In this interview, Gourmet Seed International General Manager Phil Winteregg explains what organic seed is, where you can go to find it, and what factors you should consider when deciding what type of organic seed to plant.
Q: What does it mean if a seed is organic?
A: Certified Organic seed is produced by a certified organic grower, so it has not been exposed to any chemicals throughout the growth in the field, the harvesting of the seed, and processing. As a seed distributor that handles all three types of seed, we have separate stainless steel equipment dedicated to handling just the organic seed, as well as for the treated and untreated, so that the potential of cross-contamination with non-organic seed is nearly impossible.
Q: What are some of the main benefits of planting organic seeds?
A: Just like with any other organic product, organic seed reduces our direct exposure to chemicals, however the greater impact is the reduction of use of chemicals in our fields. It is also likely to be grown using sustainable agriculture methods, which is very beneficial. Although the small trace of chemical that could be present in a non-organic seed would be seriously diluted in a final mature crop, the use of organic seed becomes more important when used for 'young' crops where this dilution would be minimal. Examples of these would be growing micro- or baby-greens, or especially the production of sprouts. Our entire line of seed for sprouts is organic.
Q: Do most retail outlets that sell non-organic seeds sell organic seeds as well? If not, what is the best way to find organic seeds?
A: Until recently, certified organic seed was found mostly through specialty mail-order companies. We've seen a shift by the mainline seed companies towards offering a limited line of basic seed varieties as certified organic. These are now often seen in stores as they respond to the ever increasing demand for organic products and reduction of the use of chemicals. With the explosion of e-commerce, it is now fairly easy to go online and find companies such as ours that offer a much broader range of organic seed.
Q: What top 5 factors should people consider when they are trying to decide what type of organic seed to plant?
A: First and foremost is to work backwards when planning. What do you want to produce from your garden or field? This will help you in figuring the types of crops and the quantity of seed you'll need.
Are the types of crops you want suitable for your area? We're here in SE New Mexico, with a fairly harsh climate and soil, so even though I may want a big batch of some type of vegetable or herb, if it won't easily grow in my area, I either need to figure out how to compensate for my area's challenges or forget growing it. If you want to grow organic, but the crop you want to grow will be nearly impossible to grow without heavy chemical use, maybe you'll need to rethink your choice. Often hybrids can be more disease or insect resistant, and now that we're beginning to see a few offered as organic, this may be a choice for some difficult situations.
How do your crops complement each other? Can you increase efficiency by combining spring and fall crops and get double usage of a spot in your field or garden? Are you going to create a headache for yourself by planting crops that will all need to be harvested at the same time? Do you have a number of very tall crops (such as corn) that may create too much shade for their neighbors?
Do you homework. Research the requirements of the crops you want to grow, know their needs and weaknesses. Be prepared to handle the known, likely issues that may arise. Especially if you are using organic methods, prevention and early intervention are far easier than dealing with a full-blown outbreak of insects or disease. Prepare the soil for the specific crops you'll be growing—not all vegetables and herbs like the same soils or nutrient levels.
Plan ahead for harvest. How are you going to deal with the crops as they come in? I don't know how many times I've seen someone grow a huge crop, far more than they (or their friends and neighbors) could ever use. Know the options for usage and storage. You may be surprised at how easy it is to be able to enjoy your harvest all year long.
Most seed companies carry books that can be useful in dealing with all of these issues. Your local library, agriculture office, quality garden center, or master gardener program can also be very helpful. I've recently seen a dramatic increase on the internet for reference, self-help, and garden planning sites that are also very good.
To read Phil Winteregg's complete profile, click here.
About Phil Winteregg
Phil Winteregg is a resident of southeastern New Mexico. His background and education are primarily in business management and sales, with his previous experience including a horticultural tool and supply company and a large wholesale and retail nursery in Ohio. He is an avid home gardener and cook, and enjoys exploring the culinary and sensory experiences that different cultures and regions offer.
He is currently a partner in and the General Manager for Gourmet Seed International, LLC, an e-commerce company catering to home and small commercial growers, and retailers. They carry a wide range of products, including many rare and heirloom seed varieties from Europe, North America, and Asia on two websites, gourmetseed.com and italianseedandtool.com. They strive to offer organic products when available, and have recently introduced to the US market GEO, a complete line of certified organic seed for sprouts and sprouting accessories for the home sprouter and health food stores, produced by Bavicchi of Italy.