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.

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