How Does Your Garden Grow?

3 tips for choosing seeds, and where to find them

By SHARE

No matter how long I've been growing food, I still find myself from time to time standing in awe of the fact that what starts as a tiny seed one day becomes a beautiful, nutritious fruit or vegetable. It barely seems possible, yet it happens. Perhaps you are planting your first garden now and are looking forward to experiencing this. Seeing any seed grow is remarkable, of course, and if that is your whole objective, then plant whatever you want. However, there are some specific reasons that giving your seed choice a bit more thought can improve your gardening experience.

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Eat + Run -- Farmer D

1. Grow something you can't buy. Purple carrots. Lemon cucumbers. Striped tomatoes. These are all fun varieties to grow in a home garden that you typically cannot find in a supermarket. There is nothing more frustrating than spending time, energy, money, and possibly even some prayer growing a hum-drum, commercially-available crop variety to then discover that you could have bought it at any store, and for less. When you grow a variety that is not commercially available or even available at your local farmers market, it's not only interesting but it is truly priceless. It's also a nice way to engage children more, and an easier way to "eat a rainbow" every day.

2. Grow something with a story. Many of those fun varieties are what are called heirloom seeds. These are seeds that have been passed down generation to generation. In fact, many of them were carried across oceans or over mountains as security for a bountiful harvest and culturally-appropriate food in a new home, or were developed to improve crop outcomes by horticulturists. Many heirloom crops also have a higher nutritional value than commercial crops, which are bred for their ability to withstand a 3,000-mile journey in a refrigerated truck rather than for flavor and nutrition.

Why grow any old bean when you can grow the Lazy Housewife bean, introduced in the early 1800s as the first snap bean that didn't need to have its string removed? When you go from plot to pot without a stop to de-string, you may feel a connection to generations from long ago and grateful for the little savings in time this bean affords. What's more, seeds with stories like that are great ways to make history come alive for children.

3. Grow something with seeds you can save. Saving seeds from fruits and vegetables you grow not only saves you money, but over time, the seeds you save and grow again and again acclimate to your specific growing conditions, making them ultimately custom-tailored for your garden. Plants grown from hybrid seeds are either sterile or do not reproduce true to form, however, and therefore are not good choices for seed saving. So if you like the idea of seed saving, look for open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds. Another benefit of seed saving is knowing you are helping to preserve these heirloom varieties for generations to come.

Popular choices for open-pollinated heirloom seeds include Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny's, Seeds of Change, Fedco, High Mowing Seeds, and Botanical Interests, all of which you can order online or may be able to find at garden centers or boutique supermarkets such as Whole Foods. Once you start connecting with other local gardeners, you may want to ask about (or start) a seasonal seed swap of either extra packaged seeds people aren't using, or ones they saved from last year and want to share. The truth of the matter is that one big honeydew melon will yield a whole lot of seeds just ripe for sharing!

Speaking of sharing, be sure to let me know what seeds you've chosen to plant this year, or what some of your favorite heirloom seed varieties already are. Tune in next week and I'll share some tips about setting up a home composting system.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Daron Joffe is a 30-something eco-entrepreneur who lives to make a difference in the world one homegrown organic fruit and vegetable at a time. Known as "Farmer D," Joffe has grown food for celebrities, private communities, and elementary schools in his "town-by-town mission to re-energize the food culture." His products are sold at select Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma stores. Born in South Africa and based in Atlanta, Farmer D is online at www.farmerD.com.