My husband and I have been talking a lot about the story behind our food lately. When we sit down for breakfast, it's more than just bacon and eggs on our plate. It's the smell of the pig pen on a hot July day. It's Wallace and Chester escaping to our neighbor's orchard. It's the routine of gathering eggs from the nesting boxes each day before the eggs freeze. It's the scent of fresh hay being strewn about the coop. All of our food that is produced here on the farm comes with an incredible story – a history.
It makes the experience of that food much more rich.
Like seeing an old friend walking down the street, one that you've shared experiences and stories with, versus walking past a stranger.
And so it goes with heirloom seeds.
These seeds have incredible stories – brought to our country through a variety of means, many through immigrants. I love that when they came into the United States, they brought with them pieces of their homeland and of their culture that were precious to them.
Can you imagine a variety of cabbage that was so important to this history of your family that you would bring it with you when moving to a ‘new world'?
I think that's incredible.
So as my fingers flipped through my Seed Savers Exchange catalog, as they always do this time of year, I found myself drawn in… once again… to the history of these old, heirloom varieties. Varieties that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Varieties that become synonymous with growers, farmers, and specific families. I love that they carry with them great stories.
And as I often do, I promised myself that I wouldn't get suckered in to the random varieties of vegetables that I've never grown (or perhaps even eaten). No, Shaye. Don't. Stick with the standards. You know what your family eats – grow that!
But I couldn't help myself.
Red pen in hand, I scoured the pages circling aggressively all the varieties that I would order for this year's garden. Some staples. Some novelties. All, I'm sure, delicious. Some of the varieties I have grown before, with great success, and will be growing again. As it goes with gardening, each year one learns more about what grows well in their climate and in their garden.
I've also learned I can kill a lot of different kinds of vegetables. But let's not focus on that. Shall we?
Our 2015 Heirloom Vegetable Varieties
(I'll give you a few history for a few of the seeds, just for fun….)
‘Myers Family Heirloom' Mustard Greens
Georgia Southern Collard Greens
Halbhoher Gruner Krauser Kale
Red Russian Kale
Aunt Mae's Bibb
Australian Yellowleaf Lettuce
Tennis Ball: “Small rosettes of light green leaves measure only 7″ in diameter and form loose tender heads. Grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. According to Heirloom Vegetable Gardening by SSE member William Woys Weaver, tennis ball lettuces were often pickled in salt brine during the 17th and 18th centuries. Black-seeded. Butterhead.”
Ireland Creek Annie (dry bean)
Climbing French (fresh)
Red Swan (fresh)
Scarlet Runner (fresh)
Detroit Dark Red
Copenhagen Market (great for homemade sauerkraut!)
Jaune Du Doubs
Parisian Pickling: “A French heirloom used in the late 1800s to manufacture gherkins. Listed in 1892 by James J.H. Gregory of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Dark green color, firm thick flesh, inconspicuous seeds. Can be used small for pickling or larger for slicing.”
Prescott Fond Blanc: “Documented by Vilmorin in Les Plantes Potageres (1882). This cantaloupe was once a favorite of French market gardeners. Fruits weight 4-9 pounds and have beautifully warted skin and dense sweet flesh. Almost too pretty to eat! The fragrance when fully ripe is incredible. Like all rock melons, Prescott will not slip from the vine. Good drought tolerance.”
Yellow of Parma (storage variety)
Long Red Florence (fresh variety)
Tolli's Sweet Italian
Early Scarlet Globe
La Ratte (fingerling)
Five Color Silverbeet
Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
Sibley: “Obtained from an elderly woman in Van Dinam, IA who had grown it for more than 50 years in Missouri. Introduced by Hiram Siblet & Co. of Rochester, New York in 1887. Superb banana squash with thick sweet flesh. James J.H. Gregory found it simply ‘magnificent.' Winner of the SSE staff taste test in 2014. Hard-rinded, inversely pear shaped, excellent keeper.”
Though it may seem like a long list, considering we're focused on growing nearly all of our own produce, it's reflective of our overall goal. This past year, besides fruit (which we are able to buy or glean from orchards in our neighborhood), we were able to produce all of our produce. Even now, in January, we're still eating on our winter stores that we put up this past summer. And there is still much to be eaten before the next harvest season!
I'll admit it. Geeky or not, I can hardly wait to get my hands back in the soil.
I'm very thankful that this year, due to all my husband's hard work last summer, we'll be able to start seedlings early and grow an entire month earlier in our super-radical greenhouse.
Ya. That's right. I said radical.
I'll be able to plant spinach, radish, and lettuce in the greenhouse next month – with the extra protection of inexpensive row cover to give it another layer of support. And many of my starts will be transferred out into the greenhouse to give them proper sun exposure without sending them out into the harsh spring weather too early. I'm very thankful for this fact, because last Spring, I spent hours… and hours… and hours reconfiguring seedling trays in my bathtub, repositioning grow lights daily, transferring them to-and-from an outside table, chasing chickens away from the tender plants, and hauling them back-and-forth from the garden. To have a safe, warm, and protected place for them is going to be so much easier!
This may not come as a surprise to you, but I'll say it anyway. I love growing my own food. Looooooooove it. I love participating in the food's story. And I love getting to weave it together with mine. I'm thankful for seed suppliers like Seed Savers Exchange and the work that they do to preserve these heirloom seeds and to keep our seeds free of genetic modification and chemical treatments. Though I order from Seed Savers, there are lots of great companies out there doing much of the same thing!
Looking for heirloom seeds?
Here's a few great heirloom seed suppliers:
As anxious as I am for Spring, I'll admit, this planning period is one of my favorite parts of the year on the homestead. It's a time of reflection, of anticipating, and of somehow manipulating myself into believing that I'll magically stay organized, productive, and perfectly efficient in the garden this year.
But let's not focus on that.
Instead, let's dream…
… of warm soil between our fingers. Of the smell of tomato plants. Of that first taste of spring lettuce.
… let's dream of the good life.