Fresh Earth Farms - CSA

Seeds of Life

A Super Bowl of Tomatoes

Just a couple of announcements then on to seed ordering!!

We’re still taking orders for the 2024 season. Spread the word! If someone you refer puts your name in the “Where did you hear about us?” box on the order form we will credit your account $25. Of course if you haven’t rejoined yet maybe now is the time! Feel free to order from our online store.

You can also order Eggs, Flowers, Mushrooms, Coffee, Herbs and WinterShare too!

Farm News

One of the winter activities I undertake here at the farm is ordering seeds for the new season. Seems like it would be an easy, quick activity, no? Don’t you just have to hit the reorder button on your supplier’s web site? How hard can that be? You’d think that is all you would need to do but it is far more complicated than that. You first have to login, then hit the reorder button. Twice as hard as you thought! But I kid. Actually it is far harder than that. I could go on and on about the complexities of seed purchases and since I have a newsletter to fill out I might as well!

Unfortunately, unlike automotive companies, seed companies do not sell you seeds in the exact quantities you want. You want one Tesla? No problem! You want 674 Paterson onion seeds? Sorry, you have to order 1,000, and even then is is approximately 1,000. What if you want 250 Ace peppers? Sure we can sell you 250 Ace pepper seeds but if you bought 1,000 you can get them for less than half the price/seed of the 250 pack, but it is going to cost you twice as much. And those delicious Speedway cukes from last year. Wouldn’t you love to get more of them? Sorry, they are only available as treated seeds this year. Should have bought 5,000 last year. Wait, I tried to buy 5,000 last year to replenish my supply but they were only available as treated seeds then as well. Ugh.

The first step in buying seeds is to figure out what we have left from the previous season. When we purchase seeds we typically buy far more than we need for the current season. This gives us price breaks on the seeds and allows us some flexibility if we get poor germination or a sudden increase in share sales. We store the seeds in a refrigerator at corporate HQ in sealed ziplock style bags. This keeps them fresh and dry for the near future. Almost all vegetable, flower or herb seeds we grow store for many years this way. The only exception are the alliums (onions, shallots, leeks). Their germination rate decreases substantially while in storage so we only buy as many of these as we need for the season. Or perhaps a better way to state it is that we plant every one of the allium seeds we buy each year — no need to try to keep them for the next season.

So, we know we have to buy new onions, shallots and leeks — that’s the easy part. From there it gets complicated. One thing I’ve learned over the decades of farming is that once you find a vegetable variety you really like that grows really well and is really productive it will be discontinued and “replaced” by a “new” one that costs three times as much. It frequently has the word “improved” after it or sometimes “II” but it rarely is different than the previous one. I think it is the seed companies way to increase the price without increasing the price. Sometimes when these really great seeds are discontinued there is no recommended replacement. You are just SOL and you have to find something that works — through trial and error — in your situation.

Another factor with finding seeds is that sometimes the price of the seed you prefer becomes exorbitant. I didn’t understand why the price could change so much until I spoke with one of the seed sellers. He stated that some varieties of seeds are harder to grow than others so if they get a bad season there may not be as many available and so the price increases. I didn’t ask him but I should have in hindsight, “Once some seed has a bad season does it always have a bad season ’cause I never see the price of seeds drop?” Another of life’s many mysteries.

Over the years I’ve learned to just try different seeds even when you have a consistent, reasonably priced seed, mainly due to the fact that this could change at any time. It is better to be prepared for the inevitable unavailability of your favorite tomato seed before it becomes unavailable. We’ve found quite a few favorites this way. I would guess we do about five “just in case trials” every year.

Sometimes it is easy to figure out how many seeds to buy of a given crop. This is typical when we grow transplants in the greenhouse. Since we know approximately how many seeds are in a pack and how many seeds we plan to plant, we can figure out if we have enough or if we need to buy more. For seeds we direct seed or for seeds sold by weight this becomes far more challenging. If I was the one who always planted the direct seeded crops I could probably know how far a pound of seeds plants, but we have employees who frequently do this and so far I haven’t trained them to write down the amount they use. Plus who has a scale out in the field? So I basically estimate the amount we need and hope for the best. And it is better to buy too much than too few so I always hedge on having too many seeds.

Of course the one factor that isn’t included in any of this discussion so far is the quantity of each crop we want. This is based on a lot of factors some of which are the number of shares sold, the yield of the particular crop, the desire of our membership for that crop, the weather, the pests, and the other intangibles that are intangible. And if you read through this list of factors none of them is known now, at the time the seeds are purchased! So it seems like this whole exercise is a complete waste of time. Not really, but there is a lot of “engineering fudge factoring” done to figure out what we need to order. And again, the fudging is on having too many seeds instead of just the right number.

So what happens if we miscalculate and we are short? Well first of all I tell everyone we terrible seeds and therefor had a crop failure. Gives me an excuse for my poor planning. Not really, I just hope nobody brings it up. What I do is plant more of something else to compensate for the lack of the short crop. It doesn’t happen vary often and if it does it is typically more likely we are short a specific variety of that crop and can plant extra of something else, say more Belstar broccoli to replace the Monty broccoli that we are short of. So nobody but me is the wiser and of course nobody but me even cares. Our members still get what we planned, given the many factors affecting farming.

The final aspect of buying seeds is the actual buying of the seeds. We buy seeds from four or five vendors depending on what we are looking for. Only one of the vendors is local so most seeds are shipped from somewhere out in the internet. The local vendor has the best price but also tends to sell only large quantities. They also have a more limited selection of certain crops like lettuce, or heirloom tomatoes. Other vendors are specific to a given crop like the gladiolus supplier or the sweet potato slip provider. So over the years we’ve learned which seeds to buy from which vendors to give us the quantities and varieties we like. Now this changes a bit from year to year based on the above discussion but it typically isn’t too much of a hassle. The hardest part is if we try to order seeds from our usual place but don’t find out they are out of stock until after we order from our other place. One time the seeds we were looking to buy were on a ship that was stuck behind the ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal. Talk about global supply chain problems!

Anyway, now that I’ve spent as much time writing about buying seeds as it takes to buy them I think maybe I’ll end it here and await all your questions, comments, suggestions, share orders and anything else you want to send my way. In the mean time, here is this week’s Joke of the Week

Joke of the Week

A couple of broccoli plants wanted to try out the new local dance club. The line was long but they heard good things. When they got to the front the doorman said, “Sorry. Can’t go in.” “Why?”, they asked. The doorman replies, “You’re a couple of broccoli plants. You’re too old. We are a seedy bar.”

Ok, I think this joke needs work but it is a reasonable start…

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