I’m a beginning farmer—about to start my third season growing vegetables for most of my income—and I still have to think hard about my seed orders. I’ve already ordered most of my seeds for this year, but it was quite a process. I started by thinking about what I wanted to produce for my CSA members. I deliver boxes to members of my Community Supported Agriculture program for 20 weeks, from mid-June through October, so I need to be sure that my garden is producing enough each week to keep my members happy.
Once I figured out what I wanted to produce (say, 60 heads of broccoli), I extrapolated backwards (60 seeds… but just to be sure, maybe 75 or 80). Then, I had to compile all that information to figure out how many seeds I should order of each vegetable… and then I got to look through a bunch of catalogs, figure out which varieties I wanted to get from whom, figure out how to translate the number of seeds I needed to ounces or grams of seeds, depending how each seed company packages them, and finally place my order.
I know that farmers who are at a larger scale than I am, or who are more experienced than I am, have systems for ordering seed. Maybe they order pretty much the same thing every year. Maybe they compile a bunch of information in a database, which then spits out what they need to order. I just used about 10 pages of notebook paper, and I’m afraid no one but me can understand it!
Home gardeners have an easier time of it than a CSA farmer, I have to say. Often, a packet or two of one kind of seed is more than enough, so all the worry about quantities is not a big deal. I admire those folks who know exactly what they want to plant each year, and how much they’re going to eat. I also admire those folks with an adventurous spirit who try new and crazy things every year—there are so many heirloom vegetable varieties to be discovered! As a farmer, I fall somewhere in between—I try to keep good staples going strong for the folks who are counting on me to grow their food, but sometimes I can’t resist trying to grow artichokes or interesting herbs or a strange-looking tomato.
This winter, as I’ve been planning for my own farm season, I’ve also been working in the shipping room at Seed Savers Exchange. Every day I get to pick seeds off the shelves and put them into envelopes for folks around the country—and oh is it fun to imagine the gardens that those seeds will create!
Editor’s Note: Find dozens of varieties of heirloom seeds from Seed Savers Exchange here. Lehman’s also carries USDA organic, non-GMO seeds from Botanical Interests. All are available now from Lehmans.com.