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Trusted Suppliers

Seed Catalogs

2013 Seed CatalogsWe've purchased almost all of the seed used in the Senior Garden for many years from mail order seed houses. There's simply a far wider choice of seed varieties available via mail order than one will ever find on seed racks in stores. One also has the option of ordering larger amounts of seed than seed racks offer, frequently at considerable savings. While most mail order vendors now offer online sales, we still like paging through print seed catalogs on cold winter days. We do, however, use the Internet for placing most of our orders.

2014 seed catalog coversNovember seems to be the beginning of the season for seed houses to start sending out garden seed catalogs to previous customers and those requesting catalogs. It varies by company, but we begin getting catalogs around the first of November. That's good for us, since we begin planting geranium and onion seed in December or January and need to place the first of our orders by late November or early December!

Each November, I make a posting on our Senior Garden blog of the seed suppliers we plan to use for the oncoming gardening season and keep an updated list of them on this page. We tend to use many of the same trusted suppliers year after year, but also try one or two new ones each year.

Criteria for Trusted Supplier Status

Our list of recommended seed suppliers is based on our recent and long-term experiences with the vendors listed, winnowed a bit using The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden. Some of the relationships run back well over thirty years, while 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 favorites in order, these listings are in alphabetical order. We've used each of them in the past year. Note that links, where possible, are to the vendor's mail order 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 (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, but a tad expensive - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)
  • Fedco - a cooperatively owned seed house in Maine featuring cold-hardy selections adapted to the Northeast - "Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%." Possibly the best value for your dollar in purchasing garden seed! (DGW rating)
  • George's Plant Farm - a highly rated supplier of sweet potato slips (DGW rating)
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - a bit expensive - a longtime seed supplier (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)
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - grow 40% of their own seed - used them several years ago and then lost track of them, before once more "discovering" them again (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 for the future. (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 and now - no online sales as yet - offers both a print and downloadable catalog - excellent customer service - a longtime seed supplier (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, .

Others to Consider

I can't afford to order from all my favorite or reader suggested seed houses each year. The list below includes some vendors we've not recently used, one we had a minor problem with, and a few new places we'd like to try (when my penny jar fills up again).

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds - an organic seed house in Vermont recommended by a reader (DGW rating)
  • John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds - lots of interesting varieties you may not find elsewhere (DGW rating)
  • Pase Seeds - got some excellent Double Brocade gloxinia seed from them in 2014 - no print catalog (DGW rating)
  • West Coast Seeds - ships to both the U.S. and Canada with seed regionalized for the northwest - flat rate shipping for seeds (okay for a bunch of packets but prohibitively expensive for just one or two packets) (DGW rating)
Burpee.com - Tomato HP Logo Full disclosure: Burpee is Senior Gardening affiliate advertiser.

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 Canadian 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 bulbils for Canadian growers - has an extremely informative web site about growing, curing, and storing garlic (DGW)

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. At my request, they began carrying 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.

Gro-mat with wire rack

Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat for heat mats Thermostat and heat mat in use

While 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 most of the time. 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.

Shipping Charges, Promo Codes, and Such

Minimum Shipping Rates
Generic Seeds - $3 (free over $25 order)
Seed Savers Exchange - $3 (orders up to $10)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - $3.50 (flat rate)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - $3.50 (orders up to $10)
Sow True Seed - $3.95 (orders up to $15, but see image)
Johnny's Selected Seeds - $4 (orders up to $10)
Burpee - $4.95 (orders up to $10)
Fedco - $5 (free shipping for orders over $30)
Annie's Heirloom Seeds - $5.95 (flat rate)
R.H. Shumway - $6 (orders up to $35)
Territorial Seed Company - $7.50 (flat rate)
Twilley Seed - $8 (goes down beyond $25 order)
George's Plant Farm - free shipping

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. Such offers become pretty scarce towards spring, though.

At right is a table of minimum shipping charges I put together last spring that is still pretty accurate. I found it necessary to begin watching such charges when I found that ordering one or two packets of seed from certain vendors was cost prohibitive because of their shipping rates.

Seed Quality - Old Seed

Staying with reputable vendors usually assures one of getting good seed, but a few negative experiences with seed quality from some of our most trusted suppliers got me asking the leaders of seed houses some hard questions a few years ago. I should have known the answer, as it's been published elsewhere in the past.

Seed houses often purchase seed for several years use, storing the bulk seed in special temperature and humidity controlled conditions. Government regulations require periodic germination testing of garden seed, but there's no way to tell if a seed packet labeled "Packed for [year]" was grown the previous season, or one, two, or more years earlier. One seed manager told me (off the record, of course) that seed his company sold could be up to five years old! The addition of a notice on seed packages of "Seed grown in [year]" would certainly be more transparent and helpful for gardeners who save seed from year to year.

My "When Hell Freezes Over" List

Eagles: Hell Freezes OverYou may notice some well known seed houses that don't appear on our list of recommended suppliers. Sometimes that's just because I tend to go with my favorites. But in a very few cases, I've had unresolved issues with an otherwise respected seed house and determined never not to use them again.

The old saying that one should never say never comes to mind as I write this section. Don Henley's line that later named an Eagles' live album and their most successful tour may also figure into this thought process. At the beginning of the concert recorded for the Eagle's Hell Freezes Over album, Glenn Frey joked to the audience: "For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation."

So those missing, big name seed houses from our list of suppliers may have just made my "when hell freezes over" list. Rather than give the few offending seed houses any publicity (far worse sometimes than bad publicity), I simply don't mention or link to those companies. Who knows? We may kiss and make up at some point. And, it's better to just stay positive with our listings.

If you're having a problem with a seed house, drop me a line. It will help me in maintaining our list of recommended suppliers. If I have any experience in dealing with them that might be helpful, I'll pass it along.

Enjoy the content on Senior Gardening?

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Thanks!

From Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening

 

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last updated 12/3/2014
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