What am I growing in Zone 6b?

I have had a garden for three years now. Every year I face new challenges and learn new things, but what hasn’t changed is the presence of my Master Seed List. You are free to check it out, but bear in mind it is sloppy and ever changing! I include a column each for the variety, amount I’d like to grow (a year’s supply for family of 2), when and how to plant based on the average last frost date, and plant spacing. It evolves every year but in choosing seeds I have several criteria in mind. I will keep this post up to date, and eventually I will add my garden diagram to the master seed list.

Criteria 1: Disease and/or Heat tolerant

Seeds and plants must be either or both disease or heat resistant, when applicable. Of course there is always room to assume some plants are neither particularly disease or heat resistant. Each year I’ve gardened, there have been heat waves in the high 90s, where many plants might struggle. A natural disease resistances also minimizes likelihood of losing a crop or the need for treating a disease.

Criteria 2: Organic, Heritage, and Open Air Pollinated

To be clear, all heritage strains are open-air pollinated, but not all open-air pollinated plants are heritage or organic. Essentially in the order as listed, I choose organic first, heritage when organic is unavailable, and open-air pollinated when neither organic nor heritage are available. While we all garden for different reasons, self-sustainability is important for me. I want to ensure that I can save seeds from my own plants for future sewing. Hybrids and plants that don’t pollinate well don’t lend themselves to reliable future offspring.

Criteria 3: Storage and Preservation

All varieties must be well suited to storage and preservation. For example, my primary tomato is a low-moisture Roma tomato which is excellent for making spaghetti sauce and other canned tomato products. I can’t give up my brandywine tomato though, so in order to save seeds I intend to alternate growing two plants of each variety enclosed in the greenhouse every other year. The onion I chose can be stored up to 12 months (a pungent yellow onion). All of my winter squash are suitable to 4-6 months of storage under the right conditions.

Criteria 4: Ability to Save Seeds

Many species will, of course, cross-pollinate. For example, do you grow both sweet and hot peppers? Because they are in the same botanical family, Capsicum annuum, they will cross pollinate. While the fruits in year one will be as they were intended, their offspring (grown from seeds from the fruits of year one) can have traits from any of the plants grown. Anyone up for a spicy bell pepper?

Gardeners are left with many choices in terms of seed-saving. You can simply grow one variety of every plant family, but of course, who wants to chose between a jalapeño or a bell pepper? Both have their utilities. Or, you can choose to hand pollinate. For some varieties it is easy to chose just one. I settled on one onion, one beet, and cucumbers won’t cross pollinate with melons or squash. Watermelons won’t even cross pollinate with other melons, like a muskmellon. So you are fairly safe if you only choose one variety of each. Unfortunately, simply spacing them apart doesn’t work as most varieties need 1/4 to one mile of distance to ensure cross pollination will not occur.

Squash is a fun topic on its own, as some squash won’t pollinate with others. There are three families of squash: cucurbita pepo, cucurbita moschata, and cucurbita maxima. They cannot cross pollinate with each other. For example, pattypan, acorn, zucchini, and others are in the C. pepo family, but butternut, falls in another, and so on. If one chooses to grow both zucchini and yellow squash, without hand pollination you couldn’t save their seeds as the resulting fruit from those seeds would likely be a cross. You could, however, choose a zucchini and a butternut, and they would not cross pollinate.

I am really not motivated at this point to try my hand at hand pollination, so I opted to choose only three squash varieties for 2021: A patty pan which is in the cucurbita pepo family, a Honeynut squash (Cucurbita moschata) and a Sweet Meat Winter Squash (Cucurbita maxima). Where is the zucchini you may ask? Well the patty pan is typically grown as a summer squash and can be used as a zucchini would in any recipe which calls for zucchini. If left on the plant, the squash will grow and form a tough skin making it suitable for long-term storage and can be eaten as a winter squash. See how that kills several birds with one stone? The honeynut squash is much like a smaller butternut squash and I love them in soups. The sweet meat winter squash is beautiful, and suitable for long term storage. In this way, all seeds will be true to form for next year!

Full disclosure: I have grown the honeynut squash with considerable success. I also grew spaghetti squash and a sugarpie pumpkin with enormous success. The plant was quite prolific. Sadly it is in the same family as all summer squash and I didn’t want to eliminate summer squash. I grew a jarrehdale pumpkin, but only had one pumpkin on one vine, and had several vines. My compromise to get a blue pumpkin is to grow the sweet meat winter squash, and hope that it is prolific! Because the seeds can last for several years and I get many more than I will grow, next year I will likely grow the sugerpie pumpkin anyways, and simply not save the seeds from the patty pan nor the sugarpie. if the sweet meat winter squash is a success, the sugarpie can go. Or I can grow it every other year and simply save seeds from the off year.

Criteria 5: Looks!

This applies primarily to the squash. I also chose my squash, after disease resistance and utility, based on looks. Since the squash needs to cure outside for 2-4 weeks, what better place to do it than on my front porch? This is what fall is all about. I also selected pretty popcorn, as it too, must spend some time curing and can do so while hanging prettily on my front porch.

What are you growing this year? Do you have any criteria for what you grow? Let me know in the comments.

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