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.

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9 responses to “Going to seed

  1. Blackswamp_Girl

    El, you are inspiring me to try to grow more heirloom biennials and save more seeds from them. As I have a small garden, though, I would like to pick your brain a little:

    Do you just make sure that you sow biennials like raddichio for two years in a row to ensure continuous seed sources of everything, or do you switch off and have raddichio going to seed one year, swiss chard the next, etc.?

  2. Hi Kim…I sow everything every year, it seems (and I have loads of space so it is relatively easy) and I simply allow a select few to go to seed each year. The radicchio, for example, never died over the winter, though it can often go to seed in the same year. (Like broccoli, or rapini.) Chard does require a second season to seed, like its sisters, the beets. I noticed you had some seeding onions (or alliums): they’re beautiful seedheads. Those are onion blossoms that are on my picture, by the way. But save the seed even if it’s not an heirloom, or even a hybrid. It’s just fun to see what comes up.

  3. Ms. Booty Homemaker

    lovely post.

    oh, the forties and mothering and going to seed are quite fine, thank you much.

    too late getting things in for lettuce season here, but i’ll have some for fall, you bet. at present what’s thriving *visibly* are (aside from the glorious toddler i’m tending) paste tomatoes, green to gold bells, oregano, rosemary, mexican sunflowers, and dill. this despite the dog and the babe into it all with admirable irreverence. everything else is coming along in its pokey way, just like this sweet life of mine.

  4. It’s all about making babies, isn’t it? 😉

  5. Blackswamp_Girl

    El, thanks for the answers! I may have to try some of that with the chard, beets, lettuces, etc. Most of what I have are heirlooms/open pollinated varieties except for the tomatoes and peppers that I caved in and bought as seedlings this year.

    The onions left for seed were happy accidents, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of those bloomstalks. Sometimes I feel like a little kid constantly exploring and experimenting in the garden. (And I like that.)

  6. What a great take on “going to seed”.
    Makes me feel lots better about my age. (58) What am I starching up for the next generation, or the next?
    And you remind me that I want to join the Seed Savers!

  7. “I am glad to be living it in a garden”… me, too! And the forties are grand, aren’t they?

  8. Kim, so much of this is fun trial and error, isn’t it? That’s what is so compelling about it, I think.

    Paige, it just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

    Liz, babies come in SO many forms. We have 10 little things here, if you count the child with the chicks and the keets.

    Moonbear, my mom and MIL say grandmothering is tons of fun, and I can believe it. And Seed Savers seems like quite the club. I would love to get ahold of some freaky beans from them. And maybe squash. And then tomatoes…

    Carol, keep using those hoes of yours and we’ll be saying that our 80s are fabulous, too.

  9. Exactly, El. ALL of nature is about making babies. 🙂 Which is why it’s sometimes a little tricky to go against one’s nature (speaking of myself here).

    But, I did see the cutest little duck babies today. Maybe I need some. sigh.

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