December was fairly mild at the farm which meant that we were able to get a concrete floor poured in our new building. We had some garlic leftover and since the ground wasn’t frozen yet we decided to plant another 1800 bulbs-which was in addition to the 9,000 bulbs we had planted in late October.
January is a month that in addition to all the regular annual business tasks which I will not tell you about because it would be too boring- we place our seed order. In other years we have encouraged members to vote on new varieties we should trial. This year there will not be a vote because we placed our orders earlier than ever—one at the end of December and the remaining order a couple of weeks ago.
Seed companies are struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand from new customers. It is not surprising that the pandemic has engendered an interest in seeds. Afterall seeds represent hope and security.
One of our main suppliers has stopped taking orders from home gardeners except one day a week. They are mailing orders without germination test results on packages because as one employee of the company said “if it means we can get 1,000 more orders out the door in one day we thought our growers would appreciated that”.
We are still in limbo waiting to see if certain things we ordered are out of stock. In past years our orders might have showed up with in 7 days. This year it may take up to 30. I nearly started crying when I saw that my favorite red slicing hoop house tomato, Bolseno, was unavailable this year because of a seed crop failure. I was left with no choice but to try something new and settled on a variety called Geronimo.
We often feel that it would be better if we were able to save more of our own seeds. Each year we try to save seeds from a couple of things. All of our garlic and some of our potatoes are replanted from our own seed stock. We also save seeds from a few varieties of tomatoes and lettuce. The reality we face is that seed saving is time consuming and really complicated. To do it efficiently specialized equipment would be necessary. For this reason we are glad that there are reputable companies that focus on sourcing high quality seeds that perform well in our bioregion.
The more one comes to know about the seed industry the more one is faced with difficult ethical questions about woman’s/man’s relationship to the natural world. A person has to grapple with the notion of intellectual property, genetic modification, and chemical usage to name a few ‘light’ subjects.
We do not purchase seeds that have been genetically modified. There will be no fish genes in the tomato you eat grown by Three Sisters Farm. We also do not purchase seeds that have been treated with any chemicals. We do purchase some varieties that have been patented. This often means that a portion of the cost of the seed goes to the plant breeder-which seems reasonable that they would be compensated for their work. We appreciate the innovative work plant breeders using the organic paradigm are doing-developing varieties that perform better and taste amazing.
Jeff Schreiber has been farming organically for 10 years. In 2011 he started Three Sisters Community Farm with his wife, Kelly.