Maine Seed Business Grows in January

BETWEEN January and mid-April - often the coldest, most blustery, dormant months of the year in New England - Johnny's Selected Seeds swells from 35 employees to 75.

The extra employees at this seed company in Albion, Maine, are needed to process orders as people from all across the United States choose from the company's mail-order catalog which vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs to plant in their gardens.

"This is when everybody's placing their seed orders," says Marylee Johnson, customer service manager for Johnny's Selected Seeds.

But although this is the busiest time, the most important months are from April to November, when new seed varieties are tested on seven acres of trial beds. In the photo above, Johnny's president Rob Johnston (left) and an assistant examine a trial field of lettuce.

Researchers evaluate vegetables and other plants for taste, tolerance to insects and weather, and other factors. Most seeds are tested a minimum of three years. Johnny's also produces its own seeds on more than 30 acres.

This year customers can select new varieties of vegetables ranging from a crispy, fruity strain of purple kohlrabi to a tender "sugary enhanced" sweet corn.

According to Ms. Johnson, the company is different from many other seed companies because it "trials" all the seed it sells. "As far as seed companies that distribute to the home gardener, nobody else goes to quite the extent with research that we do here," she says.

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