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Never an off season for heirloom seeds, seedlings at Growin' Crazy Acres

Desiree Conora picked mature peas for their heirloom seeds at her Growin’ Crazy Acres, . Celery, foreground, is nearly ready for harvest. Marigolds, right, are thought to ward off wildlife.
Desiree Conora picked mature peas for their heirloom seeds at her Growin’ Crazy Acres, . Celery, foreground, is nearly ready for harvest. Marigolds, right, are thought to ward off wildlife.
Published Dec. 16, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — Gardening doesn't need to take a season off in Florida. And it doesn't at Growin' Crazy Acres, where last week, owner Desiree Canora was harvesting mature Sugar Ann snap peas and Kentucky Wonder beans — for their seeds.

The self-taught organic grower is in the business of preserving and propagating heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs, those that the retiree-aged, their parents and grandparents know or knew, that "still taste like they're supposed to," said Canora, 48.

"Years ago, I wanted to save and sell the seeds I grew. But you don't get the same plants from all seeds," she pointed out.

Most varieties today are hybridized, meaning they're the result of cross-pollination between two or more varieties selected for complementary traits. Thus, their seeds will yield some of each parent variety as well as the genetic mix of the two.

"The heirlooms I grow are open-pollinated. If you save the seeds, they will grow true to the original plant, unchanged, unmodified, unaltered for 50 to 100 years," the grower explained.

She's been engaged in the effort for nine years.

In fewer than a dozen raised beds of about 60 square feet, Canora grows peppers, tomatoes, peas, beans, kale, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, lettuce, carrots and several herbs.

While she ladens her own table, freezer and canned goods pantry with the produce, she grows out more of the crops through their life cycle to yield seed. She dries and packages the seeds for sale online and Saturdays throughout the year at the Hernando County Farmers Market in Spring Hill.

Canora also plants seed at appropriate times to grow seedling plants, selling those as well at her farmers market booth, or they can be ordered online for pickup there.

"I actually have people from the other coast (of Florida) who come," she said. "I get orders on the website from all over Florida, plus Georgia and Alabama because they're a similar kind of season."

From a 10-acre wooded parcel south of Brooksville, Canora has cleared about one "crazy acre" for her gardening endeavors. Cottage-size describes each unit: plastic-clad greenhouse; climate-controlled concrete-block work shed for starting seedlings as well as drying, sorting and packaging seeds; roofed open-air pavilion for advancing seedlings, and the 4- by 16-foot, 8-inch-deep raised production plots.

The plots are sized "because that's the extent of my reach (from outside the perimeters), so I don't have to get in and tramp in the bed," Canora said.

The size also enables random planting for optimum use of space, rather than in rows.

While the base soil of the property is clay underlay, Canora uses compost in the growing beds, some of which she produces herself, other of which she buys. The "other" consists primarily of manure and livestock bedding. She augments the compost with fish and blood meals, plus kelp.

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When necessary, she fights insects with three organic compounds. "I try to be a minimalist gardener," Canora emphasized. "I use as little as the plants need."

This month, the entrepreneur is sorting, drying and measuring seed amounts for her $3 seed packets. She's also starting seeds for springtime transplanting into gardens: Valiant tomatoes, early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, Lacinato kale, Seminole pumpkin squash and Suyo long cucumber, among others.

Customers tell Canora they relish the heirloom varieties "for their taste and flavor, and they love the fact that they can save the seeds" for repeat performance in years to come.

Contact Beth Gray at