Late winter is seed-purchasing season at Terra Firma, when we get out our lists and start looking at web sites and catalogues, and order much of the seed we will use for the year.  Our annual budget for seed is about $40,000 — roughly the same amount we spend on fertilizer, or on fuel.  In other words, it’s one of the biggies.

If you’ve been a subscriber for a year or more, you know we grow dozens of different crops — around fifty, actually.  About two-thirds are vegetables, grown from seed.  But for those 30-odd vegetables, we actually grow over a hundred unique seed varieties.

Some of these different varieties are obvious to you, the subscriber, such as green zucchini versus gold.  But others are not so obvious.  Sure, we grow gold tomatoes and red ones.  But we actually grow 6 different varieties of gold tomatoes and 8 of red.  And that’s not even counting the cherry tomatoes. All told we grow 40 varieties of tomatoes alone.

Then there are the different seeds that you probably don’t even imagine.  For example, we grow 14 different varieties of broccoli.  Most of them look identical to each other.  Why grow so many?  Well, certain types like fall weather, others winter, and still others, spring.  And in each of these seasons, there are varieties that mature quickly and others more slowly.  We do 7 plantings of broccoli over 3 months, each with multiple seed varieties, with the goal of  harvesting broccoli every week from mid-October through early March.

Buying seeds for cabbage is almost as complicated — 10 total varieties of three different types (green, red and savoy).  There are three different varieties each of fall-planted onions (1 red, 2 yellow) and summer-planted (all yellow).  And we grow three different varieties each of sweet corn, cauliflower, spinach, and leeks.

We grow almost no seed ourselves.  Growing seeds is a very specialized and meticulous type of farming, and many of the varieties most important to us are patented hybrids that require special techniques to produce.

Organic farmers are not allowed to use seed that is genetically modified (GMO) or treated with any synthetic chemical, and we are required to buy organically grown seed whenever it is available.  This requirement has created more of a market for certified organic seed producers, who have been increasingly focused on developing crop varieties that are better suited for organic farmers:  they require less fertilizers and pesticides.

These rules used to greatly limit what was available for us to plant, but in the last five years, the number of seed varieties available to us has increased dramatically.  Every year we try out new ones, but we can’t ever count on them succeeding, so we just plant a small amount.  If they work out the first year, we plant more the second year.  Anyone who’s gardened knows that this process is both enjoyable and frustrating.

If you’re interested in seeing where we get our seeds from, here’s a list of few of the websites:  snow seed,johnny’s, osbourne, and tomato growers.  Enjoy!