Time-tested edibles give you a world of diversity in your own backyard––and delicious flavors on your table
Inspired by a 1990 Sunset article on heirlooms, Jere Gettle put his first seed catalog together when he was 17 years old. Since then, his Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) has become one of the most recognized sources of heirloom seeds; the current catalog offers more than 1,400 varieties. Here are his top tips for growing heirlooms:
1. Start with healthy soil. We mix chicken and duck litter into the soil before planting time. We also mulch heavily with straw each year; as it breaks down, it adds more organic matter to the soil.
2. Choose the right varieties for your area. Look for crops that were developed in a similar climate. If you live in California’s Central Valley, seek out varieties developed in places with really hot summers, like Texas or Thailand. On the coast, try varieties from places with shorter growing seasons, like Norway or northern Japan.
3. Give plants the space they need. If you want to save seeds to plant next year, give the crops enough room this year so that they won’t cross-pollinate. Otherwise, the seed they produce might result in crops next year that look or taste different from the parents. This is especially true for members of the melon, squash, and cucumber family. If your space is small, grow just one variety per year so that cross-pollination can’t happen.