Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to create your own heirloom vegetables

How to create your own heirloom vegetables

Growing your own food is a big part of your family’s security. Producing your own food can keep the proverbial wolf away from the door.

One thing you should consider is the security of the seeds you buy. I’m sure you have heard by now about “terminator genes” that some companies are trying to put into the food supply. These genes make it so any plants grown from them are sterile and won’t produce viable seeds. The only way to be sure of what you are getting is to produce it yourself.

Heirlooms are very important because they are adapted to a specific area and type of management system. If you develop your own you will have a plant that grows well in your area and grows well how you plan on growing it. A cool thing about them is they can be adapted for how you manage your garden also.(low input, raised bed, container, heavy mulch, etc.)

My corn has been selected for low input organic growth. I have also had to add resistance to cucumber beetles that eat the silk while the plant is putting on ears. When I started out I got very little corn because of the “harsh” way I grow it. I have tried a few times to grow “Bloody Butcher” corn, but it has always failed because the cucumber beetles keep it from pollinating almost completely by eating the silk. I usually end up 10 or so kernels on an ear. The corn I started with was Mandan Bride. The first year it put out two foot plants with small 6 inch ears. This last year (10 years later) I had 6-12 foot plants with 10-12 inch ears. I still get nubbins because of my limited addition of fertilizer (chicken manure, wood ashes, compost and homemade liquid fertilizer).

So how do we go about making our own heirlooms?

-Save your seed

First you need to learn about saving your seeds. This year when you grow your garden, save some seed for the next year. Even if you plant hybrids you can save that seed and plant some of it next year (don’t use it for your whole planting because you might not get anything edible the first couple years). You will get plants that revert back to what they were before they were hybridized, but you will then have plants you can select and improve upon. Of course the best way is to start with an heirloom of some sort to begin with.

-Look for differences in your plants

During the growing season watch your plants closely. Did some of them grow faster than others? Do some put out bigger or tastier fruit? Did the bugs leave one plant unharmed? Is there a color difference? Does one put out fruit much later than the others? One or all of these things can be selected for. Or you can combine traits you want.

Last summer we grew a Burgundy Okra.(it was very good) I put in six or seven plants in a row. Out of that row I had two green okras from the same seed with the rest burgundy like they were supposed to be. Of the two green ones one the bugs just destroyed, I mean they were all over it, but the others were not touched. So I save two kinds of seed for the okra, “burgundy okra” and “green okra”. I tossed the buggy one into the compost pile when harvest was done. You might ask why I didn’t pull it earlier; I used it for a bug trap. The bugs all went there and left my other stuff alone.

-Plant for improvement and selection

The example I am going to use is my corn but it can be used for any improvement in your garden. If this is your first year select your best ears (fruits) according to the traits you want to pass on. I use three criteria for my corn.

-full ear- This means that the bugs didn’t get any silk when the kernels were forming so they didn’t like it and avoided it for some reason, pass that trait on always.

-size- Bigger is better in this game unless you are trying to create a specialty crop of baby sized veggies. On corn you need to look at length of the ear as well as how dense the kernels pack together.

-color- Since my corn is Indian corn I select for color also, but it is my third criteria and I will plant ears that are mostly yellow if they are large and dense. You should sort your veggies in the same way. Be sure and keep the seeds separate. How I plant my corn is to take one ear of corn and start planting hills in a strait row. Only kernels from that ear go into any hill in that row. After I get that row planted I pick up my next ear and repeat the process of one ear per row until you have your plot or field planted. As the plot grows pay attention to the things I mentioned before. Watch to see which rows get a head start in germination, which rows grow fastest are easiest to weed or whatever you decide is important. Then repeat the process over from the beginning next year.

The first picture is looking West at my row of hills. The next picture is looking South, and this picture is looking diagonally SouthEast. If you look close you can see the high wheel cultivator at the end of the row. These types of plantings can be cultivated in three directions just as the pictures were taken.

Other fruits and veggies will not cross pollinate as well as corn but keeping them in the rows will make keeping track of what you are trying to accomplish so much easier. So a couple years down the road you have a tomato that no one else has or you have bell peppers the size of footballs or just corn that grows without much fertilizer and it is a brand new heirloom that you have created.

Still clinging to my God and my guns,


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