Jnj victc th fSufficienr I

Pert«>"nance of rhc seeds 107

Of course there are additional (and entirely ethical) reasons to sell vegetable seeds Some companies specialize in gourmet or unusual vegetables. Thu j, a backyard hobby market in which the customers main concern is not rel.abily 0; production. It could be perfectly okay to sell this sort of customer rare seeds that don't germinate terrifically well. It could also be okay to sell a gourmet van-cry that is irregular, with many individual plants proving to be nonproductive. Another sort of seed company specializes in heirlooms. Often its seeds are organ-oily grown and produced by a network of collaborating amateurs. Because it is amateurs doing the production, their varieties often become irregular, inbred, weak. Because the enthusiast often has little idea of the correct way to handle and store seed, the germination levels tend to be sub-par. Not always, ur e quently. Coping with these uncertainties doesn't matter to someone with a passion for knowing and growing antiques, but degraded heirloom varieties not suit someone who wants to efficiently grow nutritious. chenUcaMree -

To insure it is selling the types of seeds and varieties it ^ ^ of an ethical seed company will take the following steps to fulfil the points listed above.

termination , , r r^hnnvs Selected

In the discussion of Figure 4.2 in Chapter 4.1 sceds fr

Seeds included information on the ^^^ ^umgermina-sold. Other mail-order seed companies also n ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ rion levels significantly higher than the sranJ^ ^ zwkc a ycJU on ail lots as commercial suppliers do. perform ¿diet has a large marker

°f seed in their warehouses. This sorY>n^!cMf dc n customers and sells the gardener and farmer trade as well as ^ acc wich ^c highest pos-

same scedlots to both, and/or the company s«ble level of responsibility. ^ sQ many arc. Bur it is not easy to

It must seem easy to be slack, ""j^^^bagc every year. If you're only «end thousands of dollars of weak see ^ cempving co sell weak stuff anyway, supplying the home gardener «c: ^ ^

After all. the gardener is not a cf.

Variety trials . rhc sced company must actually grow trial*.

To honestly describe its yarlC"\'v ro choose which varieties to sell. There

This is also the only responsible >

is nothing particularly difficult about conducting trials; it jUSc takes , | land, focused effort, and a fair bit of money. I reckon the minimum si^f °f meaningful trials ground would be about half an acre (2,000 square ^! for a small homestead seed business. A medium-sized mail-order comT' might use a few acres. I know of three large mail-order businesses using ten acres (four hectares).

Trials are usually laid out in widely spaced rows so that each plant, an be evaluated. Enough plants of each variety are grown to determine if the variety is uniform — to see if all the plants are equally productive. If it is a cut-once or yank-out vegetable like cabbage or heading lettuce or carrots, this quests needs to be answered: Will the plants all mature at once or is the harvest period spread outf The commercial grower wants uniform maturity. The fam ily kitchen usually prefers the harvest to be spread over a long period unless t intends to can or freeze the harvest. A worthwhile trial needs at least five or six plants for something like a cabbage or cauliflower variety, and a minimum of a ten-foot (three-meter) row for something like a carrot or beet variety. Thus, to do a cabbage trial, one might grow five plants each of 20 varieties being inspected, or a total of 100 cabbage plants. A trial like this can show which varieties are well suited to the home garden, how long they take to heatl up, how big they are, how long they hold before bursting, how much frost they'll tolerate, if they're tender enough for good slaw or tough enough for good kraut, etc.

Is there any other way to determine a catalog offering? Sure, but ir would not be as ethical. A company can assume that commonly known varieties grow well, or it could ask the local agricultural extension office what suit-1 -area and sell that. A seedsperson could ask suppliers which varieties arci** for the home gardener and then accept what is offered. But for real, bcheva and accuratc information, you have to do trials. ^

Only your own variety trial can reveal what tastes good. Reading 11 ^ thc lincs ««arch-station trial reports won't help you find chat. The 1 ¡n my own trials is to taste everything raw in the field. If a vjr,it^.

pass that test, it rarely progresses to an evaluation of its taste wkj^ ^ It the trials-ground master doesn't like raw veggies, he or she will 1" ' f

"'f And that's what makes a horse race. But whether ra* ^ ^

cooked fooder. I don't believe it's poss.ble to have effective home nductcd by someone who is not a serious vegctableatanan. OcherwUc; the Scries arc being evaluated in much the same way that commercial vanet.e. ^ ranked — by appearance, storage potential, ease of harvesting, etc. Not lat these factors are unimportant. Bur lor the home gardener they arc sec lonihiy to flavor, culinary qualit ies, storage poteniial in a root cellar, ere

Organically grown trials can show which varieties resist diseases or msects. 1 repeat, if they are done organically.

"Grow outs,' taking a look at how the seeds purchased for resale actually grow, also happen on a trials ground. Except for a few mail-order businesses dealing in heirlooms, retail garden-seed suppliers are mainly distributors. They buy bulk seed and repackage it. There is no commodiry more open to misrepresentation than vegetable seeds. A bag of cabbage seed can eonecdy cost$10a pound wholesale or $250 a pound wholesale The onter.tsot both bags look identical — small round black seeds. The bag is labeled with a germination percentage determined within the prev.otu > months. This .ar be easily and inexpensively checked by the buyer within one wee* of rece.. re the seeds, simply by counting out 100 seeds and sprouting them. Bur whar those seeds will actually produce is anorher rnarter. C abbage seed rhar cos:^ S10/ pound does not produce a row of identical heads. Mar.v of the plants ma\ nor form a proper head at all. Cabbage seed that costs $250 per pound should yield a row in which every plant heads up perfectlv and idenncally

I'rom time to time a primary grower has been known to'accidentailv mis-lahcl a bag intended for the home-garden trade, sometimes enclosing suspcc: lrom a discontinued varier)' worth next to nothing in place of nnesi ,tcni- (This never seems to happen to the grower's commercial cusromers.) On °nC occasi°n the bag I bought labeled "kale seed' turned our to contain some ■>ort ot fodder plant that was virtually inedible by humans. The only wai to |^ge these items from ones inventory is to grow a small sample of ai 1 the seed * PUrchased. At least this way the incorrect seed will not be sold for mote C T SCaS°n' Thc wrong^d seed merchants can rhen compiain and

Of hem! 3 rCaind'kccp thcir SuPPliert on rhcir 4nd l®iuce **ltkd,lKXXi ft ffi rcciPicnr of such "mistakes" in the foture. seed U rCtailcr ^ows «ut everything in its catalog tor which 4 ncu ot of And J ' PUrcha&C<i year, that would make a pretty large garden in a*«» ng >t costs a pretty penny. tftU

Adapted to the region It would be profitable if one catalog could sell fine vegetable would grow anywhere. But that is not possible. To ethically sell aer ****** ** English-speaking world, a company would have to operate a diff ■ * ^ ground in each broad climatic zone being served. Instead, mail-order ^ ers tend to be regional. Unless, of course, they don't bother growing^-*

When you purchase seeds, you have a far higher likelihood of a ^ fixl result if the suppliers trials grounds are located in roughly cheT climatic zone as your garden. Here is a climate map drawn in the broadest c verbal brush strokes:

Short-season climates. This area comprises the northern tier of states in the United States and that part of southern Canada within a few hundred miles of the U.S. border (the area of Canada in which over 90 percent of its citizens live).

Moderate climates. The middle American states, the east coast oi Australia roughly south of Sydney, and the North Island of New Zealand are moderate climates. In the United States, this is where summer gets hot and steamy (the frost-free growing season is more than 120 days), and the winter is severe enough to actually freeze the soil solid at least 12 inches (30 centimeters) deep. This level of winter cold isn't felt Down Under except at higher elevations. To roughly delineate this area in North America, draw east/west lines from about the northern border of Pennsylvania and the southern border of North Carolina extending to the Rockies. Lower New York state, the part south of a line from Albany to Buffalo, might also be included. Connecticut, too. ^

Warm climates. This includes the southern American states and co^

Australia from Sydney north up to, say, Bundaberg. The soil here never ^

solid; the summers are long and hot. The climate may be humid or an^

comparatively brief winters can occasionally be frosty but are mild enou^

allow for winter gardening without requiring protection under g 0 1 tic. ^jjflj

Maritime climates. In North America this bioregion is Cascadia. It includes the redwoods of northern California, exten« Washington, and the Lower Mainland and islands of soUd^

always west of the Cascade Mountains. England, Ireland, W '

land, southern coastal Victoria, Tasmania, and the South Island of New Talan! have about the same climate. These regions usually have relatively ol summers. Rarely does the soil freeze solid in winter except at higher ele' Prions and where it is isolated from the ocean's moderating influence. When V'1t'criod of sub-freezing weather does happen, the earth doesn't freeze deeply, . or does the freeze last long. Winter gardening ranges from difficult to easy and productive* '^rfH

who to buy from

In 19891 wrote an article for Harrowsmith, then a brave country-lifestyle magazine. I explained the garden seed trade and evaluated and ranked mail-order companies. Why do I say "brave? Because mail-order seed sellers made up a large portion of Harrowsmith's advertisers, and my article offended more than a few of them. First I sent out 69 questionnaires on Harrowsmith's stationer)', stating that I was the ex-owner of Territorial Seed Company, that I was writing an article evaluating garden seed companies, and that I might telephone for further information after the questionnaires answers had been received. Some of the questions were: Do you have a trials ground? If so, how large is it? Do you have your own in-house germination laboratory, even if uncertified? If so, how often do you test the seed lots on your shelves? What germination standards do you use to decide if a lot is fit to sell? What percentage (or how many) varieties in your catalog are actually grown by your company?

After eliminating those who elected not to respond (about half, which was not a surprise to me), I then removed from consideration those without trials grounds. Out of 69, only 20 were left. After a probing telephone chat Wlth the management of these companies, I found 11 were worth recommending. For this book I have expanded my recommended list to include admirable suppliers in the U.K. and Australia.

Hie following are the businesses (organized by climatic zone) Id advise Jtl0US food gardeners to use for the essential core of their gardens. They are 2 Cornpanies most likely to supply first-class seeds. When you garden to pro-amount of your family's food, you can't afford to use poor

Your current seed supplier may not be included in my recommended list.

1 so critical? Because when I grew proper variety trials for W*>

I saw undeniable and large differences between varieties. I Wanr che best possible chance of realizing a productive and useful outcom^ ^ you can't afford to experience anything else. ' rec^on

Short-season climates

Stokes Seeds. Stokes, a Canadian company located near Niagara Falls h 10-acre (four-hectare) trials ground open to the public, as well as an add'' ^ i 24 acres (ten hectares) that is not open and is used for research, plant brH ing, and seed production. The company's main income is from farmers and market gardeners, but the home gardeners get the same quality of seed as the commercials. I have never purchased a Stokes packet that failed to come up acceptably. If Stokes' catalog has any weaknesses, they will be found in its offerings of home-gardener-only vegetable species — items that have no commercial interest such as kohlrabi, kale, winter radishes, celeriac, and other unusual veggies. For these I often find Johnny's a better source. Stokes makes two identical catalogs: one in US funds; the other in Canadian.

Stokes Seeds, PO Box 548, Buffalo, NY 14240 USA.

Stokes Seeds, PO Box 10, Thorold, ON L2V 5E9 Canada.

Both countries served by 1-800-396-9238 and

Johnny's Selected Seeds. In 1973, Rob Johnston, age 22, bootstrapped Johnny's with $500 in operating capital. The company is currently using about 40 organically certified acres (16 hectares) for trials, research/development, breeding, and seed production. Johnny's has bred and now grows seed for a significant number of its own varieties. Johnny's catalog offers many organuJf grown items and avoids selling fungicide-treated seed. Like Stokes, Johnny offers small packets suitable for home gardeners and also sells the same vaneni-in larger amounts to market growers. Besides a broad line oi vegetable st^ green manures, and cereals, Johnny's sells a wide choice of state-of-Maine-certified seed potatoes, a range of garlic varieties,cK' J^ pany routinely ships to Canadians; noncommercial quantities do no«^^ special certification nor do they incur import costs. But Johnnys ^ fava beans to Canada (nor corn to B.C.). There are also Canadian tions on living plant materials like seed potatoes and garlic, ana onso ^ Canadians venturing beyond vegetable seeds would be wise to tt ^ ^ check Johnny's website before ordering. Johnnys ships overseas (to ials on cri non stan

' Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 USA;


(207) So ^ ^ Vese^s was starced nearly 70 years ago by a market gar-^who began importing high-quality European seeds for his neighbors. ^ ^ ay's varieties all pass the test of reliable short-season maturity in The C°n Prince Edward Island, and a rigorous screen it is, too. Seed-germina-dards are constantly monitored in the company's own germination lab Veseys will ship overseas.

Veseys Seeds, PO Box 9000, Charlottetown, PE CIA 8K6 Canada;


William Dam Seeds. William Dam has just published its 56ch annual catalog. The company operates five acres (two hectares) of vegetable (and flower) trials and focuses on high-grade hybrid Dutch imports. I am pleased to see many of my favorite short-season varieties in Dam's catalog. The catalog also contains some old and highly degraded open-pollinated varieties [0?s) offered for the "organic" trade that I wouldn't touch: specifically DeCicco and Waltham 29 broccoli, as well as Snowball cauliflower. Dam will ship overseas.

William Dam Seeds, PO Box 8400, Dundas, ON L9H 6M1 Canada; (905) 628-6641;

Moderate climates

Stokes Seeds. Stokes' location straddles the short-season/middle-states line.

that reason this company's offering is appropriate for middle-states gar-enCrS 0Wever' fbe catalog lacks some of those really heat-loving species and

£ considered "southern" vegetables. Contact details above. mer ¡s nnyS Selected Seeds. Generally, varieties that grow well where sum-John n ''C0° Wl" CVen kerter where it is warmer. Almost everything in Sec real! ^ °g should suit until You go far enough south that the summers the Ohio Riv^^ doubts about using these seeds south of Pennsylvania/

Har-; UC unProven, but likely correct. Contact details above. harris Seed* a j . . . l r °f the H decade ago, after 100 years of family management, the

Not too mSeS SO'Cl C'le ^usiness to an international agribusiness com-lC ^siness anjln^- ^^ somc oi rhe original employees bought back ir ls again in private hands. Harris's main business is with

,,4 gardening WHEN IT COUNTS

farmers and market gardeners. Unlike Stokes, which sells its entire Hne to customers. Harris has two catalogs and offers a somewhat limited assortmtn; of the same quality of seeds to home gardeners. Because its trials grounds and breeding focus are on a climate much like that in which Stokes operates,^ main reason to deal with Harris is to access some of its historic varieties, such as incredibly delicious Sweet Meat squash and the Harris Model parsnip.Ut catalog is definitely worth a look.

Harris Seeds, PO Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624 USA; 1-800-514-


King Seeds. Down Under gardeners will appreciate this broad offering of generally high-quality vegetable seeds from major international seed growers, as well as herbs (and flowers). The catalog is especially valuable for its many lcttucc varieties not otherwise found in Australia. The only obvious weakness in the catalog is the low quality offered in a few types of vegetables the com-

pXtlrpodr urportanti such as ™1»

Kin*p°nBr 283- Kadkati 3063 Zealand; (07) 549 3409.

Pcntrith'Nsw 2751 (o2) 4776

"egalitarian income^r ^^ E'VC'1angC" SESE is owned and operated by an lnda^angseedp,ri,nSC°mrUnity; Wh°Se ma'" concern is safeguarding

I gardening inthe m^T " in the hands of global megabusiness. 'ts 'uggest, ,t pro J; df SUCCS ftllc US. I would use its offerings for, as I p access to hcar-lnvincr mrltYinn^l vnriVries. SESEis

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, PO Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117 I 394 548O;

iVann climates

Park Seed Company. I smile when I read Parks catalog. Virtually every variety rjie company offers represents the finest breeding attainable, entirely appropri-ue ro its almost semi-tropical climate. This regionality is the result of many years of rigorous trials. Park bulbing onions are plainly labeled as medium- or short-day. Park sells doubly certified seed potatoes (Irish), both organically grown and produced from virus-free tissue-culture clones. That means they'll be maximally productive. There are also seven varieties of sweet-potato shoots. Parks rigorous germination standards exceed federal minimums. Because of the hot, humid weather in South Carolina, the company's seed is stored in climate-controlled conditions, and all its small seed is packaged in moisture-proof foils. And Parks prices are entirely reasonable. Its as good as it gets. Park will ship to overseas customers and send catalogs to foreigners who request one by post. Its website is not set up to accept orders from outside North America. Those living up the east coast of Australia north from Kangaroo Valley, or on New Zealand's North Island, should take a look.

Park Seed Company, I Parkton Ave., Greenwood, SC 29647 USA; 1-800-213-0076;

Maritime climates

Territorial Seeds. I opened the doors of this business in 1980, lifted it by its bootstraps, and sold it to Tom and Julie Johns at the end of its 1985 season. 1 have no ownership or other financial interest in TSCo now, so when I give ir g°od marks, there is no conflict of interest. However, I admire Tom and Julie tor growing the small business I sold them into a company as big as any in this list except Stokes.

The cerrificd-organic trial and production fields exceed 40 acres (16 hectares), and all descriptions and days to maturity listed in the catalog are as experienced on the trials grounds. The company has a complete germination laboratory and a residenr seed analyst. Its in-house standards exceed federal minimums, and the unpackered seeds are stored in a cliniate-controlled w arehouse (low rempenuures and low humidity). i'SCo is producing increasing

¿mounts of organically grown seed. Its broad line of seed potatoes is k ically grown and certified disease-free by the state of Maine. Origina][0t ^ ^' of the company was to serve only Cascadian gardeners, but Territorial ^ as many or more customers east of the Cascades as it does in west- ^ ^

____ . . _____ xt-„ r*____j-____i-- 111 cernoi on its website, eminently suited to winter gardening west of the Cascad and Washington states. Non-Cascadians should be aware thai- c^

* SOme varieties too slow to mature before winter freezes the garden solid east of tlv C ^

nn . i o___i c*_______1 nn r^______ ^ __ v-ascades.

Territorial Seed Company, PO Box 127, Cottage Grove, OR 97424 US 1 -800-626-0866;

West Coast Seeds. West Coast was started about 1982 by a Vancouver^ Mary Ballon, as the Canadian branch of Territorial. Now it is independent Mary runs a large certified-organic trials ground on alluvial soil near Deta BC, and otherwise runs her business much as Territorial does in the United States, albeit on a smaller scale. Lately, shipping through the biosecurity barriers to American customers has proved too difficult, and West Coast is abandoning its clientele south of the border. It will ship overseas.

West Coast Seed Company, 3925 64ch Street, RRl, Delta, BC V4K 3N2 Canada; (604) 952-8820;

Chase. I have no complaints about any of the three fine U.K. seed houses —■ Thomson & Morgan, Suttons, and Chase — but Chase is my preference. It offers many highly desirable certified-organic varieties grown by wo European quality seed houses, Rijk Zwaan and Sainte Marthe. As an indicator of its attitude consider this: Chase is the only company I know of on this planet that still offers reasonably uniform and productive OP Brussels^-varieties. It is entirely happy to serve overseas customers and sends cat % anywhere without a quibble. Chase is currently one of my mainstays.

The Organic Gardening Catalogue, Riverdene Business Park, M°e>l Road, Hersham, Surrey KT12 4RG England; 01932-253666; ^ flf

New Gippsland Seeds is located in southern Victoria, location is a bit warm to supply someone on Tasmania, but man/ * ^^ panys varieties work acceptably here. Mainlanders as far nor ^ ^ Valley in New South Wales should be most pleased with the cnü ^

New Gippsland Seeds, PO Box 1, Silvan, VIC 3795 Austr 9560;

us supplier and sources worthy of note

$SC6|lan vvebsite providing handy access to nearly every source of seed pavesGaidcn ^^ ^ American gardener would want, and waterl ' oniy sclls from its extensive catalog (downloadable from its d only during the spring. These folks run an honest business. PO *ebSiCti u/ Idle ME 04903 USA; (207) 873-7333;

5ox 520, watervi , m^Green Harvest Organic Garden Supplies provides Australians with a b oad assortment of natural pest-management materials, as well as seeds, books, tools etc. 52/65 Kilkoy Lane, via Manley, Qld 4552 Australia; (07) 5494


Landreth, the oldest continuously existing American seed business (since 1796), long in decline, was recently purchased by enthusiastic new owners who are making huge improvements. The new Landreth holds promise for gardeners in moderate climates. 650 North Point Road, Baltimore, MD 21237 USA; 1-800-654-2407;

Lockhart Seeds, mainly a supplier of farmers in California's central valley, offers a line of seeds particularly suitable to the Calitornian homesteader. P0 Box-1361, Stockton, CA 95205 USA; (209) 466-4401; no website.

Nichols Garden Nursery, specializing in the unusual and gourmet, has long been in business. 1190 Old Salem Rd. NE, Albany, OR 973211 USA; (541) 928-9280;

CaScPdaCKSeedS' a breeding service and organicalJy grown gene pool for the

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