Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?

Sharon December 11th, 2008

Back in March, right before I started the first food storage class, I wrote this post, analyzing the problems likely to face us if we suddenly needed to start growing our own food.  I argued that if we faced a Depression or major disruption of the food supply, we’d find it very difficult to ramp up seed production rapidly for home gardeners.  I wrote:

The home garden trade is a small subset of the seed trade, and the serious home gardening/small farming trade a vastly smaller subset even of that. The majority of home gardeners start comparatively few seeds – they purchase pre-started flats of vegetables instead of seeds. I’m consistently amazed to see things that are grown from seed incredibly easily – lettuce, for example, in flats, and being bought like wildfire. So the majority of home gardeners have little experience planting seeds at all – carrots, perhaps and peas, and that’s probably about it. Although slightly off my main topic, this is something worth noting – even most experienced gardeners may have almost no experience growing food from seeds.

Of gardeners who do start seeds, the vast majority – more than 90% of them – do not order from seed catalogs and companies that specialize in home garden seeds, they get their seeds from seed racks in garden centers, supermarkets, Walmarts and other places. And the majority of seed companies that sell through these seed racks are not deeply invested in producing high quality seed. According to Steve Solomon, founder of Territorial Seeds and author of _Gardening When It Counts_ the vast majority of seed sales involve simply the purchase of bulk seed, often from foreign distributors, and repackaging of that seed without variety trials, often without germination tests, and with little consideration of what is adapted to particular regions.

In many cases, the cheapest varieties of bulk seeds will have off-types, because hybridization often requires labor-intensive hand pollinating in the field, and high cost isn’t what such companies are after. Solomon also notes that many companies use extremely poor quality seed, even sweepings from the seed floor, in cheap packets to be sold in commercial garden centers. Those 10cent packages of seed you see in various places may not actually even have 10 cents worth of seed in them.

Only about 10% of the home garden seed trade is focused on high quality vegetable seed production, mostly by mail order. These are the seed catalogs whose seed will have the germination percentages they claim. These are the people who will replace your packet that does have poor germination, and who will ensure vigorous seed with varities tested for your region – but it is important to remember that they do serve a tiny percentage of the total seed sales in the US, and they are not necessarily prepared to serve a vast increase in need.

In an agricultural transition period, when people start running short of food, what they will want are seeds that are viable (that is, they are not too old and have been stored well, and thus, will grow), vigorous (that is, they grow well and don’t produce weak plants vulnerable to disease and pests), high yielding (that is, they produce a lot of whatever crop we are seeking), are adapted to their climate and to small scale food production (that is, they weren’t selected for commercial production, or primarily for shipping ability and they grow well where we’re growing food), available in fairly large quantities (most home gardeners buy a packet or two of each thing, but if you are feeding yourself from your garden, or making succession crops, or selling at market, you’ll find you need much more seed), and reasonably priced (that is, you can afford to buy it, or you can save seed and only buy it once).

Most of the home garden seed trade may produce seed that has some of these qualities, maybe even all of them. But only a small percentage is focused on ensuring that all these requirements are met. Assuming that, for example, we were to see food shortages in 2009, and a widespread agricultural transition beginning in 2010, how long would it take to ramp up an adequate seed supply that would serve small scale market gardeners and home food producers, and meet the above requirements?

Well, first of all, we could expect to see serious shortages in 2010. That year, seed suppliers would be unable to meet demand – they have been expecting less than 5% of the American population to plant any kind of garden, most of them flower gardens, and they simply don’t have enough spare production capacity to meet present needs. This is particularly likely if the biofuels boom is continuing, and there is no leeway in the demand for seed among commercial farmers that might be sold to home gardeners.

Imagining that 10-20% of the population begins to garden in 2010 and existing home gardeners expand their production, we can expect seed prices to skyrocket, availability to fall, and many people to have to rely on seed packets that don’t meet the above requirements – that is, seed packets that have been kept in heated supermarkets and thus have reduced viability, or those routinely placed outside where they get wet and are exposed to repeated freezing and thawing, or were of low quality to begin with. So not only will the seed trade come up short, but some of what will be sold will be seed that was never of a quality likely to feed those who depend on them.

Yesterday afternoon, my Fedco Seed Catalog arrived – always my personal favorite.  And on page 6, what should I see but this, in founder CR Lawn’s description of their situation:

And now seed prices.  I’ve ben 30 years in this business and these are the highest increases to us I’ve ever seen.  The ethanol boom diverting land to corn production has ahd a tremendous impocat on farm commodity prices, including vegetable seeds.  Wholesale prices for pea and bean seed are up 30-50%, for corn and squash, 20% or more.  Even so, wholesalers could not find growers for all crops so several varieties are missing from our catalog.  Horrible growing weather this summer has exacerbated the shortage.

This follows on their best year ever, one in which demand for seed outgrew supply not only for Fedco, but for other seed companies – Pinetree Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirlooms and Territorial Seeds all reported dramatic increases in demand, and ran out of some varieties early.  A farmer I know who raises seed as her main crop reported that she was fielding calls from companies she’s never dealt with before, trying to find stock.  I placed a late order to Fedco, only to find that nearly a quarter of my selections were already sold out.

It was inevitable that demand for land for ethanol should affect the seed trade – and because seeds are a lagging indicator – in the case of many biennial crops, one has to begin planning two year ahead – seed supplies are likely to remain affected for several years.  Moreover, the cost of inputs, including fertilizers remains high, and likely to affect seed production.  Farmers are among those most in danger of going out of business as credit lines get cut, and that includes seed growers.

Meanwhile economists are estimating month after month of a million US job losses.  My guess is that some of those millions of people are going to try and compensate for their lost income by growing some food.  We are likely to see more people trying to get ahold of seed – and already high prices, which will probably push some people out of the market.  My concern is that this is just one more sign of what I fear most in the Depression – the inability of food producers (including seed growers) to effectively connect with people who need food.  This was the crisis of the Depression – those who had food couldn’t afford to get it directly to those who needed it, and both were impoverished by the failure of that connection.  Given that we rely heavily on industrial middlemen in giant Agribusiness corporations, this seems even more likely.

What can and should you do?  Well, on a purely practical level, order early, and make space in your budget for higher seed costs if you can.  A lot of us put our seed catalogs aside until after the holidays – I won’t be doing that this year.  And consider donating extras to your local community garden – there will be more people who can’t afford seeds this year.

And make this the year you really commit to seriously learning how to save garden seeds – I  know it seem strange to most middle class Americans, but the world is full of people who can’t afford to buy seeds every year, and we may be joining them.  Moreover, seed savers have seed to share with their neighbors, and are a link in our community food security.  Join www.seedsavers.org, and commit to taking responsibility for one variety that may be lost – an economic crisis means that some of the people who have been doing this work may need to do other work, so we need to pick up the slack. 

Store your seed carefully, so that you make the best possible use of it.  Learn to start plants from seed – people on a budget can’t afford to waste money on transplants they can easily grow themselves. 

Support small seed companies like the ones mentioned above, particularly those that emphasize open-pollinated seeds, and do extensive variety trials and testing – we’re going to need them.  Do not allow them to be victims of the credit crisis.

If you farm, Fedco and likely others are seeking growers for seed varieties – this could be a win-win situation for people struggling to make money as farmers in this economy. 

Most of all, pay attention to the little seed.  Like many other tiny things, it is far more important than most people realize.

77 Responses to “Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?”

  1. Jill Wiest says:

    Interesting post on seeds. I too buy from FEDCO and saw his “editorial” in the front of the catalog. It does make one wonder where we’ll be 5 years from now — thank you for bringing the potential to the forefront and opening our eyes. Seed saving is like icing on the cake, you grow beautiful crops, and by saving the seed, you can repeat it the following year — for no cost (except time of course).

  2. Bob Comis says:

    Sharon,

    It frustrates me that whenever I feel compelled to leave a comment it is to leave a negative rather than a positive critique, so please forgive me for only engaging you negatively. I do also feel and think positively about some of what you write.

    I do not deny that we have some very serious issues to face, some of them presently, some of them in the not too distant future, and I also do not deny that in my own analyses I might be grossly underestimating the magnitude of those issues. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that you have crossed over from reasonable analysis to fetishization. There is, for me anyway, an almost obscene pornographic quality to your writing on this issue. Your analytical object seems to have become the object of your desire, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to take your ideas seriously, in spite of their apparent analytical strengths. Of course, I could just stop reading, but that would defeat my purpose, which is to engage people in discussions about important topics, either passively by simply reading or actively by commenting and/or writing my own blog posts.

    There is a huge difference between the apocalypse and a bump, no matter how large, in the road. CR Lawn’s message was about a bump, a large bump, in the road, not the apocalypse. His message was that seed supply is tight, prices are up, there is no availability of certain varieties, and they need more seed growers. There is no gesture in his message toward a crisis (of seed availability), and he has been in the business for thirty years. This bump in the road, filtered through a fetishized lens, becomes a crisis, one more indication of the impending arrival of the apocalypse (to suggest that we might not be able to afford to buy seeds every year is apocalyptic), which has indeed taken on a negative messianic aura in your writing.

  3. Karin says:

    I saw that letter from CR Lawn when my Fedco catalogue came and it sent chills down my back. Lately, it feels like I keep saying to myself, ” There is one more leak in the dike.” It is not even as though I am seeing all this doom on the web or the evening news but now it is in the seed catalogue that shows up in the mail box.

    I was fortunate to hit Fedco end- of -season sale at the Common Ground Fair. So I was able to stock up on some of the basic crops that I grow. But I had the same thought about ordering early this year. We are fortuante to live not that far from Fedco and we go to their tree sale in the spring.

    This past season I saved more seed than I ever have: tomato,potato, butternut squash, garlic, egyptian walking onions, dry beans, calendula, marigold, amaranth and buckwheat. Some of the seed saving was time intensive (winnowing and shelling) but otherwise very easy and interesting (fermenting the tomato seed). Saving seed saves money and; in a macro sense, it saves the seed for those who don’t save seed.

  4. Well, I guess I won’t leave my seed orders till after the holidays either. Sigh. I sort of wanted a vacation from gardening.

    I think this is a good opportunity to plug the gardener-to-gardener seed exchanges that happen through gardenweb.com. Members there can create lists of seeds they have to trade or are looking for. It’s not perfect or ideal. You can’t say for sure how the seeds were produced or stored. I’ve never been totally burned on a trade; I always get seeds when a trade is arranged, and they’ve all proven viable. But I did get some seeds labeled parsnips which definitely are not parsnips. Still haven’t figured out what they are, though the hens adored the greens. Anyhow, I digress significantly… The point I was trying to make was that there is a platform for well-intentioned seed exchange, and it will almost certainly be cheaper to trade than to buy. In some cases I’ve gotten seeds I wasn’t able to find any retail source for – all for the price of a postage stamp.

    I think you should do a piece on seed saving and more importantly seed storage. I’m shockingly casual about where I keep my seeds. I really need to tighten that up.

    In addition to Seed Savers’ Exchange and Fedco, I also like Johnny’s Seeds. Seeds of Change is also nice because they include a great deal of information on growing the plant on every seed packet, which is useful for less experienced gardeners.

  5. Michelle says:

    I caught Park Seeds’ end of season sale this year, and am very happy that I did. My new favorite crop is filet (sp?) beans and I couldn’t bear to let them grow big enough to set seed. I will try to be braver this coming summer! I also ventured into deliberate seed saving – carrot and broccoli, though my carrots do self-seed nicely. I have, for several years, let my lettuce self-seed, and it has traveled to many interesting parts of my yard, as well as making enough seedlings to share with friends. My tomatoes self-seed – in fact, this past summer, my volunteers outperformed my started plants in every way. Finally, garlic: I failed to remove the scapes a couple of years ago, and decided to plant the seeds – then forgot I had done so! Wasn’t I surprised the next spring when a line of garlic greens marched around the edge of my raised bed! The cloves were small, but I just let them keep growing in place. I harvested them this fall, because I had some leftover heads from my CSA share when the new crop came in.

    As far as my carrot seeds… they could well have crosspollinated with Queen Anne’s Lace, but that is ok with me. I have been encouraging the wild carrots as a snack crop for my rabbits, anyway!

    And as always, I’m tickled to find that I’m in the 10% of gardeners who bothers to start my own seeds… have done so for at least 12 years now. But then, I came to grips about 20 years ago that I’m just not like other women (I had this epiphany in my room on an aircraft carrier, lest anyone think I’m too full of myself!).

  6. Lisa Z says:

    Bob, thank you for your comment. I read Sharon all the time and admire her work so much; she has helped me and my family make important changes in our life. However, I tend to take the word “crisis” with a grain of salt whenever I see it these days. So many people are caught up in the “crisis” mode right now that one must actively deflect negative thinking in order to not be dragged down by it.

    Now, Sharon and others might argue that if even one person is going hungry unnecessarily, that is a crisis. It’s a sad situation, and one that must be remedied yes, but all the talk about “crisis”, “end of the world” stuff can be paralyzing as much as it can be motivating. I think we all have to work out in our minds how we’re going to respond to this stuff, and for me it’s helpful to have the information that Sharon provides but not the emotional, fear-based wording.

    We have faced this stuff before. We will come out of it. And in many ways thanks to Sharon’s information and ideas.

    (Sharon, sorry to talk about you instead of to you in your own comments section. But this comment section does become a bit of a helpful forum sometimes, where your readers can all exchange ideas and thoughts. Thanks for providing that!)

  7. WNC Observer says:

    I tried using open pollenated seed exclusively this past season, with mixed results. Some of my old favorites like Buternut squash, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, and Lutz Winter Keeper beets did just fine, like ususal. I was disappointed in the performance of quite a few of the other varieties that I tried though.

    Since I have very limited and not nearly enough space, I really do need to get high yields from my crops. I am afraid that in many cases, that is going to have to mean going back to hybrids.

    Yes, that will make me dependent upon seed suppliers. To be realistic, though, that was going to have to be the case anyway. I really don’t have the space to grow extra for seed production, let alone space to separate varieties, overwinter biennials, etc.

    Evidently, what I am going to have to do is order early (good thing I am already almost done with my garden planning), order enough extra in bulk to last me for two or three years, and store the extra. This won’t see me through the collapse of Western Civilization, but I’ve been operating on the assumption that I’m not going to be able to survive that in any case, so no worry.

  8. Ani says:

    Yes- I had received my catalog a week or so ago and noticed CR’s comments- I have a good deal of respect for him and what he has accomplished so I did take his concerns seriously. He is not yelling that the sky is falling, but he is expressing some concerns at the present moment which areprobably justified. He has been at this for many years and he has a good sense of the seed business for sure.

    I have long considered growing some seed crops for them and/or High Mowing so maybe I will get a move on it this year.

    I am saving all of my own seed potato stock this year and a friend just pointed out that I should consdier saving more than I need and selling that to others as well- so if I don’t sell out of potatoes this winter at market, I will likely do just that.

    Again however I hope people don’t panic as they did around y2k and start ordering all sorts of seed fearing they will never again be able to obtain them, thus creating a shortage driven by their anxiety.

  9. Vic in Seattle says:

    I have been watching the seed situation for a while now as home gardening has once again entered the American brain. Last year I made an investment in what I seen for the future and I hope it will be of help to past and future gardeners. I have millions of seeds on hand for the coming season! All fresh, germination tested, and grown in the USA. Visit my shop on eBay.

    http://stores.ebay.com/Family-Seed-Garden

  10. Marnie says:

    If our family lost my husband’s job and to supplement our food costs we tried to garden, the most cost effective way to do it would be from seed. To not have the skills (and I don’t – something I’m working on) or the seed availability when both would help us eat would be a crisis.

    To us, anyway.

    Bob, I find your use of the word fetish in a pejorative way misleading. What’s wrong with a fetish? Everyone’s got ‘em ;-)

    And the one thing that Sharon’s writing does not encourage is an unquestioning attitude.

  11. [...] 11, 2008 in 2009 pilot project, Sharon Astyk, seed-saving | by David Sharon Astyk’s latest blog post is right in line with what we’re thinking about. As is always (always!) the case with [...]

  12. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis? Back in March, right before I started the first food storage class, I wrote this post, analyzing the problems likely to face us if we suddenly needed to start growing our own food. I argued that if we faced a Depression or major disruption of the food supply, we’d find it very difficult to ramp up seed production rapidly for home gardeners. I wrote: [...]

  13. Kelsie says:

    As crass as this seems, I’m using this as an excuse to do my favorite thing–buy seeds early! *rushes off to the Baker Creek website*

  14. Frank Lee says:

    Careful reading clarifies the issue, Bob.
    “Are we seeing” (perhaps yes, perhaps not, it’s a question)
    “the early signs of” (not fully developed)
    a seed availability crisis?
    Sharon then lays out a reasonable extrapolation of what the next few years might look like regarding seed availability and affordability.
    She quotes the concerns an expert, and poses the question.
    To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
    “Obscenely pornographic?” hardly. ominously prescient? perhaps…

  15. risa b says:

    Some of the critiquing that this comment section attracts reminds me of what happened to me the first time I said “recession” at a lunch table. I was laughed out of the group. Imagine if I had said “depression.”

    Everyone, plant non-Monsanto heirloom seeds, and learn to save seed. Even if you don’t think you have the time. I’m thinking you will be glad you did.

  16. Lydia says:

    I find Bob’s comments interesting. And might I say typical of many of us when we do not want to recognize the possible danger of things to come. It is part of the five stages of dealing with things. First there is denial. “Oh, this is not happening!” Then we get pissed off. Anger. “Oh those bastards who caused this!”Then bargaining. “There must be some other way we can do this!”
    Then comes the unavoidable depression. “Oh my what now….oh this not so good. This is scary.” Then acceptance. ” Ok We have a problem, what can we do about it?”

    Now Bob may deny that this is what is going on. And maybe I am wrong. Feel free to blast me. But I am not one to be prone to hysterical actions or panic. I am a pragmatist. I also know that human nature is to put things off until the last minute, or until in some case, it is too late. So if it takes a bit of “porn” to get people to act, then so be it.

    Here is the prime example from nature herself. What does she do when making seed? Why she makes hundreds of them, thousands even and scatters them by wind, rain, birds, etc. Why? Because they are vulnerable to being eaten, rotting, stepped on and otherwise in general ruined. so unless she makes a whole bunch, life will not go on. Seed is not like industrial made product. It doesn’t last twenty years in the average home gardener’s greenhouse or kitchen drawer or refrigerator. even with plant starts, a lot of them can die. My neighbor gave me five raspberry starts. One lived. One. It reminds me of the old saying about seeds. I am paraphrasing- One to grow, one for the birds, one for the wind and rain. Something like that. In other words, one in four or five makes it.

    I know for a fact that the seeds at the grocery store racks ARE crappy. Do not waste your time. They are better than nothing, but not by much. I have been a seed saver for several years now. Last year I ran out of beans. The green bean crop all over was crappy, even with good seed. Our summer was a month late (cold-we plant usually May 15th-but this year it was June 15th and the beans just didn’t like it) It only takes a couple rotten years and there is no good seed to save. It is only prudent that we all do this, in order to assure that if the SHTF for real, then we won’t be stuck. Going hungry isn’t funny. I have been hungry before with no money and nothing in the cupboards but a can of Pam and a stick of butter in the fridge. NOT funny. So Bob, feel free to criticize Sharon all you want. I am big on free speech and lively debate. First amendment and all that. I say it with no smugness or anger or any negativeness whatsoever. Bring it on. As for me, I am ordering seeds tomorrow. I am saving all that I can. And I am growing ever more food every year. I could, by golly, be nursing the beginnings of a full blown fetish. Here’s to porn!!

  17. squrrl says:

    Bob, buddy, Sharon is now a public figure and therefore can’t be rude, so I’ll do it for her: You just used three paragraphs and a lot of loaded words to say “Hey, I think you’re overstating the issue; I disagree.” Wow, do you love to hear yourself talk or what? And, man, “pornographic”? WTH?

    Me, I ordered seed in the late fall, and even at THAT point, one of the sites I looked at had a note that orders would be shipped slightly slower than usual because of a huge increase in order volume.

  18. Sharon says:

    Bob, I appreciate your caveats about appreciation, but they are a little overtaken by the accusation that I’ve my analysis is obscene and pornographic. Speaking as a former lit crit type, I certainly recognize the “object of analysis as object of desire” bit, and I suppose I should be flattered that I’ve gotten to have it applied to me for the first time. Strangely, I’m not. The image of me being aroused by our present situation is certainly a potent personal attack, especially when we are reassured that you are only trying to learn.

    Ignoring that part, and sticking to the facts, I think you’ve misunderstood what I wrote – I didn’t say or imply that Lawn describes a crisis. Lawn is describing price rises and supply issues for one company – his. You’ve mistaken me if you think that my analysis relies on overstating Lawn’s claims. My point is that the difficulties Lawn sees are likely to pervade the seed trade, particularly the garden seed trade, which is a very small – and thus vulnerable to cyclical shifts. He isn’t speaking of the trade as a whole – that is, his discussion isn’t of a “bump” in the overarching seed trade, discussed based on this thirty years experience, it is of a bump in Fedco’s operations. My analysis is about how this might affect the garden seed trade as a whole, rather than one company (although I’m concerned by the fact that Lawn mentions (in a portion of the analysis that I did not quote) that Fedco is trying to absorb the price increases as much as they can – this how companies go out of business).

    As for whether this is apocalyptic – perhaps you aren’t aware that there are low income community gardeners all over the US who cannot afford seed now. The inability to afford good seed is a chronic problem in the poor world, leading to lowered yields and hunger. I think the tendency to associate “living like poor people” with the apocalypse involves insufficient critical thought. It is something of a rhetorical commonplace to leap from “oh my gosh, I might not have a car and might struggle to have enough food” to “Mad Max Rides Again” but the fact that it is common doesn’t make it right. Those are realities of the world’s and the US’s poor already, and frankly, I think it demeans them to describe those realities as apocalyptic if it applied to the rest of us.

    That said, I stand by the idea that we *may* be in the beginnings of a *potential* seed availability *crisis* – that is, I stand by what I actually said, not how you interpreted it. I think there will be a crisis of availability if we have a sudden rush to home scale food production, and I simultaneously believe that we have set optimal conditions for such a rush – almost 1 in 9 Americans depends on food stamps, but more importantly, food stamps no longer provide sufficient funding to allow most people who depend on them to eat adequately. In the midst of an economic crisis, lowering food budgets is likely to be a major priority for many – this, in combination with rising prices and the fact that seed quantitities must be ramped up gradually, means that we may face a seed supply crisis. Or I may be wrong. But there’s really no useful analysis that can be done here starting from the point that I’m sitting around masturbating in delight at everything that can go wrong. Such positions operate as a substitute for deal with the substance of the text.

    Sharon

  19. Ruben says:

    @Bob

    I don’t think Sharon is saying we won’t be able to afford seed necessarily. My local company, West Coast Seed, was unable to fill some orders last year because demand was up 30%. Seeds must be grown, not just magicked out of thin air, so a serious spike in demand will find empty shelves.

  20. Karin says:

    In the event of a prolonged deflationary period, it may become untenable for many farmers to grow food if the cost of imputs, labor and seed outstrips the price the farmer can get for his crop. This happened during the Great Depression. Thus creating the disconnect between demand for food and supply. There may be plenty of food but if the cost to produce and transport that food is a money losing proposition; then the food doesn’t make it to the consumer.

    Seed is just one commodity that this can happen to.

  21. Nettle says:

    Bob, that may be the weirdest troll comment I have ever read.

    I couldn’t get the seed I wanted last year. I didn’t start planning a garden until March or so and just assumed that I could order whatever I wanted. Almost everything I wanted (heirloom, organic varieties that were easy to grow in a tiny backyard garden) was sold out of every supplier I checked. Since this is the first time I’ve made a real effort to start from seeds in an organized way, I have no idea if this was normal – is all the good stuff usually gone by March?

    I ended up planting a lot of seeds from the rack at the hardware store. My garden had mixed results – some things did very, very well and some things did very, very poorly – no in-between. Until just now, I attributed my failures to my own inexperience but thinking back I’m realizing that most of my failures were from those hardware-store seeds. Thanks for the push, Sharon – I’m doing my seed-shopping early now.

  22. dewey says:

    Anybody who thinks Sharon is an obscenely pornographic doomer had better avoid The Oil Drum — C.J. Wirth would make him faint dead away.

    I am not a doomer, but that doesn’t mean that I think serious economic hardship is impossible. It is simply a fact that when people become less able to afford imported food, they are inclined to grow more of their own (see: Cuba), and if demand for goods like seeds and starts increases suddenly, the cost may be expected to increase. Personally, I’m hoping to put in a couple of dwarf fruit trees and medicinal woody plant next year, and am a little concerned that everyone else will have the same idea, possibly limiting what is available.

  23. FoodRenegade says:

    I was already planning on buying seed in January, as soon as the new seed catalogs hit. But, I didn’t think to budget for higher costs. Thanks for the insight and inspiring us all.

    Blessings and Peace,
    KristenM

  24. pat nixon says:

    I believe that you may have forgot -ten to mention- don’t buy hybrids- get open pollinated seeds so that you can save some for next year’s planting . Beginners may not know
    that when reading your web page.
    Hybrid 2nd generation seeds mayl not come true to type or even germinate.

  25. DEE says:

    Already bought my seeds for the coming season….know some things were short last year so bought extra pkts. of some family favorites,too. We supply alot of our neighbors with plants from our greenhouse and have been encouraging them to try our OP varieties and save seeds.

    Sad thing about everyone rushing to start a garden is so many of them will fail. Face it–you can’t chop up some ground,throw in some seeds and hope for the best. It took us a good five years past moving to MO to re-adjust to a different soil/climate gardening situation. In MI we had sandy loam you could stick your arm in down to your elbow…here you will get rocks. Many many rocks. Even with raised beds the rocks keep migrating up! We,probably, have the best garden in this area and extend our growing season in spring and fall where most neighbors quit when hot weather comes. It is alot of work trying to provide most of your own fruits and vegetables….every year different weather challengs and things you’ve always grown decide to die . That’s why everything gets put in a jar even if you might think 200 pints of applesauce is too much…two years ago late freeze left us with NO fruit all year. DEE

  26. Jena says:

    I’m with a lot of others, I really was looking for a break and some reading just for pleasure instead of always reading to research something. Ugg. For those who raise animals, there also seems to be an increased demand for heirloom breeds so I’m feeling a lot of pressure to plan out the expansion of my chicken flock and order my chicks right away. Perhaps I’ll be researching incubation as a sort of start-your-chicks-from-seed-too experiment.

    *blows nose* *trudges off, also to Baker Creek’s site*

  27. Elizabeth says:

    Re: saving seeds, we save seeds from our beans and tomatoes, but I was wondering how to handle things like carrots and quinoa, that mix so freely with wild plants. I don’t think there’s any chance of eradicating all the queen anne’s lace and lamb’s quarters in the surrounding area, so what to do? Quinoa is one of the few grains I can easily grow!

  28. Even with great seed and fantastic weather conditions, Colony Collapse Disorder could make it TEOTWAWKI

    I find the words pornographic and fetish to be totally off topic and an attempt to derail the topic.

    I learn to listen, I listen to learn.

  29. nika says:

    Jena,

    Pick up one of your chickens, feel how warm it’s skin is under the feathers on it’s “tummy” – it gets even warmer and pecked free of feathers when a chicken goes broody. Its not pretty or well mannered but a broody chicken is EXCELLENT at hatching eggs and 100% cheaper than a storebought brooder! (darn things are outrageously expensive)

    You should keep the broody hen separate from the flock so that they do not predate on the chicks.

    We now have 4 precious buff orpington – minorca and other various cross juvenile chicks – they look so much more hardy that storebought chicks at this age – hybrid vigor is amazing stuff.

    I do not have more recent shots, sorry!

    I heard that last season the seed producers (Big guys like gurneys) were taken completely by surprise by the 40% increase in demand – they were saying how they had NO idea this was coming (I think they need to get out more often).

    Bob is seemingly living in this ivory tower farm sort of world – perhaps his germination rate is 100% and that he never feels burdened by the increasing costs of seed (am assuming that his Stoneybrook farm grows plants) – I think his overblown statements about Sharon are in themselves indicative of someone who is unconsciously working his way through the 5 stages (as mentioned above).

    Its hardest to be in the closet when your friends are having a party on the other side – those who are the harshest critics are often on this painful path in the very direction that they sling mud at.

    Bypass it, move one, plant from seed, appreciate how HARD it can be (SO many different way to lose your starts).

    I recommend learning ALL you can about saving seed – its not just SAVING the buggers – some need to go through a certain process that approximates the conditions of rotting or being digested or going through a cold season (or a drought, depends on your plant species of interest)

    Buy open pollinated seeds – support those who grow open pollinated seeds. Saving hybrids are pretty much a crap shoot the F2 generation may well crap out on you because of unintended genetic “accidents” that likely arise and which are of no concern to the seed growers because they do not want you to grow to F2 (saving seeds) – their success (as in the industrial monoculture corn hybrids) DEPEND on hybrid vigor – this fades into F2 often.

    I like Victory Seeds http://www.victoryseeds.com/ have had good luck with their seeds and this last summer planted saved seeds that did well.

    There are more that I am not remembering now.

  30. sealander says:

    Here in New Zealand there are only 2-3 commercial sources of open pollinated heirloom vegetable seed, and I think only one of them sells New Zealand grown seed. Usually these seeds cost 3-5 New Zealand dollars a packet, and a seed bill of $100 dollars is not unusual for me some years. Our strict biosecurity regulations (which are there for good reasons) make it very difficult for the average home gardener to import seed from overseas. Last growing season, there was definitely an increase in vegetable gardening going on here, and probably due to this there were 6 seed varieties that could not be filled in my seed orders. In some cases I was able to order something similar elsewhere, but it put me a month behind on getting some plants started.
    The same thing happened with fruit trees – I went to 4 different tree suppliers before I was able to obtain some of the varieties I wanted, and for others I am going to have to order a couple of years in advance, as trees don’t grow overnight.
    The point is that in a small country like ours with such a small number of seed sources, gardeners are vulnerable to even small fluctuations in availability, so seed saving is of even more importance. I do save a lot of my own seed, but space considerations mean I can’t do this for all vegetables, so I do my best to support the seed saving exchanges, especially where they emphasise New Zealand heirlooms that are adapted to my bioregion.

    By the way, if you are planting radishes next spring, there’s a strong chance they come from my province, 50% of the world’s radish seed is produced here :)

  31. Bob Comis says:

    Sharon, first, let me apologize and say that nowhere did I intend to suggest that you actually want the apocalypse to come. I believe that you are expending a considerable amount of personal, social, and cultural energy in a sincere attempt to make sure that it doesn’t come. What I tried to mean is that you have fetishized the *idea* of the apocalypse, the act of seeing it, of thinking about it and discussing it. It didn’t occur to me that what I said might be considered as or felt to be a “potent personal attack,” especially because I did not think I was suggesting that you are “aroused” by our present situation or that you are “sitting around masturbating in delight.” So, again, I am sorry for that.

    The possibility of such an interpretation is obviously my fault for using the words “fetish,” “desire,” “obscene,” and “pornography” without adequately defining my use of them, which I thought of doing, but decided not to because then it would have taken me much more than “three paragraphs and a lot of loaded words to say ‘Hey, I think you’re overstating the issue; I disagree,’” which wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. My use of the word fetish was in its non-psychological definition of an object of awe and devotion, often believed to be imbued with magical or spiritual powers. The important implication of “object of desire” is that one sees ones object of desire, especially when it is a fetishized object, everywhere one turns, in the merest glimpse or whisper of a suggestion of the thing, and that when one’s object of analysis becomes one’s object of desire, one’s analysis usually suffers (this is a much less trenchant use of the idea than that of literary criticism and cultural theory). Obscene was merely used as a suggestive synonym for outrageous. Finally, pornography was used in the same way that we would talk about American film violence being pornographic — aggressively sensational, brutally intrusive, extreme, shocking, etc.

    I hope that that clarifies my use of those words and ideas, and that they no longer feel like the sort of personal attack that you originally felt.

    Regarding the substance of your response to me there are a couple of things that I would like to respond to.

    First, and I think most importantly, it is not the “realities” of the poor “applied to the rest of us” that I attempted to define as apocalyptic, it was the process that would cause “most middle class Americans” to “be joining them” that I had in mind as apocalyptic. Getting us from here to there would certainly be an apocalyptic upheaval. Those realities, applied to anyone, are horrible.

    I agree with you that you didn’t say or imply that Lawn described a crisis. Instead, you used what Lawn said as supporting evidence for your own idea that we “*may* be in the beginnings of a *potential* seed availability *crisis*.” That is, rather than present it as what it was (benignly “describing price rises and supply issues for one company”), as you did in your response to me, you said “what should I see *but* this, in founder CR Lawn’s description of their situation,” within the context of your discussion of the potential that there may be a seed availability crisis (emphasis added), making it seem as if Lawn’s description was a harbinger of a *crisis*.

    Finally, you close your response to me with more words from the apocalypse — “a *sudden rush* to home scale food production” that will (may or may not) overwhelm the seed supply (emphasis added). Isn’t there a way to think and talk about this stuff without an idea of the apocalypse? Can’t we talk about the need to increase our supplies of quality open-pollinated, non-GMO, etc. seeds without the doomsday scenarios? Can’t we imagine tight seed supplies without at the same time imagining “sudden rush[es]“? Of course, if you *believe* the doomsday scenarios, then your answer is no, we can’t. I guess I am asking you to believe something less spectacular, but only a bit less cautious.

    (By the way, to anyone who thinks that I am sort of gallantly ignorant of the possibilities before us, see my two-part post “Farm Planning on the Brink of Depression” on my blog [on the third page of the "Farm Economics" category], which was written very much with Sharon on my mind)

  32. Sharon says:

    Bob, I appreciate your clarification of your intent, although I still think they are necessarily pejorative – I don’t think there’s any really good way to say “well, I only conjoined those highly prejudicial terms because they were the fully correct technical terms and the best ones available to me” – I am genuinely attempting to grant good faith, but you use language highly effectively, and the “oops, I didn’t mean the bad kind of obscene pornography” is a little hard to swallow. But that’s not the real issue, and I may be being unfair, so let’s drop it.

    More importantly, I think we simply disagree on how to interpret my words – what I find surprising is your insistence that my implications are apocalyptic. That is, I simply don’t grasp why you think that the term “sudden rush” implies apocalypse – we see sudden rushes on objects of economic desire all the time in market economies – in fact, that’s one of the reasons we frequently see “tight supplies” – that is, an unforseen rise in demand. Whether we’re talking about the Colbert Christmas Special DVD or about seeds, the term sudden rush seems to me a pretty good way of describe demand exceeds anything expected. In fact, CR Lawn and other Maine seed dealers described a sudden rush upon their seed supplies last year.

    Lawn’s language, which I did not quote since I’d already quoted him some and am trying to obey fair use laws, was actually a lot more like mine than you credit him with. He wrote, about demand:

    “Over the winter, Fedco orders poured in and showed unprecedented increases across the board, with no facile explanations such as Y2K to account for them. Something felt different, like the beginning of the sixties, like the onset of a sea change, like people were preparing for a storm”

    I assume Lawn and I would now share your accusation of apocalypticism. But I honestly don’t know why you call it that – I suppose that a lot of people losing their jobs – and many mainstream economists are estimating a million job losses a month in the coming year for many months – could be described as the apocalypse, and we could all agree that we’d rather not talk about it, but I doubt that will stop those job losses from occurring, and I guess I just have a much more radical vision of what constitutes the apocalypse – I want all four horsemen and a flaming sword ;-) . I don’t think we can legitimately call “unemployment, the likes of which we’ve seen at least once and maybe twice in the last century” (we’ve had unemployment over 10% twice since 1930) the apocalypse – and yet, it is precisely that which is most likely to lead to a lot more people trying to grow food and strains upon the food system.

    In fact, I have to say, I think it is you who are seeing the apocalypse where only shadows exist. I don’t deny that I believe that we are going to experience a deeply unpleasant transition in reducing standard of living – the term I use (it appears in several articles I’ve written, including one by titled by my phrase) is a remix of Freud’s “ordinary human unhappiness” – I call it “ordinary human misery.” I think we can agree that the process of this decline in standard of living is likely to be quite horrible for many of us. But I don’t agree that it is inevitably apocalyptic, nor do I believe that the horribleness can’t be mitigated – and that, of course, is my overwhelming concern in my writing. I don’t suggest that even the best mitigated decline into ordinary human poverty will be pleasant for anyone, but the term “apocalypse” describes something outside the capacity for happiness, or a decent life. And yet, during the Great Depression, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the lives of present day American poor too poor to buy seeds and world poor in the same boat, there are times of happiness and pleasures to be had. Dmitry Orlov describes the satisfaction people took in their families, in literature and conviviality. In the stories of the Depression are great misery, and also moments of goodness. The apocalypse precludes joy, hope, reliance on one another. Mere ordinary human misery does not – and I do find it to be a useful and important distinction.

    Part of my larger point was that the garden seed trade that caters to serious home food gardeners is a very tiny portion of the larger seed trade – so it doesn’t take everyone in the middle class needing to grow food to overwhelm it – it would only take a doubling of the population of home gardeners. Not only do I not think that’s terribly unlikely – I wouldn’t call a doubling of the population of gardeners apocalyptic at all, just a damned good thing ;-) . And yet, even damned good things have consequences that, IMHO, are worth exploring.

    Having done some research on this issue, I think Lawn’s comments are a serious concern – again, I stand by what I actually wrote, not your interpretation thereof. I think it is a matter of concern that small seed companies are trying to absorb large increases in seed wholesale costs, while their customers are experiencing a strong economic contraction – those same circumstances in regards to oil drove an awful lot of small heating oil dealers and gas stations out of business this past year. I also think it is a real concern that people who want or even need to grow food may not be able to get good seed easily, either because supplies haven’t caught up with demand (and may not for a few years) or because they can’t afford high seed prices. I don’t think that my choice to use his comments as evidence for the claim I’d made previously – that increased demand might, well, increase demand and create stresses, even a crisis in seed availability was wrong, nor did I overstate the case.

    I appreciate that you would prefer the narrative be couched in different terms – that the emphasis be upon “we should be expanding the supply of available seed” – but a. I’ve written that post a number of times (check my archives) and b. I disagree that that’s all the relevant information. IMHO, for my readers, who overwhelmingly garden, and often do so substantively, relying on their food to feed them, or who are involved in local food security issues, I don’t think it is enough to simply talk about the need to expand the seed supply. I also think they need to know that it would be smart to order early, and that there are, I think, potential and serious problems with the small size and vulnerability of the segment of the seed system that people are likely to rely on in the coming years. I disagree that one should elide the second part in favor of the first. Perhaps that does make my narrative excessive – it wouldn’t be the first time it has been suggested, and I’m not sure that I do always get this right.

    But if there is a piece of your critique that I think is unjustified it is the notion that I see the apocalypse everywhere – it may well be the case that I see more bad than you do, that I see everywhere the spectre of poverty. But it would not be accurate to describe that as apocalyptic – in fact, quite honestly, the only times I reference the apocalypse are as a joke – I talk about the zombies coming or whatever, precisely because I don’t think the apocalypse is what we’re facing, and I think parodying that mindset is important. And for me, personally, the distinction between “poverty” and the “apocalypse” are deeply meaningful – the apocalypse can’t be endured or lived through in any decent way, it is only destructive. I don’t think that’s what we’re facing – and it is deeply important to me that I be able to make that clear.

    Now it seems from your comments that you’ve been reading my stuff, and I haven’t – and in that sense, I think I’m deeply vulnerable to critique. If I’ve failed to make the distinction between poverty and apocalypse clear, that is a screw up on my end, and I deserve criticism for it.

    Sharon

  33. Nuno says:

    Risa, anyone,

    Thanks for the tip.
    Does anyone know of a list of Seed providers that belong to Monsanto, Syngenta or other subsidiaries?

    Is there a blacklist for seed companies?

    Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.

  34. Rebecca says:

    I’d like to point out that you should order seeds, if possible, from a seedhouse with a reasonably similar climate -or one that at least offers varities that grow well in your climate.

    For instance, Fedco has a lot of good seeds but they are in MAINE and they have almost nothing that will grow right in Alabama -I’ve checked their catalog. Southern Exposure, Baker Creek, and others do have varieties that do well in the hot and humid Southeast.

    As for the apocalypse, I would rather see four horsemen with flaming swords than something slow motion. Give me a crossbow, and I’ve got a chance against that. ;-)

  35. Rebecca says:

    Nuno, I only order from companies that have takenthe Safe Seed Pledge. Most such have it posted somewhere on their website, and it is definitely in their catalog.

  36. Raven says:

    Sharon, I rarely comment, but just so you know–

    One reason why I read your blog and I DON’T read other peak oil blogs is because you DON’T see the apocalypse in everything, and don’t consider not having petroleum to be the end of humanity. I am probably strange to many of your readers because I don’t, at this moment, know whether climate change or peak oil is happening and I believe I voted differently than ya’ll. :D What I do know is that everything is getting more expensive, and I want to use my resources as responsibly as possible; we’ll end up doing a lot of the same kinds of things anyway. You’ve been a great help to me, being practical as well as fun to read.

    My two cents anyway. I’d address Bob but I think he’s taken up enough of everyone’s time today.

    Raven

  37. rhonda jean says:

    Whether there is a seed shortage or not, I believe the best way to raise vegetables is to use open pollinated (heirloom) seeds and save the seeds from your crops to plant the following season. After you buy your first bunch of seeds, you don’t have to buy them anymore. Over time, the seeds you produce from your own property will modify slightly, according to your conditions and climate, and will provide you with more reliable and insect/disease resistant crops.

    I had an heirloom seed swap on my blog a few months ago and it was a great success. Maybe you could do something similar here. It’s a great way of getting seeds you might not otherwise know about. I have celery seeds ripening in the garden right now and intend to do a seed saving post next week, if anyone is interested. It’s a simple process and a valuable skill to have.

    Google Monsanto’s monopoly on seeds. It’s interesting reading.

    Keep up the good work, Sharon, and don’t listen to the naysayers.

  38. [...] 11, 2008 · No Comments Well, possibly not this season.  Check out Sharon’s post.  Apparantly Fedco is already out of some items, and people aren’t even ordering their seeds [...]

  39. Fern says:

    Just because I used to be an agriculture major: There is a difference between ‘open pollinated’ and ‘heirloom’ seeds/plants. Heirloom merely means that the variety is at least 100 years old. Open pollinated means that if you let the plants pollinate themselves they breed true. Not all heirloom plants are open pollinated. The Rutgers tomato is a prime example – it is heirloom, but a hybrid. It will not breed true.

    That said, combining the seed saving thread here with the current posting on John Michael Greer’s blog (hybridization again!), I’d like to put in a plug for heirloom hybrid seeds. The offspring won’t breed true, as I said. However, the genetic diversity will be vast, and over time those plants, aided by you picking the greater producers and best tasting your garden produces, will end up with the best traits for your land/microclimate.

  40. risa b says:

    I googled on that infor request and found this at Facebook. I DO NOT vouch for its accurcy but it should “seed” some thinking.

    From Rudy Arredondo:

    Territorial Seeds
    * Totally Tomato
    * Vermont Bean Seed Co.
    * Burpee
    * Cook’s Garden
    * Johnny’s Seeds
    * Earl May Seed
    * Gardens Alive
    * Lindenberg Seeds
    * Mountain Valley Seed
    * Park Seed
    * T&T Seeds
    * Tomato Growers Supply
    * Willhite Seed Co.
    * Nichol’s
    * Rupp
    * Osborne
    * Snow
    * Stokes
    * Jungs
    * R.H. Shumway
    * The Vermont Bean Seed Company
    * Seeds for the World
    * Seymour’s Selected Seeds
    * HPS
    * Roots and Rhizomes
    * McClure and Zimmerman Quality Bulb Brokers
    * Spring Hill Nurseries
    * Breck’s Bulbs
    * Audubon Workshop
    * Flower of the Month Club
    * Wayside Gardens
    * Park Bulbs
    * Park’s Countryside Garden

  41. rhonda jean says:

    Thanks for clarifying that, Fern. I thought they were the same. I concentrate on open pollinated seeds, but I’ll do some research and see what heirloom seeds are commonly used in my neck of the woods.

  42. KatJ says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the seed situation, Sharon! We just moved out to the country last year, and I planned on a small garden this summer, but broke my leg in April, and got very little done. Since I read Depletion and Abundance a few months ago, I have been beating myself up for not getting out there with my crutches and planting anyway. I’m with you, Sharon – nobody I love is gonna go hungry if I can prevent it! For you other newbies out there, Steve Solomon’s book Gardening When It Counts is brilliant, and more importantly, very useful. He tells you how to test your soil composition ( it’s really easy!), and has a very interesting and enlightening chapter on seeds, which I thought were regulated somehow, but apparently are not, when you buy the pretty little packets from the garden store. Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest is another readable and practical book.
    And just to weigh in on the discussion about the rather stark situation that we have entered into just by being on the planet at this time, we will get through it, and will help others to get through it, too, but forewarned is forearmed, and sometimes we need to be confronted with shocking information. It’s just reality. Seems to me that Sharon’s whole point on any given day is: Care and be prepared. I talked to my Mom about this yesterday (she and my Dad were both farm kids in Kentucky during the last Depression). I was telling her that they need to stock up on some things, and expected her to say that things are not that bad ( because that’s the kind of person she is). She agreed with me, however, and told me that she’d already begun stocking up!
    Peace and love, people – we’re all in this together!

  43. Chief says:

    “The ethanol boom diverting land to corn production has ahd a tremendous impocat on farm commodity prices, including vegetable seeds.”

    While increased demand for biofuel grain has certainly had an effect on agricultural commodity prices, to single it out as the *only* cause seems a bit iffy.

    Other very important factors:

    A period of strong economic growth
    Loose fiscal and monetary policy
    Weak dollar
    Increased meat demand in developing nations
    High global uncertainty
    Drought in Australia
    Flooding in SE Asia
    Increased investor use of commodities as an asset class
    Governmental policies, such as export bans on food

    Many of these factors turned out to be rather fleeting, and have now contributed to the recent plunge in commodities. Biofuel production has continued, but corn prices have plummeted. It is a complex world. If there is a sharp increase in garden seed prices, one would assume that any acreage that had been diverted to conventional corn production (any stats on that?) will summarily be returned.

    That being said, I respect anyone who is learning to propagate seeds. This winter will be my first attempt at growing seedlings for my garden. After reading through “Seed to Seed”, taking it the next step seems very daunting.

  44. [...] at Casaubon’s Book blogged about how increased interest in personal gardening and farming is impacting the seed market: [...]

  45. Eva says:

    Very interesting that a man would use words like: “fetish,” “desire,” “obscene,” and “pornography” when talking to a woman he disagrees with. I find it quite offensive.

  46. Gary Near Death Valley says:

    A new neighbor moved in just a couple of houses over, and now he has begun to organize a neighborhood garden get-together. I have a large greenhouse and a large garden myself, so we decided to try to get some neighbors also interested in growing a garden this year, and sharing with each other our results.

    Living out near Death Valley up in the mountains of Nevada, the soil is not productive at all, so we had to make our own soil from scratch, which we have done, and I look at what I have been doing the last few years as practice, to what is beginning to happen and what is coming.

    We started a couple of months ago, started to have backyard campfires at each others house, and in this way got to know each other better (must be the warming fire and smoke doing that), so we have great prospects of having a neighborhood garden and right now we have starting beds in my greenhouse (30 x 60 feet), working growing. My wife also does hydroponic gardening and she is going to teach this to the others also.

  47. Rosa says:

    Me too, Eva, but I’d just as soon we all follow Raven’s very polite example and not give him more attention.

    Is it really only 10% of gardeners that start from seed? I have to admit, I never had the cash for plants when I started gardening, and didn’t realize until just recently how many people buy started plants every year – I thought my $50/year on fertilizer & seeds was excessive, but our gardening neighbors drop $500, easy (this year, I’m giving them started plants and they’re going to help me tame my hideous south-facing flowerbed.)

    I would not be surprised if seed sales didn’t double between the 2007 growing season and the 2009 one – I know sales were up a lot last year, and a bunch of my coworkers just decided they want to try gardens this spring (and a few who really want to try RIGHT NOW – except it’s 5 degrees, right now).

    btw, I heard on the radio that this recession is officially as bad as the 1974 one…’75 was the year my mom dug up the lawn and planted potatos and squash on every foot of it.

  48. rhonda jean says:

    Fern, I did some research this afternoon and found that (from Wiki) “An heirloom tomato (also called heritage tomato in the UK) is an heirloom plant, an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar of tomato.” It doesn’t agree with your definition. You can read it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_tomato

    Can you point me towards your information?

  49. Sharon says:

    Heirloom is a less clearly defined category than “open pollinated” – some people call anything over 100 years an heirloom, or anything over 50 years. But I’ve never heard of any hybrid, of any age being an heirloom, and I don’t think it functionally could be – heirloom the word means that it is something passed down in families. By definition hybrids can’t be maintained that way. So Rutgers is an old hyrbrid, but not an heirloom, as I understand it.

    Although to complicate things, a few hybrids have stabilized and now come true to type – that is, they probably aren’t really propagated as hybrids at all, and actually do come true to type. I’ve been experimenting with some of these – but it may also depend on the strain.

    I’m not personally oppposed to judicious use of hybrids – they have their place. But I do think that seed saving is really important.

    Sharon

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