Spring is here, and that means it is time to get started on gardens. I wanted to put together a list of seed companies I think are reliable and offer quality seeds at a reasonable cost and make a few gardening suggestions for those that are new to growing their own fruits and veggies.
Those that have local farmers co-ops and feed stores may do well getting bulk seed from them but the selection is likely limited and a lot of the seed may be hybrids that you cannot save seed from. Just make sure you are clear on what you are buying so you are not disappointed later. You can get some very good seed and varieties locally in many areas.
This Oregon based company always amazes me with the variety of seeds, plants, and gardening gear they offer. Everything you get from this company is great quality as far as I can tell. It can take a while to get your order if you are on the East coast but it is worth it. I like how they sell big bulk packs of heirlooms but they also sell small sample seed packs if you want to try out a lot of different varieties to see what works best for you.
If you would rather start out with plants instead of seeds, Territorial can help you out with that. While this may not be the most cost-effective option, for those that don’t have access to heirloom plants, it is a way to get a jump start on gardening.
When I was a kid I loved to look at the Burpee catalog. They produce a large size and entertaining catalog full of quality seeds, plants, and gear that are all backed by the Burpee guarantee. This is one of the oldest seed companies in the USA still sending out a catalog. They also sell fruit trees at a reasonable cost.
Burpee has some good discounts available and low cost shipping so you don’t have to feel like you have to order a ton of seed at once to make it worth it. Burpee does sell some hybrid seeds so if you want heirlooms and open pollinated, make sure that you are in the right section of the website or that you double check any descriptions before ordering.
If you ever visit western North Carolina and love to garden, check in on Eden Brothers 30,000 sq ft warehouse of seeds! If you can’t make it for a visit, rest assured because they do mail order and the shipping is free over $79. They have everything from heirloom and organic veggies seeds to wildflower mixes, herb seeds, and flower bulbs. The website makes it easy to find what you want. I am glad they took the time to not only offer a lot of seeds and bulbs, but make it easy for people to browse for what they want instead of just looking through a list. They combine seed packets into collections at a substantial savings so you can put back a good variety without a lot of fuss. Check out the Heirloom Vegetable Seed Vault Collection for 30 packs of seeds that are a good stash for hard times or if you want to try growing a big variety right now!
This company started out as nothing more than a flyer selling a few seeds and now it is a seed provider that people look forward to doing business with every season. It is a real treat to browse the colorful catalog when you are still digging out of the winter slump. Aspiring gardeners can choose from 1200 rare heirloom seeds from around the world. The website has a lot of information to help you learn what you need to be a successful gardener.
If you are bored with growing the typical varieties of your favorite veggies, it may be fun to explore what the world has to offer. You may find that a variety that was perfected in a climate similar to yours but previously unknown to you can provide a lot of food for your table with a minimal amount of effort. If you live in Missouri and like a good garden shop, it may be worth it to check out the main Baker Creek Heirloom farm store in Mansfield.
I really like Sow True. This is a local company that has expanded a lot so you can order from them no matter where you live in the USA. All the seeds at Sow True are open-pollinated seeds so they are a great choice for preppers. The variety of seeds they carry is outstanding and very high quality. Sow True also gives back a lot to school gardening programs and do a lot to be an environmentally friendly seed company.
I like that they sell their seeds in large packages now. When they first started out they were a very small company that sold seeds at just a handful of stores. It is so glad to see a local seed company doing so well and helping farmers preserve their heirloom varieties so we can all benefit and have better food security.
They have revamped the website so that there are a ton of useful growing tips and articles to support you every step of the way in your gardening journey. I like it when places are helpful and not just trying to sell you as much as possible.
First, this company has a beautiful seed catalog that is a joy to get. You may be tempted to frame the cover. If you love heirlooms, especially those that are popular in the South then this is a company you should look at.
If you live in colder climates, don’t worry, there are plenty of options for you too. Rare varieties are not as hard to find with this company so if you used to have seed for something and lost it and yearn for more, take a look at this catalog and site.
As of now they have more than 800 varieties of seed to choose from, including over 100 varieties of tomatoes! If you have priced heirloom tomatoes at the grocery store then you know that they are very expensive and often hard to find out of season.
Heirloom Vs Hybrid Seeds
Many people reading this probably have a tendency to want to plant heirloom seeds. If you are new to gardening, it is important to realize the difference between heirlooms and hybrids.
Heirlooms or Open Pollinated Seeds
These seeds are old varieties that have been preserved through the generations. Sometimes people have bean seed from a strain their great grandparents grew for example. Heirloom seeds produce plants that you can save the seed from and get the same result year after year. The downside is that yield per plant is not always as high as with hybrid plants.
Seeds that are considered hybrids are a cross of different plant varietals. The advantage of hybrids is increased vigor, size of fruit, disease resistance, etc. The problem with hybrids is that you have to buy seed every year. While you can technically save the seed from hybrids, there is no guarantee what you will get when you grow the hybrid seed. The first time you may get something very similar to what you bought while the second time you save you may get something that is totally undesirable.
During good times if you want to grow some hybrids then go for it but for real SHTF situations and long emergencies, you want to have heirloom seeds put back.
Now is the time to see what varieties work best for your land or area.
Just because the tag says it will grow in your temperature zone doesn’t mean it is a good fit for your soil type, land exposure, or length of growing season.
Spinach and carrots are things that just won’t grow well at our place without a lot of soil amendments.
Buying seeds: cost vs quality
I remember buying some too cheap fruit trees once and now looking at them, I still regret it. Don’t get cheap with your food supply seeds. Gardening is hard enough without starting out with seeds that have poor germination rates. Go with trusted name brand seeds. Seeds that have been set on a shelf for a year are okay. Sometimes at the end of the gardening season in your area you can pick up discounted seeds that are great for storing and planting next year or for use indoors during the colder months.
Some people exchange seeds with each other to save money and share varieties that have been in their family for a long time. This can work out well but remember that germination rates vary based on how well someone preserved the seeds and the age of the seed itself. If you need a lot of one particular type of seed, then an exchange is not the way to go unless you have made arrangements to get a lot of seed from someone.
Grow what costs the most to buy at the grocery store
It is not worth it for me to make a carrot bed when I can buy organic carrots for $1.00 per lb at the local grocery store. Salad greens are easy to grow and they cost $7 per lb for the organic variety locally.
Little green onions are $1.50 per bundle for the organic variety but they are so simple to grow.
During hard times the scenario changes. If you can’t get carrots at the store or they become very expensive, then they may be worth it to grow.
Ease of preparation matters: Let’s talk stringing beans
Greasy Cut Short Beans go for the best price at the local Farmer’s Markets. Even the seed is more expensive than other beans. People love the flavor of the Greasy Cut Short but I will let you in on something:
They take forever to string for the number of beans you get.
I used to string a lot of beans. Even when I was a teenager the older men in the family dreaded it when I caught them whittling under the Maple tree and set them to stringing beans so I could can them up for winter.
Some beans just take forever to string because they are small beans with a lot of string. I would rather have a Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder. These beans are easy to grow and you get a lot of bean for the amount of work and space.
The lesson is to consider what you have to do to prepare what you are growing or preserve it. Some have more time and help than others and during a long emergency, there may be more help on hand or less depending on your situation.
For those that are new to gardening and want to start slow or that have spaces for containers that is usually just empty such as on the sides of the steps leading to your apartment or house. Containers are a great idea for those that have to be mobile. Students can often get away with gardening a bit if they use containers.
Some crops grow better than others in containers. Options for container gardening include
Hanging baskets of cherry tomatoes or strawberries
Onions and garlic
Chives and little green bunch onions are very easy and they produce heavily
You can grow very fancy potatoes for a change from the classic russet. One reason I don’t buy fingerlings is that they are $4 a lb which is a lot to pay for a tater!
Fresh salad greens
Salad greens are expensive but they grow just fine in basic containers. Remember to buy a lot of lettuce seed because it will need to be reseeded as you pick it.
Survival Seed Buckets or Ammo Cans
If you are thinking about having some seeds to put back for a long emergency, you can buy and put together your own kit or if you don’t want to be bothered with it you have a lot of options of already put together and well-sealed survival seed buckets with a listed shelf life of 25 years. This is another case where you should do whatever you can to buy from reputable companies.
These buckets may be convenient but they are basic and you are paying a bit for the packaging being done for you. These buckets have a lot of variety in them so they are good if you are not picky about specific seeds.
I encourage you to look around for survival seed buckets before purchasing. I say this because there are so many to choose from and your needs and desires may vary from what some buckets offer. A lot of the seed companies I recommended in this post have various options. Remember that you can always put together a second seed vault for hard times if you buy one that is good but still doesn’t have everything you would like to have for hard times.
What are your favorite seed companies? What foods do you find are the easiest to grow and offer the most food value in your area? Have you had a negative or positive experience with any of the seed companies I suggested?