Heirlooms

The flowers and vegetables that your grandparents grew! Heirloom seed has been passed from generation to generation, some for hundreds of years, and are untouched by chemical or genetic modification. Perfect for seed saving – they breed true – they yield classic, best-loved flowers and tastiest vegetables of the sort you won’t find in the supermarket. Many are condition-specific, disease resistant, and gourmet favorites. Start a family tradition.

Ask questions or share information over at our Seed Starting Forum. It’s a great place to ensure that your heirloom seeds get off to a healthy start.

Why Heirloom Seed?

Heirloom SeedsImagine growing the same fruits and vegetables as Thomas Jefferson or Luther Burbank. Imagine your garden filled with bright colors, odd shapes and a variety of foods that could inspire even the most jaded vegetable-hater to take a bite. Heirloom seed produces fruits, vegetables and flowers that have been passed down for generations for their good taste, vibrant colors, pest resistance and other beneficial traits.

Today there is a trend toward locally grown and organic foods. At the same time as mega-corporations are producing genetically altered, dyed, bland foods that are often covered in pesticides, many people are starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Not only is home grown food likely to be safer and healthier than commercially produced fruits and vegetables, it tastes better, too! (more…)

The Best Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie…might just be made from squash.

Squash pie. My grandmother didn’t make them — rhubarb pie was her specialty — but I knew households where women did. Those households almost always, as I remember, had gardens with winter squash patches.

Well, squash pies, sometimes masquerading as pumpkin, are all the rage this year. And butternut squash is the favorite choice, as this big-stuff newspaper video or this featured recipe from America Public Media’s popular radio program Splendid Table demonstrate.

Your desert-loving Planet Natural blogger wouldn’t say anything against pumpkins. But I would say something against canned pumpkin fillings. Canned fillings are often tasteless, little more than a bulky way to carry the sweet and spice flavor we associate with pumpkin pie. (more…)

Growing Pumpkins For Fun and Pie

Pumpkin PatchPumpkins are easy to grow organically.

My grandfather used to say that a jack-o-lantern was a waste of a good pumpkin. He grew a pumpkin patch at the end of his garden that would spread out over the rough lawn that bordered it. The next year he’d move it to the other side. He’d get a handful of fruits each year and he didn’t want any of them to go to Halloween carving (see “grandma” below).

Grandpa loved pie and he especially loved pumpkin pie which he ate absent whipping cream or any other adulteration. Grandma was celebrated for her pie crusts, though we often wonder what her great grandchildren would think of the cube of lard that was always in the back of the refrigerator. No matter what time of day grandpa took a piece of pie — including as a bedtime snack — he washed it down with a cup of coffee. He seemed immune to caffeine. (more…)

Grow, Eat Shell Beans

Shell BeansHeirloom “cooking beans” are nutritious, delicious, and easy to raise.

Our correspondent writes in to say the most beautiful things he saw at the last farmers market this fall were the large bowls of heirloom shell beans in colors and patterns he’d never seen before. He bought a couple of the four offered: two cups of the surprisingly popular Jacob’s Cattle, each bean big and colored like a Hereford, and a cup or so of brilliant, unusually black and white, yin-yang patterned “Calypso.”

Interest continues to grow in what our great grandmothers called “cooking beans,” dried shell beans that often require soaking and long cooking times, a process that many time-squeezed home cooks forego in favor of pre-cooked, canned beans. (more…)

Growing Classic, Heirloom Head Lettuce

Head LettuceA challenge to grow and less nutritious than leaf varieties, head lettuce is still a thing of beauty.

When did I become a lettuce snob? It was back in my youth, about the same time I became interested in healthy eating and gardening. I’d been raised on iceberg lettuce, the kind that came from the grocery store in big pale heads. Mom would tear up the leaves, put them in a bowl and voila! Salad. I didn’t mind it. Those tasteless leaves we’re just a way for us to get that sweet, commercial, orange-colored salad dressing in our mouths. Look ma! I’m eating vegetables! (more…)

Farm-To-Table, GMO Ban News

Farmer's MarketSupporting locally grown food means supporting local farms; time line of GMO measure.

Farm-To-Table Controversy: An ongoing discussion erupted into a full-scale controversy over the weekend when Dan Barber, co-owner of New York City’s ground-breaking, local-sourced Blue Hill Restaurant, published an opinion piece in The New York Times that seemed to accuse supporters of the farm-to-table movement of being naive. How dare he?

Turns out that Barber was just taking a deeper look at something that we’ve come to accept as absolutely good: small farmers bringing their crops directly to consumers. He uses his own experience — Barber is also on the board of directors and runs the restaurant at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York’s Hudson River Valley — to discover just what we’re leaving out of our conception of the farm-to-table revolution. But first — and this is the part that surprised many people — he starts out with a contradiction. (more…)

Fennel & Fenugreek

Fennel SeedsGrowing seeds for healthy, flavorful herbal teas.

When your culinary-conscious and sustainably minded Planet Natural blogger needs seed for cooking, he usually buys them, already dry, from one of our fine herb stores. They’re used to spice-up some homemade dishes, say flavoring some Middle Eastern cooking with the sharp, licorice flavor of anise or adding some zing to a curry with cilantro seed. When we want to save seeds from our garden, it’s usually for saving some particular heirloom favorite, and most often one of the more easily collected like tomato, cucumber, or winter squash. (more…)

Grow Organic Potatoes

PotatoesKeep pesticides off your dinner table by raising your own chemical-free, heirloom potatoes.

Potatoes have always been a family favorite and for good reason. We associate them with Sunday dinners, Monday hash, and home-made Saturday night fries. We love baked potatoes topped with homemade salsa and home-fries with salsa and eggs. We use diced potatoes with cheese and green chile as an enchilada stuffing. In the fall, we make a delicious cheese and mushroom tart with a potato crust. We’ve even been known to make a potato and onion pizza with rosemary. And yes, like everybody else, we love garlic mashed potatoes. (more…)

Old Seed? Or New?

Seed ViabilityHow long seeds last depends on the type of seed and the conditions in which it’s stored.

Your thrifty Planet Natural blogger has had good luck storing leftover seed (PDF) he’s purchased from year to year … except when he didn’t. Not too many years ago, we stocked up on spinach seed for all the repeated planting we’d planned. There was plenty left over — that summer was cool and damp, so our first crop took longer than we expected and our second crop barely leafed out before the first frost arrived. We stored our leftover seed as we usually do: inside its packet in a tightly sealed glass jar down in our cool basement.

When spring came around, we planted the seed we bought the year before, just as we’ve often done with the previous season’s extras. And even under near ideal growing conditions — we know because we kept track in our journal — we were rewarded with poor germination. The seed that did germinate didn’t do well, its leaves small and stunted. We wondered if we had too much nitrogen in the soil. Too much nitrogen often inhibits early germination of greens. But the lettuce we planted nearby, some of it from saved seed, did just fine. Could it be that spinach seed doesn’t keep as long as lettuce? (more…)

Hybrid Sweet Corn – Sweeter Than Ever

Market Sweet CornBut there’s no sugar-coating restrictions on its use.

Sugar-enhanced (“se”) sweet corns have been all the rage over the last few seasons. Seed companies have touted some of their products with phrases like “sweetest ever” and “candy sweet.” These naturally bred hybrids — no, they’re not genetically modified — seem to answer the All-American craving for sugary satisfaction. Now there’s an even more sugary designation for sweet corns — “supersweet” or “sh2″ — for those table corns that are all about the sugar.

With names like ‘Sweet Riser,” “Kandy Korn,” and “Sugar Ace,” these se and sh2 corns, most of them commercially grown, offer marketing potential in a way that plain-old sweet corn can’t. You don’t need to rush them home from the market and plunge them in boiling water to enjoy their sugary flavor. They’ve been bred to hold their sugars longer. One of the ironies in the advertising of these corns is the tie in to “old-fashioned” flavor. Of course, old fashioned flavor is available to anyone who’ll grow their own. You don’t need a new hybrid variety to enjoy delicious sweet corn. (more…)

The Whole Seed Catalog: A World of Heirlooms

The Whole Seed CatalogThe Whole Seed Catalog is a compendium of news and information about the growing of heirloom vegetables and flowers.

This time of year, the joys of outdoor gardening are often reduced to time spent indoors going through seed catalogs. It’s always an exciting day when one arrives in the mail or pops up fresh online (we applaud those seed and gardening companies who push their online catalogs as a way to stay in touch while saving paper — trees! — and the fuel burned to distribute them). The catalogs are all well-thumbed — or clicked through — by the time orders are placed. Seed and gardening catalogs can be a valuable source of information — that’s always been behind the philosophy behind our business — as well as a spark to the imagination and an instigator of dreams.

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has taken the notion of a seed catalog a step further. Baker Creek — we carry many of their heirloom seeds — is probably the most active commercial heirloom seed business serving the home gardener. (The Seed Savers Exchange, an important player in the heirloom seed scene is a non-profit . . . we carry some of their products as well). In addition to their regular seed catalog, a massive tome as is, they’ve published The Whole Seed Catalog for 2014 as well. (more…)

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