Snow is on the ground here at Grace Note Farm, and we are deep into the brow-furrowing torment of planning this year’s annual garden. It’s so tantalizing to read all the descriptions of plants we’ve never heard of and varieties we’ve never tried. Himalayan poppies! Pepper cress! Ping Tung eggplant! We usually get carried away and order way more seeds than we actually wind up planting, but that’s part of the fun. There are old friends that we order every year, like rainbow swiss chard, and some plants that will be new acquaintances this season. Maybe we’ll finally plant that garden for cut flowers this year, or try to find a variety of eggplant that will grow in Massachusetts.
It’s taken some years to find suppliers where we can buy seeds and plants that are adapted to our climate, that will grow well without chemicals, and that give us the opportunity to propagate heritage varieties that are being lost in modern large-scale monoculture. So I thought I’d post a summary of our favorite suppliers in case this is a helpful resource list for other gardeners. The more well-known seed catalogs, like Burpees, well tend to offer hybrid seeds, modern varieties and lots of the same old thing. Because we value biodiversity and see part of our role on this farm as helping to protect genetic biodiversity on this planet, we buy from independent seed houses that carry a good selection of heritage varieties.
The mother ship of heritage varieties in the US is the Seed Savers Exchange. They have an absolutely amazing quantity of heritage plant varieties, grown by seed propagators all over the country. Their dedication to biodiversity is really inspiring.
Both carry organic seeds, which we like to buy because we figure that if the parents thrived under organic growing conditions, the offspring will be disease and pest resistant. Plus, it means that the field where the seeds were grown was not dowsed with pesticide and herbicide pollution, something we try to avoid in all our suppliers. An organic gardening friend just turned us on to Landreth’s seeds, the oldest seed house in the US, which we will try out this year. Big agribusiness corporations like Monsanto have been merging and acquiring seed companies all over the world, patenting food animal and crop genes, and suing to shut down farmers who save seeds from their own crops, in an attempt to corner the market on food crop genetics. This is a very scary trend, so in our purchasing decisions we try our best to support the suppliers that are still independent.
Perennial plants are another focus at Grace Note Farm. They include fruits and nuts, and other perennial food crops like sunchokes and mushrooms. Some varieties of fruit that are not commonly eaten in the US, like service berry, beach plum, and currants produce well without needing to be babied as much as commercial fruits like apples, so these are a good choice for growers who do not want to use pesticides/fungicides. These more unusual trees and shrubs can be bought from smaller nurseries like Oikos , Miller nurseries in the Finger Lakes, and St. Lawrence nursery. These last two are especially important for us since we are in the Northeast, and these nurseries develop plants that will do well in our cold climate.
For mushrooms, Fungi Perfecti is the most well-known supplier. They have spawn and can also provide helpful information on growing mushrooms. The owner, Paul Stamets, zealously preaches the benefits of fungi and is becoming a very widely acknowledged expert on mushrooms. We have had good luck ordering from a smaller place called Field and Forest.
They have excellent customer support. You can tell them what kind of growing medium you want to use (what kind of tree or sawdust, etc. you have) and they can help you pick which mushrooms to grow. When we ordered Shiitake spawn from them the second year, their customer service rep. chose a type that would be harvested at a different time of year than the ones we had already planted. How cool is that!
If you have had success with other independent seed suppliers, let us know in the comments. Now back to my order forms.