Magazine article Sunset

The Best Seeds in the West

Magazine article Sunset

The Best Seeds in the West

Article excerpt

Regional seed dealers round up an amazing variety of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and native plants

* Kids know: Planting a seed in the ground and pulling up a radish a few weeks later is magic. Some Westerners never outgrow their fascination with it. So they put their wonder to work by becoming seed dealers. "You start with a handful of seeds, turn it into a bushelful, and then into a truckload. And it never stops being amazing," says Howard Shapiro, vice president of agriculture at Seeds of Change in Santa Fe.

Climatic diversity is one reason there are so many seed dealers in the West. In coastal areas, the weather is mild enough that crops can be grown year-round. But in the mountains and the deserts, conditions such as short growing seasons or sparse rainfall are so challenging that regional varieties are bred to cope with them. Idealism also plays a part. Individuals with a mission-whether it's perpetuating native flora, growing seeds organically, or helping preserve genetic biodiversity-- have turned their passions into livelihoods. Multiculturalism contributes, too. Exposed to Asian and Latin American produce well before the rest of the country, Westerners have developed adventurous palates and a penchant for growing exotic crops.

Thanks to the collective efforts of these Western seedsmen and -women, home gardeners here have one of the world's richest seed banks at their disposal. Request the catalogs (free unless noted) of the seed firms listed here and curl up with them on a chilly night. Then order some plant you've never tried, perhaps one of the growers' picks, and experience that magic all over again.

Abundant Life Seed Foundation

This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving rare heirloom vegetables, medicinal herbs, and Pacific Northwest natives.

SPECIALTIES: About 140 tomato varieties, including 'Slava', an heirloom tomato from the Czech Republic.

GROWER'S PICK: Jake's melon, an heirloom cantaloupe that bears exceptionally sweet fruit.

Catalog $2 donation. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368; (360) 385-5660 or abundant@olypen.com.

Bountiful Gardens

This is the seed production arm of a larger nonprofit organization called Ecology Action, which promotes biointensive vegetable gardening.

SPECIALTIES: Open-pollinated, untreated seeds of rare vegetable and herb varieties.

GROWER'S PICK; `Madras, a podding radish that is grown not for its roots but for the sweet edible pods it bears. 18001 Shafer Ranch Rd., Willits, CA 95490; (707) 459-6410 or bountiful@ zapcom.net.

Ed Hume Seeds

If you garden in the Pacific Northwest, chances are you know of Ed Hume; his television show, Gardening in America, is seen by millions. His family-owned seed company has been in business since 1977.

SPECIALTIES: Flowers and vegetables with a proven record in the Northwest. GROWER'S PICK: `Sugar Lace', a stringless snap pea.

Catalog $1. Box 1450, Kent, WA 98035; fax (253) 859-0694; www.humeseeds.com Evergreen Y. H. Enterprises

As the West's taste for Oriental vegetables grows, so do the entries in owner Wen Hwang's catalog.

SPECIALTIES: Asian vegetables of all sorts, from winged beans to pickling melons.

GROWER'S PICK: `Chin Gu', a variety of yu choy (also known as edible rape) that bears leaves and flowering stalks to use in stir-fry dishes.

Box 17538, Anaheim, CA 92817; (714) 637-5769 or eeseeds@aol.com.

Garden City Seeds

Begun in 1982, this outfit concentrates on sustainable vegetable varieties for areas with short growing seasons.

SPECIALTIES: Early-harvest vegetables with a focus on corn, squash, melons, peppers, and tomatoes.

GROWER'S PICK: "Yukon Chief, a dwarf corn (3 feet tall) bred in Alaska that bears 5- to 6-inch-long ears in only 55 days. Catalog $1. 778 Hwy. 93 N., Hamilton, MT 59840; (406) 961-4837 or www. gardencityseeds. …

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