Monday, January 7, 2013

4. How To Select A Seed Company

The seed catalogs are pouring in these days. Some I send for and some I just somehow get on their mailing list and they decide to include me. So how do you know which ones to order from? How do you know which ones are reputable and which companies might be right for you. 

Through the years I have to say that I have had really few problems with mail order seed companies. I have had far more problems with seeds bought locally from garden centers and big box stores than any large seed company but there have been a few. What surprises me most is the prices these days for the amount of seeds in them and I will say to pay attention to the size of your packet and how many seeds are there. My husband was furious last year to buy a pack of heirloom pumpkin seed that caught his eye at a local feed/hardware store only to get home and find only three seeds in the pack when on the back of the pack they suggested planting 4 to 5 seed to the hill.  Pay especially close attention to those sold by weight as if they are big seeds that weight might not constitute very many seeds. 

Also watch those shipping and handling prices as they just keep climbing!

One year I ordered a hybrid corn that I plant called "Kandy". From growing it many years I was surprised once the stalks got larger the outer leaves of the ear did not have that purple coloring that "Kandy" always has. I knew immediately that I had the wrong corn when I shucked the corn only to find a tricolored ear of corn knowing that the "Kandy"  variety is yellow.  Not only were we disappointed in the taste of the crop but it was too late in the season to plant a replacement crop. What happened? I would say that the company packaged the wrong corn variety somehow. The company did not replace those seeds and I did not order from that company the following year or since. Most seed companies want to cultivate good relationships with their customers to insure that return business. Many will honor their products and make any mistakes right. If not......find a new company! 

So my point is that like most other things it is a great deal of trial and error. Find companies you can depend on, companies that maybe share your ideals and philosophies and stick with them.  Especially for those large orders. Then fill in with the odd order from new companies that you might like to use in the future or that may have that odd variety that you just have to try and can't find anywhere else.  

I also will recommend the website below from Dave's This is an excellent FREE place to go that has a maintained watchdog list of the different companies and the problems that have been reported from gardeners around the country. A great site to check up on how those companies are performing out there.    

For those of you curious I will list some of my favorite sites and their links.  My top 3 are all sites that promote and sell Non GMO, open pollinated, heirloom and organic seeds. All 3 of these companies are very active  supporting and promoting agricultural biodiversity, sustainability and seed saving. Everything I plant does not fall into this heirloom and organic category but I try to stick to those guidelines as much as possible. A little more expensive....maybe. It's kind of like that choice between paying a little more to the farmer or less to the big box. I support what I believe in with my checkbook and my lifestyle. 

But that is me. Form your own beliefs and build your own allegiances from companies you are familiar with. For me gardening has been a lifelong endeavor and from my days as a young girl on the farm planting my own bed of zinnias, to my years on the plant science team in 4-H the foundation, my love of gardening was set long ago.  Gardening it seems has always been a part of my life. 

I like to remember my father who was the same way. A farmer all his life on and off, he grew tomatoes hydroponically and satsumas in the later years of his life. When he passed away we all remembered Daddy tinkering in the satsumas and the smell of orange blossoms always on him. He was buried with a spray of white satsuma blossoms decorating his casket cut from his own orchard from all of his children. Indeed his gardening and his precious oranges followed him to the grave.   What a way to enter the gates of heaven with the smell of orange blossoms trailing you.. 

1. Seed Savers Exchange : Seed Savers Exchange is my go to company for those open pollinated heirlooms that I love. It is a non profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. I have been ordering seeds from them from almost their  beginning (1975) and have never had a problem with the germination or labeling of any of their seeds. Many complain of their prices these days. They are not the cheapest but I find them one of the most reliable. I buy small packets of their seeds and save my own over the years to build up my own supply. I look at each small pack of seeds from this company as an investment in my garden for many years to come.  Most seeds are heirloom, all are open pollinated, non treated and non GMO.

********This is where I got my start of my beloved Brandywine tomato, Yellow Pear tomato, those beautiful 6 ' garden peas, Cajun Cowhorn Okra, Dragon Tongue Horticulture Bean and from one of their members I got the start to my Indian Blood Red Peach trees many years ago.  Not to mention many of the perennial flowers growing on my farmstead started from their seeds. All these varieties started from one original packet of seeds. ****

2. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed : This is somewhat a new kid on the block. A Missouri boy done good so to speak and only a few hours drive from my farm. The company has grown to offer 1450 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs—the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the U.S.A. All seed are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. Yes indeed these are my kind of folk. Again I have never had a problem with any of their labeling or germination. Their catalog is what I consider a gardeners eye candy and I find it hard to put down. 

****Many of my garden varieties originated from here including my cantaloupe, watermelon, squash, pumpkin and flower seeds******

                                                          Seeds Of Change

3. Seeds of Change: This is a new company for me that I was introduced to by a friend that gifted me with some of their seeds one year. Seems that this company was started in 1989  with a vision to make organically grown seeds available to gardeners and farmers, while preserving heirloom seed varieties in danger of being lost to the advances of modern industrial agriculture.  All seeds they sell are organic.  Although I have only ordered from them for a couple years I have had no problem with their seeds germinating or being true to variety. 

4. Territorial Seed: For everything else this is my go to source. For those hybrids I do plant such as my hybrid Kandy Sweet corn this is my usual source. They have a little bit of everything including some canning supplies and those cover crops seeds and even organic pest controls such as Thuricide or Bt and Neem.  

5. Stark Bros:  For my fruit trees and plants this is my usual source. I have been dealing with this company for almost 15 years. This is where my apple and plum trees originated as well as some of my rhubarb and asparagus starts. My strawberry plants are replaced every three years from here. Even some of my roses originated from here. When I want a new shade tree, nut tree or orchard supplies they are always helpful, courteous and best of all local. They are about a 1 1/2 hour drive from my house. I can place an order and pick it up the next day if I want or I can have it shipped.  

There are lots more seed companies out there. Do your research and order a small order and give them a try. If you like them save some of the seeds if they are open pollinated and plant them next year for free! Nothing ventured......nothing gained. The companies listed above are not paying me to recommend them and the lists simply reflects my own dealing with these companies through the years and my satisfaction. I am an old woman and once I find a product or company that works for me I tend to stick with it to the bitter end. Loyal as an old hound : ) Once that company lets me down and I lose faith in it I am also slow to go back, if ever.

I do not want to give the wrong impression here though. If I am out in my garden on a spring morning and I run short of say lettuce seeds I am not beyond running to the local farm store and picking up a couple packs in a pinch. If a rabbit eats off all my beets and I am out of organic seeds, I am not beyond replacing them with a few packs locally purchased. I am not the gardening police! Just like I am not the canning police. Even I buy a jar of pickles from the store occasionally... 

Really : )

What are your favorite catalogs to order from?

What are your favorite catalogs to drool over?

What advice would you give to a new gardener?

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. The Catalogs are starting to come in! Its my favorite time of the winter!

  2. I pretty much stick with Parks as a rule. But then I don't need very many seeds. I usually end up with lots left over and they'll usually be fine until the next year or so.

  3. Ordered our first catalog as a surprise for my wife, and it's the Baker Creek. Thanks for the information about the others.

  4. My favorite catalog is Pinetree Gardens, seems to have the best prices, although their catalog is not the easiest to peruse. Always order a few things from Bakers Seeds because I like what the young couple stands for. Love those old catalogs like Jungs and Schumways, just for the old-timey illustrations. For the longest time Jungs was the only place we could get our beloved German Butterball potatoes, but now I see they are offered in other catalogs.

  5. I've used both of these and they are great: and

  6. I have some of those catalogs. I look at the local places, too.
    Dave's is my go to for lots of questions.
    Thanks for your comments and opinions, CQ!

  7. CQ,

    Thank you for the heads up on Daves Garden Top 30 Ratings list.
    I've order and love using Baker Creek Heirloom, Victory Seed and several local places.

  8. Seed savers is my go to choice for seed potatoes. High mowing organic is a small farm in Vermont that grows, trials, and then sells non gmo open pollinated organic seeds. Anything else comes from Johnny's in Maine.

  9. Territorial Seeds is from my hometown!(Cottage Grove, Oregon) So proud of the good work they do! I live a couple hours away now,, but I think there will be some window shopping when I am there in a couple weeks!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing all of this wonderful information! I just ordered most of my seeds for this years garden! I am looking forward to a very busy but very fun summer. We have always had a small garden but last summer my husband and I decided to take the leap and plan for a new one. We have also started raising rabbits and we are a couple weeks away from breeding and are also looking into some chickens! Thanks again for sharing!


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