Depending on how we respond to garden catalogs, they are either seductive eye candy, an invitation to bankruptcy by over-spending, a strategy for combinging good outdoor exercise with thrift and good food for the family or taking a philosophical position in the on-going discussion about genetically modified foods and hybrid vs heirloom or open pollinated plants. Or a mixture of all of the above.
When discussing 'organic' seeds there is value in 'defining the terms' or at least understanding the vocabulary of what we are talking about. Click on the links below for some commonly accepted definitions:
The Safe Seed Pledge.
American Seed Trade Association
Organic Trade Association
Demeter Association (Biodynamic)
Stellar Certification Services (Certified Organic)
Genetically modified or manipulated seed
Open pollinated seed
Sustainably grown seed
If one is not interested primarily in organic seeds, there is still a choice between open-pollinated (think of pollination by wind and insects), heirloom (which generally is understood to describe named varieties that have been in cultivation for at least 50 years and which are often regionally adapted) and the F1 hybrid. EZ from Seeds, a site developed and promoted by a consortium of seed companies has a good discussion of seed choices.
Bring on the catalogs!
The following list contains catalogs and Web sites (click on their names) that many of us have found trustworthy. Take the time to work your way through the different educational material that these sites offer. We guarentee it is worth your time!
Old House Garden Heirloom Flower Bulbs...
If your interest is to utilize quality bulbs that have been grown and loved across the gardens of the world for centuries, this is the site for you. "Why?" you might ask. There are several great reasons...let's start with the catalog. Read front to back, one starts with fall planted bulbs - our beloved tulips, daffodils and many others. What is different is that each selection is amply discussed, described and praised and its introduction to the garden trade dated. Thus, for example, I know that my Cloth of Gold crocus have been gilding gardens since 1587.
Reading the catalog from back to front, one encounters dahlias, iris and many more, all with the same sort of loving, historical annotation.
The Web site is an absolute library of information, including a fabulous book list for those of us who know that gardening begins with a book in hand. The email newsletter is informative and fun to read. Anyone with an interest in heirloom bulbs should sign up for the free e-newsletter.
Their service is excellent, they answer the phone promptly and respond to email queries. The minimum bulb order is $30. (Combine an order with friends.)
White Flower Farm, a family-owned, mail-order nursery in Conneticut has been in business for over 60 years. They have high-quality plants and a superb, free e-newletter. Additionally, on the site are links to instructional videos by their staff.
Check out the 5 minute video about growing tomatoes in a container.
Fine seed, excellent service, and a long history of service to gardeners has made this company one of our favorites. They describe themselves, "Since 1784, the D. Landreth Seed Company has been providing its customers with one of the most extensive selections of fine lawn and garden seeds in the world. Our founders introduced into the United States some of the most beloved flowers and vegetables known today including the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomatoes, and our own Bloomsdale Spinach. We have become the oldest seed house in America because we are passionate in our quest for excellence in quality, service and innovation."
Many area gardeners have met and talked with Barb Melera, the CEO of Landreth Seeds or heard her presentations. She has visited the Black Hills several times.
Pinetree Garden Seeds.......
They have been in business for 32 years and are based in Maine. They list the seed count per packet in the catalog. Their shipping charges are moderate, beginning at $3.75 for an order up to $19.99.
Abundant Life Seeds......
In business in Oregon since 1975, they state that"...our goal is to offer true-to-type varieties growns using only certified organic, Biodynamic, or sustainable farming methods." They give seed amounts by the gram. They are a credible source for composting redworms. They have a single shipping fee - $7.50.
The Cook's Garden......
This is a business that supports the assumption that you are growing to feed the family. Like Renee Shepherd, the catalog (and on-line) is filled with suggestions for healthy eating. Seed amounts are indicated by weight. Postage is $4.95 for purchases up to $10.00, on a rising scale.
Renee's Garden Seeds...
Renee Shepherd is based in California. She also has a small line of cookbooks for cooking fresh from the garden. As is the case with many of these companies, her Website is an excellent source of much, much more information. Her shipping charges are $3.95 postage for up to $10.00 of purchases on a sliding scale.
Territorial Seed Company......
This is another well established seed sompany in Oregon, under the care of the current owners for the last 25 years. They list small amounts of seed (appropriate probably for the home gardener) as packets and they also offer larger amounts of seed by weight. They are offering grafted tomato plants (which are getting a lot of buzz in the press). They also have a single shipping price $7.50.
Seed Savers Exchange......
Many of us who support Seed Savers Exchange do so, in part, because of their committment to promote and preserve genetic diversity in seeds. Seeds are offered to the general public through the print catalog and on line. One can become a member of Seed Savers Exchange which has additional benefits. All of their seeds are open-pollinated heirlooms. Seed Savers Exchange seed packets are available at Plantsmyth in Rapid City. Shipping rates begin at $3.00 for $10.00 or less of product.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Comstock Seeds......
This company is based in Missouri with other properties on the east and west coasts. They have a large variety (sometimes in limited amounts) of seeds, all non-hybid, 'pure' seed.Both companies give seed amount by unit or by weight.
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds......
Some may know this company as a source for Dutch bulbs. They also have an elegant offering of fine kitchen garden seeds. This is a catalog illustrated with exceptional art and supported by superior, informative text. Their Web site is expansive and highly informative. Shipping prices begin at $4.00 for purchases up to $7.49.
Terroir Seeds LLC and Underwood Gardens...
Seed companies are often friendly gardening communities. Terroir Seeds, (pronounced "tear-wahr" and meaning the (precious) soil, the earth, the land) described more fully under Comprehending Catalogs, offers a free link to a site where gardeners may download and print a very nicely done and useable garden journal. Sites like this won't seem like "corporate advertising". Rather, they will give the impression that a real person, possibly from home, is at the site controls.
Cindy and Stephen Scott, co-owners of Terroir Seeds/Underwood Gardens state their mission: "We are a family owned independent heirloom seed company offering the finest untreated heirloom vegetable, herb and flower seeds for home gardeners and small growers. We offer heirloom and open pollinated seeds, soil building and seed saving education combined with personal service, great selection and fast shipping." Learn more.
This is a site with an excellent, free e-newsletter, and sites for seeds, tools, books, children and home-schooling gardening information.
Some Final Thoughts..... just for fun
There is a real advantage to planning, ordering and planting your seeds cooperatively. Often even the smallest packet of seeds is more than one garden can handle. Seed orders as well as the postage costs can be shared. Gardeners who garden together sharing seeds as well as space ("I've got SUN!") can also share garden potluck picnics and a deepening friendship.