The first year I grew my own garden plants from seed…2020. I learned a lot and along the way I also found some keepers that will definitely be grown again in 2021. All in the efforts for long-term sustainability.
Seeds for Sustainability
I decided to start my garden almost completely from seed in 2020 with the main goal of long-term sustainability and savings. I’m a money saver, so the very thought of putting up a good bounty of food literally from pennies screamed my name. My mom had always grown a garden, but any plants that needed to be started months in advance she would buy from a greenhouse. Yes, maybe simpler but definitely more spendy. By purchasing seed and starting my own each year, I would cut my starting expense down.
*Disclaimer* I did purchase a few plants at a greenhouse for 2020. My reasoning for this was because if I failed at growing plants from seed or my sources didn’t end up being good, at least I would have some produce from a source I knew should be successful.
I purchased most of my seeds from Baker Creek. In fact, all of them. I had followed both Jess at Roots and Refuge Farm and Jill at The Prairie Homestead on YouTube for a few months at the end of 2019. They both had purchased and started seeds from Baker Creek in the past and inspired me to look into this venture. Both had seemed to have good luck, so I took a leap and purchased some for myself.
Why Baker Creek? Long-term sustainability. There’s that word again. Baker Creek sells almost completely heirloom seed varieties. All of the seeds I started this year were heirlooms because I loved the option that I could save seeds from my plants this year to reduce having to buy seeds in the future… Long-term savings? You bet. This is primarily why I purchased and grew my green beans from Baker Creek even though my mom had always purchased from a local garden shop. The very idea of saving seed for the vegetable that most often finds itself on our table made me jump for joy.
So, let’s get into what I actually grew and what my real thoughts are, shall we?
Starting with my favorite garden plant! I grew 4 types of tomatoes from seed all of which did pretty well. I definitely had my favorites along with some I won’t be growing again but overall, a great experience starting them from seed!
Granny Cantrell German Pink
This was probably my favorite tomato of the year. It’s an absolutely beautiful large pink beefsteak tomato. I didn’t have an issue with the skin cracking yet when processing the skin was thinner and easily removable. The taste was superb, slightly sweeter than your average red tomato. Not only were the fruit large, but it was very productive and bountiful. The plant starts themselves were hardy, looked wonderful, and just took off. I ended up having 5 plants in my garden this year, a very fortunate coincidence. I saved seeds back even though I had plenty still in my seed pack because I plan to continue to plant these and would like to see how my saved seeds do before relying completely on saved seeds. Overall, I just loved this plant. Wonderful, wonderful experience.
I had issues with these seedlings, however in hindsight I’m leaning towards this being operator error. I had overwatered them and some of the leaves yellowed and dopped and in addition, white spots formed on the stem. The leaves also curled in funny ways. I started three and ended up planting only one. While the leaves of this plant normally have a little more “droop”, curl, and fineness too them, some curled in odd ways and would never open up. The one plant I did end up getting in the ground did fairly well. However, I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get more fruit than I did.
The fruit that I did get were large, had small seeds, and were very meaty with little gel. A perfect paste tomato. Considering that I received very few fruits from the plant, though, I don’t know if for me it will be worth it to plant again. I focus on food production for my family, so the more pounds of fruit I can get the better therefore other varieties fit my purposes to a higher degree. In 2021, I believe I’ll be leaving this plant out of the list, unless I surprise myself and try it one more year!
San Marzano Lungo #2
This tomato is a thick paste variety. It has very little gel and adds a wonderful flavor. The variety is also well known as an Italian paste variety. The thin and almost elongated pear-shaped fruit are easily processed as well.
I had wonderful luck starting and growing this variety. Combined with the flavor, ease in processing, and lack of gel, it most likely has earned a forever home in my garden. I much prefer this variety to the Roma’s I have grown in years past, likely because on average I do believe the San Marzano Lungo #2’s were larger than the Roma’s as well as more bountiful.
The Yellow Pear is definitely a different tomato. While very productive once in the garden, a hard plant for me to start. Out of three started, I only had one in the garden. I had disease issues with this variety while inside. Again, operator error may well have been a problem, but overall, just not a healthy plant until placed outdoors.
Regarding the fruit, this variety is a bit “mealy” and likes to crack. Yellow skinned varieties are known for being thinner skinned so cracking can be more common. Overall, I didn’t enjoy the texture. A plant again for me? Most likely not – a personal preference.
As stated before, I was very enthusiastic about saving seeds from my own green bean plants because then, theoretically, I would never need to buy green bean seed again. As an annual plant, it produces seed each year and is extremely easy to save back. I picked two varieties that were supposedly good for canning, ideal for me, and that had good ratings regarding growth and productivity. I saved seeds from both of the heirloom varieties because they both produced well and had good qualities.
The Calima green bean was definitely a keeper mainly because it took longer to get woody and was therefore better for snapping. The bean was long and slender with little to no imperfections. The taste was also fantastic. I will say that it did take longer to mature and produced later in the season than the Contender bean.
This bean variety is a bush variety. The plants were definitely not super condensed but instead had a vine like look while remaining bushed. With a strong wind, they definitely flattened a bit but snapped out of it in a couple days. Something I will say is that the flowers are very delicate. If you picked your beans too often, you might end up losing a good number of blossoms which in turn means less production. Definitely wait several days in-between pickings.
The Contender green bean is an early producing bush variety that is extremely productive. The plants are pretty sturdy and can withstand a good deal of weather. I liked this bean, except for the fact that if you accidentally waited just a day or two longer than you should, the bean will get too woody and inedible. You absolutely have to pick this bean variety young.
This bean is good for production as long as you stay on top of your pickings. The results is a bounty of green beans perfect for canning.
This can be a tricky crop to grow and I feel like 2020 taught me this lesson. The plants themselves can be pretty sturdy but getting a decent sized crop can be a different story.
Calabrese Green Sprouting
Broccoli was a struggle for me. I only grew one variety and I still wonder if I maybe started the seeds too late as the heads didn’t get very large before they started wanting to bloom. The plants themselves did well and were healthy, however moths and worms did start to be a problem as the summer went on.
I might go ahead and try this variety again and start the seeds earlier to see if I can’t get a decent crop from them. We really do like broccoli so I would love to be able to get a good crop. However, if they begin to be too much work for their worth, the crop might back out of my typical garden produce and instead the store’s produce section might become our supplier.
Who doesn’t love a good pepper. I love throwing my spicy peppers in stewed tomatoes and salsa’s. I’ve learned over the past year, actually, that I love stewed tomatoes. I use them as a substitute for Rotel and they also really make my Chili’s pop. A large part of their flavor is really due to the peppers that get thrown in so choosing wisely can result in some delicious meals!
The Lipstick pepper is a sweet red pepper. I wanted so badly to love this pepper, but I think they just took too long to grow for the length of my growing season. I only had a few turn red and of the ones that did, they really just didn’t wow me. Would I grow this again? Yeah maybe. This coming year? Maybe not. I feel I have a small amount of valuable space that should maybe designated towards other produce.
The Anaheim pepper was such a good choice for me to plant. I used them in my stewed tomatoes and even my tomato soup. The plants get crazy tall and the peppers themselves are pretty good sized. I didn’t have any disease issues; however I would have been happier if they had produced a few more than they did. Overall, for me it was a great choice and I’ll probably continue to plant them.
Bullnose Bell Pepper
The Bullnose Bell pepper is a smaller bell pepper I would say. I picked mine while they were green. Personally, I don’t know if they would have had time to turn red in South Dakota. They went really well in my tomato soup and I also enjoyed throwing them on pizzas and fresh dishes.
The plants themselves are short and stalky. Overall good producers. By picking the peppers green, the plant actually decided to flower again and produce more fruit. I’ll likely plant this variety again, however I’ll probably pick them earlier this coming year in order to get more peppers.
The Tam Jalapeno overall produced fairly small jalapenos. I used them in my stewed tomatoes along with the Anaheim’s. The plants themselves were medium sized compared to the Bullnose Bell and Anaheim plants. Part of me wonders if a little bit of cold weather right after I planted them may have resulted in some plant stunting. The plants were healthy and did overall quite well. Very decently productive. Most likely a plant again, even if only to see if the shortness was operator error.
I love my winter squash and you’ll see that reflected in my choices to follow! The only summer squash I grow is zucchini mainly because you can make pickles with it, throw it in baked goods, and they’re super productive. I did not save any seeds from my squash this summer for a couple main reasons. One, I have plenty of seeds left for each kind. Two, I planted all of my squash together and since they easily cross pollinate, I didn’t want to end up with some weird hybrid varieties. In 2021, I plan to plant just a few favorites, and keep some distance in between them so I can safely save back seed!
Black Beauty Zucchini
I choose this zucchini variety mainly due to the fact that it looked, well, standard. It produced well. The zucchs were good sized, quick growing, and seemingly disease tolerant. Will I continue to grow this variety? Yes, definitely. I have a good number of seeds left in the package that I bought, and I believe they’re good for a number of years. However, instead of growing several plants like I did last year, I believe I’m only going to plant one. I had so many zucchinis that I ended up with many packages of frozen shredded zucchini for baked goods. All I really need for the future is some for fresh. Hence why one plant should be more than enough!
New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin
I absolutely loved this pie pumpkin! The plants produced extremely well. Each pumpkin yields somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 cups of pumpkin purée which is perfect for pretty much any standard pumpkin recipe. The purée freezes well and the pumpkins themselves keep for several months. A plant again? Most definitely. In 2021? Maybe not. I have so many quart bags of frozen pumpkin purée, I think I’ll be good to go for a year or two because I really only use it in baked goods or as a small addition to some meals. Plus, it gives me room in my garden to plant other crops!
Table Queen Acorn
I knew I liked acorn squash, so I went ahead and choose a variety on Baker Creek that had pretty good ratings. It did so well! I still have a good number of seeds left in my packet and will probably be planting again in 2021. It produced quite well, but because they are so much smaller, they overall yielded less and therefore I wasn’t able to save as much by freezing.
This squash has a light colored, sweeter flesh with a very dark colored rind. I had a few that weren’t able to mature in time before the frost, however the vast majority did. I maybe don’t prefer the acorn squash as much to comparatively a buttercup, but it’s still very good. It also has a good number of seeds in each squash, perfect for seed saving!
I absolutely loved this squash. It said on the package that it was developed at NDSU as a replacement for sweet potatoes because in colder climates, sweet potatoes don’t always have time to mature. I would agree with the taste and texture! This squash is extremely fine textured when cooked and very sweet like a sweet potato. The bright orange colored flesh is rarely stringy when cook and requires no kind of puréeing, just mashing with a fork after being baked in the oven whole. The plant itself was healthy, productive, and overall, just a great experience.
This squash… I had high hopes but honestly haven’t loved it. I much prefer the buttercup. The Butternut Walthum just maybe didn’t have quite long enough to mature and hence the taste may have been affected. The plants themselves did well, took off, produced a good number of squash, were healthy the whole summer. I really wish they had done better. For this reason, I don’t think I’ll be planting this variety again but will instead stick to shorter day varieties that we prefer to eat.
Starting from Seed a Success
Overall, my experience starting my garden from seed and growing these heirloom varieties was a success. My goal to move towards long-term sustainability through using heirloom seeds is definitely achievable for what my plans are. So much so, that I feel comfortable trying other common produce that seed saving may be a bit more difficult for such as onions.
When life can be so monotonous, going to work, coming home and doing the same things, starting seeds and growing heirlooms to possibly save seed for future years is such a rewarding experience. It’s been so fun watching the full life cycle of these plants and so rewarding to hold produce in your hand that literally came from a tiny seed. The new goals I have for my garden have given me something continual to look forward to.
And it all started with just a seed, the mere hope of saving a bit of money.