So I finally have a house…which means I have a back yard…which means I can (Thank You Lord!) start planning my own vegetable/kitchen garden during these long, cold winter months!!
Now, I’m a seed snob. No genetically altered seeds for me, thank you very much. What do I mean by that? Aren’t all seeds essentially the same? No, my friends, they aren’t, and I’ll tell you why…the government pays big bucks to genetically “enhance” most of the seeds you are purchasing at the dollar store, Kmart, and Home Depot. I don’t want to go into too much detail for the sake of making this post ultra preachy and potentially boring, but seeds are altered, enhanced, and basically mutated for the profit of the seed companies (some of them don’t want you to be able to only buy their product one season and continue to use seeds from mature plants to plant next years harvest…so they cleverly implement a “terminator” gene into the seed that makes it necessary for you to start from scratch the next growing season and buy the company’s seeds all over again). Kinda defeats the purpose of growing your own garden from scratch to get away all the hormones, pesticides, and general junk that infests most grocery store veggies, doesn’t it? If the seeds are contaminated as well, why even bother??
This is why I just purchased a ton of Heirloom seeds. Not only are these seeds guaranteed to be free from government meddling, and grown organically without hormones, pesticides, and other lazy-man nasty things that the money-hungry companies may dream up, but the Heirloom seed movement is somewhat of a “secret society” of careful gardeners who take pride in preserving time-tested, historic, natural, and sometimes rare or even endangered plants…all through careful old-fashioned organic gardening, and the harvesting, preserving, and passing on of these precious seeds.
If you are buying Heirloom, don’t be surprised to find that you are picking the exact same variety of tomatoes that Thomas Jefferson introduced to America hundreds of years ago! There are whole books written on the varieties of these seeds and plants, complete with fascinating histories about the age, places, and people who starred alongside them.
New to gardening? It’s important to find seeds and plants that are compatible with you. Meaning:
- Will the veggies you plan to grow thrive in your “zone”? The US is divided into different zones that are based on the average lowest temperature likely to take place in the area. For example, in SW Pennsylvania, we are generally in zone 6a or 6b. So, the seeds that I selected came from an organic, Heirloom farm near Lancaster PA. I was sure to choose varieties of plants indigenous to this area, so I would have a better chance of thriving vegetables and a successful harvest. This handy map will tell you exactly what gardening zone you fall into.
- How much space do you have? Do you have the room for 6 foot tall plants? Or, like me, do you have a small garden bed area, but lots of extra porch and patio space for growing vegetables in containers? That’s why I chose mostly smaller plants, but ones that produced a lot of product…cherry and grape tomatoes that do well in containers, miniature yellow and red bell peppers that look fab on an appetizer spread stuffed with crabmeat and cream cheese, or kebab-ed on the grill. A good seed website or catalog will tell you the nitty-gritty on your plants “personality”–it’s likes and dislikes, it’s good and bad points, the amount of sun and water that will guarantee you the best results. So while I mostly focused on small, prolific plants to get the most bang for my buck, now I also have the room to plant a few veggies that take up a bit more square footage (which I’m still looking into)…zucchini maybe, or a few melons?
- What are the most “financially beneficial” veggies for you to plant?? It’s simple math…I can get a 10 lb bag of potatoes on sale at the store for a bit over $2. Is it really worth the space, dirt, digging, and cleaning necessary to harvest my own potatoes when I can buy them with my spare pocket change at the grocery store?? On the other hand, I love field greens (spring mix, artisenal salad, whatever you want to call it!), but small packages of this stuff normally cost more that I spend on an entire pot roast dinner! Since they are easily grown, don’t take up much space, and replenish themselves for a minimal investment of money and time, I think it’s well more worth my time to devote some time and space to spring mix, and enjoy fresh salads all season long!
I would encourage anyone with the space (even apartment dwellers-I was one until a month! ago!) can easily grow herbs in windowsills and maybe some of the smaller varieties of peppers and tomatoes I’ve mentioned above on a sunny balcony, rooftop or front stoop.
Not only is this practice financially and healthfully beneficial, but it is environmentally friendly as well. When you buy veggies shipped from Guatemala, you are paying for not only the product, but the labor, fuel, etc. for it to reach you in your convenient grocery store in Boise, Idaho. And most of the time, these products taste like SHIT.
It’s quite sad that many members of the “younger” generation have no idea what a home-grown garden tomato tastes like…such a fantastic difference from the mealy mush that is being peddled in most supermarkets. I urge you all to buy a few dollars worth of seeds and taste the difference!! My Great-Grandma Carmella (straight off the boat from Italy) grew a FANTASTIC kitchen garden in McKeesport, which is a small town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh that was once known for its steel industry. She would make homemade sauce from said tomatoes, and homemade noodles, and homemade everything else too. We used to visit her as young children…she never spoke a word of English, but she always gave us a dollar to take to the candy store. 🙂
Here is a link to the site that I’ve purchased all my pepper and tomato seeds from, this woman grows and maintains dozens of varieties of heirloom seeds, many passed down from the Amish that live near her, and often provides a fascinating history of the plant’s origin:
www.amishlandseeds.com (especially good seeds for anyone living in the PA region, or 6a/6b gardening zone, as most of these plants were originally cultivated to live and thrive in this area and the temperatures that are normal here.)
A Few Other Good Organic/Heirloom Seed Sites
Information on Container Gardening, If You’re Short on Space
- Container Vegetable Gardening (although this site is rather bare-bones, it will give you accurate ideas on which plants will fit in which size containers.)
- Vegetable Container Gardening-Getting Started (Tons of tips, tricks, and practical advice for the novice gardener who doesn’t have tons of space.)
- Indoor Herb Garden (Don’t have ANY outdoor space? You can still enjoy fresh, culinary herbs that will take your cooking to new heights all year long with the easy instructions from this site…just enjoy the tips and the blog, or order one of their kits if you’re feeling froggy…put it on Santa’s wishlist…)
So for all you fellow barganistas that are also concerned about health and preserving the good stuff from days of old…get out there and get gardening this summer with some Heirloom varieties of veggies! The taste will blow you away, and the $$$ savings will be significant, especially if you are used to purchasing organic (well, at least you are pretty they are) veggies from the grocery store.
I was AMAZED at the varieties and oddities of the vegetable world that I discovered on my trek through cyberspace while choosing my seeds.
And the histories behind some of them were truly novel-worthy!!
Grab your gloves and your hoe and get out in the garden this summer! Winter is the time to peruse the seed catalogs, and dream up you perfect garden! (word to the wise: seeds go QUICK, especially those types that are Heirloom and rare. The site I visited had already sold out of half of their seed stock, and it wasn’t even December yet. Get started to have dibs on the best and most coveted varieties!)
And once you enjoy a successful harvest, don’t forget to pass Heirloom seeds along to all your friends!! That’s what the movement is all about!!