Landrace Gardening: Beautiful Crops

Reader Contribution by Joseph Lofthouse
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Landrace vegetables are among the most beautiful foods that can be grown. My fall frosts are arriving in a few days, so I thought it would be appropriate to reflect upon the growing season and share photos of some of my favorite landrace crops. 

Astronomy Domine sweet corn was my first landrace development project, and still holds a fond place in my heart. The beauty of the cobs amazes me every year. I can’t wait to peek inside the cobs and see what beautiful colors and combinations of colors await my eager eyes. I love the nuances of taste and texture that are associated with the various colors and shapes of kernels. I picked the seed crop a few weeks ago. Our fall rains arrive about the time the corn starts getting dry, so I pick it for further drying under cover on the porch to prevent it from molding in the field. 

My watermelon landrace development project has finally produced an abundant early harvest in the available growing season in spite of the adverse conditions. I have been working on this project for 4 years. It was an ongoing project before I became involved. Hundreds of varieties were planted and allowed to cross pollinate, most of them failed spectacularly in my garden and in the gardens of two collaborators in a similar climate to mine. Watermelons are so far out of their comfort zone in my garden that in one of the early years I harvested only 5 fruits from about 700 seeds that were planted. That is great odds to start localizing a species to a particular garden. I love the watermelon landrace! The insides are yellow, or pink, or crimson, or orange. Some fruits contain swirls of yellow and red. They are a delight to cut open. Each color brings with it an associated flavor and texture. I really like the yellow fleshed melons. I select each year for sweeter taste, better texture, and earlier harvest so the population is becoming better and better. This year I am awarding the crop the title of landrace. I have previously called it a proto-landrace because while it was a genetically diverse population, it was not well localized to my garden.

My soup bean landrace brings a lot of joy to people at the farmer’s market. If I put a dish of them on the table, people will stand and run their fingers through them over and over seeking out unusual colors and patterns. They cook up into a hearty flavorful soup. Some of the types quickly disintegrate forming a thick broth. Others hold their shape well regardless of how long they are cooked. They make a pleasantly delightful soup. 

Last spring I imported a hybrid bean clade into my garden. It consisted of the descendants of a natural cross between two different types of beans. It grew wildly in my garden producing bush beans, and pole beans, and semi-vining beans. Some were too long season for my garden. I harvested the crop last week saving for myself the short-season bush beans. The suitable beans will be added to my pre-existing bean landrace. The seeds from the plants that are unsuitable for my garden will be used for food, or shared with people who have different climates and opinions about what makes a great bean. 

Landrace crops are some of the most beautiful and tasty crops that can be grown. That makes growing and eating them a joyful experience. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Next week’s blog will also be a photo essay with harvest photos to demonstrate what might be expected if the seeds of hybrids are replanted. 

Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art oflandrace gardeningin order to feed his community more effectively.

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