Thursday, December 23, 2010

Worm Power is ready to go…

We have busted our butts this fall to get our new OMRI approved earthworm fertilizer ready for shipment for the first of January. Although it was an uphill battle at times, the effort has been more than worth it. All sizes are now on the shelf and ready for shipment.

The Harris Seeds company has been very fortunate to work with a group as innovative and forward-thinking as the team at Worm Power. We are even more fortunate to be participating on the ground floor of Worm Power’s introduction to the national marketplace. We believe that home gardeners, professional bedding plant growers, and professional vegetable growers will find this product to be exceptional for plant growth and vigor. Conventional growers can use it as an alternative to conventional synthetic fertilizers, while organic growers will find Worm Power to be a highly effective component of their plant care system.

Greenhouse growers and vegetable growers alike are seeking sustainability in their operations, and they are widely using Worm Power as a high performing seed-starting and transplant fertilizer. University laboratory research has also proved that Worm Power is effective in suppressing Pythium “damping off” in cucumber. Ongoing research is exploring these natural disease-suppressive properties further, and we are truly excited to see the results.

Surveys tell us that most home gardeners prefer to use organic methods, and Worm Power is a perfect fit. It is odorless and certified organic, looks and feels like ground coffee, and is safe to use around kids and pets. Worm Power may be used on indoor house plants, in potting mixes, for transplanting, and for general application in containers and garden beds.


When all is said and done, Worm Power not only produces stronger, healthier, organically grown flowers and vegetables, but it also ultimately improves your soil. University tested and grower approved, Worm Power is a truly exciting introduction for growers and gardeners nationwide.

We encourage you to try Worm Power this season…we think you’ll be impressed!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Harris Seeds Professional Vegetable & Cut Flower Growers’ Catalog

Three down and one to go…this is our busy season in marketing as we have a relatively short window to complete 4 Harris Seeds catalogs. We just finished our 2011 Professional Vegetable & Cut Flower Growers’ Catalog, and to be honest, we think it may be our very best. We hope you do as well. Here is why:


  • We have added over 50 new varieties to our 2011 catalog. You will want to take a close look at 5 new augmented supersweets from the Abbott & Cobb plant breeders. We believe these new augmented shrunkens put the whole package together for our customers. Eating quality is absolutely superb. For those growers that prefer the se types, do not pass up two new synergistic se varieties from the Mesa Maize plant breeders.
  • Vanguard, a new hybrid green to red bell pepper from Harris Moran, was very impressive in our trials. Big size and yields with a great disease package. The plant breeders at Harris Moran have also established themselves as market leaders with a terrific fresh market bean, pepper, pumpkin, squash and tomato program.
  • Organic and sustainable growers will be pleased to know that our offerings of high quality seeds for this marketplace have grown again this year.
  • Perhaps the single most exciting product in our new catalog for this upcoming season is Worm Power. It is an OMRI approved organic solution for your plants and soil. University tests have determined that it is the very best product available, and for good reason. Watch for it or for more information, e-mail us at: growers@harrisseeds.com
The Harris Seeds Professional Vegetable & Cut Growers Catalog will be in the mail on November 8th. If you would like a free copy, call us toll-free 800-544-7938 or request one on our web site… www.harrisseeds.com.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mr. Mini Mirai wins hands down!

We have completed our product launch of Mr. Mini Mirai in the Rochester area. We sampled 500 cooked ears with consumers at the Rochester Public Market and mailed a dozen ears to 50 of our e-mail subscribers to sample at their dinner table.


The Public Market…everyone that stopped by at our booth to try this wonderful and unique supersweet raved about its quality. Time and time again we heard the taste testers say that it was the very best sweet corn they have ever consumed. We kind of expected that response but it was good to hear the taste testers confirm what we actually believe.


Mr. Mini Mirai by mailorder…the response from these folks was much the same. Most of these taste testers ranked this variety as a 9 or 10, with 10 being the very best. We were concerned that this ear size might be too small for families, but most everyone preferred the smaller ear as it fits on the plate.
Mr. Mini Mirai has a place in the marketplace. Growers and home gardeners should strongly consider making this variety part of their production plans for next season.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Give us feedback on your growing experiences!


We are most anxious to hear about what’s up (or ripe) in your garden or on your farm. Both growers and home gardeners are finding Harris Seeds varieties are rapidly becoming favorites for the family table or at the farm market.

Just recently we received photos and a letter from a grower in the Northeast who said that Primo Red is the finest fresh market tomato he has ever grown. It has great size, earliness and wonderful eating quality. Not all new tomato hybrids can boast of the same.

If any of you folks out there have some information and photos to share with us, please send them along. With your permission, we might publish some of these testimonials in our catalogs or newsletters.
If you can send them via e-mail at: growers@harrisseeds.com.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s one great corn!

Our Mr. Mini Mirai sweet corn variety is really taking off in Rochester. A local wholesale distributor, Giambrone Foods, is featuring it in his August promotions as the very best sweet corn variety available today. He has placed it with the finest private golf courses and restaurants in the area and the patrons and chefs are raving about the quality of Mr. Mini Mirai. They love it because it also fits on a serving plate.

Harris Seeds was at the Rochester Public Market on Saturday, August 21st from 11AM to 1 PM offering free taste tests to the visitors at the market. During the taste tests, we heard nothing but praise for the eating quality of Mr. Mini Mirai. We also had 50 households sign up to receive a free sample in the mail to test on their dinner tables. We will be publishing more information on what we learn from this new sweet corn product launch, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Those wonderful farmers’ markets!

For the folks that live in the northern tier of the country, farmers’ markets are about at peak with product offerings. August is a big month for all kinds of vegetables, cut flowers and a host of other related products – all found at farmers’ markets. These markets are growing in the USA at an unprecedented rate, and there seems to be no stopping this phenomenal expansion.

We try to get out and visit as many local markets as possible, but for the few that we can encounter, there are thousands more across the country that we will not. This is where you can help us. If you have a favorite local farmers’ market that you frequent on a regular basis, we would like to hear your story. Please take some photos and tell us what your farmers’ market is all about. We would like to use these stories in future newsletters and in our catalogs as well. If you have something you would like to share with us, please contact us at growers@harrisseeds.com.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Superman sweet corn…

I have been working with an old friend and co-worker of mine from way back in the 80s. His name is Dr. David McKenzie and he is the plant breeder responsible for the introduction of the line of Mirai sweet corn varieties. Mirai translates to “taste of the future” in Japanese.

Of the many successful Mirai varieties he has introduced comes a truly unique one…we call it Mr. Mini Mirai. We also consider it to be true “gourmet sweet corn” and let me tell you why:

  • It is a yellow supersweet variety that has exceptional sweet flavor and tenderness like no others in its class. The ear is only 5&1/2 to 6” long and has generated a lot of interest from restaurants because it fits on a plate.
  • We had several boxes shipped to us from California last week. We have been giving samples out to restaurants and growers in the surrounding Rochester area. I can honestly tell you that everyone who has tried it raved about its eating quality.
  • We have had this variety stored in our cooler for 10 days now from the time it was first picked. I sampled one this morning by eating it raw, which is the only way to determine quality sweet corn. The kernels had not dented at all and the sweetness and tenderness remained excellent. Wow, does this variety have staying power.
I will be looking for any 12 of you folks who would be willing to have a free sample of this variety shipped to you for a taste test for us. The only requirement we would ask of you would be to supply us with an honest written opinion of the results of your taste test. If you truly love its quality (which I can guarantee), then a digital photo, along with your opinion would be nice. If you are interested in taste-testing Mr. Mini Mirai, please contact us at: growers@harrisseeds.com.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Staying busy but mighty poor…

Most seed companies slow down to a very slow pace this time of year, and cash flow dries up. From now until December, these companies, including Harris Seeds, lose a fair amount of money, as customer purchases come to a sudden halt. We are much like the spring garden center business, having to depend on a few months out of the year for generating profits. Our season begins about January 1st and ends as of June.

As the sales season ends, the catalog and marketing season begins. The marketing department will spend many nights and weekends from now through the fall working on catalog and a host of other business related tasks.
We have been trying to solve the off season sales drought by entertaining new sales and marketing programs. If you have any ideas to share with us, please let us hear from you… we are all ears. Write us at growers@harrisseeds.com.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The End and the Beginning

As our sales season winds down, the catalog and marketing season begins. We recently e-mailed a survey to our home garden newsletter subscribers and the results were fantastic. We had well over 2000 responses, and they were packed with ideas for making Harris Seeds a better business for our customers.

We plan to sit down this Thursday and discuss our findings with the good folks that work in our marketing department. It should be a lot of fun, and very helpful, to say the least.

Next year’s catalogs are now in the early production stages. We begin with our Professional Growers’ Flower Seed and Plug & Liner Catalogs. We then move on to our Professional Growers’ Vegetable Seed Catalog, and end up in the fall with the production of our Home Garden Catalog. That’s over 500 pages of catalog production, and I can tell you from experience, it is a very demanding time for the marketing folks. We shall not be without things to do this summer!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A trend or a lifestyle?

It is quite difficult to have a day pass in our lives without bumping into something organic. The “green culture” surrounds us on a daily basis from food consumables to recyclables to social habits and practices. Although the hula-hoop was in and out of our lives years back, this direction towards organic lifestyles is here to stay.
A few weeks ago, we surveyed our home garden newsletter subscribers to find out what types of products they might be interested in going forward. Much to my surprise was the fact that over 60% of the 2500 responses are organic gardeners. I would never have guessed that.

The general public is much more aware and better educated about the quality of the food that they put on the family table. The public is also keenly aware of lifestyle logistics that make the earth a better place to live. That’s a good thing…saving Mother Earth!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gifts from the Garden!

Within days I will be harvesting home grown radishes from my garden, and salad greens will follow thereafter. Everything has been planted, and my transplanted sweet corn is also doing well. My garden peas are half grown and before long they will be on my dinner table too.

In my ornamental beds I had a few surprises. I planted some cutting snapdragons in a full sun bed out behind my home and to my surprise, they all over-wintered. They are now about two feet tall and are loaded with blooms. I had some dwarf snapdragons in front of my house last year, and they also over-wintered and are in full bloom already, and have been since June 1st.

Dusty Miller is another plant that is commonly sold as an annual, but mine made it through the winter and the plants have bushed out nicely so early in the season.
One of my favorite flowers for cutting is the peony. It ranks right up there with gladiolus. The booms are very striking and quite fragrant. Too bad they don’t last longer.
As late spring progresses and summer about to begin, we all shall have many gifts from the garden to make our lives just splendid.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If you are ever in Rochester…

After two long years of searching for a new office and warehouse in Rochester, we decided to buy the building that we are currently in. We closed on it just last month, and all of us here are extremely happy we do not have to move and deal with nasty business interruptions.

We have expanded our flower trial areas with 8 new raised beds, and we are dedicating two of these beds to sustainable and organic production techniques. We are making every effort to make our grounds a showpiece for landscaping considerations.

It is necessary to put up fencing, as the deer will feed on our vegetables and flowers routinely. A great deal of time and effort goes into the testing of new varieties, and we hate to see it all destroyed by those critters that roam the landscape at night. We will be testing some deer repellants as well to ensure they will work.

If there are any of our customers that would like to have a tour of our facility when they are in town, give us a call ahead of time and we would be happy to accommodate you. We are an official All American Selections Trial Site, and this is where we get a first look at any new entries for flowers and vegetables.

We have lots of planting yet to do outside in our garden beds, but when summer rolls around, it will be all worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

You can’t break ‘em…

I have just finished reading a letter from a grower in Tennessee, and folks it was a sad one indeed. Mother Nature has been up to it again, as the Cumberland River had risen to such high levels that it caused untold destruction to the folks that live near its river bank. This sad story is about a family that raises crops and livestock for their livelihood. Flood waters consumed their home and outbuildings. Barns and hoop houses were washed away and out of sight. A good share of their livestock was lost to the flood waters, and the crops in the fields were nowhere to be found.

In the end, this grower was not sure what the next step for her would be, but assured us that she and her husband would move forward and replant, never to give up.



As sad as this story is, I truly admire their spirit and inner strength. This is not a unique story, as Mother Nature has a way of repeating the process over and over again. What is truly unique in my mind is the resilience and fortitude that makes this family one that all Americans can be proud of…they don’t give up. They have uncompromising work ethics, and they tell the story of the farmer in this country, since our very beginning, who becomes a role model for all of us. Too sad this integrity is not universal.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grow Tunnels are coming!

Grow tunnels seem to be the rage today, and for good reason. They are wonderful products that allow vegetable, small fruit and cut flower growers to extend their selling season and their level of profitability. For the most part, early and later season crops will bring a better price at the market, due to timing and weather conditions. By example, pepper and tomato crops can extend well into the fall, when all other field picked crops have expired.

In the immediate future, we will be launching a series of grow tunnels for our customers’ consideration. They will be extremely well-made grow tunnels and will be offered at very competitive pricing.

For those growers that do not have experience with grow tunnels, we will provide customer support by suggesting varieties and techniques to help make them successful. It is our intension to provide all the necessary support, from beginning to end, to make these season extenders a profitable enterprise for our customers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The things we can and cannot control…

We go through a rather laborious process with ordering seed for the following year. We use sales history to forecast how much seed we need to order for our customers. Many of our suppliers will sell completely out of many varieties they produce in any given year. This situation creates a rather undesirable process where we have to wait for the new seed to be harvested, conditioned and packaged in the fall. Many times new seed does not arrive at our company until well into January and February. Not only is this an inconvenience for our customers, it creates costly back orders for our company. One year our back order shipping expenses cost us nearly $200,000, and we do not charge customers for back order shipments. We do everything we possibly can to prevent this, but more often than not, it is out of our control.

The things we can control are such things as ensuring our customers always receive courteous and friendly service in the call centers, top quality products, a customer friendly web site, and expedient packaging and shipping. We also guarantee that when our customers speak with our product specialists, they will receive helpful and useful information.

We work very hard at this to ensure that every customer’s shopping experience with our company is a good one!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We like who we are… Family Owned!!

There have been comments by some consumers that large, multi-national corporations have gobbled up the small family owned agricultural companies in America. Big business has taken agricultural products into the science lab, resulting in many genetically modified plants… frequently improving production, disease resistance, and creating other benefits. This is much more common in the field crop business, such as soy beans and field corn, and is not nearly as common in the fresh market vegetable marketplace… at least not yet.

Our company, just like it was throughout the 20th century, is a family owned business. The family principles that made Harris Seeds a market-leader over the years remain in place today.

Harris Seeds is owned by the Dickes family of Illinois. Our Chairman, Byram Dickes, grew up on a family farm in Indiana and he understands what it takes to make a good agricultural company tick.

We believe that a family owned business has distinct advantages, as we stay connected and focused with our customers… those good folks that are responsible for making our company successful.

We like being family owned, and we expect to compete effectively against those organizations owned by the large, corporate giants.


We are Harris Seeds… a grower friendly company!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Be Vigilant!!!

Late blight was devastating in the northern part of the USA last year. For the professional tomato and potato growers, many times it caused complete loss of crop and income. That’s sad.

This photograph of late blight on tomato plant was taken by Dr. Meg McGrath, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University.

For more information about late blight, check out the following link from the New York State Cooperative Extension at Cornell University:
http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/factsheets/Potato_LateBlt.htm
For the home gardener, it came in on diseased plants shipped from the South and wiped out most tomato production in gardens in the Northeast. For most hobby gardeners, they would find it difficult to be able to assess this nasty disease. The most effective means of controlling late bight is to pull and destroy infected plants before the disease spreads, and it will quickly. There are also biological controls available, and we recommend that home gardeners go online and search for the topic for more preventative information.

There were a bunch of new gardeners last season that came into the marketplace, and unfortunately, their conclusion for the loss of tomato plants may have been the lack of a green thumb, and this was not the case. It is a sad event when families anticipate their very first, home grown tomatoes, only to realize that their plants have died in only a day or so.

Be vigilant!!! Go online and learn all you can about late blight.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Only in Texas!

I visited my brother and sister a few weeks ago in South Texas. It is always nice to get away during the winter months. While I was there, my brother and I traveled from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande Valley to a small farm town called Carrizo Springs. It was a three hour ride through some very desolate territory.

Our mission was to visit our good friend Bruce Frasier. Bruce is the 5th largest cantaloupe grower in the country, and the very largest grower of onion transplants in the USA.

He was kind enough to tour my brother and me through his onion fields. Needless to say, we were extremely impressed with his 400 acres of onion transplants…that’s right, I said 400 acres, and that is a lot of plants. The fields were squeaky clean, and the onion transplants were of superior quality, with many of them being harvested while we were there.

All of these transplants are harvested by hand, and it was quite surprising to witness such an efficient operation. The entire farm is over 2500 acres of vegetable production, and that was impressive.

Bruce grows and supplies our onion transplants that are found in our catalogs. Transplants are direct shipped to customers around the USA. We are confident that these transplants are the very best in the country.

And by nature, those Texas folks are tremendous hosts. We enjoyed a tasty beef dinner on Bruce’s patio that evening. Texas is surely a special place.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Organic Leadership

With the addition of many new organic and untreated vegetable seed varieties to our catalog this past season, we thought it would make sense to find an individual that could head up this ever growing department. We were very fortunate.

Last year, a young lady from Iowa came to our area and went to work in our call center. She was wonderful with customers. We soon learned she was an integral part of a successful sustainable vegetable growing operation for many years in Iowa. Her knowledge of organic production and varieties was very impressive. Needless to say, she soon became a part of our marketing department.

Her name is Solveig Hanson, and we are delighted to have her on our team. She has been immersed in plug and liner customer service duties all season, but as soon as the activity comes to an end, she will take over her new role as manager of the organic and untreated seed department.

Sometime this summer she will publish her first newsletter dedicated to the needs of organic and sustainable growers. It will be full of helpful tips and information. Please watch for it.

In addition, she will fill a leadership role in finding new organic and untreated vegetable varieties to add to our product line. Her knowledge of the marketplace will be invaluable.

The Harris Seeds Company is committed to supporting the organic marketplace and we believe Solveig is just the person to get the job done…welcome Solveig!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ornamental Marketplace

I believe greenhouse bedding plant growers and garden center proprietors were in a bit of a panic mode last year, as the sagging economy seemed to loom disastrous for the upcoming ornament season. Much to everyone’s surprise, last year the consumer spent more on ornamentals than most expected. It was not a total loss.

This year so far seems to look quite positive. We gauge our opinion on the type of products ordered by our customers. Ornamental flower seed is running ahead of last year. This tells me that growers are trying to be a little more aggressive with greenhouse plant production. Our plug & liner business is running ahead nicely as well, and that seems quite positive too.

We as a company tend to specialize with the mid size to smaller ornamental grower. Most of our customers are growers and direct retailers. From the products being ordered this season, I think this spring is going to be a good one for those that sell direct to the consumer. For the bigger wholesale grower who is forced to deal with the big boxes, the jury is still out.

I believe the smaller direct retailer can do much more for the consumer than the big boxes. First of all, the level of expertise and technical support will always be greater. The smaller direct retailer also can provide more unique products, as the big boxes do not vary much from the tried and true; those products they know will have a following.

The smaller direct grower can and should have a closer relationship with their customers, making the buying experience one of total satisfaction. I believe the knowledgeable gardener looks to the standalone garden center for quality products and expert advice. That’s a leg up in my opinion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hats off to our friend Ted

Back in my early years with the Harris Seeds Company, I was the catalog and advertising manager. With a whole bunch of motivation and inspiration as the result of my new position in the seed business, with camera in hand, I would often venture out to the fields for flower and vegetable photo sessions. During most of those summer weekends, I would routinely encounter Ted Superak, one of the most prolific plant breeders our company has ever known. Ted worked tirelessly in his workshop and in vegetable trials, from dawn to dusk. Dedication like his was not common elsewhere, but the fruits of his labor have filled the Harris catalog with many new varieties over his tenure as plant breeding specialist.


Multipik, Superpik and Supersett summer squashes, as well as many zucchini types, are evidence of his fine work. Carnival, Royal Ace and Flying Saucer are additional squash varieties that he has introduced.

Perhaps his greatest single accomplishment up until now has been his outstanding work with pumpkin breeding. Through his plant breeding efforts, Ted had single handedly made the Harris pumpkin program the most successful in the world. He has been responsible for introducing the very first line-up of powdery mildew tolerant hybrid pumpkins to grower across the land. Magic Lantern, Gladiator, Mystic plus and many, many more can be credited to our friend Ted.

Ted is a very unassuming and humble man, with the type of integrity that has made the seed business what it is today. We need more men and women like Ted.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Proactive… not reactive… makes sense!

Diane Eggert, president of the Farmers' Market Federation of New York, is the point person for a recently submitted grant on food safety and food handling. The Harris Seeds Company will be supporting the process and will have an employee from our company joining the committee that will guide the direction of this program. In addition to Cornell University that has been at the educational forefront of this project, committee members will include direct market farmers, food safety inspectors, health department officials, and other industry associates.

Food borne illnesses associated with vegetable production can be devastating to agriculture. If such illnesses were to occur to the local direct vegetable marketers in New York, or any other state for that matter, the financial losses would be staggering. Consumer confidence in the grow local…sell fresh phenomenon that is sweeping the nation could come to a sudden halt, driving customers back to the chain stores in peak selling seasons. Being proactive and not reactive at this point makes perfectly good sense.

If this grant gets awarded this summer, The Food Safety Prevention for Farm Direct Marketing Project will study the project in depth and eventually bring these issues to direct marketers across the state with the assistance of Cooperative Extension. This process will ensure that direct market growers will deliver quality food that is safe for the consumer. As the project progresses this fall, we will provide you with timely updates.

If you would like to read more, please go to the following link:

http://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/download/FoodSafetyProjectBrief.pdf

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Trial by Jury in the Vegetable Seed Business

The “trial” in the vegetable seed business occurs when we plant new and existing vegetable varieties in the field for evaluation. Product experts within our company are the folks on the “jury”.

Vegetable trials each year take place in many locations. In the back of our building here in Rochester, New York, we have many raised beds where we evaluate new introductions for greens and root crops. In a neighboring county, we employ the services of a vegetable seed research farm. Here we are looking at sweet corn, peppers and tomatoes, squash and many other species. Our two sales people often locate vegetable trials with some of their customers. Our pumpkin trial each year is grown and cared for by a grower just east of here. Grower trials are very important as the grower is one who is helping us make valuable product decisions. In addition, in the heat of August, we take a swing through the Midwest each year to visit trial grounds in Illinois and Wisconsin.

There are many criteria we consider for making product decisions on possible new additions to our catalogs. As with sweet corn, we are looking at the following characteristics: plant height, ear height off the ground, plant color, hush color, husk tip cover, ear length, kernel row count, tip fill, disease resistance, days to maturity and eating quality. Eating quality has risen to the top of the chart, as the consumer has now come to expect it.

We like to see some improvements with possible new introductions. As with peppers, disease resistance, size, shape and fruit wall thickness are very important. Each species will have a specific set of criteria we use for evaluation. Detailed notes are taken and returned to the plant breeders for their consideration.

The process is very expensive time consuming, but in the end, we will have made good product decisions for our customers. We ultimately deliver better varieties to growers across the USA.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The California Pack Trials

Now what on earth can this mean? Well, “Pack” refers to a type of container that is used to grow annuals and perennials in a greenhouse environment. “Trial” refers to the process where these ornamentals are grown to maturity for observation and evaluation…thus "Pack Trials".

Every year, many of the flower breeding companies from the USA and overseas come together in California to display their products to visiting seed and plant distributors like Harris Seeds. Ornamental varieties from seed and from cuttings, both new and existing, are grown in various greenhouses up and down coastal California. The object is to have everything in full flower for observations purposes. A group of us from Harris Seeds will be visiting each of these greenhouses in April, and it is always a very special experience.

Two of the most spectacular presentations are from the Pan American Seed Company in Santa Paula and Goldsmith Seeds in Gilroy, California. Pan Am is the trend setter in the industry as they explore and educate other seed companies on all aspects of marketing flowers to the consumer. Many of their plant introductions have won the coveted All American Selections award. Their displays of flowering annuals are stunning.

Goldsmith probably has the most dramatic presentation, with over an acre of breath-taking, colorful flowers in bloom that radiate throughout the greenhouse… It’s a jaw-dropper! Goldsmith has been a prolific plant breeding company over the years, with many of their introductions gracing the gardens of America today.

Unfortunately, these product presentations are not open to the public, so we will do our best to take all sorts of photos and pass them on to you when we return.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A very special Sweet Corn program

Our vegetable seed manager, Mark Willis, and I will be working with sweet corn plant breeder Dr. David McKenzie this summer to bring a very special sweet corn program to the Rochester area. Dave is an old friend that originally worked for Harris Seeds back in the 1980s.

Dave has developed a very unique brand of sweet corn called Mirai, which means taste of the future in Japanese. Out of this program came a variety known as the desert corn, or Mirai 003. We call it Mr. Mini Mirai and it is truly fantastic. We sent a box of it last year to a friend in Indiana to have his family and friends sample. It had been sitting in a cooler for over a week, and when our friend tried it, he said it was the best tasting corn he had ever eaten!

We will be selecting some local growers around Rochester to get some of this corn planted. We will be shipping in samples early this summer to have restaurants try it out with their customers. We are fairly convinced that once we get it to the tables of local Rochester residents, it will be a huge hit. It is already very big on the West Coast.

To learn more about this variety, see page 27 of our 2010 Professional Vegetable Growers’ Catalog. You will also find it on page 20 of our current home garden catalog or on our web site.

This will be fun! Please stay tuned...

Monday, March 8, 2010

A much needed expense…

In the early 1900s, the Harris Seeds set the standard by being first company in America to test seeds for acceptable germination and print the results on every package of seed sold. This quality control practice has been part of our business for over 100 years.

Typically, every lot of seed that comes through our door will have a sample drawn and it is sent to our germination lab for testing. Thousands of these quality control tests are conducted on various seed lots every year.

Fifty or 100 seeds are counted out and placed on a moistened blotter and stored in air tight plastic containers, or in specific germination chambers. Either light or darkness is required for proper germination. After a specific amount of time, germination counts begin. After the final count on any of the tests, a percent for germination is established. Weak seedlings are not considered in the final count.

There are two standards in the country for acceptable germination. Federal standards for acceptable germination were created some time ago, and all seed companies must comply with these regulations. Harris Seeds standards for acceptable germination have always much higher than the federal standards, as we believe it is essential for providing a high quality product.

In the event that a seed lot does not meet our standard for acceptable germination, the lot will get rejected and returned to the supplier for replacement.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rake hay while the sun shines…

And so it is with seed companies too. Most seed companies are very seasonal, depending on only a few months in the year to make their profits. For the Harris Seeds Company, sales begin to trickle in during the fall months, but not nearly enough to make our company profitable.

The sales season really spikes right after the Christmas holidays. Orders from home gardeners and professional growers start to pour in at that time. The order pattern stays peaked right through April and then it will slow down. By the time May arrives, home garden orders have virtually disappeared but we do a fair amount of professional grower business that month. Starting in June, we begin to lose money, and right on through the fall. Most of our overhead expenses remain, and during this time, we have virtually no revenue.

During the summer months, we are very busy in the marketing department. Catalog production begins in May and continues right through the fall, with our home garden catalog being the last one to get published in December.

Summer and early fall months are also filled with flower and vegetable trial evaluations. Countless hours of observations are made on potential new flower and vegetable varieties. It has always been our practice to first observe flower and vegetable varieties in the greenhouse and in the field before we consider them for inclusion in our product line. If they do not perform and live up to our expectations, they do not make it into our catalogs. Participating in the variety selection process is probably the most interesting and rewarding part of the seed business for me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Those Wonderful Gardeners!

Allow me to take a diversion this day, and move on to a subject that it clearly the most important – the gardener – the customer.

I have often said that it is my belief that as a defined group of individuals within our society, gardeners seem to have a leg up on others. I have known many over the years, including my father, and when I recount who they are and what they have stood for, it seems to me that as a group of individuals, they tend to be honest and caring folks… what more could America want? Gardening is a most wholesome activity, and it draws in those that truly appreciate the process for what it is. Yes, I am not na├»ve, as they are always a few bad apples in the barrel, but if we had to sort groups of individuals for what they did and rank them, gardeners would be right up there at the top of the list.

To illustrate my point, allow me to share a very short letter with you. It came to my desk last season, unsigned. I read it and shed a heartfelt tear for this man. I shall let you be the judge:

“This will be my last order from you. I am now 88 years old and have been buying seeds from you since I came home from WW11 in 1946. I will be starting these seeds for my daughter’s family and my son’s family. I will be living in a senior’s citizen’s home. Maybe I can help their gardener.”

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earning a reputation…

Earning a good reputation is always a long and hard fought battle…earning a bad one is very easy. I can relate to one of the big box stores in our area. Their level of understanding for good customer service is almost non-existent. It is truly hard to imagine in today’s business environment that any company just does not get it. On the flip side of this argument is the Wegman’s Food Markets, based here in Rochester. They have been cited for being the very best grocery chain in America, and for good reason. They have a complete understanding of high quality products and exemplary customer service. No one does it better in their marketplace.

You know friends, it is a mind set, and a company cannot waver. The Harris Seeds Company began in 1879 with these sets of principles, and they evolved over the next century. The company has always strived to put the very best products in the Harris Seeds catalogs through stringent product testing programs. But product alone will not cut it today. The customer cannot ever be taken for granted. It is the customer that makes everything good happen for our company. For me, it is pretty simple…take care of our customers and they will take care of us.

By example, Ken Ralph, a long retired salesman in New England for Harris Seeds, was reported to have had a 90% market share with New England growers. This is a phenomenally high number, but it did not happen by chance. Ken earned the respect of his customers by providing the very best products for their farms and coupled it with friendly and dependable service. That’s really all it takes.

In closing folks, here is our company motto:

We will strive with pride
to provide our customers with
the finest products available, coupled with
friendly and reliable service.

Dick Chamberlin - President

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Welcome friends to the Harris Seeds blog…

Bear with me friends, as I am a novice blogger. My name is Richard Chamberlin, president of the Harris Seeds Company. Allow me to welcome you to this new communication piece. I hope it will be fun. Over the term of this activity, I hope to provide you with some meaningful and interesting information on our company.

The Harris Seeds Company has a very strong tradition rooted in history, going back to 1879 when its first catalog was published. Around 1850, Joseph Harris, the original founder, emigrated from England to the fertile Genesee Valley of Western New York. His agricultural skills that he brought with him from England soon became well known with other growers in the area. Joseph Harris was very adept at selecting superior strains of grains and vegetables for future production. These superior strains soon became extremely popular with other growers in the region, and this demand for his seeds prompted Mr. Harris to start selling his seed products to other growers in 1879.

His business philosophy was quite simple…provide a high quality product at a fair price and my business shall succeed. And indeed it did. The company was guided through good and bad times by future generations of the Harris family. In the 1950s, the Harris Seeds plant breeding department was responsible for introducing many of the first market-leading vegetable hybrid varieties in the country. During this time, the company made a significant expansion in the professional vegetable marketplace throughout the country, all due to its hybrid vegetable seed program.

Joseph Harris, the grandson of the founder, was the last Harris to guide the family business. His long tenure at the company earned him the reputation as of one of the very best seedsmen in the country.

I started with Harris in 1981. My father, a long time Harris Seeds gardener, told me I was the luckiest man alive. It did not take me long to realize what he was talking about. I quickly fell in love with everything about the business and what it stood for. It was a far cry from my school teaching days. Harris Seeds was one of the most respected seed businesses in the country, fully vested in good principles and high quality standards. These high standards that I learned back in the beginning remain today.

As we move forward, I hope to share with my readers many of the values that have made our company one of the most trusted names in the seed business today…stay tuned!