I just wrote this for a job application I’m hoping to finish tonight. (The ad asks for a writing sample regarding a situation I’m in that exhorts the reader to take an action. Isn’t that what a cover letter is? Situation: I need a new job. Action: Hire me.) But it occurred to me that it’s really pretty much my mission statement for this blog, if you take out the bits about the weeds and the baby and the fruit trees and the mulch and the weeds. So:
Big Boy. Better Boy. Early Girl. Beefsteak.
If you grow tomatoes at all, you probably recognize these as some of the most commonly available tomato plants available from nurseries every spring. They grow well; they’re easy to care for; and everyone grows them. This is partly because they’re what people know and grew up with, and partly because that’s all that’s available at nurseries. With the recent upswing in interest in gardening in general and heirloom tomatoes in particular, that’s changing somewhat; you might see a dozen, or maybe even two dozen, varieties available at any given nursery.
But there are literally hundreds of tomato varieties out there. Have you ever tried a Cosmonaut Volkov? A Persimmon? A Zapotec Pleated? If you haven’t planted them yourself, chances are you haven’t. And chances are you won’t find those varieties in a nursery, even if you find the better-known heirlooms (Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, and Mortgage Lifter, for example). The only way to even try to experience the wonderful range of tomato variety is to start them from seed.
Tomatoes are easy to grow from seed. A sunny windowsill, a bag of potting soil, and a few Jiffy or Dixie cups are all you need. Other vegetables are equally easy to grow from seed, and their marvelous varieties equally passed over. Take green beans, for example. Every gardener has seen Kentucky Wonders and Blue Lakes, and they’re great producers and great-tasting. But what about Trionfo Violettos, which are equally tasty, deep purple, and wildly productive (as well as much easier to see among the bean foliage)? Everyone has seen purple eggplant, but what about eggplant that’s white as a ghost, or apple green, or purple-and-pink striped?
Gardeners often buy plants from nurseries because they’re easy, hardy, and convenient. Growing your own takes more planning and a little more work. But it yields more interesting plants with different flavors and textures for less money, and it’s been part of gardening over the world and since cultivation began: saving seeds from the best plants, and growing new plants from them. Pick up a packet of seeds this spring: a tomato you’ve never heard of, an herb variety that intrigues you, a melon you can’t get at the grocery store or the farmer’s market. Plant them, and see what new worlds of taste and color open up before you. Grow diversity. Grow the world. Grow from seed.
(P.S. Hire me.)