I have a checkered past with vegetable gardening. It is so cool in the summer here on the northern California coast that it never gets hot enough for tomatoes, the one vegetable I really want to grow, and I’m such a lazy and intermittent cook that I don’ t make particularly good use of what I do grow. (I’m not proud of this, it’s just a fact.)
But along comes the new Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog and I get all fired up again. I started getting this catalog in its third year, 2000, when its founder, Jere Gettle, was all of nineteen years old. He’d sent out his first catalog when he was only 17, "fulfilling my dream to be a seedsman."
Now, anybody who knows at the age of 17 that he wants to be a seedsman gets my support right away. But the catalog itself is a sprawling, rambling, glorious thing that deserves your immediate attention. If you didn’t get one, send off for it. This is not an experience you want to have on the web. This is bathtub reading, in-front-of-the-fireplace reading. It’s about the size of a record album, 120 pages long, and as exciting as an adventure novel.
For instance, the description of the ‘Million Dollar‘ melon begins, "In 1886, the steamship "Cambridge" was slowly traversing
through the thick fog, traveling north to Bangor from Boston,
along the rocky coasts of Maine, when it ran aground on
Old Man Ledge and began to slowly sink in the cold Atlantic
ocean." Lordy! Any story about a melon that begins with a sinking ship qualifies as bedtime reading for me!
Once you get the catalog, go straight for the tomatoes, where you’ll see three heirloom varieties from Iraq. According to the letter from an Iraqi friend printed in the catalog, "the globalization and US occupation have finished the whole heirloom way of life in Iraq" where modern varieties are now being promoted. He sent three varieties, which he calls "the last tomato seeds coming from this country."
And the photos are extraordinary. I don’t even know how to describe Orange-Fleshed Purple Smudge, except to say that it is an extraordinarily beautiful orange tomato with–well, OK, purple smudges–that I am going to grow this summer if I have to build a greenhouse for it.
Oh–and check out the heirloom corn that they have gone to the trouble to test for GMOs because, as the catalog says, "It is getting to the point where most heirloom corn varieties test positive for GMOs; even growers in remote areas are having problems with Monsanto’s GMO franken-corn." I can certainly see Michele growing ‘Black Aztec,’ which is believed to be native to upstate New York.
And so on. Honestly, I can’t even get into the particulars of the catalog with you, so overwhelming it is. But that’s only the beginning of the Baker Creek empire. There’s also the historic pioneer village there in Mansfield, MO, where they hold festivals and sell 20 breeds of chickens. (Is anybody going? We’d like a report!) There’s a YouTube channel, thus far devoted to videos of the musicians who play at their festivals. There’s a magazine called the Heirloom Gardener that you probably ought to subscribe to. An online museum of listings from old seed catalogs.
And–well–I don’t know what all. Get over there and check it out. And order some damn seeds! Who better to support during these hard times than some youngsters in the Ozarks who are out there living the dream. Good on you, Baker Creek.