Sourcing Plant Starts Locally

I am not a farmer. I’m not even much of a gardener. My skills relate to hiring smart people and then agreeing with their ideas, which is how I come to have any sort of garden at all. But for the last few years, water has been in short supply in California. The combination of drought on the land and a certain hollowness in my wallet has left me with many weeds. There’s one little spot, though, that I reserve every year for tomatoes.

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Tomato seedlings from Weiss Brothers Nursery in Grass Valley.

Even though I shop at one of our four local farmers’ markets for my summer produce, I still grow my own tomatoes. After experimenting for a few years, I only grow cherry tomatoes — they’re easy, don’t seem to have any diseases (at least at my house), and can be eaten straight off the vine. Plus, they’re so beautiful!

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A propagating greenhouse at Weiss Brothers Nursery’s 42-year-old local farm. During planting season, deliveries are made to the nursery three times a day to restock. This farm produces 50,000 seedlings annually.

I get my plant starts from one local nursery and several small farms in the area. I know these seeds have been organically … … grown (with or without certification), which matters to me, and that the varieties will work at my altitude (2500 feet) and for my climate (Zone 7). The carbon footprint is low because they’re only traveling a few miles from the greenhouses to my yard.

One of the Soil Sisters is the daughter of a close friend, so I’ve supported them since they began, five years ago. Their starts, sold over two weekends every year at a local café, always do well for me.

I love watching seeds sprout and the leaves unfold — and the way the seed’s shell sometimes stays on the leaf while it grows, as in the photo below — but I don’t have anywhere near the patience to do this myself.

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Two pale brown melon seed casings still clinging to the tops of the leaves. Weiss Brothers Nursery gets their seeds from Modena, a 70-year-old family-operated company in San Francisco.

In addition to tomatoes, I like to grow zinnias and spider flowers (an old fashioned New England annual), and sometimes sunflowers where I can see them out my kitchen window. Soil Sisters Farm grows mostly flowers. Besides selling plant starts they do the arrangements for weddings and have a flower CSA membership during the summer months.

I have no idea what these are, but they’re cute.

Most years I manage to eat all my cherry tomatoes fresh with no trouble, but occasionally I’ll roast some for a few hours over low heat and either can them as sauce or preserve them in olive oil. Their sugar caramelizes and lends an incredible depth of flavor to the result.

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This year I’m going to grow Sweet 100, Sun Sugar, Black Cherry, Yellow Pear, an old German heirloom called Gardener’s Delight, and a new kind Weiss Brothers is offering: Chocolate Cherry. Are you growing anything this season? Where do you get your starts?

Don’t be fooled…these aren’t cherry tomatoes, they’re some full-sized heirlooms I was experimenting with last year. But you get the idea: beauty, uniformity, jars, tomatoes.

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Photos by Heidi LeVell of Barn Owl Vintage, Emil Baldoni, Molly Fisk


10 thoughts on “Sourcing Plant Starts Locally

  1. Hi Molly – Great pics! We get our starts from Green Acres which doesn’t sell any GMOs. My gardener hubby has started a lot of pepper seedlings, too. Gardening is the activity that brings us the most joy – and reading great blogs like yours, too!

  2. For a while I propagated plants from cuttings. I took classes from Carolyn Springer and I love them. I would take my tray of 50 cuttings home and then tend them and talk to them about how beautiful they were, I wish I would had told them how lucky I was to have them. I wish I would have tended them more tenderly. Loved doing it and I loved learning as much as I did in the class.

    1. I took some of those classes from Carolyn too, Ruth, I wonder if we were in them together and didn’t know each other then! My two Nevada City gardens have been full of her plants. Miss that nursery like crazy.

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