Garlic is one of the easiest and most rewarding crops to grow, though often deceptively simple. I’ve grown garlic here in the Finger Lakes of New York since I was a child in my father’s garden and am honored to share the keys to surrounding yourself with abundance.
Plant breeding is, as Irwin Goldman observes, the slowest of the performing arts and this is particularly true for biennials like cabbage, who have evolved to set seed in their second growing season. In the autumn of 2016, as we embarked on crossing a purple cone-headed cabbage with a green one, we dug the roots and be-headed the stalks of about 100 cabbages. After overwintering in our root cellar, we re-planted each stalk in spring and if you’ve never seen cabbage go to seed, it’s quite astonishing. Each darling cabbage down at your feet sprouts a dozen or so spires rising five feet or higher, bursting into hundreds of blooms, canary yellow and cabbage-y sweet. Pollinators flock to the ruckus with long, green pods emerging from each pollinated flower. The sea of green pods turn to gold as the seed matures and we harvest them just as the first pods begin to shatter.
Selecting for flavor was immensely illuminating: without consistent selection, carrots bring forth their bitter ancestry. Tasting this legacy in all their pine-y, resinous intensity was eye-opening as well as tongue-tingling. At first, perhaps every one-in-eighty carrots would have a distinct and unmistakable pinesol-esque quality. With each generation, the proportion decreases. Still, with every generation and always, we are making flavor selections. And it’s paid off: within three generations, Dulcinea was significantly sweeter and more tender than Bolero both in summer and in storage.
We’ve been savoring the first forsythia blossoms in the Finger Lakes (yes, they’re edible!) And they inspired me to share our favorite edible flowers with you. (There are a lot!) Edible flowers are the best of all worlds, nourishing us in so many ways with their beauty, well beyond calories.
On a purely practical level, whether you hope to harvest 10 or 10,000 tomatoes, diseases can diminish your abundance every season. Before we dive into the capacities of DNA and seeds themselves, there are four cultural keys vital to preventing tomato disease. As we hone our practices of community care and mutual flourishing, these cultural, as well as genetic practices, are the foundation of biological resilience in the garden, surrounding us all with the abundance we dream of.
Let us remember: We all come from a great lineage of farmers, seed stewards and plant breeders. From ten thousand years to a century ago, to be a farmer was synonymous with being a seed saver, synonymous in turn with being a plant breeder. Keen observation, thoughtful selection and an appreciation for diversity across the millennia have surrounded us with all the agricultural crops we now know, love and depend on. Countless generations and entire cultures were plant breeders before DNA was even described. Indeed, modernity has thoroughly rogued human interest from our food system.