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The Hidden Villa Farm Crew picks what to plant not just from seed catalogues but also through trial and error and collective memory. What varieties of peppers have done well here? Which broccoli gave us the best heads and regrowth? I am learning that there are a lot of considerations when choosing seeds and plant varieties. Each seed we grow is a dedication of time and resources, so we make careful selections based on what has been successful in the past, what works for our climate, and what other local growers recommend.
After each season, the Farm Crew finds a rainy day to evaluate the varieties we grew and what we’d like to try next year. For instance, this year we discussed how we haven’t found a variety of cantaloupe that we like. And was our poor green bean crop due to the variety we chose or an irrigation issue? And so on down the list of crops. As a result of evaluations over the years, the plant varieties we use have evolved and progressed. And about 15% of what we grow each year are new, experimental varieties.
Another decision we make is whether to use hybrid or open pollinated (or heirloom) seeds. Hybrids tend to be more uniform and productive, but must be bought every year. Consider a crop of hybrid cabbage that grows large heads that mature at the same time, but the seed cannot reproduce and is patented by Monsanto. Open pollinated varieties on the other hand are more genetically diverse and naturally occurring, but may be less productive and more variable. Seeds can be saved from the healthiest and most productive plants for the following season. Depending on the combination of traits we’ve observed in the plant, we chose whether to use hybrid or heirloom seeds. We’re also aware that deciding between hybrids or heirlooms can be an ideological choice. To simplify, heirloom seeds are like open-source software, accessible and for the common good, while hybrids inevitably serve corporate interests.The more I learn from skilled farmers and gardeners about what varieties of produce to grow, the more I’m convinced that keeping this type of knowledge alive is invaluable. Knowing what fruit and vegetable varieties thrive in our area and practicing selection of these varieties creates a culture and body of agricultural wisdom that is necessary for a long term and secure local food system. For this reason it is also important to support and buy from local growers. As our food production has become more centralized over time, I appreciate the past and present farmers and gardeners for keeping this local knowledge alive.