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February 3, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010 1B REGIONAL ! G,)ne to seed: Cornucopia o/catalogs cram mailboxes Mona Hill Staff Writer mhill@plumasnews.com It used to be the annual crop of seed catalogs hit the mailbox in January. How- ever, like Christmas adVer- tising, they have started arriving about Thanksgiving, uniform vegetable crops. Heirloom and organic selec- tions are extremely limited. Of the bunch, Burgess tends to have the least expen- sive seed, in some cases as low as 79 cents. Burpee, sur- prisingly, seemed the most expensive. Seed packets are $5 on average and seedlings or starts about $9. All four companies have John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds'" Serf, trig Amerlca's fiws gmvtens r over 1 O0 yearf 1908-2010 the traditional harvest cele- bration in America. Most dedicated gardeners pour over these catalogs, yearning for more space and more energy so they can plant all 97,000 varieties of everything. But is one cata- log really any different than another? The answer is a qualified "it depends." It depends sale items, usually of the "buy one, get a second for 1 cent" variety. In addition, Gurney's and Burpee have money-off offers, $25 and $5, respectively. Cultivation information is limited: sun, water and spacing more on the where and how of garden- ing and the source of the seed than on many of the actual varieties available. Vegetables For years, Burpee, Gurney's, Burgess and Park were the go-to seed catalogs. They specialize in hybrids designed to produce disease-resistant, requirements, as well as height, width and bloom or crop times. Some varieties are labeled as deer- resistant. The most confusing aspect of their catalogs is the "offer" or "order" quantity for live plants. Buyers must look closely at the quantity as it varies from one plant per of- fer to as many as six, al- though three is the usual. Because the offer varies, it's possible to end up with too few or too many plants than the buyer thought she ordered. Going organic The sustainable, non-GMO, non-hybrid, organic vegetable grower will gravitate towards Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, Totally Tomatoes and The Cook's Garden. Most of these companies offer a wide range of seed quantities from by the gram to by the pound. Prices are competitive with Burpee, Gurney's, Park and Burgess. Baker Creek is by far the most intriguing of the catalogs. The company, in Missouri with a presence in Petaluma, is committed to restoring independent seed production to its former place in horticulture. The company does not sell hybrid, GMO, treated or patented seed. They do not buy from Monsanto or other gene-altering companies. With 1,300 varieties from 70 countries, Baker Creek pro- motes serf-propagation for sus- tainable and independent seed production. The company works with small farmers, gardeners and seed growers to provide a wide variety o .the usual susget.s ip .............. Vetablegadbnihg: ........... :-= For instance, their melon : seeds are divided by Ameri- can, Asian, European, snake and wax varieties. One of the choices available in the U.S. seeds is Bidwell Casaba, developed by Chico's own General John Bidwell. The melons grow to about 16 pounds of sweet and creamy orange-colored melon. In 2009, Baker Creek opened a seed bank on the premises of a former money bank in downtown Petaluma. In addition to its full seed line, The Seed Bank, as the store is called, sells tools, gardening books and organic produce and canned goods. The Seed Bank is at 199 Petaluma Blvd., telephone (707) 509-5171. Sister companies Terri- torial Seed and Abundant Life Seeds provide excellent cultivation information and seed saving tips. Of the two, Territorial is the most com- prehensive. Cook's offers some 20 pages of lettuces, greens and spe- cialty salad mixes: loose leaf, butter head, crisp head lettuce, arugula, corn salad, chard, cress, spinach, radicchio, mesclun mixes and spe- cialty greens such as dandelion amelior, a tangy French dande- lion, or cutting celery--no stalks, just leafy greens similar to parsley. If it's basil, Cook's has 16 va- rieties. Johnny's Selected Seeds offers 26 varieties. For other herbs, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds has a wide selection, as does Johnny's--from angelica to wormwood. Johnny's, Abundant Life and Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply offer grains and "green manure" cover crops. Peaceful Valley is all about sustainable farming and offers native and water-wise plants from grasses to vines. It also has a good selection of seed potatoes, red, white, yellow and blue bakers to fingerlings. Thompson & Morgan tout themselves as offering "quali- ty English seeds since 1855." Although the kitchen garden section of their catalog runs A-to-Zed, choice is limited to a half-dozen or so vari- eties by category. For tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, gardeners will love Totally Tomatoes with approximately 270 tomato varieties, 150 pepper varieties and a dozen or so cucumber varieties. From Siberian to South American, cherry to beef- steak, hybrid to heirloom, there is an over- whelming choice of tomatoes available. The company's catalog provides good cultivation information and aids aimed at growing, processing and preserving tomatoes for the home gardener or small farmer. Flowers All of the catalogs reviewed sell flowers by seed or seedling, bare root or potted. Thompson & Morgan, Select Seeds, Michigan Bulb Co., Van Engelen Inc. and k. van Bourgondien & sons, inc. all specialize in flowers and flowering shrubs and vines, perennials and annuals, bulbs, tubers and seed. For the most part, "a rose by any other name" holds true for Michigan Bulb. In other words, gardeners who order from Burpee-like catalogs for their vegetables can get nearly the same flowers at the same price from Michigan Bulb. Select Seeds' focus is on heirloom varieties, providing good choice in fragrant and cottage garden flowers. With that exception, it is not notably different from Michigan Bulb. Thompson & Morgan's catalog breaks out flowers A-to-Z, annuals, perennials, fragrant to cottage to con- tainer. Some interesting indi- vidual species with limited choice of variety for the most part. Wholesaler k. van Bour- gondien will sell to the general public but has a $50 minimum order. If willing to spend 50 bucks, gardeners can get gunnera, epimedium 'egret', bat flowers, mouse plants and angel trumpetS. Prices are reasonable, but each item has a minimum quantity requirement, as low as three bat flowers for $31.50 to 50 vinca minor for $19.50. Van Engelen Inc. is a bulb wholesaler, and quantity re- quirements are larger than Bourgondien. The minimum order is also $50. However, for hard-to-find bulbs and tubers, this is the place to go. Snowdrops, an early flowering bulb, have a minimum quantity of 100 for $32.50. Glory of the Snow also requires a minimum 100 bulb order but prices run from $9.75 per hundred to $15.75, depending on variety. Also available from Van Engelen are quamash or wild hyacinth, brodiaea or fool's onion, mariposa tulip, desert candle or foxtail lily and others. Trees Burgess, Burpee and Gurney's sell fruit, nut and orna- mental trees through their catalogs. Generally, two to three feet in height, they arrive potted. Territorial offers citrus and Peaceful Valley has olive and citrus trees. Although significantly more expensive than the catalogs, local nurs- eries sell older, estab- lished trees. Buyers can talk to nursery staff about the variety and its cultivation requirements. Buyers can also determine the health and shape of their potential purchases first.hand. Buy local While many of the catalogs seem to offer amazing quanti- ties for very low prices, buy- ers cannot be sure of the quality of their purchases. Nothing beats local knowl- edge, ap experts on our cli- mate and environmental con- ditions staff Plumas County nurseries. In many cases, they either grow or buy plants specifically suited to local needs. They can answer questions, and gar- deners can look at the actual plant instead of a picture. Local nurseries will some- times special order for their customers, too. It doesn't hurt to ask, and gardeners can help guide a nursery's buying decisions, It's fun to look through the catalogs and dream of future harvests in January when days are cold, dark and short. However, orders invariably arrive at the wrong time for planting, and the quality is uncertain. Despite guaran- tees, how simple is it to return a mail-order plant? Not very. So peruse those catalogs and then trot on down to your local nursery and ask about the item you want. The staff there will be happy to help you and you'll be sure you get what you paid for.