Seeds

It’s that time of year- time to start pouring over seed catalogs and waiting for the flat packets to arrive in the mail. I just got the first

The first round of seeds this spring.

bunch this week for my garden and Showcase 1. I’m not sure which part is more fun- seeing all the possibilities in vivid color or holding the tiny bits of life that will feed me.

Because sustainability is a big part of why I am doing this, I was looking for two main things. I wanted open-pollenated or heirloom varieties, as they would breed true when I start learning how to save seeds. I also wanted to buy local if I could. That doesn’t just mean buying mass-produced packets from a local store. I wanted to support local farmers if at all possible. With these limits in mind, I have ordered from two companies so far this year.

The first was a little company over in Avondale, Colorado, Hobbs Family Farm. Their direct retail collection is fairly small at the moment, but they do cover the basics for a vegetable garden and far more than the basics for a garlic connoisseur. I found their Web site to be very navigable, and I am more than a little impressed that I had the seeds in my hand four days after I placed the order. We can’t always expect that the mail system will be that cooperative. However, I ordered the seeds on a Sunday, and my order was shipped on Monday. That’s impressive for any company.

The company I chose to cover the gaps in our needs is D. Landreth Seed Company. I heard about them when their catalog arrived as part of my Christmas box. You do have to pay for the catalogs, but even if I wasn’t gardening this year, it was still a fascinating read. They are the oldest seed company operating in America, having sold seed to every President from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt. They are not local, being from Bristol, Pennsylvania, but they have a wide variety of heirloom vegetables to choose from. The ordering on their Web site was somewhat less navigable, and when I called to check on my order, it looks like the seeds should be shipping early next week, or a bit more than a week after I placed the order.

Why do I care about where I am getting my seeds from? Why didn’t I just get a Burpee catalog like we used to order from every year? It turns out that Burpee is only about 90 years younger than D. Landreth. When I looked them up to verify that they did not have the awesome purple carrots that I ordered from Hobbs Family Farm- it turns out they sell the same variety. However, not only are the heirloom and organic types separate from the rest of the offerings, they are mostly separate from each other. Most of the offerings are far more recent models, and many are hybrids. While a hybrid in and of itself is not a bad thing, the plants have to successfully cross to create it so you don’t have to worry about fish genes in your carrots, you can’t reproduce it yourself. If your carrots bloom and set seed, the seeds will not produce the same type of root that produced the seeds. It will be a carrot, but there is no telling the properties of that carrot until it’s grown.

This is, of course, good business. It means that you have to keep coming back every year whether you know how to save seeds or not. I can’t hold it against a company that they want to make a buck. On the other hand, choosing the modern seeds does not preserve the varieties that we know can reproduce outside of a lab as the heirloom and open-pollenated seeds do every year. Buying from such a large company also does not allow me to purchase seeds grown from plants that survived our local conditions long enough to reproduce. Given the uniqueness of our circumstances, just any plant may not be able to grow. This is not to single out Burpee as a bad guy. They just happen to be a company that I know. After all, given their heirloom and organic varieties, I may even order from them in the future if I need something they offer. However, they will not be my first choice.

I’m sure I’m not the only starting to get restless waiting for spring to arrive. I have my garden mostly plotted out, and I’m trying to decide whether I want to risk starting my leeks and onions inside due to the lack of direct sun and the less than stellar results in my window box. I’m also looking forward to future springs. The red carrots lost out to the purple carrots for this summer because the purple carrots had a cooler name. Dragon. I am also very curious about the black and white varieties of radishes, but I figured I should see if I can turn out some decent-looking red ones first. Ok, and a purple one, but they were only chosen for their heat tolerance. Really.

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