Friday, April 20, 2012

Choosing Seeds

I've (of course!) made a big deal out of my garden this year. But I didn't really talk about why I chose my seeds. Choosing the varieties was pretty obvious--in a lot of cases there were only one or two that were cold-hardy varieties so I chose those. But why on earth did I choose these few vegetables to grow?
Well, it was some very complicated mental math, I can tell you that. First, I thought about what kinds of veggies and plants we eat a lot of: onions, garlic, certain herbs, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, squash. Others that we eat a lot of but to a lesser extent are: colorful bell peppers (I hate the green ones), beans, broccoli, lettuce, other herbs, cabbage, parsnips, celery. (I'm ignoring fruit for now, since I'm mostly focused on growing vegetables this year. Also, I'm ignoring rhubarb because that's already planted.) We eat these a lot because they're the ones we enjoy the most, so it makes the most sense to focus on them. This was my "starting list" of plants to look into growing. Sure there are other things which we like to eat (such as turnips) but we don't eat a lot of them. I can get those from the farmer's market this summer.
Next came the question, what keeps well? That was pretty obvious: peas, beans, celery, broccoli, peppers, squash, spinach, tomatoes, herbs, all root vegetables, garlic, onions, and cabbage can all be easily stored away for the winter through canning, freezing, root cellaring, or drying. They also don't take a lot of time to put up and put away.
I also took into account what costs a lot, and what has to be shipped farthest. (The two generally, but not always, go hand in hand.) Almost every meal starts with onions and/or garlic in our house. But both of those can be gotten rather cheaply, even during the off-season, and at least in the case of onions they generally come from Washington. Garlic, while we eat a lot of it, is small and light. Easy to transport, and therefore not the biggest cost in terms of carbon emissions from food transportation. Plus, you have to plant it the autumn before you want a harvest and I didn't do that.
In terms of transportation, tomatoes in the wintertime are probably the worst offenders. While I'd be all right buying nothing more than canned tomatoes in the winter, Shane loves to have BLTs and has refused to give up fresh tomatoes. I'm hoping that if I can freeze a bunch of them whole that I can get him to switch to using those. Plus, I really don't like the BPA lining cans (damn you, FDA!) so if I can can and preserve enough tomato products for next year, that would be amazing. I knew I wanted a lot of tomatoes.
What comes in plastic packaging? Well, peas for one thing. We tend to buy frozen peas, but they always, always come in plastic bags. Ugh. And fresh peas are surprisingly difficult to find around here. Even at the farmer's market I don't see them that often. In the summer, one of Shane's favorite snacks is snap peas (all right, I love snacking on them too) but even those come in a plastic baggie at the store. Since peas are like garlic and onions, getting thrown into all kinds of dishes or used as a side if we're making Meat for dinner (salmon, moose steaks, the occasional pork chop, etc.) I know I'm going to need to grow a lot of peas to keep up with our appetite for them. I mentioned the other day that I want to grow all of our peas for the year and Shane said, "Not going to happen." He told me the area of the garden his mom devotes to peas every summer and then added, "And we still always ended up buying peas." So maybe I won't grow all of our peas. But most of them? That would be awesome. I chose three varieties: one was described as "the most prolific variety", a variety that was actually named for my state (so I know it will grow well here), and a variety of snap pea.
Naturally, I had to look into what grows well in my climate. Root vegetables tend to be hardy enough to take it (potatoes, carrots, parsnips from my ever-shortening list) except sweet potatoes. I know that people do grow them here, but they usually do better in warmer climates. Since I only have limited gardening space, and since they're cheap to buy, I decided that it would be more worth my while to focus on other plants. Like cabbage. That's another one that keeps well, I really enjoy it when we have it, and it grows really well here. It's not really cost-effective to grow it from a start, but from seed it is. I won't grow too many cabbages, probably only 6 or so, but that should be enough for our needs. I'm going to try making my own saurkraut this year, just for fun.
Lastly, I wanted to focus on what it's good to have organically grown. Celery tops the list of foods which should be bought organically. It's not that much more expensive to buy organic celery (last time I checked, it was a difference of less than 20 cents) but I'd still rather grow it myself. Since it also matches many of the other categories (easy to grow, easy to store, comes from far away, etc.) I figured it would be worth it. A list I found online said to plant about 5 celery plants for each family member. I might not do that (celery seeds don't germinate all that well, so I might strike out on a bunch of them), but it really won't take up that much space in my garden so I might as well go for it.
The final thing I eliminated from my list which it would have made a lot of sense for me to grow were the peppers. They can be preserved (frozen or canned), they do grow here, they get shipped from far away, they're somewhat expensive to buy, and we eat a fair amount of them. So why didn't I buy any seeds? Mostly, it just came down to "too much". It seems strange, because it's just one more type of plant, but I felt that it might be overstretching myself this year. Peppers can grow here, but they don't always grow well, so I might have had to fuss with the plants. I also really wanted to focus on the plants that I am growing and not overextend my abilities. I'm still a novice gardener, so I'm working my way up to more difficult things. Plus, as I said before, I'd like to focus on the things we eat the most of. My three biggest crops this summer will probably be summer squash, carrots, tomatoes, peas, and potatoes because those are where my focus is.

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