The first was the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company based in the Missouri's Ozark Mountains. They have a retail branch just north of San Francisco which we visited. Baker Creek offers more than 1100 heirloom herb, vegetable and flower varieties that have been collected over twenty years from around the world, and we were fortunate to source some interesting treasures.
We brought home seeds of a cucumber called Hmong Red from China, an old French melon called Prescott Fond Blanc, a Purple Flowered Mustard from the woodlands of America and a Tomato from a Russian seed collection called Black Icicle (to name but a few). It will take a season or two before we have increased our stock of them enough to list them in the Kings catalogue but I’m sure they will be worth the wait. Companies like Baker Creek are very important resources as they protect and maintain a wide genetic diversity of plant material that could otherwise be lost.
Next we drove North into one of California's important horticultural regions. The Sacramento Valley is several hundred kilometres long and maybe 80 kilometres wide, enclosed by the Pacific Coastal Range on one side and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the other - think of the Canterbury Plains but a lot bigger.
Around Willows where we stayed are tens of thousands of acres of almond trees, rice paddy fields and that much land again growing vegetable crops for seed production. The scale is absolutely immense compared to what we do here. One of the seed companies we visited operates on a 7000 acre farm and employs up to 600 seasonal workers to tend and harvest crops. At this time of year they were all very busy planting crops to grow over the summer months. With water a precious resource, much of the irrigation is done by trickle tapes beneath the surface to avoid evaporation.
While staying in Willows we had meetings with three different seed producers, went to a lettuce trial, visited a farmers' market in Chico and checked out what people were growing and selling. Highlights of the farmers market were sampling the fresh strawberries and cherries and seeing huge big bouquets of summer flowers for sale at only $5 a bunch, which was great value. The bouquets had generous amounts of Sweet William, Calendulas, Larkspurs, Bells of Ireland, Sweet Peas, Statice and Cornflowers in them.
Large seedless watermelons from Colorado were selling for $3.99 each, unfortunately too big to bring home as hand luggage on the plane!
We have more to tell you about our trip, so look out for another instalment soon!