This is the second post in my Why Save Seed series. You don’t need to read the whole series to appreciate this post but if you did want to, you can start the series here!
What varieties do you depend on for your market garden?
Are there any varieties that are key to your success?
What would you do you do if you you no longer had access to those varieties?
A few years ago, we found ourselves in such a story. Here it is …
Great Tomatoes Come From Great Seeds
At Tourne-Sol, Tomatoes are one of our top revenue generating crops. It took us about 5 years to get them to that point. Part of that learning process was how to trellis and prune the plants; and moving production out of the field into caterpillar tunnels. Equally important was discovering the right varieties to grow!
On our farm, two tomato varieties were the foundation of our tomato production. They were both red tomatoes. They tasted great. They produced heavy yields. They were just the right size for our basket members to use in a single session. They were just tough enough to travel to market but not so tough that you would notice. And they were both hybrids.
Since the seeds were hybrids, we didn’t save them ourselves and we needed to purchase them from a seed company. (And that is where lies the risk ..)
The Bad Thing (When Good Seeds Go Missing)
Every December, we love receiving new seed catalogs and all the dreams they promise. But one year, instead of sweet dreams, the seed catalogs unleashed a nightmare!
We relied on two tomato varieties. One had been discontinued and the other had had a crop failure. Neither variety was available.
What We Did Next
Looking for left over seed
We rummaged through our seed bins looking for old seed packs with a few seeds left in the crevices. We called other growers to ask if they had remnant seed. We begged our seed suppliers to find a secret stash.
But the seed we could gather was only a small fraction of what we needed.
We were in a pickle.
Looking for replacement varieties
We called other market growers to see what other varieties they loved. We talked to seed companies to see what other varieties they recommended. We took a second look at varieties we used to grow that were almost good enough. And we looked at what non red tomatoes we liked.
In all these cases we would be taking risks.
Taking risks can be exhilarating but this felt like jumping out of a plane with a parachute tied in a knot.
How the year turned out
We got through the year with almost enough tomatoes. Our basket members received bigger tomatoes than they wanted on average and less red tomatoes than some would prefer.
Most of the replacement varieties we grew didn’t quite mean our standards but we did find one new variety that we did love and still use. It was also a hybrid.
All in all, I wouldn’t call this story a catastrophe but this situation highlighted the vulnerability of not being in control of our tomato seeds.
What We’re Doing Now
That year we began a tomato breeding program with our favourite red hybrid tomatoes. We’ve been selecting the tomatoes for a number of years now.
These new tomatoes are promising in yield and flavour. If we are ever faced with another tomato shortage, we would be able to use our varieties in a pinch. But they are not as reliable in all categories as our current two favourite hybrids.
This Is Not A Unique Story
This story illustrates how when we rely on others to save seed, we can’t always expect the seed to be available.
This was not the first situation of this type we’ve found ourselves in, and it probably won’t be the last.
We’ve had similar variety problems with lettuce, broccoli, kale, beans, and peas. Also many flower varieties we love disappear all the time.
In some cases, we’ve been able to start producing the seed ourselves. We’ve done this with lettuce, beans, peas and many flowers.
In other cases, we’ve just had to adapt to whatever new varieties were available.
So, the first big reason to save seed is making sure that seed is available!
I’ll be continuing this series in with 7 Reasons You Can’t Get The Seeds You Want.
See you soon.