Regionally-adapted? Organic seed? What about it?
Inspired by the signs of spring around you, you find yourself browsing the web, combing through offerings of various seed companies and you notice the words regionally-adapted a few times and organic seed everywhere. You've heard them before and think they've kind of become buzz words. They sound nice, but do they mean anything?
If this sounds at all familiar, then great! You've chosen the right blog post to read. So let's jump in.
What does it really mean exactly, regionally-adapted seed? Well, it means crops that grow well in our soils, like our climate and can handle our area's weather patterns. Regionally-adapted seeds are from plants that we have grown and have observed to be the most robust and resilient - meaning the ones that perform well here. By doing this process over and over every time we grow out a crop (always selecting and saving seed from the best performing plants) we are choosing the ones that perform the best in our bio-region, giving way to varieties that become or have become regionally-adapted to eastern Ontario.
Big seed companies are selling across large regions and aggregate seed grown all over the world to supply their customers. While this practice has its place in the seed system and allows big companies to cater to a larger customer base, their seeds have to be adapted to a wider geographical region. The benefit of having your seeds be adapted to the region in which you live and grow is that their genetics are tailored and better suited to the specific conditions of your region - which allows them to perform even better!
And how do we do the selection of plants? Well, throughout the growing season we walk the fields and carefully observe the population (all the plants within a specific variety) as a whole, and then observe each individual plant to assess its qualities. We're looking for plants that are not only tasty but that are also robust and vigorous (which tells us that they must like growing here well enough) and that are also productive. We flag those plants (and often rogue out really weak ones - basically pulling them out of the garden) and then keep the seed from those best ones to ensure their genes stay in the population. All of this is done in an organic system, meaning in a farm operation where all aspects of the growing are managed according to organic standards. Which brings in the next important piece in all of this (bear with me, it's all going to come together soon - or at least I hope!).
The management of soil fertility, weed pressure and pests and diseases on an organic farm differs from the management of the same on a conventional farm. Whereas conventional farmers rely on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to manage these aspects of the growing, organic farmers use a different set of tools. To manage soil fertility, organic farmers mostly focus on compost and cover crops. For weed pressure management, mechanical cultivation with tools ranging from a hoe to a tractor are employed as well as physical barriers like mulches. For pests and disease management, organic farmers often rely on physical barriers - like floating row cover or insect netting - and biological sprays - like compost teas and soaps approved in the organic standards.
So crops growing on organic farms under organic systems face different growing challenges than their counterparts on conventional farms. And since each individual within a population has slightly (or largely) different genes than its neighbour, each plant will differ in its response to the growing conditions (soil, weather, weed, pest and disease pressure etc). Some will fare better, and some not so much. The plants that fare better and are the most robust and vigorous will be better adapted to thrive in these conditions again. And since we're doing this selection work in organic systems and allowing plants to respond to organic management systems, we are in effect selecting plants that will be better adapted to and better suited for growing on organic farms and in organic gardens.
This is why buying seed from organic growers who do this selection work on their own organic farms is setting you up to have better performing plants in your own garden. It separates our seed from the seed you might find in big box stores.
We do the selection work on our crops to ensure the plants are robust and can perform well here, but we here at Kitchen Table Seed House also add another component to our selection process: selecting for flavour. More on that in another post.
In the meantime, carry on with your dreams of spring, and don't forget to check out our offerings of regionally-adapted, organic seed.