Even though it seems like we can begin planting our vegetable gardens in this mild weather, keep it to planning instead. With another three months until the last frost date, a lot can happen outdoors before spring arrives. In the meantime, make lists, draw layouts and read seed catalogs.
Since last season’s drought, I’ve given a lot of thought to what foods I will try to grow this year. Despite all the right preparation with soil and mulch, vegetables still need constant watering and care. Our summer will most likely be hotter, judging by recent trends. (I feel confident that I don’t need to include statistics to show that our weather is weird. We all remember that 80-degree day last November, right?)
For these reasons, I’m being choosier about vegetable varieties, focusing on ones that can withstand harsh conditions — hot or cold, dry or wet — and diseases. Many commonly planted seeds aren’t used to this new normal. So, when an email about Carol Deppe’s climate-resilient varieties popped up in my inbox from one of my go-to sources for seeds and plants, it felt fortuitous.
I’m familiar with Deppe’s work from her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. Written in 2010, her message is even more urgent now, when natural disasters are becoming weekly or monthly events rather than annual or 10-year ones.
Fedco Seeds is stocking six of the varieties that Deppe created during four decades of breeding, and they are the foundation of her survivalist gardening method. She identified ways to have a balanced, nutrient-rich diet by growing corn, beans, squash and potatoes while raising chickens. Her book includes methods for storage and drying for a garden that feeds people throughout the year.
Fedco is offering four different kinds of beans, corn and squash from Deppe. The Open Source Seed Initiative has an additional 15 types that she dedicated to sharing. OSSI, a nonprofit that Deppe chaired in recent years, advocates sharing the genetic material of plants. At a time when patenting seeds for maximum profit is the norm, growers have pledged 600 different types of seed as a world seed-bank source.
Deppe intended for gardeners to purchase a seed once and then save seeds from the harvest for another season, thus continuing the cycle of breeding for local conditions through selection. I’ve got Fast Lady Northern Southern Pea seeds on my garden list for this year. They can be picked to eat fresh in just two months, or left to dry over three months for harvest.
As some of the earliest plants that can be sown, peas thrive in cooler temperatures. It also makes them susceptible to mold from spring’s dampness. Deppe’s peas, however, are a bush style that lets air flow around the plants more easily, keeping foliage drier.
I’m also intending to plant her Goldini II, an organic golden zucchini. She described it as “possibly the fastest germinating and growing, and most-productive summer squash on the planet, including hybrids.” In the Northeast, it should be ready to harvest in 45 to 55 days. In the Pacific Northwest, where Deppe lived, it was a mere 35 days. Techniques for drying and using it throughout winter are in the book.
This year I’ll try growing beans to dry and store for the first time, using White Candle Gaucho beans. Deppe bred them from an Argentinian heirloom variety. Ready to harvest in 88 days, the beans go from green to dry quickly on the bush, an advantage when rainfall could damage the harvest. And that harvest? The yield is listed as 20 pounds per 100 feet of plants. While I won’t be planting that many, it’s good to know I could.
From her writing, I know that Deppe valued flavor and versatility as much as disease resistance in her plants. Do all gardeners love food? I’m not sure, judging by the state of grocery store produce. Deppe definitely did, and I hope to taste the results in my garden this summer.
And finally, a tribute to Deppe, who died last year. She found immortality in gardening, and her contributions to the world will last as long as anyone keeps planting her seeds.