Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Going to seed
Treviso type radicchio reaching for the sky
I was walking around the garden on Monday wondering what I could photograph (and thus talk about). We're a bit early on most things, though I have been cadging a few peas as they ripen. Give the gardens a week or more and we'll be thick into Lettuce Season.
What struck me as I walked around are the biennials: they're quite huge. I am allowing them to go to seed. I've intentionally grown open-pollinated vegetables (and most heirlooms are OP) for their added benefit of seed-saving. You can't do that with hybrids: they don't come true from seed. The annuals are obviously easy to get to go to seed: the peas, beans, tomatoes of last year are in jars and little envelopes stating their provenance and date of harvest, usually in my mud-smeared script. Biennials, though, are a second-spring affair. Many things, usually root crops, kind of hang on through the winter to then hurry up and shoot into seed once the weather warms again. (This can also happen with wonky spring weather, as I noticed with my little Asian brassicas like tatsoi, mizuna and pac choy: these things are flowering as well; I had planted them under row covers a bit too early for their tastes, apparently.)
So seed-saving is a venture I undertake not only because of its obvious point of thrift. I figure I can also do a bit of artificial selection to reward, as it were, the sweetest of the carrots and the least bolt-proof of the lettuce types that I grow. With the tomatoes, I can likewise edit out the least worthy of the Green Zebras, say, as there seems to be a wide range with that particular heirloom variety. And on and on.
Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I was also considering what "going to seed" meant in human terms. Yes, colloquially, it means "letting oneself go," but that isn't what these leeks, parsnips and chard are doing around me. Nope. They have worked hard toward this point, saving precious starches to up and put out that seed pod, that flower. And in that sense that is what I feel like I have done with this mothering venture I undertook. The sweet bloom of my 20s has long gone. My 30s was the time of waiting and storing energy, and then parturition. My 40s has thusfar been that of infant and toddler care. And so it goes. Gone to seed.
It's a sweet life, and I am glad to be living it in a garden.