Thursday, December 15, 2011

Choosing Our Seeds: Part 2

The last blog post highlighted three great seed companies.  With this post, we’ll describe other interesting options.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive directory; it’s just a list of seed companies we know and love.

Sow True Seed
A favorite regional seed company is Sow True Seed in Asheville.  They carry many heirloom and certified organic varieties that grow well in the southern Appalachian Mountains and the piedmont area (where Greenville is located).

Sow True only sells untreated seeds, which means that no fungicides or other chemicals have been applied to them.  All seeds also are open-pollinated (as opposed to hybrids), which ensures that when the purchaser saves seeds, the resulting plants normally look and taste like the originals.

Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange, located in Decorah, Iowa, is a leader in locating and resuscitating heirloom and historically-significant varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs.  SSE publishes a beautiful catalog with botanically accurate names and vivid descriptions of plants and fruits.  A favorite of mine is their McMahon Texas Bird Pepper, a variety grown by Thomas Jefferson, which can be dug up, wintered inside, and replanted outside the following year.  

If you join SSE (for about $40/year, or $25 for those on a reduced or fixed income), you receive a 10% discount on each order and a copy of their Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, which lists nearly 14,000 varieties of seeds owned by members.  Its intent is to encourage seed-sharing and to connect people who have similar growing interests.

If you want a catalog where you don’t have to search for the organic seed designation, take a look at High Mowing Seeds, a small operation in Vermont.  100% of their seeds – over 600 varieties - are certified organic and non-genetically modified.   

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Peaceful Valley offers a line of private-label, organic seed.  One advantage of ordering from them is that they also sell other brands of seed (Renee’s Garden, Horizon Herbs and Seeds of Change), allowing you to purchase from several companies with one order form and one shipping charge.

Horizon is the ultimate seed catalog for high-quality, organic herb seeds, herb plants and tincturing supplies.   The most beautiful plants I’ve ever received were shipped by Horizon from the west coast, one of which was a horseradish plant that’s been shared with many friends over the last few years. 

Do keep in mind that the companies we’ve covered in both blogs sometimes have very different prices for comparable varieties of seeds.  Always check the number of seeds or weight of packets when you are comparing companies’ prices.

If you have any other companies you think we should know about, please share their information with us in the “Comments” section below.  It’s time to curl up on the sofa with those beautiful catalogs and a cup of hot chocolate or eggnog!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Choosing Our Seeds: Part 1

Seed catalogs have started pouring in.  Gardeners, place your orders!  Seed sales have increased 20% - 30% each year for a while now, so early ordering is the key to securing the varieties you want.

Before you choose your seed sources, identify what is most important to you about the companies from whom you order.  Is it organic seed selection; a good choice of heirloom, open-pollinated varieties; offerings of old Southern standards; or maybe plants related to your birthplace or ethnic heritage? 

I usually order at least a few packages from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine.  They’re geared toward commercial growers, but still have much to offer the home gardener.   (  The germination rates are among the best in the industry, and although not all of the seeds are open-pollinated or organic, they do have many organic and heirloom varieties.  Their catalog alone is a wealth of information.  It lists germination time, planting instructions and information about which plants are heat-resistant and cold-tolerant.  If you want a place to help you identify more edible flowers for your garden, this is it.  Johnny’s also offers organic strawberry plants, which sometimes are difficult to find.  Even if you don’t plan to order from them, be sure to get one of their catalogs.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( is another source for non-genetically modified, heirloom, open-pollinated varieties - although none are certified organic.  Their focus is on maintaining and reviving ethnic specialty varieties and preserving biodiversity in our gardens. As our climate changes, many of us are shifting some of our production to more unusual plants that thrive in our hot, humid area:  Malabar spinach, winged beans, yard long beans and different varieties of melons.   Baker Creek offers all of these, along with complete homesteading packages for the Southeast.  Their photographs will fuel your summer garden fantasies!   

Paul Manuel, Director of Food & Nutrition Services for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, favors Heavenly Seed, a company based in Anderson:  Their seed offerings are focused on what grows well in our region, which is an often-overlooked, but critical, characteristic.  They offer many open-pollinated heirloom and organic varieties of seeds, in addition to Clemson-developed hybrids and sweet potato plants.  The prices are very reasonable:  a packet of 400 Burgundy Okra seeds (a favorite of Paul’s) sells for $2, as does a package of 8000 seeds (1/4 oz.) of Southern Giant Curled Mustard.  We will be ordering from them in 2012.

Before you place an order with anyone, be sure to check the companies you’ve chosen on the Dave’s Garden Watchdog site: Consumers rate their experiences with garden companies as positive, negative, or neutral, with supporting comments.  Using this resource can help you avoid becoming entangled in a customer service nightmare - or confirm that you've made a good choice!  

Part 2 of our blog, which will be posted next week, will cover additional seed company choices.