The first thing I do each farming year (if you don’t count planting garlic the previous fall) is order my seeds. This job is also the most fun of all the jobs. The new season, and all its coming successes and failures, still lies in potential, and the entire farm fits in a cardboard box. Plus, deep winter is a good time to leaf through the colorful catalogues and dream about what the farm could become when spring arrives.
But by the start of the new calendar year, it’s time to stop dreaming and start planning. I knocked out this year’s order in a couple of days in early January. Seed shopping is a task that takes as much time as you give it, and the more time you take, the greater chance you’ll start ordering things that seem like a good idea in January but look pretty foolish come May.
Knowing how much seed to order is pretty straightforward. If the quantities from the previous year worked, I stick with them. Knowing which varieties to order, though, takes a little more care.
More often than not, what I grew before worked just fine. For example, last year my main sweet pepper varieties once again performed well, and I see no need to change things up.
Sometimes the varieties worked well enough, but I want to tweak things by using slightly different ones to diversify my offerings, and I choose and swap accordingly. I’m doing this with lettuce this year, keeping some well-performing standbys but adding others for a mix of colors and textures.
But sometimes things aren’t working at all, and I have to rethink my whole approach. This year the big changes are in my squash line-up. In the past, I made my choices so that I would have a variety of interesting a flavorful squashes. But flavor and variety are irrelevant if you have widespread crop failures, which has been the norm so far on this farm. One of the problems the past three seasons has been powdery mildew, a fungal disease that, left unchecked, covers the leaves of the plant with a white powder (hence the name), dramatically decreasing yields, if not killing the plant outright. There are a handful of organic remedies that can be sprayed to keep the disease in check, but at my scale it’s a labor-intensive job. So when selecting varieties for summer and winter squash this year, I limited myself to only vigorous strains with a bred-in resistance to powdery mildew. My hope is that these genetics will tilt the odds a little more in my favor and result in better yields
And I always try to grow something new each year. Sometimes these experiments work, and sometimes they don’t, but I enjoy seeing how different crops grow. This year’s addition is tomatillos, which we grew on the farm I apprenticed at, but not on this farm yet. I think they will grow fine. The real question is if they will sell at market and how the CSA members respond to having them in their shares.
The seeds all arrived by the end of last week and are patiently waiting in their cardboard boxes, which is good, because it’s less than a month until we fire up the greenhouse and start bringing their potential into reality.