Give Seeds A Chance


I think of my vegetable garden as one big science experiment of the kind that I was not allowed to do at home when I was ten, on account of the colossal mess I generally made. (God, adulthood is wonderful!)

I'll plant a bit of the tried and true in my garden, but my real interest is vegetables so weird, some of them can't even be found in Elizabeth Schneider's great giant encyclopedia, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini

Some of these experiments work. Some of them don't even bother to poke their heads above ground.  I imagine the seeds stirring briefly in the soil and then grumpily turning over and going back to bed, muttering, "This is not Sri Lanka! Are you out of your mind? This is upstate New York."

Fortunately, there are experiment enablers, seed catalogs like Fedco, Baker Creek, and the giant Seed Savers Exchange that allow me to come to informed conclusions such as, "Red eggplants are pretty, but too seedy to be really useful in cooking." (I tried three different varieties this year, including the extra-exciting but foul-tasting 'Cannibal Red Tomato Eggplant', formerly used to sauce cannibal meals.)

As much as I love my farmer's market farmers, I could not get information like this from them.  They are not mad scientists.  They can't be, really.  They have to grow what will sell.

By now, the value of keeping the genetic diversity of vegetables alive is well-established. And to a great extent, that will be up to gardeners. Seed banks, as important as they may be come the apocalypse, cannot possibly preserve every variety of every edible plant. Check out this great 2007 New York Times piece by Elizabeth Rosenthal about the struggle to save unique Italian varieties that threaten to die out with the elderly gardeners and small farmers who maintain them.  The scientific term for these ancient vegetable varieties developed over many generations without the assistance of lab technicians is "landraces."

Of course, I'm only really contributing to the cause of genetic diversity as a consumer.  I'm not out there collecting old varieties all over the world and saving the seeds of the best plants for future generations.  I'm in here in the kitchen, roasting or sauteing the diversity.

But I am supporting the people who do save these unique varieties.  And totally, totally amusing myself in the process.  The seeds of some weird unfamiliar vegetable?  Absolutely the most fun, legal or illegal, that anybody can have for $2.


  1. That is why you humble intercontinental servant is always propagating his own, in third person.

    Gardeners, horticulturalists from nurseries of the third kind and the common place SUCK.

  2. Michele how big is your vegetable garden? This picture makes it look much bigger than mine. If you keep writing like this I will be forced to kill more wildflowers or squat on the neighbor’s flat piece of lawn across the scenic byway. I even think he would let me.

  3. I too was a repressed scientist because of the mess. This is why there is a kid’s area in my basement where they are allowed to do all sorts of wonderful potions etc. Occasionally an adult does need to intervene and insist that it sometimes gets cleaned up, but they sure do enjoy it. This year my friend and I did some hypertufa, yes adulthood it wonderful.

  4. I’m with you Michele. I love growing unusual veggies. I love the failures almost as much as the successes. I learn from each. It is fun, beautiful, and delicious ( most of the time) to grow the heirlooms you can’t typically find. Happy Gardening & Experimenting to you!

  5. I love this post. As a huge fan of the weird and wonderful I am with you! We all need to make an effort to grow a few “unknowns” next year (and save and trade those seeds!) in the name of healthy diversity. An idea: Wouldn’t it be cool to have “seed pals” from across the world, like pen pals?

  6. I love growing vegetables and I love eating vegetables, but I don’t have to eat the ones I grow to enjoy them. Most of the time it’s simply the cultivation of a new plant that excites me. If I can get something odd to grow from seed and produce, I can be happy without ever having to taste it.

  7. We were in Mansfield MO last month and stopped at Baker Creek. What a great place. It was so hard to pick which seeds I wanted to try! Ended up picking so many that I will share with family!

  8. Friends, neighbors, coworkers and general passers-by think I am an odd person for wanting to grow 16 varieties of tomatoes and bizarre heirloom melons – but then they taste them and say – “wow, I didn’t know that would be that good”. How many people have I introduced to goji berries in the last year? How many have tasted their first white tomato or their first little green melon that is reminiscent of a delicious apple? Life is good.

  9. Please cite the really unusual vegetables. I was a specialty grower for 20 years and there was nothing too far out for my clients. I had a yearround growing season and made full use of it. I would be really interested in trading notes on the seriously weird stuff.

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