Monday, December 15, 2014

Spring is Coming

It's not even Christmas, there's no snow on the ground, but I know spring will be here because I've already received my first 2015 seed catalog! And what a beauty it is...Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This year's is just as lovely as every year.

Flowers made of colorful seeds on a background of grains that look so tactile I just want to run my hands through them and feel each grain fall around my fingers. I'm also happy they've moved to an 8-1/2" x 11" catalog size in the last couple years. Previously they used something closer to 11" x 14" and it was kind of unwieldy.

I've been a Baker Creek customer for a few years now, and my favorite offering of theirs is lettuce. Lettuce is one of my most-loved crops to grow and consume, and their selection covers every type: romaine, leaf, butterhead, oak leaf, you name it. Every year I grow about five varieties, and I make a point to try a couple new types each year while keeping a few stalwarts in the line-up.

Tom Thumb, sort of washed post-harvest
Rouge D'Hiver has been my go-to romaine, and Tom Thumb, a butterhead type, is possibly my all-time favorite. Outredgeous was a new addition this year and looks set to repeat its role in my garden this spring. I'm already eying Pablo and Tennis Ball as potential candidates this year. I will change my mind at least 400 times before actually placing my order later this winter.

Baker Creek offers a lot more than lettuce, however; most of their vegetable, herb, and flower offerings are quite comprehensive. I encourage you to check out their website and even request a catalog if you like paging through beautiful plant pictures like I do.

I have to say, however, I'm not as adamant about GMO-free foods as these folks. I understand where they're coming from, but I'm not about to tell a Bangladeshi farmer that it's too bad if her kids go blind because rice modified with vitamin A is bad. It's not bad, and keeping a scientific advance such as this from developing countries is Western hubris. Modifying seeds for yield, disease and pest resistance, drought resistance, and the like is going to keep a planet of 7 billion fed, like it or not. Not to mention, humans have been genetically modifying plants since the invention of agriculture. Our ancestors selected the cereal plants that had the largest grains and the particular individuals that held onto those grains (aka, seeds) longer instead of dispersing them quickly from the seed head. Just because we're doing it on a much more technologically advanced scale doesn't automatically make it bad.

That being said, Roundup Ready corn is terrible. Any genetic modifications that allow people to dump ever more chemicals on our food supply and land and in our water is both dangerous and wrong. Also, biodiversity is extremely important. We don't know what plant traits we'll need in a changing climate; therefore we need to keep as many genes in the mix as possible. Pests and diseases can and will evolve to feed on crops that have been bred for resistance—it's unavoidable, and it's just another reason why we need variety in the gene pool of our plant life. Biodiversity is definitely under threat every day, so people like the Gettles, who own Baker Creek, are doing a valuable service to society by keeping rare and different plants alive and well for us to grow.

As usual, I don't see this issue in black and white. Organic practices, such as integrated pest management, the use of compost, etc., are vital to preserve any amount of healthy land that can grow food. I myself use strictly organic practices in my own gardens, both the vegetable and ornamental parts. An article in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic stated it well: "It's not choosing one type of knowledge—low-tech versus high-tech, organic versus GM—once and for all. There's more than one way to stop a whitefly" (Folger 54). (The author is referring to a virus-carrying pest that is destroying cassava crops in East Africa.)

There's a vast gray area that partisans on both sides forget or ignore, and it's important that we have mature conversations about it. On a lighter note, if you're interested in trying different sorts of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, Baker Creek is a source I can solidly recommend. Germination rates are good and I've never been disappointed in the plants (only the weather, conditions, and neglect that are not attributable to the seeds). And reading this catalog reminds me seed-starting season—and the outdoor gardening season—are really just a few months away.


Anonymous said...

That is very good-looking lettuce. I rather enjoyed growing lettuce myself, but since I don't actually like to eat it, I don't grow it anymore.

Rose said...

Well-said, Rose! A professor at our local university once remarked that GMO-foods are perfectly safe, so I've not gotten so worked up about the issue either. Still, I think diversity in planting and pesticide-free gardening is important.

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