Our Favorite Seed Catalogs Reviewed
Ever have trouble sorting through the seed catalogs? Can't decide what to grow? Now sure what you know how to grow it? There are so many options, and that's before you ever open the page to be seduced by all the pretty pictures.
Over the years, our crew has developed affection for a special few seed catalogs, which we present here in alphabetical order: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interests, Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change, and, new here in 2013, Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seeds.
The pictures of the catalog covers are links;
We favor heirloom seeds, but you may appreciate a quick word about their looks. Heirloom varieties were selected over time for flavor and abundance, not looks. While there are some very polite small, red and round heirloom tomatoes, get ready for the world of lumpy, pleated, and colorful. Super artful, super tastey.
While I love the thrill of starting from seed, in years when life has interrupted and I need to transplant seedlings instead, my favorite source for seedlings is the farmer's market. These folks are in it for the money, so they will only grow what works for that region's climate and soils, and what resists that region's favorite pests. They have found good solid varieties that will produce decent crops most years.
Do I buy seedlings from the seed catalogs too? You bet! Who can resist?
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek's deepest passion is melons. These guys have been travelling far and wide to find the rarest, oddest, and wildest melons you can imagine.
They also host monthly and annual Pioneer Town festivals in Missouri. While Baker Creek is largely energetic young people with a gift for god eats and a great sense of humor, the festivals bring in a wide range of ages and backgrounds.
Bonus points: Everything they offer is open pollinated, meaning if you are into seed saving, buying from them one year can stock you for quite a few. There's no fancy cross pollinated hybridized gene tweaked professional vegetables here, just what the birds and the bees gave us.
A relative newcomer to the seed industry, Botanical Interests began in Colorado in 1995 and has taken off from there. Like all of my top picks, this company has strong ethical and educational principles that guide them, so you'll find nothing GMO, a lot of organic seed choices, and a number of very rare species that are begging for us Garden Geeks to help save them.
Though we've been using their seeds for years, there's a new collection out that is high on my 'to-try' list this year: the Botanic Garden Series. We're working more and more with attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects to our clients' gardens (edible and otherwise), and are super excited to 'hire' these threatened flower varieties to work for us.
Bonus Points: these are the coolest seed packets you'll receive. Don't rip it open: slit it along the sides so that you can read everything on here, inside and out. (Not kidding!)
Seed Savers Exchange
Another 'must-visit' farm, Seed Savers Exchange is an epicenter in the heirloom seed saving quest. Begun in 1975 in Decorah, Iowa, using a model for systematic seed saving that is now being used around the world as groups race to save the cultural heritage and biological diversity inherent in heirloom seeds.
What exactly is offered year to year in their seed catalogs varies a bit because they are growing out a vast bank of seeds, each of which is willing to wait a certain length of time, but not much more, to grow again. The basics remain true, though, and if you want something, it's very likely here.
This is my favorite source for tomatoes, beans, beets, and carrots. Through Seed Savers Exchange, I learned about black tomatoes (try Black from Tula or Black Krim), Aunt Molly's ground cherry (I now consider this tomatillo- answer- to- the- cherry- tomato a must-have), and Blauwschokker peas (they're blue! So beautiful I almost didn't want to harvest them!).
Seeds of Change
The Seeds of Change folks are some of my favorite people, and not just for the colors of the vegetables, the array of edibles, and the blue of the sky in their photos. (Are these colors related to their 100% organic status, or is that just a happy coincidence? I don't know.)
Seeds of Change started in 1989 in New Mexico with a focus on open pollinated, heirlooms. This is my favorite source for garlic, onions, amaranth, and sunflowers. Though I'd love to source my potatoes here, I live too far away to justify such a heavy shipment.
Seeds of Change has a number of rare sunflower varieties that are hard to find anywhere else. For a gorgeous, edible summer hedge, try Hopi Red Dye amaranth and their Discovery Mix of sunflowers.
Bonus points: Seeds of Change is the only one of these seed catalogs to exclusively offer organic seeds. I also appreciate that they take organic to its logical (not USDA) socio-economic follow-through and pay fair prices to their many organic seed farmers.
Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seeds
Have you heard of Biodynamic yet? I have a balance of intellectual skepticism and taste bud belief. I don't know why the biodynamic farmers are getting the results they are getting, but they are. Here's the only biodynamic seed source I'm familiar with. It's all open pollinated. While it's not necessarily USDA Organic, the Demeter Certification is looking for a closed loop, an all-on-farm cycle of soil nutrition and pest control, with potential for off farm purchases of their very ingredient specific preparations. It is, in many respects, beyond organic.
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