the Kitchen Garden
There are many reasons to start and maintain
a kitchen garden, from having your own supply of very local
healthy produce to enjoying the activity and beauty of your
garden. An added reward for me is growing a diversity of foods
that cannot be bought in local markets – even at farmers
What happens when you mix European, Asian, South
American and Mexican food plants with Southwest natives and
early Spanish introductions in a backyard kitchen garden?
Well, I can tell you that it creates tasty gardening and dinning
experiences. Although unknown numbers of heritage food plants
have been lost through changes in tastes and technologies,
many varieties are maintained today by the efforts of seed
banks, gardeners, seed exchanges and regional growers. This
network dedicated to seed diversity is expanding today in
spite of, or because of, the consolidation in seed companies.
For native southwest desert food plants and adopted Spanish
introductions, Native Seed SEARCH
is the place to begin exploring our local food heritage.
Last year I discovered Hopi Pumpkin
which replaced all other varieties of zucchini in my garden,
based on taste alone! And there is the added treat of no two
fruits looking exactly alike – the result of generations
of selection by southwest native farmers. Last summer I also
added Hopi Yellow Lima Beans to my garden.
I started with 25 seeds and managed, after a couple of failed
tries, to get ten vigorous sprawling plants producing a wealth
of pods and beans. My first priority was to save a supply
of seed. And a good thing I did! They are not offered this
year by Native Seed SEARCH, and may not be available
again until the next grow-out of that variety (could be a
10 year wait). Well, that’s the way it is when you find
something you like outside the mainstream, you have to maintain
your own seed supply from year to year.
So what’s new for this year? Well, Native
Seed SEARCH has started a program called the
Gardeners Network. They are offering free seed and instructions
to gardeners in return for growing information and photographs
of those varieties in your garden. A networked diversity of
gardeners is one of the keys to maintaining plant diversity
and here is a great opportunity to participate in growing,
eating and preserving our regional heritage. Making choices
is the most difficult part of the program. Of the 166 varieties
offered in the Garden Network program, how do you choose those
that fit your space and taste? Well, that’s part of
the engagement in it all – adding to your garden, your
knowledge and your table while participating in a collective
After much agonizing and great restraint, my
choices for 2005 are:
Hopi Black Pinto Bean –
a striking black and white/beige pinto, dry farmed in Hopi
fields in northeastern Arizona. It is an early maturing bushy-pole
bean with colorful mottled pods. High yielding. How will
it grow at lower elevations, farther south and with some irrigation?
San Felipe Pueblo White Tepary Bean
– Produces large white seeds mixed with enormous
(for a tepary) light tan, flattened seeds. White and lilac
flowers with large leaves. It is a recent grow-out of a 1990
collection from 5200ft in New Mexico. How will it produce
at 4000ft with and without irrigation?
Maiz” – One of the four most
ancient corns, it is small kernelled with slender ears, and
the only brown corn. Makes a sweet meal excellent for pinole.
Originally collected in Sinaloa Mexico. Truly an experiment
in adding diversity to my garden, table and personal seed
bank. Maiz is particularly challenging to grow and maintain
in small kitchen gardens.
Minnie's Apache Hubbard Squash
– A blue ribbon winner at the White Mountain Apache
Tribal Fair. Fruits are variable in sizes and shapes, light
to dark orange skin with white or tan seeds. Bright orange
flesh is non-stringy and sweet. Last offered in the 1991 catalog!
Hopefully, it is a winter squash that is as delightful as
the Hopi Pumpkin is a summer squash. (Hopi Pumpkin can be
grown and stored for winter use, but the mature winter storing
form is low in sugar and high in fiber)
These additions will increase my small collection
of regional heritage varieties to an even ten; some growing
easily alongside newer cultivars and some replacing them with
My gardener reports for the varieties that I
tested for NS/S plus two additional varieties are posted
If you would like to participate in the Gardeners
Network contact Suzanne Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 520.881.4804.
I encourage you to explore our
regional diversity of foods and will be delighted to discuss
the program with you.
Until next month – good gardening and healthy eating.
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