Angela Adler and her husband Marc can survey their backyard garden from their deck. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Adlers sell heirloom seeds while tending sustainable garden

By Linda Briggs-Harty
Contributing Writer

Not just a marigold but a non-genetically altered, heirloom crackerjack marigold. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

From the front, Angela and Marc Adler’s home on Melvin Avenue in Brentwood says city − a brick bungalow flanked by a small lawn, tree at the center and a few garden beds on either side. But walking through the back gate, the Adler home says country homestead − a lush haven for sustainable agriculture.

Brilliant flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetable beds and perennials fill the one-third-acre lot, with a brood of chickens and some honeybee hives punctuating the plantings. The result: an urban Elysium, bustling with natural activity.

For the last several summers, the Adler home has been one of many St. Louis area gardens open to the public on the annual Sustainable Backyard Tour. Like the other host gardens, the Adler endeavor fits the sustainable criteria of providing food, wildlife habitat, relaxation and visual appeal.

The Adlers’ obvious love of gardening lights up the backyard landscape.

“It’s our passion,” said Angela.

Seeds for Sale

A packet of seeds from SeedGeeks, which can be purchased on the Adlers’ website. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Not content simply to sow seed and reap nature’s reward for themselves, the Adlers recently started a sustainable operation for others. Their year-old SeedGeeks business offers open-pollinated, untreated, non-genetically modified heirloom seeds for sale, as well as gardening resources such as grow bags, canning supplies and more.

The online initiative mirrors the dual nature of the Adler entrepreneurs. Both earthy and tech-savvy, Angela and Marc draw upon backgrounds in Internet marketing and network security to share the joys and rewards of sustainable living.

“We wanted to inspire people to reconnect with their food source and grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs and more by heirloom seed,” said Angela. When not working full time for a Washington University psychiatrist and a nonprofit health/well-being educational foundation, she spends countless hours in her Edenic backyard.

Backyard Smorgasbord

Granted, many gardeners won’t reach the level of the Adlers’ output and organizational ability. The couple’s operation includes an array of edible organics: rich leafy greens; plump fruits like eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and squashes; herbs of all kinds, including the purple-flowered pollinator anise hyssop and sweet-tasting borage; peach, nectarine, apricot and apple trees; exotics like figs and cacti; tongue-teasing tomatillos; and much more.

Yes, even figs grow in the Adlers’ back yard. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

A row of cactus plants. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

The chickens act not only as beloved pets but as soil amenders, thanks to the manure and eggshells they provide for the compost. The Adlers’ Australian shepherd dog Sophie likes to herd the small flock when the chickens roam the yard. The veggie-loving canine also gnaws on kale stalks like they’re meaty bones.

Angela Adler lets her six chickens out to roam the fenced backyard. She corraled them back in to the coop 20 minutes later when she warily eyed a hawk soaring high above. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

The Adlers’ back yard includes a compost area. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

The bees, of course, enable the fruiting, via pollination.

“The more bees, the more fruits,” said Angela.

Two wooden towers house the honeybee operation. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Without her protective suit, Angela stays behind her honeybee hives. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

The entrance to one of the hives. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Earthy but High-Tech

The couple’s high-tech sensibilities enhance the garden. An electronic weather sensor attached to the deck above the back yard picks up daily temperature, precipitation and such and feeds the stats into an Internet site, accessible to Angela via a smartphone app. When away during the week, she can discuss the state of the garden (and the chickens’ needs) with Marc, who works full time from home on the SeedGeeks venture.

The Adlers are setting up an automatic irrigation system that relies first on rain barrel holdings and switches, as needed, to city water.

Angela quickly activates a sprinkler (see photo below) with an app on her smartphone. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Heirloom Seeds More Predictable

All aspects of sustainable living appeal to Marc and Angela, but the harvest begins and ends with a reliance on heirloom seeds, she said. Heirlooms keep their traits, year after year, through open pollination.

The license plate on the Adlers’ van proclaims their stance on genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Saving heirloom seeds through varied means enables home gardeners to rely on predictable results. Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, don’t reproduce like the parent plant. Genetically modified plants, artificially engineered to achieve certain characteristics, pose risks for the food stores, Angela said.

The Adlers partner with several organic farmers to provide open-pollinated, untreated and non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds to a growing customer base. They started with 100 or so of the most reliable varieties and continue to expand the offerings.

Gardeners can pick from ever-popular choices like beefsteak tomato, black diamond watermelon, black-seeded Simpson lettuce, crenshaw melon, Detroit dark red beet, Jack be little pumpkin, little fingers carrot and a host of other heirloom seeds.

SeedGeeks sells five different collections of seeds. This salsa garden collection tin contains 10 packets for growing anaheim peppers, cilantro, white Spanish onion and seven other plants for making salsa. The collections range in price from $8.95 to $16.95. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Teaching home gardeners about sustainable practices, including seed-saving, underlies the SeedGeeks mission. “Every seed has a story,” she said. “They each tell a tale of a person’s culture and cooking style.”

When asked about mesh bags hanging from blue-flowering borage plants, Angela explained the need to capture some seed before it flies off in the wind. Other plants hang on to their seeds well after fruiting and must be threshed in a bucket or other container to give up their gold.

Angela points out features of her sustainable garden. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

YouTube Videos

She and Marc have begun producing a series of YouTube videos capturing the mysteries of the sustainable garden. It’s a fitting gesture, considering the pair learned much of their soil and related craft by watching YouTube stars like California gardener John Kohler.

Since they dug into the dirt in earnest after seeing the documentary film “Food, Inc.” in 2009, the Adlers have grown as gardeners by fits and starts, Angela said.

“We’ve made our share of mistakes, like planting too close and shading everything out,” she said.

Gardening in general has helped them realize they can’t control nature − a sometimes difficult concept for tech-smart sophisticates.

Said Angela, “That’s the gift of the garden − forcing us to let go and allow nature to do what it does on its own.”