For those of you who follow Our Edible Suburb blog, this will be somewhat old news, but for the rest of you, please be informed that we will not be growing heirloom seeds again…ever!
This year we made the move from hybrids to heirlooms in hopes of saving seeds for future gardening endeavors. It was all a part of a greater plan to become as self-sufficient as possible right here in the ‘burb. For weeks Sam and I debated as to how to go about this new phase of gardening. We read articles and blogs written by heirloom growers. We researched all the varieties we were interested in to see which ones were the most prolific and reliable. And we discussed the issue to death. Do we just start with a few heirlooms this year to see how they do, or do we commit and make the move fully? Logic would dictate only trying a few heirlooms to see what the results are. But we’re not always logical here at East of Eden Farms. And this year we’re gonna pay for that error in judgment, for sure.
We planted our seeds back in early January (inside, of course), hoping the weather would cooperate with us and we’d be able to get everything out by early April. Unfortunately, even if the weather had followed our plan we wouldn’t have been ready – the seeds took off like molasses in the dead of winter, despite the use of heat mats. By the first of March the seedlings were barely 6 inches tall and only had a few spindly branches and some tiny leaves. The center stems were weak and fragile. By mid-March we suffered our first bout of wind damage for the year. Now, that’s not the heirloom’s fault I know, but the fact that the plants were so fragile compounded the devastation.
The tiny seedlings went out into the garden the third week of April – ready or not, they had to be planted if we had any hopes of a crop. For a couple of weeks the plants seemed to thrive in their EarthBoxes and buckets. Several of the plants took an amazing growth spurt and we began to hope that things were going to turn around. And then, out of nowhere, the plants started to yellow, and the leaves started to curl and crisp up. We weren’t over or under watering. They had plenty of good organic matter in the soil. They were getting healthy doses of Epsom salts and organic fertilizer on a regular basis. The soil was pest and disease free when we planted. What was happening???? Sam attempted a rescue mission – he trimmed and pruned and snipped diseased branches. We applied a folliar calcium spray. We adjusted our watering and fertilizer routine. And still nothing. The plants continued to decay.
Then the storms started. After three years of serious drought in Georgia, the heavens have opened up and we’ve been getting average rainfall, which feels like monsoon season, comparatively speaking. The wind has been the most damaging though. These fragile plants have broken and twisted and sagged. The few plants that were producing tomatoes couldn’t take the gales and their branches snapped, despite all our careful staking and tying.
It looks like we may have enough tomatoes for ourselves, but our hopes for a farm stand seem to be disappearing as quickly as our crop. And to be fair, it’s not just the tomatoes that are doing poorly. Nearly everything else we’ve planted has struggled. Our peppers are small, and not very spicy. Our tomatillos are sparse. The cantaloupes are not setting fruit (this may have as much to do with the decline in the bee population as it has to do with the fact that we used heirloom seeds). Our squash have not produced nearly as prolifically as we’d expected. And the cucumbers have all but died.
So never again! As disturbing as it is to us to have to rely on hybrid seeds we can’t risk the harvest because of it. If we have any real hopes of making this farming thing work – and of providing healthy, beyond organic produce to the community we have to have a hearty, reliable, abundant crop of veggies. So for those of you who were hoping for a CSA or a farm stand this summer, I hate to disappoint you, but I fear that any produce we have to sell will be late in the season, if at all. But next year, I promise things will be different! Don’t give up on us – stay tuned.