Photo by Joanne Will
A few years ago we had a significant powdery mildew problem with our basil. We had a small harvest, but since we rely on basil to brighten up our whole year, we went in search of mold-resistant lines. I wrote about it in the December 2017 / January 2018 issue and have since received several inquiries and letters asking me to report on the results of these experiments. In short, we rescued seeds from the least affected individuals during that bad year and later mixed them with seeds from several varieties obtained from various commercial sources in hopes of the highest genetic variability that we could easily achieve. In the following year we spread these seeds in different raised beds, in containers and on cultivated soil. To say we had a ton of basil this year would be an understatement. We had some mold, but not as bad as last year.
After we were fed up with different types of basil this year, we again saved seeds by collecting ripe fruit stalks, hanging them in clusters and hanging them upside down on a lamp in the dining room near the wood stove. The following spring we took these grapes and beat them on the surface of apartments that we placed under growing lights, and later we beat them directly on the ground in the beds where we were going to grow basil. What we experienced was an explosion of incredible diversity. Some plants were similar to the strains we started with, but most of them were obviously cross-strains, with lovely colors and a full gradient of basil flavors, from sweet to spicy. We saw no rot, powdery mildew or any disease in the basil that year.
Fast forward a few seasons and repeat the seed collecting and replanting strategy. What we have today are beds that are literally suffocated with a sturdy, sturdy, and growing melting pot of basil that can withstand cold, rainy springs; hot, dry summers; hot, humid summers – whatever. Even in times of the year when tomatoes and peppers do not thrive, this basil shines, although it is not a pure variety. Our basil even sows itself – we find it among beneficial weeds such as quarter lamb and wild sunflowers. The local bees and honey bees love it too.
We have used genetic diversity and mass selection to good local benefits in heirloom grains, hair sheep, jalapeños and chickens. Our mutt approach provides plants and animals that function without major intervention on our part. I am grateful to the people who maintain the purebred lines so that we can select seeds from many different sources to create different genetic mixes that will thrive in our conditions and management strategies. I love the taste of a ripe ‘Black Krim’ tomato, but I’m a food gardener first and foremost, and a great accomplishment on benign neglect is what we need to feed ourselves while we run the farm and all of that associated sideline activities maintain it.
If you’ve used genetic diversity to your advantage, I’d love to hear about it. Email me at [email protected] and include some photos too if you have any.
See you in december
Originally published: October / November 2021