Sunday, January 18, 2009

Most Satisfying Seed Catalogs

I've lived and gardened in Northfield for almost 19 years, and many seed purveyors had me on their mailing lists. Then, due to shall we say "fluctuations" in marital status, I moved three times in three years. I'm now, at least for the present, back at the house where I lived from 2001 to early 2006, but the poor seed merchants have yet to catch up with me. Since Christmas I think I've received only a Gurney's, a Gardens Alive! (which sells environmentally responsible gardening products), and most recently a Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.

The Baker Creek catalog, which I requested after reading my blog friend Deb at Sand Creek Almanac describe it as "vegetable porn for a Minnesota gardener in midwinter," has to be in the running for the most beautiful seed catalog ever. The website is no comparison. Being in the communications business myself, I know this large glossy color catalog has got to be one expensive publication to produce and mail. The photography and presentation are simply gorgeous; occasionally a whole page is devoted to a single photograph that's so lovely you might want to carefully remove it from the catalog and frame it.

But beauty alone isn't my standard for an excellent seed catalog. What makes Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds particularly beautiful in my eyes is its mission of preserving and bringing back to popularity many time-tested, non-GMO, non-hybrid, untreated, unpatented varieties of fruits and vegetables in an age where much of the market pressure has been in the opposite direction. (It shares this mission with the Seed Savers Exchange, whose Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, I have visited, and numerous catalogs also feature at least some heirloom varieties these days.) The Baker Creek folks also offer Heirloom Gardener magazine, now in its seventh year, which I'll have to look into.

My longtime favorite catalog is from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Heavy on untreated, organic and heirloom varieties, Johnny's is also a premier source of practical planting information, and since Johnny's is based in Maine it is a reliable source of advice for northern gardeners. Their mission is "to provide superior product, research, technical information, and service to critical home gardeners and specialty and small commercial growers," and they do an excellent job. They have a nice virtual catalog on their site, which allows you to browse their catalog pages as you would with a printed copy. I'll confess to still liking to have a printed version to pore over, so I've requested one to make sure I get back on their mailing list at my current location.

Renee's Garden Seeds, which offers "the finest seeds of heirloom and cottage garden flowers, aromatic herbs, and gourmet vegetables from around the world," has been another favorite of mine, and it's the only catalog I got around to ordering from last winter.

Chime in with your own favorites! Please! I'd love to hear which catalogs rate highly with fellow gardeners.


Mary S. said...

I ordered from Baker's Creek last year and agree it's a great catalog. My one beef about them is there is very little (if any) information on the seed packets about how to plant or grow the seed. So, you may want to save the catalog.

I just did my order yesterday, most of it from Renee's Garden. Johnny's is great. I also like the Territorial Seed catalog -- they seem to cater to farmers' market growers -- lots of choices, good information, and they have a big selection of supplies as well as seed.

Deb said...

Glad you're enjoying the vegetable porn! ;)

I like Johnny's too, but I seem to have fallen off their mailing list. I may have to request one. Their Diva cucumber is my favorite slicer.

Jim H. said...

Have you ever tried to use seeds from one year's garden to start next years? I've always wondered why we have to buy seeds when (I think) most everything we grow produces more seeds right there in our very own garden!

I'm missing something, I'm sure.

Penelope said...

Jim - No, no, you're not missing something! That of course is the ideal, and many gardeners do this and even share their seeds with others through Seed Savers, etc. That's the ultimate in sustainability, and it's what people have done from practically the dawn of agriculture. Thank you for stating the obvious -- we do not need to be repeatedly beholden to any seed company, be they Monsanto or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. But if I am not organized enough to collect and save seed (which so far I have not been) or I want to try different varieties, I'm glad that there are some good choices out there for home gardeners and market gardeners with an organic/sustainable bent. That's why open-pollenated (non-hybrid) varieties are important, because you CAN save the seeds and they will be like the parent. The giant seed companies would probably prefer we all depend on their hybrid, patented seeds that cannot be saved from year to year (at least not if one wants a crop that has the same qualities as the parent).

Relatedly, I loved learning from Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire" that apple seeds are a complete throw of the dice, genetically, and the only way you reliably get more of a preferred apple variety is via cuttings from the original, not seeds.

Anonymous said...

try also "Genesis Seeds" catalog.
you can find very large range of organic seeds in the website- www.genesisseeds.con

Mary S. said...

It's fun to save seeds, and they are remarkably resilient, too. This year, I saved a few green bean seeds (an heirloom variety I bought from Baker Creek). The other day, I found a bunch on the floor of the garage. Just for fun (hey, it's January in Minnesota!) I stuck the seeds in the pots of a couple of houseplants that weren't doing well. Lo and behold, I now have little bean plants on my kitchen windowsill.

Tom Annese said...


This is exactly the article I was looking for. Thanks so much. We just moved to Iowa and it's great to have your perspective. Ordering my catalogs right now.

Great job!


Jana said...

OOooooo! I'm with you on the seed catalogues and personally prefer the Seed Savers' catalogue, but they are all pretty much wonderful this time of year! I also have been a seed-saver from my own garden for years - original stock purchased from Seed Savers' Exchange. I'm in the Northfield area as well, and am looking into setting up a seed exchange this spring - maybe at the Co-op or we may just have to set up a swap time in town. I have a large variety of dry soup beans (Good Mother Stallards, Cherokee Trail of Tears, etc) and heirloom pumpkins and winter squash(Connecticut Field Pumpkins, Latham Butternuts, Table Queen Acorns,and Maria of the Sea and others) that I can swap. My garden partner and I are also going 'pro' this year with establishing a NEW CSA here in town...specializing in heirloom veggies. (Cannon River Heritage Farms, LLC) Our goal is to grow into being a teaching farm here along the river, offer seed exchanges, classes, and "in the dirt" experience for all ages. Wish us luck! In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you would like to try some of my saved seeds....Happy to share good genetic material!!! :)