There is some saying about idle hands and idle minds that I can't remember at the moment. But I'm thinking that both are poisonous. So, while I don't really want to be outside right now I am content to sit and think and type (nether idle mind or hands) (with my coffee). Last night I couldn't sleep...because I was thinking... The wind is going to blow tomorrow and I need to get water on the carrots and beets and peas and grapes. I could get some spinach and cabbage planted. I need to start hoeing weeds. What if the hoop houses blow away that just got planted and put up today. What if the greenhouse roof blows away..and on it went. And then I remembered that I have zero control over the wind and I fell asleep. (A trait I can thank both of my parents for...I rarely worry about things that are out of my control). Out in the garden at a calm 7:15 this morning I almost thought the weather folks were wrong but then the wind started blowing between 930 and 10 as predicted. About the same time I received a text from Krista cursing the wind. Our minds think alike. So she suggested maybe I could be constructive and write a blog today about the ridiculous Idaho spring weather. So I started thinking.
My first garden I planted at my parents house under my mother's expert watch. And I mean expert. After we planted the tomatoes and put up the cages she showed me how to protect them by cutting open black garbage bags and stapling them on and around the cages. Protecting the tomatoes from the wind and helping them keep warm by absorbing more heat. I was so disheartened when the first wind storm came through and somehow still managed to shred the poor leaves on my tomatoes. My mom told me not to worry they would be fine. And they were. (Plants are truly an incredible gift). Since then I have been more careful about where I plant certain crops and have tried different things in order to protect them. This is my first year building hoophouses. I literally said to my husband yesterday...Why have we never done this before, it is so easy... Lucky for us we had a great protected place to put them. So back to the Idaho wind... This is only one challenge that growers/gardeners face in Idaho. The wind can quickly sheer off established grain and that random April snow and few extra cold nights may cost them thousands of dollars to replant sugar beets. That is a risk that comes with farming and gardening. Until now I haven't given much thought to these risks in other parts of the country. Yes we hear about the freezing in Florida now we will have to pay more for oranges. Poor me I thought. Well that pretty much sucks big time for the orange grower. Now instead of complaining about the state of produce in the winter time I will be thankful that I have the option to buy produce. There has been a huge learning curve trying to figure out how to deal with these risks while growing produce. So here I am watching my hoop houses flap in the breeze and hoping it will calm down enough to allow me to put some frost cover on tonight (I hadn't even heard of frost cover until a few weeks ago when Krista introduced me). And regardless of what may or may not happen in the wind I can't help but think about some of the influential people in my life. My father in law (farmer), famous for asking "Well, did you learn something from it?" My Grandpa (farmer) who never had problems sleeping at night knowing that he had done everything he could do that day. And both of my parents (farmer and teacher) who shrugged their shoulders and said "it's not like you can do anything about it".
If you happen to spend a little time talking to Bonnie or me about plants, you will discover that we are both plant nerds. We love ALL kinds of plants and have worked in both public and private plant breeding programs. Here is a little education for your Monday on plant varieties and how we selected your vegetables for 2015.
Plant breeding is a fascinating field that sometimes gets a bad name because it can push the limits of publically accepted science. I think we can all get a little squeamish when talk of mutations, moving DNA across species and science fiction pictures pop up in the news. The basic principles of plant breeding are things that I think everybody would support.
A plant breeder is working to improve the quality of a plant – this could be yield, disease resistance, flavor, storage life, or nutritional quality (to name a few). This work started a LONG time ago when gatherers figured out which patches of wheat were easiest to harvest, which berries were sweetest and which root crops stored the best. Home gardeners do this today when they let flowers go to seed in the fall and the strongest ones germinate and grow in the spring. Breeding programs work every day to create varieties that will withstand the environments they are produced in and meet the high expectations of the consumer.
Let’s talk types of varieites…
Open pollinated – these varieties are pollinated by the wind, insects, birds or other natural mechanisms. These varieties will be the most genetically diverse and if left in the same environment will adapt to the local conditions over time. Cucumbers, tomatoes and squash could be open-pollinated garden vegetables.
Self pollinated – these varieties typically pollinate themselves. Chance outside pollen brought by insects or other means can increase the diversity of these varieties. Beans and peas are the most common in the vegetable garden.
Hybrid – these can get complicated but the simple concept is that two distinct varieties are used to create a stronger better variety – one variety is the pollen donor to the other. Different crops have different hybrid schemes to make the best varieties. Garden examples include cucumbers and tomatoes!
Heirlooms – it seems that individuals classify these differently depending on their goals. Some will argue that an heirloom must be open-pollinated (not a hybrid) others classify it by the length it has been in production (50 years). I would suggest that there are some amazing hybrids that have been in production for over 50 years that just might be an heirloom variety! A note on heirlooms – we love some of them BUT know that in many cases modern plant breeding has developed improved varieties that we choose over an heirloom. Bonnie tracked down 1 of the 2 varieties of pumpkins that have been developed specifically for pumpkin seeds. Not an heirloom but definitely something we want in our garden!
GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) – an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering. GMO varieties can be beneficial to growers depending on their production practices and markets and can be beneficial to consumers in terms of quality and cost of products. Production on our scale really isn’t where these are beneficial…and there are few GMO vegetables available through our sources.
The science behind GMO’s is changing the future of agriculture and our food sources EVEN if not all accept or consume GMO products. GMO research is bringing new non-GMO varieties to the market! Our understanding of DNA and genes is allowing plant breeders to screen traditionally bred varieties more quickly and understand traits that will be so important to all of us in the future. Think big here…DROUGHT TOLERANCE! We live in southern Idaho – reducing water use is a big deal.
So, what will be in your basket this summer? All of them minus the GMO’s. To be brief – let’s just talk tomatoes. We have about 20 different varieties of tomatoes that we started this past weekend. We have open-pollinated, hybrids and heirlooms. We choose some because we knew they were early varieties and we want you to have tomatoes as soon as possible!!! Some have amazing flavor but will be late season. For the canners we looked for great salsa and sauce tomatoes that were heavy producers. We wanted slicers, saucers, cherries and canning… No single variety can provide it all. So thankful for the amateur and professional plant breeders that provide us with the diversity we need and desire!