We are precisionist gardeners (assuming the term's not an oxymoron). This is due in part to temperament, perhaps--we're both pretty organized and like to have a handle on things, to the extent possible. But it's also a function of our having adopted intensive bed methodology. That is, instead of cultivating (plowing up and preparing for planting) large swatches of ground and then growing plants in single rows laid at intervals across that ground, we cultivate beds--3' to 5' wide, and 50' long--and then grow plants in close spacing in those beds. You can find angles on intensive bed growing under various search terms, e.g. "intensive bed gardening," "square foot gardening," "French intensive," "biointensive," and "biodynamic." "Permaculture" is kind of different in its emphases, but still well within the philosophical family. In any case, we aren't particular about terminology at Betsy's Farm. For us, John Jeavons at Ecology Action illustrates a pinnacle of this type of gardening...but there are surely many others!
The intensive method begins with how we start the seeds in flats. This slide show tells that tale, and is followed by a few comments about seeds.
Seeds come in many kinds. In gardening circles, a specific distinction in kinds is garnering ever-more intensive discussion: "open-pollinated" versus "hybrid." You can find a nice explanation of the two types here. You'll note that, in this particular onion planting session, we were using an F1 (first generation) hybrid seed. Organic certification requires that one use organic seeds--meaning they came from organically-grown plants--unless the variety you need isn't commercially available in organic. But it's agnostic with respect to open-pollinated vs. hybrid. Either can be organically produced. On our farm, we've tended to be agnostic on that particular as well, although we do save certain seeds ourselves, and that can only be done with open-pollinated varieties. But there are wonderful folks in the small-farming world who argue pretty vigorously for open-pollinated seeds as the right choice. Bountiful Gardens (a project of Jeavons's Ecology Action) and Sow True Seed (based up the road in Asheville) are exemplars. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange handles only a very few hybrids. Down at the other end of the progressive-seed-selling spectrum, there are great outfits like Seeds of Change, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Fedco. While featuring organic seeds cultivated on small farms, they hold hybrids in the same warm, world-saving embrace as open-pollinateds.
On our farm, we've been thinking a bit more about hybrid seeds lately, and wondering if we ought to nudge our way farther toward the open-pollinated purist end of the spectrum.
And, on another spectrum altogether we find genetically-modified seed, currently excluded from organic certification and the good lights of progressive gardeners all over the place. Currently, that is. GM seed is well beyond being the way of the future, it is the way of the present in large sectors of world agriculture. More on the great seed debates in a near-future post. Right now, it's time to get back to double-digging, lest those onion seedlings have no garden ground to grow in come spring