Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dipping into the seed catalogs

Violet Jasper Tomato

The garden may be beneath a blanket of snow, but in my head there are daisies and lavender spikes waving in the wind, scarlet runner beans climbing the bamboo teepees, and a chicken pecking my nicest, prettiest Brandywine tomato. Yep, I’ve been dipping into the seed catalogs again.

One of my favorites is Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds. Baker’s Creek is one of those catalogs with a person -- with Personality-Plus -- behind it. And that person is Jere Gettle, who founded it at age seventeen in an effort to preserve heritage seeds and help in the fight against Frankenfood. In a mere fourteen years Baker’s Creek has won the hearts of a large community of followers who attend the annual Heritage Days festivals, participate in his garden forum, and subscribe to his magazine, The Heirloom Gardener. I love the ‘enchanted garden’ illustrated covers created by Jere’s mother and the sumptuous descriptions of fruits and vegetables inside. Seed packets are hefty – and with thrift store prices. Baker’s many native heirloom plants as well as those from Asia, Europe, and Gettle’s global travels.

I was really excited to learn from my friend and former colleague, Barbara Jones (now at Hyperion), that she recently signed Jere and his wife, Emilee, to a vegan cookbook deal. Can't wait to see it. Meanwhile I'm making my order list up. It's getting almost impossible to choose. Here are a few:

As a southerner, I can't help but grow a couple different varieties of cowpeas (similar to black-eyed peas). This year it's Green-Eyed Pea, a rare Missouri heirloom, Gray-Speckled Palapye, a large-podded early variety originally from Botswana, and Red-Eye Pea, an old KY variety. Violet Jasper tomato, is a new addition, a Chinese variety with purple and green stripes (think Green Zebra) that's supposed to be a super producer.  Need to start these soon. I've been growing Baker Creek's gorgeous Forellenschluss lettuce (speckled trout) the last five years. The heads are lovely and sweet.

Tonda di Parigi is a sweet, round 19th-century French heirloom I grow every year as it doesn't require a lot of space. I plant it thickly and harvest the smaller baby carrots first, allowing the rest to grow 1- to 2-inches in diameter. I'm trying a new pea this year, Oregon Sugar Pod Snowpea, a bush-type pea with palm-filling pod that Gettle says is his favorite. He seems to know my taste so I'll be tucking these into the soil really soon.

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