10 July, 2019

#7 in An Intermittent Series: Gardening Principles, Diversity

No matter how many fascists scream and holler about having state that is what they call “genetically pure,” any look at nature tells a prudent observer that diversity is the key to a healthy organization, be it a club, a nation state or your garden. The natural world runs on diversity which is one of the reasons that classification of species is oftentimes very contentious and bitter.

The alternate to diversity is a pathway to death and stagnation. We all know about problems caused by inbreeding – look at the long lineage of English kings if you need a nudge to see what can happen over generations – and it's true for all living beings, including plants in our gardens. Nature deals in diversification and we should follow that lead.

You may not have a big garden, but still, every attempt should be made to increase diversity. In our year round gardens, we have the climate to grow crops that do well in summer and a whole other palette for winter. This is good as it interrupts the some of the life in the soil that is after your vegetables. Usually you'll find that one species will work in hot weather and a different one in cooler weather, requiring different regimens to survive – and, of course you are planting different crops in the different seasons. So you'll disrupt food sources, or habitation choices, as you switch from season to season, the climate urging you to change as we warm and cool in our annual cycle.

If you plant tomatoes in one spot in Spring, and then use that same plot for lettuce and other greens in Fall, you have disrupted the disease and insects preying on tomatoes. You can plant tomatoes in the same spot next year. Now, I know you can plant tomatoes every year in the same spot. I'd rather you didn't. You might get along for two, three or more years with a good tomato crop, but sooner or later your luck will run out and then you're in a pickle! To get rid of the diseases your tomatoes have attracted, might prove daunting. Certainly, you'll have to leave that plot fallow and NOT grow any of the nightshades, like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and some others, because they will attract the same species that are ruining your tomatoes. I would probably put some alfalfa seeds down, and when they are about knee high, chop them down and dig them into the bed – in that soil plant winter crops like chard or kale – whatever you like in winter. That following summer, again do not plant tomatoes. Maybe plant a summer cover crop from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (https://www.groworganic.com/cover-crop-seeds/soil-building/summer-soil-building.html ). Finally, in the third year of this ordeal, give yourself one tomato to try. If it exhibits the same affliction, do the whole thing over again hoping that a cure has been found in the interim.

But garden diversity is not confined by species – for yourself, plant multiple varieties! Have a hot pepper and a not so hot pepper; a red tomato and gold tomatoes; an early bean and a late bean! Mix up what you plant.

I'll plant some carrots with the intent to have them raw – others I'll plant specifically to pickle. For pickling I prefer the blunted ends of Nantes carrots, which will turn into pickled carrot sticks with less waste that you would find with the tapered Chantenay carrots.

Scarlet Runner Beans are a favorite for
the multiplicity of ways to eat them!
And their bright flowers.
While I like almost all beans, when I grow Pencil Pod, I'm growing them for pickles as well. The beans come quickly and, if well-picked, are quite straight, making canning them much more pleasant with less waste than, say, Royalty Purple Pod, which is planted as an early bean, being one of the few that will germinate in cold weather when others would just rot.

On the other hand, for a longer, more diverse crop of beans, Scarlet Runner beans outshine almost anything else you can plant. First off, you have these wonderful, very bright, red flowers that are worth a bouquet, but don't do that because in few weeks those flowers will become beans. They will be big! The pods about 1 ½” wide and 8 inches long and, though intimidating, they are tender and as delicious as any other snap bean you can get your hands on! After a time, the pods begin to shrink, outlining the beans. The bright purple beans can be cooked as a “shelly bean.” Finally as the bean dry, they can be stored like any other dried bean and cooked over night for a hearty soup or stew. And it didn't mention that they climb. Plant them with something to climb on and you will enjoy a good supply of green beans and be blessed by the flowers. Besides red, there is a red/white 'edition' and I have been gifted with a variety, completely unknown to me, of a brown seeded runner bean – I'll let you know what I learn in the coming year with these beans.

This kind of diversity is repeated through out nature. The more diversity in your garden, the more resilient it will be in all kinds of climates. The ascent of global climate upheaval will demand that we be as diverse and as resilient as possible in order to contend with the changes that cannot be anticipated - we must employ diverse food production to allow ourselves redundancy in our food supply.

Gardeners and farmers have, until now, been able to predict with some certainty, what the coming six months of weather will bring. This is no longer true. We will soon have common forecasts that will predict weather on that scale, but even then, there will be errors and we will have to survive until the next crop comes in. That will be our biggest challenge. The only way to overcome this is a diversity of crops and a diversity of humans in different locations growing those crops.

So shoot for diversity in your garden, no matter how small it may be, you still have room to plant a variety of species and I urge you to take advantage of that.


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