Essex Farm Note
Week 4, 2015
It’s seed order day. We’ve been perusing the catalogs for a few weeks but that was just window shopping. I thought you might be interested to know what goes into the decisions we make when we choose types of produce, the variety and the quantity.
The first considerations are taste, production, and suitability. If a variety is described as clearly superior in taste, nearly failsafe in lots of different growing conditions, or ‘the standard’ for commercial growers (a favorite seed catalogue phrase) it is a likely choice. We also look for plants resistant to the blights that tend to plague us. We have a short growing season here in the north country, 100 days from frost to frost, so we often choose the varieties that mature fastest. We also like varieties that will get us eating fresh vegetables as early as possible in the season, and varieties that will store well through the winter and into the spring.
Another consideration is distribution of labor. With some plants, like potatoes, the ratio of labor in to calories out is astonishingly good. Others suck up labor all the way through the growing season. They must be started in the greenhouse and transplanted or take a lot of labor to harvest. We have to be careful not to overdo it with the labor-suckers. We usually sneak in a few hail Mary crops that only succeed in years when the conditions are perfect for that plant. Celery is one example. Popcorn is an another. This year, we might try a little okra, which will yield well only if we have a blazing hot summer.
The last thing we consider is price. The cost of seed is significant but as a percentage of the investment in a crop (that is, compared to the labor that will go into it from planting to eating) it is small. So, unless a cheaper seed seems just as good or better than a more expensive one, we don’t shop seeds on price. Neither do we privilege heritage or open-pollinated varieties over hybrids if the hybrid looks likely to give us better results. The crop that really sold me on hybrids way back when was cabbage. We’d grown an open pollinated variety for a few years, and it was OK, and then we grew a hybrid (called, un-poetically, Storage #4), and it was easier to grow, tasted better, and yielded almost exponentially more. Hybrids are pricey but I don’t mind paying the plant breeders for all those extra benefits.
Speaking of cabbage, Jori and her band of helpers spent much of the week at the Grange’s community kitchen, making kim chi and sauerkraut. The kim chi should be ready in about four weeks, the kraut in six to eight. I can’t wait to eat those good fermented friends. In other news, Pancake is finally fully porcine. He has two young pigs living with him in the greenhouse now. They have taught him to push and shove for food like a normal pig. He is still friendly but he and Mary are no longer good playmates. Once there were other pigs in the picture their play took on a rough, serious edge, and I won’t allow it. I still can’t quite believe this vigorous young hog is the same flat little guy who couldn’t even hold his head up when we found him. Here’s to life, the daily magic that never gets old. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this chicken-soup 4th week of 2015.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball