Exciting New Varieties For 2017

By Shannon McCabe

 

At Baker Creek we share an infectious affinity for heirlooms; our team of writers, seed savers, photographers, seed packers and pickers, gardeners and growers have dedicated their work to celebrating these special seeds. For the 2017 catalog we have trekked to the farthest reaches of the earth for rare and exciting treasures, as well as for preserved local traditional heirlooms.  We have selected varieties from ancient history, as well as having discovered new and exciting innovations from natural breeders. Whether you love growing heirlooms for their fascinating histories, stunning beauty, or culinary excitement, the fabulous new varieties offered in the 2017 catalog are sure to please!

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Our fearless leader and Baker Creek manager, John Brazaitis, proudly displays a Gete-okosomin squash in the fields of Esparto, CA.

Many of us love heirloom seeds for their stories, which can be useful tools in education or an excellent way to garner public interest in the gardening movement. The most exciting seed story to hit the newsstands in years was that of the Gete-okosomin squash, which made headlines as the 800-year-old squash that was purportedly found preserved in a clay ball in a cave. This exceptional story brought the intrigue and excitement of heirlooms to the general public. The exact origins of the squash have been debated, as some believe that it was, in fact, a variety grown for hundreds of years by the Miami tribe. What is known for sure is that squashes of this type have been grown by native people in North America for hundreds of years and likely came from the Guatemala area, possibly over 1000 years ago. Gete-okosimin also proves to be delicious--sweet, with hints of melon, and has a wonderful smooth texture. We thank Roger Smith for bringing this squash to our attention. We will donate all proceeds from the sales of this squash in 2017 to Native American garden charitable organizations.

The 1500 Year Old Cave Bean is an amazing native bean reputedly found in a clay pot sealed with pitch in a cave in New Mexico. When carbon dated, the tests showed it to be 1500 years old! Long vines climb to 10 feet and produce tasty pods. Beans are large, kidney-shaped and white with maroon mottling. This is a very rare collector’s bean. Our seed was produced by Medomak Valley High School Seed Preservation Project in southern Maine.

 

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Saved from the brink of extinction, Chapalote Corn is a stunning heirloom variety that dates back 4,000 years!

Chapalote Corn is an incredible flint/popcorn that may be the oldest corn variety grown in North America. Carbon dating says this variety could be 4000 years old! Long, slim ears are filled with luminous amber to dark brown kernels. It has great drought and heat tolerance. Chapalote is adapted to southerly latitudes, and its performance farther north is unknown.  It  can be popped or used in pinole, polenta, and many other corn dishes.  The meal is delightfully sweet. In the 1950s it was rediscovered in remote, northwestern Mexico. Since that time, its superior qualities have captured the imagination and affections of archaeologists, gardeners and chefs alike!

 

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Looking for a little heat in your peppers? The Carolina Reaper ranks tops with 1.5 million on the Scoville unit scale!

Heirlooms do not necessarily have to be old.  Some innovative plant breeders still use traditional natural techniques to create innovative new open pollinated varieties; the seeds can be saved. The Carolina Reaper has made headlines and world records, as it is reported to be the hottest pepper in the world! This excruciatingly hot pepper is rated over 1.5 million Scoville units, compared to a spicy habanero, which scores anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000. Hot pepper enthusiasts and collectors will go crazy for this scorching hot pepper that looks like pure molten lava!

 

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All the taste of a a traditional habernero but without the heat! The Habanada is sure to be hit with foodies everywhere!

The Habanada is another product of more recent breeding, but this pepper brings an entirely different element to the hot pepper scene. Habanada is the first truly heat-less habanero. The name haba “nada,” as in there is “nada” heat to this pepper. Bred by renowned organic plant breeder Michael Mazourek, it is the product of natural breeding techniques. It was Mazourek’s intention to breed a heatless version of this complex pepper so even his friends who did not like spicy hot peppers could experience the other layers of flavor of the traditional habanero: all of the fruity and floral notes without any spice.  Even the seeds are sweet and add to the flavor. Habanada is sure to be the darling of the culinary scene, making it an excellent choice for market farmers, chefs and foodies.

Other breeders have worked diligently to create improved varieties--heirlooms bred for qualities that help them to grow better for farmers or gardeners in certain locations or just to make some aspect of growing easier. These super-sustainable new innovations will not only grow well, but unlike hybrids, the seeds can be saved year after year to save the grower money.

 

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The Rober Cauliflower amazed and delighted us by producing magnificent heads despite the summer heat in our Missouri trail gardens!

The Baker Creek research team was blown away by the yield and hardiness of Rober Cauliflower in our 2016 variety trials. This is by far the most productive and adaptable cauliflower we have ever grown. Rober will produce large, tight curds, despite fluctuations in temperature that would ruin most other varieties. We harvested lots of perfect heads in the punishing Missouri summer of 2016. The flavor and texture remain exceptional, even when exposed to adverse weather. While cauliflower is one of the most finicky crops to grow, this is an excellent choice for beginner growers or anyone who has found cauliflower growing a tricky business.

 

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Developed by Dave Christensen in the Montana mountains, Painted Mountain Corn that is impressively hardy and quite tasty!

Montana farmer Dave Christensen has dedicated his life's work to naturally breeding a corn that will thrive in harsh conditions.  Since the 1970s, he has sampled from over 70 open pollinated varieties of corn to create Painted Mountain Corn. He bred Painted Mountain from old heirlooms grown by Northern Native American tribes over thousands of years, as well as homesteaders from harsh northern climates. These incredibly tough plants were bred in the bitter cold mountains of Montana.  They boast impressive cold hardiness, earliness, drought tolerance and they thrive at high altitudes. Painted Mountain Corn can be eaten fresh, ground, or roasted and make a highly nutritious flour for muffins, tortillas and chips!

 

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Truly an heirloom gem, the Tresca Strawberry hails from Poland and produces fruit in the first year! The perfect fit for backyard gardens!

After searching for the perfect heirloom strawberry, we were super pleased to find an heirloom variety from Poland.  Tresca Strawberry can be planted from seed and harvested in the first year. The fruits are larger than any other alpine strawberry that we have seen, and the seeds can be saved for next year’s planting--something that you cannot accomplish with hybrid strawberries. Tresca also boasts a superior flavor much like the other alpine varieties. The plants are super compact and do not send aggressive runners like other strawberry varieties, a perfect trait for small backyard garden culture.

 

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Purple pods make harvesting  Sugar Magnolia Tendril Peas a breeze! Lavender blooms, vigorous growth and edible tendrils make it a must-have!

If you ask any grower what is one of the biggest challenges to growing sugar snap peas, he will probably tell you--harvesting! Traditional sugar snap peas blend right into the green foliage of the plant.  Finding the ripe pods can be difficult, making harvest slow going. Sugar Magnolia Tendril Pea, bred by Dr. Alan Kapuler, is the first known purple-podded sugar snap pea.  The purple blushed pods are not only beautiful but also delicious.  Most importantly, they really pop against a background of green foliage, making harvest time much faster. The  vigorous vines can reach up to 8 feet tall in the garden and cover a trellis so nicely.  The purple blossoms and profuse tendrils make this an incredible edible ornamental, as well.

 

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Akamuro is a splendid heirloom red rice variety that originates from Hokkaido, Japan!

At Baker Creek, we like to offer more than just the ordinary garden varieties. We search for less-known items, as well as crops that are usually grown on a commercial scale. One of the biggest challenges to home growing items like grains is procuring seeds that are appropriate for small-scale production. Baker Creek is offering heirloom rice for the very first time! These traditional varieties have been identified as suitable for growing in North America by Wild Folk Farm, who has done extensive trialing at their Central Maine farm. Duborskian is a variety that originated in Russia and can tolerate a light frost toward maturity. Akamuro is a red rice from Hokkaido, Japan. Hayayuki has proven very successful in Maine and Vermont.  It is also from Hokkaido, Japan. Cse He Jao, a glutinous sweet rice that is great for sushi, is a very rare variety from China.

Members of Baker Creek’s seed research team travelled to the Peruvian Amazon in December, 2015, and brought back an exotic fruit called cocona. This fruit is tangy and tart like a lemon and is commonly used to balance really sweet fruits in drinks or is blended and frozen into tart popsicles. We learned about the seeds from locals who touted the nutritional benefits of the fruits, which are believed to balance blood glucose levels. The seeds were planted in our 2016 trial gardens with great success and are available for purchase this season!

Brightly colored vegetables aren’t just pleasing to the eye.  The vibrant hues also indicate the presence of certain nutrients and antioxidants. A diet rich in colorful vegetables is highly recommended, and those bright colors look so fantastic growing in the garden. Red Rubine Brussels Sprouts are a hard-to-find heirloom variety that is colorful in cool late fall weather. The stunning purple-red sprouts are filled with antioxidants. These have a sweet flavor when grown in cool weather.

 

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Saved from obscurity, the Gniff Carrot sports a lovely lavender exterior with a creamy yellow center!

Baker Creek Seed researcher Richard Bernard collected seeds of the Gniff Carrot from the Swiss Alps. “Gniff” roughly translates to “purple” in the local dialect, and indeed this carrot is a lavender color with a creamy yellow center! These carrots were nearly lost until they were re-discovered being grown by local women who sold them at farmers markets in the 1950's in the picturesque Alps village of Bre. This variety is a slow growing storage carrot that is traditionally pickled; locals will steam and slice and preserve it in olive oil, parsley and garlic.

 

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The Fort Portal Jade Bean is a gorgeous deep magnificent green and grows well in both the greenhouse and outdoors!

The Fort Portal Jade Bean is a unique variety that was introduced several years ago by our Canadian friends at Richters Seeds, and collected by Explorer Joseph Simcox in a market at Fort Portal, Uganda. It is both beautiful and extremely productive. The dried beans are a glassy blue-green color--unlike anything we have seen before. Plants are extremely productive and flourished both in the greenhouse and outdoors in the garden.

 

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Super high in protein, Hopi Pink Flour Corn is a hardy, drought-tolerant variety that makes spectacular tortillas and tamales!

The Hopi nation has bred beautiful heirloom corns for many generations.  These varieties are also incredibly well adapted to growing in a range of harsh conditions from drought to temperature extremes. Hopi Pink Flour Corn has kernels in shades of pink, mauve and salmon on 8-inch ears. Being drought-tolerant and great for making flour, it is one of the best varieties for farming in dry conditions. Flour is impressively high in protein, and the fine texture lends itself to super soft tortillas and tamales.

 

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Harvest this delightful Hopi Torquoise in only 90 days! Perfect corn variety for higher elevations!

Hopi Turquoise yields lovely ears with colors ranging from slate blue to brilliant turquoise. Used in atole and ground for cornmeal, kernels are both flour and dent types--often both on the same ear. It has grown well even at 8000 feet elevation, indicating tolerance to wide temperature swings and cool soil.  It is fairly early to mature, being ready for harvest or final dry-down at about 90 days from sowing. Our grower received his original seed in 1986 from John “Eesawu” Kimmey, an educator and visionary of sustainable native agriculture, who had worked extensively with the Hopi people and founded the Talavaya Center, an early heirloom conservation project.

 

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The elegant Salpiglossis put on a brillant display of numerous iridescent blooms in the Baker Creek trail gardens this past summer!

At the Baker Creek headquarters in Mansfield, Missouri, we like to let our customers in on the fun of trialing new flower varieties.  We plant new varieties for observation right in our display gardens on the main grounds. We love to hear the feedback from customers who are getting to see these flowers for the first time. Salpiglossis is an annual that caught everyone’s eye in the 2016 flower trials. Nicknamed “painted tongue,” large petunia like blooms are splashed with vibrant purple-pinks and yellows. These pretty flowers are native to southern Chile and are related to nicotiana. Plants average 2.5 feet tall and are great as cut flowers.

 

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With a dazzling deep purple on a bed of green, the Ogrodowy Heliotrope will mesmerize with its sweet cherry pie scent!

Customers and staff became enamored with the sweetly scented Ogrodowy Heliotrope. Also known as Cherry Pie, Heliotrope was immensely popular during the Victorian Era in England. A bouquet of Heliotrope was laid on Emily Dickenson’s Coffin. This deliciously fragrant flower has fallen out of the spotlight in modern times. Native to Peru, compact plants stand 18-24 inches high, perfect for the front border or as a cut flower. We think it’s high time that these diminutive flowers once again bring their intoxicating vanilla fragrance to gardens everywhere!

 

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The Velouette Cosmos is a perfect fit for a dramatic garden focal point with deep crimson and white stripes adorning its delicate petals.

Our favorite new flower for 2017 has to be the Velouette Cosmos.  It is a stunning variety that garners squeals of delight in the garden. The unusual striping creates an exciting effect, especially when planted en masse. This is the perfect focal point for the landscape or arrangement, as the patterns and contrasting colors keep you wanting more. A rich crimson color is offset by transparent white, and each petal is subtly different from the next.

 

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The legendary heirloom Tahitian Melon Squash will surely satiate your sweet tooth with its high yield!

Perhaps one of the greatest driving forces in the home gardening movement is the belief that heirlooms taste better. Indeed, one of the consequences of the industrialization of our foods is that flavor and eating quality have taken a back seat in the pursuit of breeding for shipping quality and shelf life. Many of the finest culinary varieties have survived this consolidation of diversity in our food system because they stood out as superior flavored varieties worth growing, even as practicality and shipping quality pushed out some of our most beloved and tasty heirlooms. We are so grateful that the Tahitian Melon Squash has not been lost in this terrible shift. This near-legendary butternut-type was actually one of the first rediscovered heirlooms that fueled the movement of gardeners going back to heirlooms. The orange flesh is richly fragrant and very sweet and delicious--so sweet, the juice caramelizes when baked, making it one of the sweetest squash anywhere!   It is fine for use in pies, soups or desserts, and keeps for up to nine months.  The rugged plants are huge and grow over a wide range of conditions, even in the scorching-hot summers of the Southwest, and have been known to produce as much as 100 pounds of squash per plant.

 

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The landrace Red Fife Wheat is a favorite among heirloom wheat connoisseurs with its nutty flavor with honey overtones!

Red Fife Wheat was the first heritage wheat nominated into the Slow Foods Ark of Taste, and it's no wonder why--this fantastic heirloom boasts superior flavor and a fascinating history. The exact origins of Red Fife are unknown.  It is believed to have been grown by Mennonite farmers in Poland and brought to North America in the early 1800s. Although the facts of origin are obscure, Red Fife rose to become the favorite wheat of the baking and milling industry during the late 1800s. A landrace variety, Red Fife has a broad genetic diversity, making it widely adaptable to many different growing conditions in North America. Ever adaptable and delicious, Red Fife can be grown as both a winter and a spring wheat. This makes superb bread flour with a nutty flavor and honey overtones. It is an excellent choice for a gardener’s first wheat crop!

 

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The Manganji Pepper originates from Kyoto, Japan, where it is considered a delightfully sweet culinary treasure!

The Manganji Pepper is recognized as a traditional cultural vegetable in Kyoto, Japan, where it is celebrated as the King of Japanese Chili peppers.  Contrary to this distinction, Manganji is actually a sweet pepper! The complex sweet flavor and soft skin make this a favorite of traditional home cooks, as well as high end chefs. Considered extremely versatile, it is often the subject of exciting new culinary innovation by some of Kyoto’s most brilliant culinary masters. (Manganji pepper chocolate bars and candied manganji pepper juice).

As the industrialization of our agriculture and food system continues to erode the diverse wealth of heirlooms, we are hopeful that these exciting varieties will spark interest in the heirloom movement that aims to preserve the incredible diversity of seed. We hope that you continue to use heirlooms to educate others about gardening, to provide fresh produce to your family, friends, and community, and to explore new culinary ventures. The Baker Creek team will continue to search for the most exciting heirlooms to offer to the public.

 

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Papa's Red Corn is a super early flour corn with a deep oxblood red color and impressive heat and cold tolerance!

 

Papa's Red Corn Uniformly red 8- to 12-inch ears, with the red in varying shades, including deep oxblood and occasional bright red ears—very unique and beautiful! Compact plants about 4 feet tall, taking heat, cool weather and drought in stride. Excellent, very early new flour type.