In Welcome to the Farm: How-to Wisdom from The Elliott Homestead, Shaye Elliot teaches readers how they can live a homestead lifestyle without a farm. In this fully illustrated how-to, Elliot shows readers how to harvest their own vegetables, milk a dairy cow, can jams and jellies, and more! The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, "The Home Garden."
Let's talk about seeds. Obviously, one of the foundational ways to ensure success in your backyard garden is to get the right seeds for the job. While the seeds available on the market are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach, there are a few ways to determine which are the right ones for your garden. Spending some time during the winter months (preferably curled up next to a fire with a warm mug of chamomile tea) planning for the year's garden will really pay off. A wee bit of research in ordering your seeds will reward you big time.
Organic vs. Conventional
Organic seeds are seeds that have been grown by a parent plant on an organic farm. The farm must meet specific and stringent requirements in order to become certified as organic. Organic seeds are guaranteed not to have any seed treatments and often perform better in the garden. They are a common choice of the home gardener because they're the starting point for a garden free from synthetic pesticides and herbicides. A big perk of purchasing organic seeds is supporting farms and research that promote organic gardening methods. Think of it as a small investment in the future of our agricultural system.
Alternatively, conventional seeds are often treated with a variety of chemicals (most commonly synthetic fungicides and insecticides) prior to being sold. While they come with a slightly smaller price tag, conventional seeds are grown from parent plants in non-organic soil that could have been sprayed and treated with a variety of synthetic chemicals. If minimizing chemical exposure is important to you, avoid conventional seeds.
While a garden may start with organic seeds, this does not qualify it as an organic garden. In order to maintain an organic garden, one must avoid all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. What's the use of organic seeds if you're going to spray them anyway? Likewise, conventional seeds can be used to grow vegetables in an organically managed garden.
Has your head exploded yet? But wait! There's more...
Heirloom seeds come from crops that have been selected and saved for generations. Perhaps they've been grown for taste, or performance, or color. Whatever the reason, the seeds from the very best produce are harvested, preserved, and handed down to be grown again. Despite popular belief, heirloom varieties tend to be very hardy (hence the reason they've grown and survived for so many generations!). I've always enjoyed the uniqueness that comes from heirloom seeds. The colors, shapes, tastes, and fragrances are endless. If superior taste is your number one goal, heirloom varieties should be on your list.
In the garden, it's common that plants are cross-pollinated — meaning the pollen of one plant is used to pollinate another. This is called open pollination and occurs naturally due to weather, insects, birds, and other factors. Alternatively, this cross-pollination can also be done by human intervention, resulting in a hybrid crop. First-generation hybridized crops experience "hybrid vigor," a term that basically means they grow bigger, faster, and stronger than their parent plants. Unfortunately, the seeds from these crops cannot be saved or preserved. A gardener who grows hybrid varieties must purchase new seed every year.
Genetically Modified Seeds
Genetically modified seeds are the result of genetic engineering in which the DNA from one organism is removed and put into the DNA of another organism. There is strong controversy to the long-term environmental and health effects of growing and eating genetically modified foods. Because genetically modified seeds are patented by the companies that engineer them, it is illegal to save seeds from genetically modified crops. As for me and my gardens? We avoid genetically modified seeds at all costs.
After you've decided what type of seed you'd like to grow in your home garden, it's time to figure out which variety you'll grow! I know, I know — so many decisions to make! But this is the fun part! Always dream of purple beans? White cucumbers? Early-ripening tomato plants? Now's the time to get wild! Now that you've planned your garden, know which crops you'd like to grow, and know which type of seed you're looking for, you can select specific varieties of that crop that'll fit the bill.
A few traits to choose from:
- Yields. If getting the biggest yield is your priority, select varieties that are known for their high production!
- Colors. Sometimes half the fun is the novelty of what you can grow yourself! I always love to pick a few oddly colored crops to grow (such as freckled tomatoes) just for fun.
- Flavors. The mack daddy of all selections, this is primarily how I choose my varieties. One question: Which variety tastes the best? That's the one I want on my supper table.
- Storage. In addition to flavor, storage life can be a big factor in selecting which varieties of crops you'll grow. I choose my garlic, potato, and onion varieties specifically for their storage qualities (since these are the crops that we... wait for it... store!).
- Days to maturity. For those who live in colder zones, this can be a huge factor in choosing the proper varieties for your garden. Put simply, the shorter the days to maturity, the faster you'll have a crop! If you're squeezing in harvests before frost dates, days to maturity will play a big role in your gardening decisions.
- Disease resistance. Particular varieties are known for their disease resistance, making them ideal for the home gardener. This is always a nice addition to any variety.
- Vigor. Some varieties are simply hardier and stronger than others. If there's a particular crop I tend to struggle with, I will choose a variety that is known for its hardiness and vigor to stack the cards in my favor.
More from Welcome to the Farm:
- Honey Meringues Recipe
- Homemade Beeswax Candles
- Harvesting Honey
- Preserve Your Harvest with Canning
- Canned Honey Peaches Recipe
- Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe
- Vanilla Infused Cherries Recipe
- The Best Pickled Asparagus Recipe
- Butchering Basics
Excerpted with permission from Welcome to the Farm, by Shaye Elliot. Published by Lyons Press, © 2017.