Best Seed Sources is Based on Experience, Not the Catalog

Courtesy of John G, JNJ Farms, Macomb IL

We are working up our 2017 seed orders. First thing we do is to inventory leftover seeds from this season. We are not worried about loss of germination but we may slightly over plant just in case. For what will be transplants we always overseed by 15-20%.

We get many catalogs, and we go through most of them. Several are just recycled from past experiences with companies or price and customer service problems. 1 catalog we get is dirt cheap but packs contain very few seeds for the money. 15 seeds for a dollar or 50 seeds for $3.95 from a different company. Which is the bargain?

We have 2 main companies that are most reliable and have good luck with their seeds. I also place smaller orders from a couple companies that carry new or tried and true varieties that we like. My seed potato are from local suppliers at wholesale prices. We also will order from an onion supplier. We are not real big on heirlooms, not that they are bad we have better luck selling hybrids in most cases. We order early and get early season discounts and go for free or low cost shipping.

This is not a place to hurry through or skimp to save a little money. Do your research and keep in mind your time spent now will be rewarded when you harvest.



Seeding Rate Helps Answer Whether A Crop Is Worth Growing

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

The planning questions keep coming, and last week the big one was, “How do I know if a crop is worth growing?” Getting an accurate read on your seed costs is a big part of the answer. In fact, knowing the cost to seed a bed is make or break in planning.

To get an accurate read on your seed costs, you need to determine your seeding rate per bed. To do that, you need to determine the following for the crop in question:

> # of rows per bed
> width of each row
> in-row spacing
> # of seed required per row
> # of seed required per bed

Using benchmarks from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, let’s look at carrots as an example.

> # of rows per standard size bed: 3
> width of each row: 2”
> in-row spacing: 12” apart; 30 seeds per foot
> # of seed required per row: 750 seeds
> # of seed required per bed: 1,125

Next, using the seed cost stats from SPIN’s Crop Profiles, look at what seed costs look like:
> typical cost per 25M quantities: $20 – $40
> cost to seed a bed: $2 per bed for the most expensive varieties

If you use SPIN’s revenue target of $100 per bed, you can see the seed cost per bed is way less than the revenue per bed. And in fact, some types of carrots can generate revenue of close to $200 per bed. So now you can see why SPIN categorizes carrots as a very high value crop.

Do the same calculations for more expensive sprouting microgreens seed, and you could start to see costs of up to $20 to seed a bed. Factoring in other costs and your labor, you need to determine when the answer to, “Is a crop worth growing?” is “No.”

There are lots of variables that can come into play too. You can tweak your seeding rate, raise your prices, or negotiate seed costs. But as with all businesses, at the end of the day it comes down knowing what calculations to make. Seeding rate is an important, but overlooked one.

DDG3 photo 18You’ll get a feel for the amount of seed you need to use after a few trial plantings. The goal is to figure out the minimum amount of seed you need in order to achieve your targeted yield.  And then record that rate and figure out the cost to seed a bed.  


Newbie SOS: How important are organic seeds?

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Seed sourcing does not need to produce the anxiety it seems to. My advice is to use reputable suppliers who cater to commercial scale growers, and don’t overthink it. That goes for this question, which I get all the time.

How do you feel about organic seeds? I want to use them but do you bother? 

We use organic seed as much as we can. But we will not pay excessively premium prices for them. Suppliers recommended by SPIN farmers can be found here. If you have not made a seed order yet, then you might have to source locally. If you want onion sets/garlic then you need to act quickly. We just bought 500 lbs. of sets, and cleaned them out of their first shipment. I would suggest an ambitious onion/garlic planting in your first year. Say, 50 lbs. of each.

If a supplier is out of the seed you want, see if you can pre-order and pay over the phone and get 50 lbs. of each reserved from their next shipment. A good relationship with seed suppliers is a good asset to have, so make an extra effort to establish them early in your career.

SPIN photo seed packets Frank Frazier


This is SPIN farmer Frank Frazier’s main 2015 seed order for Mooseview Farm in Brookfield NH . He’ll be testing out 8 new varieties of lettuce for a new salad mix this year. He likes High Mowing Seeds. 


To Get the Best Seed Price, Make a Call

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

In niche markets, SPIN farmers can adjust their pricing to cover their seed cost, but you should always try to get your seed costs down as low as possible. That means buying in bulk and shopping around.

Take pea greens. I found that 50 lbs. of peas can vary from $50 to $100, not counting delivery cost. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds offers pea seed at around $50 for 50 .lbs, but this bulk quantity price is not listed publicly.  You have to call or email them. Johnny’s price is  double –  $100 for 50 lbs. The point is, if you don’t see what you need listed on a company’s website or catalog, pick up the phone. Personal contact with a seed supplier can save you money and establish a relationship that will keep on giving.

DDG5 photo 9 DSC00455

Volume is an important consideration when ordering seeds, since buying in bulk quantities reduces the cost. Here is a delivery of 50 lbs. of peas.   

Seed Costs for a Half-Acre

Courtesy of Curtis S., Green City Acres, Kelowna, BC
If you’re farming around a half-acre, you can expect to spend upwards of $800 on seed. I have close to 100 beds in constant salad green production, and just to give you an idea how much seed I go through for that: 2.2 lb arugula, .25 lb green leaf lettuce, .25 lb red leaf, 125 lb mustard, and mizuna,  2 lbs chard and bulls blood beets. And a lot of 2 oz packs of various lettuces.