Part of the reason I started this blog yesterday is because I’ve been on spring break. I haven’t been up to too much, no big trip or anything, just taking it easy. Honestly, it’s been pretty boring around here for the most part. I got started on a spring diet and exercise push, gave my dog Finnegan a much needed at-home grooming, cleaned out my car, did a little yard work, tried to break my ABC soap opera addiction, finished reading “Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood” by Maria Tatar…..aaaaaannnnd I watched my veggie garden seedlings sprout!
That’s right. It’s seed starting time! I actually started a few of the seeds (eggplants and herbs) a few weeks ago and then started the tomatoes at the beginning of this week. I decided to buy all heirloom seeds this year. Here’s some information from Wikipedia about what “heirloom seeds” are:
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade….The definition of the use of the word heirloom to describe plants is highly debated….One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies or industrial agriculture….Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word “heirloom” in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations….Regardless of a person’s specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution.
I decided to choose heirloom rather than standard seed for many reasons. I wanted to try varieties I’d never heard of that had the history of being handed down through the generations. I also wanted to support the smaller (typically family-owned) seed suppliers, rather than the huge conglomerate companies (like Monsanto) that seem to be lurking behind everything we buy these days. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching “Food Inc” I learned that many of these companies have some pretty unethical business practices and I decided to opt out of this troubling industrial system whenever I can. It all boils down to my new and growing dedication to buy food (which seeds really are, if you think about it) from smaller, sustainable and (in the best cases) local businesses.
So, I bought my seeds from a company I found online, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It was VERY difficult to decide what I wanted to buy– they seriously have thousands of seeds to choose from!! So, this is what I finally settled on: two kinds of eggplant, two kinds of beans, three kinds of tomatoes, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, and my mainstay herbs (basil, thyme, dill). Thanks to Baker Creek for sending along some lettuce seed as a free gift!
You may have noticed the packet of Poppy seeds. I was very excited about these, I think poppies are some of the prettiest spring flowers! The bad news is after reading the instructions on the packet I learned that poppy seeds should be put out in the fall, so I’m going to have to wait a season for those. Bummer! But I am thrilled to try the “Dragon Tongue” beans- they look so exotic and the customer reviews online said they were the tastiest beans they’d ever grown. Plus, the name “Dragon Tongue” sounds like something out of a fairy tale!
I got my seeds started in my Aerogarden, which I was lucky to get as a gift from my mother-in-law a while back. I really like the Aerogarden, but eventually I will have to transplant these seedlings into peat pots. I check these little guys out almost every day, and today I noticed that the thyme and basil have already started to smell!
Last year I went a little overboard on the seeds that I started.I ended up with over 72 plants! I gave some away and sold some at a garage sale. I tried to reign myself in this year, but if you check that first picture out closely, you’ll see that there are about 66 spaces in the aerogarden, and I have almost all of them filled! In my defense, I started quite a lot of herbs figuring that I can plant 3-4 of them close together in the pots I keep on my patio. Last year it seemed like I was always using the basil very conservatively, so this year I splurged. And I have to make sure I have enough dill to pickle with! One MAJOR improvement I made over last year is that I remembered to label which seeds where planted where. Last year I forgot to do this and my tomato garden was dominated by cherry tomatoes, with only ONE Brandywine and a few early birds. That will NOT happen again this year!
Speaking of gardens, I noticed quite a few green things starting to come up in my flower gardens outside. Then, today these crocuses finally bloomed:
The first flowers of the season are always so heartening! After a long, long, long, long winter my favorite day of spring is the day you notice there’s shade on the ground because the trees finally put out their leaves. That day is still a ways off here in Indiana, but the trees do have buds on their branches. Brian and I actually spent some time outside today, mulching up some of the fall leaves we were too busy to rake up last year. It felt good to be outside getting things accomplished again. If I’m honest, I’m usually a bit lazy and a big procrastinator, but for some reason I love yard work. Since I’m a teacher by profession and a scholar by habit, I think getting outside and having my body do some work is a nice respite from my normal work. I’d rather pull weeds on any given day than grade papers, that’s for sure! It’s hard to track whether my teacherly work ever makes much of a difference to my students, so planting a seed and watching it sprout and grow into something that will eventually bear fruit that you can slice up and serve on your table is something that always lifts my spirits. I’m not saying I’m a horrible teacher, or that I even dislike teaching, but sometimes I can feel the hobbit in my heart longing for sunny gardening days with the sun at my back.
Maybe all this thirsting for a reunion with spring and the green life is what lead to my dinner menu today.
A two-cheese caprese sandwich with asparagus. I toasted some wheat bread and spread on some ricotta cheese. Then I stacked on a huge slice of tomato, some fresh mozzarella medallions and big basil leaves, finished with a drizzle of olive oil. I baked the asparagus in the oven with some olive oil and garlic salt. Simple, leafy, and delicious! I’m still looking forward to the day when I can make the same sandwich with tomatoes and basil from my own garden…
Now I’m off to lesson plan for my first day back tomorrow. I have a really fun food activity planned for one of my classes- more on that tomorrow maybe. In the mean time- go out and get something growing!