughts we've been getting used to here in the Pacific Northwest, and of course using less water is beneficial all around!

  • Aside from being nitrogen-fixers, they also produce many other compounds that support microbial health in the soil. Incorporating pulses into a crop rotation plan means that your soil can support a larger variety of organisms, leading to greater soil health, and better crop yields.

  • Pulses have high yields and they self-pollinate, which means you get a lot of bang for your buck, and you don't have to worry about cross-pollination, which makes them ideal for growing in small spaces. And on the rare chance that they do cross-pollinate, save those seeds! You just might end up creating a new variety of bean!

All of the pulses we grow are bush varieties or low-vining, which means they are compact and don't require a lot of space or infrastructure. They'll be just as happy in pots on a balcony as they would be in a garden box or a patch of dirt in the yard. 

Why companion plants?

This goes back to the whole "interconnectedness of all beings" bit above. Gardens are an ecosystem with complex relationships between plants, animals, insects, air, water, and soil. Unless you're planning to use a lot of chemicals and amendments to build up soil health and prevent pests, you need companions!

 

Companion plants are often (but not always!) flowers and herbs, and many of them do double or triple duty in the garden, and that's not even considering how pretty they are!

Companion plants can be used to:

  • Attract and provide pollen and nectar for beneficial insects such as pollinators and predators of pests (Calendula, Marigold, Cosmos, Coreopsis)

  • Act as a "trap crop", attracting pests away from your garden (Calendula, Nasturtium, Poppy)

  • Create a cool shady place for beneficial insects to hang out on hot days (California Poppy, Cosmos, Nasturtium, Purple Orach)

  • Repel pests (Marigold, Calendula)

  • Protect and enrich soil (Nasturtiums, Purple Orach, Calendula)

And some bonus features!

  • Some of them are edible (Calendula, Nasturtium, Purple Orach, Lemon Gem Marigold)

  • And some are medicinal (Calendula, Poppy)

Why do climate adaptable seeds matter?

As our climate changes, so do our growing seasons. It's important to be able to grow crops that can handle extended periods of extremely hot, dry weather, smoke from forest fires, or longer or shorter seasons than usual. 

One of the side projects that we're participating in, the Tomato Adaptation Project, spearheaded by the Grandview Woodland Community Seed Library, is focussed on growing out tomato varieties with the hope that they'll be better acclimated to our changing climate and unpredictable conditions. 

Some of the ways we encourage our seeds to be more adaptable include:

  • Growing strictly outdoors

  • Direct sowing our seeds

  • When possible, letting our seed dry on the plant, in the field

  • Limiting the amount of water our plants receive

  • Not providing shade

  • Selecting seed from the healthiest, hardiest, most pest-resistant and most productive plants at the end of the season

What do open-pollinated (OP) , heirloom and hybrid  (F1) mean?

First of all, all heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated seed are heirloom. Hybrids are neither open-pollinated nor heirloom. That's not confusing at all, right? 

  • Open-pollinated plants are pollinated by the wind, insects, birds - and some self-pollinate. The seed collected from an open-pollinated plant will grow the same every year, unless they've cross-pollinated with another plant of the same species. With OP seeds, you can select for various traits, flavour, size, colour, hardiness - which means that with OP seed, over time you can grow crops that are suited to your particular growing situation.

  • Heirloom seeds are OP seeds that have been saved and passed down within a family or community over many generations. They often have a story behind their name, and might be named for a particular person or region. 

  • Hybrids (often labelled as F1) can be created naturally through cross-pollination, but when purchasing seeds that are hybrids, they have been deliberated crossed to breed for desired traits. They will generally perform very vigorously the first year, but the seed can't be saved, as they are genetically unstable, and you won't get the same result the following year. 

At Sowing Kits, we only grow open-pollinated or heirloom varieties, so that the seeds will remain true, so that they will continue to adapt to our changing climate, and so that you can save the seed. The value in preserving genetic diversity within plant varieties cannot be understated; as seed security continues to be threatened globally through patents and mono-cropping, biodiversity is diminishing. Maintaining unique varieties keeps the stories behind heirlooms alive, it allows for supporting diverse ecosystems, and of course, we get to enjoy more flavours in our meals!

Sources (in case you want to dig into the weeds!): 

  1. NRDC: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/regenerative-agriculture-101

  2. Global Pulses Confederation: https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses

  3. Seed Savers Exchange: https://www.seedsavers.org/learn

bottom of page