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.

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GET MORE SAVVY SEED BUYING TIPS FROM THE PRO’S IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP.. TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.  YOU”LL SAVE LOTS OF BUCKS AND KNOW THE BEST AND RARE SOURCES.

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. 

 

How GMO Literate Are You?

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

It’s that time of year again when SPIN farmers cuddle up to the fires or their computers to browse seed catalogs. It’s also the time social media fire off the question “How do you know if you are buying GMO seeds?”

A better question might be, “How GMO literate are you?” Most new farmers, consumers, and gardeners have a lot of misconceptions about GMO seed, some of it created by seed companies, and we’re not talking Monsanto. Here are two facts for SPIN farmers to consider that can take some of the angst out of their seed buying this year.

First, there are very few SPIN crops that have a GMO version. According to a 2012 report on NPR, these are the crops that are currently GMO:

1. Alfalfa (for animal feed)
2. Corn
3. Canola (a source for oil)
4. Cotton (for oil)
5. Soybeans
6. Papaya
7. Squash
8. Sugar beets (which aren’t eaten directly, but refined into sugar).

GMO versions of tomatoes, potatoes, and rice have been created and approved by government regulators,  but they aren’t commercially available. A SPIN farmer would have to work really hard to get their hands on GMO seed.

Second, organic seed proponents proclaim organic seed as GMO-free, which may imply that non-organic seed is GMO. But non-organic seed is GMO-free also.

There are good reasons to know the source of your seed – we’ve been saying for a while that farmers should have as close a relationship with their seed suppliers as their chefs. And there are good reasons to be aware of the controversy over genetically modified organisms. But when it comes to GMO’s, let’s learn our P’s and Q’s.

SF photo Brenda fireside catalogs

 

Here’s the seed ordering station for SPIN farmer Brenda Sullivan of Thompson Street Farm in Glastonbury CT. 

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.

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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 Potatoes

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

This is the first year in a while that we did not have to buy seed potatoes. We will be using the ones we kept all winter in the cooler that have had greening. It’s a good way to get use out of them. Gail will be planting them at one of our peri-urban plots this week, and this will  be our main planting of potatoes for this season. We will harvest them in late September/early October for winter sales.

SPIN Photo potatoes green

I have found that many consumers do not realize that any greening on a potato should not be eaten. It’s a good idea to alert your customers to this, as well as giving them instructions on how to properly store potatoes to avoid it. For a quick primer on greening of potatoes see this backgrounder from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension.

Off-beat Seed Sources Provide a Competitive Advantage

Courtesy of Roxanne C., co-founder, SPIN-Farming

Novice SPIN farmers can create their crop repertoire based on the offerings of mainstream seed companies, which offer SPIN’s classic high-value relay crops – carrots, lettuces, spinach, scallion, radish. These are the great tasting, top-selling crops that a farmer can’t go wrong with. But as they go farther down the farming path, they get better at reading their markets and start differentiating themselves by offering “the surprise factor” – trend-setting novelties that offer more taste and talking points than what the standard go-to crops deliver.

Now unusual and downright outlandish seeds sources are just a click away, thanks to the Internet. It’s not only been a boon by linking farmers in peer-to-peer learning networks like the SPIN Online Support (SOS) Group, but it also has enabled specialized growers to affordably expand and reach new markets.

These days it’s easy to serve nearby customers with far-flung exotic foods, and this has helped elevate the  “artisan farmer” to a professional status that is much higher than the common commodity farmer. Seed sources recommended in the SOS Group are listed in the suppliers area of the SPIN-Farming website. When you’re looking to diversify your crop repertoire, start there.

SPIN photo chef

 

Seed Saving Breeds to Local Conditions

Courtesy of John Sealander, Blue Ribbon Eggs, Franklin, NC

There have always been droughts and floods and storms and hurricanes. When you save your own seed you are naturally and spontaneously breeding to the range of your typical conditions, and as you select over time you are developing -without much effort- produce that will grow best in your area to your unique conditions. Exotic hybrids may work in ‘industrial agriculture’, but are actually undesirable for small self-sufficient farming. Not enough genetic diversity. And way too fragile, among other short comings.

The Anasazi grew corn in the Arizona Desert 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. 4′ tall and 8′ apart. Space wasn’t the problem, water was. Drought (or disease) may have done them in, but they lasted a loooong time. I am growing corn and beans and squash, some cultivars of which have been grown here for 1,000 years starting with the Cherokee and perhaps their predecessors.

If you want to win in the battle with local conditions start with local heirlooms and open pollinated seed that are common in your area, save your best seed each season and you’ll have food most years. Stash a three year supply of the core stuff (staples), and odds are you’ll be fine for a lifetime.

Buy Seed Potatoes and Unusual Varieties

Courtesy of Bob B., The Fresh Veggies, Toronto, ON
I used store bought potatoes in 2008, and the yield was low. Last year I ordered seed potato, and the yield was almost three times higher. I planted following the varieties with exceptional results: Norland Red, Yukon Gold, Banana Fingerling, Lindzer Fingerling, Peanut Fingerling and Russian Blue.Paying extra for seed or seed potatoes pays well at market because you know exactly what variety it is, you can explain to customers the best way to use them and you distinguish yourself with a better product. Almost everyone else has the same varieties, one that anyone can buy at stores, organic or conventional. In SPIN-Farming, we have to standout with a better product. Our customers appreciate that, and always come back for more.

Seed Potatoes Sourced from Local Co-op

Courtesy of Ed G., Fresh SPIN Farms, Davis CA

We have a local source for fingerling seed … our local food co- op.  You can cut potatoes into “seed” by making sure you have at least one eye and enough potato to “feed” the runner until it surfaces to get sunlight. If you have anyone selling the kind of potatoes nearby that you want to grow, you can buy “edible” ones and use them as seed potatoes… what I paid for seed was about the same as what I pay for fingerlings at our farmers market or co-op.