When it comes to most fashionable trends, I confess to being way behind much of the time. I don’t own an Ipod or an Iphone. My wife and I even went to prepaid cell phones because we don’t use them enough to justify paying monthly fees. And no need to worry about me texting and driving, because I just don’t text.
But there’s one area where I have been way ahead of the curve, and that’s eating locally. I was a localvore when eating local wasn’t cool, and so were a lot of my rural neighbors, though we weren’t doing it to be cool. For most of my life I’ve grown my own food, and supported local farmers for the food I couldn’t grow. For a few years I even sold strawberries and blackberries, and I knew all my customers by name.
These days we grow a dizzying variety of fruits and vegetables ourselves. And I grow all of the vegetables from seeds I start myself, except for things like potatoes and garlic that you don’t start from seed. It’s something I really enjoy doing. Now that I am retired I have plenty of time to devote to gardening – usually.
Lately, the seed orders have been rolling in. I’ve been keeping the USPS busy! But that’s not a bad thing. In our quest to grow our own food, we do need to have some of the raw materials (seeds, planting supplies) shipped to us. But by doing so, we avoid having the bulky, heavier finished goods (fruits and vegetables) shipped across the country to us. I get a lot of satisfaction out of growing our food, and things taste better when they’re fresh from the garden. There’s also growing evidence that supermarket fruits and vegetables are less nutritious, making a good case for growing them yourself.
We do like to experiment and grow new things, and this year will be no exception. Last year we tried artichokes. They grew nicely enough, but they never flowered, so we got no artichokes. The variety we grew, Imperial Star, is supposed to be hardy to zone 7, so there is a chance our winter was mild enough that the plants will come back this year. I gave them a thick layer of mulch last fall, so we will see. I have new plants started, and I plan on planting them in a different location (south of the greenhouse) where it will be warm and sunny. This year I’m adding Purple Italian Globe, which is also supposed to flower the first year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this will be our year for artichokes!
I’m also trying several old varieties for the first time, such as Violette di Firenze eggplant. It’s an Italian heirloom variety that is said to require lots of heat to produce well. It should love our normally hot and humid summers. I’m also trying Rosa Bianca, another large Italian classic eggplant. Like Violette, it is well-known for it’s delicate white, non-bitter flesh, and loves the heat. I’ve grown a hybridized version called Beatrice for the last 2 years, and we love the mild taste of the almost pure white and tender flesh.
I love tomatoes so much that I’m always trying new (and old) tomato varieties to grow. This year I plan to grow 32 different varieties – most of them old favorites like Early Girl, Better Boy, Sun Gold, and Juliet (to name a few). One of the new heirlooms I’m trying is Magnus. It’s a potato leafed variety with medium sized dark pink fruits, and was introduced around 1900 by the same man who gave us Golden Queen, which I’ve grown for years. Another one new to us is Jaune Flammé, which is a French heirloom with bright orange skin and red-mottled sweet flesh. Is is supposed to be great for eating fresh and even better when dried. Mother Earth News wrote about it in their Cream of the Crops series, and Barbara Kingsolver’s family loved them in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
We grew soybeans for edamame last year, and enjoyed them so much we will plant twice as many this year. I’ve got seeds for Beer Friend and Asmara to try. I’d like to grow enough to be able to put some in our soup mix we freeze for making vegetable soup in the winter, to take the place of lima beans or peas.
We get a lot of use out of all kinds of peppers, both fresh and dried. Last year we enjoyed eating stuffed and baked poblanos (green ancho peppers) so I am trying Tiburon this year in the hopes it is a bit bigger than Ancho 211. I’m also growing Quadrato di Asti Rosso which is an heirloom Italian bell pepper that is large, red and sweet when ripe. We have a lot of uses for the ripe red, yellow and orange peppers. They are great grilled, plus we freeze and dry a lot for later use.
There’s a few other things I’m trying new this year, but that’s enough for now. All this thinking about growing has got me ready to stop planning and start planting!