Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wanted: A Few Good Seeds

One of the main problems I have recently experienced with gardening is success. Though the thought of success being a problem may sound ridicules to some of you, those of you in more hospitable climates might understand. When I experience success with one kind of vegetable I look out at the vegetable landscape and start wanting to try something new. I believe that this is directly related to the quote by Thomas Cooper, who stated that, “A garden is never so good as it will be next year”.

When there are vegetables that grow well enough, some are left to ask, why change things? For me, the ideal vegetable is something that fits the needs of the gardener and his family. The three things I look for in my vegetables are: adaptability, palatability and sustainability. Any other plant that grows in the garden can, in part, be considered a weed.

Brocolli requires an early start if direct-seeding is desired
Adaptability is high on my list of important components to growing vegetables. If a plant can neither survive the occasional freezing temperatures during the winter or thrive in the sweltering heat of the summer, then I do not even think of growing it. Though leafy greens can produce enough food to warrant their space in the garden during the winter, the short days can make it difficult to grow long-season crops by direct seeding, such as heads of cabbage or broccoli. On the other extreme, the terrible heat of the summer makes it very difficult for me to grow anything that requires babying. Excessively caring for plants creates a relationship with the plant and gardener where both parties suffer for minimal returns. This is because the plant struggles to thrive in a climate it wasn’t made for while the gardener struggles to keep the plant alive. My lack of desire to grow plants that require intensive care eliminates rhubarb, asparagus and many tomato varieties from my summer growing list. Another aspect of adaptation has to do with pests and disease. If a cucumber or tomato vine does not outgrow pests and disease that keep it from producing fruit then there is really no point in growing that cultivar.

Chinese long beans grow well, but can require blanching
Once I am able to grow a plant, the next important question I must answer is: will anyone in my family eat it? Cactus grows just dandy in Tucson, but unless I have javelina (or peccary) for children I’m not planning on serving cactus every night. Chinese long beans, okra, Malabar spinach and eggplant also grow well in Tucson’s heat, but the texture of most of these vegetables requires excessive time to prepare in order for any of these vegetable to wet my children’s appetite. Cooking time, along with taste and texture are some the factors that make it difficult for me to experiment too much with vegetables that would be more appreciated in the compost pile then on the dinner menu. The desire to select more palatable is the main reason why I have recently taken to growing a lot of sweet potatoes and cucumber-melons.

Once I can grow and eat a vegetable variety, the next thing I consider is my ability to sustain this vegetable – in the long run. By sustain I mean my ability to grow plants and seed that I can use for human consumption, year after year. Food production is one aspect of sustainability for me. I give a lot in garden compost and inputs and I expect a lot back. I do not consider plants in my garden that dither or tend to produce little as sustainable food crops. A second aspect of sustainable vegetable varieties include those that store well, or have seeds that store well. Lastly, open-pollinated seeds that grow true-to-type enable me to become more self-sufficient. Hybrid tomato plants may feed my family for a year, but if I plant the next generation of tomatoes - which exhibit none of the good traits of the parent plants – then I must buy more seed from seed companies to sustain my family.

I'm looking for a short-season long storage onion
With the goals of adaptability, palatability and sustainability in mind I am looking for some specific vegetable varieties. For a while I have been looking for a short season long-storage onion. I am currently trialing Red Creole, though I am sure that there are other onion varieties available just waiting to be discovered. I am also looking for a green manure grain for a summer crop over my winter garden. I have been contemplating growing milo sorghum for both gluten-free food and as a cover crop in my winter garden. However, I have heard it can be a real pain to thresh. Another vegetable I am looking for is a sweet mild radish. With how well I can grow radishes, it is too bad that my family doesn’t like the hot ones. It seems that every time I grow radishes there is no way to predict which will be mild and which will be hot. This fact leads me to wonder if spiciness is even a trait that can actually be bred out of radishes.

As you can see - we don't care much for spicy radishes!
The last thing that I am seeking for is a bush and vine variety of green bean (or Phaseolus vulgaris) that is resistant to lace bugs. Lace bugs have devastated my previous green bean plants, but have never touched my Chinese Long beans or Purple Hyacinth beans. The problem with the latter cultivars is that I get tired of blanching the beans in salt-water to make them palatable for my family. After a while of blanching I get tired of picking the beans and then I have another problem on my hands – having to process dry bean seeds!

I believe my desire to introduce vegetable varieties that are more suited to my needs is a good thing, as long as I choose to be satisfied with what I can grow now. Should you know of any good onion, radish, or bean that fits the description above, please let me know. In the interim, I’ll keep scouring my gardening catalogs and asking growers if they have seen any of the vegetable cultivars I’m looking for.

A few of my seed cataloges


  1. You have hit upon the requirements I think all of us require...of course my adaptability, palatability and sustainability are different for my climate, my family and my desire for production. Without these 3 important things we are doomed to lots of time and little satisfaction in our veg gardens...I have been looking for the perfect tomatoes, peppers, beans, beets and the list goes on as each year I hone in on those perfect veggies for my garden....great post!

    1. Thank you so much for your reply and your support, Donna. What kinds of veggies are you looking for? Perhaps I have something that fits the bill. (=

  2. Native seeds in Tuscon had Rattlesnake beans that are supposed to do well in hot weather, not sure about the bug issue though. We live in Las Vegas and have the same type weather as Tuscon. We grow long beans and roast them in the oven. If you cover the pan while cooking they steam and are very good.

    1. Dear Peggy,
      Thank you so much for your comment!
      I have been thinking about getting some rattlesnake beans soon. I'm trying a purple variety that a friend gave to me first. I have tried the Chinese Long beans in baking as well as steaming them. Both ways my family decided that, unless they are blanched in saltwater, the taste is reminiscent of overcooked asparagus.

  3. I have heard good things about the l'itoi onions at Native Seed Search. I just started growing them myself this year, so I can't tell you much about the long term durability, but the folks in the Tucson Backyard Garden Facebook group tell me they do really well in our climate and are good at self-propogating. They appear to be quite popular with people "in the know."


Dear Gardening Friends,
I look forward to learning more about gardening with you. Your comments help me recognize that gardening is a life-long journey.

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