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Two must-have seed catalogues. December 29, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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The 2009 seed and nursery catalogues are turning up in the mailbox here at Hawk’s Haven. Hooray! Our friend Ben will take on nursery catalogues in another post, but here, I’d like to recommend two favorite seed catalogues that should definitely be showing up in your mailbox: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Wood Prairie Farm.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is one of the great success stories of our day. It all started with a dream (and a couple of cooperative parents). In 1998, 17-year-old Jeremiath (Jere) Gettle sent out 550 copies of a hand-printed seed catalogue that featured organically grown, open-pollinated heirloom seeds. He filled his seed orders from his bedroom.

Fast-forward to 2009: Jere (that’s “Jair,” not “Jerry”) prints 150,000 copies of a full-color, 124-page catalogue. It contains more than 1,200 heirloom varieties from 66 countries. And they’re all still organic and open-pollinated, which means that, if you want, you can save seed from them yourself and they’ll come true, unlike today’s hybrids. Jere takes a strong stand against genetically modified seeds and other atrocities like war throughout his catalogue. He even quotes our hero and blog mentor, old Ben Franklin!

Our friend Ben admires Jere. I love Baker Creek’s selection of heirloom vegetables, seed-grown fruits, herbs, and flowers. And dear to our friend Ben’s heart are the 20 kinds of heritage-breed chickens wandering the Baker Creek grounds (you can buy chicks in spring and summer).

I’m only giving you part of the Baker Creek picture here: Jere, who is trying to preserve the best of pioneer culture, has actually recreated a pioneer village called Bakersville on the Baker Creek property, and holds open houses and festivals there with old-time music, seed and plant sales, pioneer crafts, garden speakers, good food, and much more. And he publishes a quarterly magazine devoted to heirlooms, The Heirloom Gardener. But I’ll let you read about all that on the Baker Creek website, www.rareseeds.com, when you go there to check things out and order your catalogue!

(Note to Jere and Emilee: Silence Dogood, who’s reading over my shoulder, says that the one thing missing is a collection of recipes featuring heirloom veggies! She would of course like to see recipes in the catalogue itself, but if there’s no room, the website would be a good place to tuck them in.)

Lack of recipes isn’t an issue in the next catalogue I’d like to recommend: Wood Prairie Farm’s Maine Potato Catalog. Wood Prairie’s Jim and Megan Gerritsen not only feature recipes and cooking tips throughout their catalogue, they’ll send you their potato recipe booklet with every potato order. Like Baker Creek, Wood Prairie is adamantly organic, and Jim and Megan also seek out the widest variety of truly great potatoes and other products, along with their own line of organic veggie and herb seeds. Their seed selection is geared towards short-season growers, so all Northerners and Canadians, take notice! You’ll especially appreciate Wood Prairie’s seed potatoes and veggie and herb seed selections. But the potatoes are selected for every climate, including the South and Southwest, so everybody, read on. There’s much more for you to know!

Wood Prairie’s focus extends beyond organics, cold-climate gardening, and even potatoes. Their catalogue is small but mighty, filled with fantastic old-timey color illustrations (you’ll get a free selection of these as postcards when you order their potatoes). They offer delightful products and innovations in so many areas, our friend Ben hardly knows where to start. I guess the best place is with those potatoes.

Not all that many catalogues carry seed potatoes to begin with. (Gardeners don’t typically raise potatoes from actual seeds, but from small potatoes called seed potatoes. When you’re ready to plant, you cut each seed potato into chunks, with each chunk containing one or more “eyes,” or nubby sprouts, let the pieces dry out or cure for a couple of days, then plant them. You can plant very small seed potatoes whole.) You’re lucky to find a nice assortment and a little information about each variety (more properly cultivar, for “cultivated variety”).

In the Wood Prairie catalogue, you’ll find an amazing selection of the very best potatoes for early, midseason, and late growing. Each will be accompanied by a wonderful illustration and information on maturity, size of plant, color of skin and flesh, tuber shape, size of tubers (potatoes are technically tubers), tuber set, yield, flower color, disease tolerance, in-row spacing, ease of growing, and more. There are charts of potatoes by texture and how to use each variety for best flavor and texture; tips on organic potato growing; and delightful potato gardening collections, including the Organic Potato Blossom Special (did you know potato flowers could be colorful and fragrant?), Red, White and All-Blue Seed Potato Collection, and our friend Ben’s favorite, the Experimenter’s Special (four varieties, your choice).

Rather cook than garden? Wood Prairie offers a vast selection of organic potatoes for cooking, as well as a Maine Potato Sampler of the Month. You can order organic garlic, shallots, onions, beets, carrots, and/or parsnips, a selection of organic whole-grain bread mixes, whole grains (including wheat, oats, spelt, rye, and even flour or “dent” corn), cheeses, sprouting seeds, and even cover crops.

Check out Wood Prairie’s catalogue or website, www.woodprairie.com, for even more. Plus, first-time customers get $5 off their first order!

Our friend Ben thinks that every vegetable gardener should have copies of these catalogues in their hands this winter. They’re better than any movie for inspiring wonderful dreams, in this case of great gardens to come. Do you have vegetable catalogues and companies you feel especially passionate about? If so, please share them with us!

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