Monday, October 20, 2014

Garlic again and why 'heirlooms' may not be right for you

Well, we are back to 'normal' today after the hectic but wonderful few days of my sisters family visiting. I love having them visit and we are always sorry that they can't stay longer but it does mean that I don't get any work done.

 This year I planted my garlic in three of my blocks just to test out a theory that my problems with the cloves shooting out the top of the mother plant before the plants die down is because they are too wet in the winter. It seems to be correct because the only ones this time which are doing it are the bed that was in the wettest part of the garden.
For some reason it doesn't seem to affect the quality of the whole bulbs when they die down, it just looks strange.
You might remember my wondering about it last year at this time.

After waiting a month and just about to reseed my kurrajong seeds are starting to germinate. I was getting a bit worried but I can see a few just about to pop above the soil.
I really should have planted a couple more beds but I have run out of room, all the beds are full now.
I did tell myself that I wasn't going to put as many different veggies in this spring but I just can't help myself.

I just look at my seeds and decide that I need to fill up the containers more so I plant and plant, I love planting as big a range as I can.

Why "heirlooms' may not be right for you

I hate the word 'Heirloom' as food gardeners use it. Think about what an heirloom is, it is something that is passed down from parents to children over generations. As soon as people elsewhere start planting them they are no longer Heirlooms. It is much better to call old varieties 'Heritage' varieties, which is what I call them.

So why may they not be right for you?
Heritage varieties are old varieties that have been so inbred that they have lost most of their genetic diversity, the diversity that allows living things to adapt to changing conditions. Many people complain that their 'Heirlooms' did very poorly and they will never grow them again, but then other will say that their 'Heirlooms' outdid all the new varieties in their garden.

The reason is that since these old heritage types were grown in a specific place, with a specific climate and soil for generations, all the while with any 'off' types being culled so they are all more or less clones, they don't have the diversity to adapt to other climates and soils etc. If your conditions are similar to what they were originally adapted for they should perform wonderfully, but the opposite is true if you live in a different climate.

If you want to only grow heritage vegetables you should put in the time to research where they originally come from and mostly plant those with similar needs to what your garden provides.

If you really want to grow heritage varieties from all areas you can try developing a landrace. A landrace (vegetable, fruit, flower or animal) is a variety that has been developed to suit a particular place, climate and other conditions. It is still the same variety but it has been grown and the best producers with the best genes for your area have been picked out and grown on.

Basically you can grow a bed of this variety, then collect seeds from those that thrive. Generally although I said that heritage varieties usually have little diversity, random mutations are happening all the time. Maybe you planted 10 plants of 'Aunt Rubys Green' tomato and they did so badly, and got so many diseases that only two plants survived, not great but lived to produce a couple of fruit. Obviously those two plants have just enough diversity to have genes that will cope to some extent in your garden.

Keep seeds from those plants and grow them next year. You will find that more of those ten plants will survive, and one might even do well. If you keep saving seeds from the best doers you will eventually have after a few years a landrace of 'Aunt Rubys Green' that does exceptionally well for you, but may still do badly for your friend in the next town. See what I am saying?

After saying what I have there are some heritage varieties of veg that do well in most gardens. These have been grown around the world for so long that they have had some diversity reintroduced, just enough to make them do well in most places. Some very popular 'Heirlooms'  like Black Russian tomato come to mind.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post regarding heirlooms and it has indeed enlightened me on the subject. There is a fairly new out Australian authored book out titled 'Heirloom Vegetables: A Guide to Their History and Varieties' written by Simon Rickard. Our local library has it but it is so popular that I am still unable to check it out.