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Seed Catalogs: Gardeners’ Wish Books

I, like most Missoula gardeners, have entered the “quiet time” of the gardening year. My vegetable and flower beds are mulched and resting. Leaves have been raked and composted. Delicate flower bulbs and tubers have been dug, cleaned and stored in a cool, dark place. Now, it’s time to dream about next spring’s planting and next summer’s bounty of food and flowers.

I start my winter garden dreams off with a journey through seed catalogs – the ultimate “wish book” for gardeners. While I receive many catalogs, I usually only order from three, and these are the ones I recommend to you: Fisher’s Garden Store, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company. Not only do these companies provide excellent seeds and garden supplies, they are either family or employee owned and operated – something of a rarity in today’s corporate and international conglomerate world that dominates American food production.

I like to order seeds that have been developed close to Missoula, or at least in a climate that approximates Missoula’s. Seeds developed for Georgia don’t seem to do as well here as seeds developed in colder, and drier, areas. My first catalog recommendation is for Fisher’s Garden Store in Belgrade, Montana. A small, family-run business, Fisher’s catalog offers vegetable and flower seeds and certified seed potatoes. They carry all the common vegetables my family likes: Sparkler radishes, Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Tom Thumb lettuce, Early Wonder beets, Dwarf Gray sugar snow peas, Ox Heart carrots and Contender bush beans to name just a few. In addition to vegetables, Fisher’s offers an interesting selection of wildflower seed perfect for Montana garden and landscaping use. To request a catalog of your own, contact Fisher’s Garden Store at (406)388-6052 or write to PO Box 236, Belgrade, MT 59714. Fisher’s does not have an internet presence at this time.

The next catalog I recommend for a good wish book session is Johnny’s Selected Seeds from Waterville, Maine. Yes, I know Waterville, Maine is about as far East from Missoula as you can go, but this employee-owned company produces some great plant varieties that grow well here. One thing I especially like about Johnny’s is the option to purchase mini-packs of seed. For a gardener with a small space, this is a great way to try varieties without having left-over seed. Last year I tried Costata Romanesco zucchini and Sessantina Grossa Specialty broccoli. Both varieties provided my family with more food than we could eat! They offer many organic seeds and have some interesting hybrids; I especially enjoyed the Scarlet Queen Red Stemmed hybrid turnip last year. Johnny’s Selected Seeds can be contacted via email at [email protected] , phone 877-564-6697, or mail PO Box 299, Waterville, ME 04903. The website is located at www.johnnyseeds.com .

The last catalog recommendation I have is for the family owned Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon. One of the nicest aspects of the Territorial catalog is the detailed growing instructions and general plant information provided. Like Johnny’s, Territorial offers “sampler packs” of seeds and has both organic and traditional seeds available. Territorial offers many harder to find herbs and vegetables. In addition to the Nero Di Toscana Kale and Epazote I purchased from them last year, I also ordered packages of garden standards such as Kentucky Blue pole beans and Thumblina carrots. Like many seed companies, Territorial offers a complete line of season extenders from row covers to wall-of-water plant protectors. They also sell practical gardening and preserving books, perfect for winter reading when the days are short and the nights are long in Missoula. To contact Territorial Seed Company, visit their website at www.territorialseed.com , email [email protected] , phone 541-942-547, or write PO Box 158, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.

Happy New Year and Happy Garden Dreams to all!

Seed Catalogs: Gardeners’ Wish Books I, like most Missoula gardeners, have entered the “quiet time” of the gardening year. My vegetable and flower beds are mulched and resting. Leaves have been

Meet Your Seed Grower: Dave Victor, Garden City Harvest

Dave Victor, the farm director at Garden City Harvest’s Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm and a new father, has a bushy red beard and a straw sunhat. His hands are tanned and calloused. His trusty companion, Sly Dog, pads through the garden alongside him, finally resting under his special picnic table turned dog house –a saving grace in the summer heat. This plot of land seems to radiate calm even though one of the busiest roads in Missoula swarms with traffic just yards away.

For three seasons Victor has been managing Orchard Gardens, one of a handful of small farms under the umbrella of Garden City Harvest, a nonprofit organization in Missoula, Montana, which, among other things, grows produce for their community. Orchard Gardens alone produces over twenty thousand pounds of food per season, five thousand pounds of which goes to the Missoula Food Bank. Orchard Gardens also offers 38 CSA shares and pays their volunteers with veggies.

Dave Victor, farm director at Garden City Harvest’s Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm, leads the Missoula-based nonprofit’s seed growing efforts.

After studying seed saving as part of his Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Montana, Victor took up farming and has been with Garden City Harvest for eight years. He took the lead in saving seed and teaching Garden City Harvest’s other farm staff how to save seed.

“We have seen a trend in the last hundred years or so of fewer farmers growing seed, fewer varieties on the market, and a loss of seed saving know-how,” says Victor. He feels this work is “an essential action in protecting our food system.”

Victor has learned a thing or two about saving seeds from his harvests. Not all farmers practice seed saving. When space is at a premium, it is hard to sacrifice soil that could grow lucrative crops. Victor and his team grow seed crops in order to preserve the best seeds from a vast selection of plants.

“I appreciate the fact that as a seed saver we are not simply multiplying seed,” he explains. “We are actively working toward improving varieties by selecting them for increased resiliency.”

Dave updates his task list with a resident of Orchard Gardens, an affordable housing complex that is also the location of one of Garden City Harvest’s neighborhood farms.

Victor learned to save seeds through his own trials and errors: “When I started saving my own seeds, I knew very little about the process. So I dove into the literature and found a few key books, spoke with a few local farmers who were already saving seed, and most importantly, started learning by doing.” Victor also credits Organic Seed Alliance for providing useful resources and workshops and says that he’s still learning new things every day on the farm.

Even with years of experience, it can be tricky to harvest seeds on such a small plot of land. Orchard Gardens spans a mere two acres, with just half an acre in production. On selecting which seeds to save each season, Victor says, “We have to pick and choose what we can do within the confines of our system while still prioritizing vegetable production.” The seeds Victor saves range from beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, carrots, beets, and parsnips.

The figuring is part of the fun. Victor finds it brings joy to his work: “Saving seed is like solving a puzzle. Figuring out where to grow a seed crop so that it doesn’t get crossed by another variety, learning when exactly to harvest the seed for highest quality, experimenting with how to efficiently clean the seed — these are all challenges to growing seed but the challenge is part of the fun.”

Garden City Harvest educates hundreds of kids each year about food and farming.

Working on a small, sustainable farm has its challenges, but Victor, and those who work at Garden City Harvest, believe it is incredibly important to care about your food and what goes into it.

“Organic to me means that you’re taking care of the soil, you’re taking care of the surrounding environment that the farm belongs to, and that includes the rivers and the creeks and any wildland areas that you have,” Victor says as he surveys his crops, some of which are just about ready to harvest. “It means fostering biodiversity, creating habitat on the farm…not just looking at the farm as an agricultural product, end-all, be-all sort of deal but recognizing that to have a holistic agricultural system we need to work with nature best we can. It also means being careful with the organically-approved chemicals you apply.”

Dave Victor and his seven-month-old son, Otis.

Victor carefully selects seeds every year for saving and donates them to the Five Valleys Seed Library which is based out of the Missoula Library. He also plants much of Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm with saved seed. Since becoming farm director for Orchard Gardens, Victor has helped to boost CSA shares and expand the seed saving projects to three of the four major farms run by Garden City Harvest.

Victor brings his son to work with him several times a week, a gurgling seven month old who naps in the barn and can often be seen strapped to his father’s chest in the fields as Victor weeds, harvests, and plants. It is easy to see the need for resilience when the next generation is smiling up at you.

About our guest contributor: Heide Borgonovo is currently working as a marketing and outreach intern for Garden City Harvest. Originally from San Francisco, Heide moved to Missoula to study Journalism at the University of Montana, with a focus on audio and social media. She grew up attending a Waldorf school so gardening and outdoor play were essential parts of her childhood. With one year left in her studies, Heide is excited to try new things and to get her feet wet in the professional world, especially with nonprofits. In her free time she enjoys learning to cook, exploring Missoula’s many local businesses and reading a good mystery novel.

This project is possible with funding from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Meet Your Seed Grower: Dave Victor, Garden City Harvest Dave Victor, the farm director at Garden City Harvest’s Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm and a new father, has a bushy red beard and a