In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.

Ordering Seeds

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Seed catalogs with my favorite mug and a pot of tea, kept warm for hours under the tea cozy my grandmother made for me last year.

What could be better than putting together my 2010 seed order with a hot cup of tea?  Perhaps putting together the seed order after I have done my taxes, which is not something I have experienced yet.  However, I am so excited about my seed order that the stress of doing my taxes is pretty much overshadowed.  I have already put together and mailed off my biggest order.  The company that has the best prices and a good organic selection only takes orders through the mail!  So I had to fill out the order by hand, line by line, and add it all up with a calculator and everything.  I am so used to online ordering, where I just have to click a button and everything gets added automatically.

So why is seed ordering so exciting?  First off, I am the first to admit that I have the makings of a shopaholic.  I love shopping, and ordering seeds is a totally allowable and necessary indulgence.  Then there’s the whole logic puzzle, planning the planting schedule and the outlining the distribution plans for the season.  Of course, there is also the political, ethical issues, and by ordering from the right companies, growers can make big statements, and in turn, those who support those farmers make big statements, and so on and so forth.

I try to order exclusively open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.  (Although I did order organic, hybrid curly kale seeds.)  Open-pollinated varieties of vegetables and fruits are varieties that have been selected without cross-pollination or other human tampering, as opposed to hybrid seed or genetically modified seed.  There are always genetic variations among varieties.  Certain traits might be chosen year after year, the seeds from those fruits saved and planted year after year, until a variety is different enough from the original plant to become it’s own open-pollinated variety.  Some open-pollinated varieties might have started as a cross between varieties, but over time a certain strain might stabilize, meaning that the seed it produces bears plants and fruit that are the same as the cross breed, without having to cross-pollinate the two original varieties.  A variety is not stable until it is known that the seeds from that variety produce the same variety generation after generation.  Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down for generations, usually in the same isolated area.

There are certain varieties that I know do well at the farm, because the Armours have been farming there for 20 years!  I like to explore though, so I am trying out a lot of new varieties just to see what they are like.  Running a CSA forces the farmer to grow a wide variety of crops at all times.  The same vegetables week after week would be boring, and it is nice for our members to get a little something different from the norm.  While variety is great, hard to grow varieties with small yields are not the CSA farmer’s friend.  Running a CSA is not a big money business.  One simply can’t mark up the price of a vegetable that is scarce in a CSA model, so I also look for varieties that have good yields.  I also have (as I am sure every farmer has) a limited amount of land to work with, and I want to make the most of it.

Right now I am researching onions.  This past year our onions were small, and took a long to mature.  Which meant that the next crop to follow the onions went in the ground late, which ultimately meant that I had one less item to distribute in the fall to the CSA members.  Perhaps we are going to start have mild, wet summers around here for good?  In that case, I want onion varieties that are going to do well in that type of climate.  I also want storage onions, because I want the onions I grow and harvest to last until the last CSA distribution in November (and beyond for my own personal use).  Most of my seed catalogs sell hybrid seed for their storage onion varieties, but I am trying to purchase open-pollinated varieties.  I have a catalog that sells open-pollinated and heirloom varieties exclusively (although it’s operation is not located in the north east, like the other companies) so I am going to try their seeds this year.

Though ordering seeds is my favorite thing to do in the winter, at some point I hope it will be a thing of the past.  One of the benefits of growing open-pollinated varieties is that the seed can be saved from these varieties and planted the following year.  I hope to save my own seed someday for all the fruits and vegetables I grow, when I have my own piece of land that I know I will be farming for 20 years or more, where I can select the best fruits and vegetables for my farm.  For this reason, and many others I can assure you, I do not by seeds from companies that knowing sell genetically modified seeds, nor do I ever knowingly purchase or consume anything containing genetically modified organisms.  The patent laws that protect the companies that produce GM seed currently put seed saving companies, organizations and farmers at risk of extinction.  By fighting these laws, and purchasing seeds that are not genetically modified, we can make a serious difference in the direction our food system is heading.

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