Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hurray for Regional Seed Suppliers

Local Food Report
Things are slowly picking up on the local food scene. This week's visit to Three Rivers Market turned up lettuces from Hines Valley Farm in Loudon County, along with mushrooms from Brewer's Mushrooms in Sevier County. We also found an especially good selection of bread and other goodies from local bakeries. I am particularly fond of the herb flatbread made by Tellico Grains Bakery in Tellico Plains. We enjoyed it with olive oil and parmesan as an accompaniment to minestrone, had panini the next day, and turned the leftovers into croutons for a panzanella. It was delicious in all three recipes. Three Rivers also offers baked goods from Hogan's Bakery and The Bakery Lady, as well as a great selection of local and regional cheeses, eggs and dairy products. They also carry Benton's bacon and country ham, both of which are gourmet quality. Anyone who wants to enjoy local food should check out Three Rivers. I know there are other stores that carry great local products, and I plan to venture out and explore them as the season progresses. I will also be reporting regularly on local farmer's markets, which will be opening soon. I just happen to like shopping at Three Rivers, and it is convenient for me. Please make suggestions, using the comments section at the end of the post, for local food producers and vendors. I will make every effort to visit them and share my experiences here.

Regional Seed Suppliers
While I am on the topic of regional businesses, I want to remind area gardeners about our local seed suppliers.  Buying seeds locally not only supports the small businesses that make up the bulk of the economy, but it also guarantees you will have access to selections that have a reputation for success in our area. Most people do not realize how much variation in performance there can be between different cultivars of the same vegetable. For example, Brandywine tomatoes are delicious, but they are difficult to grow in the hot, humid Tennessee Valley. They do better in cooler conditions. On the other hand, Cherokee Purple, a tomato heirloom that originated here, does just fine and produces excellent crops, despite having less disease resistance than most modern hybrid tomatoes. When you are looking for varieties adapted to the special needs of Tennessee gardeners, always look first at local seed suppliers.

D. R. Mayo Seed Company has been in business in Knoxville since 1878, and they are still my favorite place to look for heirloom seeds and old-fashioned flowers. Their online garden seed catalog is not the most visually stunning I have ever seen, but it is packed with helpful information on all the seeds they carry. Besides vegetable and flower seeds, the company offers seeds for turf grass and field crops, such as alfalfa. I have been growing Mayo's generic leeks, celery, scallions and parsley for many years. If you are a fan of sweet corn or green beans, they have many varieties of each.

Knoxville Seed and Greenhouse Supply has a web site that is presently under construction. Located on Rutledge Pike east of downtown Knoxville, the company serves primarily commercial growers, but also welcomes walk-in retail customers. They are a great source for pots, cell trays, and growing mixes as well as seeds. They are one of the few places that still carries bamboo poles in various sizes for garden projects. I find they have a particularly large stock of organic pest control products at reasonable prices. When you visit, tell Rick (who is usually behind the sales counter) that I said "Hi!"

If you shop these two companies and still don't find everything you want for your food garden, also visit the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange web site. This mail order house has consistently provided quality seed, many organically grown, for two decades. Selections that perform well in the South make up the bulk of their offerings. I am trying two heat-tolerant lettuces from them this year, and will report on the results in a future post. They also carry perennial onions, also to be discussed in a future blog post. I particularly like their seed selections for cold-tolerant vegetables.

A great garden begins with the right seeds. Start your seed search with our locally-owned businesses. It's a win-win.

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