CT and RI Primaries; What to Plant

In today’s episode we brush off our green thumbs and talk gardening.

First the news.

Donald Trump was in Bridgeport, Connecticut over the weekend, telling voters he’s doing the hard work of keeping them awake. After his campaign manager said Trump would change his image post-convention, Trump told a crowd that being presidential was “easy” and that he would keep up the antics on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was also making the rounds through Connecticut, shaking hands and meeting voters for Hillary’s campaign. Along the way, he made a stop at Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven, with their famous New York-style pizza. The latest Quinnipiac poll has Hillary Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders by 9 points. Imagine how much larger that lead would be if Bill decided to grab a real Connecticut classic – a grinder – instead of the pizza.

Connecticut and Rhode Island primary voters will select their choice for the Democratic and Republican nominees on Tuesday.

It’s late April, and that means gardeners all across New England are poking the dirt, turning the compost, and starting to plant. If you search the web, you won’t be at a loss for seeds, sets, or starter plants. But how do you know which is best?

The Guardian gives you some tips for buying in store, by catalog, or online, but I’m here this week with a different approach to getting the best for your buck.

Pick up any packet of seeds in the end cap of Home Depot or your grocery store, and you’d be forgiven for thinking what you had in your hands was simply “cucumbers” or “tomatoes.” They’re that, but so much more.

You see, growing your own means you control what you eat. Grabbing any seeds is a good start, but some people like to go further. Some like to make sure they’re seeds are organic – not coated with chemicals or anti-fungal sprays.

Others like to know their variety of tomato is open-pollinated or a hybrid. Open-pollinated means the plant reproduced in nature, whether by bee, butterfly, or by hand. It goes into the ground, sprouts, grows, is pollinated, and sets seed in a cycle that has been going on since before humanity existed.

Open-pollination in action                                                                                       Photo: Ryan McGuire

Hybrids are a different story. Hybrid sure has a green sounding name to it if you’re talking about a car, but if it’s veg you’re after, hybrid usually means genetically modified. Sure, they can be planted and intentionally crossed with another variety, but often this occurs in a lab and not in the great outdoors.

Some hybrids, like their open-pollinated brethren, are bred specifically for certain traits. They may be more resistant to molds or bugs, or they may grow in a shorter season – something important for us New Englanders. Oh, and they’re sterile –

think of hybrids as a plant version of a mule – it’s spliced together for one generation and it won’t reproduce. If you are hoping to save seeds instead of running back to the store next year, keep away from these hybrids.

Finally, there’s a type of gardener who’s into organic and open-pollinated seeds, but takes it even one step further. This person is the heirloom gardener. You can bet he or she doesn’t use Miracle-Gro, because they’re into plants and planting the way it’s been done over centuries, not decades. They’re looking for varieties of plants that have been around for a hundred years or more. Most of these veg are rare varieties of things we eat every day, but they’re not the variety you see in the grocery store. It’s the purple carrots, the black tomatoes, the exotic tasting melons crowded out by watermelon and cantaloupes. Then, there are the really unique vegetables that haven’t been grown in 50 or 100 years. These are plants that were preserved by some of the homesteads with historic roots – Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello among them. With heirlooms, there’s surprisingly plenty to choose from thanks to renewed interest in preserving the diversity of plants and food in the past 20 years or so.

Of course, with heirlooms and non-hybrids in general, the added bonus is that if you’re frugal and plan ahead, you can plant a few extra plants, let them go to seed, and save them for next year, cutting down on your costs, and also giving you a new generation of seeds that are even better adapted to your plot.

So, now you’re looking at this seed packet at your grocery store, or hardware store, with too much in your head to make a decision. How do you choose? Well, to me, it’s simple. If you bring home a seed packet, cultivate a plot, plant the seeds, water them, do some weeding, maybe put up a support or two, and when the harvest comes, you have a conventional, hybrid cucumber that you could just as easily bought in the store, it isn’t worth it.

If you’re going to really get your money’s worth, grow something organic, open-pollinated, and original. Even if you could find that at a farmer’s market or a farm stand, you’d be paying a premium for it. Better to put the time and effort into caring for that seedling at a $1.50 a pack and harvest something unique and delicious.

So, don’t delay. Do a little digging before you get planting by looking into varieties you’d like to try – there are many online retailers specializing in heirloom seeds. Just type in heirloom seeds and your state into any search engine and you’ll get long list of options. Purchase, plant, and grow according to taste.

Which plants do you prefer? Add your views in the comments section below.

Happy planting!