Dunton Family Farm News

What's Happening Around the Farm as well as a Soapbox for head farmer, Mike Dunton

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation . . .

Although intent of this blog is to convey information about the Victory Seed Company, our personal and work lives are nearly inseparable.  We quite literally live and breath the farm and preservation work that we do.  We would have it no other way. This means that from time to time, you’ll find a post, like this one, that is more personal in nature.

What I Did On My 2015 Summer “Vacation”

If you live on a farm, you know that it is generally very difficult to get away for any extended period of time.  Denise and I have been married for several decades, most of that time living here at the farm, and I can just about count on one hand the number of vacations we have taken that extended more than a few days.  Don’t get me wrong, we thoroughly believe in the restorative power of time away, but out of necessity, ours is usually taken in mini-vacations and day trips.

This summer we made the time to take a week-long trip with our youngest daughter.  It was an awesome trip for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it was great to travel and spend time with Denise and Hannah.  But as a hardcore “seed geek,” the destination was a very close second for me.

The 2015 Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout

Although we didn’t camp (we chose a nice, comfortable hotel room in beautiful and friendly Decorah, Iowa), we were able to spend many hours, spread over three days, on the campus / farm of the Seed Savers Exchange.  Being a longtime member, for me to finally make it out there to tour the facilities and fields was awesome. What a beautiful place and what great staff they have performing the day-to-day functions.  Additionally, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the organization.

The visit allowed me to meet up with folks that I have corresponded with over the years and to finally have the opportunity to put faces with names. One of the coolest things was to have the opportunity to visit with people who can be considered some of the “founding fathers and mothers” of the seed preservation movement. There were real seed preservation “rock stars” at the campout.  These folks, in no specific order, included Diane Ott Whealy (co-founder of SSE), Amy Goldman Fowler (philanthropist, preservationist, gardener, and accomplished author), Cary Fowler (work’s to protect the world’s food supply), Russ Crow (“THE” bean man), Pat Mooney (began working with Cary Fowler and Hope Shand in the ’70s on biodiversity and seed issues), and David Cavagnaro (seed preservationist, horticultural photographer, gardener, founder of The Pepperfield Project). There are many more but these are folks we got to visit with.

I have to share a quick story about an impressionable youth who had been a lifelong gardener and Mr. Cavagnaro. Back in the Fall of 1980, I was enrolled as a botany student in a university’s biology department colloquium series. The speaker that November 12th was David Cavagnaro and his presentation was entitled, “A Biologist’s View of the Garden.” That talk was one of the brief encounters that affected the course of my life’s path, and along with other influences, led me to the work that I do today. It was so cool to finally meet up with him again after nearly 35 years.

Denise and I also got the opportunity to spend time visiting with our good friends Sue and Craig LeHoullier. Living on opposite sides of the country, we rarely get to see each other and are limited to phone and email “visits.” It was so good to catch up and just spend time together. If you have spent much time on our website, especially if you are a tomato gardener, you should recognize his name by now. Along with being one of the major contributors to popularizing heirloom tomatoes and getting them into the mainstream over the past several decades, he is a gifted writer (his recent book “Epic Tomatoes” is an excellent read and reference tool). As an added bonus, we got to hear him deliver the keynote speech. I sure wish that I had his gift for public speaking.

Craig LeHoullier and Mike Dunton - 7/19/2015 - SSE Campout

Craig LeHoullier and Mike Dunton - 7/19/2015 - SSE Campout

We were only gone for a total of seven days in July, but it was an extremely activity packed and memorable time away from “real life.”

Quick Trip to Canada

Last month after we moved our youngest off to college, Denise and I decided to take a much needed, albeit short, road trip last month.  Since the Canadian border is only about a six hour drive from the farm, we decided to do some “international travel” and spend a couple of days exploring Vancouver, British Columbia.  It was a perfect trip with perfect weather and we both agreed that we need to go back in the future to spend more time there.

As a seed guy, even trips to big cities have some aspect involving plants, gardens, seeds and nature.  On the way up to B.C., we spent a day in Seattle “The Emerald City” taking in some sites that we have never been to.  We toured the EMP Museum (formerly known as the Experience Music Project), ate brunch at the top of the Space Needle, and took in the amazing sites at the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit.

If you are not familiar with the work of Dale Chihuly, you should check it out.  As I wandered through the exhibits, I daydreamed about how cool various sculptures would look in different gardens and beds back home on the farm.  Below are a few favorite photos.  The next morning we headed off to B.C.

Chihuly Garden (1) Chihuly Garden (3)
Chihuly Garden (2) Chihuly Garden (4)
Click Image For Larger View

 Before exploring the city of Vancouver, the first stop that we made was at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver (one that I would recommend and one I hope to revisit!).  It was huge, right in Vancouver, and very interesting and beautiful.  I took a lot of photos there as well!

Mike at the Tillinghast Seed Co. building, La Conner, Washington.

Mike at the Tillinghast Seed Co. building, La Conner, Washington.

In extreme contrast to our life on a farm in a hundred year old house that my Great-grandfather built, our accommodations in B.C. were a corner apartment, with floor to ceiling glass walls, on the 27th floor of a tower within walking distance to everything.  The views were spectacular and the change of scenery, from natural to man-made, was appreciated.  I even found some cool seeds, open-pollinated varieties of course, in a shop in the city’s China Town District.

On the way back home to the farm, we made a (long) detour from the interstate and visited the site of the first mail order seed company in the state of Washington, if not the Pacific Northwest.

As a seed preservationist and horticultural historian, I spend a lot of time collecting and studying old seed catalogs.  They are invaluable tools for researching the histories and pedigrees of the plant varieties that we are actively working to protect.

If you look at most older seed catalogs, and even some modern ones like ours, it is common to find an introduction near the front of the volume that is often quite personal, detailed and a window not only into the life of the company and the people associated with them, but a glimpse into the times as well.  They are like the “olden day” equivalent of a blog post or that letter some folks include in their Christmas cards every year.  So as a byproduct of researching plant variety origins, I have become somewhat intimate with the histories of the companies and seedsmen that bred and introduced old plant varieties.

The Tillinghast Seed Company is an example of how a collection of old seed catalogs led to a better understanding of the company and its influence on the seed trade in the Pacific Northwest.  Time permitting, this is also the kind of information that I try and share.  You can find a link to a history of the Tillinghast Seed Company here.

Those are our vacation highlights from this summer.  Now it is time for us to buckle down, get the harvest cleaned, tested and packaged, and the catalog and website ready for the new year ahead.  I hope that your summer was also enjoyable, that you had time to get away from your day to day life and to explore some part of this awesome planet we live on, and that your harvest was bountiful.

We look forward to your support of our seed variety preservation work with your orders and to be of service to you in the 2016 garden season!

posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Harvest in a Hurry

As nearly everyone around the United States will attest, it has been a very odd year weatherwise.  The week before last I was lamenting the early arrival of cool, wet, Fall weather and then this week we were setting record high temperatures.  But judging from the forecasts, it looks like our hot days are now behind us and wet weather is returning.

This creates many challenges when attempting to harvest the seeds that you all are counting on for your gardens next spring (and that we count on to support our continued seed variety preservation work).  The optimist in me is thankful that we are looking at impending periods of showers and not freezing temps.  We can put on rain and mud gear and continue our work . . . it is just not very fun.

All of this aside, we have all hands busily doing the harvest dance.  John is out in the field picking and documenting, the main part of the crew is squeezing tomatoes into containers to ferment, and I am trying to keep up with the washing, drying, and preparing the seeds for storage in preparation of germination testing and getting them ready for packaging.  And that is jut the tomato seed harvest.  Everything else is being picked and hauled into buildings and put on screens to finish drying.  It is always an exciting time bustling with activity.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

I have posted several more harvest related photos on our Facebook page - Click Here. Folks at most other seed companies probably will find it funny how we do everything by hand.  Yes it is expensive and laborious.  But it is the only way that I can come up with to maintain our quality standards and maintain so many diverse varieties.  If folks think it is silly that we toil manually, I look at it this way, I do not have to pay for a health club membership and I think of the product we produce as something akin to a craft beer or a limited edition,, reserve or boutique wine. :)   Small batches, all by hand.

My break is over, the sun is finally breaking through the clouds, and it is time to get back out and wash tomato seeds for several more hours!


posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

What Happened to July!

Time is flying around here these days.  And probably where you are too.  But what else is new, right?

The gardens are growing nicely and looking healthy.  The main crops are nearly at their peak and starting to mature.  Our Fall / Winter garden plantings are up and taking off.  With most of the hard work in the gardens all caught up (installing supports and trellises, drip irrigation lines, planting, etc.), we have been able to start working on annual maintenance and construction projects.

If you have been with us for some time, you know that our seedhouse project has been progressing over the years, in stages, as we can afford it.  This past week, another little piece was completed.  We finished work on pouring a concrete slab in front of the receiving doors. This will make unloading trucks so much easier.  Since the job required some excavation, I used that gravel to form up a little, but much needed, parking area.  Little things like this make it more efficient and tidier around here.

The hay crew showed up this morning and started mowing.  With the very odd start to the season this year (wet then hot then wet then hot . . .), this is only the second time in the 25 years that I have been operating the farm that we got a second cutting of hay off of the fields!

This is just a quick update to let you know what has been going on around the farm.  From all of us at the Victory Seed Company, we hope that you are having a great summer.




posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Summer is Here . . . Time to Plant a Fall Garden!!!

Summer is finally here and you know what that means?  It is now time to plan and start getting our fall and winter gardens planted!

This can be a bit confusing to a new gardener.  After all, don’t you plant a summer garden in the summer?  Well, no.  You did that back in the early spring.  The way to look at it is that your garden is labeled by the season in which you harvest.  So you are now likely enjoying the fruits of your springtime work from your summer garden.

Folks living in very harsh climates (say high in the Rockies, the high desert, or the far North) can’t expect to raise much out in the bare, exposed soil in January.  But with some well made seed choices combined with various combinations of physical protection like cloches, row covers and hoop houses, you may be surprised at what fresh produce you are able to enjoy this winter.  For people in milder climates, the sky is the limit.  Bottom line is, you won’t know what is possible until you start trying.

I am the first to admit that I have been pretty lax about my personal winter gardening efforts over the past few years.  As a seed farm, we end up working really hard to get the harvest done from late summer well into the fall.  This often is happening with the added stress of racing against threatening weather.  It is all we can do to finish, get the gardens cleaned up, compost piles built, all of the posts, trellises and tomato cages put away, the ground tilled, and cover crops planted.  It then takes weeks to months to get all of the seed harvest cleaned, tested and readied for sale.  This not only takes most of our time, it leaves us pretty burnt out.  After a spring and summer of gardening, I am sure that you know what I mean.

However, the reality is that fall gardening requires much less effort than in the early spring.  The ground is already cultivated and usually just waiting for seeds.  The larger areas that we don’t plan on using over the winter are tilled and planted in a green manure cover crop

Like many of you, we are very interested in controlling what we are putting into our bodies.  We enjoy eating fresh produce, but don’t buy the stuff that has been shipped from parts unknown.  The only real answer is to keep our gardens as productive as possible, all year round.

To give folks a starting point, we have been working on improving a newly created educational resource site.  I am organizing the information by region starting with the United States.  You can see what I have assembled so far by visiting www.WebGrower.com.  If you find broken links or have suggestions for your areas, please shoot me an email.

Something else that we decided to do was to resume a practice that many of the 19th and early 20th Century seed houses did . . . publish a Fall Garden Catalog.  You can download a copy of it at http://www.vintageveggies.com/catalog_req.html.  To help select suitable varieties, a new category section can be found at http://www.victoryseeds.com/fall-garden-seeds.html.


New Web Site Feature
Victory Points™ ProgramGet Rewarded When You Shop! Click here for more info on how to be rewarded for your support!I am kind of excited about this announcement.  Victory Points™ are a way for us to thank and reward those of you who choose to partner with us by supporting our seed variety preservation work and using our Victory Seeds® in your gardens.  This is something that I have wanted to do for a very long time and finally got it off of my “to do” list!There is nothing special that you need to do to join or enroll or subscribe.  Simply log into your customer account every time you shop and automatically earn Victory Points™.

Shop like you
always do.
Automatically earn
one Victory Point™
for every
$1 you spend.
Redeem your points
for future

For all of you who are just getting to know us, and as a reminder to our longtime supporters, if you are interested in keeping closer tabs on what is going on around here at the Victory Seed Company, check out our Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube channel, Pinterest board, and our blog. Please join in the conversations. More information about these opportunities is located on our web site and at the end of this newsletter.

Until next time, gardening success to you,


posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Click for Heirloom Tomato Seed Selection Save Seeds - Victory Horticultural Library matersearch.com - online tomato resources