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Trusted Suppliers

Seed Catalogs

2013 Seed CatalogsEach year in November, I make a posting on our Senior Garden blog of seed suppliers we plan to use for the oncoming gardening season. We tend to use the same trusted suppliers year after year, but also try one or two new vendors each year.

2014 seed catalog coversNovember seems to be the beginning of the season for seed houses to start sending out catalogs to previous customers and those requesting catalogs. It varies by company, but we begin getting catalogs around the middle of November, with the last of our main ones coming in during January. Since we begin planting geranium seed in late December and onions in January, we have to place the first of our orders by late November or early December! If you're planning on ordering from a seed company for the first time and need a catalog, it's a good idea to get your request in to them in early fall if possible.

Recommended Seed Suppliers

Our list of recommended seed suppliers is based on our recent and long-term experiences with the vendors listed, winnowed a bit using the The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden. Some of the relationships run back thirty or forty years or so! Others are more recent additions.

We shy away from seed houses that have been gobbled up by large, corporate conglomerates (Shumway being the lone exception), staying mostly with independent companies and a few still small, family owned and operated operations. All of our recommended suppliers have clearly stated in one way or another that they do not sell or intend to sell in the future Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Rather than try to list our absolute favorites in order, the listings are in alphabetical order. We've used each of them in the past with mostly good experiences. Note that links, where possible, are to the vendor's catalog request page.

  • Annie's Heirloom Seeds - An interesting selection of seed from a family owned business - If you give them a try, be sure to use the "TryAnnies" coupon code for a discount on your first order! (DGW rating)
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - offer an incredible array of heirloom seeds, good customer service...once you get their undivided attention (DGW rating)
  • Burpee Seedicon - the W. Atlee Burpee Company, the granddaddy of all seed catalog vendors, still around with lots of great seed - excellent customer service (DGW rating)
  • GenericSeeds.com - no print catalog and limited offerings, but good prices and fair shipping rates (DGW rating)
  • Heirloom Seeds - I ran across this one several years ago when hunting reasonably priced granular soil inoculant for our beans and peas. There again is no print catalog, but their item and shipping prices are fair. I also like that they're a small, family owned and operated supplier. (DGW rating)
  • John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds - lots of interesting varieties you may not find elsewhere (DGW rating)
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - one of our longtime seed suppliers (DGW rating)
  • R.H. Shumway - lots of heirloom (and other) seed presented in a catalog with lots of woodcut illustrations (DGW rating)
  • Seed Savers Exchange - offers small quantities of open pollinated seeds through their print and online catalog - far more variety in open pollinated seed through their members-only annual yearbook (DGW rating)
  • Territorial Seed Company - good variety of seeds - flat rate shipping for seeds (okay for a bunch of packets but prohibitively expensive for just one or two packets) (DGW rating)
  • Twilley Seed - our main supplier of sweet corn seed during our farming years - no online sales as yet (They're planning for it.), but offers both a print and downloadable catalog - good customer service (DGW rating)

I'm always on the hunt for reliable vendors of quality seed, especially those that offer open pollinated varieties. If you know of one we should consider, .

Burpee.com - Tomato HP Logo Full disclosure: Burpee and Generic Seeds are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. Generic Seeds- Garden Seeds Starting at $1.39

Canadian Only Vendors

I obviously have no experience in buying from the folks listed below, as they only ship to Canadian addresses. But each one comes with one or more positive recommendations from Senior Gardening readers. Some of our recommended suppliers, Johnny's immediately comes to mind, also ship seed into Canada. The Seeds of Diversity site has a great resource list of seed providers, including sources in Canada (Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian outfit.), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

  • William Dam Seeds - enthusiastically recommended by several readers. (DGW rating)
  • Upper Canada Seeds - a Canadian supplier that apparently grows their own tomato seed - I like this one because they offer the Moira tomato variety, which we work to preserve and share via the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. (DGW rating)
  • Boundary Garlic Farm - appears to be a good source for garlic bulbs and bubils for Canadian growers, also has an extremely informative web site (DGW)

Other Vendors We Hope to Try in the Next Year

I've received a number of good suggestions over the last year about seed houses not included in the listing above. All but one of the seed vendors below have great ratings from Dave's Garden Watchdog. As long as my seed budget holds out, I hope to give each a test order.

  • Amishland Heirloom Seeds - a one-woman operation specializing in the rare varieties proprietor Lisa Von Saunder has obtained from "Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonite, and Pennsylvania German farm families on their multigenerational farms" in her area of Pennsylvania. She also offers "rare colored, unusual, landrace, exotic, and foreign seeds from around the world," including "a growing collection of rare Belarusian/Russian/UKrainian tomatoes." (DGW rating)
  • Fedco - a cooperatively owned seed house in Maine featuring "cold-hardy selections especially adapted to our demanding Northeast climate...Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%." (DGW rating)
  • George's Plant Farm - a highly rated supplier of sweet potato slips (DGW rating)
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds - an organic seed house in Vermont recommended by a reader (DGW rating)
  • Main Street Seed & Supply - an organic seed supplier I stumbled across when messing around on the web (DWG rating)
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - grow 40% of their own seed - used them several years ago and somehow lost track of them (DGW rating)
  • Sow True Seed - a relatively new (founded in 2009) seed house that offers untreated, open-pollinated seed with an emphasis on helping buyers know how to save their own seed in the future. (DGW rating)
  • Urban Farmer Seeds - probably as close as we'll ever get to a "local" seed house (DGW rating a bit shaky)
  • West Coast Seeds - ships to both the U.S. and Canada with seed regionalized for the northwest (DGW rating)

Other Supplies

Perma-nest trayAfter years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, hanging baskets and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore (DGW rating). We have placed several orders with them over the last few years. Each order arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. They also now carry the sturdy, but rather expensive Perma-Nest trays that make handling heavy flats full of moist planting medium much easier. Perma-Nest trays are solids, so I often slip a slotted 1020 tray inside the Perma-Nest tray to allow for some drainage.

Electric Grow Mat iconHydrofarm Digital Thermostat for heat matsWhile we're close to the subject of seeds and seed starting, I'll recommend a couple of seed starting products we use and are quite happy with. My original seedling heat mat was a Gro-Mat. While sold with a wire rack that keeps it from touching the bottom of seed flats, I use mine without the rack. Note that I also melted the center of a standard 1020 seed flat with it before I added an external thermostat to my setup! After that experience, I switched for 366 days to another, cheaper heat mat. It lasted exactly one day longer than its one year guarantee! With the addition of a thermostat, I went back to a new gro-mat and have been reasonably happy with that setup since. My original gro-mat still works, although I only use it with a thermostat attached or with the wire rack provided with it.

Our thermostat is a Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat. It's easy to set, hangs conveniently on a hook on our plant stand, and keeps our grow mat from melting things. I also noticed that the price for the unit hasn't changed much since we bought ours in 2009.

Gro-Mat brand heat mats became a bit hard to find online, as places like Park and Burpee Seed dropped them in favor of cheaper, inferior heat mats (based on my 366 day experience). Fortunately, the Greenhouse Megastore has picked up the brand for those who want something better than a cheapie, one year heat mat. They also carry some professional heat mats...larger and a good bit more expensive than gro-mats and other hobby level mats, but something possibly worth trying.

Gro-mat and thermostat in useMiddie on shelfWhat got me writing about heat mats and thermostats when I originally wrote this page was taking cuttings from some ivy leaf geraniums and gloxinias. I wanted to provide a little bottom heat for the cuttings to root more quickly. Since I bottom water such things with warm water, the thermostat quickly let me know that we had all the heat we needed (86.9o F) when I turned it on. The thermostat was set at 75o F, so it kept the heat mat turned off until things cooled down a bit.

And of course, there may be a low-tech bottom heat solution somewhere around your house. One January when I started our geranium seed (which requires total darkness and bottom heat for germination), I used a warm shelf over a register that one of our cats had adopted. While probably not as even a heat as a heat mat and thermostat, the site worked quite well for germinating geranium seed and keeping the cat warm.

Seed Quality

We had some negative experiences in 2013 with the quality of seed we received from some of our most trusted suppliers. We've had to adjust our ordering a bit due to the problems and consequently, our recommended suppliers list. Sadly, our experience seems symptomatic of a much larger problem across the entire garden seed industry.

Shipping Note

It's not a bad idea to do a web search for coupon or promo codes for free shipping or other discounts from seed houses. If you're ordering just one or two packets of seed from a company, a free shipping code can make the difference between the order getting placed or being trimmed due to high shipping charges.

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Last updated 1/21/2014
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