Get Your Garden Started with a Trip to the Petaluma Seed Bank

February 21, 2014

Petaluma Seed BankThis time of year always has a way of making us ready for the warm days of spring and summer. And of course with those thoughts of warm months come dreams of our spring and summer vegetable garden! For the last few years, we've really made an effort to put in a substantial vegetable garden in our backyard. The children love to help pick out the seeds, plant them, water the plants, and pick the vegetables (and eat them, too), so it's a fun, educational, and tasty, experience for them.

Our first task of the season is always to go get our seeds. We always go the heirloom route—they're so much more fun than your plain old (ahem) garden variety vegetables—and we buy our seeds at the Petaluma Seed Bank, the West Coast outpost of the fantastic Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri. They stock a vast array of seeds for a wide variety of vegetables, many of which you probably didn't know existed.

In case you're not familiar with heirloom vegetables, they're the old-fashioned types, usually at least 50 years old, that have been handed down from generation to generation, and exist not because they are easy to grow or look perfect, but because they taste great! Baker Creek's seeds are also all natural, open-pollinated, and non-GMO, so they're good for your family and the environment.

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As luck and the Bay Area's reputation as a foodie paradise would have it, Baker Creek opened up a branch in Petaluma back in 2009. Occupying two levels of the grand 1920s Sonoma County National Bank building, Baker Creek's Petaluma Seed Bank is a retail store that stocks everything in their catalogue and then some. Grab a tin bucket by the front door to carry your seeds and get to work. It's almost overwhelming, but the Seed Bank's friendly and knowledgeable staff can help guide you through a seemingly bewildering array of choices. It's probably a good idea to get one of their catalogues or go online first to find out what you want, but part of the fun is wandering the aisles and seeing what the shelves have to offer.

These wonderful vegetables are so much fun to shop for that you find yourself tossing seed packets into your bucket just for the novelty. I mean, how can you not love the idea of a green-and-red striped banana-shaped tomato variety from the former Soviet Union, purple-streaked green beans, little round zucchini from northern Italy, Australian winter squash, or purple carrots?

At some point we have to stop and regroup and decide what we really need, because, after all, we don't live on five acres of land in which to grow our potentially massive garden. We did a quick edit of our seed selection, settling on a nice variety of tomatoes, zucchini, beans, carrots, peppers, Swiss chard, and radishes.

This year, my daughter insisted on growing pumpkins, so we got two kinds: traditional Connecticut field pumpkins and a green Italian variety called Marin de Chioggia. We also got a few varieties of sunflower since they look so beautiful in the garden.

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Baker Creek's Seed Bank is really worth a visit, especially if you want to get away from the usual old garden-store varieties of vegetables. You'll also find seeds for herbs and flowers at the Seed Bank as well as garden tools, herbs and spices, beeswax candles, gardening books, calendars, pots, locally made crafts and gifts, and more.

Occasionally, the Seed Bank sells locally produced organic fruits and vegetables, too. They were doing a brisk business when we were there last Sunday—I guess it is that time of the year, isn't it?

If You Go

Seed bankThe Petaluma Seed Bank is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm and Sundays 9:30 am to 4 pm during the winter, and 9:30 am to 5:30 pm during the summer. It's closed on Saturdays and major holidays.

The Seed Bank is located at 199 Petaluma Boulevard North, at Washington Street, in West Petaluma. To get there, take 101 to the Washington Street exit in Petaluma, then head west on Washington to Petaluma Boulevard North. Cash and credit cards are accepted. There's plenty of parking in the area, especially around the corner on Kentucky Street and in the free Downtown Garage on Keller Street (one block west of Kentucky).

For more information, call the Seed Bank at (707) 509-5171. If you can't make it up to Petaluma and want to order seeds, browse Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds' online catalogue at www.rareseeds.com.