52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Project #14: Choosing seeds to grow all our vegetables for six months of the year
The big moment has arrived. The moment I’m sure you have all been eagerly waiting for.
It’s time to start farming!
I’ve preserved, canned, knit, made candles, grown microgreens…you know the list…and although they could all be considered homesteading skills – I still don’t feel like a homesteader. But soon that will all change.
It’s seed catalog season and I’m gearing up for a garden that will go down in history as the year I grew all my vegetables for the entire…I really want to scream YEAR, but a more realistic goal is half the year since I’m a beginner working with sub par soil.
Nevertheless growing enough vegetables for six months will still be a huge feat for me and my family who are all very supportive of this goal and definitely think it is achievable based on our past experiences.
Did I mention my success as a gardener is limited to mostly killing plants and that I have yet to successfully grow a bumper crop of anything except those things my family really doesn’t want to eat. Take cabbage and zucchini, for example. I have a feeling we may be eating mostly fruit and meat for six months.
To be fair, I have purchased seed before, but this is the first time I will be buying enough vegetable seed to feed our family of four for six months of the year from August 1 to January 31.
Although I am by no means an expert, here are a few tips I’ve learned about purchasing seed.
Grow what you love
It may seem like a good idea to try growing your own brussel sprouts but it won’t be if your brussel sprouts stay on the stalk to rot because it turns out brussel sprouts really aren’t your family’s favourite. Just so you know our family has never done anything so wasteful – at least not more than a couple times.
And I know how cool collards, kohlrabi and fava beans sound, but think carefully about your family’s reaction when they are staring at it on their dinner plate possibly for the sixth night in a row.
Beware of seed catalogs
One of the best seed choosing tips I have ever received is from Alyson Chisholm from Windy Hill Organic Farm in McKees Mills, New Brunswick during one of her excellent organic gardening courses, which will be held again this March on Saturday mornings.
When you are perusing all of these enticing seed catalogs and trying to figure out which of the amazing vegetables you should grow (because they will all sound amazing) read between the lines.
For example, if the catalog says a cucumber is vigorous and has excellent disease resistance, but doesn’t mention anything about its great taste, there is a good chance it is not the most delicious variety. And vice versa.
So if the catalog raves about its sweet flavour and beautiful colouring, but mentions nothing about disease tolerance, it’s most likely not.
What this means is you have to decide what’s most important to you. For me, it’s taste. I will choose the tastiest variety over disease resistance, early maturing, high yielding, etc. Hmmm…maybe this is one of the reasons why my garden is nothing to rave about.
Beginners should stick to the basics
If you aren’t careful, you can easily spend hundreds of your gardening dollars just on seeds. I ordered over 80 seed packets and plants for my first small garden. I’m not joking. I planted everything from skirret and sea kale to soapwort (because I was, of course, going to dry the roots and make homemade soap. As you have likely guessed that never happened, but I had dreams…oh so many dreams for that little garden.)
I have since learned that it is best for beginners to start with the basics and branch out as both you and your garden grow.
Here are a few of our family’s favourite seed choices that I hope you will enjoy as well:
Kimberlee’s top pick:
Mystery Keeper Tomatoes from Mapple Farm in Weldon, New Brunswick
Every single cold climate gardener should have Mystery Keeper tomatoes in their garden. You know the picture of my mozzarella cheese from last week’s post? The featured tomato is from my garden. We’re in January and I still have fresh tomatoes to chop up and use in salads or on top of pizza.
You don’t even have to keep them in any special storage conditions. I simply keep mine on my kitchen counter.
No, they are not the best tasting tomatoes I’ve ever had, but they are very good and they save me from having to spend hours and hours water bath canning or buying tasteless, expensive tomatoes at the store during the off season.
The key to success is to harvest them after they begin to lighten from their greenest stage AND before frost hits. Harvest them at the wrong time and they will not keep well.
One of the strange things about keeper tomatoes is that they ripen from the inside out. So on the outside they may look orange or pink, but inside you will find ripe red flesh.
Jeremie’s top pick:
We grow tonnes of carrots in our garden because they are easy to grow in our poor soil, which we are still trying to remedy, and can simply be stored in the soil until ready to use.
If you have kids, or even if you don’t, you should try growing carrots in a rainbow of colours because it’s fun and they’re tasty. This year I ordered the coloured carrot collection from Veseys, which contains purple, white, yellow, and light and dark orange varieties. We have had great success, especially with the Rainbow carrot in our clay soil. Typically carrots fork in hard soil, but these guys are extremely tough and grow nice long roots even when we’ve had to dig them out.
Ella’s top pick:
Aunt Molly’s Organic Ground Cherries
Ella doesn’t like tomatoes, but she loves ground cherries, which I would describe as tropical tomatoes with a hint of pineapple taste. Each plant produces loads of these cherry sized delights in a Chinese lantern like wrapper. They can be preserved, but the kids eat them even before I can bring them in the house.
Jack’s top pick:
Honey and Cream Corn
Jack simply likes corn so I think his pick has more to do with his favourite garden food than with the actual variety. Nevertheless the corn was tasty and best of all – it grew! This was the third summer I’ve tried growing corn using different varieties and this is the first year I’ve had success. So yes, I will be growing Honey and Cream again.
These are the best tasting tomatoes I’ve ever had. They are little balls of pure sugary delight that rarely make it into the kitchen. Instead they are gobbled up on the vine and fought over. My mom introduced me to these bright orange, cherry sized fruits last year and they quickly became our family favourite tomato.
My kids only eat salad greens when I force them to, but they both love this perennial leafy herb. Probably because it doesn’t taste like a salad green, but like lemon sour candy. It is one of those herbs that is easy to grow – so beware.
And finally – some news! Donkeys and chickens are coming to the farm. Sadly, they do not belong to us. Over the next few months a family of farmers will be living next door while their home is being repaired. They are currently fixing up a space in our barn for their animals. I’m hoping they’ll teach me a few things while they are here and then use the space for our own animals this spring. Stay tuned!