Rick loading seed-starter order.
Farmers have some of the most creative ideas of any business people I've been around. The ways of making money on a small farm runs the gamut from selling honey, jam, birdhouses, and other goods sourced from the farm. Until I heard of Summer Creek Farm, I'd never seen a farmer produce and sell seed starter mix.
I had seen SCF’s-Summer Creeks Farm's seed starter mix in my favorite natural grocery store but didn't think much about it. I thought seed starter mixes were pretty much all the same. What changed my mind was seeing a local PBS farm show that ran a short segment on Summer Creek Farm's seed starter mix.
This particular mix is made from environmentally-sourced products: many of which are waste from other products such as coconut coir. Rick Hood, the owner of Summer Creek Farm, has not only engineered a system for mixing and bagging his seed starter; he also is the mastermind behind the proprietary ingredients.
I was curious enough to make the hour and a half drive to Rick's farm on a late February day to see why gardeners and farmers should be interested in buying a premium seed starter mix. Rick was kind enough to meet with me and explain his products. Even though Rick sells a couple of other soil-less mixes for raised beds, outdoor pots, and one mix for indoor pots, I was mostly interested in the seed-starter mix.
Over the last two years, I've been starting over 150 plants, from seed, in my basement under grow lights. The seed starters I'd been using seemed adequate, but I wanted to see if I could get even better results.
Q and A
At Rick's farm, I learned enough to be sold on trying his seed starter. After my visit, I emailed Rick a few questions to dig deeper.
KJ: What inspired you to develop your own seed-starter mix?
Rick Hood: The Greenhouse that grew our plants for our vegetable farm went out of business. So you can say I started out of a necessity. We had to start growing our own starts. We took the recommendations of the previous grower and used what were the best mixes available. They did not perform well and required a lot of attention to watering. I knew in order to meet my schedules I had to spend less time watering.
The other organic mixes required us to water twice a day in a hot greenhouse. I set out to make an organic mix that would only need to be watered once a day. When I was done we had a mix that we could water every other day, even in a hot greenhouse. A mix that yielded larger root systems. While on the quest we decided we would make the mix the most sustainable possible and have it have a nutrient charge pre-loaded. This was all for our own use only. When we were done we had accomplished all our goals. We decided then to see if it was a product we could sell. Farmers liked it but it was costly, so we went back and reformulated again. We ended up with an even better product that cost less, was still sustainable, still needed to be watered only every other day and was cost competitive. Then we set out to improve our packaging and market the product
What is the main difference between your seed starter and others?
The main difference is the ingredients. Most soil mixes are peat based or contain peat. Ours is peat free. Our mix is coir based. Coir is a more sustainable product and holds moisture better than peat. Peat requires a wetting agent, which is either not organic, or if an organic one is used it has a limited shelf life. Coir uses its natural properties.
It is also Vermiculite Free and Perlite free, both of those require large amounts of energy to produce. We use other natural products that are actually gleaned from the Ag waste stream. Our mix is totally organic, but is it also far more sustainable than 99% of the mixes available.
A Comparison Study
I experimented this year and grew some of my tomatoes and beans with SCR’s mix and with Espoma's seed starter mix for comparison. I used SCF’s seed starter alone for all of my other veggies and flowers. When transplant time came in late April, I pulled the little tomato and bean plants out of their containers to put them into my raised beds and found a striking difference.
My beans grown in SCF's blend had more robust roots, and the plants were easier to remove from the seed starting trays. The Espoma-raised beans had more delicate roots and when removed from the seed trays sort of fell apart. Over the next few weeks, the beans started in Rick's blend grew healthier plants and produced beans quicker. I also noticed Rick's seed starter required less watering than the Espoma.
When a light frost came in early May, I covered all my newly transplanted beans and hoped for the best. The next few days showed the plants grown in the SCF’s mix did better than the Espoma plants. I was sold on the SCF blend.
Another Happy Customer
Later in spring, I was visiting One Straw Farm to see their operation. During my tour with Joan Norman, I noticed SCF's seed starter bags in their barn. Joan told me, "We've been using Summer Creek Farm's seed starter for several years now and get better results with it than the mix we were using previously." Joan also told me they had Rick make up a custom seed-starter blend just for One Straw Farm.
When I considered that SCF's seed starter was organic, used some waste products, contained environmentally-friendly products, and was sold locally, I was convinced this was my new seed starter. The results have been significantly better than the other seed starters I've used. My pole beans went crazy this year and grew over 12 feet high. My Blue Lake beans started producing in late May and provided me with two good harvests well into June. Both beans were grown in SCF’s seed starter.
It's always great to find a way to support a small organic farm, especially when the consumer, the environment, and seller win. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region and grow your own plants from seeds, consider giving SCF's products a try. If you live out of the area where SCF’s products are sold, it’s possible to call in your order and have it shipped. The Summer Creek Farm website lists locations where you can buy their products.
Kurt Jacobson has been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For this and other published stories, check out his travel blog, TasteofTravel2.com. Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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