Regionally adapted seeds are great. We live in a region with drastic shifts in temperature and precipitation. Whereas I grew up in a region where one could get accurate weather predictions for at least a week out, our weather is sometimes only predictable for a day or two (or less). Some varieties which did great in the moderate climate where I grew up just can’t hack it here. Coming to Oklahoma intensified my interest in regional adaptation, though, it’s probably always a good thing.
So how does a person get regionally adapted seed?
First, we need to understand that this has to do with the genetics of a plant.
Either a plant has the genetics to do well in a given environment, or it does not. For instance, I’ve grown Tomato Rocky, here in our blast furnace summers, for 15 years. This tomato simply doesn’t have the genetics for our heat. No amount of growing it out will change that. (Instead, I plant in late spring for a fall crop, when it is cool.) On the other hand, Sioux is a tomato which was developed in Nebraska. Who’d have guessed that it would be a superstar in hot Southern gardens?! Yet Sioux has the genetics for the necessary characteristics.
Secondly, how adaptation expressed is affected, in some way, by where the seed is produced.
The very same seed, when grown and reproduced in my garden tends to do a bit better in succeeding generations. Why is this so? I’m not positive. Selection can play a part in it, but the honest truth is that many times gardeners observe this phenomenon yet while growing and saving seed from small populations of plants and without severe selection. They simply grow the variety and harvest the seed. After a couple of years, it grows better! In some cases I suspect it’s because the gardener gets better acquainted with the variety. But in other cases it does seem that seed has, in some manner… adapted. Ideally, I’d like to find seed with the correct genetics, which was grown under my conditions.
Many seed companies purchase seed from a few centralized producers, so buying seed from a seed company in your area does not guarantee that the seed was produced in your area.
So, how can get I seed which is well adapted for my growing conditions?
- Find out what grows well in your area. Ask other gardeners, especially seed savers.
- Start with the right genetics. Research and experiment. Try a number of varieties, if nothing promising has been suggested. Some varieties will have qualities no one has written about.
- Grow a lot of plants and select seed only from the ones which do best for you.
- Repeat: keep growing, selecting and saving from what does best for you. There is great value in this process.
Don’t rule out using seed companies which don’t talk much about regionally adapted seeds.
I once had a great conversation about this ,with Mike Dunton, who owns and operates Victory Seeds. His focus is on finding, recovering and maintaining really good historical varieties. He’s after the genetics. Keep in mind, that Mike produces a lot of his own seed. Not many seed companies do this, these days. He also has partnered with New Hope Seeds, in Tennessee. By doing this Victory Seeds can supply excellent quality seed which has excellent genetics and, in some cases, is suited for special climates. Companies like this are a great place to begin looking for … just the right seed.