Developing our seed order

Our annual seed order is always a long and complicated task, as we attempt to balance a wide variety of factors and plans. Considerations include short- and long-term crop rotations, market plans and demands, efficient use of growing space, compatibility of varieties (either interplanted or in succession), up-front cost & expected profits, labor demands and timing, input/resource needs, cover-cropping plans, and so on.

There are also many variables with the order itself, including balancing cost & reliability from various suppliers, availability of varieties overall, availability as certified organic seed, shipping costs, efficiency of ordering, and so on.

Preparing the seed order is a major step in the development of the farm plan for 2010. We set ourselves a deadline of January 15 for this, to ensure that it wasn’t put off, and to help ensure availability of varieties that can be in short supply. The growth in small farms, and gardening, has been outstripping the existing network of seed growers in the past few years, and shortages are an increasing reality. This is especially true for certified organic seed and heirloom seed, our two primary foci. Indeed, by NOP regulations, we have to use certified seed unless we can document that the desired variety cannot be found certified. Establishing this documentation takes a fair amount of time for a farm that grows hundreds of varieties and a high percentage of heirlooms.

The process gets more complex every year as the farm grows, especially this year as we’re expanding our growing space nearly 3x. Joanna is the primary seed-planner, and she has spent many, many hours surrounded by seed catalogs, reference books, and scrap paper. We find it easier for one person to do most of the planning with consultation of the other as needed; it’s more efficient and minimizes conflicts. So I work on my own projects while being available for questions and discussions, while also taking on certain subsets of the order (such as cover crops & animal feeds).

When we’re nearly finished, we sit down together in front of the computer and go through everything, revisiting the various factors going into each choice and confirming amounts and sources. Then it’s time to submit each order to the various seed companies, some of which have excellent online interfaces while others are brutally obnoxious (this, too, affects our purchasing plans). And, of course, we always find that someone is already out of something, and have to scramble repeatedly to find another acceptable source or alter our plans.

We hit our deadline exactly this year, sending in the last order by the end of the day, January 15. Of course, we’re not truly done, because there will be a few more small orders later in the year to take care of changes or forgotten items, or to get items that aren’t available until other seasons. But fundamentally the wheels are in motion for 2010, and we’re already preparing to start the first onions indoors within a few weeks.

One thought on “Developing our seed order

  1. I made my orders already. Most from Sand Hill Preservation Center and some from Baker Creek Heirloom. I'm still learning to garden, hope to do better this year than last! Good luck ordering and arranging your crops.