Our 2023 EFN seed catalogue is now online! 100+ new varieties. Over 40 different growers and foragers from across the country. A million thanks to all who make this possible, especially our amazing seed-house crew!
We are beyond excited to be offering these fascinating and productive seeds thanks to our friend and grower Zach Elfers in Pennsylvania. Few seeds come with a story as improbable and delightful as these. We'll let Zach take it from here:
"I first learned about Svedjerug rye through the work of Per Martin Tvengsberg, a Norwegian ethnologist and historian, who has written some fascinating articles on Finnforest slash-and-burn agriculture. The Finnforest culture occupied what are now parts of present-day Sweden, Finland, and Russia — the region known broadly as Karelia. The Finnforest people, or Forest Finns, were practitioners of shifting cultivation or "swiddening" methods which involved the sowing of rye and other crops into the fresh swiddens [landscapes cleared by slashing and burning] where once stood spruce or birch (the "huuhta" and "kaski" methods, respectively). [I've been told that rye seeds were often planted directly into soil still warm following the burning of vegetation.]
In the 1970s, Per Martin Tvengsberg's research recovered a lot of the obscure history of the Finnforest slash-and-burn culture, and through that process he became acquainted with a family who had been practicing traditional swidden agriculture up into the early 20th century. This was exciting, because the family still had an old rye-drying barn on their land — and Tvengsberg knew this was his best hope of recovering the heritage strain of rye once grown across the region.
After making a search of the drying barn, he was disappointed to find not a single grain. Mice and the ravages of time had eliminated all traces. But he had an idea. He asked the family if he could pull up the floorboards in the barn — and thankfully they consented. Beneath the floorboards he found 9 grains of rye, and subsequently 7 of them sprouted. From these 7 seedlings are descended the Svedjerug heritage strain, whose lineage and history goes back perhaps a thousand years or more in northern Europe.
Farmer Johan Swärd of the Aschim Vestre farm in Norway is a student of Tvengsberg's and has been faithfully stewarding heritage grains like Svedjerug for years. You can hear him tell the story of Svedjerug: http://www.flatbreadsociety.net/stories/view/14. Additionally, there is a video essay featuring Johan here: https://vimeo.com/124598269
Svedjerug grows very tall — mine have grown over 6 feet in height, but according to Johan they are capable of growing over 8 feet. Svedjerug is also very productive, capable of producing dozens of straws [stalks] per plant. Each straw in turn may have over a hundred seeds. According to Per Martin Tvengsberg's trials, he estimated that Svedjerug rye may have productivity over 10,000 fold.
Tvengsberg: 'Forest rye has given yields of more than 12,000 fold. From one rye seed grew a 2.6 meter high and 3.8 meter wide sod. The biggest tussock consisted of 162 straws with the average of 75 grains per ear... These were grown at Domkirkeodden, Hamar 1988 to 1990 under the leadership of Cecilie Jensen.'"
Slash-and-burn agriculture in Europe is now largely a relic of history, but thanks to the work of the people discussed above you can still grow and taste a piece of it!
GROWING NOTES: In most of North America, rye is best planted in the early fall for overwintering. Harvest happens the following summer. In some climates, you might be able to get away with planting in the spring, but likely with reduced yields. For maximum tillering (most stalks per plant), plants should be separated from each other by at least a foot. Direct seed one inch deep.