Today, in the bleak mid-winter, I received something in the mail that always offers me a glimmer of hope that spring will someday arrive. Where we live, our winters are a good five and a half months long. This year I’m thinking it may be seven. It’s to be expected seeing I live halfway between the equator and the north pole. I don’t complain about the winters too much but by the time February roles around, my body is screaming for some sun-induced vitamin D and fresh local vegetables. Not to mention that we had so much early snow this year that we spent the day after Christmas on the roof, shoveling 3 feet of snow onto the ground, (had to take a ladder up and just stepped onto our pile of snow on the way down). And although I do like the snow, (most of the time) I relish the times when things are green and growing again.
So what is this beacon of hope? The Seed Savors Exchange catalog. Every year we do our best to pack every inch of our nearly 3000 square foot garden, (twice as big as the living space in our house) with a wonderful diversity of heirloom vegetables, fruits, herbs and greens. We rely heavily on Seed Savors for our plant selection. Seed Savers is a “non-profit organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations“. Located in Decorah, Iowa, where 23 acres of gardens are on public display. There you will find an awe-inspiring collection of genetic diversity. In merely 97 pages of their seed catalog is a seemingly infinite variety of vegetables,fruits, herbs, flowers and greens, (and as far as I understand it’s only a sampling of the varieties grown at the farm). The catalog is brimming with an array of full-color pictures of gorgeous and healthy vegetables. Granted, the seeds are a bit more pricey then “conventional” garden seeds but if an ecotarian garden is what you are after then conventional plants may not fit the bill.
Case in point: How many varieties of tomatoes can you find in your grocery store right now? Four? Five? Six? Even in our largest grocery stores we have about four basic types of tomatoes: Beefstake, Roma, Cherry and (if you are lucky) Plum. All of which are basically red and uniform from tomato to tomato.
As a contrast, just moments ago, I counted 72 varieties of tomatoes in the Seed Savers catalog, (and through SS you can actually have acess to 4,495 varieties of tomatoes). In it one will find tomatoes that are round, oblong, small, large, red, pink, green, yellow, purple and orange. -And oh, how wonderful those tomatoes taste. One browse through this catalog and you realize that what we see in the grocery store today is not reflective of the wonderful diversity present in our world. It’s reflective of “big business meets agriculture”. So instead of an unlimited variety of produce that represents our histories and our pasts, we are left with varieties that grow fast, ship well and store long. When big business pairs with agriculture what we are left with is a fraction of our beautiful diversity and a fraction of our history, (one really interesting and eye-opening book on this topic is Fatal Harvest, The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture).
Another fantastic resource for very ecotarian gardening is the WinterSown Educational Organization. This lovely little site gives tips on sowing seeds all winter long, (as the name implies). Here, they show you how to grow cold-hardy plants in recyclables like empty milk jugs, clear cake boxes and cottage cheese tubs. No heating devices, fancy seed-starting sets or energy-wasting, (and in turn money-wasting) lights needed. They also offer free seeds! In my envelope I received 8 different heirloom tomato varieties, rainbow chard and dill seeds. Visit the site and it may just have you digging in the recycle bins for suitable containers today!
So this year, whether you are planning a large garden or you are venturing to grow something in a container for the first time make an effort to plant at least some heirloom varieties. You will be rewarded with wonderful produce, seeds to store and grow for the next year and the knowledge that you are passing a piece of our history on to the next year.
To close, I’m going to list all 72 varieties of heirloom tomatoes listed in the 2009 Seed Savers Exchange catalog. Each variety has a paragraph stating where it came from and how it got to the Seed Savers Exchange. Head to SeedSavers.Org to have your very own beacon of winter hope shipped to your home!
So here I go, 72 varieties of tomatoes in this years SS catalog, (add that to the 17 varieties of garlic and you’ll have a nice start to a marinara sauce).
Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Austin’s Red Pear, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Black Plum, Black Sea Man, (kids love this one), Blondkopfchen, (can you pronounce it?), Brandywine, Brown Berry, Chalk’s Early Jewel, Cherokee Purple, Chery Roma, Cream Sausage, (vegan!) Crnkovic Yugoslavian, Currant, Gold Rush, Currant, Sweat Pea, Czech’s Bush, (I thought he was Texan) Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Earliana, Eva Purple Ball, Federle, German Pink, Giant Syrian, Gold Medal, Golden Sunray, Gourmet Yellow Stuffer, Green Grape, Green Sausage, Green Zebra, (another kid favorite) Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry, Hungarian Heart, Italian Heirloom, Isis Candy, Japanese Trifele Black, Juane Flamme, John Baer, Kellogg’s
Breakfast, (no, not cornflakes) Large Red Cherry, Long Tom, Martino’s Roma, Mexico Midget, Moonglow, Nebraska Wedding, Nyagous, Plum Lemon, (looks just like a lemon!) Ponderosa Red, Powers Heirloom, Purple Russian, (catalog note: “Original stock came from Irma Henkel in the Ukraine”) Red Fig, Redfield Beauty, Red Zebra, (friend of the Green Zebra) Riesentraube, (German for “giant bunch of grapes” in case you ever need to know…) Roman Candle, Rose, Sheboygan, Siberian, Silvery Fir Tree, Soldacki, Speckled Roman, Striped Cavern, Stupice, Tasty Evergreen, (and you thought evergreen’s weren’t tasty!) Tommy Toe, Trophy, Trucker’s Favorite, Wapsipinicon Peach, (I read this one is actually fuzzy) and last, but not least, Wisconsin 55.