January 2008 Ideas

It is the new year and I’m getting excited about the next season’s garden. Here in the Puget Sound basin, we can grow so many incredible vegetables, shrubs and trees. But to get the best production out of our crops, we need use the local seed and tree suppliers to find the best “cultivars” for our growing conditions. By cultivars I mean the specific genetic material in the species of plants we want to grow. When we plant tomatoes, we all know that some do better in Seattle than other types. Forget the beefsteak varieties; try Stupice or Early Girl, which are bred to do well with cool summers. The typical grocery store seed displays may have seeds that grow well in the Midwest or south of us. Let me suggest some better seeds for our area.

Several local seed companies have done much of the research needed to supply us with the cultivars that will perform the best for us. Some good companies that come to mind are Abundant Life and Territorial Seeds in Oregon and Osborne Seeds in Mt Vernon. They all have very interesting and informative free catalogues if you want to send for them.

Abundant Life sells only organic seeds. Many of these are heirloom seeds, open pollinated. This means they are not hybrids. (They were not specifically crossed with another cultivar, which changes the following generation of seed.) In 2003 they had a fire in the Port Townsend headquarters, which as you can imagine, devastated some of their supply. The business has subsequently been bought by Territorial Seed Co, and continues working to recover much of the original supply. Their web site is www.abundantlifeseed.org or address: Abundant Life Seeds PO Box 157, Saginaw, OR 97472.

Territorial Seed is now the parent seed company, with a huge selection of seeds that all are tested to do well in the Pacific NW. They sell individual packets and bulk seeds. The descriptions in the catalogue are wonderful. They have mouthwatering turnips, delicate crunchy lettuces and all kinds of varieties of veggies that will produce in our climate, even during crumby wet summers like last year. They even have starter plants that they can ship. To obtain a catalogue from Territorial Seed Co. write PO Box 158, Cottage Grove, OR 97424 or email www.territorialseed.com.

Osborne Seed Company has expanded over the years and now has a good collection of anything you might like to grow. They can be reached at www.osborneseed.com or write to 2428 Old Hwy. 99 South Rd., Mt Vernon, WA 98273 or call 800-845-9113.

There are two seed companies in Maine that seem to have shown good results. Try Johnny’s Selected Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com , telephone 1-877-564-6697 with their large collection of products. Fedco Seeds and Garden Supplies www.fedcoseeds.com is a funky little company with lots of organic seed choices that was recently recommended to me by a respected grower.

Why buy organic seeds? With the organic certification, growers are required to purchase organically grown seed if they are available. This has expanded the organic seed market tremendously. I’m pleased to see this change because all of agriculture needs to embrace organic principles. Do I believe that organic seed is much better than conventionally grown seed? I personally don’t think it makes a big difference at this point. But it is something I think about as I pay the extra dollar or two on a few packets of organic seed.

If you want to buy plant starts and not take the extra effort to grow from seed (especially tomatoes, peppers and eggplant), I recommend going to local spring plant sales over having them shipped to you. With shipping, the packaging is bulky and the results are not reliably favorable. Sometimes I do purchase onion starts from catalogues, having them shipped for early March plantings. They are rarely damaged. Shop at farmers markets in May to buy your warm season plant starts and find great selections of good local stock.

Raintree Nursery in Morton, WA offers great stock for fruit trees, berries and other perennial edibles. They have some interesting old varieties as well as the newer cultivars recommended for our area. The catalogue descriptions will explain the pest problems and disease resistance of each cultivar. This is especially important for the crops that you plant once and expect to produce for years and years. For annual crops, you can always move them to another spot in your garden to avoid pests and some disease. Not so for the long lived trees and bushes. Definitely do the research and study your cultivars before you decide to invest in a tree. For more info about Raintree, the address is 391 Butts Road, Morton WA 98356 or email www.raintreenursery.com.

Let those rain soaked soils dry out before you head outside to dig. More next month on getting your 2007 garden started.

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