When you need to order seeds, but don’t know the best company to use, it can get frustrating. Will the seeds germinate? Are they cost-competitive?
Just so you know: This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay!
My biggest problem is, I want them all. My goal is to have a great garden, and every garden begins with quality seeds. Through years of ordering seeds, I finally discovered some great companies, and have heard and want to try others.
Which is why I sometimes I wonder if our postman gets tired of having to figure out how to stuff all those seed catalogs into my mailbox. I get them from so many companies, I cannot even count.
Lately, though I have been focused on heirloom seeds. My main goal is to learn how to save my seeds, to help cut down on the expenses of my seed obsession. But the idea of sharing them with others is also very appealing!
When you think of an ‘heirloom’, you have in mind jewelry, a watch or a piece of furniture that has been handed down generation after generation. Lucky is the one who receives it!
Seeds are the same way. Many heirloom varieties were brought to America by immigrants. Often, to prevent theft, women would sew the seeds into the hem of their garments. This was an assurance that they not only could grow their own food, but also preserved their favorites.
An heirloom plant usually are ‘true to type’. This means that if you plant a Granny Cantrell tomato and save the seeds, the next year you will get the same thing. Keep in mind, this only applies if you do not plant another type of tomato nearby. To truly preserve heirloom seeds, plants must be separated, or planted at different times. This is called ‘plant isolation’.
But different plants have differing isolation spacing. Where tomatoes and peppers need to be separate by at least 30 feet, some vegetables, such as cucumbers and cauliflower can require a quarter mile or better.
This is where succession planting comes in handy. Start your seeds for one variety on Day 1. Two to three weeks later, start the seeds for a different variety. By the time the second one has set blooms and are ready to pollinate, the first ones have begun to set fruit. Keep in mind, peppers are self-pollinating, but squash requires a pollinator. Succession planting will only work up to a point. If you truly want to be safe, you may consider pollinating by hand.
Hybrids are bred for certain qualities. It is impossible to know what other plants are involved to get the desired results. Planting a hybrid seed is equivalent to ‘paying your nickel and taking your chances’, but chances are you won’t get anything close to what you wanted or expected.
Hybrids are primarily grown for shipping purposes. Many heirlooms are not ‘sturdy’ enough to ship great distances. They over-ripen quickly, and some of the odd shapes do not conform well to packing. A secondary reason is to insure uniformity. Next time you are in a grocery store, take a look at the vegetables. Most of them are roughly the same size, shape and color.
Heirloom tomatoes comes in all different sizes and some definitely odd-ball shapes. Have you ever seen a Mushroom Basket?
Most vegetables that are shipped are picked before they are fully ripe. This aids in the shipping process, but is detrimental to flavor. If you have ever eaten a store-bought tomato and an heirloom at the same time, you will immediately notice the one from the grocery store has a tendency to have no flavor. But the heirloom will be rich and delicious.
My goal is to grow as many heirloom varieties as possible. I first started with tomatoes. Over the course of several years, I have come to the conclusion that the best tomato so far is the Granny Cantrell. It is a perfect balance of acid, flavor, juice and meatiness. We love these sliced for sandwiches.
However, that doesn’t mean I have quit trying. This year, my curiosity piqued when I read about a Thessaloniki tomato. Rumor has it they are rich and sweet. It sounded good enough that I ordered a packet.
I have tried many seed companies, but I have to confess I have my favorites. The following is a list of the ones I order seeds from, and what I think:
Mary’s Heirloom Seeds
By far my favorite. Mary has several things going for her seeds. First, they ship quickly. Second, I had the best germination rate of her seeds than those from any other company. Third, she runs a .99 cent sales periodically. You do have to order a $10.00 minimum, but that means 10 packets of seeds. Other seeds costs anywhere from $2.50 to $5.00, with the highest price going for the organic products.
And yes. I am an affiliate for Mary. But just so you understand – I am affiliate, not because I earn a commission on sales (which, by the way, I do, but it never affects the price you pay!), but because I truly love her products and purchase them myself. II do not recommend products or companies. I don’t like! For a bit more information on Mary’s, visit the Resource Page!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
This is my second favorite seed company. Before I learned about Mary, this is where the majority of my seeds came from. They ship quickly, and for the most part their seeds are excellent quality. Only once did I order a package of Lemon Squash (my all-time favorite!), and got one scallop squash seed in the packet. The good news is, I loved it, and will be ordering more of that variety.
Seeds for Generations
This is a family owned and operated business, owned by Jason Matyas. They offer organic, heirloom seeds of great quality. Their customer service is excellent. With a backing of taking the Safe Seed Pledge, GMO seeds are not offered. Jason’s entire family works to sustain and grow the company, and their hard work pays off in quality seeds. Seeds for Generations is definitely in my Top Three Picks, which takes a lot of pluses to make the grade!
Seeds from Italy
I order at least a couple packets of seeds from this company each year. They offer Italian varieties of heirlooms that so far, I have not been able to find in any other catalog. I love their Principe Borghese cherry tomato. Barbara Kingsolver turned me on to this plant, when I read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In it, she gives a recipe for marinated tomatoes that is some of the best I have ever eaten. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it!
Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
This is a new company for me. My sister gave me a gift certificate for Annie’s for Christmas this year. I had never heard of it, so was eager to check it out. This is where I discovered the Thessaloniki tomato. I ordered several packets and an heirloom seed sieve that I felt would come in handy. I will keep you posted as to what I think on her company – but after a conversation with them, I do believe it will be a good seed resource!
All Seed Types
Admittedly, it has been years since I have ordered anything from this company. When I did, I was relatively pleased with their product. When I first became enamored with heirloom seeds, I did check their catalog. Very, very few heirloom vegetables were offered. Now, they seem to be offering more in that arena, but I can’t testify to them. If I can’t find a particular variety anywhere else and Johnny’s offers it, I will certainly place an order!
This is a seed company whose seeds you can easily find anywhere seeds are sold. I often flip through the racks, and on occasion, I purchase a few. After all, not all hybrids are bad – especially if you grow and harvest them yourself. To date, I have had good success with them, and will continue to purchase their products. My favorites are the multi-colored and larger varieties of bell peppers.
Offers both heirloom and hybrid, and with a wide selection. Territorial Seeds also offers a section on insects, with fairly comprehensive information on each one. There is also a garden planner app which is offered as a paid product (but does have a free trial), and a plant growing guide that can be most helpful. I haven’t ordered from Territorial Seeds, but have had enough great feedback on them I am going to check them out. My first pick will probably be a corn variety. That is the one area of heirlooms that I haven’t found a suitable corn for us here!
Seed Savers Exchange
“Seed Savers Exchange is a tax-exempt 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds”. This is a direct quote from their website. Seed Savers Exchange isn’t a traditional seed company, but rather a nonprofit organization. Memberships are offered, but not required.
They sell organic, heirloom, non GMO seeds, and strive to preserve as many varieties as possible. In order to do so, some heirloom gardeners send seeds to SSE to aid in the preservation of that particular variety. Years ago I was a member, and ordered Hopi Blue Corn from them. I was impressed with the price and germination rate, and have seriously considered becoming a member again.
Are you ready to order seeds? Now that you are armed with a list of seed suppliers, it’s time to decide exactly what you want to plant. Beware, though. Seed catalogs can be hazardous to your checkbook’s health.
I have to admit I have been so enamored with some of the offerings, I order seeds, but have yet to plant some of them! When that happens, I take a page out of Lisa @ The Self Sufficient HomeAcre’s gardening ‘book’. I just tell the Country Boy I am stocking up for my Survival Seed Bank!
Now, it’s your turn. Tell me what you are ordering. Do you have questions about a particular variety or company? If I have grown it, I will give you my opinion. Now, if I haven’t, and your choice looks enticing, I may just order some so we can compare notes!
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