Coping strategies

Something that strikes me about the landrace gardening approach is that, in the early years, you are going to have fields with a large percentage of death. It is my understanding that field appearance is very much a source of pride and street cred for farmers. Some have claimed that the rise in popularity of hybrids is due in part to the street cred and pride you get from a field full of uniform, well-performing crops. In their best years, they advertise themselves and advertise your skills.

For most people, I would imagine that even one or two years of a struggling garden is a difficult thing to accept. The farmer’s bottom line and credibility are likely to suffer during those years. You may face peer pressure trying to explain why your fields are not producing big yields. If you give up on landrace gardening before reaching year 3, the strategy may be perceived as a huge failure.

I’m curious about strategies for dealing with the potentially negative emotional and social components of the landrace gardening approach. For some people, this may be easy, but for many I think it would be very difficult.

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I used to work for a woman that co-owned a farm business with her husband. She convinced him to let her put 5 acres near their farm office into organic wheat. The first year was pretty dismal - the field was mostly weeds and the total wheat harvest was something like 5 pounds. The husband was VERY embarrassed about the appearance of the field and even said he had to hang his head in shame when going into the local coffee shop because everyone teased him about that field.

As a side note, they replanted that dismal harvest of wheat using the seeds from the plants that survived and had a successful crop with much fewer weeds.

I myself live too far out in the boonies now to care about it or even have many people see my garden. If were an issue, I’d plant a border of flowers around the publicly visible parts of my garden to block the view. People (myself included) go nuts for lots of pretty flowers.

A hedge or fence would work too.

Although if a plant is obviously going to die before giving me what I need, I’ll cut it down for mulch and shove something else where it was.

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While I do take pride in my garden and do enjoy complements, My worry is will enough survive to feed us next winter. My garden is our main food source. While I am ready to make this leap and am willing to wait for results I am starting to get anxious.

It’s an interesting point. For us street cred doesn’t matter because our neighbours already think we’re loonies but I can certainly imagine it being an issue for some. Like Angel, I worry about the loss of food in the beginning though bad weather in the past has sometimes meant poor harvests anyway so that’s not a deal breaker. Oddly, the thing I find most difficult about the shift to landracing is giving up the attachment to varieties.

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That was an issue for me for the crops that are far outside my ideal zone-- peppers, melons and even tomatoes this year. I felt like if anybody came by my field I had to give them a little tour and explain that this was not a crop loss, in fact it was pretty exciting that I got anything at all. Everybody who got the explanation got excited about it too. If I was in a more visible area I probably would have made some signs with an explanation.

But if somebody is worried about the neighbors and peer pressure, and considering not changing anything because of that, I would just recommend

  • Starting with species that aren’t likely to die in your area.

  • Just keep doing what you’re doing, just allow cross pollination-- add whatever fertility, weeding makes you feel good about it. Stealth landracing!

  • You can always hide a dozen plants that might die or produce nothing hidden in a corner if you want…

  • Also there are some things people can do to get better success the first year. For example, Lofthouse moschata produced about 5X what the heirlooms moschatad did (they didn’t mature by frost or didn’t set fruit) and even better with melons. So I suppose that means, look for pre-regionally adapted seed, do what your normally do, and it will look fine.

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I think for alot of people who are interested in this… this is more important than “look at my picture perfect garden”…

I’m rural. No one is seeing my garden that isn’t close enough to have already seen the house in it’s usual disarray lol. But also, I don’t care about a perfect aesthetic garden. I’ll be sharing pictures (and video hopefully) of my garden and things. Anyone who is going to clutch their pearls over it… well I already know they aren’t on the same page and I don’t really care. :woman_shrugging:

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I’ve really felt this from time to time. I have a ton of strategies, but I have to say first that social cred or streetside aesthetics don’t mean a ton to me.

First, a story: my mom was visiting and asking about a patch of weeds. It was, literally, a patch of chest-high weeds I was leaving on the south slope of my perennial garden, so it was pretty noticeable. I explained that several soup pea plants were climbing many of those weeds, and I was selecting to see which ones would survive without water, and growing well enough to use the weeds as a platform instead of be smothered in them (I didn’t bother to tell her I dislike trellising, so I would only grow tall peas that would survive well around tall plants they could climb). She said “oh, yeah. Selection. That’s what you call it.” :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

But anyhow, strategies:

Keep growing a cultivar that works well for you, and grow your landrace in addition. Maybe this means splitting your garden area. It has three benefits: you are reminded you can still grow things, you still get a harvest the first couple years until the landrace begins to produce and can then be seeded in more of the total area, and it’s a source of pollen from something that definitely grows.

Similarly, instead of starting with the broadest possible range of seeds, try a couple new types at the end of each row every year. Save seeds from the interface, the two different plants next to each other, and develop your diverse seeds this way.

Let weeds grow in your field. It’ll keep the field green from a distance and a ton of them are edible so you get a yield + the competitive trait.

Really take the time to slow down and look at the survivors in all their stages. Marvel at them, notice what lets them succeed, think about how this miracle of adaptation to your specific site would be otherwise unavailable to you-- even if there are few of them.

Landrace one crop at a time. Once you’ve got the first one succeeding you’ll feel more confident in your second one.

Conversely, landrace at least three crops at a time. Then one will likely do better than the others in any given year, so you’ll generally be succeeding in something to keep you hopeful.

Find someone in a similar climate to you and start with some of their seed, or similarly, leave landrace information around in public areas/free libraries/request Joseph’s book at the library/leave brochures at seed swaps until someone in your town does the first couple years, then work with them.

Especially if you’re growing crops like beans and corn, slow down and look at the seeds. They’re beautiful. A field of corn where most of the plants don’t produce is hard to look at, but when you take those ratty, poorly-pollinated cobs and shell the seed off them you’ll have a jar of something that’s hard to look away from. That seed can feel like a real reward, even if it’s not super abundant the first year or two.

Revisit your goals often.

Follow people who have been doing this work for awhile, listen to their stories and look at their pictures. I’m always inspired.

Eat things when you’re standing out in your garden or your field, right from the field. No matter how low your yield is, there are usually at least weeds (or blossoms, or leaves, or even sometimes fruits) to eat while you’re out there. That is a real yield, it’s your land feeding you, and I find it to be a strong connector to my meaning.

@julia.dakin has a post about “what is your why?” which is lovely to think about and read through. (The search button isn’t working for me right now, but perhaps someone can edit the link into this post).

Joseph mentioned getting community members to bring seeds from their favourite-tasting foods to him, if it’s the kind of food where the seeds aren’t eaten. Involving people, and accepting their preferences into your landrace, seems like a pretty solid way of getting them to feel intrigued/curious.

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Use climate similar varieties/landraces to start (when possible) and thinning/over planting. I have limited space and I quite heavily thin plants, both those that I grow as transplants and those that I direct seed. I also grow them closer than many would, although there are limits how tight you can grow. Melons and watermalons I have pruned, melons to mostly single stem, watermelons little less. I have thinned even mature plants when they look like they aren’t up to the challenges to give more space for better plants. Some beans I had struggling hidden under corn. I still grow them under corn, but last year they went crazy. There are always some losses, but atleast for me those didn’t show as much to outside. Peppers that didn’t have time to ripen still looked nice and between better producing plants they weren’t the ones that stood out. Because my climate is right on the edge for many plants I have been really careful in choosing varieties to start with and use black blastic and cloth to have best change of getting seeds every year. I wouldn’t want to use, and I do plan to wean them out, but you gotta do what you gotta do. There are limits to how much plants can adapt to in short time. So if drought is your problem, you might want to water little on first years and once you have sufficient amount of seeds that are accustomed to your soil reduce watering. Have back ups like some more likely to succeed whether your main crop succeeds or fails. And I don’t think “pretty” gardens come with seeds, they come with experince. Anyone who just starts will have failures even with F1 seeds.

This is a good approach, especially if you want food in the larder. This is the approach I’m beginning to favour more and more.

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I’m not particularly concerned about the aesthetics of big empty gaps in my garden from everything dying, but I’m hugely concerned about food production loss when that happens. So my loose plan is to focus on one main vegetable staple per year. I’ll grow everything that pleases my whim, but I’ll plan on one specific plant family to provide most of my vegetables for that growing season.

In 2021, it was zucchinis. In 2022, I wanted it to be green beans, but they all died. So I went back to zucchinis. In 2023, I plan to try focusing on green beans again, and I’ll also focus on drying beans on the other side of my garden. I’m much more confident of my chances to suceed now, because in early 2022, I was planting three inbred varieties that are not adapted to my climate. This year, I’ll be planting a ton of genetically diverse beans from all over the place, representing six different species, plus varieties from neighbors who live within walking distance of me who have saved their own seeds.

This is exactly why I want to focus on one staple crop per year. By doing that, it gives me the chance to experiment with everything I want to, and to be okay (if disappointed) if everything else dies. If my staple of choice dies, but some of my other crops live (and it’s likely at least one plant family will be thriving!), I can look at the other crops, see what’s doing well, and change my plans to plant a whole bunch more of that to make it my vegetable staple instead.

Of course, much as I like zucchinis and much as I appreciate their insane productivity, I do hope it won’t always be zucchinis I mostly eat. :wink:

One further possibility is to just landrace what grows well there already, not in the sense of wilding the domestic cultivars, but in the sense of bringing your native/ volunteer plants into cultivation. On my property that would look like working with saskatoons, strawberries, dandelions, and lamb’s quarters (which are my weeds) rather than bringing in more traditional crops.

I live in out of the way place and few neighbors I have don’t care one way or the other that my garden is ugly. That gives me the freedom to do what I want with it. I’ve heard I “don’t know what I’m doing with my plants” from a co-worker but I know I’m going against the grain.

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My early landrace crops were beautifully grown, complete with near perfect weeding, and straight rows. I was young, and ambitious back then.

There is no reason to fear that landrace crops will be less productive than what you are already growing… Especially if you are using your current varieties as the foundation for your landrace! Gradually adding diversity and cross-pollination to your current varieties is a safe, easy way to develop landraces.

My ideal garden would be an ecosystem, where I neither plant, nor toil during the growing season. I would just go out to harvest food in what looks for all the world like a meadow in the forest. People love forest meadows.

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Joining this course has helped me quite a bit. Seeing and hearing about other landrace gardening projects here is so encouraging, just to know I’m part of a ‘community of practice.’

I recently find myself explaining myself to folks like the visiting plumbers in a more confident way. I now say things like “I’m studying traditional farming and plant breeding” or “I’m breeding my own varieties to grow here without inputs”.

That being said, I definitely felt the need for coping strategies last growing season. I’m part of a community of growers and farmers locally, but I’m not well acquainted with the handful of other gardeners who are ‘marching to their own drum’. Thankfully my extended family, to whom I’m accountable for the way our farm is being managed, is open-minded. They worry about whether the farm will be viable, but don’t quibble over my ideas.

Even that dynamic can be a little tricky: for example, I made a big/fun deal out of a bell pepper breeding growout last year. For several reasons it failed utterly. I had been telling the extended family that I would be producing them for market sale as well as seed, but neither worked out. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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There’s some great ideas here. I guess I just want to riff on one.

To a point by Ray, plenty of people think we’re nuts for subscribing to these ideas. However much you care what people think of you and what you’re doing, try to reduce that amount. Do things despite their potential to cause you embarrassment. Find friends who are doing similar things (mentioned by several folks in reference to community) and/or are actively striving to free themselves from the tyranny of inner prediction of public perception.

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Sayings from my grandmother…

What other people think of me is none of my business.

People don’t think about me at all, they are too worried about themselves.

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I see myself as a nonconformist.

Not an anticonformist: that’s a person who goes against whatever the crowd is doing, just because the crowd is doing it. A nonconformist: a person who does what they think is good, right, or better, regardless of whether the crowd is doing it or not.

I like it when the crowd enjoys the same thing I’m doing. That’s so comfortable and nice! It won’t stop me if they all disagree with me, though. I will do what I feel is right, even if I’m the only one doing it.

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@Angel, if the garden is your main food source, will you be growing mostly varieties that you already know do well for you as the foundation of your future landrace?

I have several varieties that have done well for me for a very long time, I never discarded any of them. They are most definitely the foundations of landraces and in some cases, especially with things that don’t easily cross, still in their pure “heirloom” state. My KY Wonder beans, and Mr. Stripy tomatoes are still as they were decades ago as are my Arkansas Little Leaf cucumbers. I actually used backup seeds to go back to the pure cucumbers after not liking what came from mixing in new kinds.

My Sugar Baby Watermelons and Minnesota Midget muskmelons are long gone after mixing them 50/50 with bunches of new kinds. I’m still selecting them back in favor of smaller fruits but love the new colors and flavors that showed up.

I love my landrace onions; I have no clue as to what the original varieties were. I plant seeds in late summer or fall and whatever lives through winter becomes part of the landrace. I’m moving toward allowing them to just seed themselves rather than collecting and planting seeds. My radishes, dill, marigolds, current crossed tomatoes and some other things do that too. I hope soon to have my brassica landrace (aka broccol-ish) doing that as well, but it’s too early in the project to depend on that and only collect backup seeds.

I sort of consider those things that are able to adjust their bloom/seed/growing cycle to my climate and become basically feral but at the same time not losing their ability to produce good food as my real landraces. For the most part they include only things that easily cross pollinate.

Things like beans, corn and cowpeas that don’t easily cross pollinate and that can’t really reseed themselves for a crop the next year are more variety mixes rather than genetic mixes. I don’t know if I should call them landraces or not.

I do have a significant number of crossed beans and their descendants, but it has taken years to discover them and I don’t know their percentage in the overall population. I guess I can call some of my beans a landrace because even if they aren’t crossed, they still are well adapted to my garden.

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Backup seeds for the win!

I’ve decided to freeze a few dozen of my best seeds from every year of my garden so that I can always go back to an earlier version if I decide my population has drifted in a less-optimal direction later. I’d love to never need them, but if I ever do need them, I’ll be very grateful to have them.

In the same way that I’ve only needed my computer backups about three times in the past ten years. But when I have needed them, I’ve been very grateful to have them.

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