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Rob | New World Seeds & Tubers - Part 2



We’re down to the last 11 of the initial flood of orders we got hit with when we opened up shop. If yours is one of the last 11, apologies for the wait. We’re a two-man operation and can only pack about 5-6 orders a day. We could do more than that if the seed were already pre-packed, but it wasn’t because Tom’s long illness put us behind schedule…not to mention that we’re always pressed for time anyway.

The backlog prompted a number of customer service inquiries. When we’re answering them, we’re not packing, so, ironically, it adds to the problem.

Tom has long been generous with his time to talk about potatoes. At this point in his career, time spent consulting with specific people, especially as regards pedigrees, specific genes, and other detailed information, takes time away from packing seeds, packing orders, planting a new crop, and everything else we need to do to serve the rest of our customers.

If you do have a need for customer service, please either use our contact form, or send mail to

help “at” (name of this domain) dot com

Sending customer service requests to

  • Tom’s or my personal email
  • Post comments
  • Forum posts (on any of several different forums…)
  • Forum PMs
  • Facebook messages or posts

ties us up and makes your wait even longer. Time spent copying inquiries from inappropriate venues to customer service forms, so that credit card numbers and other private information doesn’t appear on a public web-page, or simply fall through the cracks, is time not spent filling orders.

Thank you for your patience with your order; we intend for all of them arrive in time for starting your seedlings. We understand that some folks live in hot climates and need to start them early. It would have helped if we were open for business late last year (we weren’t), and we intend to start earlier this year. Our ultimate goal is to have inventory on hand ready for shipment year-round.

At the moment much of Europe is frigid and the eastern USA has turned cold. We’re lucky to have mountains betwixt us and the cold fronts, though in recent years sometimes they burst right through the Columbia Gorge to the south and the Frasier River Valley to the north.

Better not turn too cold, as late winter blossoms are starting to show up. Some of them are pretty sturdy, like this snowdrop. It could turn pretty cold without significant damage to it. They’re built for cold weather, as are a lot of winter-bloomers.

Less sturdy are these Tazettas. They beat even Rejnveld’s Early Sensation which normally blooms this time of year (and isn’t quite open yet!). The Rejnveld’s Early Sensation is in my front yard, inches from the sidewalk, and unfortunately attracts thieves. The Tazettas are safely in my back yard, with a “hortcultural fleece” standing by in case it gets too cold for them.

Their fragrance is just wonderful. Not just typical Tazetta scent; these have some more exotic overtones. They’ve got some wild Tazetta genes in their backgrounds. I thought they might have some Narcissus viridiflorus genes in them, especially since they’re primarily autumn bloomers (which, like everything else in my life at the moment, got a late start), but no, they don’t. Ironically, the one that does have some N. viridiflorus background, doesn’t bloom in the autumn. Still waiting for that one to show her lovely face and spread her fragrance.

The Tazettas are next to a bed I prepared for Green Mountain Multiplier onions. Had to bring the survivors from the farm to my back yard, to rescue them from the deer. A surprising fraction of our inventory comes from my urban back-yard, because our farm is poorly suited to anything that needs to overwinter (or for that matter, is a deer-magnet). The low-lying riverbottom ground is too wet in the winter (indeed, it floods), and the higher ground has thin, gravelly soil that dries out in summer! Hard to grow things at the farm that need to be in the ground a long time.

When I’m not packing orders, I do a little digging in the back yard. Still need to transplant some Brassicas. We’re going to expand our Brassica selection.

In the mean time, more varieties of more seeds will show up before spring. Stay tuned. Now, back to work for me…still time to ship some orders for Saturday pickup.


First some news about your orders: as you’re probably aware, we were flooded with orders even before I announced that I had listed new seeds. Someone did something like a pingback to watch our site, was alerted instantly when I posted the new listings, and spread the news before I had a chance to make the announcement myself. I wish some of my other lines of business would go viral like that!

What you probably don’t know is that we were also flooded with customer service inquiries. A lot of them have to do with outstanding orders, such as people who want us to change their shipping address or billing method. Hopefully, I spot those before the orders get shipped out. If not, we’ll do our best to fix the problem; we want you to be satisfied with your order.

Some of them are questions people have before they can make an order, and they’re probably feeling anxious about not getting what they want. Some items have sold out, but the good news is more items will get listed as soon as we catch up with our backlog and have time to inventory and list them.

Some of our backlog of inquiries are setting high expectations for how much attention we can give any one potential customer. In order to serve everybody, we’re going to have to make some of these interactions brief. The problem is probably a result of scaling up operations; Tom used to have plenty of time to interact with customers when he was only sending out dozens of potato packets and seeds. What might make sense as a solution is for us to provide more information up front, so that we’re not answering the same questions over and over (though we do get a lot of questions that are already covered in our “Frequently Asked Questions”). It’s just one of those growing pains that will get sorted out when we have enough “efficiency of scale” to handle the overhead.

Speaking of which, kudos and thanks to Jane for volunteering to help Tom organize and pack orders. We really appreciate that. I’ve talked to Tom regarding how we can reciprocate. Tom has been blessed with the generosity of many people like Jane.

Now that administrative matters are out of the way, here’s another important matter you might have heard about in the news:

A few weeks ago, shipments of Brazilian orange juice destined for the United States tested positive for a fungucide called carbendazim. Not surprising as it is legal to use in Brazil. European regulations allow higher concentrations, and Japanese and Canadian regulations still higher; the juice would probably be allowed in those countries.

Here is what Wikipedia says about carbendazim:

Carbendazim is a widely used broad-spectrum benzimidazole fungicide and a metabolite of benomyl.

The fungicide is used to control plant diseases in cereals and fruit, including citrus, bananas, strawberries, pineapples, and pome.[2] It is also controversially used in Queensland, Australia on macadamia plantations.[3]A 4.7% solution of carbendazim hydrochloride is sold as Eertavas and marketed as a treatment for Dutch elm disease.

Studies have found that high doses of carbendazim cause infertility and destroy the testicles of laboratory animals.[4][5] Carbendazim was included in a biocide ban proposed by the Swedish Chemicals Agency [6] and approved by the European Parliament on January 13, 2009.[7]

I don’t know what the ramifications of carbendazim traces in orange juice are at the levels found. Since I don’t know, it’s probably best to avoid Brazilian orange juice, since that fungicide is in wide use there.

I recently bought some orange juice, and it probably contains concentrates from any of multiple countries, depending on where it can be found most inexpensively. It probably contains plenty of Brazilian orange juice, that got through before the testing was done. There is discussion of a ban on Brazilian OJ imports, but I would guess that economic factors will weigh against it, as otherwise orange juice prices in the USA would rise significantly more than they already are.

I’m actually all for “free trade”, as long as it is informed trade. It is unethical to sneak anything past the buyer that he would not agree to if he knew about it. The “commodization of everything” makes informed consent unlikely to happen.

The bottom line is that if you’re not sure it’s safe, think twice about buying it. The Food and Drug Administration caught this particular problem in this particular batch, but it is impractical for them to test everything, and you have no assurance they’re going to do anything about it even if they could.

What do you think?

As for me, it’s back to work packing orders and answering customer service inquiries.


If you tried to order and found that what you wanted was out-of-stock, try again. I have just updated inventory levels according to Tom’s instructions.

At the moment I am flooded with orders, the streets are covered in ice, and Tom is still recovering. Your patience appreciated. Tom will see about finding more inventory to list as soon as he’s up to it. All in all I know we have huge amounts of potato seed (thanks, Doug); I dunno what tomato seed levels are like because I was only involved one day on that process.

Someone asked about Paypal. Sorry, we don’t do Paypal anymore, because the system was just unusable. It was impossible to download as many orders as we had for book-keeping purposes, probably due to a missing index on a SQL query, or something like that (nothing we have control over; it’s not our system), and Paypal’s technical support is useless. It was also a tedious and error-prone process for looking up open orders. For most people, not doing Paypal is a relief; it’s really not a very popular system. We are pretty flexible though and we even accept checks drawn on US or Canadian banks–there is an option in the order system that accepts checks. Folks overseas please use a credit card–they do the currency conversion automatically and can transfer the funds to our clearinghouse. We can’t cash checks from outside USA or Canada; our bank won’t take them.

We can’t send seeds to war zones; they don’t make it through. If we have problems sending seeds to specific countries (as we already have), we’ll have to stop accepting orders from those countries. We don’t want to disappoint anyone. So far Canada and Europe have not been a problem (knock on wood).

Thank you for your business, we appreciate it!! Love ya!


I’m on the phone with Tom. He was taken by surprise by the rush of orders and was overwhelmed (“flummoxed” was the word he used). He says we’ve got a lot more of pretty much everything that I have run out of. I told him to package it up and get a specific count before I update the inventory. I will pack up the orders we have on Monday, which is a holiday here in the USA so the post office is closed anyway, and see if he’s ready by Tuesday.


My inbox is flooded with hundreds of messages informing me that we are out of stock “of just about everything”.

Sorry, folks. We did our best to get something back up as soon as possible. I’ll visit Tom again as soon as possible to pick up more. At the moment, the snow is coming down hard and furious in Seattle, and it’s been coming down harder and longer in Everett to the north where Tom is located. Hopefully it won’t last too long.

Thank you for your patronage and patience, and thanks for all the prayers and well-wishings for Tom’s recovery. Let’s do this and make it work for everybody. Love ya all!


It was a challenge getting these listed. I won’t trouble you with the details of all the obstacles, except to mention that our shopping cart software requires a great deal of tedious one-by-one processing of items. I went over everything multiple times but if an item has the wrong button on it let me know and I’ll fix it. There must be an easier way to do this, but I bet it costs more money than the shopping cart we’re using. I went looking for an upgrade, took one look at the prices, and kept the one we’ve got! (

I should also mention that I’m out of labels. I’ll see what I can do about making some more this weekend. If push comes to shove you might get a hand-written envelop or two. Luckily my handwriting is more legible than Tom’s (sorry Bud).

We will probably have more seed come trickling in, though it depends on Tom’s health, and tubers will show up later this month. There is some built-up demand so I expect everything to sell out quickly; apologies for any disappointments. We will continue to do the small potato packs, but might discontinue the big ones, due to cost (to both you and us) and effort compared to how much time we have to get other things done. There are plenty of companies doing tubers and we’re one of the few doing true seed. True seed is a godsend to home growers because it creates the option of rotating potatoes out completely before disease builds up, and saving the seeds in storage for later planting. It’s also a more sanitary and economical way to buy and ship genetic resources.

I (Rob) am currently looking for someone interested in growing out tomatoes on contract, to either sell to a bigger seed company and give us our cut, or to use in some other way and give us back the seeds. The purpose is to get more seed of our best varieties available to you, in a more efficient manner than our current system, so that we can handle it with our limited human resources. We have a huge backlog of varieties that could be grown out. The intent is to make this a profitable and worthwhile venture for all parties involved. We believe in “win-win or no deal”, and will do what it takes from our side to make it happen.

Tom eating lemon-gingersnap ice cream

As for Tom, I wish I had better news, but I don’t. I’ll go see him the next possible occasion and see what I can do to make life easier for him while I’m there. In the picture he’s eating the ice cream I brought over last time I was there. Thanks, everyone, who have sent along your warm thoughts and prayers. We appreciate that.


All the notes, thoughts, and prayers of concern have touched our hearts, and we appreciate them. Tom has been spending a lot of time with the doctors this week. Nevertheless, the old boy is going to try to get some seeds sorted for me to pick up later this week. Meanwhile, I will be packaging up those seeds that are already in my possession, which tend to be everything OTHER THAN the potatoes and tomatoes you’ve been waiting for.

It’s a little nip and tuck, but I expect one batch of seeds to be listed by Sunday, January 2012. The rest will trickle in over the next few months–sorry for the inconvenience, but the good news is that we cover postage for most orders and even the ones we don’t we don’t charge much, so you won’t feel reamed by shipping and handling costs if you make multiple orders. Most of the cost of shipping and handling is on us.

To make it up to you for the wait, we’ve got a little treat in store for those who are signed up to receive posts like this one.

Personally, I just can’t wait to see seedlings popping up. I haven’t planted anything too warm-growing yet, but I did plant some Cyphomandras (“Tree Tomatoes”–except they are neither trees nor tomatoes) under florescent grow-lights in my basement, and shortly I will plant some Physalis. Both grow a little cooler than Tomatoes do. My basement is probably warm enough for tomatoes, but it could still be a bit chilly (not to mention crowded) in my polytunnels once they outgrow their seed trays.

I need to obtain, and plant, some species potatoes, too, for a breeding project I want to work on this year. Tom has shown me how to cross-pollinate, so it’s time I tried my hand at it. I don’t particularly want to even try to fill his shoes; this is just a specific project I have a personal interest in.

We’re going to make some changes to the company. We still plan on getting Tom’s backlog of tomato and potato varieties to you one way or another, but the market focus of our business will evolve into supporting local production. That means supplying crops covering the major food groups that either have wide tolerances, or are adapted to specific challenging situations.

It also means supplying crops that are either easy-to-store, or have a long harvest season. I’m constantly on the lookout for long-storing root crops, and cut-and-come-again greens. We assume that most of you, like us, don’t have access to hydro-cooling, nitro-packing, and commercial-quality refrigeration. “Canning” (bottling, actually) and lacto-fermented pickling (think “Sauerkraut” and kimchee) are fine, but home-canning gets expensive. Few people do lacto-fermentation anymore, but we’ll cover it as one relatively inexpensive way to store food. A lot of our favorite crops are self-storing, like dry beans and squashes.

Does this shift in our line of business make sense to you? Are you interested in having more home-grown produce, available over a longer time frame, with less overhead to preserve it?

I’ll send another post once the listings are up.


Thanks to everyone who have sent their wishes for a speedy recovery for Tom.

Last I heard from him, he was alive but miserable.

Listings will come back online once he recovers and we’ve had a chance to pack and list our inventory. Our apologies for keeping you waiting.


Botanical explorer Captain F. Kingdon-Ward wrote a book titled “Berried Treasure” published in 1954. He was interested in looking at the berries, not so much eating them. It’s a book about shrubs suitable for England that produce attractive fruit.

I like looking at attractive berries too, but these days I’m also interested in eating them. In fact, now that I’m psychologically primed to notice overlooked sources of food, I’m finding them all over the place, often in unexpected places. This particular post will focus on a few garden plants I’m familiar with that have berries prone to being overlooked as food. These are mostly not things you would plant primarily for fruit, but rather, things you might make good use of if you already had them in your yard.

My list isn’t necessarily going to be the same as yours, because the mix of shrubs and trees that I am familiar with or happen to have in my garden is likely to be different from yours. This is mostly just an exercise in thinking about food resources that might not have occurred to you before, though a few in my list are quite common.

Typical Vireya

Ornament is probably what the proprietors of Bovee’s Nursery in Portland have in mind for their Vaccineums and Agapetes. They call them “companion plants” for Rhododendrons. Their specialties are the beautiful Vireya Rhododendrons. Vireyas are distinct Rhododendrons of the tropical highlands (mostly). They’re not edible by the way; I just happen to have a picture, and want to put the story into context.

I was happy to have finally gotten the chance to visit, and meet Lucy Sorenson in person. We have corresponded a bit for decades but had never actually met. She was absolutely charming, and delighted to meet someone who appreciates Vaccineums and Agapetes not to mention Vireyas.

If the genus is Vaccineum, it’s worth evaluating the berries for potential food use. Vaccineums include Blueberries, Huckleberries, and Cranberries. The names are not used consistently, but here is one theory: Blueberries have more, smaller, unobtrusive seeds, and berries in clusters. Huckleberries have fewer, bigger seeds, and berries that show up singly or in pairs. Cranberries have red berries. That said, these distinctions don’t seem to be particularly meaningful with respect to actual usage.

At Bovees I bought Vaccineum ovatum x V. floribundum. One parent of the cross, V. ovatum, is the Evergreen Huckleberry of the Pacific Coast states. It’s a fairly common, big, bushy, shade-loving but tolerant plant with abundant but unfortunately small and usually fairly sour fruit. V. floribundum is the Andean Blueberry, also known as the Mortiña, from around Ecuador through Columbia, and apparently also in Costa Rica. Both plants are evergreen and have beautifully colored new foliage. Mortiña berries are harvested where native but have never become popular outside of habitat. I’ve planted some seeds in pots outside; we’ll see if they were viable. The hybrid might be useful for combining a very tough, hardy plant with a species that probably has bigger and better fruit.

Lucy gave me what might be a Vaccineum erythrinum, the Javanese Cranberry. It’s a rare plant, though I have seen it in old botanical prints; it’s one of the showier of the genus. No idea how cold-hardy it is and I find varying estimates on the few webpages I can find for it. Probably not very.

Agapetes blossoms

Almost but not quite as rare, and perhaps even showier, are some of the Agapetes of tropical and subtropical Asia. Notice the Greek root-word agape, which ever since the New Testament has come to mean something like “divine love”. Agapetes are closely-related to Blueberries and you can see the relationship if you use your imagination. They live a different lifestyle though, which accounts for some of their differences; they’re quasi-epiphytic (they often grow perched on trees) and clambering. At their base is a woody caudex, from which sprout long slender shoots that weave their way around. They are beautifully suited to hanging baskets.

They produce edible, blueberry-like fruits.

As is common among highland tropicals/subtropicals, they require fairly mild, equable climates. They do well along the Pacific Coast and much of maritime Europe, with the understanding that they need protection from deep or prolonged freezes where those occur. The hardiest one I am aware of in cultivation is a hybrid called ‘Ludvgan Cross’; it can make it down to around -10C/14F once the caudex is well-established. Sometimes Agapetes freeze to the caudex but re-sprout.

Viburnum trilobum has sour bright red berries that are said to make good substitutes for Cranberries, hence the common name “Highbush Cranberry”. It is not, however, a cranberry, being in the wrong family. It is very rarely exploited, due to having been mixed up with its lookalike European cousin, V. opulus. I’ve been told “one bite and you’ll know the difference”: V. opulus has fruit that is bitter in addition to being sour. V. trilobum fruit is sour but not bitter.

To render the fruit of Viburnum trilobum palatable, first you freeze them and thaw them to soften them, then you strain out the seeds, which are bitter. Then you make mock cranberry jelly or mock cranberry juice out of them.

Last time I tried the berries of the native Gaultheria shallon (“Salal” in its native range; known to flower arrangers elsewhere as “Lemon Leaf”), I remember being skeptical of their palatability. The berries of its eastern cousin G. procumbens are reputedly better and used to be a common flavoring especially where they are native.

Gaultheria’s counterparts of the southern hemisphere, the Pernettyas, which some taxonomists are lumping into Gaultheria, have a reputation for intoxicating or even delirium-producing berries. Some of my friends claim that their reputation is exaggerated. I am reluctant to find out by personal experience–names like “Pernettya insana” strike me as being ominous.

Pernettya mucronata undoubtedly has poor-eating fruit anyway–even birds rarely touch them–but those berries are certainly very attractive. The plants vary in how many male or female flowers they have, so make sure you’ve got both to get fruit.

“Strawberry trees”–Arbutus unedo–extremely common around here, but the mildly sweet fruit is bland and mealy. Maybe it’s only a matter of coming up with a use for them.

Mahonia berries are beautiful and look like they should be delicious, but when I tried them I found them resinous in taste. The same is true for a number of other berries native here. I have however heard of other people eating them, probably cooking them and adding sugar and maybe lemon. Lemon seems to be a common ingredient to improve the flavor of unimproved fruits. Sometimes certain spices help too.

Berberis is related to Mahonia, and reputedly some of the Chilean Berberis have good fruit. The plants tend to be rather attractive too.


I suspect that Tom Wagner is himself a “rare breed” not to mention a “Zebra of a different Stripe”. I don’t think there are many independent plant-breeders left.

So far I’ve met in person exactly two, and not for lack of trying.

Well, fancy that: it’s hard to make a living as an independent plant breeder. There are reasons for division of labor. Systems of production work best when each “unit” within the system can concentrate on part of a more complex process, instead of trying to do the whole thing by themselves.

Why? Because if one person tries to do everything, he goes broke buying tools and other resources that sit idle most of the time while he’s working on a stage of the process that doesn’t require that particular tool. It results in high capital overhead and inefficient allocation of tools.

We’re chronically short on “seed money” (no pun intended) too. We can’t just buy our way out of the production bottlenecks we’re constantly in.

What would make more sense is for us to expand our business by partnering with OTHER independent plant breeders who themselves need income. We provide the sales and marketing overhead that we’ve already invested a lot of time in, and someone else supplies the seeds.

The interesting thing about commerce is that one person’s by-product is someone else’s valuable commodity. For example, Tom was producing lots of seed as a by-product of his breeding work, most of which either got eaten or composted (he doesn’t seed every tomato from every plant). He had tried to run his own seed business, but that’s too much overhead for a one-man operation.

There are probably more professional and amateur plant breeders out there, and in a few cases, growers, who have a surplus of something sufficiently interesting, unique, or useful, to be marketable. Having us sell it could bring someone some needed income. In this economy, I suggest not turning up a nose to small but fairly effortless income streams.

I’ll post a semi-permanent link on this page to solicit offers. Wish us luck; it could be a win-win-win situation for our future partners, our customers, and us too.

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