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March 11, 2010 in gardening3 comments

planning your vegetable garden: recommended seed catalogs

seed savers exchange seed packets

Once you’ve got a rough plan of what you’re going to put into your garden this year, the next step is to purchase your seeds. The vegetable seed catalog market has always had loads of companies vying for your business, and with the surging popularity of local foods and gardening, the choice of where to buy seeds from can be overwhelming. Should you order from the catalog crowing about giant pumpkins? The one with mega-producing hybrids? The one with carefully-selected heirlooms?

I’m not a fan of the giant pumpkin catalogs, nor of the ones that emphasize super-hybrids. I’ve worked in Photoshop for years and produced a few catalogs (not for seeds) and it really annoys me how those types of catalogs oversaturate their images. In those catalogs, watermelons are always deep magenta, tomatoes always fire-engine red, pumpkins glow fluorescent orange, and peas are bright kelly green.

You know what I think when I see that garbage? Don’t play a player. Not only do I know what these vegetables are really supposed to look like, I know that these catalog producers are addicted to either the saturation slider, the selective color dialog, or both. It offends me. Don’t play a player, catalog dudes.

catalog critera

Look for catalogs that:

• Don’t play a player. Go ahead and bump up the color in your images a bit, but don’t make my eyes bleed, and in the process make the vegetables look fake.

• Offer heirloom varieties.

• Offer organic seed. Organic isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but for some people it is.

• Offer normal fruits and vegetables. Don’t sell “world record-breaking pumpkins” or beans with gigantic, summer-long yields that are also tasteless.

• Offer a reasonable number of varieties that just plain taste good. You can roughly discern this from descriptions.

• Tell us where your seeds come from. Preferably with the story of your company and photos of your headquarters.

Glancing through a catalog will give you a good feel for it very quickly.

recommended seed catalogs

Seed Savers Exchange

seed savers exchange catalog cover

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is my favorite seed catalog, and the only one I order from right now. They’re a non-profit organization dedicated to saving heirloom seeds. In fact, you can become a member for $40 and gain access not only to the catalog, but to a members-only yearbook offering thousands of vegetable varieties from SSE members nationwide.

I can find every variety I’m looking for in the SSE catalog, from pink brandywine and Opalka plum tomatoes (best beefsteak and best paste tomatoes around, IMO), to lacinato kale, to herbs like tarragon.

I’m really pleased with SSE’s variety of seed offerings, and impressed with their service and dedication to seed saving. Highly recommended.

Note: SSE does not sell your name to other seed or garden catalogs. This was huge for me. I was so pleased when I ordered from them and didn’t wind up with a mailbox full of real-world catalog spam.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

baker creek heirloom seeds catalog cover

I received the Baker Creek catalog last year. It was almost on par with SSE, and has a great story in how it all began with 17-year-old Jere Gettle, a gardener from age 4, issuing a 12-page seed catalog in 1998. Baker Creek also offers loads of heirlooms and has a positive gardening philosophy. The reason I didn’t order from them was, I was already in love with SSE.

Seeds of Change

seeds of change catalog cover

Boy, Seeds of Change’s catalog looks familiar but I can’t recall whether I’ve actually looked through one. They, like SSE and Baker, have a philosophy of propagating and preserving heirloom seed strains, so they’re okay in my book. As with Baker, I’d order from Seeds of Change if I weren’t already ordering from SSE.

The above seed sources are mail order. They all sell seeds online as well.

Have a favorite vegetable seed source I’ve missed? Have you tried seeds from any of the above three sources? I’d love to hear your stories.

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your comments

  1. Great information – just what I needed right now. Great post!

  2. I love Seed Savers and Baker Creek. Also like Territorial Seed and Pinetree Garden. Too many choices!

    • Amy says:

      I hadn’t heard of those two sources. There is indeed a boom in heirloom/organic seed sources lately. Lots of choices, but once you find one you like, the search is basically over.

      That’s how I ended up with Seed Savers. I had a short list of specific tomato varieties I wanted to try, and they were the only catalog that had them all. Baker Creek was tempting though!

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