Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Planning and tending to a summer garden is a year long process. Because many seeds can be started indoors weeks before the last frost date, late winter is the time to make decisions about what you will grow. For the beginning homesteader. this can be a daunting task.
This article strives to make the seed-selection process a little easier by going through the seeds I have bought to use in my garden at my historic Appalachian homestead.
The garden prep process began for me in the fall when I laid down a thick layer of leaves over the soil. These will break down by spring time and add a thin layer of humus. The garden has been sitting more or less neglected since then, but we have been diligently producing compost in our kitchen in our worm bin system.
The Four Seed Catalogs for My Selection
Johnnies Selected Seeds: the most "commercial" catalog I have, with an emphasis on marketable products for farms rather than the backyard gardener. Biggest selection, but fewer rare heirloom plants and not as fun to page through.
Seed Savers Exchange: a catalog of "heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid, non GMO seeds" that is big, beautiful and a delight to browse. The plant descriptions give a lot of back history about where each variety originated.
The Good Seed Company: similar catalog to Seed Savers, but a little smaller and a more "quaint" feel. My favorite catalog because the selection wasn't overwhelming and seeds could be bought in smaller quantities than in the other ones.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: A catalog that focuses exclusively on species that thrive in a southern climate and the only catalog I had that sold ginseng. Newspaper material pages, not glossy.
My Best Picks for My Medium-Sized Homestead Garden:
Trilogy (Johnny's)- Actually a mix from Johnny's that includes Provider, Royal Burgandy and Rocdor for a pleasing mix of colors and flavors. A bean harvest extender because each species will ripen at a different time
Golden Beet (Good Seed)- Another one of my favorites from Nature's Pace, this beet has a rich, sweet taste and won't stain your hands like a red beet. The color remains vibrant even when cooked. Detroit Dark Red (Good Seed)- I'll be honest, my choice of this beet was entirely due to home state pride. Michigan lover for life!!
Paris Market (Seed Savers)- our shallow, clay-filled soil will be a difficult barrier for any root vegetable to push through, so this French heirloom's short, round taproot should be ideal for us.
Xtra-Tender 2171 (Johnny’s)- In all honestly, I've never grown sweet corn before and the wide selection available almost overwhelmed me. I ended up choosing this variety almost at random. At least it's an early variety.
Beit Alpha (Good Seed)- tender, no peeling necessary, a robust grower with a long self life. What's not to like?! Apparently also very popular in the Mediterranean.
Boston Pickling (Good Seed)- Good Seed's most popular cucumber and considered excellent for pickles. Good enough for me!
Ginseng Seed (Southern Exposure)- Ginseng does phenomenally in the Appalachian mountains, but a very high market price has driven wild ginseng close to extinction. Ian hopes to plant native seeds in our woods in hopes of slowly reintroducing it to our home.
Sunflower Mixture (Seed Savers)- All sunflower varieties are glorious and I couldn't get myself to chose any one type, so this variety pack was the only way to go
Greens Arugula (Good Seed)- The best salad green I've ever had the privilege to eat. I'm perfectly happy skipping every other salad ingredient and just eating fistfuls of Arugula.
Halbhoher Gruner Krauser Kale (Seed Savers)- a North German variety described as tasty eaten fresh or cooked and harvested into the winter. Since I'll only be growing one variety of kale, it seemed a steady all purpose one to grow.
New Zealand Spinach (Seed Savers)- not technically a spinach, but similar in flavor and usage. The selling point for me was that it's resistant to bolting and thrives in hot weather. Now our spinach salads won't be limited to the fall and spring.
Prize Choy (Seed Savers)- “an especially uniform, vigorous, and bolt resistant variety of Bok Choy”. The bolt resistance should allow me to be able to extend its growing season into the warm summer months. I can taste the stir fries already.
Early Purple Vienna (Good Seed)- an under-appreciated apple of the vegetable world, kohlrabi forms a sweet, cabbage-y bulb that is excellent cooked or raw. Just looking at this funky plant makes me happy.
Charentais (Good Seed)- considered a “superb heirloom French melon” that is super sweet and very fragrant. The selling point for me was that it's considered the perfect size for two people.
Cabernet F1 (Johnny's)- growing onions in our compact soil is such a gamble, I didn't want to waste money on lots of varieties. I'm hoping this sturdy, early yielding red onion will give us a good sense of what we could grow for next year
Sungold (Good Seed)- tangy orange cherry tomato that I ate to great excess while interning at Nature's Pace Organics. These little tomatoes will tear your mouth apart, but that doesn't mean I can resist them!
Brandywine (Good Seed)- classic heirloom tomato and reasonably difficult to screw up. Considered to have an incredibly rich, delightfully intense tomato flavor. Maybe not the best choice for intensive canning, but I prefer my tomatoes fresh anyways.
Sugar Snap Peas (Good Seed)- Whenever I've grown these before I never managed to bring them into the kitchen before they were entirely consumed. Incredibly sweet and crisp, one of the vegetables I would absolutely chose to eat as a dessert.
Etituda (Good Seed)- sugary sweet orange pepper that can reach over half a pound in weight. Considered to be hardy and versatile in a variety of growing conditions, so hopefully my clay soil will work as well!
Cayenne Long Thin (Good Seed)- we needed something to satisfy our spicy craving this summer, so I settled for the “the Classic American hot pepper” which is described as vigorous and productive. Hopefully I won't be regretting the “very hot” warning!
Adirondack Blue (Johnny's)- life is too short to have boring potatoes. If I'm gonna grow my own, I wanna have them be blue, gosh dangit.
Golden Zucchini (Good Seed)- Zucchini grows so quickly and prolifically that I doubt we will need more than a plant or two to keep us satisfied. I opted for yellow squash because I think the flavor is a little better than green zucchini.
Waltham Butternut (Seed Savers)- Considering how much butternut squash soup we consumed this past fall, attempting to grow a few of our own could be a very good idea
Total Cost in Seeds: $83.80, plus tax and shipping. Not bad when one considers the grocery store cost of all these vegetables!
Hopefully this has given you some direction about the types of seeds that you can grow in your own garden. If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to see a little more about what I'm doing at my homestead, hop on over to my personal blog, Living Echo
Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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