Falling in Love Again



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.


  1. Good post Amy.

    I am looking out my dining room window right now at my iced in frozen to the core raised beds.

    But I also have pots of spice micro greens in the window a new crop of started under lights in the living room.

    All organic/natural seeds. Hats off to the Baker Creek Empire. Proves that not everyone in the Ozarks is watching for UFO’s

    The TROLL

  2. When I saw the catalog in my mailbox i thought it was a magazine!

    I wish I had a backyard of my own (we rent) so I don’t put a lot in the ground. But we grow lots of tomatoes in pots! See my post from yesterday. mmmmmm, tomatoes…

  3. Thanks for the post, Amy. I’m back in the seed market, and I’ll check Baker Creek out. I love their story, and it sounds like I’d enjoy reading the catalog, too.

  4. What a wonderful picture for the cover–I love the little mice eating melon in the lower right corner!

    I hadn’t heard of this company; will be ordering the catalog ASAP. Thanks.

  5. I got this catalog for the first time this year, and can I just tell you how badly I suddenly want to grow their seeds for such gorgeous pumpkins!?!

    I totally admire this family for (a) making a living doing what they love (2) doing “quiet” work that matters and (d) operating as economically, socially, environmentally, etc. ethically as possible.

  6. I laughed out loud when I saw that picture. I got my catalog in the mail last month and squee’ed in delight. I’ve ordered online from them before but this is my first catalog and I was so impressed. Wish the printing company hadn’t gotten the cut registration wrong on some of the pages, though. I have pages where I can’t read the names of the variety in the picture because it was cut off.

  7. I also have to focus on cool-summer tomatoes. There are a few new ones in this catalog (new to me, that is). Mountain Princess sounds most intriguing.

  8. Thanks Amy. I ran right over and signed up for the catalog and the newsletter. Hope they don’t run out of catalogs after your glowing testimonial floods them with requests for one!

  9. I got this catalog last month, too, and it is a beauty, a keeper. I’m going to need a bigger garden, a much bigger garden, to fit in all the ‘must haves’ this catalog includes. Thank goodness I garden where tomatoes can grow and grow well.

  10. I just placed a huge order with Irish-Eyes, which offers a wide array of organic-heirlooms and is located in Washington state. I will, however, order this catalog as well. You never know when you’ll find a compelling story that, well, compels you to buy another seed for another trial in another part of the garden. Thanks!

  11. I was sucked in by the beautiful tomatoes, too. I placed an order earlier in the week. The trend in my garden for this summer is purple tomatoes!

  12. I had never gotten their catalog, and I was thrilled beyond thrilled at how beautiful it is. I want to buy a million veggies from them.

  13. I love, love, LOVE the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, and I always flip straight to the tomato section when the catalog arrives. Listing the tomatoes by color? Brilliant.

    I went to the Baker Creek spring festival in 2006, which was before they had built the historic town. Even then, it was a lot of fun to visit. The music was great, the people are ever so friendly, and area is beautiful.

  14. Thank You sooo much for finding this Gem for us.I also hope they dont run out of Catalogs.Cant wait to get mine.

  15. Thanks for profiling Baker Creek. They have a wonderful selection, and great descriptions. Unfortunately they were out of the melocoton, which I will have to procure through other means. It is folks like this that are helping preserve our food history.

  16. This will be my first year ordering from Baker Creek. As a matter of fact I was oblivious to the importance of growing heirloom seeds/plants until I listened to a program on the radio about them. So of course I started to research and found Baker Creek. I just received the catalogue and am so excited! The problem is I am too excited and will most likely over buy. I was thinking of ordering the Medium Heirloom Package. Has anyone else out there purchased this before and what is your review?

  17. I am a grower for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in MN and my favorite is Kabouli Black Garbanzo, which is not only delightful to eat, it has that link to Afganistan which is just as important. I also have written for the Heirloom Gardener (Quinoa, Winter of 2007-2008) as I’ve test and grow in a northern climate. David Glaeseman Stone House Farm

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