Even if you are only dabbling in vegetable gardening, stepping into the Petaluma branch of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is bliss. Not only do they have over 1,800 varieties of heirloom seeds, but they also have well-trained personnel on hand to advise customers. If you love heirloom tomatoes, you’ll find over 60 types to select. Grains, gourds, and green beans are in stock with exotic names and colors galore. Varieties of carrots, corn and cucumbers are also stocked in numbers seldom seen.
Ellyn Mavalwalla is the manager and is often the person who will help you out at the store. Ellyn and her knowledgeable staff are happy to guide you to the best seeds based on your specific growing conditions. Maybe you have raised beds and want to know which crops are best suited for this growing medium? Might you be starting your first large-scale backyard in-the-ground crops and need advice? If you live in a drought-affected region, the staff can recommend seeds like the Art Combe’s Ancient watermelon. This easy to grow melon was found by Art while prospecting around the Mogollon Rim. The seeds were in a small woven pot in a cave and are thought to be hundreds of years old! When Art planted the seeds just a few germinated, but it was enough to start banking seeds to bring this heirloom back to the people.
At the Seed Bank, you’ll hear fascinating stories about other exciting heirloom varieties. Take for example the Mortgage Lifter tomato. This strain of one pound pink delights proved so popular the developer, M.C. Byles was able to pay off his home back in the 1940s from the profits he made from selling loads of this new variety. Some varieties of tomatoes can be gorgeous and tasty too. Brad’s Atomic Grape is a stunning tomato that produces a mixture of red, blue, yellow, and orange colored fruit that holds well on or off the vine. I Bet, your neighbors, don’t have this one!
There’s only so much information that can be printed on seed packets. When you go to the Seed Bank, one of the staff members can explain the nuances of properly planting lettuce seeds. Lettuce seeds are so tiny, a gust of wind can blow your whole crop away to a neighbor’s yard if not sown correctly. It’s essential to get expert advice for optimum success in your garden. In this day-and-age of big-box stores selling gardening supplies, it’s tough to get accurate information on planting, care, and harvesting your crops from the big-box store’s barely trained workers. The staff at Baker Creek’s Seed Bank are experts and there to make your garden a success.
If you’re looking to plant an herb garden, the Seed Bank has almost 100 varieties of herbs for medicinal uses, eating, or just for looks. Try your hand at growing the colorful safflower “grenade mix,” and your backyard birds will love the oil-rich seeds. These thistle-like flowers bloom in red, white, and yellow adding color to your containers or flower gardens.
Speaking of flowers, the Seed Bank has lovely heirlooms like the Ogrodowy Heliotrope, also known as cherry pie. This fragrant flower was a Victorian-era favorite, and a bouquet of heliotrope was laid on Emily Dickenson’s coffin as a proper send-off for the famous author. To help local bees and butterflies try planting the Arcado Pink hyssop. These tall stalks of pink flowers will last from early summer until the first frost of autumn brightening up your garden for weeks after other flowers have faded from memory.
The Seed Bank also sells gardening books to help you solve the mysteries of growing your own. Get guidance from the staff on which books would fit your needs before buying a book that just sits on the shelf unused. If you can’t visit the Petaluma Seed Bank, don’t fret. Online ordering is easy on their website at www.rareseeds.com. Join the community of heirloom gardeners and maybe even consider being a seed saver to keep these priceless heirlooms growing strong into the next century.
Note that the Seed Bank is moving to 110B Petaluma Blvd N, and the grand opening is April 22, Earth Day.
Kurt Jacobson has been a chef for over 40 years and after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his fifth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening. Kurt is a full-time professional freelance travel and food writer. Follow Kurt at www.tasteoftravel2.com.
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