From the more practical, money-saving side of things, to controlling your own destiny, the benefits of a victory garden are many.
Gardening for Personal Gratification
There is nothing, nothing so gratifying as walking out your back door to cut some lettuce, pick a tomato, and dig up some carrots to throw together a salad.
You know that the food was grown in sustainable conditions. You know that the laborer was treated fairly. You know you're not eating poison in the form of pesticides and herbicides. You know that it took zero fossil fuel energy resources (no gas and no oil are used in transport) to get your food to your plate. It just takes the energy you spent walking into your backyard!
Save Money: Grow Your Food
Skyrocketing food costs are due in part to the increase in gas and oil prices.The vast majority of our food isn't even coming from within our states, and all that food has to get to your store somehow. The food you eat is often shipped from farms and factories all over the country, sometimes even all over the world! New studies show that more than 40 percent of food is thrown away before it even gets to the consumer, much of that because of spoilage during transit.
Local food advocate Joel Salatin writes on the subject, “The average morsel of food sees more of America than the farmer who grows it, traveling fifteen hundred miles from field to fork.
Growing your own food on your property cuts out the middleman. You can take pride in knowing that very little food is wasted when you grow it yourself. You also don't have to pay the farmer, the truck driver, the gas company, the cashier, the produce manager, or any one else.You only pay yourself, and you get paid in a glorious bounty of food — best paycheck ever!
Control Your Own Destiny
Growing your own food makes you feel powerful in a world where lack of control is commonplace. Knowing that the food you’re eating is safe and full of nutrition is priceless. Don’t get lost in the shuffle and leave your fate in the hands of others. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and take control! Families in the 1940’s made an effort to provide for themselves, and you can too!
Be Prepared: Garden for Food Security
(Cue singing hyenas and scar-faced lions.)
Another reason to grow your own food is for preparedness. Food is a necessary resource, and we can't live without it. In times of need, be it an emergency, or getting laid off from work, it’s important to know that your family can still eat. Having the knowledge and ability to grow food will never let you down. You'll never find yourself saying, 'Dang! What a useless skill!’ Unfortunately, the knowledge and skills for food production are getting lost more and more as each year passes.
Educate the Youngins’
If you talk to many children these days, you'll find that they’re quite confused about foods that don’t come in boxes and bags. Many of them can’t tell you that a carrot is the root of a plant, or that mashed potatoes are made with a vegetable that's grown underground.
If you plant your own victory garden, this can be your way of showing your food independence, but you can also teach your kids valuable lessons.
This next generation is going to have to bear the burden of our current food system. Change starts with these kids, and raising them well is the best thing you can do for our future. Your kids crave knowledge; they want to learn, so teach them! Allow them to form a connection between the earth and their plates. Working together in the garden can strengthen your family culture. Cook together, eat together, and you will grow together.
Container Gardening in the City
You don’t need to be a farmer to grow a victory garden, and it’s okay if you don’t live on seven acres in the country. You, too, can grow a victory garden with just a little creativity and persistence. For city dwellers, you'll need to think outside the box — or inside the box, rather.
You can grow a lot of food in little containers — boxes, cartons, buckets, bags, even in old tires—the sky’s the limit! My fiancée and I live in the heart of the city and we still manage to keep chickens and a garden.
Think about how helpful it would be if you could grow even just one of the plants you regularly eat. You could cut that right out of your grocery bill, and I guarantee it will taste much better than store bought. To read more about growing in small spaces, check out the link on city gardening at the bottom of this article.
No Garden? No Problem!
If growing your own food is an absolute impossibility for you, but you still want to do something to make a difference, there are still several things that you can do. Consider buying your produce from a farmer’s market, or a CSA (community supported agriculture) instead of from the grocery store. This food is not only cheaper, it almost always comes from a local farm, and you have the opportunity to talk to the farmer first hand!
I’m all about putting my money directly into the farmer’s hand for the food they grow, rather than paying several companies in between farm and table. If your farmer’s market isn’t an option, start making calls to your local grocery store and ask them to carry more produce from local farms. If they are eager to keep you as a customer, they will do what it takes to make you happy.
I truly believe that every action made to improve our food system makes a difference. Even if that action is simply shopping at the farmer’s market once a month or starting an herb garden on your windowsill, every little bit of change helps. These things add up, and before you know it, you may start a food revolution in your own neighborhood. You can change the world; all you have to do is take that first step.
Sowing for victory in this day and age has a different connotation than it did in the 1940's. Growing your own food may not help in the war effort, but it will help save the environment, strengthen family bonds, save money, and increase your independence.
The time is now, so get out there! Sow some seeds! Sow for independence! Sow for knowledge! Sow for victory!
Resources: Gardening and Local Agriculture
Local Harvest: Find a CSA near you
USDA’s Farmers Markets listing
ImaginAcres’ “Small Space, Low-Skill Gardening”
Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden (MOTHER EARTH NEWS)
Simple Homemade’s Gardening Basics for Beginners
Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
Resources: The Condition of Modern Food
Cancer Prevention Coalition’s food pages
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms
Center for Ecoliteracy
The Food Trust
Find out more about victory gardens by reading Meredith’s post “Sow for Victory: Bringing Back the Victory Garden.”
Photo by Fotolia/naffarts
Here is just one potential Christmas feast maximizing flavor from the herbs still providing in the garden at Christmas:
Fig Preserves with Rosemary Cheese for appetizer, Rosemary-inspired Rack of Lamb, Garlic and Herb-Roasted Vegetables, Fresh Greens with Hot Bacon Dressing, all topped off with Cranberry-Mint Sorbet
Fig Preserves and Rosemary Cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
3 ounces softened goat cheese
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tsp coarse black pepper
To make the rosemary cheese, combine cream cheese, goat cheese, rosemary, and black pepper. Blend until smooth. You can serve in a beautiful crystal dish or go for a mold. For a molded cheese, put the mixture in the mold, chill for 2 hours, unmold onto serving plate (you can run warm water over the top of the mold to get it to release easier). You are now ready to cover with fig preserves and serve with your favorite crackers.
Figs are super easy to grow in pots. I bought a Chicago hardy fig that survives in our Zone 6 garden. If given a large pot, they will produce many fruits over the summer and fall season.
If you want to make your own preserves, simply cook in a medium sauce pan 1 pound of fresh, ripe figs (washed and stem removed) with 1 cup of sugar for 30 minutes, uncovered. If keeping in the refrigerator, you can pour directly into a sterilized quart jar or 2 pint jars, leaving a 1/8 inch head space. If you want to store in the pantry, you will need to “process” your preserves. This is really easy. Just put in a large stock pan, covered with water. Heat until boiling and cook for 5 minutes. Remove using tongs, allow to cool, and store in a dark, cool place.
I put my hot jars on a kitchen towel so they are not “shocked” by the cold counter top. I also use Weck canning jars since they are all glass, including the lid.
Rosemary Inspired Rack of Lamb
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbs parsley
2 Tsp chives
2 Tsp thyme
2 Tsp rosemary
1/2 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp pepper
Stop by your local meat market and get a French cut rack of lamb. Remove the fat and gristle, coat the outside with olive oil then cover with a 1/2 cup crushed rosemary and 1/4 cup sea salt mix. Roast fat side out at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes in the oven or on the grill until the interior temperature reaches 150 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing so that the juices won’t be lost during cutting. If you prefer garlic, here is another rub option. Mix all the ingredients together and coat the rack of lamb and cook as above.
Rosemary can overwinter indoors. You can also pick up some pretty potted rosemary in many stores this time of year.
Garlic and Herb Roasted Vegetables
4 sweet potatoes
3 medium turnips
2 large onions
12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons olive oil.
This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like. Here is one variation. Cut the sweet potatoes, turnips and onions into 1.5 inch wedges. Put the rest of the ingredients in a gallon plastic bag Mix thoroughly. Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture. Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast in a 450 degrees, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.
Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions. Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic. Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.
Mixed Greens With Hot Bacon Dressing
4 slices bacon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 Tbs honey
1 Tsp grated onion
1/8 tsp dried mustard
An old Southern favorite is hot bacon dressing. Cook bacon until crisp, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings (grease). Crumble the bacon and set aside. In a small sauce pan, combine the rest of the ingredients, bring just to boil and add bacon. Remove from heat and whisk before serving.
There are greens still growing in the garden that are a perfect pair for the sweet hot bacon dressing-chard, sorrel, spinach, mustard greens and even some winter hardy lettuce. Mine are doing great in their Earthboxes in the mini portable greenhouse.
Cranberry Mint Sorbet
4 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 Tsp fresh mint
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cranberries
I am not a huge fan of the gelatin cranberry sauce. This is a great way to include the traditional cranberry in a totally new and refreshing way.
Combine in a medium sauce pan 3 1/4 cups water and sugar, bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add the remaining ingredients. Allow to cool and strain.
Combine another 3/4 cup of water and cranberries in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Cover, simmer for 8 minutes or until skins pop. Cool completely. Use food processor, process until smooth. Strain out solids.
Combine orange and cranberry mixture and pour into 9-inch-by-12-inch pan, cover and freeze. Reprocess in food processor, half at a time and refreeze until ready to serve.
Mint can be overwintered indoors to be able to take snips when needed to add a refreshing taste to many dishes and beverages.
Are you already thinking about snuggling by your woodstove browsing seed catalogs? Don’t get sucked in by catalog superlatives! Careful reading of the variety descriptions will ensure you don’t miss something basic that would tell you this variety is not for your farm. Here are 15 phrases to watch for:
“Adaptable” “easy to grow” are good phrases to look for. “Requires an attentive grower” is a helpful warning.
“Early zucchini, 47 days from sowing” - but even the late ‘Costata Romanesco’ is only 52 days. How important is it to have zucchini 5 days earlier, especially after your first sowing? “Early maturing” isn’t useful if the seed rots in cold soil, so check both points.
Disease resistance/tolerance. Read the 66 items in Johnny’s Vegetable Disease Code list. Don’t be a vegetable hypochondriac– your plants won’t get everything! ‘Raven’ zucchini has no listed disease-resistance, while ‘Dunja’ withstands four diseases. Both have open plants, high yields of dark green zucchini. ‘Dunja’ has only small spines. No mention of ‘Raven’s spines – are they wicked? ‘Dunja’ is organically grown, 'Raven' is not. ‘Dunja’ costs twice as much as 'Raven'! What price organic seed, disease-resistance and short spines?
“Semi-easy harvesting”: faint praise. ‘Spineless Perfection’ zucchini (45 days) has an open plant, ‘Tigress’ (50 days) is only semi-open, and makes no promises about lack of spines. Both are medium green, high yielding, cylindrical, with the same disease-resistance package. Price is very similar. Is the saving of a dollar on 1,000 seeds worth the costs of a five-day delay and spines?
“Heirlooms taste best” Some old heirloom vegetable varieties are rare for a reason! People didn’t like them much! Others are fantastic and easy to grow in quantity. Finding which are which is the challenge. Is “mild” flavor better than “rich” or “robust”, or not? Your call.
“Compact”, “Mini” = small. Do you want small or full-size crops? “Mini-broccolis” Santee, De Cicco won’t produce a big head, ever, just florets. Mache (corn salad) is a very small vegetable. Even if the variety description says “long leaves,” it’s all relative – maybe they’ll be 4” rather than 3”. At the other end of the Rampancy Rating are these key phrases: “needs room to roam,” “vigorous vines”: are they worth the space? “Needs sturdy trellis”: is it worth the time?
“Bitter in hot weather.” “Prefers warm days and nights” – you have been warned! If your spring heats up quickly, you’ll want greens that are bolt-resistant as well as cold-tolerant, so you can set them out early.
Packet sizes: grams, ounces and seed counts. Seeds are measured out in many ways. Take a steady look at seed specs (seeds/ounce or seeds/gram). Alas, this country has not yet fully metricated. Go to www.Metric-Conversions.org/ for conversion tables and online calculators.
“Concentrated fruit set” versus “long harvest season”: If Mexican bean beetles or downy mildew are likely to take down your crops, you might do better to sow successions more frequently and not worry about long harvest periods.
“Easiest for hand harvest” (E-Z Pick beans) means they come off the vine easily; but “better for hand harvest” can simply mean unsuitable for machine harvest (plants sprawl). “Intended to be picked very slender” means tough when big. If “good side-shoot production” isn’t mentioned, it’s likely that broccoli was bred for crown cuts.
“Short-term storage only” – we usually read this as “not for storage.” If you want to put produce up for winter look for “Retains flavor when frozen or canned,” “Best for sauerkraut,” “Easy to shell”.
Onions and latitude. Happily, more catalogs now state which latitudes each onion variety is adapted for. No use growing ‘Red Bull’ (43°-65°) at 38°N, as the days never get long enough to initiate bulbing. Nor ‘Desert Sunrise’ (30°-36°) – after the spring equinox, our longer days will initiate bulbing before plants have a chance to grow very big.
Pumpkins or squash? Some winter squash are cataloged as pumpkins. Many cans of pumpkin pie filling are not made from round orange-skinned pumpkins, but from squash. Choose squash varieties that grow well in your area and make all the pies you want. Or make no pies and serve the squash/pumpkin baked, or in soups.
Warring sweet corn types. Don’t plant SuperSweet varieties unless you isolate them from other kinds, or you make sure they don’t flower within 10 days of each other. Mistakes lead to horrible starchy kernels. Dry corns (popcorn, dent corn, flint corn) also need isolation from all sweet corns.
Too good to be true: New, fancy types often don’t have all the problems resolved. Try brand new things on a small scale first. All the fanfare over ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato, the excitingly evil Deadly Nightshade color of the immature fruit, and then – blah flavor when ripe.
Photos by Kathryn Simmons
Pam has written in more detail about catalog interpretation on her blog, www.SustainableMarketFarming.com, where you can read her weekly postings and order her book Sustainable Market Farming.
Fresh gourmet garlic brings a delicious, pungent bite to any savory dish. The season in which gourmet varieties are available, however, is all too short. Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can preserve garlic, extending its storage life and allowing you to enjoy it year-round. Dehydration is one good method for preserving gourmet garlic. The process is simple, and the result is crunchy, garlicky golden chips that you can use in a variety of dishes.
Any gourmet garlic cultivar can be dehydrated, and the condition of the bulb doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, dehydration is a great way to use up any garlic seconds since you can cut away any bruised or damaged parts. The biggest task in dehydrating garlic is peeling the cloves, but there are ways to make this task easier.
Our favorite method for easy peeling is to blanch the cloves. Blanching makes the skins soft and supple, and easy to remove.
- Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, separate the garlic into individual cloves.
- When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the garlic to the pot. Boil the garlic for approximately 10 seconds.
- After 10 seconds, remove the garlic from the water. Place the cloves in a large bowl and run under cold water until they are cool to the touch, approximately 3 to 5 minutes.
- Once cooled, cut the small basal plate from the bottom of each clove. Peel off the skins and any underlying membrane; discard.
Once all your garlic is peeled, feed the cloves through a food processor to produce thin, even slices. If you don’t have a food processor, slice the cloves with a knife, approximately ⅛ to ¼ in. thick. You can cut the cloves thicker, even into halves, if you want a chunkier product. Bear in mind, however, that thinner slices will dry more quickly and evenly.
When all the cloves are sliced, spread them thinly and evenly on dehydrator racks. Use your dehydrator on a low temperature as directed, and process the pieces until they are dry and crisp. Dried garlic can be tested for doneness by picking up a chip and breaking it between your fingers. The chips should be brittle and immediately snap. If they bend, they require further drying. Keep testing the chips until they reach the desired crispness.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry the garlic slices in your oven. Purchase wire racks to sit on top of your oven racks. Look for wire mesh with a moderately tight weave; air needs to circulate around the slices for proper drying, but you don’t want them falling through the holes either. If your oven does not have a fan, you may need to keep the door open so that the moisture can escape. Be warned: the smell is very pungent. Heat the oven between 45°C (115°F) to 60°C (140°F) maximum. Any hotter, and the garlic will discolor, cook and become bitter.
Dried garlic can be used in practically any recipe that calls for garlic. For example, you can crumble the chips or use them whole in roasting pans, soups, or sauces. You can even put them through a coffee or spice grinder (I’d suggest a dedicated grinder!), and make your own powder.
Store garlic chips and powder in airtight containers to preserve freshness. Dehydrated garlic will retain its freshness for at least a year, but will last even longer when properly stored. Keep the container in your cupboard, away from direct light. Dried garlic can also be stored in your freezer, which will help to preserve its freshness even longer. With a little planning, you’ll never have to eat bland supermarket garlic again!
Last winter I was kibitzing with my farmer friends about a typical seed bank. Today’s blog is a summary of our observations and analysis. Next week’s blog will detail my recommendations about what seeds I think the ideal survival seed bank would contain. The following week’s post will discuss how to store a seed bank.
The idea behind the marketing of emergency seed banks is to put together a bunch of different kinds of seeds, and seal them in a container, and put them on the shelf so that you can grow a garden if food from the grocery stores becomes unavailable.
Philosophically I think that the better emergency food strategy is to be growing a garden as part of a day-to-day lifestyle, and saving seeds so that they can become locally adapted. Then if grocery store food ever becomes scarce, we already have the knowledge, tools, soil fertility, gene pools, and manual skills to expand on existing gardens. I acknowledge that in today’s world of inexpensive and readily available fuel, it’s easier and less expensive to grow food in another hemisphere and import it into our local grocery stores. If that ever changes, then having a seed bank of maladapted highly-inbred varieties seems better than not having any seeds at all. I’d like to think that we can do better than that.
Comparing Seed Banks
While analyzing the seed bank, we did comparison shopping by making tentative orders from some of the more expensive online seed catalogs. If the sizes of seed didn’t match the seed bank we bought the next larger packet size. Our bottom-line price ended up being 1/3 the cost of what the seed bank was asking, and we ended up with more seeds.
The seed banks are marketed as having special packaging materials and techniques which greatly prolong the life expectancy of the seeds. I believe that this is mostly hype. Longevity seems mostly about storing seeds dry, not exposing them to high temperatures, and avoiding bugs and animals. I store seeds in glass jars in the spare bedroom. If I lived in a damper environment I’d include a desiccant with the seeds before storing. I test germination once a year. Most varieties store well, and I believe those that don’t would degrade about the same whether they are packaged in glass jars or in Mylar bags. If I had plenty of freezer space I’d store seeds in glass jars in the freezer. Life expectancy of frozen seeds is about 16 times that of seeds at room temperature. I’ll write more about storing seeds in two weeks.
I am especially skeptical of seed banks that claim that their seed can plant an acre of land, especially when the container that holds the seeds is the size of a soda bottle. One of my fields is three-quarters of an acre, so I have a good idea about how much seed is required to plant a field that size. It is much more than 20 or 30 small packets of seed. To put things in perspective to plant an acre takes approximately 14 pounds of sweet corn seed, or 5 pounds of squash seed, or 70 pounds of dry bean seed. That’s around 7 gallons of beans!!! I would expect the seed bank that we analyzed to plant about one-tenth acre, even though it claimed to be enough seed to plant an acre.
Plan for 1/3-Acre Survival Garden
This week’s photo shows the amount of seed that I would want if planting a bare-minimum, staples-only, 1/3 acre survival garden. It includes 13 ounces of landrace sweet corn, 21 ounces of landrace flour corn, 2 pounds of mixed dry beans, 14 ounces of peas, 2 ounces of beet seed, and 3 ounces of landrace squash seed. I took the photo to demonstrate that you aught to be aiming towards pounds or ounces of seed, and not packets. The bottle of beans all by itself is about the same size as the super deluxe seed bank that we reviewed.
In preparation for this article I reviewed the offerings of many survival seed banks. I was mostly dissatisfied with the quantity and types of seeds being offered. For example, one of the banks included 30,000 lettuce seeds and 20,000 celery seeds, but only 50 seeds each of beans, peas, and corn. They skimped on foods that store well and are easy to grow and have enough calories and nutrients to feed a family, and focused on watery low nutrition foods that are hard to grow and do not keep well. Additionally in my garden lettuce has a limited growing season. I can only harvest lettuce about 60 days per year, and my family wouldn’t eat more than a head of lettuce per day even if it was the only food available. A couple hundred lettuce seeds would be more than sufficient. I’d want more like 4000 corn seeds, 2000 bean seeds, and 3000 pea seeds. I’ll write more about that next week.
A common feature of the seed banks I reviewed was that they tended to include lots of tiny seeds for species that are not all that useful in a survival situation such as lettuce, celery, cauliflower, radish, basil, Brussels sprouts, spices, and eggplant. I think that even in good times, eggplant is not a food. Uugh! It makes great ad copy to state that the seed bank contains 100,000 seeds, but what’s the point of including 30,000 lettuce seeds? Fifty corn seeds is less than the amount commonly believed necessary to avoid inbreeding depression.
The seed banks tended to be skimpy on large seeded items for crops that are most useful as staples. A staple crop is a food that is easy to grow in large quantities and that can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. Traditional staples in northern climates are corn, dry beans, soup peas, winter squash, turnips, cabbage, beets, sunroots, potatoes, and carrots. I consider wheat to be iffy as a staple crop because harvesting by hand provides a meager return on investment compared to harvesting corn or pulses.
Seed Bank Vegetable Variety Offerings
The choice of varieties in the seed banks I reviewed was also troubling to me. A lot of them included varieties of tomatoes like Beefsteak or Brandywine. These are fine tomatoes if you have a long growing season of near perfect growing conditions, but they are not as productive nor as reliable as varieties that produce smaller fruits more quickly. The first tomato harvested in my garden is always a cherry tomato. I would have liked to have seen more cherry tomatoes offered. The seed banks often included Roma tomatoes which are very susceptible to blossom end rot. Why include a variety like that when there are so many non-susceptible tomatoes to choose from? Some of the seed banks included things like decorative corn or jack-o-lantern pumpkins. I’m certainly not going to be growing decorations in the midst of a food emergency!
Only one of the seed banks that I reviewed mentioned regionally adapted seeds. They claimed that the varieties of seeds that they put into their bank are chosen based on the region that the buyer is located in. I was somewhat pleased with that approach. They didn’t bother to mention what seeds are going to what regions, but at least they acknowledged that the problem exists. I am disappointed with the seed banks that were offering a one-size-fits-all collection of seeds for every garden in the world. In my ideal world, the seed bank manufactures would offer seed collections specific to each eco-region. In the usa there are 12 major eco-regions. I’d like to see each seed bank manufacturer offer at least 12 different versions of their seed bank with varieties selected specifically for each major eco-region. Those regions can be further subdivided into a multitude of smaller eco-regions.
I would have liked to have seen more varieties of each species rather than more seeds of a single inbred cultivar. Instead of one species of bean, I would have liked to have seen a dozen species. There’s no telling whether a particular variety or species will perform well in any specific garden, especially if there are climatic, or social, or environmental issues which interfere with normal cultivation practices. It’s much better in my opinion to throw 3 to 10 varieties of many different species into the ground. It seems like that is a more reliable way to find something that thrives. Then the second year we could grow seeds from the most productive and well adapted plants.
I really like the idea of mixed seed for an emergency seed bank. I was first exposed to the idea of packets of mixed seed about 20 years ago in the catalog of Pinetree Garden Seeds. I bought a packet of mixed radish seed. I loved it. Today many seed companies offer mixed seed. I think that they are one of the most useful and inexpensive ways to stock a survival seed bank.
I’d be perfectly happy including some types of hybrid seeds in a survival seed bank. For example, I would have included hybrid tomatoes. The reason that hybrid tomatoes have taken such a huge market share is because they tend to perform much better than highly inbred heirloom tomatoes. Even if the hybrids don’t breed true, their offspring are likely to perform better than open pollinated varieties. They will turn into landrace or open pollinated varieties once we start saving seeds from them.
A Call for Locally Adapted Seed Banks
Overall, we were highly disappointed with the offerings of the survival seed bank marketers. I think that we’d get a better product if there were growers in each neighborhood that offered locally-adapted landrace seed banks specifically selected via survival-of-the-fittest for that neighborhood. This is part of the reason that I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through the use of common sense and traditional methods.
In part two I’ll explore the varieties and quantities of seed that I think should be included in a survival seed bank. In part three I’ll write about long-term seed storage.
If you are new to vegetable gardening it is hard to know what crops do best in your area and when to plant them. The same goes for folks who may have gardened for years but then moved to another part of the country with a new climate. There are numerous books about growing vegetables, but not many speak to the climate conditions specific to the different areas of the country. Timber Press has sought to remedy that with a series of books, each organized the same way—a Get Started section, and month-to-month and Edibles A to Z sections. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange covers the southeast region of the U.S. with her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. The official publication date for this book is December 11, however it is available now from Southern Exposure’s online catalog.
The Southeast region is not all the same and Ira distinguishes between the Upper South and the Lower South. Southern Florida, where the temperature never goes below freezing, is not covered in this book. I’ve never lived further south than I do now near Richmond, Virginia. This book helped me understand gardeners who live in the rest of the region. In the Lower South, the hottest times in July and August are a transition time, with not much coming out of the garden save for okra, sweet potatoes, and southern peas. Whereas a little to the north, we are busy harvesting tomatoes and most other summer crops. Nevertheless, there is heat and humidity throughout the region and Ira addresses the issue of heat very well. If you live elsewhere, but have a friend in the Southeast, you might benefit from reading this book as a means of understanding your friend’s gardening habits and schedule.
Sweet potatoes and southern peas, along with peanuts, are some of the staple crops I’m adamant about growing. I’ve written about how I’ve prepared them in my Homegrown Friday posts. Those crops and many more are in the Edibles A to Z section of the book, which has growing, harvesting, variety, and seed saving tips for each crop. The Get Planting section of the book has a chapter for each of the twelve months. At the beginning of each month there is a page with things to do to plan, prepare and maintain; sow and plant; and what could be harvested fresh from the garden. The rest of each chapter has gardening information and something specific to that time of year. I like that there is much mention of using transplants and extending the season using floating row covers.
Learn more about Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast at Homeplace Earth. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, the Mountain States, or the Northeast, you might find the Timber Press books on those regions helpful. Even though I’ve been gardening in the same place for many years, I’ve discovered that it is helpful to reread some of the gardening books that got me started. Now that I’m at a different level in my gardening I’m finding things that may not have been of interest the first time through those books, or reminded of things I should be aware of. Even if you are an experienced gardener, you will find something of interest in these regional books.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at http://www.homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/.
When you have a small yard, pots are a great way to extend your garden and harvest. You read that you can grow anything in pots. And you can. So, how do you decide what is best to plant in the ground and what is best for your pots?
Deciding what to grow can be exhilarating and overwhelming. The varieties are endless, the options infinite. Where do you begin when you are deciding what to grow for the first time or for the tenth time?
First, grow what you love to eat! Make a list of your favorite veggies. The caution for a new gardener, start small. From your list of favs, pick your top 5-7 to start with.
So, if I were to share the easiest to get started with, what would I grow my first spring season? I would start with plants and grow lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard. If I loved beets, carrots, radishes, peas and turnips, I would plant these as seeds. If I liked to cook with onions and use chives, I would get Egyptian walking onions because they are perennials and can be harvested year round and love their home in a pot.
If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc. Here are some recommendations for your garden.
- Beets - any. You can plant these around a beautifully colored swiss chard.
- Cabbage - Golden Cross 45 day cabbage did really well for us in pots this year and has a short enough time to maturity. I would plant one cabbage per pot. You can add pansies for color in spring and fall or petunias for summer color.
- Carrots - get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.
- Swiss Chard - I love all the colors to choose from (see picture above). Perpetual Chard is not as beautiful, but is particularly hardy.
- Collards - any. These will produce all winter.
- Kale - look for “dwarf” in the description, but any will work if you plan on continuously harvesting the lower leaves. Many kales will survive all winter.
- Lettuce - any as you can harvest the lower leaves and the plant will continue
- to produce. Look for descriptions like “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” for spring, fall and winter lettuces. Choose varieties with the words "slow to bolt" and "heat resistant" in the descriptions.
- Onions - I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot. You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives. Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.
- Peas - Look for “compact” varieties for growing in pots, like Green Arrow, Sugar Ann, Cascadia or provide a support for them to grow onto.
- Radishes - I would stick with the round types like Runder Schwarzer Winter or Rudoph.
- Turnips - any. I plant in a circle with lettuce in the center in cool seasons.
You can add in warm season crops like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers as the cool season crops wrap up the spring season. Just look for "compact", "patio" and "bush" varieties.
I noticed that W. Atlee Burpee & Co. seed company started showing a clay pot with a check mark on the lower right hand corner of their seed packets this year to indicate which seeds were appropriate for pots. This makes it much easier to know than reading all the descriptions!
A couple of tips for extending the season as long as possible:
- Place your pots on the south side of the house as this is the warmest side and gets the most sun.
- Putting your pots up against the house gives them extra warmth.
- Place your pots in an area that is protected against the wind.
- If on stands, placing the pot directly on the ground helps.
- Put your pots in a huddle against each other to protect them from the wind, with the most tender plants in the center (like lettuce).
- Buy a portable green house to put over a collection of pots that have your greens in them can possibly keep your greens surviving until warm weather arrives.
It is wonderful to be able to just step outside your door and get fresh produce all through the seasons.
For more tips on gardening in small spaces, visit my blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com