The first time I looked through an heirloom vegetable catalog, I thought all the different varieties of vegetables were pretty. That was it -- just pretty. I had no idea that it was important to plant a variety of the same vegetables. I didn't know that bugs find some varieties more or less palatable than others. I was clueless about garden diseases. I thought that maybe some varieties do better in one climate than another, so I ordered a few different types of each vegetable, having no idea which ones might do best in my state. I ordered tomatoes based on color and size, but with the other vegetables, I was really winging it.
Looking at my green beans and hearing Michael Pollan say that nature abhors a monoculture, I finally had an epiphany. The two pictures in today's blog post are both green bean plants, and they are planted right next to each other in my garden. The one that is covered in Japanese beetles is the lazy wife variety. The one that looks lovely is the rattlesnake variety. At the other end of the row are Cherokee beans, which are also perfectly beautiful. I have no idea why the Japanese beetles fly past the Cherokee and rattlesnake beans to feast on the lazy wife beans, but I really don't need to know. I'm just glad I planted three varieties.
In The Botany of Desire, Pollan said he used to think that organic farmers grew plants the same way as conventional farmers, but used safer pesticides. Then he interviews a potato farmer who avoids problems by not planting certain varieties of potatoes, as well as planting a number of different varieties each year. Doesn't that make sense? The Irish potato famine occurred because they had planted only one type of potato, which was unfortunately susceptible to a disease. If they had planted a variety of potatoes, the famine would not have happened.
What do you think will happen in the Antiquity Oaks garden next year?
A. We'll spray on a heavy-duty pesticide to show those beetles who's boss!
B. We'll buy beetle traps to catch the little buggers.
C. We'll spend an hour every evening shaking the leaves over a soapy bucket of water into which the beetles will fall and drown.
D. We'll plant Cherokee and rattlesnake beans.
Put your answer in the comment section by midnight Friday, and everyone who chooses the correct answer will be entered into a random drawing to win an ounce of bean seeds from my garden, so you can plant them next year. (Your choice of variety.) We will definitely be saving seeds for our own garden. That's one of the great things about growing heirlooms -- you can save the seeds from year to year, because they aren't patented. Choosing heirlooms also means you don't have to worry about GMOs. Since they are patented, you have to sign an affidavit swearing you will not save the seeds for planting in the future. If I see a contract in a seed catalog, the whole catalog goes into the garbage. I refuse to patronize companies that sell GMOs. Of course, one of the best things about heirloom vegetables is that they taste really great!
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday. Check out Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more blog posts about real food.