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Getting a head start on peas from seed in the vegetable garden. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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Jano’s Garden: Seeds then and now — the future of the heirloom

At this time of year my kitchen table is piled high with seed catalogues, which I read from cover to cover.

I recently learned from reading “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds,” (Robert and Cheryl Gough, Storey Publishing, 2011), that “the first ‘European’ seeds were brought into the New World by Columbus in 161l, and the first seed introduced was tobacco in the Jamestown colony. Pilgrims to the Massachusetts colony brought with them seeds from England and Holland in1629, so most of our food and feed crops were introduced into the colonies by the end of the seventeenth century. These crops supplemented seeds of corn, squash, pumpkins and beans that originated in the New World from Native Americans.

“Later, the more exotic seeds such as tomatoes were brought from Italy and grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, but none of his friends and neighbors would eat them. They were featured in 1812 in restaurants in New Orleans, and later appeared in the first seed catalogue, J.B. Russell of Boston. Jefferson and others recognized that the United States must gather and disseminate European agricultural information and plants to its farmers if it was to become a leading nation.”

We now have over one hundred seed catalogues to choose from, and most of us who have vegetable gardens do so because we want to eat our own food.  At this time of year, when gardeners begin to dream about the shape and content of their vegetable gardens we can get a head start by researching and starting seeds indoors.

So, in the past few months I have found numerous resources to share with newbie or seasoned gardeners, in hopes you can use the information to expand your vegetable and herb selections.

Many gardeners in all parts of the United States have become increasingly interested in “heirloom varieties” of seed, and I have investigated many of the new growers and their catalogues. The dedication of these growers, many of whom are growing and saving seed, is astounding. Selections in their catalogues feature over 30 varieties of tomatoes, 30 hot and sweet peppers, 15 varieties of corn, 20 types of lettuce and hundreds of other offerings.

The Gettle family from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company believe that “seeds are the living component that connects us back to our ancestors, our own culture, and the amazing cultures and food traditions from around the planet. We want to challenge you not only to grow your own food, but also support the GMO-free food chain, especially local sources and farmers who keep good food alive.”

Other heirloom seed companies that offer free catalogues include: www.botanicalinterests.com, Seedsavers.com, kitazawaseed.com and highmowingseeds.com just to name a few! When contacting these companies, you can also utilize their resource and education pages that give detailed instructions about growth habits and time frames, and many have horticulturists on hand to answer questions.

Locally, we have a wonderful example of an experimental vegetable/flower garden in Carlsbad at The Village Rock Shop, owned by Xenia Mateiu and cared for by local landscape gardener Chris Bany.

Xenia is a perfect example of a gardener who grows with a purpose in mind. She uses all the herbs and vegetables in her cooking, and happily gives samples of her vegetables! Recently Xenia received Calendula seed from her mother in Romania, and Chris planted the seed, which is thriving even in the cooler weather. Xenia’s plan is to use the Calendula in tea and salves, and she will keep us posted with her recipes.

The courtyard garden is a visually striking example of a combination of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Both the shop and garden are open daily from 10am – 6pm and are located at 2690 State Street, Carlsbad. Chris Bany’s work can be seen on Instagram at CaliforniaFoodScapes; or call/text (760) 421-9855.

Have fun planning and dreaming about your upcoming garden. In a previous Jano’s Garden column, I included step-by-step instructions for planting seed, which can be found in Coast News Archive/April 8, 2020. If you have questions about finding catalogues, resources or instructions contact me at [email protected]. Other useful gardening resources can be found at mastergardenersd.org, or gardening.cals.cornell.edu.

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist, and former Director of the Master Gardener Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cooperstown, New York. She works on community gardens in North County and lives in Vista with her son.

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