Diversify, Diversify!

Usually, people associate the word “diversify” with something that’s done in a stock portfolio….or maybe, it just stuck with me from my days working in the industry…  Nowadays, I see the importance and relevance of diversity in all facets of life.

The first association that pops into my mind now has to do with food (of course!)   Because we grow so much of our own food ourselves, I have spent alot of time learning about plant cultivars and seeds.  I start the majority of our garden from seed, including the heirloom tomatoes, unusual beans and old-variety carrots and squashes.   One thing that I do look for, where possible, is open pollinated (ie. non-hybrid) varieties.  This means that I can save seeds from this year’s plants to sow next year.  I’ll be writing about that later in the season.  As well, if we were to limit our garden vegetables to the plants that are provided at most grocery stores or garden centres, we would be limited to only a few varieties of tomatoes, probably 2 varieties of peas, and 4 or 5 types of beans.   I am happy to say that I am finding more heirloom seeds and plants at our local garden centre.

Green “Taxi” tomato

Yellow Brandywine

This year, I am growing (only) 6 varieties of tomatoes, but they have been specially chosen for their diverse flavours, growing times, and heat requirements.  This diversity will enable me to enjoy the low-acid taste of the medium sized yellow “Taxi” tomatoes (which have started setting tomatoes already!)  weeks ahead of the also-early Grightmire’s Pride rosy tomato.  Following about a week later will be the gorgeous orange/red/yellow mottled large “Old German” tomatoes.  “Manitoba” is a short-season variety that will take cooler nights, and the Amish Paste tomatoes will be providing us with  fleshy fruit that will be used for paste, spaghetti sauces and salsa.  “Yellow Brandywine” tomatoes also have yellow flesh, and the leaves look more like potato leaves than tomatoes.  The cherry tomatoes are blooming now, too, and will be tasty snacks as we stroll through the gardens and greenhouse.

(Is your mouth watering yet?  Because that was only the tomatoes!)

I have greatly diversified our bean and pea varieties this year, too.  Three types of peas went into the ground. The first seeded were the “Avalanche” snow peas, which we are enjoying out of the greenhouse already.  Next were the “Aladdin”, which is a shelling type pea, but is heat tolerant and resistant to powdery mildew – it is one of my favourite varieties.

Avalanche Snow Peas – great name, given they’re “snow” peas!

Seeded last were the “Super Sugar Snap” peas, which can be eaten whole or shelled when fuller.  Not only are these three varieties offering different flavours/types, they are allowing us to enjoy the peas over a longer period of time, because they all have different maturation dates and heat preferences.

Rows of bush and drying beans

The last few years, I have grown pole-type beans, because it’s sure alot easier to pick beans standing up, rather than hunched over a row.  This year, I have planted “Romano” heirloom beans.  It is one of the first to produce in the summer and will keep on going until frost, provided I keep them picked.  I did plant some bush beans, “Blue Lake” and “Igloo”, which is good for early vigour and can take cooler temperatures (not an issue in the May we just had, but I will seed them again to get a late summer crop).  The beans I am really excited about this year are the drying bean varieties.  “French Horticultural” is  a beautiful rose and yellow bean,and has been grown since the 1800’s!  Another exciting variety is an organic “Orca” bean, originally from Mexico.  The bean is as the name suggests, black and white…absolutely gorgeous!  Lastly, I put in some “Dark Red Kidney” beans, for our winter chilis.

Twenty years ago, I would have planted only two varieties of beans, a simple yellow and a green bush bean, both maturing around the same time.  This year, I will have some beans ready in under two months’ time, with the taller, pole-type Romanos ready two weeks later.  The drying beans will probably be the last to harvest, as I will have to wait for the plants to start to dry down…  6 bean varieties, wow!

I could go on with all the other plants, but I’ll finish up with my lettuce/salad greens.  Diversifying the salad bowl has been the most fun, because it is the most colourful, and we eat salads every day.  A great way to diversify is to buy a Mesclun seed mix.  This traditional Southern French salad blend contains curly endive, various lettuces, chervil, arugula and chicory – all great greens to kick-start our bodies in the spring.  I also started Corn Salad, Butterhead types, and some Romaine.  For the hotter months of summer, there is a great salad mix called “Bon Vivant”, specially selected leaf lettuces which are heat tolerant and mature in about a month.  All these different varieties mean wonderful flavour and colour varieties in the salad bowl.  As well, each different “green” has it’s specific minerals and vitamins that it contributes.  Our daughter tells us that she simply cannot eat at a restaurant salad bar any more, when all they offer is bland iceberg or plain romaine lettuce….she has gotten used to the diverse and nutritional taste of the ones we grow at home!  I also grow Swiss Chard, two varieties of kale and “Bull’s Blood” beets (big tops, tiny beets) which are tossed into our lettuce mix.

Black Nero kale and Mesclun Salad Mix, in the greenhouse.

Bull’s Blood beets

Now, I have to admit, I am extremely fortunate to have so much space for our gardens, as well as a greenhouse.  Our unheated greenhouse allowed me to start seeding at the beginning of April this year, and we were enjoying greens and herbs in a month’s time.  As well, it is the space outdoors that allows me to have so many varieties of vegetables.  If you are limited on space, by all means, be creative like my friend Wendy in Maine.  She uses creativity and resourcefulness to put out as much food as she can from their small lot using container gardens, and ingenious growing methods.  They even manage to have rabbits and chickens!

So that’s my take on diversifying in the vegetable garden.  There are so many unusual and interesting varieties out there.  West Coast Seeds and William Dam Seeds are my two favourite seed catalogues, offering heirloom, untreated, open pollinated and organic seeds.  They do also have the common varieties you may have become fond of.  It’s still early in the season.  If you have the space, it’s not too late to try a new vegetable variety.  Diversify your garden, your taste buds will thank you for it!

P.S.  Most of all these yummy vegetables will be available at the farmers’ markets I do:  Inglewood Farmers’ Market, Wednesdays 3:30 to 7 pm, starting June 20, and Elora Farmers’ Market, Saturdays from 9 to 1 pm, Bissel Park Elora, running now.  Hope to see you there!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Mmm, can’t wait to see all of these deliciously diverse items at the market!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Nana Brautigam on March 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    A small vegetable garden in your own backyard can bring you many benefits. Not only will you realize the creative benefits of gardening, you will grow fresh produce for your family and the local food pantry. Gardening can be a family affair with your children acquiring gardening skills that can be passed on to their own children.*

    Reply

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