A Testing Season

Bean seeds heart

GarlicLiving on the shore of Lake Huron means that we all understand the polarity of the seasons, long hard winters and beautiful summers, with a beach on our doorstep that is the envy of every tourist.  This year the polarity of the weather was tangible all through the summer.  We experienced many beautiful, sunny, hot days that allowed us to enjoy all that Bruce County has to offer; camping, the beach and all the time outside that we wait all winter for.  Yet we were all aware of  how the drought affected our local farmer and food producers.  For those who make their living with Mother Natures as a business partner, the weather provides a different challenge every year. 

To be honest I did not always appreciate the happy beach pictures on Facebook.  During the dry times I selfishly dreamed of seeing some of those beach days rained out just to get a little moisture.  Like the Grinch at Christmas, I know nobody likes a Grumpy Gardener in the summer time. 

I have relaxed a little now that we have had some moisture in the soil. I feel safe to look back and assess the affects of this extreme season on the garden.  Some of the crops at our place have been a complete write off, while others are coming back nicely.  I missed the steady supply of fresh greens from the garden this year, but I am confident that our hot pepper are going to be smoken’ hot.  (I am excited that I may finally be able to produce a hot sauce to make my heat loving brother take notice!)  I try to remember that when it comes to gardening you have to take the good with the bad and try to learn something new.  One good thing about the extreme conditions of the season allowed me to make some interesting observations about the varieties that we grow.

If you are interested in heritage varieties, you will already know that one of the most valuable reasons for preserving them is the genetic diversity they carry.  ‘Grumpy Gardeners,’ like myself, will grow different varieties just for the experience of eating a purple carrot, a striped tomato or a pink spotted bean, but the traits that should concern all of us are the genes that may provide resistance to disease or weather conditions that we haven’t experience before.  

Climate change is predicted to cause more extreme weather like the summer we have just had.  One of the benefits to years like this one is that they provide a testing ground for varieties and allow us to see which ones might be able to still thrive in a dry year.

There was a clear example of this in our bean patch this year. Due to the cool spring, quickly followed by the dry summer, germinating beans was a challenge.  Beans like the soil to be a little warmer for germination, but there was only a brief period this year where the soil was warm enough and there was still enough moisture in the ground to begin and sustain growth.  I grew seven different types of beans this year.  The main part of my crop was composed of Royal Burgundy, Golden Wax and Green Slenderettes.  These varieties are cheap to source the seed for and are usually reliable producers for me.  I grew four other heritage varieties this year, Black Coca Bean, Tongues of Fire, Hutterite Soup Bean and Valentine, two for dry beans and two for green beans.  

It was fascinating to see how all these varieties, planted at the same time, dealt with the pressures applied.  Each one produced at least a moderate crop, but two varieties out shone the rest with high germination rates and good production.  These varieties may not be suitable for commercial growers, but this year was a clear example of what we have to loose if those genetics were to disappear. Needless to say I will be taking notes and saving seeds from those plants.  

Growing a range of varieties of any crop, gives my garden some buffer from Mother Natures mood swings.  The benefit would stop there if it was not for other people and organizations doing the same type of thing on a larger scale.  There are organizations in Canada who focus their efforts on preserving genetic diversity and even making some of these varieties available to mid size growers.  If you are interested in more information you should check out Seeds of Diversity and Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.  Right here in our own backyard we have the Bruce Botanical Food Gardens in Ripley.  The BBFG is ripe with heritage varieties and is working to help preserve them and share the bounty with the community. 

harvest dinner poster 2016If all this talk of beans is making you bored or better yet, hungry you should know that there are entertaining and filling ways to help support people who are working hard to help keep our food system secure, that doesn’t require you to grow your own array of colourful beans!

The Bruce Botanical Food Garden’s annual harvest dinner and auction is a night of local food and entertainment that raises money for the BBFG.  Ticket for this wonderful event can be purchased through learncookeat@bbfg.org or better yet you could win them.  My focus on heritage varieties in not actually in beans, but garlic.  This year we expanded the number of varieties that we grow from 6 to 23.  I have made notes on how they all preformed, but I need your help tasting them all.  To say thank you to those who help we are giving away two tickets to the BBFG dinner.  To have a chance to win purchase our taster pack this week, taste our garlic, share your thoughts though our survey and enjoy the last beautiful days of the growing season knowing you are helping all those ‘Grumpy Gardeners’ out there!


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