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Hobby Farming: Seeds

Two years ago my mother and her partner moved to their dream home – a house on three acres, deep in the Colorado countryside. It was a given from the get-go that they would be working toward establishing a small-scale organic farm like one of the hundreds popping up all over the country.

From someone on the outside who had only ever read about the brave new world of hobby farming, I had a few (incredibly mundane) questions: what goals make sense for someone just starting out? And although organic farming is constantly growing and “new” (usually super old, actually) techniques are being created – what companies could be trusted to be true to the organic creed?

I’ve touched on the importance of soil – but what do you do once you have healthy soil that smells overwhelmingly of fall, worms and rotting apples?

You reap what you sow

Seeds have been under scrutiny lately. It would make sense that any seed you buy would be organic – it comes from a plant, right? Unfortunately, seeds are one area where science has really stuck its foot where it doesn’t belong. You can buy coated seeds – seeds that have an inorganic coating filled with pesticides and herbicides (how does science do it?) that can only be disposed of in hazardous waste bins and biohazard bins (who wants seeds that can only be disposed of as if they had come from a nuclear reactor?) – but these seeds, awesomely scientific as they are – are unnecessarily complicated.

Organic seeds are great. Much like Jesus, their mother plants were organic – never before touched by man in a…er…biblical way? But unlike super scientific seeds, organic seeds all have different rates of germination. As in, only a certain percentage of the seeds will germinate and become mama (or papa) plants themselves.

Look at the size of that mater!

So how did my mom (and I) decide what seeds to go for? Well, because I don’t know as much as my mom, I only ever bought seeds that said “organic” and “heirloom” on them from farmers’ markets and any spinning rack that sold seeds. This guaranteed that my plants would be really weird looking and the fruits that resulted would taste different from what is usually found in grocery stores.


Random, heirloom-y goodness

My tomatoes were often the size of an infant’s head and were incredibly sweet with freakishly colored flesh that ranged from purple to yellow, often in the same fruit. My cucumbers were pulpier with fewer seeds and looked less columnar and far more ball-ish. I don’t know what happened to my peppers; they were so promising in their youth but burned like a thousand wildfires in my insides. (I’m told that the heat of my peppers is directly correlated to the amount of water they received…I think it was because they were supposed to be bell peppers but looked more like habaneros…)

Seed companies used by hobby farmers

My mother, however, goes with organic seed companies she has heard about from trusted sources and buys them in bulk. Johnny’s Seeds is an employee-owned seed company that has been around for ages that she uses. They offer lots of information to new sowers and, although not all of their seeds are organic, their seeds all have a high rate of germination.

Sustainable Seed Company is a company she has heard about and used a little. They are an organic seed company that specializes in heirloom plants. Their online ratings are high, despite their marketing presence being relatively small.

Low marketing presence is kind of a running theme with organic seed companies. If a person wants to explore the wacky world of organic farming/gardening they often aren’t going to be persuaded by a glossy ad in a magazine. Because the decision often comes before the persuasion, seed companies have been turning to Google Analytics to get on the front page of your search so that when you do commit, they’ll be on the front page waiting for your order. Here’s more on why marketing is important to reach hobby farmers.

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