The first day of spring is just around the corner and Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm is starting to show signs of color! Every year the Farm grows more than 50 native species that will be harvested for seed and used to help restore the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm Program Coordinator, Rachel Lambert, is giving us an inside look at what species are growing on the Farm this year and other behind-the-scenes information. Check back next week for Part 2 of this interview.
What is the process of deciding which species will be planted each year?
It's a long and thoughtful conversation back and forth between the restoration site managers and the Farm manager--we call it making a "plant palette." Like a color palette in home decor, these are the array of species that we will be painting the hillside with! But it's not about looks, it's about function.
Then it takes a few years to go from dream to seed! First, you need a year or two to find enough plants in the wild to harvest from and bring that seed down the hill to the Farm. Then we have to experiment with the seed--see how we can grow it on the Farm and gather enough seed for use. Some species we try farming have never really been grown in rows and we don't know how they'll behave, how big they'll get, and how many seeds to expect off of each plant. But it's worth the wait! We usually end up growing more than we need in one year, so we save the leftovers for use in the next few years. We kind of build up a spice cabinet to "cook" with in the future projects.
When do you expect to start harvesting seeds this year?
The poppies will be our first harvest, and they will be ready any week now! The first fruits are half formed with little squishy green seeds. Once those firm up and turn brown, the harvest begins!
How long does it take to finish harvesting the seeds each year?
Harvest season starts with the poppies and then goes pretty much non-stop all spring and summer into late October, early November. Then we trim back the dead branches, plant a few more plants once it rains and get ready to do it again!
How many pounds of seed were collected this past year?
I can't give you an exact figure, because we are still catching up on cleaning them all! But in a year with good weather, we can harvest around 1,200 pounds. In a drier year, we harvest around 800 pounds.