Growing Seeds for Southern Exposure

It takes many farms to grow a collection of seeds like what we offer. We’re proud to work with a network of over 50 small farmers in various parts of the US who grow seeds for us.  We hope to continue to expand this network.  We’re always happy to talk to farmers who want diversify their income streams and grow seeds.

The Moyer family husks a seed crop of corn on their roof.

Our largest seed grower is Twin Oaks Seeds; their seed farm is just three miles away from ours.  Most of our growers are in the Southeast, but we also have seed growers in the Midwest and as far away as Oregon. Some have been growing seeds for many years. Others are new to the trade. For more information on some of our current growers, see our Seed Growers page.

With seeds I've grown, I find a box fan for winnowing to be the single most useful seed-cleaning tool.

Growing seeds can be a great supplemental source of income for many farmers, but it isn’t a way to get rich quick. It can work well even on a very small scale, but requires isolation from other varieties of the same species. Isolation distances for commercial growing are much greater than those in our Seed-Saving for Home Use handout. For example, commercial seed crops of tomatoes, peppers and beans should each be isolated from other crops of the same species by at least 150 feet. Isolation from GMO crops is particularly important.  On a small or medium scale, including most of the grow-outs farmers do for us, most seeds can be harvested and cleaned with minimal equipment.

Many seed crops need to stay in the ground longer than their food counterparts. For example, most leaf crops produce seed only after the best leaves have come and gone. Sometimes, some good food can be a byproduct of growing a seed crop. You can have your winter squash seeds and eat the squash, too. You can plant lettuce, thin it while harvesting baby greens, thin it again by harvesting full-size heads, and let some of the more vigorous plants bolt and make seed.

These cucumbers are past the stage of harvest for food, but at the right stage for a seed harvest.

When we start working with new seed growers, we generally set them up with a variety or a few varieties that other seed growers are also growing. These are generally relatively small grow-outs. The most common crops for beginners are tomatoes, corn, beans, and southern peas. As our relationship solidifies, and as the grower’s experience and confidence grow, it is common for the size and size and range of grow-outs to increase as well.  On the other hand, some of our growers are happy to keep things small and grow out one or two favorite varieties every year.  Others help us by doing seed increases – taking, say, a couple ounces of a rare heirloom southern pea and harvesting a couple of pounds at the end of the season, which we can then use to grow a regular seed crop the following year.

Squash and tomato seeds dry on screens on our farm.

If you’re interested in growing seed for us, send an e-mail to ira at southernexposure dot com. Ira will send you a questionnaire with questions about your land, your experience, and your interests. If you write to us soon, there may still be enough time to get on the list for growing crops for us in 2014.

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