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Seed Descriptions

OG behind heirloom seed quantities means Organically Grown.


Who Writes the Seed Descriptions on the website?

Right off the bat I'm going to tell you that I farmer john sustainable seed company(Farmer John) write these heirloom seed descriptions. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let me tell you I have only been gardening for about 32 years. That is the personal experience I have to draw on when writing these vegetable seed descriptions. I did work at a nursery and later owned a nursery. I've listened to thousands of peoples' questions and comments over the years. What else do I draw on? Well, that has been a bit of a quandary for me when starting this company's vegetable seed website. I am an information nut, whether that be old seed catalogs, dusty books, or the volumes of text on the internet, I love searching through them. I use this information on our website. In fact, you will find I'm trying to quote other heirloom seed sources in the descriptions so that you have another perspective. With more information, I hope you will be able to make the best choices for your taste and organic growing conditions. This is why I've designed all the little icons you will see. These will quickly and easily point out valuable heirloom seed catalog information.


Now you may point out, "John, how can you describe a vegetable in a seed description if you've never grown it?"  Well that is just it! Unless you are Luther Burbank or in your 90s there seems little way else to assimilate ALL this information. For instance, I've been growing loads of tomatoes since I was about seven years old. I know a great deal about tomatoes, but I dislike the taste of most raw tomatoes. Cooked or sauteed tomatoes I love, but I rarely enjoy a raw tomato if it has a high acid content. How am I going to tell you what it taste like, then, in the seed description? I can't; I can merely describe to you what others think and even that seems highly subjective.

Seed Growing Conditions


Then we get to the area of growing conditions. Not only is this website visible to the corners of the U.S., but it will reach the globe. How the heck do I tell someone in Ireland if a variety may do well for them? Honestly, even with copious notes in our trials gardens, meetings with our growers and assimilating data, there is still no way to tell someone how to grow something successfully. This has always fallen to the magic of gardening. You take the best information you have and try it out! There have been many years when I couldn't get a particular variety to perform and then one small comment from an old timer incorporated into my method...then bam!  Success!





Regional Conditions

Even more interesting are regional conditions. It seemed I could never grow broccoli well when I lived in the warm expanse of Texas, but now that I'm in California, it grows like a weed almost year round. Conversely, I took for granted growing corn in the hot Texas soil. Here we are influenced by the cool Pacific winds, so corn is a real challenge. Then there are the new global conditions or global warming. I kind of laugh (or cry) now when I look at the USDA zone map. This map is supposed to tell you when the first and last frost are coming. It also tells you the historic average highs and lows. THROW THAT OUT THE WINDOW! Welcome to global warming. Our weather now is much too erratic to predict such things any longer and scientists say it is only going to get worse. If you have been gardening a while, you know what I'm talking about. The rules have changed.


So you see I can only share with you what I personally know, what other sources I have found, and other links to information. It is truly like reading a book. A book was written by an author. An author may draw on many things, but it is still her/his opinion. I learned this long ago: there are no absolute truths in this world. However, that makes it exciting to me! Each one of us holds the experiences of a lifetime. Just like little peas in a pod each one holds a different genetic story. The way that story unfolds is totally unique. Your experiences in life and gardening are unique.

Where's the Printed Seed Catalog?

We only offer an online catalog. Catalog retailers send out 20 billion catalogs a year, and almost none of the paper contains any recycled content. Instead, over 8 million tons of trees a year go into catalogs alone—which means 8 million tons of trees are going from forests to the landfill, with a short appearance as junk mail in between. What does that mean?

1 ton of virgin printing paper for catalogs uses 24 trees. Now take the number above of 8 million tons used a year and you get 192,000,000 trees that are killed every year so you can thumb through a catalog!! That is roughly 640,000 acres of trees and forest ecosystems destroyed JUST for catalogs. How in good conscience could we or anyone participate in this behavior?

papermillTo put that into perspective, that is almost the entire state of Rhode Island being cut down every year for paper catalogs. These are not just trees, but entire ecosystems of living beings that are destroyed for catalogs. Then there is the pollution from paper mills. Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year (National Pollutant Release Inventory, 1996).

Our mission is to green the planet, not de-green it. We will not be a part of this irresponsible behavior. Yes, we might lose some customers to this policy, but someone has to take the first step in making a change. We are NOT driven by the dollar but by our consciousness and the knowledge that human beings can do better in the world. Our company vows to leave the smallest footprint on this planet as possible. In fact, we hope to green more than we take. We are, after all, a seed company!

In fact, most of the book publishers we buy from are a part of the Green Press Initiative. The goal of the Green Press Initiative is to help those in the book and newspaper industries better understand their impacts on endangered forests, indigenous communities, and the Earth's climate. GPI also works with those in the industry to implement solutions, and to provide the tools and resources necessary to support industry transformation.

woman hoeingHere in California, we are lucky to have so much of Luther Burbank's work preserved by thoughtful folks that protected this information, but there are many other folks out there that may not have been so famous.

For instance, we recently heard a story of a family who brought a particularly well suited bean from Italy to California during the gold rush. This particular bean was responsible for helping feed the gold miners during the California Gold Rush. We want to know these stories, whether verbal or written. Maybe your family has handed down a certain tomato variety for years and you have pictures of "Grandma Jenny" with the first tomato plant. That is history to us! Please share a copy or an original. This is all an important part of seed preservation.

sustainable seed beeWe Want You to Share Your Seed Growing Experience

This is where you come in! We want you to share your knowledge with the world! We have purposely chosen this software package so that you may leave comments on each variety. In fact, I'm going to encourage you to do this by monthly selecting a random comment (author) and giving them a $25 gift certificate! Next year we will take the most descriptive comments and add them to our online vegetable seed catalog. You could see your name in print! It is easy.  Below every listed heirloom seed variety, you will see a field to leave your comment. Be sure to put your full name and state so we can track you down in our database if you win our monthly drawing!

Thank you so much for your interest in our little heirloom seed company. Please email me any questions about heirloom seeds or comments on how you think we can better serve you.

Comments on Seed Descriptions

Kelly 02-06-2012 02:10 PM
I consider myself a person that really cares for the earth and have been an avid gardener almost all my life. During my youth an old seed catalog of my grandmother's is what inspired me to learn grow vegetables and flowers. I keep all the seed catalogs to use as a reference. A seed catalog has a long term value to a gardener and I turn to a catalog for information before using the computer. Paper is not a waste when it contains valuable information that can help encourage, teach and inspire people the value of growing things. I agree that many catalogs that are a waste of trees but not a seed catalog. I have a large collection of seed catalogs in my library that I refer back to often. The positives of seed catalogs far outweigh the negative impact to the environment. I recycle paper to help save trees and even this has negative impacts to our environment. I just like to cuddle up to a catalog, not a computer.
Judy White 02-04-2012 12:56 PM
I do appreciate the effort to reduce waste, but at the same time there are those who save their catalogs as reference. I am one. I do like the printed material better, but this works too....I burned a CD with the catalog, next year I can re-write. I can print whatever pages I want as a quicker reference for my seed pedigree. I will be keeping records of my seed's ancestry.
Peter 10-20-2011 08:46 AM
I think it is so important to be conscious of the ways we do business affect more than the bottom line. I do want to comment on you argument about not having a paper catalog. I am not saying you are wrong, but I think it's worth looking at the other side of the coin. Using the following data, I did some calculations:

Thermal energy of wood: 3,200 kWh/ton
Typical power plant efficiency: 40%
Estimated time using PC instead of looking through catalog: 1 hour
Average PC power use: 100 Watts

Here's the math:
3200 kWh/ton * 0.4 = 1280 kWh/ton electrical energy
20B hours PC time * 0.1kW = 2 Billion kWh of electricity
2B kWh / (1280 kWh/ton) = 1.56 Million tons of wood

These numbers are not perfect, but they do give us a ballpark figure. So by replacing each catalog with 1 hour of PC time, uses 1.56 million tons of wood as apposed to the 8 million tons for the catalogs. However there are additional considerations...
Peter T. 10-18-2011 12:48 PM
I admire your desire to reduce pollution and wood harvesting by not having a paper catalog. I'm not at all saying that you are wrong, but it might be worth looking at the costs of the alternative. If you take the 20 billion catalogs that go out and estimate that in place of each catalog, a person might spend an hour on the internet, and using an average PC power consumption of 100 watts, that amounts to about 8 million tons of coal. That does not include the power consumption of the internet infrastructure, web server, but the PCs would certainly be the biggest users by far. These numbers only really give us a ballpark picture. Again, I'm not saying that you are incorrect, but I think it is important to look at all sides of an issue. I think you guys are doing a great job and have a good company. Thanks for your efforts.

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