Sowing success

Business is blooming for a seed operation in the state’s North.

A PASSION for seed saving has turned into a thriving niche business for a northern Tasmanian producer.

For chef turned seed producer Abbey Howard, what was once a hobby became a business with the establishment of her Tassie Seeds operation three years ago.

Based on a small property at Bridgenorth, Mrs Howard is growing a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers to supply top-quality seeds to her customers.

She said her enthusiasm for gardening started at a young age.

“Nanna taught me gardening, so I’ve always enjoyed that,” she said.

Mrs Howard said growing her own produce and seeing plants going to seed prompted her to do something with them.

“I like seeing the life cycles of the garden and it’s like a big community,” she said.

“The passion for seeds came by accident in a way, having too much produce and things going to seed and me not wanting to waste that.

“I’m just obsessed with seeds. If I see a plant or a tree, I’m not looking at the pretty flowers, I’m like how do the seeds happen.”

A chef by trade, Mrs Howard knows how important quality and taste are in growing vegetables and that is now a big focus for her.

After losing her job due to Covid, Mrs Howard decided to head in a different direction and use the surge in home gardening to launch her new business.

She had put some seed up for sale on Ebay and forgot about it, so when that sold three days after she became unemployed, that was the motivation she needed to start the new business.

“It was a really choice opportunity for me to learn quickly about the industry and the expectations.

“I was always happy with the quality of my seed and I had that knowledge previously, but I had to learn about the business and the marketing side.”

Mrs Howard said she took care not to invest too much early on before she determined how much ongoing demand there would be.

Since then, the growing area has now expanded and a new growing tunnel has been built.

Since starting the business, Mrs Howard has shifted her focus to using organic growing principals, improving soil health to ensure she is producing premium quality seed.

“With seeds to get good genetic diversity you need bigger crops and more of one crop so you can choose the best plants.”

She said improving soil quality took time and she used things like compost to help grow organic matter and water holding a capacity.

One of her favourite plants to grow are Teddy Bear sunflowers which have become quite popular.

Mrs Howard is experimenting with new crosses to develop her own Teddy Bear variety, which she hopes to release in a few years.

Rather than using chemicals to control pests, she brings in beneficial

predatory insects when needed to get rid of unwanted insect pests.

After buying another small
seed business Mrs Howard has a collection of about 80 varieties of beans and a large range of heirloom tomatoes.

“Everything I grow is open-air pollinated and heirloom or heritage varieties,” she said.

All up she now has about 400 different varieties of vegetables, fruit and flowers in her collection.

Mrs Howard said her experience as a chef definitely helped in being organised. Everything is documented and photos are taken to ensure

accurate records and seed quality. Mrs Howard is also very focused

on producing seeds and plants that suit the Tasmanian environment. “I’m pretty fussy about what I keep and what I don’t,” she said.

“They’ve got to be to standard, so if a lettuce bolts to seed early or something like that they have go.”

Mrs Howard said controlling which plants cross is also crucial.

“You can do that with hand pollination or isolation or if they’re wind pollinated you do it with timing, so you can’t grow them at the same time.”

She sells at local farmers’ markets

and online and says while she is was generally fairly shy, once she starts talking about gardening that changes.

“I think if the crops are right the business will grow naturally.

“You can buy seed from any retailer but where are they from? They could have been grown anywhere and you don’t know if they’re going to suit our climate.”

Her harvesting season starts in November and runs until late autumn.

Mrs Howard is now participating in the Sprout producer program and said it had already provided a number of benefits. She hopes to improve her packaging and website and access Sprout’s network of industry experts.