It’s All A Matter Of Balance
I’m a pragmatist, more than a purist when it comes to my garden. Each year I’m looking for the best harvest possible so that we can preserve as much of it as we can for the coming season. We try to keep a minimum of a year’s supply of food in our pantry and freezers (Not counting the 3 months of freeze-dried stuff we have in case of the *Zombie Apocalypse*).
In order to accomplish this year after year, we have to make sure we’re growing the right crops and in the right quantities to keep the larders full. Many of the highest yielding varieties of vegetables are hybrids, rather than heirloom. I do not shy away from planting hybrid seeds (gasp!).
Hybrids are not inherently evil. Most of the world’s fruit trees are hybrids. Heck, they’re actually more like chimeras, with one type grafted onto another.
Hybrid vegetable varieties are not to be confused with GMO products. For generations, farmers and gardeners have labored to create their own hybrids, and then work until they get them to produce true. Once that happens, a new heirloom is born.
GMO seeds have had outside agents introduced into the DNA to change the nature of the seed. A good example is ‘Round Up ready’ corn. The corn is modified via the laboratory rather than the potting shed to make it resistant to Round Up herbicide.
We avoid GMOs like the plague around our place, but we don’t run from hybrids. Hybrids help keep us fed.
Around our little homestead, we spend part of the cold winter months planning our garden for the new year. We decide what we will need and what varieties we will plant. We will look through our seeds to see what we have an abundance of and what we need to order.
We normally order two years’ worth of seeds at a time. What we don’t use, we’ll vacuum seal and put in the freezer. This method saves us money, because seed prices only move in one direction and it isn’t down.
We begin with our heirloom varieties. Most of these we buy from Victory Seed Company. There are many other excellent heirloom and open pollinated seed suppliers. You should do your research and find one that fits your goals. We have chosen Victory as our primary supplier, because they have consistently provided us an excellent product at a good price, followed by outstanding service.
Each year we also look through every seed catalog we get to determine if there are new varieties we need to try. Also, Victory does not provide all the things we grow, like Jolokia peppers, so we need to get them elsewhere. We scour the catalogs and internet to find everything we want and need.
After the heirloom seeds are purchased, we look for promising hybrids. This year, for example, in addition to our usual Roma tomatoes, we’re trying a hybrid paste tomato that promises larger fruit and a more prolific harvest. The larger the harvest, the more we can set aside.
The difference is, we don’t save seeds from our hybrids. We know that hybrids don’t produce true in the next generation. We do, however, save some seeds from our heirloom varieties. By using a combination of purchased and saved seeds, we minimize the risk of inbreeding and reduced production.
The criteria we use for which seeds to save are simple. We will save seeds from the most productive plants of the most productive varieties. If one of my Jalapeno plants is particularly vigorous (of course, most Jalapenos are), I will choose a couple of peppers from that one to save seeds from, rather than choosing one randomly.
Conversely, if a plant is sparse with its fruit, I will absolutely not save seeds from it. I had a Black Krim tomato from a certain company a few years ago that just didn’t produce fruit. The plants grew like crazy and looked gorgeous. Plenty of flowers appeared, but they did not pollinate. I only got one or two tomatoes from each plant. I did not save any seeds from those tomatoes. The next year, I sourced my Black Krim from a different supplier.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we’re kind of inconsistent with the seed saving, and we’ve had inconsistent results. We’ve had decent luck with beans, squash and cantaloupe, but not great results from peppers and tomatoes. The deficiency is user error rather than the concept of seed saving. We are getting better at it, but aren’t where we need to be yet.
There is no shame in buying your seeds. At some point, you will want to learn to save them, because self-sufficiency, by definition, means you supply your own seeds. But prepping can, and in our case does, include purchased, stored seeds.
It’s also ok to purchase starter plants from a nursery or garden center, and we buy a few every year just to see how they do compared to those we start from seeds. You’ll save a ton of money, though, starting from seeds. It’s easy to do. A simple Google search will give you loads of ideas. Try them all. We did. Right now, I have seedlings in my greenhouse that were started in vermiculite, some in coconut coir, some in a commercial planting mix and some in a homemade mix. Never be afraid to experiment. That’s how you learn. Make your gardening fun. Heck, make the whole prepping experience fun. Life is too short to be so serious all the time.
Buy seeds or save seeds. There is no wrong way. You need to find YOUR way. We choose ‘all the above’. How about you? What are your preferences? We’d love to hear from you. The more ideas, the better.