My favorite seed catalogs and why…

My favorite seed catalogs and why…

seedsUsually I contain my seed lust until after the first of the year. January 15 is typically the date when all the holiday shenanegins are totally over (hopefully the decorations are taken down) and the looong Zone 5 winter starts to get to me. Seed catalogs, of course, are the best solace when you want to be digging in the ground but know it will be many, many long months before you can exercise that particular desire.

This year I’m starting a bit early but it is out of mercy… a few days ago I got two emails, a text and one face-to-face all from crazed gardeners asking what my favorite seed catalogs were (as for the desperate face-to-face… you know who you are Leah Ray).

I thought I’d share early for those who can’t fight the itch. And, well, if I found out a few cool things along the way – albeit early – that’s an added bonus!

Here we go… these are in no particular order because I love each of them in their own way. Seed catalogs have personalities of their own that you grow to appreciate over the years…

I’ll start with the “homies” – seed companies from Oregon (my homeland) and Washington…

Nichols-2011-CoverNichols Garden Nursery has been around for fifty years. They’re located in Albany, Oregon (that’s pronounced Oragun in case you didn’t know). They have shelves and shelves of seeds. We were there last year and I got sucked in. Peter and our friend Rick napped in the car. Seriously, the shop is great – they also have great sourdough starter – and the catalog and website are just as wonderful. They are really committed to seed diversity and you can read their “safe seed pledge” here.

For 2011 I’m really excited to try their new “Arugula Gladiator“. Arugula is one of those things I can’t get enough of either in my mouth or in my seed collection… and you’d be amazed at the variety out there. I can’t wait to try this over achiever:

This faster growing new variety of wild rocket is similar in every way to the common variety but
is more vigorous, outgrowing it by as much as 25% at the baby leaf stage allowing first harvest 4-6 days earlier than common wild rocket.

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Territorial Seed is another Oregon classic seed house. They always have a nice selection of short season tomatoes that do well in the cooler and shorter Oregon climate. And they have very Oregon names like Beaverlodge,  Oregon Spring and Siletz. Also known as T.O.M.P. (Tomato of My People) we plant Siletz every year as a dependable, and tasty, early season tomato in our Chicago garden.

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Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is based in Ellensberg, Washington (home of the aforementioned car napping friend, Rick). I had a chance to meet some of these lovely people last year at the Independent Garden Center Show and was very impressed by their displays which are cleverly made out of recycled materials. But, more importantly, they have awesome potatoes. On top of that, and perhaps even harder to find, they have excellent and comprehensive instructions for growing potatoes!

VikingPurpleWeb2007 038We buy P.O.P.P. (Potatoes of Peter’s People) from them. Also known as Purple Viking potatoes, these purple skinned/white fleshed potatoes are our favorite as they’re easy to grown and taste amazing. We’ve bought many varieties from Irish Eyes and have always been happy with the results.

header_02While we’re on the topic of potatoes, I should mention my other favorite potato-centric company Wood Prairie Farms. They’re located at the opposite end of the country, in Maine, and have some rare beauties of their own.

SSWEDAgain with the Swedish theme, among other things, we buy their “mandel potatis” (almond potatoes – ok, they call them peanut but who cares.) These are tasty potatoes! Steamed they’re great with Swedish dishes. They are also great split and grilled in a basket with some sea salt and olive oil. The flesh is creamy and they do look like almonds (or peanuts).

Now on to what I call the “artistic” category… these two companies have lovely seed packets with very attractive (and compelling) illustrations of the product therein…

Bot-Int-2011-Catalog-CoverBotanical Interests is a big favorite of mine. I think they have the best seed packet instructions out there. And, as I mentioned, the illustrations are lovely.

They have quite a list of new items for 2011 including something I’m very excited about (you’re going to start to see a trend here about the types of things that I’m attracted to!)

Amaranth-Autumn-Palette_lgI’m quite a sucker for Amaranth. It is such a useful plant! We use it to screen the view of our neighbor’s house each year. And also use it in the center of beds to add height and color. At the end of each season I bundle up the beautiful showy heads and give them to my friend Andrew for his birthday.

This new earthy/beigy toned Amaranth is making me just a little crazy! I can’t wait to give it a try with a dark maroon such as Burgundy which they also carry. Or maybe with a chocolate sunflower… I have a few months to obsess about it (good thing). I’m really excited about this addition to my collection!

reneetitleNext up in the “artistic” category is Renee’s Garden Seeds. This is one of those catalogs that I’ve grown to love over the years for their beautiful product and sense of whimsy.

They have nice seed collections such as “A Rainbow Kitchen Garden” and a “Basil Lover’s Bonanza” which I might have to try… basil being another of my “things” that I can’t get enough of (last year we grew nine kinds!)

nasturtium-cherryReally though, who am I kidding? I love Renee’s for the amazing selection of my favorite edible flower NASTURTIUMS! From the “Cherries Jubilee” (pictured right) to the new “Buttercream” the seeds are reliable, colors amazing and those illustrations, well, they can cheer up a mid-winter gardener like nothing else!

I know I said I loved them all but…

logoI really, really, really like The Cook’s Garden. Their food-centric approach is very appealing and well executed. Their site is BEAUTIFUL, easy to navigate, has great recipes/information and they have incredible photography.

They also have a great tool that I call the “zone-a-lizer” that helps you pick crops suitable for your growing conditions.

cooks garden chardSome of their new additions this year include a vibrant addition to my favorite crop (ok, one of my favorite crops) CHARD! This beauty is called “Magic Red.”

They also have what I consider the best salad mixes out there… and their 2011 new additions include a pumpkin called “Amazonka”!

Yes, this catalog is a foodie + gardener paradise. Me likey!

Next we proceed to the category that I like to call “the preservationists”…

UnknownThis is the organization that we heirloom gardeners have to thank for EVERYTHING. Started in 1975, Seed Saver’s Exchange has harnessed the love of gardening and history within the U.S. to create a network of gardeners dedicated to seed diversity at a grass roots level. Members receive a huge catalog of other members and their collections. You can contact other members and share seeds that have been in families for generations. These are seeds that could have died out because they weren’t viable for commercial purposes (too soft, weird color, etc.) I could rant on about it but you can learn the whole, beautiful, genius story HERE. And, as if they weren’t cool enough, SSE is launching a new program to document the history of every seed in their collection. To learn more about the CORE program, click HERE and if you’re feeling generous, they’re accepting donations for this amazing work.

THE COMPLEAT SQUASH(1)As if I haven’t gushed enough, SSE is also indirectly responsible for three of the most beautiful garden books out there. Amy Goldman is an active SSE member and contributor and used some of their stock to produce the gorgeous “The Compleate Squash”… she has also written a similar book about MELONS and one about heirloom TOMATOES. And, yes, I own all three. Next to seed catalogs they are my winter antidote for, well, winter. Beautiful books that document one woman’s passion for the diversity and genius of heirloom vegetables. I recommend them highly as if you couldn’t tell. (P.S. Amy! If you read this, please know that I heart you!)

Whew… I almost feel like I need a break after that love fest but on I go…

Unknown-1 Seeds of Change is an equally worthy not-for-profit organization dedicated to preservation and social activism in the food realm.

urban-gardeningThey have a great section in their catalog tailored to urban and container gardening with seeds and instructions for the special growing conditions required for both.

They also have a funky new round yellow squash for 2011 called “Floridor” that I might have to try… and a new reddish/black lolla rossa lettuce called “Bixby” that might want to come live in The Yarden this year as well!

logo_wings_smallVictory Seed Company also fits in my “homies” category as they’re from Mollalla, Oregon. But I think they’re better suited to the good company of these other preservationists.

While I was researching my “Lost Victory Garden Seed List of 1943” I was able to find the most vintage veggies on that list from this small company.

In addition to a dedication to hard-to-find seeds, they grow most of them on their 1909 family farm.

Here’s another clue to my personal obsession… the crop I was most excited about from Victory Seeds was an old chard known as “Luculus.”

My final category can only be called “Seed Rock Stars”…

jere-em-2The Gettles of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed fame have made heirloom vegetables trendy and nerdy at the same time.

Their down home approach to spreading the heirloom seed gospel has given them enough bank to buy, well, a Seed Bank in Petaluma California, a vintage town – called Bakersville of course – and one of the oldest seed companies in the United States Comstock-Ferre.

Their catalog with great illustrations, photographs and a selection gathered from around the world is usually the catalog I grab first every time. I get my eggplant seeds from them (among many other things) and this year I’m excited to try “Little Fingers.”

My final category is “those I shall blog about next year”…

These companies are all new to me but sound very interesting!

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Landreth Seed Company is the oldest seed house in America. They have a very alliterative line of products called “Seeds in a Sack”. I am going to order the African American collection because it ties in both history and some seeds I’ve never grown before like fish peppers.

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I like the name. What can I say? Last year I ordered some flowering lawn mix from this company and was pleased with the results. Peter was not so pleased that the last remaining patch of lawn was more flowers than lawn but we go on…

chadwickWhile the description of “Chadwick Cherry” wasn’t as lengthy as I would like, the name and look of these teeny tiny tomatoes is reason enough to invite them for the 2011 Yarden season.

There’s my picks – all small, family owned and/or not-for-profit with a dedication to pure, heirloom and/or organic seeds. It is good to support small businesses and these companies deserve it!

Happy 2011 my gardening friends!

9 comments

  1. I just love the Seed Savers Exchange Catalog! I keep it on my night stand and pour through it — a great set up for a long winter’s dream about next spring’s garden!

    Another antidote for the winter doldrums is Seed Savers’ Calendar. I can plan out my garden schedule and relish the stunning photos of heirloom veggies that brighten my office cubicle.

    If you haven’t seen it – definately check it out! And have a happy New Year.

  2. Don’t forget J.L. Hudson! A little low-tech, and you have to know what you’re looking for, but fantastic collection of heirloom seeds by the company that invented the concept, and a great story. http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net/index.htm

  3. Don’t forget the little seed folks! Not all seed companies have print catalogs, especially your small independent local seed growers. There are more and more caring seed savers and seed farmers sharing their seeds in creative ways. It’s worth searching around online. You’ll find even more diversity!

  4. Just ordered a bunch of these–woo hooooo! This is how I survive Chicago winters. Thumbing my way through seed catalogs, planning and re-planning my garden until the snow finally melts. I am a seed junkie, and not ashamed to say it.

  5. Ken – thanks for the comment! Please tell us some of your favorite “little guys” and we’ll tell our readers! All those hard working seed savers deserve our support and appreciation – they are saving genetic diversity for the future. THANK YOU and happy holidays!

  6. Great selection. However, my main source is Fedco Seeds. It’s a great company and their informative, and non-glossy, catalog is packed with heirloom, organic and non-GMO seeds along with some hybrids. You must try them – http://www.fedcoseeds.com/

  7. Thanks MaxDog for the suggestion of Fedco. I’ve heard of them before but have never bought from them. I will give them a try! Happy New Year!

  8. Saw all of my favorites here as well! Great minds think alike. :) I didn’t know about Victory Seeds though, and I can’t wait to check them out a bit more thoroughly. Thanks for the list and making me feel normal.

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