Tag Archives: Organic Seed Alliance

Organic Seed Growers Conference Webinars

Below is the official information for 6 webinars broadcast from OSA’s Organic Seed Growers Conference.
I am one of the speakers in Seed Economics: How to Make Growing and Selling Seed More Profitable.
If you’re interested in listening, make sure to register for the webinars!

The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is hosting their 8th biennial Organic Seed Growers Conference in Corvallis Program from February 4 – 6, 2016. While there is a great contingency of BC and Canadian growers attending the 2016 conference not everybody can make the trip.

We are happy to announce that OSA, in partnership with eOrganic, will be offering a number of the conference workshops via webinar!

You can register for the webinars here.

Below is a quick list of the webinar topics and times and you can find a more detailed list here.

  • Seed Economics: How to Make Growing and Selling Seed More Profitable
    • Friday, February 5th, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Pacific
  • Seed Equipment: On-farm Innovations
    • Friday, February 5th, 1:30 – 3:00 PM Pacific
  • Vegetable Breeding Research Updates
    • Friday, February 5th, 3:30 – 5:00 PM Pacific
  • Organic Cover Crop Seed Production
    • Saturday, February 6th, 9:00 – 10:30 AM Pacific
  • Vegetable Seed Production: Scaling up
    • Saturday, February 6th, 1:30 – 3:00 PM Pacific
  • Managing Seed Borne Disease: Brassica Black Leg and Implications for Organic Seed Producers and Industry
    • Saturday, February 6th, 3:30 – 5:00 PM Pacific

My trip to the OSA Organic Seed Growers Conference

On Jan 19-21, 2012, I attended the 6th Organic Seed Growers Conference in organized by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). The event started off with a one-day tour of the Skagit Vally seed region and then two days of conferences in Port Towsnend, WA.

If you missed the event, you can download the conference proceedings or view videos of the plant breeding sessions through eOrganic.

Though I did participate in a panel on marketing and growing seed profitably with Maud Powell and Steve Peters, today I won’t be posting about that but about the rest of my experience.

Pre-Conference Skagit Valley Seed Tour

Skagit county produces approximately 8% of the world’s spinach seed, 25% of the world’s cabbage seed, and 50% of the world’s beet seed (from WSU Skagit County Agricultural Statistics 2010) .

Here are some of the highlights of the tour:

Field Tour

A couple of days earlier about a foot of snow had fallen (an exceptionally large volume for this area). The walking part of the tour was subsequently canceled and all the following field pictures were taken through the tour bus window.

Here is a field of overwintered cabbages for hybrid seed production. The tour guide mentioned there were 2 rows of female plants for one row of male plants.

Another shot of a cabbage field. There is a v-ditch every 12 rows for drainage.

This area also produces a lot of raspberries.

Pinning Maps

With so many seed crops grown in one area, isolation distances are a big concern. Seed companies growing seed in the valley meet every year to decide who will grow what crops where using pinning maps.

In the Skagit Valley seed companies meet at WSU Mount Vernon Research Center for this process.

These are the cabbage pinning maps.

This is a chart of minimum isolation distance for different types of Brassica oleracea.

The red lines indicate areas where only one type of Brassica oleracea may be grown.

The pinning order is determined randomly. The first person pins a field for their crop. Then the next person pins a field. Each subsequent person needs to respect the minimum isolation distance from the fields that are already pinned.

This way seed companies cooperate to make sure their seed crops maintain varietal purity.

Soil Testing For Spinach Seed Crops

Spinach seed crops are particularly sensitive to bacterial and fungal disease. A 10- year crop rotation is the minimum to break many of these spinach disease cycles. In some cases this isn’t enough. Prior to pinning, growers can bring soil samples to WSU Mount Vernon Research Center to determine whether their soil is indeed disease-free.

Spinach seeds are planted (with replication) in the soil in a greenhouse in January. Within a month it is possible to evaluate the spinach seedlings to see what degree of disease might be expected.

Dr. Lindsey du Toit runs the vegetable seed pathology program.

The Conference

When I came to the previous Organic Seed Growers Conference in 2008 in Salem, OR, I was bombarded with information about climate appropriate seeds, plant breeding, seed cleaning details,  dynamics of the vegetable seed industry, and more.

Having already had this experience, I wasn’t at the 2012 conference only for seed information. I was here to be inspired (and I was inspired – especially about seed libraries, which I’ll be posting more about soon) and to mingle with the seedy underbelly of the organic farming world. In addition to seeing many old friends, I made some new friends.

Some folks I’d been reading about, or following their blogs, or even ordering/growing their seeds. I got to meet Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still of Adaptive Seeds (and the Seed Ambassadors Project)  – Sarah was a touch disappointed I didn’t have a French accent.

I was surprised to be talking with Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds. She was a long way from Ireland. She told me this wasn’t the first OSA conference she’d gone to either.

With other folks this was the first time I touched base. I spoke with Holli Cederholm of Proud Peasant Farm (who also works for Fedco) about how crop planning books don’t seem to factor in the food that the farmers eat. I was impressed by how much food Holli puts up and I thought Fred and I need to add a homesteading chapter if ever we revise our Crop Planning book.

I chatted with Doug Baty of Wild Plum Farm for quite a while about garlic. He couldn’t believe how big our porcelain garlic grew. I couldn’t believe how big his artichoke garlic were.

Sometimes you have to go a long way to meet someone from close to home. Though she’s now based in California, Rowen White of the Sierra Seeds Coop  grew up a couple of hours from Montreal. She is also the author of the just-published Breeding Organic Vegetables (available through NOFA NY).

I kept running into Chris Hardy of the Village Farm in Ashland, OR. We talked a lot about Tulsi.

And I got to know some folks better that I’d only met briefly at the 2008 conference such as Hanako Myers and Marko Colby of Midori Farm. I think every farmers market needs quality locally-produced kimchi and sauerkraut.

I did meet a lot of other folks too, including a number of people who’ve been reading Going to Seed. It was great meeting and talking with everybody. Seedy people are an interesting and friendly lot.

If you haven’t been to a OSA conference, you should. The next one will probably  be in 2014. I’ll likely be there.

(P.S.  the ruminant.ca just posted Five Books Dan Brisebois thinks new farmers should read)

Plant Populations and Isolation Distances

A version of this article I wrote appeared in the August 2009 issue of the Seeds of Diversity magazine. It is a summary of a couple of key points from the March 17,  2009 principles of seed production course held by the Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers Network.

John Navazio taught the course. He is the Seed Research and Education Specialist for Organic Seed Alliance and Washington State University. The two aspects of seed production he focused on were


Seed growers need a large enough population of plants to maintain genetic breadth and resiliency. Populations that are too small will gradually result in varieties that no longer perform as well.

In addition, seed growers also need to keep plant populations far enough away from each other to make sure different varieties of a same species do not contaminate each others’ genetic makeup.

Both population size and isolation distance are a function of how a crop pollinates itself – whether it is predominantly self pollinated (selfers) or cross pollinated (crossers).


Selfer flowers have petals that completely cover the plant’s reproductive parts, making it difficult for insects to get to the pollen and carry it elsewhere. Selfers have evolved  to not suffer from inbreeding depression. They do not need large population or isolation distances.

For the highest quality seed, you should save seed from no fewer than 12 to 16 selfer plants, preferably 50 to 80. Since selfers can still cross-pollinate, most need 80 –150 ft of isolation distance.

The main selfer crops are: Solanacea crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants), Fabacea crops (beans and peas), lettuce, and many of the staple grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye)


Almost all other crops are crossers. Crossers have evolved to encourage fertilization from different plants, and most suffer from inbreeding depression.

Crossers need much larger populations and isolations. John Navasio recommends saving seed from at least 64 to 80 plants of a crosser variety, preferably 200 plants. Insect pollinated crossers should be separated by 1-2 miles. Wind pollinated crossers should be separated by up to 5 miles.

It is a much bigger undertaking to produce seed from crossers than selfers.


Cucurbit (squash, cucumbers, and melons) fall somewhere between the two groups.  Cucurbits are technically crossers. They need the same large isolation distances. However, Cucurbits are very resistant to inbreeding, so only need population sizes similar to those of selfers.


John Navasio highlighted that the exact population size and isolation distance you use depend on your seed production goals. If you grow mainly for your own use, you can afford to have fewer plants planted in closer proximity to other varieties of the same species. If you intend to maintain and improve a variety, John stood steadfast by his recommendations. Especially for population size – John has found that the best varieties he has seen were developed from large populations.


ECOSGN is hosting a Seed Workshop in Ottawa on April 10-11.

The Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers Network (ECOSGN) has been meeting since March 2008. It’s goal is to foster a community of seed growers and seed sellers who can protect and enhance an economically viable and ecologically sustainable organic seed supply for Eastern Canada. ECOSGN strives to do this through education, shared resources, research and a united political voice.