Monday, February 23, 2009

Spring Prep and Seed Sourcing

spring daffodils Spring is just peeking over the horizon here at the trial garden, but signs of the new season are sharing time with much-needed torrential rains. During a break in last week's storms, I caught this quick snapshot of trial garden manager Lindsey happily bringing in the first big bundle of beautiful daffodils. Right now, late winter/early spring's reliable hellebores and dozens of jaunty daffodils that are beginning the spring season for us. I planted hundreds of daffodil varieties around our irrigation pond several seasons ago and am really beginning to reap the looming rewards. I look forward to the luxury of having armfuls of these bright beauties to enjoy and give away for the next several months. We will have a big vase of them to greet everyone who walks in the office starting next week.

Lindsay has been hard at work pruning our fruit trees and beginning to sow seeds in our greenhouse. Assistant trial garden manager Mila has, at long last, reluctantly decided to take out roses that are not disease-resistant and replace them with newer cultivars that just don't get the black spot and other rose diseases we have been plagued with in the landscape. Lindsay is going to turn her capable horticultural hands to grafting some new European pear varieties onto our vigorous Asian pear tree. We are planting yet another supposedly rain and cold tolerant apricot tree variety even though this will be our fifth attempt to grow apricots ; our cold nights and late, heavy rains make us less than ideal candidates for these delicious fruits. Trying yet another variety demonstrates once more how even experienced gardeners always try to push the envelope. Or simply that I am exceptionally stubborn and greedy for apricots!

Seed Sourcing:

flower and vegetable seedsMany of our customers are curious where we get our seeds. We offer varieties grown by seed producers both large and small, and early spring every year is when I work hard at finding new varieties and setting up growing contracts for the coming year for varieties we currently offer.

I have just returned from the annual conference of the American Seed Trade Association, held in Tampa, Florida this year. This meeting is my opportunity to sit down with many of the seed producers we work with, and it's especially important because our best European and Asian suppliers attend regularly. There's nothing like sitting down face-to-face with the folks who you ordinarily work with over long-distance most of the year.

I come prepared with a wish list of things we are looking for and unbounded enthusiasm, because I love to talk about seeds. I also try to be well prepared because I usually have ten meetings per day for three days straight and that takes some organization to make the most of each one.

I use my meetings first to review our trial garden results, because most of our suppliers really appreciate the feedback on how their varieties do in our trials. The main part of each meeting is devoted to hearing about and discussing their new introductions and individual variety suggestions for Renee's Garden.

These days, I get to see videos of plants growing in vendors' trials because everybody carries a laptop. I look forward to seeing my friends at our favorite French, English, Japanese, Italian and Dutch suppliers because I've known some of them for many years. They know the kinds of vegetables, herbs and flowers we'd like to offer at Renee's Garden, so I can count on their suggestions.

We also contract to buy seeds regularly from small organic farmers who have the expertise to grow high quality seeds for us. While these seed growers often don't travel to the Seed Association annual meeting, this is the time of year I contact them individually to see which crops they have room for and make formal agreements for growing out seeds we will need for next year. All our heirloom tomato varieties, for instance, are grown by these knowledgeable small seed producers, most located in the agricultural valleys of northern California and Oregon.

Generally the arrangement I make with them is that we supply the basic " stock seed", and they multiply these seeds for us, according to agreed on standards of germination and purity, subject to independent seed lab tests.
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