Now, when it’s dark and freezing outside (in the Northern hemisphere at least), is the right time to start thinking about what you want to grow next season.
Regardless of if you have room for a few pots on a window sill or if you have a full size garden, it all starts with the seeds.
But all seeds are not equal.
There are hybrids, heirlooms, open-pollinated, GMO’s, organic varieties… It’s easy to get confused.
Here’s the most important thing to consider if you value self-reliance for the long run:
The ability to save seeds from one season to another and not only preserve but improve the plant genetics naturally by savings seeds from only the strongest and healthiest plants adapted to your local climate and growing conditions.
And in that department, open-pollinated organic heirloom seeds beat the rest.
Here’s seven seed companies that all carry heirloom seeds, and all have beautiful seed catalogs you can order for free or for a very modest fee:
Oregon-based Territorial Seed Company is wholly owned by Tom and Julie Johns since 1985 when they purchased it from its founder Steve Solomon. In 1987, the Johns’ bought 44 acres for trial grounds at London Springs, south of their headquarters in Cottage Grove Lake.
Each year Territorial’s research garden staff grows and evaluates thousands of varieties for best taste, Northwest hardiness, and good germination. More recently they began reclaiming older, favorite vegetable varieties sometimes shelved by their seed suppliers.
Located in the rolling hills of central Virginia (not far from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello), Southern Exposure offers over 700 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seeds.
They emphasize varieties that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, although gardeners and farmers from all over the country grow our seeds. They offer many unusual, Southern heirlooms, yacon, basils, and amaranths including peanuts, southern peas, naturally colored cotton, collards, okra, roselle, turnip greens, corns for roasting and meal, and butterbeans.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Since 1975, their members have been collecting and distributing thousands of samples of rare garden seeds to other gardeners.
On their 890-acre Heritage Farm, near Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers Exchange maintain many thousands of heirloom garden varieties, most having been brought to North America by members’ ancestors who emigrated from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world.
High Mowing Organic Seeds began in 1996 with just 28 varieties. What started as a one-man operation with founder Tom Stearns is now a thriving business making available to home gardeners and commercial growers over 600 heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid varieties of vegetable, fruit, herb and flower seed.
Gijiu Kitazawa worked many years as an apprentice for a seed company in Japan prior to starting Kitazawa Seed Company in 1917. This makes Kitazawa Seed Company the oldest seed company in America specializing in Asian vegetable seeds.
They offer over 500 seed varieties that produce dento yasai or traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan.
At the age of 17, Jere Gettle printed the first small Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog in 1998. Since then the company has grown to offer 1750 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs — “the largest selection of rare, heirloom varieties in the U.S.A.”
All of their seed is non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented.
The Cottage Gardener Heirloom Seedhouse is a family owned and operated, farm-based seedhouse started by Mary and Dan Brittain back in 1996 in southern Ontario, Canada. Their property is a lovely, secluded 10 acres surrounded by conifers, that supposedly
“provides a unique micro-climate especially conducive to growing and saving seed.”
They offer over 700 heirloom seed varieties, and their mandate is to provide rare, open-pollinated, non-GMO heirloom varieties.
To order a physical catalog from the Cottage Gardener email them here with your full name and address including your postal code.
Next Step – Saving Your Own Seeds
Buying your seeds is step one. Planting them is step two. Step three, which is saving seeds from your plants, takes you full circle.
The best thing about buying open-pollinated heirloom seeds is that they’re perfectly suited for saving from season to season, so ideally you’ll only have to buy them once.
Ad unlike hybrid varieties you can be fairly certain that your new heirloom plants will keep the same characteristics as the old plants. Hybrid seeds are more like Russian roulette, you never know what you’ll get from saved seeds.
We’ll talk more about saving seeds in the future, but if you want to learn more about it right now I highly recommend the book Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth.
Do you save your seeds? I’d love to hear your experiences. Leave a comment!