Southern Indiana Living

JAN-FEB 2019

Southern Indiana Living magazine is the exclusive publication of the region, offering readers a wide range of coverage on the people, places and events that make our area unlike any other. In SIL readers will find beautiful photography, encouraging s

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Jan/Feb 2019 • 11 Bob Hill owns Hidden Hill Nursery and can be reached at farmerbob@ hiddenhillnursery.com. For more information, including nursery hours and event information, go to www.hiddenhillnursery. com About the Author I f rural postmen are paid by the pound of delivered product — and that al- ways seems a good and fair thing to me — our most loyal federal servant would more than double his early-winter take delivering seed catalogs while wear- ing his insulated underwear. Our most recent seed catalogs — Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange — recently showed up packed so tightly in our puny plastic mail- box that it took 10 minutes to find the wa- ter bill. And as the new world rushes off to research and buy all manner of products online, the old-fashioned notion of sifting through seed catalogs while sitting on the living room couch has remained a staple of my gardening happiness. It also takes me back to my very ear- ly youth when I would go door-to-door selling flower and vegetable seeds to my neighbors for maybe 15 cents a pack, me getting to keep a nickel of that to fund my future college education. Or an ice cream cone. The seed-sale game has changed a bit. The Baker Creek catalog now comes in 144 glossy pages, offering what seems to be 1.2 million varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetable seeds. I was prepared to count them all, but I need to get this col- umn finished before the 2020 presidential election. The catalog descriptions were obvi- ously written by somebody locked into a small, very oxygenated room with a 50-pound thesaurus. Those Baker descrip- tions also covered a few gardening tools sold on the catalog's back page. One is labeled the SERIOUS HAND WEEDER (the capital letters are theirs). The sales pitch said it could withstand the rigor of hand-weeding over "four acres of sweet potatoes" — which is not my first choice for a backyard project. Another pitch was for NUTSCENE GARDEN TWINE, a "soft, pliable and strong twine made in Scotland since 1922" that apparently will not hurt the tender feelings of any beets, carrots or endive once carefully applied. Only $4.50 for two spools of 26 meters each. Finally, there was the COBRAHEAD HAND HOE CDT101, the closest thing to a universal hand tool that will "weed, cultivate, scalp, dig, furrow, plant, trans- plant, de-thatch, harvest" and perhaps sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" for only $25.95. Caution, comes the HAND HOE warning at the end of the catalog pitch, "these things are sharp." The joy of the garden catalog, of course, is you can sit in your warm living room as 2 inches of partly cloudy inun- dates the garden and wonder who came up with all these plants, if not why? Alphabetically speaking, Baker Seed offers seeds for everything from ama- ranth to zinnias. An early CAPITALIZED favorite of mine — right there on page 12 — was the GOBBO DI NIZZIA CAR- DOON from Italy, its broad white stalks to be eaten fried, sautéed, pickled, in soups or dipped in olive oil. Only $2.75 for 25 seeds. Bad breath extra. Political correctness raised its head on Page 13, with mention of the CHERO- KEE TRAIL OF TEARS pole bean, a Ten- nessee survivor of the Cherokee Indians forced march out of their homelands to Oklahoma by their federal government; a journey, by the way, a lot of the Cherokees didn't survive. Baker Creek offered more than 80 tomato cultivars, few of which you will find at Kroger. My early favorite was the MICRO TOM tomato. Only $5 for 10 seeds and worth every half-dollar: "Astounding! The world's smallest tomato plant, fit for a fairy garden, reach- ing a mere 6-8" tall. Super productive little plants are completely enveloped in bright red, tasty 1 oz fruit. The tidy red plants covered in red orbs make an eye-catching basket or container plants." And then there was the 'Golden King of Siberia' tomato. The first thought was this is named for a country with a 20-minute summer and an average high of 50 degrees, which may help explain its yellow color, one-pound maximum size and disease resistance. If that doesn't heat up your Tomato Jones, Baker's also offers the "Black Icicle" tomato from the Ukraine. It has rich, earthy overtones and could go great with vodka. If Baker Creek doesn't float your Si- berian canoe, spend a little time with the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. It's also 146 shiny pages, which seems like a little too much of a coincidence. Seed Savers, as the name implies, is a little different. Its readers and members make a point of swapping seeds, sharing information and getting deeply into that biodiversity, good stewardship thing — which is good. Its huge Decorah, Iowa, home farm maintains a collection of more than 20,000 vegetable, herb and flower varieties, which might take a whole lot of COBRAHEAD HAND HOES to keep clean. Its "Rare Treasures," offered up front of pages 6 and 7, includes Ausilio Thin Skin Italian Peppers, purple-red Drag- on Carrots, Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard and Benary's Giant Zienna. The good thing about the latter is it only grows 3 to 4 feet tall, with flowers 4 to 5 inches across. Or try all four in a salad. Seeds Savers, alas, only had 73 kinds of tomatoes for sale, but also offered a recipe for fried-green tomatoes, placing it a notch or two above Baker Creek in our kitchen. It also offered the much-desired "Japanese Trifele Black" tomato, which also touches on world history as it's actu- ally a Russian black tomato about the size of a Bartlett Pear, a native of England. It's simple. Seed catalogs are a neces- sary tool for winter survival, that dreaded time between the end of the college foot- ball season and the NCAA basketball tour- nament. There's so little time and so many tomato plants. You need those seeds. Your mailbox needs you. • It also takes me back to my very early youth when I would go door-to-door selling flower and vegetable seeds to my neighbors for maybe 15 cents a pack, me getting to keep a nickel of that to fund my future college education. Or an ice cream cone.

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