In our previous Black Thumb post, we talked about why you should buy seeds from the same places commercial growers buy them: actual seed companies.
At first I was probably like most everyone else: I bought what I saw at the garden center section of my nearest big box retail store. I didn’t know the difference. Seeds are seeds, right?
As I got more involved with our garden and wanted to find seeds that weren’t available to me, I eventually started buying from smaller local nurseries and picked up whatever seed packets they had.
For the locavore shopper, this is a much better solution because you are supporting a local business and getting seeds specific to your area and growing conditions. And I’m sure the staff at your local nursery will be happy to give you any growing info you need!
However, sometimes you still run into the 80/20 rule, where the nursery or garden center is only going to stock what 80% of people want to grow, and it can be hard to find the specialty seeds that you want. So where do you go to find those odd gems that you can’t find anywhere else?
Below are five seed companies (in no particular order) located across the country that I like and why:
(Note: I am not getting paid by any of these companies. They have no idea I’m posting this. If a representative of any said company sees this and would like to pay me, I won’t turn them down.)
Johnny’s is probably the best known seed company out there for farmers. Located in Maine, they have everything from fruit and veg, to herbs and cut flowers. Most of the farmers I’ve spoken to across the country, and the “celebrity” farmers I’ve read, use Johnny’s and similarly they are my go to for seed stock.
And for good reason. Remember the Federal Seed Act I mentioned in the previous article and minimum germination rates? Johnny’s say they go above and beyond those standards and constantly do quality control on their stock. Each packet I get lists the germination rate, the date they tested it, and the lot number. When seeds don’t perform to their standards, they pull them. On a recent order, rather than giving me substandard stock of Easter Egg Radish seeds, they pulled them from inventory because they failed (they also gave me alternative solutions for seed stock that could give me options for my customers).
Their site is smooth, and has a Grower’s Library which is a wealth of information and knowledge in one place. They are employee owned, have organic seed options, refuse to use any GMO seeds, have great customer service, and are just an all around great company.
Botanical Interests has by far the prettiest seed packets in the industry. Out of Colorado, they started as a garage business and have been able to sell their stock directly to consumers, in small garden centers, and hardware stores (which is a legitimate reason to break my “don’t buy seeds from a big box retailer” rule) since 1995. They saw a lack of information on seed packets and found a way to include more … by printing inside the packets.
“Every Botanical Interests seed packet is designed to help gardeners succeed and create their own traditions. Featuring gorgeous botanical artists’ renderings of each variety, every packet provides a wealth of information, inside and out. ‘I like to say that we’re a gardening education company that just happens to sell seeds,’ Curtis [co-owner] says. ‘Our packets are like mini-encyclopedias, full of information to inspire and assist every type of gardener.'”
Due to the art and information on each packet, their USDA Certified organic seeds, and their wide availability, they are also a go to for our farm.
Sow True Seed may be hard to find at nurseries in certain parts of the country due to their focus on independent and regional agriculture projects. I first found them at a co-op grocery store when we lived in Greensboro and had great success with their seeds. We have some in the ground now, in fact. They are a small seed company located in Asheville, NC, in a tiny shop just off the main drag downtown. I’m talking walking distance from the pubs and the art galleries.
Similar to Botanical Interests, they value art and capture the beauty of the crop on their seed packets in beautiful detail. What stands them out is their devotion to the small farm and home gardener, their seeds are open-pollinated, heirloom and organic, and they work to preserve heirloom varieties that are threatened to go extinct.
Located in Missouri, with seed projects in California and Connecticut, Baker has an extensive catalog of hard to find seeds, with “one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties.” Their catalogs are just fun to flip through and you’ll see the oddest shapes and sizes anywhere. Seriously, who knew gourds could grow like this?
Baker caters mostly to the homesteader and home gardener, and hosts a festival “to exchange ideas and seeds, to listen to speakers and to enjoy vendors, old-time music and much more.” They even work to provide free seeds to the third-world countries and school gardens.
Located in Oregon, Territorial started in 1979 by providing seeds to growers in the short seasons of the Pacific Northwest. They now work to help producers grow food for every month of the year. Similar to the other companies listed above, they are devoted to providing organic seeds and go through rigorous testing on their farm and in their greenhouses before the stock can pass muster and be sold to customers.
Although other companies like Johnny’s have a wide variety of non-edible plants available, like cut flowers, Territorial may actually surpass them. Check out these GORGEOUS hellebores.
Each company offers free catalogs if you want to flip through and dog-ear the pages as you dream of what your garden could be. Choose seeds that have been tested and taken care of by companies that care about your garden.
Did we miss any? Which companies do you buy your seeds from? Let us know in the comments below!