Now that you developed your garden plan, it is time to start planting seeds for our gardens! Yes! It is time! Before you plant, you need to buy your seeds (unless you saved some from last season), and there are a lot of options out there. It can be confusing and overwhelming. In this post and episode, I am reviewing top seed sources for your 2018 garden. The best part about this: I am using feedback from the Small Scale Life Facebook Group and Minnesota-Wisconsin Regenerative Agriculture Group about seed vendors you use! You, my dear friends, your story are part of the show!
Introduction – Reviewing Top Seed Sources
As we roll through February, it is time to get planting seeds and getting our seedlings started. As you have been finishing up your Garden Plans, I am sure you are finding that you need some seeds! If you type “seed vendors” into Google, you will be overwhelmed with companies and vendors selling all kinds of heirloom and genetically modified seeds.
Where do you buy your seeds?
This was the exact question I asked the two groups I manage on Facebook:
I wanted to get the perspectives of urban farmers, homesteaders and gardeners. The great thing is that this is input from across the country (Small Scale Life Group) and locally in Minnesota and Wisconsin (MN-WI Group). I wanted to see if there might be differences in how small scale gardeners buy their seeds versus more commercial operations like Michael Bell’s Half Acre Farms or Scott Hebert’s Flavourful Farms.
The results in each group are summarized below and will serve as the basis for reviewing top seed sources.
Small Scale Life Facebook Group
We had some good participation from group members, and I appreciate your thoughts and feedback in the poll and on my direct messages. Here is what the results are telling us:
- Johnny Seeds is the clear leader for growers in the Small Scale Life Facebook Group.
- Baker Creek is in second place with Seed Savers in a distant third place.
- A few of our Small Scale Life members were very interested in saving their own seeds. Homesteader Greg Burns told me that his goal is to plant using saved seeds and not purchase any. New to gardening, Jacob Heinberg is starting his garden this year, and he is very interested in seed saving. While I won’t get into specifics in this post, I will have some posts about it in the near future.
MN-WI Regenerative Agriculture Group
The MN-WI Regenerative Agriculture Facebook Group is a smaller group composed of farmers, homesteaders and gardeners in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I wanted to set up a local network of people to replicate the Ohio Get Stuff Done Group, and there is a great group of people there. I plan to start meeting people in this group, but that is for another time.
From the people that participated in this poll, we have the following results:
- Seed Savers Exchange was the leader.
- Burpee is second.
- Saving your own seeds is in third place.
Top Seed Vendors
In order to help reviewing top seed sources, your humble correspondent went a little above and beyond and ordered seed catalogs from Johnny Selected Seeds, Baker Seed Company, Seed Saver Exchange and Burpee. I wanted to briefly review top seed sources from our polls and show the differences between their seed catalogs.
While you can get a lot of information off each vendor’s website, seed catalogs provide a wealth of information about the seeds, produce or herbs, time to maturity, yield and some history about the origin of that particular plant or herb. One seed catalog provides specific information about resistance to certain blight (and that might be one of the reasons they are a leader).
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Started in 1973, Johnny Selected Seeds is based in Maine and is 100% employee owned. They offer a variety of vegetable, herb, fruit and flower seeds. Johnny Seeds also offers a variety of tools and supplies for gardeners, market farmers and farmers.
I am impressed by the information that Johnny Seeds has compiled beyond the description, days to maturity, what to expect at harvest and price options. The disease resistance information and germination guides are great! They also have some suggested planting program information for market farmers to follow during the “Stages” of the growing season. There is a lot to like about Johnny Seeds.
What about cost?
Johnny Seeds seems to be more expensive than other seed vendors; however, they offer seed packages for commercial producers (i.e., farmers).
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company printed its first seed catalog in 1998 when the owner was 17 years old. Baker Creek has three stores: Petaluma, CA; Mansfield, MO; Wethersfield, CT. They offer a variety of heirloom vegetable, herb, flower and fruit seeds, and if you are interested, they host events at their stores.
Looking at their seed catalog, it is a straight-forward affair: history of the particular item, description of what to expect at maturity, days to maturity, amount in the packet (selected items) and price. Unlike Johnny’s, Baker Creek does not seem to have larger packages for commercial producers (i.e., farmers).
What about cost?
Baker Creek seems to be less expensive than Johnny’s Seeds and seems to be in the same range as Seed Savers Exchange and Burpee (depending on the item).
Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Saver Exchange started in 1975 and is based in Decorah, Iowa. They offer a variety of heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit. They promote their seed saving community and seed saving movement.
Their seed catalog includes history of the particular item, description of what to expect at maturity, days to maturity, amount of seed in each option (all items) and price per seed option. Unlike Baker Creek, Seed Savers does offer some larger packages for more commercial operations.
What about cost?
Seed Savers seems to be less expensive than Johnny’s Seeds and seems to be in the same range as Baker Creek and Burpee (depending on the item).
Burpee is big, and it is everywhere: Menards, Walmart, Home Depot, grocery stores, etc. Started in 1876, they are headquartered in Warminister, PA. They have vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit, gardening supplies, seed starting supplies and lots of other items.
Their seed catalog includes days to maturity, description of what to expect at maturity, amount of seed in each option (all items) and price per seed option. Burpee does not seem to have larger packages for commercial producers (i.e., farmers). It is a one-size-fits-all approach, and you can easily purchase their products at big box stores near you.
What about cost?
Burpee seems to be less expensive than Johnny’s Seeds and seems to be in the same range as Baker Creek and Seed Savers (depending on the item).
What About Saving Your Own?
Perhaps you don’t have the funds to spend on all these vendors. Times are tough for some, and there are ways to get gardening without breaking your bank. Seed saving is a great way to get your own seed collection started on the cheap.
While I am not going to go into detail in this post about saving seeds, it is as easy as saving those pepper seeds in your bell peppers or jalapenos. Instead of composting them (and maybe growing vegetables and herbs in your compost pile), save the seeds from peppers, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables on a plate and let them dry out. Just make sure you label them or it could get messy!
Saving tomato seeds is a little trickier. Tomatoes have a gelatinous membrane around the seeds, and you need to break that down by “fermenting” the seeds for a couple days. It isn’t hard, but I am planning to write a post about that. Of course, if you have a tomato you like, you can take a slice with seeds in it and plant it in soil. You will generate tomato seedlings!
We will cover seed saving in another post.
Other Seed Sources
Be on the lookout for other sources of seeds. Some groups and organizations have seed exchanges and offer seeds. These can be great sources as well. The only potential drawback is that you might not get the particular variety you want, but you might get something unexpected!
Putting It All Together
After developing your Garden Plan for this year, it is time to purchase seeds. There are a lot of vendors out there, and it can be overwhelming to sort through all of them. The key is to use your Garden Plan to identify the seeds you need, and purchase your seed according to availability and price. Maybe you want to get your seed from one vendor that has them all? Perhaps you want to try a couple different vendors? Keep in mind that I only listed the big four from our poll. There are other vendors out there.
You can save seeds from vegetables from the store or from your garden. That will save money and get you going this year, but you might not get the variety of tomato, pepper, bean or other vegetable you want. The benefits to saving your own are gaining that experience and saving money.
Be on the lookout for seed exchanges or offers for free seeds. These can be ways to add to your collection.
There is no right or wrong answer. The key is to get moving and collect your seeds because it is time to plant! That is next week’s topic!
That’s about all for this post and podcast. I hope you found that reviewing top seed sources was useful and helpful. If you have comments or questions, please leave them as a comment to this post on Small Scale Life, use the Contact Us page, or send me an e-mail at realsmallscalelife at gmail dot com.
Thank you again for listening to the Small Scale Life Podcast and visiting smallscalelife.com. We appreciate you and your time. Our wish for you is that you remove some of that stress in your life and live simply this week. This is Tom from Small Scale Life, and we’ll see you next time! Take care, everyone!