Gathering Together Farm will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, and over those years we’ve trialed just about every kind of vegetable that could possibly grow in this climate. Currently, we plant hundreds of varieties of dozens of crops. Each growing season, new varieties are sown at the farm while others are culled because of poor performance.
Last week, Joelene (seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) sat down with John and Sally (co-owners), Rodrigo (field crew manager) and Rose (human resources, customer service, and marketing manager) to go over the fruit and vegetable variety list from last year and reassess what worked and what didn’t. Each member of the annual planning meeting looked at the same vegetables from a unique perspective, bringing his or her own experience to the table.
Joelene is concerned about seed availability and expense, germination rates, disease resistance, special infrastructure needs (drip irrigation, floating row cover, etc.), space management, and the timing of maturation.
Rodrigo focuses on ease of planting, weeding, trellising and harvesting. He also pays special attention to yield.
Sally, as manager of the packing shed, looks at ease of washing and packing, quality, shelf life, and storage properties.
John, as a farmers’ market vendor, judges appearance, taste, demand, and additive value to the diversity of a display.
Rose sees what is most sought after by restaurants and other wholesale accounts, when in the season crops go out for sale, and how much we are charging for each item, giving insight into what makes money for the farm.
It’s very rare than any single variety is top-rated in every category of judgment. A particular type of vegetable may:
…be gorgeous but not taste great.
…be loved by everyone but get discontinued by seed companies.
…look good but not keep long enough.
…have a high yield under ideal growing conditions but have heavy losses when things are too wet/cold.
…be attractive to customers in the dead of winter but passed by in August.
…have exceptional flavor but be prone to disease.
Often times, the selection process is less a decision about which varieties to grow or don’t grow and more about the proportions of each variety grown. As the farm expands, there is more ground and more need for a diversity of crop types, too.
Joelene has spent many hours recently calculating the farm’s seed needs, reviewing seed inventory, and placing orders. She’s already purchased the vast majority of seed needed to plant greenhouses with early summer tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, etc.. She tries to order just enough of this high value seed because it’s expensive to maintain an excess inventory, and some seed will go bad if stored for over a year.
Joelene will buy many pounds at a time of some types of seed that do store well and will be used in large quantities. For example, she ordered no less than 2,000,000 carrot seeds for the coming year.
Joelene’s major seed and plant material sources are:
Wild Garden Seed (Gathering Together Farm‘s seed-growing partner)
Johnny’s Selected Seed
Osborne Seed Company
Territorial Seed Company
Seeds of Change
High Mowing Organic Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Snow Seed Co.
Rocky Farms LLC (potatoes)
Lassen Canyon Nursery (strawberries)
The first few seeds of the 2012 growing season were sown last week, but soon the propagation greenhouse will be bustling with activity–seeding, grafting, thinning and watering. Joelene will direct seed the first of the early spring greens in greenhouses this week, too.
In the coming months, we’ll be sure to share photos and information on all the greenhouse prep and seedling tending as well as insight into our farming and marketing practices. We hope to see you at our 2012 winter farmer’s markets: Saturdays in Newport, Corvallis, and Portland and Sundays in Hillsdale.