A Statement of Purpose




In 2012 I inherited responsibility for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden is a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, meaning that every plant serves a practical, rather than aesthetic purpose, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables for the kitchen table. As close as possible, these plants mirror those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a complete greenhorn. Please be kind!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seed Catalog

The 2013 seed catalog came last week from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Baker Creek has been the Pry Garden's go to source for seeds because it has such a wide selection of old heirloom varieties of vegetables and other garden plants. I have been very distracted lately, poring over the pages and making some selections for next year's garden.


I thought I would share a few of the more interesting items that are offered and some selections for the garden at the Pry House.

Some garden vegetables may seem very straight-forward. A carrot is a carrot, a potato is a potato, and a cucumber is a cucumber. That may not always be the case! We eat many of the same kinds of fruits and vegetables today that Americans enjoyed 150 years ago, but the varieties we are most familiar with today often did not exist during the Civil War. Likewise, some varieties of produce which were very popular in earlier centuries are extinct or very rare today. Sometimes the differences are subtle and we might hardly notice them, but often the difference between an 1860s apple and the Red Delicious you can find at the supermarket are striking.

As an example, the Baker Creek catalog offers over two dozen varieties of true cucumbers, but none of them appear to be correct for a an American Garden in the 1860s. Instead, I may plant burr gherkins, also known as maroon cucumbers. They are not true cucumbers, but are a close relative, also originating in Africa and coming west with enslaved peoples. Though rarely seen today, they have been in the United States for over 200 years and were once a very popular food. Reviews indicated that it heavily producing plant. They are small, spiky, and pretty wild-looking!

Burr Gherkins

Sometimes the heirloom seed catalog offers a wide spectrum of varieties more strange and exotic-looking than anything you will find in the grocery store or the garden store's seed rack. It can be a lot of fun to look at dozens of fruits and vegetables that are so different from what we are probably used to seeing on our own tables. Sadly, many of these fun varieties are not period to the 1860s or are not local to the United States in that time period.

This year's catalog offers 88 varieties of melon, not counting watermelons. Some are fairly wild-looking and I would love to grow them, but they just don't meet the standards of this garden.

Tiger Melon from Ukraine

Rich Sweetness 132 Melon from Russia

Ushiro Uri from Japan

Thankfully not all of the interesting and different-looking melons are beyond my reach. I will likely grow this variety of melon which Baker Creek labels as "Ananas D'Amerique A Chair Verte." It is of French origin, but has been grown in the United States for over 200 years. According to their catalog, it was grown by Thomas Jefferson and has been available commercially in America since 1824. I have never been a fan of melon, but others like it and this will be fun to try growing.

Ananas D'Amerique A Chair Verte Melon

This year I have decided to plant cowpeas in the garden. You might be more familiar with black-eyed peas, a more common variety of cowpea today. The seed catalog offers a number of varieties purported to date from the 1860s and beyond, but I will likely go with the simple Clay Cowpea.

Clay Cowpeas

Several seed companies correctly indicate that this was a common staple of Civil War armies, especially in the Confederacy. I have never grown anything like these before, so I am looking forward to learning how to plant, tend, and harvest these little beans. I am very curious to see how they might taste compared with more familiar black-eyed peas.

More on seed selections next week!!!

Several photos taken from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at rareseeds.com. Check them out!

1 comment:

  1. I urge you to switch from Baker Creek to Seeds of Change http://www.seedsofchange.com/. They are the original heirloom seed company, dedicated to preserving endangered varieties, and the information they provide about the provenance of the seeds is outstanding.
    I'm happy to learn that there is a period garden in the works at Pry House. Seems like the NMCWM has come a long way since I planted medicinal herbs at the base of the tree out front of the museum...

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