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HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!


Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: Farming Roots

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

032712-HOMEGROWN-LIFE-BLUEMy Father’s family came from Oklahoma and Texas where they farmed thousands of acres. Daddy’s Mother moved the family East so his oldest brother could have an operation in Boston, one that would allow him to walk – something up until the age of 14, he had never done. They settled in Lexington, Massachusetts, the surgery was successful, and they set to farming blueberries in the 1930’s. Later, my cousin would sell the homestead and move to Vermont where he would begin to farm 168 acres. Today, almost 40 years later, he’s there, farming goats. A lot of goats. 800 of them. Dairy. The largest dairy goat farm in the US. The land is in trust to guarantee it will remain a farm forever.

My Great Grandfather Brennan settled in Massachusetts. He was a produce merchant at Faneuil Hall. He and my Great Grandmother raised 13 children on a farm in Revere, 10 of those children dying before they reached their 20’s. Three more were born 10 years later. Two of those were my Grandmother and her sister, my Great “Auntie Mil”, who moved to Lexington, Massachusetts after my Great Grandfather Brennan died. I spent my summers, with these two women, on Cape Cod, where they eventually settled. We’d sit around the kitchen table at night, playing cards, and they’d talk about growing up on the farm in Revere.


Their Mother “put up” all kinds of jams and jellies from the fruit trees on the farm. They always said they never ate any of it as it was for “company” which seemed to be in abundance as the farm was dubbed “The Do Drop Inn.” One cousin apparently “dropped in” and was finally told her stay was over a year later. I have a basket, one I found as a teenager, in my Grandmother’s attic in the Cape house, that was used by my Great Grandfather Brennan to carry kittens to the neighbor’s houses. Growing up outside Washington, D.C., my Father expressed his farming roots in what could only be described as a “victory garden.” A typical suburban house lot was converted to a backyard orchard and vegetable garden complete with compost pile. Later, when I was in high school, we moved “to the country”.

I got to pick out my bedroom in our new house. I chose the one overlooking the Beall dairy farm stretching out across the ridge below. I could hear the cows mooing as they waited for the gates to be opened at milking time. Daddy’s “victory garden” grew and every kind of vegetable imaginable appeared on the table. Apples, peaches, pears, apricots, cherries, strawberries, raspberries surrounded the freshly planted lawn. Compost took on a whole new meaning when the day before we moved in, Daddy had 2 loads of manure delivered from the farm next door. Instead of unpacking boxes, we spent that first weekend hand spreading the odiferous mass across what would become the lushest lawn and the best garden in the neighborhood. My poor Mother, who shared neither my Father’s enthusiasm nor his love of gardening, just kept apologizing to the neighbors.


I guess one could say farming is in my blood. It sure seems that way as I don’t consider it a way to make a living, but a way to make a life. A life guided by the seasons, one that’s filled with chance meetings of some of most salt of the earth people I know. Whether they dig in the dirt or muck barns, it seems to me, farmers have a sense of what’s important in this life, maybe more than most. People who’ll give you the shirt off their back and their last minute of time to help out when you need it most. Folks who’s pride and joy is saving an animal’s life when some people would ask why bother. People who bring in and harbor a 16 year old ewe in the barn just because it will make them more comfortable in their senior years.

I owe my love of keeping closer to the land to both sides of my family with roots stretching from the wide open fields of Oklahoma to the Emerald Isle. When things go awry, translation….not according to my plan, when weary bones have me wondering about putting one foot in front of the other for another day, I think of how quitting is not an option. They didn’t.


At times when bones are weary and just putting one foot in front of the other seems to be a big chore itself, I head to the barn. Sitting on the milk stand, listening to the gentle movement, the slow steady breathing of the animals, hearing the horn signal at the lighthouse as a steady fog makes it way to shore, sets my mind back to a better place, one of gratitude. I’ve come home to my roots and and they just happen to be planted at a place by the sea. I’m grateful for that too.

When I hear that horn, I can almost see my Great Grandfather Brennan standing on the bow of a ship, moving to a new place and a better chance at making a life of farming. I chose to make mine at the edge of a rocky shore, surrounded by the wind, the sea and some beasts who fill my life with laughter and joy, new best friends, and a family of folks who call themselves farmers.


HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.


HOMEGROWN Life: Parenting Lessons from the Barnyard

Thursday, October 29th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-BLUEIt’s hard to find better examples of parenting than in the barnyard.

For months now, I’ve been enjoying the lessons all the animals have been teaching me about unconditional love, sacrifice and patience, the basics of parenting. I’ve watched when a sudden storm brews up and a cold rain starts pelting down as my tiny Bantam hen Mama huddles down to accommodate 7 bits of fluff under her, protecting them from the wet and chill. When one scoots out prematurely, before the rains are over, she’d rearrange her entire body, adjusting to a reordering of the fluff balls beneath her.


One of my Royal Palm turkey hens created a nest of 21 eggs, nestled in the catnip bed. Each day I watched as she added yet another egg until she was satisfied with the number. She then sat, with breast feathers fluffed and wings stretched over the brood, keeping them safe and warm. When she’d take a short break to stretch her legs or get a drink from the pond, she’d return to the nest, lower herself over the eggs, turning them as needed to spread her warmth evenly over their ever thinning shells. At day 28, on my birthday, they began to hatch. 15 brand new turkeys now occupied this Mama’s every waking moment.

I moved the family into the coop and immediately Daddy came to assist in the raising of the young. At times, he would chase Mom away, as if to say, go take a rest, I’ve got them. The poults would transfer from under Mom to snuggling under and around Dad. When Mom needed a dust bath in the herb garden, she’d take the little ones with her and Dad would sit nestled in the nearby grass, watching.IMG_6578

One of my does, Sea Princess, became a Mom this year. Her babe, named Piper, after a bagpiping friend came to visit, has grown up nursing. This is a first for the farm as usually babes are bottle raised to better supervise their intake. For months now, I’ve watched Sea Princess and Piper form a Mother and son bond. They share a subtle language, sometimes vocal sometimes through a look. From Mom, it seems to say, I’m never far away, I’ll keep you safe. From Piper, it’s all about trusting that she means it. I’ve been blessed in that he’s extended that trust to me. He and I are embarking on a new journey together as he is beginning to train as a draft animal. That means, when he’s big enough, he and I will be taking trips together with him pulling me along in a cart and in the winter, plans are for a sleigh. It’s another form of trust in learning his commands, standing still while we put on his gear, listening to what I say. I listen too.

Sometimes, Piper just wants to play. At 16 weeks, I hear him when he seems to say I just still want to be a babe. At those times, we forget about gear and just head to the pasture where he runs through my legs and then eventually finds Mom who is happy to provide him with a big of nursing before a nap in the sun. Being a parent. It’s a delicate juggling act. I’m just thankful I have so many good parents to enjoy and blessed that they share their little ones with me here on the farm.



HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.