Painted Desert Seed Company

Located in Sanders, AZ, United States (Zone 6B)

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Farm Facts

Established in 1987
55.00 acres in production
15 varieties for sale
Grows and Sells: Grasses, Coneflower, Melons, Okra, Sunflower, Tomatoes, Carrots, Beans, Grains, Onions, Lettuce

Michael Bailey

About the Farm

Our goal is to do our part in securing regional food supplies, through diversity, hardiness, and selection for desired traits, such as flavor, color, drought tolerance and productivity.

We want to provide seeds that grow beautiful, tasty and productive plants, that also happen to be tough as nails when it comes to surviving harsh conditions.

Arizona’s unique geography allows for two separate climates in which to grow: the Southern and Western Deserts (Mohave, Yucca and Sonoran) with three full seasons, and the Northern/Eastern, Alpine Life Zone at 6000+ feet of elevation, which lies alongside the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest of about 5000 feet elevation.

In both cases, drought and poor soil conditions are just the toppers to the harsh weather all over the West. Our location also provides us with access to some of the most ancient seed lines in North America, through connections with the native people who were among the first to domesticate and develop some of today's most productive foods, including corn, sunflower, beans, peppers and tomatoes.

Michael and Bettie Bailey, their son David and a few local friends benefit from the fact that seed farming, for us, is a much-smaller scale operation than traditional row cropping on huge acreage. It only takes a few people to operate a layout which we designed as interlocking permaculture-based gardens, of both raised and double-dug beds, rather than vast fields of commercial cropland.

Painted Desert Seed Company is a member:
Farmer Veteran Coalition
Seed Savers Exchange
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance

Our Commitment to Quality Seed

We never grow two varieties of the same type of plant. The exception is tomatoes. Because they are self-pollinating, they require much smaller isolation distances than plants like peppers, eggplant, corn and sorghum.

Nevertheless, we maintain over 200 feet intervening distance between tomatoes. We only grow two varieties of tomato per season. One beefsteak, and one cherry tomato. One potato-leaf variety, and one normal-leaved variety. Between proper isolation distance and differing phenotypes, tomatoes are kept genetically true. With every other crop, we only grow one variety in a given season.

We keep close communication with other farms and residents in the area so all of us can synchronize our growing operations to avoid cross-pollination of each other's products. Every family for miles around has been in the area for decades.

They, and we, always eradicate any volunteer plants we find along roadways, canals and at the edges of fields, to protect each other's fields and our own gardens.

Peppers are ALWAYS grown outside of a 250-meter radius from any neighboring or commercial crops. Our Corn is never grown closer than two miles from another crop. We and our neighbors are all long-time residents of this area. It's in all of our best interests to avoid cross-pollination and we cooperate among ourselves to maintain crop purity between neighboring fields and gardens.

Our first selection criterion is for genetic diversity. Our seeds are always selected from a minimum of at least 100 plants. Normal practice is to select 200 plants from among larger populations. Our criteria for selecting from large populations are for vigor, size, production, flavor, drought resistance and outstanding hardiness to both hot and cold temperature extremes. Our final criterion is for unusual colors.

Our Growing Practices

We sell only Open-Pollinated, Non-Hybrid seeds, that are grown only with natural input, both for nutrients and pest control. Extensive use of compost and soil building with mulch and crop remains are standard practice.

If we have the need to import either soil or amendments, such as worm castings or potting soil, we insist that it be sterile before it comes through our gates. It will be inoculated with the soil organisms in our operation ONLY. We are determined that nothing that comes through our gates will contaminate our natural local conditions.

This is what our children eat. The cleaner, the healthier our children's food, the better for the world as a whole. Well-nourished and healthy leaders make better decisions, all else being equal, and the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Clean, healthy food is, therefore, a solid investment in the future that all of us share.

Our Seed Farming Experience

Why would you not be growing seed crops? It was what both our families did as a matter of normal practice and the way we grew up. Our parents and grandparents farmed their way through various recessions, Depressions, World Wars and the dust bowl.

Michael Bailey grew up in the countryside of Northern Arizona and New Mexico, living among and working with crops, livestock and water every day. Over a decade in the U.S. Army provided valuable observations on local gardening, farming and climate issues in 14 countries around the globe.

There were also regular stints in nursery and landscape work, six months of municipal parks crew with Cottonwood, Arizona, and a year as a golf course greenskeeper in Sedona during the 90s to temper this knowledge.

Bettie's brother owns a landscape and nursery business where she worked, in southern Louisiana, that exported plants to reconstruct Kuwait after the Gulf War. Her other brother succeeded for some 30 years as a soil conservation specialist for the USGS. A third brother was a field consultant for Archer Daniels, and her father was an insectologist with the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Her family comes from the farm and her mother was a master gardener.

For the last 30 years of our marriage we have constantly gardened and landscaped at our home as well as those of friends and family. Our families and our neighbors eat from these very gardens that produce our seed, meaning that we have a necessary familiarity with what will work in our region and what can’t.

Regional Adaptation

We constantly select for traits that thrive in our bio-region. Since our operation is located in Arizona, we emphasize ancient and adapted Heirloom Seed varieties for the Southwest Desert US, Southwest mountains, the West Coast, the Intermountain West and the Big Sky Redoubt.

We select for family subsistence, based on landrace traits when possible, for easier regional adaptation. We also undertake ongoing trials to determine the suitability of heirloom varieties from around the globe that might take well to our regional conditions.

For instance, we have found a Russian melon that thrives in the poor soil, 120-degree heat and drought of a Southern Arizona summer. Who would have thought any plant from Russia could survive, let alone prosper in such conditions? And its Northern European heritage means this same melon also does well in the standard, four-season Intermountain West.

We come from farming families, and we are life-long residents of our State. We are well aware of the needs of the people who grow heirloom seeds in our part of the world. We ARE those people, and they are our neighbors.

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