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Spring Planting Guide

Tips for your best garden yet!

I sure can grow ’em, but where the heck am I gonna put all of them?

For gardeners old and new, the first sunny days of spring incite an industrious fervor that can border on insanity. If ever there was a way to bite off more than you can proverbially chew, it’s planting a garden after a long winter’s amnesia-inducing nap. Weeds? What are those? Canning? It’s heaven on earth!

So you rip up half your lawn and start buying seeds. As paychecks disappear into mountains of seeds and plant starts and bags of compost, may these tips help your (huge) gardens grow, well, huge…


What to grow:

  1. Grow what you like to eat. Seems simple, but many folks plant what they think they’re supposed to plant rather than what they actually want to eat.
  2. If you’re short on space, consider skipping things that are inexpensive to buy from local producers and/or that take up tons of space (cabbage, onions, potatoes), and focus on stuff that’s either expensive (kale, greens, herbs) or that tastes infinitely better homegrown (tomatoes).


When to plant:

Gardeners classify crops into cool- or warm-season crops. Cool season crops can handle frost and are generally planted in spring. Warm season crops can’t be planted outside until after the danger of frost has passed.

Some crops are “direct-seeded”—seeds planted right into the ground—while others are generally started indoors and transplanted outside later. The list below tells you which common garden crops are cool or warm season, and which should be direct seeded vs. transplanted.


Direct Seeding Tips:

  1. Don’t seed too deeply. Plant small seeds no more than ½” deep.
  2. Keep the ground moist until seeds germinate. Be patient—carrots especially take a long time to come up (sometimes 3 weeks!).
  3. Be sure to thin! Root crops like radishes especially need space to grow. Be a ruthless thinner, or you’ll end up with lots of leafy tops and no roots! Seriously, THIN like the dickens! Don’t feel bad!


Starting Indoors Tips:

  1. Light is crucial. It’s the biggest reason home gardeners end up with spindly plants. You can use a regular shop light (no fancy bulbs needed). Suspend it just a few inches above your seedlings and raise the light up as they grow. A window (even a south-facing one) is generally not enough light to avoid leggy seedlings! Keep your light on for 14 hours a day.
  2. Use potting soil (not regular soil). It is sterile and full of compost to help your plants grow strong!
  3. Keep seedlings moist, but cut back water if you notice mold growing on the surface.


Transplanting Tips:

  1. Harden seedlings off by setting them outside for a few hours a day for a few days before you transplant
  2. MAKE SURE TO WATER YOUR TRANSPLANTS! Transplanting is stressful on your plants, so make sure they have plenty of water in their new homes or they will surely perish with their tiny little roots.
  3. Make a small depression in the soil around the plants as you plant, like a moat, and then fill it up with water to get plenty of water to the tiny roots of your plants. Water deeply and often for at least 2 weeks to help them root deeply. You can also add compost to help feed them!


Planting Timeline:

Dates are for Treasure Valley. For other areas, look up your last frost date and work backwards from there. Some crops are listed for both direct seeding and starting indoors because they work well both ways.


Spring/Cool Crops 







Direct Seed (plant directly into the dirt outside) as soon as the ground can be worked in spring (March-April)






Rutabagas/parsnips/other roots

Potatoes (protect tops from frost)


Onion sets


Greens like spinach, arugula, mustards


Fava beans


Chard (April or later)



Start indoors early (Feb, or one month before ground thaws) and transplant outside in spring (March-May)

Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage

Alliums like onions, shallots, leeks

Head lettuces




Perennial flowers


Fennel (transplant Apr-May)


Summer/warm crops


Direct Seed (plant directly into the dirt outside) after danger of frost has passed (late May/June)

Squash (summer and winter)


Beans (pole and bush)





Sweet potatoes


Short-season annual flowers


Start indoors in spring (March-April, or 6-8 weeks before last frost) and transplant after danger of frost has passed (late May/June)




Basil (start 4 weeks ahead)


Ground Cherries

Long-season annual flowers

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The Life of a Snake River Seed: A Photo Blog

Do you ever wonder how all those tiny seeds get into all those colorful garden seed packets?

It depends on what kind of seed company you buy your seeds from; the main distinction is a matter of scale: big companies likely don’t grow their own seed but buy it, and machines are used to fill packets and pull orders.  (for more details on the way bigger seed companies, check out this previous post).

Well, our small human-scale company’s seeds live a very different life than most commercial seed companies.

Here’s a little photo journey through the Life of a Snake River Seed…


Of course, a seed starts with a seed…sometimes into a flat to sprout in a greenhouse, and sometimes directly into the ground…

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When they sprout, we transplant them outside!


Since much of Idaho has dry summers, watering is a must, whether by drip tapes, hand lines, or even, in a pinch, with your thumb on the end of a good old fashioned hose.








We hoe and hoe, and walk our fields to select only the best plants to go to seed, and we rogue (pull out) the rest!










Growing Plants for Seeds

The best part of growing seeds is the opportunity to see the plants go through their whole life cycle. On a vegetable farm, we would pull radish bulbs to eat…But as seed savers, we get to watch our radishes go through the rest of their crazy-wonderful life cycle!


First, the radish roots get REALLY, REALLY big, like the size of your forearm sometimes, and then they grow taller and taller until they start to flower! The pollinators LOVE their flowers……


After the pollinators pollinate their flowers, they grow these CRAZY seed pods which turn a rainbow of colors before drying out completely so we can harvest them…


Once they’re dry, we harvest the seed stalks to dry further out of the field. For bigger lots, we might harvest them onto tarps or for smaller ones, into pillow cases…


Dry Seed Process

Then we put them somewhere out of the elements to finish drying…

img_1173drying-seedsOnce they’re dry, we start cleaning them. Bigger growers have mechanized equipment to do a lot of this, but at Snake River Seed Co-op, our small family farmers use small, hand-scale equipment. It might not be as quick as machines, but it works very well and makes seed production accessible to smaller scale growers since they don’t need to buy expensive equipment.

First we THRESH our seeds, usually by dancing on them in a bucket.  This results in lots of seed mixed up with broken up stem & pods.

Then we WINNOW them using fans and screens. The fans are surprisingly effective: when you pour seeds in front of them, the good seeds are heavy and they fall into the first tub, while the immature ones and the chaff are lighter and they fly into the second one or beyond. Voila’!




Then we further separate the seed from the chaff by pouring the mixture onto a screen, shaking it and the seeds stay on the screen and the chaff falls through.

Wet Seed Processing

Seeds that grow inside a wet fruit take a slightly different route to get clean: we break up the fruit by slicing, blending, scooping or grating it…

Some things, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, go through a fermentation stage as well to break down the gelatinous sack surrounding the seed….

After they’ve fermented, we decant them by adding lots of water to the seeds and pulp mixture. Again, the good seeds are heavy and they sink, while the immature ones and the pulp are lighter and they float. We pour off the immature seeds and pulp and repeat until we get down to just pure, clean seeds at the bottom of the jar.







Then we pour the clean seeds onto plates to dry in the shade.


Once each grower has processed his/her seed crop into clean, dry seeds on their farms by following similar procedures, they bag them up and deliver them to Snake River Seed Co-op so they can be prepped for the upcoming seed season.

Mike Sommers of PURPLE SAGE FARM delivering his seed crop for 2017!

In the fall and into the winter, we intake seeds from all of our 17 farmers by weighing them, doing additional cleaning if needed, and backstocking them.









Germination Testing

Then we start the process of germination testing to ensure the seed’s viability.  We do this by arranging 50 seeds of each lot onto damp paper towels and then load them into 3-ring binders. We put the binders in the conditions right for each crop: hot crop binders go on a heat mat while cold crop binders stay in our seed room. After 2 weeks (or so) we count the seeds that have sprouted to determine their germination percentages.

After we’re sure the seeds are viable and germinate well, they are packed into glass jars, labeled, and put into our seed storage vault while they wait for the season’s first orders to start trickling in.

Seed Packing

Once an order has been received, we individually pack the seeds into packets on-demand, to ensure you receive the highest quality, fresh and viable seeds every single time.

(Of course, designing and getting the packets printed is a whole process in and of itself, but that’s for another day…)

All of our seed packing is done by hand in old fashioned “packing parties” – no machines, conveyor belts or robots here! We stamp each packet with a lot number and pack date. Then we fill them with a specific teaspoon or tablespoon amount – depending upon the size of the seed and quantity per packet.

By the time a Snake River Seed Co-op seed packet has gotten into your hands, it has passed through a minimum of 12 times by doting seed stewards and seed packers.

Happy Planting!

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Why are our seeds so expensive…or, such a great value?

Why are our seeds so expensive such a great value?

a.k.a. The Seed Creates the System

Garden crops going to seed
Garden crops going to seed

Seeds are mysterious. Even many avid gardeners couldn’t tell you much about the life a seed has had before they shake it from the packet into moist soil. Everything from how plants actually make their seeds to where the seeds were grown to all the steps required to harvest, process, clean, dry, germination test them, and pack them into packets are largely absent from our consciousness when we line up in front of seed racks full of colorful photos and choose our hopeful summer bounty.

In the same way consumers are waking up to the stark differences between factory farmed feedlot beef and animals raised on healthy pastures, seeds deserve our critical eye. The ways different brands of seeds find their way to our shelves create vastly different agricultural and economic systems in their wake.

Most large-scale seed companies, even ones who offer “organic” seeds, source their seeds from all over the world, shipping seeds from China, industrial organic hybrids from Europe, etc. So while we might grow local food to reduce our carbon footprint, the seeds we’re using have already got some serious food miles on them. The packet tells you nothing about where the seeds were grown–only where the company is headquartered. We can assume the seeds have been purchased from large-scale farmers who will grow them for the cheapest price.

Once they arrive to be packed, most of the process is automated. Big hoppers are filled with a certain seed lot and a machine fills and seals the packets. With the really cheap seeds, multiple companies’ seed packets are filled in the same warehouse with the same poor-quality seed, slapping different companies’ names on the same seed. The machine simply replaces one company’s packet with another and keeps filling. But even integrous seed companies like Seed Savers Exchange have automated seed packing equipment. A video posted on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds’ facebook page just recently  shows their shiny, new warehouse full of conveyor belts and computers to pull orders for shipping to every corner of the world.

Mike bringing in his seed crops!

Our seeds are literally a world apart from this global food chain. For starters, we only work with small-scale growers in our own bioregion. Our seeds are born and raised in and around Idaho, and over 95% of them remain here for sale in our independent retail partners’ garden centers and co-ops.

We are working to get more local farmers involved in growing seeds on their farms,

Krista winnowing seeds with box fans
Krista winnowing seeds with box fans

and offering them a viable marketing outlet for this important work. The cost of production is built into our seed prices. In order to create a viable localized economy, farmers have to be able to make a living. We pay our farmers often ten times more for their seeds than large-scale seed companies will pay, because that’s truly what it costs to produce these crops. As farmers, we work hard and pour our hearts and souls into our farms and our seeds. We will not support the system that keeps farmers in poverty so the rest of us can have cheap food. Seeds provide an additional winter income stream, allowing us to mitigate gaps in our farms’ financial solvency and helps keep us farming!

All but one of our growers is small enough that we harvest our seeds by hand and clean them with small-scale equipment like fans and screens. This takes longer but allows more farmers to participate, because they do not need lots of land or fancy, expensive equipment. We germination test and pack the seeds by hand in a small shed on one of our farms. It is truly a labor of love, and we are putting people to work with important, low-tech, community-sustaining jobs. The independent garden centers and food co-ops who carry our seeds are also doing this in a way big box or virtual online stores don’t.

Hand-packing seed packets

So when you’re comparing the prices of different companies’ seeds, remember that THE SEED CREATES THE SYSTEM! With each packet of SNAKE RIVER SEED COOPERATIVE’s  seeds, you’re getting enough locally-adapted seeds to grow at least 250 delicious carrots, or 175 Broccoli plants, or hundreds of Black Krim tomatoes, all for $3.25 cents! All the while, you’re supporting an entire local economy that begins with healthy soils on small, sustainable farms and travels through happy, well-compensated farmers and thriving locally-owned retail nurseries and into your own lovingly-tended garden. How’s that for a value-packed bargain?!

The Earthly Delights Farm crew processing wet seeded crops.
The Earthly Delights Farm crew processing wet seeded crops.

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS for supporting our cooperative by buying our Idaho-grown seeds!

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2016 State of the Seedshed

PrintAs we busily thresh and winnow the last of the 2016 seed crops under the 70 degree November sun, I heard a climate change denier has just been appointed to head the EPA. Perhaps our future offerings will include figs and olives!

Nevertheless, the close of the 2016 growing season and the start of the 2016/17 seed slinging season brings me great pride and comfort. Hundreds of jars of locally-grown seeds are now tucked safely inside our walk in cooler, awaiting their journey into your hands, your gardens, and your kitchens to claim their place in the tapestry of your culture.

Each seed my mentor, I marvel at how much a small group of conscientious growers, retailers, and

consumers can collectively change business as usual by spending some portion of our time doing very small, impactful things. A tiny seed will come completely undone, cracking itself open and plunging upward in the hope of finding light and nourishment. When it does, it will grow and flower with everything it has and make hundreds of seeds where just one was planted. A tiny gardener, choosing to plant a seed that was grown in her own bioregion, sows not only a season of bountiful food but a viable livelihood for her seed farmer, who can continue to grow seeds for her neighbors for years to come. An independent garden center who chooses to carry locally-grown seeds sees the impact of their choice multiplied ten-fold in the economics of their community.

Many of our growers at the Flicks screening of SEED: The Untold Story
Many of our growers at the Flicks screening of SEED: The Untold Story

Last year, 17 local farmers expanded their farm models to include growing seeds for Snake River Seed Co-op. Together, we grew and sold over 25,000 packets of seeds around Idaho. That’s 25,000 packets of seeds that didn’t exist 5 years ago. This year, we worked with 17 local farmers to steward 258 varieties of seeds, which with each generation of planting, selecting, and saving, are becoming more adapted to our unique place on earth. This year, we expanded outside the Treasure and Magic Valleys, adding excellent growers from Moscow, Orofino, and Twisp, Washington, and we’ve been expanding our efforts into the northern and eastern parts of Idaho to unite us in the beautiful work of growing seeds!

It is not easy for these farmers to include seed production in their already full farm schedules, but we are making the effort and doing it because we appreciate the reality of where we are at, seed-wise:

-We’re losing seed biodiversity–over 95% of the seed varieties that were commercially available in 1900 have been lost, or abandoned in favor of more lucrative and uniform industrial hybrids that require more synthetic fertilizers and by nature require the farmer to buy new seed from the company every year.

-We’re losing bioregional seed companies–in 1970, there were over 3,000 seed companies in the US. Now, with impending corporate mergers, three multinational chemical/seed companies will own over 75% of the world’s seeds. Snake River Seed Co-op is part of a growing movement to put seeds back into the hands of the farmers and gardeners in our communities who are better able to steward them like the treasures they are, ensuring the future of our bioregional food security.

-We’ve lost our connection with our food, and especially our seeds. Even though the local food movement is picking up steam, we largely still see seeds as just another faceless input that can be bought from wherever. Without locally-grown seeds, we don’t have a viable local food system. As we’ve worked to expand access and production of seeds right here, we’ve learned the crucial lesson–locally-grown seeds react to our place, adapting themselves each year to better grow in our unique climate and soils. Every year we save and replant a seed in the Intermountain West, we bring it that much more into harmony with our farms and gardens, so every year we grow better and better gardens and better and better seeds!

Each of our growers has contributed in vital and unique ways to the co-op, amid the ever-present challenges of farming.

Growers Kyle and Cassie from Eat-A-Turnip-Garden
Growers Kyle and Cassie from Eat-A-Turnip-Garden

James Loomis of Salacia Farm brings us Mammoth Basil and Marketmore Cucumbers despite half his crop being lost in a fire that consumed a large Acai berry hedge at his farm this summer. Anaka Mines of Twisp River Farm grew Yellowstone carrots and Hungarian Blue poppies while growing a baby–she’s due December 15th! Mike Sommer of Purple Sage Farm showed up with a veritable haul of Dragon Carrots and Culinary Sage amid building a certified kitchen on his farm. Earthly Delights Farm trained 6 new interns in the art of small-scale seed and produce production. In the midst of my husband’s work accident and recovery, they learned how to plant, isolate, rogue, harvest, thresh, winnow, decant, and dry over 75 varieties of seeds in the middle of Boise. Lori Bevan at Field Goods Farm gained, lost, and regained farmland this year, contributing Dwarf Scotch Blue Curled Kale and Armenian Cucumbers despite her uncertain situation. Carrie Jones at Draggin’ Wing Farm managed to grow Cuore di Capra Tomatoes and King of the North Peppers in addition to starting graduate school and raising her daughter as a single mom, and her mom Diane helped her clean her remaining seed crops amid her own ever-expanding offerings of native and drought-tolerant flower seeds to the co-op. Dana Rassmussen at Fellowship Farms nervously waited out a solid month of excessive rains in Paul, Idaho, to thresh his windrowed bean seeds.

All of our farmers make extraordinary efforts to bring us the food and seeds they grow each year. Each seed in our collection comes with it a remarkable history, from domestication through countless generations of hands who have cared for and improved and passed it down to the next steward. Each seed carries bold, shining hope for an abundant future of delicious nourishment and lively culture. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for caring about these tiny seeds and choosing to support our efforts by planting them in your farms and gardens. In the uncertain future ahead, we will continue to plant these little bundles of hope, and by their generosity we will collectively reap what we sow.

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SEED: The Untold Story movie screening!

Image result for SEED: The untold story images

Join co-sponsors Snake River Seed Cooperative & Treasure Valley Food Coaliton for….

**a One-Night-Only showing of SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20th 6pm at the Flicks in Boise!

**Meet BILL McDORMAN who stars in the film in-person (big thank you to the Boise Co-op for kicking down $$ to help bring Bill here)!

**Learn about efforts to create a ROBUST REGIONAL SEEDSHED and meet the seed growers / farmers who supply garden seeds to Snake River Seed Cooperative!

Identify and celebrate some of the local businesses who choose to buy locally-grown seeds!

SNAKE RIVER SEED COOPERATIVE, our Boise-based cooperative of garden seed growers, will be hosting a Q&A with Bill McDorman who stars in the film and is also director of ROCKY MOUNTAIN SEED ALLIANCE (Ketchum, Idaho) and Casey O’Leary, founder of SNAKE RIVER SEED COOPERATIVE (Boise, Idaho), and other special guests before the film begins.

At 6pm
Mingle with Idaho’s local garden seed growers

At 7pm
Film starts

After the Film enjoy a short Q&A about the film with Casey, Bill, and other special guests

Proceeds from the film benefit the Treasure Valley Food Coalition

SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY is an award winning documentary about the loss of seed diversity and the future of our food, from the creators of the award winning Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? and The Real Dirt on Farmer John.

Few things on Earth are as miraculous and vital as seeds, worshipped and treasured since the dawn of humankind. SEED: The Untold Story follows passionate seed keepers protecting our 12,000-year-old food legacy. In the last century, 94% of our seed varieties have disappeared. As biotech chemical companies control the majority of our seeds, farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers fight a David and Goliath battle to defend the future of our food. In a harrowing and heartening story, these reluctant heroes rekindle a lost connection to our most treasured resource and revive a culture connected to seeds.

SEED features Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jane Goodall, Andrew Kimbrell, Winona Laduke, Bill McDorman, and Raj Patel.

SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY, is directed by Taggert Siegel (Portland. OR) and is Executive Produced by Marisa Tomei, Marc Turtletaub (Little Miss Sunshine), and Phil Fairclough (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams).


Discovery Channel ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD at Sheffield Doc/Fest in England, GRAND JURY PRIZE at the Nashville Film Festival, BEST IN FESTIVAL at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, and the GREEN PLANET AWARD at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

A limited number of ticket are for sale at The Flicks before the show. (Flicks box office opens at 4:30pm m-th, and noon on fri/sat/sun)

Or online at:

We anticipate the 130 tickets will sell out, so buy yours quickly!

*Watch the documentary trailer here:

Image result for SEED: The untold story images

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Fall For Seeds!

NOW is the time to seed your winter veggies and spring flowers!

Poppy Field CMYK


Q: Why can’t I get poppies to grow?

A: Because poppies, like many other beloved perennial flowers, need a series of frosts to “break dormancy” and sprout, so fall is the best time to plant them!



Yes, it’s true! Many of our most beloved garden perennial flowers, including many of our Idaho native flowers, need winter freezes and thaws to germinate. These flowers do best when thrown outside in fall or early winter and lightly raked in to the soil surface. All of the flowers listed in our Snake River Seed Co-op Fall Planting Guide (check it out below! Nice work, Lori!) will benefit from being fall seeded:

SRSC THEfall planting guide

Salad Mix MesclunAdditionally, fall is a great time to seed cool-season veggies for late fall eating, and some will even feed you through the winter and into next spring if you do it right! Many of the same crops you’d plant early in the spring can be planted in the fall, and some, like cilantro, fennel, and spinach, actually do BETTER planted now because the weather isn’t going from 60 to 90 overnight like it’s known to do in the Intermountain West.

Get the skinny on some of our favorite fall planted vegetables in the Fall Planting Guide above!


Here are a few more tips for successful fall planting!

To time your planting, follow these steps:
*Add 30% onto the days to maturity of each variety you intend to plant. The shortening days make things grow a little slower than they would in the spring, when days are getting longer.
*Decide when you want to be able to eat your crop. All of the varieties in our Seeds For Fall Planting web store section can handle some frost, but as we all know too well, our falls can be erratic, so it’s best to plan to eat your crops by Thanksgiving at the latest, unless you have protection like a greenhouse or cold frame. Some varieties, like Winter Giant Spinach and Cold-hardy Kale, seem to be able to make it all the way through most winters!
*Count backward to determine the planting time for your crop. Now is the time to plant pretty much anything, so don’t delay!

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The Gardener’s Guide to Seed Literacy and Advocacy

a.k.a. How to Choose Which Seeds To Buy

visionet creative commons license
visionet creative commons license

So you want to buy seeds, but you’re hearing all this stuff about GMOs and heirlooms and you don’t know which ones are safe and/or groovy. We hope this will help shine some light and make you feel like you’re choosing like a champ.





1. Don’t worry about GMO seeds. Yes, that’s right. Right now, as a home gardener, you don’t have the opportunity to buy GMO seeds. Those are for big farmers who have to sign contracts with the manufacturers to get a hold of them. Yes, there is a possibility of contamination of non-GMO seed crops with GMO pollen. That’s simple biology. You can choose to buy seeds from non-GMO Project Verified sources if that is of supreme concern to you. However, consider the following point.


2.Guaranteeing that seeds are non-GMO is expensive. Some larger seed companies go through the GMO Project Verified system to certify all the at-risk seed lots they purchase and sell. However, smaller seed companies like Snake River Seed Co-op cannot afford to certify all our at-risk seed lots as non-GMO Project Verified. In many cases, certification costs would be higher than the entire income we bring in from a particular seed lot. As a consumer, if you require your seeds to be non-GMO verified, you are selecting for a more globalized system that includes milliion-dollar seed companies, food manufacturers, and the like. Also, you’re choosing a system that puts the burden of verification onto the potential victim of contamination rather than demanding that the parties responsible for putting the GMO pollution into the world carry the burden of verification. Along with dozens of other seed companies, Snake River Seed Co-op has signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which states that we will not knowingly sell seeds contaminated with transgenic material (GMOs). Then, we work to ensure good isolation for our at-risk crops. Ask your favorite seed company if they’ve signed the Safe Seed Pledge if you are concerned about GMOs.


3. All seeds are not at risk of GMO contamination. In fact, only a hand full of commercially available crops have at this point been genetically modified. They are: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, papaya, summer squash/zucchini, alfalfa, potatoes, and sugar beets. Including other crops that could potentially cross-pollinate with these GM crops, the list could expand slightly to include table beets, chard, Siberian and Russian kales, rutabagas, and some pumpkins and winter squashes. Everything else you grow in your garden is at no risk of possible GMO contamination whatsoever.


4. Hybrids are not GMOs. Have you heard the comment, “But humans have been genetically SRSC blog 2modifying seeds for millennia?” This is a sound-byte answer to a much more complex reality. Yes, it’s true. Humans have been tinkering with seeds for 10,000 years. For the vast majority of that time people have been selecting and breeding seeds that do better in their gardens and farms using simple field observation and selection. A farmer/gardener might notice a plant she likes and save seeds from it. Or she might cross it with another plant she likes by moving pollen from one to the other. In the second example, she has deliberately created a hybrid. Now, sometimes some of the steps of creating a hybrid happen in a lab. The basic difference between a hybrid and a GMO is that hybrids are crosses between botanically compatible plants while GM technology can insert genes from other species or even kingdoms of life into plants (like a bacterium in to a plant). Hybrid seeds can be used on organic farms, GM seeds cannot. You could make a hybrid by crossing plants in your back yard. You could not use the GM biotechnology methods without specialized equipment.


5. Hybrids aren’t creepy…except when they are. For the most part, hybridization is a useful and natural way to increase vigor and uniformity in plants. However, there is a controversial technique sometimes used in creating the parent lines for hybrid plants called cell fusion CMS, or Cytoplasmic Male Sterility. It’s a technique that creates sterile male breeding lines, and it veers sharply from classical plant breeding methods, bordering on biotechnology. Seeds produced by this technology are banned on organic farms in Europe but the US still allows it. For a down-to-earth explanation of the technology, check out Adaptive Seeds’ Andrew Still’s essay Why Cell Fusion CMS is Creepy. One of the problems with hybrids is that there is virtually NO transparency about the techniques used to produce the hybrid. So, organic farmers and gardeners who wish to avoid using cell fusion CMS hybrids have no way of knowing whether the hybrids they want to buy are CMS “cybrids,” as Still calls them.


6. Heirlooms aren’t the only awesome alternatives to hybrids, cybrids, or GMOs.

We get a lot of folks asking if our seeds are heirlooms. Rightly so. Heirlooms are usually delicious–relics from an era when we selected varieties for flavor, not necessarily yield, uniformity, or the ability to travel long distances. They’re also sometimes in danger of being lost. For these reasons, heirlooms are great choices. Heirlooms are simply older varieties of “open-pollinated” (OP) seeds. Open-pollinated seeds will breed true to type. In other words, as long as you’ve properly isolated them, you can save and replant the seeds from OP varieties and get plants that look and taste like their parents. And while we want to preserve heirloom varieties, we also want to support the breeding of new varieties that are well-adapted to the conditions of today. Seed savers have for millennia been selecting/breeding new varieties in response to specific needs or changes in environment, culture, etc. We want to ensure this important work continues. All of our Snake River Seed Co-op seeds are open-pollinated. We have lots of beloved heirlooms in our collection. We also have lots of newer OP varieties, some of which will become the “heirlooms of tomorrow”.


index 7. Consider both sides of the seed patenting debate. Please don’t misunderstand: we are not in favor of patenting seeds. However, we also immensely value the contributions plant breeders make to our continued success as farmers and gardeners. Hybrids are by nature proprietary–if you replant the seeds from a hybrid, you won’t get what a plant that looks like the one you saved seeds from, because the parents of hybrids are distinct inbred genetic lines deliberately crossed to make a reliable offspring in the first generation. Planting them out again will result in what seedsman Bill McDorman calls “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” You don’t know what you’ll get in the subsequent generations. This explains why most seed companies hire plant breeders to focus on developing new hybrids. They’re often high performing in the field, and growers have to buy the seeds from the company each year, which can help recoup the cost of developing the variety in the first place. Open-pollinated seeds are different. It takes at least 7 years to breed a new open-pollinated (non-hybrid) variety. Once it’s released into the world, anybody can grow and successfully save seeds from it the first year, without having the costs associated with breeding the variety in the first place. This puts breeders of OP varieties and the companies who pay their salaries in a pickle. Who will pay the bills? The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) is delving into this enigmatic challenge by seeking models that could work based on the open-source software movement. We offer several OSSI varieties, and the way we’re plugging into this initiative is by voluntarily sending royalties to the breeders of these varieties based on how many packets we sell, which will hopefully help to encourage and sustain their breeding efforts so they don’t have to turn to patenting to recoup their costs.


8. The location of a seed company often has little to do with where the seeds they sell are grown. Though they may have a robust regional presence, seed companies generally purchase seeds from growers around the US and across the oceans. Seed packets say where the seeds were packed, but not where they were grown, so it is difficult to know as a customer where things are coming from. We’re proud to be a part of a movement to re-localize our seedshed. We at Snake River Seed Co-op are committed to sourcing all our seed lots from the Intermountain West. This decision keeps us linked firmly to our bioregion, allowing us to grow our regional network of seed growers as well as address the specific challenges our region faces. It also offers us a way of celebrating our unique Intermountain West culture. If you care about buying local seeds, do your homework. Ask the seed companies who will potentially get your business where their seeds are coming from. Just because they were packed near you doesn’t necessarily mean they were grown near you.


9. Like the global food system, the global seed system lacks transparency. We have made enormous strides over the last few decades to increase our knowledge of where our food comes from. Farmer’s markets, CSAs, farm-to-table restaurants, and a robust slew of celebrities chefs, farmers, and food systems activists have succeeded in making many of us source food from local sources that guarantee the welfare of workers, animals, and the environment. Seeds are still almost completely absent from that discussion. Many seed packets on box store shelves are from companies that are owned by other larger, more ethically questionable companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont. The sharp increase in proprietary organic hybrids from Europe flooding into larger (but still decent) seed companies like Johnny’s and High Mowing Seeds attests to this as well. Ask a farmer at your local farmer’s market where the seeds they planted to grow their produce came from and you’ll likely find that they don’t exactly know. For more information about what seed companies are owned by other companies as well as other insights into the global seed trade, check out this blog post.


Photo by Katie Bertram
Photo by Katie Bertram

10. If we don’t have a local seed system, we don’t have a local food system. Support seed growers in your bioregion by choosing to plant local seeds!




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YouTube channel!

Well, we’ve got our very own YouTube channel now, featuring a series of “Grow This Plant” videos made by our friends at Star Garnet Media. So far, it’s just Casey hopping around “getting all excited about the sheer miraculousness of seeds and plants and gardening and such”, but the sky’s the limit for what else we can do!

Here’s the link to our channel, with new videos arriving regularly.

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Harvest Hoedown a wild success!

Thanks so much to all who came out to celebrate with us at our “Coming Out” party! Special thanks to Cinder Winery for hosting us, to Guy Hand for his fantastic photos, to Tim Andreae, Justin Moore, Bart Rayne, and Jaime for the incredible music, to Chad Courtright, Helen Brookman, Dan Broockmann, Jackie, and Amanda for your help with the event as well! Here’s to many more rockin’ good seedy parties!

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