You’ve discovered this amazing gardening technique called landrace gardening. And it promises to solve all of your problems. You can grow more food with way less effort. You don’t need any pesticides or fertilizers, and you can even go on vacation in the summer without worrying about watering.
All you need to do is to grow your own locally adapted, genetically diverse varieties. Simple, right?
You start to calculate in your head, adding up the amount of room you need to grow out 50 squash varieties.
Hmmm, that is a lot of space. No matter, you’ll figure it out. Then you factor in how long it takes to grow squash, and consider that you might not even get a harvest the first year.
That nagging little voice in your brain gets a bit louder. Is this even doable? Do you really have the room and the skills to grow out your own landrace?
Thank that little voice for its opinion and then show it the door. Because it doesn’t have to be difficult to start landrace gardening. Focus on the three tips below, and you’ll be a landrace gardener before the season is through.
When you’re starting something new, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Why try one variety when you can try three hundred? This is particularly relevant for gardeners, who seem to have more hope and curiosity in their green thumbs than most do in their entire bodies.
If you’re unsure where to start, focus on the crop that you like to eat the most. Once you’ve got a landrace of your favorite food, nothing can stop you from that bountiful garden of your dreams.
Tip #1: Start with a grex
Landrace varieties are genetically diverse and promiscuously pollinated. The fast way to achieve this is by planting many varieties and allowing them to cross. How many varieties, you ask? Some landrace gardeners start thousands of seeds, from hundreds of varieties, to get the diversity they're looking for. The resulting seeds, after a year of cross-pollination, are called a grex.
You can jump-start your landrace garden by purchasing grex seeds – they’re available from several seed companies. Grex seeds are like the starter kit for landrace gardening. They offer plenty of genetic diversity without your having to actually grow out thousands of seeds. Plus, they allow you the freedom to choose the traits that are most important to you early in the process.
If you’re a new gardener, or one with limited space, there is no better hack to start landrace gardening than to source grex seeds and build your variety from there.
Calendula Landrace by: @ShineandSeed
Tip #2: Be a hands-off plant parent
It’s tempting to spend all of your time nurturing your seedlings in the garden. Do they have enough water? Is the sun too hot for them? There is no greater pain than to walk out one morning and find every tiny tomato plant gone - cut off just above the ground by some unseen attacker.
But landrace gardening is all about resilience. Which means you have to kick the plants out of the nest young and let only the strongest survive. The more you can let nature select for you, the stronger your plants will be.
An example of this recently came up in one of the landrace gardening monthly meetings. A student asked whether to thin seedlings after planting. The answer was that you should thin seedlings if you want plants that need to be thinned. If you want plants that outcompete other plants around them -- weeds or other seedlings -- let them grow and save seed from the ones that survive.
You may still feel a twinge in your heart every time a plant succumbs to nature. But your landrace will be stronger in the long run if you can go with the flow and let whatever happens, happen.
Tip #3: Keep what brings you joy
Photo by: @OxtonOrganics
It’s the end of the season, and it is time to decide what gets to stay and what goes. Some of the plants will eliminate themselves without any help. Then it’s up to you to select for the traits you want, or more simply to keep what brings you joy.
Were you swept away in the Marie Kondo mania a few years ago? Did you hold every item in your house and wait to see if it brought you joy? Well, it’s time to apply that principle to your seed saving.
When you cradle that vegetable (or fruit), does it make you feel proud? Did it grow this season like a champ, needing nothing from you but good vibes as you relaxed in a lawn chair a few feet away? Does the taste make your mouth water just thinking about it?
Select for the genetics you want! If you have plenty of seed from the really good plants, don’t be tempted to save from the ones that don’t taste good or that didn’t thrive.
Grow the landrace garden of your dreams
Landrace gardening opens up a world of possibilities, but it can feel confusing to know where to start.
Decide right now which crop you want to landrace this year.
Find a grex to start with and have instant diversity. Be a hands-off plant parent once you get started. And then be sure to select for what you love.
Grow the landrace garden of your dreams.