Late winter is the time of high hopes and big dreams for farmers and gardeners throughout the United States. The full color, glossy photos that adorn seed catalogs are enough to tempt the most seasoned farmers. New varieties, recently discovered heirlooms, unique colors, best tasting, improved strains...the adjectives and descriptions go on and on in an attempt to sell us just one more variety.
And I...am a sucker.
When the snow is thick and the temperature freezing, it is easy to get lost in the hope that is spring. The descriptions of each variety is intoxicating as you try to narrow down what selections you will devote precious garden space to. Because of their extensive collection, our most used seed supplier is Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. They only offer heirloom seeds, which is the majority of what we plant, as we feel they have much better flavor, variety, and ultimately the performance is better than most newer seeds.
However, we will be growing a few hybrids; specifically: corn, onions, and artichoke (If you are already familiar with the difference between GMO's, hybrids, and heirlooms, you may want to skip down to the paragraph above the following photo).
For clarification a hybrid is just a cross of two vegetable varieties that do not produce viable seed...like a seedless watermelon. They can also be used to improve a variety like in the following example:
White, pungent, storage onion=12 months storage potential
(crossed with) Yellow, super sweet onion=<1 month storage potential
(results in) Yellow, slightly sweet onion=5 months storage potential
When saving seeds from heirlooms, you choose the most delicious and perfect vegetables to save seed from. This improves your variety each and every year it is grown. If you try to save hybrid seeds, the resulting vegetable will be nothing like the vegetable you took the seed from. The problem with hybrids is that the cross must be made every single year in order to get viable seed. This cross is usually performed by hand pollination which increases the cost of the seed quite a bit, which is why we keep our hybrids to a minimum. Every once in a blue moon a hybrid is stable and does produce an exact copy of the vegetable you saved the seeds from. This is known as a stable hybrid, and after many years of growing, it will become an heirloom.
At this point you may be asking: If there are hybrids and heirlooms, then what is a GMO?
A GMO is when a scientist splices the genome of one species and incorporates an entire different species genetic material into that splice. The easiest example is that of Round-up ready Soybeans, one of the most commonly grown GMO crops in the USA. Nearly everyone is familiar with Round-up, but to clarify, it is an herbicide which kills all plant life (well, in theory as many weeds are now becoming resistant to its killing effect). Scientists found that after saturating soil with the Round-up, a microscopic bacteria survived. They then spliced the genetic sequence of the bacteria into the soybeans...two completely unrelated species. This made the beans resistant to the killing effect of the chemical, and thus farmers can now just spray chemicals to control weeds directly onto the crops, rather than cultivating the land. Everyone has their own opinion of GMO's, and ours is that we will NEVER grow them. Due to the high incidence of GMO's in the Lexington area, we always purchase new seeds for any that could become cross pollinated with GMO's (corn and soybeans), and our supplier tests for the presence of GMO's before selling seed. Click here if you would like more info about what crops are currently genetically modified in the USA.
This year Baker Creek sent out a very special, nearly 500 page catalog filled with every seed they offer as well as thorough descriptions and stories of the origins of each variety. How can you resist such beautiful prose?:
Blue Berries Tomato
Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (http://www.rareseeds.com)
Could you resist? Neither can we, which is why this is one of the many cherry tomato varieties that our members will get to enjoy this summer! A few of the other varieties that you can expect to see over the course of the season:
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Edirne Purple Striped Eggplant
Sugar Snap Pea
Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage
In addition to purchasing new seeds each year, we also have access to our own collection which currently contains over 50 varieties of heirloom beans, 250 heirloom tomatoes, and so much more. There are so many varieties that I could never list them all. Plus, isn't it more fun to be surprised? Our CSA members will just have to wait until the season starts to see the true treasures of this year!
A little hint: We may have went overboard with lots of tasty melons :-)