KENNEWICK -- Usually by this time of year, I've talked about exciting new varieties I've found in my favorite seed catalogs.
This year, after perusing various garden catalogs, I want to share some strange varieties and odd tidbits that I came across.
One of the strangest little tidbits I read was in Territorial Seed Company's (territorial.com) catalog. I'm not a fisherman, so I was surprised to find that corn can be used as a fishing bait. Territorial indicates that the 'Country Gentleman' variety of corn, an heirloom variety known as "shoepeg" corn in the South, makes "a superior corn bait."
Doing a some research, I found that corn can be used to catch trout, catfish, carp and other fish. However, there has been concern that it poses a health hazard to fish such as trout because they supposedly don't digest it well. Research indicates that corn is not the most nutritious food for trout, but it doesn't kill them. Because of the concerns about the health of fish and habitat, using corn is illegal in some states.
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While flipping through Native Seed Search's catalog, I came across a basil that I'd like to try. It's called Mr. Burn's Famous Lemon Basil. This heirloom basil has been grown in southeastern New Mexico for at least 60 years. The catalog author notes that it's an old world introduction that readily self sows and has "great lemon flavor." They also say that it's heat and drought tolerant, which means it could grow here.
Native Seed Search (nativeseeds.org) is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ari., that "conserves, distributes and documents the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico." It's an interesting little catalog with traditional as well as less traditional crops. Chile pepper fanciers will find their selection of chiles extraordinary.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) has a catalog with an immense listing of heirloom vegetable varieties, with a few that are a bit strange. You may think that there are only one or two eggplant varieties, like the very common Black Beauty.
Baker Creek has no less than 51 eggplant varieties, offering gardeners a wide diversity of fruit shape, size, color, and flavor.
One called 'Nipple Fruit' grows "beautiful tall, thorny plants that bear purple flowers, followed by 3-inch yellow fruit that is curiously shaped, sort of like a cow's udder and glowing yellow-orange." The fruit is too bitter to be edible, and the plant is simply used as an ornamental.
One Green World (onegreeworld.com) specializes in fruit producing trees, shrubs, nuts, berries, and vines. I was surprised to find three different varieties of female gingko trees in their catalog. The surprise was that anyone would intentionally plant a female gingko.
The fleshy part of the gingko fruit smells just like stinky dog manure. (Male gingkos produce pollen, and female trees produce fruit. There must be a male and female tree in proximity for pollenation and fruit to occur.) While the fruit may be stinky, the nut in the center of the fruit is valued in Asian cultures because it's supposedly sweet and good tasting.
You may not be looking for something odd or different, but you're likely to find something from one of these catalogs that you'll want to grow in your garden.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.