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old world organics seeds

Old world organics seeds
The barn and coop are a snowy disaster, and it takes mountaineering skills to climb the drifts in the barnyard. And so, I’m hunkering down inside with a cup of herbal tea, a roast in the crockpot, and a pile of seed packets waiting for it to pass.

Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.” –Josephine Nuese

As I type this, we are in the midst of a good old-fashioned Wyoming ground blizzard, complete with road closures, snow sand-blasting your face when you step out the door, and drifts higher than my knees.

We knew it was coming when it dumped nearly 12-inches of snow yesterday. That’s the pattern ’round these parts: fluffy, dry snow followed by 50 to 60mph winds the following day. It happens just like clockwork.

The barn and coop are a snowy disaster, and it takes mountaineering skills to climb the drifts in the barnyard. And so, I’m hunkering down inside with a cup of herbal tea, a roast in the crockpot, and a pile of seed packets waiting for it to pass.

That’s right my friends, it’s seed ordering time.

I’ve been using nothing but heirloom seeds for the last 7+ years and have had really good results with them. (Well, minus the years I’ve killed my garden, but that wasn’t the fault of the seeds.)

Inevitably, when I mention seeds on social media, I’m peppered with a dozen questions or so about my favorite seeds and where I buy them. Thus, I figured it was high-time to write it all out in an official blog post.

What are Heirloom Seeds

Like most things, there’s a considerable amount of debating surrounding the exact definition of an heirloom seed, but most folks can agree on the following characteristics:

Heirloom seeds are:

  • Open-pollinated. This means the plants have only been exposed to natural pollination methods like insects, birds, or wind, and have not been purposely crossed with other varieties. This also means when you plant a seed saved from an heirloom plant, it will produce true to its type. All heirlooms are open-pollinated, but NOT all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. (Some plants are self-pollinated, but they can fall into this same category.)
  • Passed down from generation to generation. Most folks agree that in order to be cons />

Why I Prefer Heirloom Seeds

Oh man… Where do I even start?

  • The taste! Heirloom veggies haven’t been subjected to selective breeding that favors uniformity and their ability to be shipped cross-country over taste. Heirloom tomatoes taste like, well, tomatoes; not the bland mush you’re used to getting at the store. Last summer I grew an heirloom spinach crop in our raised beds. Normally I’m just “meh” when it comes to spinach; it’s fine, but nothing I really crave. However, I couldn’t get enough of my heirloom spinach crop! It had a flavor like I’ve never experienced from store-bought spinach, and I found myself going out to the garden several times per day to grab handfuls. The taste difference alone is worth sourcing and growing heirloom seeds.
  • Adaptability. If you plan on saving the seeds from your heirloom plants, some varieties will adapt to their location and grow a little bit better each year. Pretty cool, eh?
  • Seed Saving. As I mentioned above, saving hybrid seeds doesn’t work since the seeds won’t produce true to type. However, you don’t have to worry about that with heirlooms. If you are careful with your seed saving, you could stop buying seeds indefinitely! (Until you start looking at catalogs and you get the itch to try something new… But I digress.)
  • Nutrition.There are some interesting studies that have shown a decrease in the nutrient-density of our food supply over the decades. High yields have taken priority with nutrient-content being pushed to the back-burner. While not all heirlooms are automatically higher in nutrients, there’s a very good chance that your heritage veggies will contain more vitamins and minerals than run-of-the-mill, mass-scale-variety grocery store produce.
  • Preserving rare varieties. When you purchase heirloom seeds, you’re supporting all the folks over the decades who have taken so much time and care in saving these seeds, and you’re encouraging genetic diversity for future generations.
  • The stories. One of the very best parts of heirloom seeds are their stories. There are ancient melons from Iraq, hardy corn developed in the mountains of Montana, globe-like carrots from France, and fluted Italian tomatoes from the early 19th century. It’s really, really hard for me to opt for ho-hum seeds when I have tantalizing options like these available.

Tips for Growing Heirlooms

Heirloom vegetables really aren’t that different to grow than regular seeds. However, here are a few tips to ensure your success.

Tip #1: Go online or order through a catalog. Unless you have spectacular garden stores in your area, you’ll find a much better (and more exciting) variety online or in catalogs. The scant heirloom offerings at my small, local garden stores are disappointing at best.

Tip #2: NOW (aka January or February) is the time to be stocking up on seeds– the best varieties sell out fast and it’s likely they won’t be available if you wait until April or May.

Tip #3: Read the description to find the growing time and any special notes about climate or location. This is the first thing I look for when I’m seed shopping, and it can really make a difference in our short Wyoming growing season.

Tip #4: Experiment with new colors and types of vegetables– get out of the rut of only red tomatoes and only green beans and go crazy!

Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds

I won’t make you wait any longer! Here are five heirloom seed companies that come highly recommended from homesteaders all over. These all sell non-GMO, open-pollinated varieties, although not all of their seeds are Certified Organic. Government organic certification isn’t all that important to me, providing the companies are committed to sustainable growing/sourcing practices.

(P.S. I have zero relationships with any of these companies and I’m not getting a dime to include them here.)

  1. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    This is where I’ve ordered almost all of my seeds for over 7 years and I couldn’t be happier. They have a huge variety, a gorgeous catalog, and they include a free pack of seeds with every order. Click here to shop Baker Creek.
  2. Seed Savers Exchange
    A non-profit community of folks who are dedicated to preserving seeds for the generations to come. Lots of diversity to choose from! Click here to shop Seed Savers Exchange.
  3. Territorial Seeds.
    They carry non-heirloom seeds as well, but have a considerable heirloom section of their website. Click here to shop Territorial Seeds.
  4. Johnny’s Seeds.
    Johnny’s carries many varieties, including a considerable heirloom/open-pollinated section. They also have a selection of certified organic seed if that is a priority for you. Click here to shop Johnny’s Seeds
  5. Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
    A smaller company specializing in heirlooms and certified organic seeds sourced around the world. Click here to shop Annie’s Heirloom Seeds

Reader Favorites:

From Holly: “This year I am excited to support High Mowing Organic Seeds with my seed purchase. As implied in their name, they’re raising the bar in having all their seeds be organic! Last year I had good success with cover crop from them. They have an excellent catalogue of veggies to choose from. Check them out! “”

From Lorna: “Seed Treasures is a great place to order. Jackie Clay-Atkinson and Will Atkinson have just recently begun to sell their seeds, so it’s a very small operation right now. All seeds are open-pollinated and heirloom and have been tried, tested and tasted. You can read detailed descriptions about each seed selection written by two of the most dedicated homesteaders in the business, Jackie & Will. Reasonably priced, too!”

From Danielle: “I love Mary’s heirloom seeds and seeds for generations. They’re both great, small Mom and pop type shops that are dedicated to preserving our agricultural heritage and heirloom seeds. Their customer service is amazing. The varieties may not be as plentiful as a place like baker’s, but they do have quite a variety considering their size! and

From Rose: “I discovered True Leaf Market a few years ago and have been extremely impressed. Their seed germination rate is amazing, and their variety is phenomenal. I now go to them for my sprouting seeds and cover crops too.”

What’s your favorite place to buy heirloom seeds?

Leave a comment with a link and 1 or 2 sentences why you like them and I’ll add it to this post!

Old world organics seeds
Passions for ethical responsibility and high-quality seeds helped put Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds and Fedco Seeds near the top of the list, too. Here’s what some respondents had to say about them:

Best Vegetable Seed Companies

By the time you poke your first seeds into the ground each spring, you already have huge hopes for the success of your crops. You’ve spent hours planning, weeks waiting, and your soil may reflect years of hard work spent building its fertility. With so much potential in those seeds, you want to buy from a seed company you can trust. So how do you know which have the best seeds and selections? And which follow sustainable practices?

To answer these questions, we asked hundreds of gardeners to take our 2011 Seed Company Survey. Our survey group was a well-seasoned bunch: About 65 percent had grown food gardens for more than 10 years. Each respondent picked his or her three favorite vegetable seed companies and then ranked companies based on individual qualities. Ultimately, the survey revealed 15 standout vegetable seed companies, all of which emphasize sustainability. (Join our Gardening Advisory Group to take future surveys.)

Top 15 Sustainable Seed Companies

Our Top 15 list (toward the end of this article) is based on how often the vegetable seed companies were ranked in gardeners’ top three. For our survey takers, it wasn’t just about the seeds. In addition to an array of varieties with consistently high germination rates, they wanted seed companies that provide detailed variety descriptions, growing advice and interesting stories. Genetic integrity was also a top priority. The gardeners we surveyed were deeply concerned about genetically modified (GM) food crops, so we made sure all of the companies here have signed the Safe Seed Pledge — a written commitment to sell only non-GM seed — or made public declarations that they will not knowingly sell GM seeds.

Many gardeners said they didn’t know there were more than 100 mail-order seed and plant companies. You can find a national list in our Directory of Companies Offering Mail-Order Seeds and Plants.

Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked doing business with an employee-owned company.

Gardeners want to support preservation of heirloom varieties, so Seed Savers Exchange received high marks for providing unique and nearly forgotten heirlooms. Seed Savers, a nonprofit organization, has “wonderful heirloom seed, a beautiful catalog and a great mission,” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener who puts sustainability first. The Seed Savers catalog was rated highly for its variety descriptions and photographs, plus customers said they liked being a part of seed conservation. “They’re outside of the mainstream, consolidated seed-production system, and they have a wonderful community feel to their operation and network,” wrote an organic gardener in the Pacific Northwest.

A strong sense of purpose has earned Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds many loyal patrons. A prominent spokesman against GM “Frankenfoods,” founder Jere Gettle has amassed a global selection of rare and worthwhile varieties. “What’s not to love about Baker Creek?” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “They’re making a hugely positive impact on the world. With all the GM seed obscenities going on, they’re helping make sure humans will be able to eat in the future!”

Passions for ethical responsibility and high-quality seeds helped put Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds and Fedco Seeds near the top of the list, too. Here’s what some respondents had to say about them:

Seeds of Change: “Good combination of heirlooms, open-pollinated and quality hybrids, all organically grown.”

“I find the agronomics information listed for each type of vegetable very helpful, and I like their emphasis on biodiversity and sustainability.”

High Mowing Organic Seeds: “I love the personal service and wide variety of organic selections from High Mowing.”

“The varieties they offer are excellent and suitable for organic market farming; everything is certified organic, which makes life easier if ordering seed for a certified organic farm.”

Fedco Seeds: “Excellent variety choice, and usually the cheapest prices. I like supporting a co-op, and Fedco offers information on where their seeds are from.”

Crazy for Seed Catalogs

Nearly 70 percent of gardeners said they buy most of their seeds from mail-order vegetable seed companies. Most gardeners were quick to heap praise on their favorite seed companies and their catalogs. Of Fedco, one gardener said, “Their catalog makes wonderful, entertaining, laugh-out-loud reading, and all of the vintage graphics are wonderful.”

Loco for Local Seeds

Most gardeners send at least one seed order to a local or regional company, and this practice offers certain benefits. For instance, locally grown seed is more likely to be suited to your climate. In the upper and mid-South, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has a strong following. “I go here first,” said a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “Southern Exposure provides mostly locally grown seed, heritage and open-pollinated varieties, excellent service and decent prices.” Known for offering unique items, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was called “a small company with a big heart” by a longtime organic farmer.

In the Northwest, Territorial Seeds reigned supreme as a regional seed source, with excellent ratings for producing catalogs brimming with varietal and cultural information. “They always have what I want in stock, so I don’t have to wait. The variety descriptions are excellent,” wrote a gardener with a small plot who’s just getting started. And Territorial Seed is successful nationally, too. “Territorial has good selection across the board, dependable seeds and fair pricing,” said a New England gardener. Additionally, Territorial is one of the only major seed companies that publishes a winter catalog, which is of tremendous interest to food gardeners in areas with mild winters.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Gardeners of all skill levels enjoy trying new crops and varieties, and many look to mail-order seed companies to add to the adventure. “Nichols Garden Nursery always has something new and interesting, plus they continue to carry my old favorites,” said a veteran gardener from the Southwest. A Mid-Atlantic gardener noted, “The family warmth of Nichols shows in the care they take with each order, and they have taken a stand against treated and GMO seed.” A gardener from the Midwest with more than 20 years of experience summed it up this way: “When I’m looking for old-world heirlooms or just plain fun, Nichols Garden Nursery is my favorite.”

Those in search of undiscovered garden pleasures often find them in packets from Renee’s Garden, which is also a valued source for garden-worthy annual flowers. “The Renee’s Garden catalog introduced me to favorite new crops, including ‘Trombetta’ squash and ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce,” said an experienced gardener from the Southwest. A Midwestern gardener with 20 years of experience praised Renee’s “combo packs” that include three varieties of lettuce, squash, tomato or pepper.

The Top 15 Vegetable Seed Companies

  1. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)
  2. Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa)
  3. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, Mo.)
  4. Burpee Seeds and Plants (Warminster, Pa.)
  5. Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, Ore.)
  6. Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, Calif.)
  7. Ferry-Morse Seed Company (Fulton, Ky.)
  8. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, Va.)
  9. High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, Vt.)
  10. Fedco Seeds (Waterville, Maine)
  11. Nichols Garden Nursery (Albany, Ore.)
  12. The Cook’s Garden (Warminster, Pa.)
  13. Botanical Interests (Broomfield, Colo.)
  14. Renee’s Garden Seeds (Felton, Calif.)
  15. Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, Calif.)

Organic Seeds Off the Rack

One sour point for some seed shoppers was shipping cost, but you won’t pay a cent if you pick up packets at retail stores you often visit. Even big-box stores now carry organic and heirloom seed from Burpee, Ferry-Morse, Cook’s Garden and others, or you can look for more specialized selections at garden centers and health food stores. Food-minded gardeners may find racks from Renee’s Garden at gift and gourmet shops. Food co-ops and independently owned health food stores often have displays from regional seed companies, such as Territorial in the West and Southern Exposure in the East. (Each company’s website includes a store locator button.) Or, maybe you’ll simply have to answer your doorbell: Renee’s, Botanical Interests, John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds, Seeds of Change and other seed companies offer school fundraiser programs.