New Seeds for a New Year
From a locavore’s eating perspective, January is a mostly boring month. But from where I’m sitting it’s one of the most exciting. With the holidays behind me, I can begin planning for 2014. Planning for farmers (and for me) means one thing. Seed catalogs. Well, that’s not fair. It also means equipment repairs, and infrastructure improvements, and buying more seeding trays. But those aren’t nearly as much fun as ordering seeds.
With the ground solidly frozen and the tractors parked in the barn, January and February are the months where farmers can take a breath and think about what the fields will look like in August. Depending on the farm, many people will begin seeding in the greenhouse in March. Those seeds will become transplants that will head outdoors in April or May, usually after the threat of frost has past.
As the local food and gardening movement has grown, so to has the interest in heirloom seeds and unusual vegetable varieties. You can see this at the market, but you can see it even more in the seed catalogs. Seed Savers is one of my favorite catalogs. They are based in Iowa and are one of the champions of long-lost heirloom varieties. In addition to selling seeds they help connect their thousands of members who save seeds from their home gardens and want to trade with other gardeners and small farms. When I first worked on a farm in New Hampshire I got to visit High Mowing Seeds, way up in Northern Vermont. They are an organic seed company specializing in varieties that thrive in colder climates. At their farm in Hardwick they grow test plots of different varieties to determine which do best. They choose their favorites based on flavor, yield, disease resistance and general health.
And then there are the specialty seed companies. Kitazawa sells seeds for dozens of Japaenese vegetables, including the stunning Akahana Mame bean, which still ranks as the coolest vegetable I’ve ever seen in my life. It is a stunning pink and purple shelling bean with a fantastic meaty flavor (I’ve included a photo from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, where they grew a test plot this year). Franchi sells Italian varieties, including some of my favorite heirloom chicories like Castelfranco and Tardivo. And last but not least is Johnny’s. Nearly every farmer I work with relies on Johnny’s for dependable (think germination rates and robust performance) and reasonably priced seeds for everything from Tasty Jade cucumbers to Ping Pong radishes.
Quinciple is not even a year old, and yet we’ve already reached the point where we are big enough to begin doing some serious planning with our farmers for the 2014 season. I know, for instance, that we will need at least a ton of watermelon radishes. And 500 bunches of lemon verbena. At least. And don’t’ even get me started on Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Or garlic scapes. Or purple snow peas. Or zephyr summer squash. Well, you get the idea. I’ll be sitting down with some of the farmers we work closest with, like Tamarack Hollow, and looking at some seed catalogs to try and figure out what they will grow specifically for Quinciple. And I’m hoping to do this with some new farms, who will be putting seeds into the ground for the first time this year. A significant commitment from us can help them plan a successful first season.
When people ask me what the best part of my job is I always say, “Writing big checks to farmers.” Sitting down and looking at seed catalogs is a close second. Both of those things are possible because we have an incredible body of loyal Quinciple customers who chose to put their grocery dollars towards good food from great farms. A huge, heartfelt thanks goes out from the whole Quinciple team to our customers. You’re doing your part to fuel my seed catalog addiction and so you also have my personal thanks.
All of these seed catalogs exist online. So go check out a few and feel free to send us your votes of what you’d like to see in a Quinciple box this spring.
Happy eating and happy seed hunting!