Several years ago I travelled to Decorah, Iowa to visit Seed Savers Exchange‘s Heritage Farm for the first time. Before I went, I looked at their calendar of events to find that the annual tomato tasting competition would take place the same weekend. Cool, right? Hmmm, questionable for a guy who hates the taste of nearly every raw tomato. But a little “When in Rome” hit me. I figured, love it or hate it, I needed to participate along with the scores of other people there. It would make for a great story, to say the least. (I’d like to point out that of the 49 tomatoes in the competition — all of which I tasted — I helped pick the winner: the Igleheart Yellow Cherry Tomato.)
Do the places you shop for food carry 49 different tomato varieties? Or how many of the roughly 10,000 – 15,000 varieties that exist in the world?
I love gardening. And I love the real, good food that grows from soil I helped build. I especially love the numerous varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers I can grow because I use a diversity of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. In fact, I’ve been known to have between 30 and 50 varieties of plant-life vying for space in my raised beds as well as pots of various sizes placed throughout my backyard.
When I step into my garden, I don’t only envision the harvests. My imagination also runs wild at the life forms around me. For instance, when a baby potato plant pops up through the soil, it reminds me of Oscar the Grouch. When a bean seedling casts off its protective shell, I think it looks like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. And I can’t help but see squash plants — from seedling to adulthood — as some sorts of alien creatures.
Years ago, a former intern and I were talking about our love of growing our own food. We each shared our gardening practices. He chuckled at one point and said that one time he had an unused patch of soil in his plot. He decided to mix a bunch of diverse seeds in his hands, shake ’em up, and then cast them into the vacant soil. While not every seed grew, enough did to make his experiment a success. I imagine he likely had some great salads and several warm-weather vegetable plants to pick from.
Sure. There are a lot of rules you can follow to garden well and grow good food. But before feeling you need to know everything, simply decide to garden. Know that you too can experiment. Learn as you go along. Be easy on yourself.