North Dakota seed company develops varieties specially suited for Northern gardeners
"Growing Together" columnist Don Kinzler explores how a mail-order seed company located right here in the state breeds, grows, packages and sells garden seed specially suited for growing in this region.
FARGO — Vegetable gardening is a hot topic, spurred first by the pandemic and now by high grocery prices. A North Dakota company is producing specially selected seed to help Northern gardeners succeed, and the varieties they’ve developed have become favorites in our own garden.
It’s a rare commodity — a mail-order seed company located right here in North Dakota that breeds, grows, packages and sells garden seed specially suited for Northern growing. Situated near Fullerton in southeastern North Dakota, Prairie Road Organic Seed sells dozens of organic vegetable varieties, many of which were bred right there on their farm.
Theresa and Dan Podoll, along with Dan’s brother David, manage Prairie Road Organic Farm, which produces a variety of small grains and garden seed. The operation has been certified organic since 1977.
The Podolls' garden seed business started in 1997 when they began contracting with garden seed catalog companies to supply organically grown seed. Today, in addition to contract production, they package and market their seed to home gardeners under their own label, Prairie Road Organic Seed.
The Podolls focus on continually improving varieties, producing seed of types that are specifically adapted to the Northern Plains region. They harvest seed from plants that are the best performing, highest quality and best tasting, and then plant that seed back generation after generation to produce stable, enduring varieties.
They breed and select vegetable varieties with superb eating qualities that are reliable garden workhorses. The Podolls have released eight vegetables bred on their farm for performance and taste by breeder David Podoll: Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert squash; Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon; Dakota Tears onion; Dakota Winter onion; Dakota Sport tomato; Dakota Black Pop popcorn; Sweet Dakota Bliss beet; Dakota Lettuce; and Dakota Sisters muskmelon.
In addition to the above varieties they’ve developed themselves, their online catalog is filled with other vegetable varieties that are well-suited to the region, such as Nash’s Best carrots, Homemade Pickles cucumbers, Arikara Yellow dry beans and Howden Dakota Strain pumpkin.
Their user-friendly online catalog and website, available at https://www.prairieroadorganic.co/, makes it easy for gardeners to order seed packets.
From my own viewpoint as a home gardener, these are some of the best vegetables my wife, Mary, and I have ever grown. Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon yields good-sized, mouthwatering sugar-sweet melons that ripen well in our growing season. Dakota Tears onions store all winter, and we’re still using last year’s crop at this writing. Dakota Sport tomato is a beauty, and highly crack-resistant.
I was an avid, lifelong grower of buttercup squash until I met Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert squash. It’s similar in type to Buttercup, but the flavor and sweetness are far superior when harvested and cured following the recommendations on Prairie Road Organic Seed’s site.
Prairie Road’s blog, located on their website along with their catalog, is filled with informative and practical tips for successful gardening in northern climates. Also included are methods for harvesting and preparing the vegetables for storage, plus recipes.
The Podolls' method for growing and producing seed is unique. They use an extensive mulching system and have not tilled some mulched gardens for 47 years.
No herbicides are used, and their secret to weed control is scouting the fields regularly and removing any weeds while young, long before they go to seed. The production fields are fertilized with composted chicken manure.
Growing and harvesting vegetables for seed is a science in itself, with some types being easier than others. Watermelon, squash, cucumber, muskmelon, tomato and pumpkin are grown during the season and the seeds are extracted from ripe fruits in late summer or fall.
Some vegetable types, though, require two years to bear seed. Carrot and beet roots and onion bulbs are dug in the fall, stored over winter, and replanted in spring. During their second growing season, these vegetables, termed biennials, send up a seed stalk from which seed is harvested.
The Podolls use large, repurposed turkey barns to spread the newly harvested seed on racks for drying. Seed moisture content is carefully tested, and seeds are placed in storage when the proper moisture level is reached.
In late winter, the seed is carefully packaged by hand and readied for distribution for the spring gardening season.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.