A polar vortex is swirling down upon the last of bit of green vegetation in the unheated greenhouse at the farm. I planted this coz lettuce in the hydroponic unit in October, thinking it would spring to life much like the Bibb lettuce did last March. Not so. The cos lettuce grew slowly to about 4 inches tall, then stalled. When we drained the hydroponic set-up, I transplanted a half dozen plants still in their net pots to a soil bed under glass. The plants haven’t grown a great deal but they are giving the odd leaf or two for sandwiches, which is a treat, considering there is about 4 inches of snow on the ground outside and I don’t want to talk about the temperature! I’m also still picking a bit of fresh dill, though its feathery fronts are slowly succumbing to the cold and there’s a rather sad little mini cabbage about the size of a tennis ball lingering in a corner box. Still, there’s enough there to inspire me to new heights of cold weather growing.
I’ve been perusing my favorite reference, the 1908 edition of Sutton and Sons’ The Culture of Vegetables and Flowers from Seeds and Roots. With its talk of great glass houses and extensive gardens, this British gardening book harks back to Downton Abbeyesque estates and large market gardens. Still, there is always something of interest and useful to the modern organic grower. The monthly note for December leads off, “Only the idle or the half-hearted gardener will complain that he [she] has no work to do in the short dark days of this month.” The entry goes on to suggest that this month is the time to put things in order and do some planning for spring.
The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) website is a terrific time sink on a cold day. Each tantalizing listing leads to yet another small seed supplier committed to breeding unpatented, open pollinated seeds that enable growers to explore and preserve the genetic diversity of seeds, which is the backbone of heritage seed preservation. Buyers are free to continue to develop and these seeds for desired characteristics, and local growing conditions.
Two independent seed companies who are members of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) are on my list to try in 2017, mostly for their freely available information on four season gardening. Victory Seeds is a family-owned business based in Oregon offering open-pollinated seed varieties. One stand-out among the tomatoes was Isbell’s New Phenomenal (1933), which is a name nearly as appealing as the Mortgage Lifter (1920s). Another tempting variety bred for organics is Fertile Valley Seeds’ Beef-Bush Brown Resilient dry bean.
It certainly is easier to reach for varieties already bred for specific conditions, such as hydroponic and high tunnel growing. But in the darkest week of the year, taking a virtual trip through the many “freed seeds” available through OSSI member seed companies. If you have an interest in using these varieties join me in a walk through the OSSI website and let me know what you find!
Email your discoveries to ElizabethShipmeadow@gmail.com.