By LYNNE IRONS
I have a character defect that I am willing to share with the reading public. I refuse to wait for help when I decide to take on a project. While attempting to move a sleeper couch, I gave myself a case of tennis elbow. Writing and typing a column will be quite a challenge this week. Good thing I have no pressing garden chores. In fact, the only gardening remotely possible is ordering seeds and planning. I have hauled out a few reference books in hopes of furthering my garden education. I hope I live long enough to read all the books I have accumulated over the years.
The more reading I do, the more I am convinced that we should be seeking biodiversity in our selection of seeds I ordered all heirloom seeds this year. Many of our old varieties have been hybridized for longer storage capabilities, greater size, more uniform shape or color, earlier maturation, or supposed pest and disease resistance. In many instances, flavor is the first quality to be sacrificed.
At our last meeting of Homegrown, I picked up a copy of Native Seed Search. It is a fascinating read. They offer an opportunity to join Gardener’s Network. They are interested in having folks like you and me become members. They would like us to grow, evaluate and test certain crops and provide feedback at the season’s end. For you computer types, the Web site is nativeseeds.org. The few of us left in the old century can ring toll-free, 1-866-622-5561. This is an organization located in Tucson, Ariz., but they would like some of the original seeds from our southwest Native American forebears (i.e., Hopi, Apache and Navajo) to be grown and tested in various parts of the country.
I am particularly interested in amaranth. I have been growing it for years as an ornamental, especially the cultivar love-lies-bleeding. Amaranth was a grain worshipped by the Aztecs and other native South Americans. It is depicted on Pre-Colombian tombs. Cortez and his compadres destroyed all they could find in typical European conquistador fashion to further decimate the native population, culture and livelihood.
Amaranth greens can be eaten raw or steamed when small. The seeds can be cooked as a hot cereal. My granddaughter, Violet, calls it her all-time favorite breakfast topped with maple syrup and milk. The tiny grains pop in your mouth and are similar to cream of wheat only way better . . . and more nutritious.
There is the Hopi Red Dye variety from which a natural food dye is extracted. I thought I would order Paiute originally from the Kaibab Southern Piute Reservation in southern Utah. Its leaves and seeds are edible and I figure Utah would have a similar growing season to us here in southern New England. I will keep you posted on my testing of the product. Remember, when saving seed one needs a certain distance between varieties. For example, amaranth, corn, squash and lima beans need a mile or more. If they cross-pollinate with one of their cousins, next year’s seed will not be true.
My friend Sharlee visited Italy a few years ago and was so impressed with the number of personal gardens. Everyone had them even in tiny apartment yards. Some were only three or four feet square. They all were perfectly manicured with mostly tomatoes and basil. The tomatoes were staked in a utilitarian manner to get the most yield from the tiny plot. If we could all take a lesson here, and try our hand at producing something to eat.
This brings me to a political segment. I believe all food is political. We are at a crossroads. This is an opportunity for the Obama family to set a real example and plant a vegetable garden in the White House lawn. It would be a throw-back to other hard times. Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the South Lawn and do not forget Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden.
As I am not about to e-mail him, I am going to jot a note off to the President. There is so much health-related bad news in our country as a result of our Big Agricultural — corporate greed — diabetes, especially in urban areas, for example.
Come on, Mr. President, we are counting on you. Invite Michael Pollan over for a chat. Give us a change in every area. Well-fed people are more likely to care about and serve others.