We are growing 13 varieties of lettuce this year. That may sound like a lot – a lot more than you might find in a typical grocery store – until you realize that the Fedco Seed catalogue lists 79 entrees for lettuce. That again may sound like a lot, except that the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook includes 276 varieties of lettuce. Just think of all those lettuces we decided not to grow. What if we picked the wrong ones? How do we choose our varieties?
Right now there are four varieties of watermelon and four of cantaloupe just sprouting their first true leaves in the greenhouse. Would I like to grow every variety of watermelon and cantaloupe offered in Baker Creek’s beautifully gratuitous catalogue? Yes, I would. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of restraint not to sneak over to their online store any buy one of everything. I think that if I were independently wealthy I would eat a lot of fancy cheese and grow every melon known to man. But enough of my fantasy life, the real one is pretty good, too.
I’d like to say that our variety selection process is highly scientific. We try to choose varieties well suited to our humid yet droughty climate, which means disease resistance is always a plus. Taste is incredibly important not just for marketing our products to you, but because we eat it too! And we are the biggest vegetable snobs ever. It’s a side effect of our chosen profession. We prefer open-pollinated varieties to hybrids. I am forever combing over the stalls of other farmers at the market asking, “oh, what variety of beets are those?” But there is just so much to choose from that these decisions often stray into arbitrary territory.
Who isn’t a sucker for a good story? Last year we grew some Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, which come with a story befitting that name. They tanked, however, so they got scratched off the list and replaced this year with six new tomato variety try outs. (Members of Seed Savers Exchange collectively offer 4,358 different varieties of tomatoes, by the way) This year, romanticism got me with the Sweet Passion melon. It is said that eating a ripe melon out of the garden on a moonlit night induces a state of passion. We’ll let you know when they are ready if you want to come out to the farm and give it a try yourself.
I found the perfect carrots by accident. A few year ago when I was working for GrowMemphis, I bought some Chantenay Red Cored carrots from the seed wholesaler on President’s Island because those were the only carrots they had. Boy was I surprised to discover that Chantenay Red Cored carrots are both the most delicious carrots and exceptionally well suited (for a carrot) to our clay soil. What a happy accident.
So in summary, a lot of thought, painful compromise, handwringing, luck, whimsy and a little bit of impulse shopping went into selecting exactly what we hope to pack into your CSA boxes this season. Of course the weeds, pests and weather will have a lot to say about what actually makes it to the harvest shed. We hope you enjoy our selections.