When the seed catalogs arrive, in late autumn and on into the spring, don’t we all just love to crack them open and pour over the descriptions – visual, written or both – of all the varieties inside? If seeds represent the potential for new life and nourishment, then a seed catalog represents the blueprint of that potential. Seed catalog season is the honeymoon of the growing season – no work, no weeds, no weather, just the imaginative thrill of possibility, and so many cool varieties to try…
Just how do those varieties land a spot in the catalog anyway? What is the process for choosing the varieties that High Mowing Organic Seeds carries?
That question can be answered with two words: quality and availability.
Quality Varieties for Organic Growers
All the varieties in our catalog have been grown and evaluated in our Trials Garden for at least one, and usually several, seasons. Each variety is compared with similar varieties that we already carry and market standards (varieties that are widely found to excel in a particular crop). Unless the variety is in a crop group that requires the entire growing season to mature (like tomatoes or winter squash), we plant successions (multiple plantings) to allow us to evaluate the varieties in different seasonal slots.
We assess the varieties on a range of different characteristics:
- Is it distinct from our current varieties?
- Does it fill a different varietal slot?
- Resistance to disease and pests.
- Heat and cold tolerance.
- Growth habit.
- And – very importantly – how does it taste? (We hold bi-weekly taste tests for the High Mowing staff during the summer months.)
The varieties that we put in trials come to our attention from a few different channels:
- We are always keeping our eyes out for cool-seeming heirloom and open-pollinated varieties when we talk to and visit our customers and other growers.
- The High Mowing Organic Seeds breeding program provides a source of new varieties, both through our own breeding work and through our collaboration with university breeding programs.
- Our seed vendors let us know about new varieties from their own breeding and seed productions.
Regardless of how we are made aware of the variety, we give it a thorough evaluation in our Trials Garden. If it stands-out – in terms of flavor, yield, resistance, and uniqueness – then we determine if seed for this variety is available.
Sourcing Organic Seed
High Mowing Organic Seeds grows roughly 1/3 of the varieties we offer in our catalog on our organic seed production farm in Wolcott, Vermont. If we identify an excellent open-pollinated or heirloom variety in our Trials Garden, we can move that variety into production the following year and grow our own seed. Or, if the variety is in a crop group that doesn’t produce seed well in our northern climate, then we might contract with an independent seed producer to grow the variety out for us.
If a variety is bred and produced by our vendors at wholesale seed companies, then we confirm with the company that their production of the seed was successful and that seed for the variety is available.
The process of taking a variety from an idea only to a photo and description in the catalog takes several years, and at each step along the way High Mowing Organic Seeds is assuring quality and maximum performance under organic growing conditions. We are always excited to select and source new varieties each year, and hope that you are too!
Examples of Varieties We Have Added To Our Catalog
Rose de Berne is an heirloom tomato that we tasted while visiting a customer’s farm in 2007. We were impressed by the rich flavor and smooth texture, so we decided to get a closer look at this variety in our Trials Garden in 2008. We found Rose de Berne to be a stand out – we were impressed by its resistance to cracking, particularly among the heirloom tomatoes, and we were again wowed by its flavor. Tomatoes are a crop we can easily produce for seed on our farm, so in 2009, we added Rose de Berne to our seed production plan. In the fall, we harvested our crop and offered it as organic seed in our 2010 catalog.
Coban green bean is a French filet variety that was recommended to us by one of our independent seed producers in the fall of 2010. We planted it in our Trials Garden for the 2011 season to check it out. We found Coban to be a great addition to our filet bean selection – we harvested higher yields and saw greater disease resistance in Coban than in other varieties of filet beans. The beans were tender, and tasted good. In August, before confirming a place for this variety in the 2012 catalog, we confirmed with our seed producer: did he in fact have a successful crop of this variety? He did. So Coban graces the pages of our 2012 catalog.