Gardener Geneticist Carol Deppe
Annuals in a perennial polyculture? Sunny patches of annual staple crops should an important part of any food forest garden system. If you are interested in delicious, productive, and disease resistant crops, I hope you know of the excellent vegetable breeding work of Carol Deppe. www.CarolDeppe.com.
I was first introduced to Deppe’s work when I came upon the advanced seed savers book entitled “Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s & Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving” published by Chelsea Green; 2nd edition (December 2000).
Breeding is taking the best of the past and adapting it to your own needs and conditions for optimized flavor, productivity, disease resistance, earliness, color, or other qualities you may require. Just by selecting the plants we choose to save seed from, we are making choices about what next generation will be like. Topics include creating new varieties by selection and hand cross pollination, minimum population importance in avoiding ‘genetic bottlenecks’ and domesticating wild plants, discussed both in theory and in practical application of techniques.
Such breeding is the next level beyond the basics. One of the best on basic seed saving essentials is “Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners” by Susan Ashworth, published by Seed Savers Exchange; 2 edition (March 1, 2002). Rumors are that this book will be completely revamped, with a new edition forthcoming.
This leads us to Deppe’s next book, which really got me excited: “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times” Chelsea Green Publishing; 1 edition (October 5, 2010). With a title appropriate for the middle of one of the worst economic crisis ever, an ever more variable climate, and the recent ‘end of the Mayan calendar’, this book is very grounding. Written in a style that made me think of the author as a wise and productive gardening grandmother geneticist; her anecdotal gardening stories and genetic research data points are an informative and entertaining combination. The table of contents and first chapter is here, in pdf format: 0-Resilient Gardener Contents & chapter 1
The sub-sub-title “Including the Five Crops You Need to Survive and Thrive- Potatoes, Corn Beans, Squash and Eggs” describes her view of resilience- focusing on the ‘staple crops’ (beyond just fruits and veggies). I love that these are all crops native to this hemisphere, developed by original people from North and South America.
My favorite example of an archetypical traditional agricultural polyculture is: corn, beans and squash, known as the “Three Sisters”. They fit into each other in such a polyculture with the corn supporting the beans with a ground cover of squash shading out weeds. Resilience and diversity are found in other regards: the increased nutrition of the complimentary amino acids found in corn and beans, with squash as a great source of vitamin A, protein rich seeds, edible vine tips and immature fruits. Beyond nutrition, Deppe is only interested in good tasting food, and describes her favorite ways to actually prepare and eat the crops, from polenta and cornbread, to parched corn and dried summer squash. You may also note that all the resilient crops mentioned in this book are gluten-free, an important consideration with the increase in awareness about gluten sensitivity, or more severe intolerance with celiac disease, such as Deppe has.
Potatoes are also very productive and nutritious, with thousands of varieties. They are even being ‘dry farmed’ here in Marin county, California. The potatoes are planted in the moist ground of late winter/early spring, and mature into the dry summer season of our California Mediterranean climate with no additional irrigation water needed.
Animals are important to any sustainable productive polyculture. Ducks, like the semi-wild ‘Muscovy’ breed originating in Columbia, South America, are adapted to places with some water available (like rainy Oregon where Deppe is located), while chickens are adapted to drier climates. Ducks produce good meat and intensely rich and large eggs, but even for vegetarians, ducks provide other benefits. Less destructive to gardens than the ‘scratch and peck’ chicken (ducks do step on plants, and may eat some), they are mostly more gentle in the garden and eat lots of pests. As Bill Mollison has been quoted “You don’t have have an excess of slugs, you have deficiency of ducks,”
Raising backyard chickens is a very popular right now, so if you want the best book on raising chickens in harmony with your garden, you must read Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard By Jessi Bloom, published by Timber Press (January 23, 2012). This is a really lovely book full of photographs and information on how productive gardens and happy chickens can not only just co-exist, but actually benefit each other. With Bloom’s beautiful book, I am sure gardens with free range chickens will become more common, and more humane, than those with chickens that are ‘all cooped up’. Bloom is a talented garden designer and speaker (see http://nwbloom.com/company/the-team/) who is teaming up with permaculture educator and designer Dave Boehnlien (see http://terraphoenixdesign.com/team_daveboehnlein.php). They are working on a new book of a beautiful permaculture gardens and how to make them – stayed tuned!
Now for the opportunity to continue with Ms. Deppe’s garden breeding wisdom: plant some of her seeds! Many varieties she mentions in her ‘The Resilient Gardener’ are not to be found anywhere, but directly from her. So, from an email I received today, here is the introduction to her 2013 offerings:
Carol Deppe/Fertile Valley Seeds 2013 SEED LIST
(To be on the mailing list for my email seed list email your request to
Here is my 2013 seed list. This year I’ve added one new heirloom dry bean, my favorite edible podded pea that is also a great eat-all pea shoot crop, an heirloom lettuce with spectacular flavor, the Morton line of ‘Lacinato’ kale, and three relatively unknown delicious greens crops that are far moreproductive than those ordinarily grown that I grow using a pattern I call the “eat-all greens garden.” I outline the eat-all greens garden concept and give a preview of my next book here associated with the descriptions and growing instructions for the eat-all greens varieties. In addition, in this list I’ve added additional growing and cooking information to a number of the variety descriptions.
All the varieties on this list are bred or chosen primarily for spectacular flavor, secondarily for
high vigor and high yield when grown under organic growing conditions. All varieties are open pollinated, public domain, and non-GMO. All seeds are packed for 2013 and meet or exceed expected germination standards unless stated otherwise. Any liability is limited to the cost of the seeds.
ORDER DEADLINE: April 30 or when I run out of seeds, whichever comes first. I operate as
a seed company (fulfilling orders and dealing with seed correspondence) only seasonally. The rest of the time I’m gardening, breeding plants, and writing.
Feel free to pass this list on to anyone who might be interested.
So I will- here is the listing in pdf and doc formats:
FVS Seed List 2013 pdf
FVS Seed List 2013 doc
print it out and send in your order, as she does not offer every variety every year.
In this listing you will also find a code for a 35% discount on Deppe’s books and any other you purchase from her publisher, Chelsea Green Press, one of the best in sustainability books. Deppe also mentions her upcoming book The Tao of Gardening (In progress. Prospective pub date is fall 2014.)
February is early spring here in California, so keep those annual gardens going!