Best Vegetable Seed Companies

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers rate their favorite garden seed sources based on value, performance, ethics and fun.
By Barbara Pleasant
December 2011/January 2012
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The next time you stock your seed box, consult our list of the top 15 seed companies.
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By the time you poke your first seeds into the ground each spring, you already have huge hopes for the success of your crops. You’ve spent hours planning, weeks waiting, and your soil may reflect years of hard work spent building its fertility. With so much potential in those seeds, you want to buy from a seed company you can trust. So how do you know which have the best seeds and selections? And which follow sustainable practices?

To answer these questions, we asked hundreds of gardeners to take our 2011 Seed Company Survey. Our survey group was a well-seasoned bunch: About 65 percent had grown food gardens for more than 10 years. Each respondent picked his or her three favorite vegetable seed companies and then ranked companies based on individual qualities. Ultimately, the survey revealed 15 standout vegetable seed companies, all of which emphasize sustainability. (Join our Gardening Advisory Group to take future surveys.)

Top 15 Sustainable Seed Companies

Our Top 15 list (toward the end of this article) is based on how often the vegetable seed companies were ranked in gardeners’ top three. For our survey takers, it wasn’t just about the seeds. In addition to an array of varieties with consistently high germination rates, they wanted seed companies that provide detailed variety descriptions, growing advice and interesting stories. Genetic integrity was also a top priority. The gardeners we surveyed were deeply concerned about genetically modified (GM) food crops, so we made sure all of the companies here have signed the Safe Seed Pledge — a written commitment to sell only non-GM seed — or made public declarations that they will not knowingly sell GM seeds.

Many gardeners said they didn’t know there were more than 100 mail-order seed and plant companies. You can find a national list in our Directory of Companies Offering Mail-Order Seeds and Plants.

Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked doing business with an employee-owned company.

Gardeners want to support preservation of heirloom varieties, so Seed Savers Exchange received high marks for providing unique and nearly forgotten heirlooms. Seed Savers, a nonprofit organization, has “wonderful heirloom seed, a beautiful catalog and a great mission,” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener who puts sustainability first. The Seed Savers catalog was rated highly for its variety descriptions and photographs, plus customers said they liked being a part of seed conservation. “They’re outside of the mainstream, consolidated seed-production system, and they have a wonderful community feel to their operation and network,” wrote an organic gardener in the Pacific Northwest.

A strong sense of purpose has earned Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds many loyal patrons. A prominent spokesman against GM “Frankenfoods,” founder Jere Gettle has amassed a global selection of rare and worthwhile varieties. “What’s not to love about Baker Creek?” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “They’re making a hugely positive impact on the world. With all the GM seed obscenities going on, they’re helping make sure humans will be able to eat in the future!”

Passions for ethical responsibility and high-quality seeds helped put Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds and Fedco Seeds near the top of the list, too. Here’s what some respondents had to say about them:

Seeds of Change: “Good combination of heirlooms, open-pollinated and quality hybrids, all organically grown.”

“I find the agronomics information listed for each type of vegetable very helpful, and I like their emphasis on biodiversity and sustainability.”

High Mowing Organic Seeds: “I love the personal service and wide variety of organic selections from High Mowing.”

“The varieties they offer are excellent and suitable for organic market farming; everything is certified organic, which makes life easier if ordering seed for a certified organic farm.”

Fedco Seeds: “Excellent variety choice, and usually the cheapest prices. I like supporting a co-op, and Fedco offers information on where their seeds are from.”

Crazy for Seed Catalogs

Nearly 70 percent of gardeners said they buy most of their seeds from mail-order vegetable seed companies. Most gardeners were quick to heap praise on their favorite seed companies and their catalogs. Of Fedco, one gardener said, “Their catalog makes wonderful, entertaining, laugh-out-loud reading, and all of the vintage graphics are wonderful.”

Loco for Local Seeds

Most gardeners send at least one seed order to a local or regional company, and this practice offers certain benefits. For instance, locally grown seed is more likely to be suited to your climate. In the upper and mid-South, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has a strong following. “I go here first,” said a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “Southern Exposure provides mostly locally grown seed, heritage and open-pollinated varieties, excellent service and decent prices.” Known for offering unique items, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was called “a small company with a big heart” by a longtime organic farmer.

In the Northwest, Territorial Seeds reigned supreme as a regional seed source, with excellent ratings for producing catalogs brimming with varietal and cultural information. “They always have what I want in stock, so I don’t have to wait. The variety descriptions are excellent,” wrote a gardener with a small plot who’s just getting started. And Territorial Seed is successful nationally, too. “Territorial has good selection across the board, dependable seeds and fair pricing,” said a New England gardener. Additionally, Territorial is one of the only major seed companies that publishes a winter catalog, which is of tremendous interest to food gardeners in areas with mild winters.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Gardeners of all skill levels enjoy trying new crops and varieties, and many look to mail-order seed companies to add to the adventure. “Nichols Garden Nursery always has something new and interesting, plus they continue to carry my old favorites,” said a veteran gardener from the Southwest. A Mid-Atlantic gardener noted, “The family warmth of Nichols shows in the care they take with each order, and they have taken a stand against treated and GMO seed.” A gardener from the Midwest with more than 20 years of experience summed it up this way: “When I’m looking for old-world heirlooms or just plain fun, Nichols Garden Nursery is my favorite.”

Those in search of undiscovered garden pleasures often find them in packets from Renee’s Garden, which is also a valued source for garden-worthy annual flowers. “The Renee’s Garden catalog introduced me to favorite new crops, including ‘Trombetta’ squash and ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce,” said an experienced gardener from the Southwest. A Midwestern gardener with 20 years of experience praised Renee’s “combo packs” that include three varieties of lettuce, squash, tomato or pepper.


The Top 15 Vegetable Seed Companies

  1. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)
  2. Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa)
  3. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, Mo.)
  4. Burpee Seeds and Plants (Warminster, Pa.)
  5. Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, Ore.)
  6. Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, Calif.)
  7. Ferry-Morse Seed Company (Fulton, Ky.)
  8. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, Va.)
  9. High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, Vt.)
  10. Fedco Seeds (Waterville, Maine)
  11. Nichols Garden Nursery (Albany, Ore.)
  12. The Cook’s Garden (Warminster, Pa.)
  13. Botanical Interests (Broomfield, Colo.)
  14. Renee’s Garden Seeds (Felton, Calif.)
  15. Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, Calif.)

Organic Seeds Off the Rack

One sour point for some seed shoppers was shipping cost, but you won’t pay a cent if you pick up packets at retail stores you often visit. Even big-box stores now carry organic and heirloom seed from Burpee, Ferry-Morse, Cook’s Garden and others, or you can look for more specialized selections at garden centers and health food stores. Food-minded gardeners may find racks from Renee’s Garden at gift and gourmet shops. Food co-ops and independently owned health food stores often have displays from regional seed companies, such as Territorial in the West and Southern Exposure in the East. (Each company’s website includes a store locator button.) Or, maybe you’ll simply have to answer your doorbell: Renee’s, Botanical Interests, John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds, Seeds of Change and other seed companies offer school fundraiser programs.


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Post a comment below.

 

Eric Conrad
6/8/2014 1:03:30 PM
Baker Seeds and Territorial Seeds have been my go to companies. I have gardened for 40 years and have now shifted 95% of my seeds to non hybrid seeds these companies have met my gardening needs effectively.

cheryl
6/4/2014 1:15:37 PM
Try a local source. Lot of great local seed savers available. We have Salt of the Earth Seed Co. around us. (Long Island) Great open source seeds! http://www.northforkseeds.com

Tom
4/9/2014 1:15:01 AM
Many good quality of hybrid vegetable seeds are available here.Hope that you can like them and choose what you want. We are sure that you can be satisfied with them. www.tom-seeds.com

Hines
3/29/2014 4:49:38 AM
Hey thank you for this post. We should always buy seeds from best and trusted companies because only such companies deliver finest quality organic seeds. Never go for local companies or for cheap seeds.You can find some quality seeds from here http://sensiseeds.com/en/cannabis-seeds

Hines
3/29/2014 4:48:30 AM
Hey thank you for this post. We should always buy seeds from best and trusted companies because only such companies deliver finest quality organic seeds. Never go for local companies or for cheap seeds.You can find some quality seeds from here http://sensiseeds.com/en/cannabis-seeds

rob
3/16/2014 1:32:43 PM
STINK BUGS they are all over the area where I live, you can't get rid of them, but I hate it when they swim in my drinks. I got a new thing called a drink protector made by bug not and this works great. I hate bad bugs.

gentlemanfarmer
2/13/2014 4:07:00 PM
Best buys by far is Lockhart Seeds in Stockton, CA. No website, just call or write. Basically cater to farmers but prices are VERY low for large quantities of seeds. Their seeds still germinate well after 5-7 years! With such a large amount of seeds I am able to share with friends and neighbors. The quality of their seeds and the lowest imaginable prices cannot be beat.

GARDENTWIN
12/23/2013 9:09:56 PM
Hello !! & Merry Christmas !! 87 Days until Springtime !!

TommyJ
12/20/2013 2:26:37 PM
I have always had great success with seeds from an heirloom seed company in my area called D. Landreth Seed Company. They are a single location seed shop in New Freedom, PA and offer excellent heirloom, organic, non-GMO seeds. I like to follow tradition also, this company has been in existence since 1784, and have documented records of them selling seeds to George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Also they introduced the 1st Zinnia plants to America as well... :) Trust me, check out this company, you will not be let down with the seed quality and long standing American tradition... http://www.landrethseeds.com/

BEEKEEPER
12/13/2013 3:06:08 PM
I have checked the compainies listed here, they all over charge for the amount of seeds you get. If you live near a grain & feed mill they should be the first place to check for garden seeds. They will most likly be in a little brown bag at a much cheeper price. I purchase TWO lb of Blue Lake Bean seeds for less then $5.00. Compair that to the cost of $3 to $8 PER pound from these company. Try back40farms.com for heirloom seeds @ a much better price. They do not carry everything but much of what you need. Don't just take someones word on getting good prices on heirloom seeds, look at all of the small guys for many of your seed needs. search under heirloon seed, even on Ebay

JEANETTEC
12/13/2013 11:37:39 AM
I have had great success with Pinetree (supersedes.com) Also White Harvest Seeds in Missouri - terrific germination. I no longer order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Don't know what the problem is, but the last couple years I've had extreme disappointment with seeds not germinating. I've talked with others who have had the same experience. I won't try with them again as it is expensive and a huge waste of time and effort when seed won't germinate, or produces weak, sickly plants. I'm always on the look-out for non GMO seed companies, and I appreciate all the ones suggested in these comments.

MelissaM
12/13/2013 8:49:28 AM
A new favorite of mine is SeedsNow.com. Not a huge selection but big enough for small gardens and still many varieties and I LOVE the 99cent packs which are smaller than the usual packs but perfect for a small scale garden and/or experimenting with new varieties. The shipping cost are super low as well so makes small orders still worthwhile. The also claim to be GMO free.

Theresa
12/13/2013 8:04:09 AM
Here on vancouver island we chose a seed company that supports the heirloom variety, non gmo, organic only way of life. The seeds were mostly successful but we received many seeds that weren't correctly organized. Bush beans turned out to be vines, peaches and cream corn turned out to be sweet yellow, peppers and tomatoes made us think twice as well. But all in all we were happy that the non gmo, organic component was important to them and to us. We have now seed saved everything we loved and will try again this year with the same company. Go non gmo

jfyan@earthlink.net
12/13/2013 7:49:48 AM
check here if you want a GREAT deal on an ALL heirloom seed bank http://familyfirstsupply.com/

VeggieGuy
12/3/2013 9:39:42 AM
I Love NESEED.com, they have also signed the Safe Seed Pledge. They have a lot of good varieties for my farmers market. They are tailored for farm and greenhouse growers but the home gardener can buy from them as well. I continually look to them for my seed buying at the start of my season.

pattyburbacher
11/29/2013 11:13:51 AM
I am not sure how Burpee continues to make your list. I have checked numerous links for the Safe Seed Pledge (http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/ViewPage.aspx?pageId=261) and cannot find the company listed. Please correct me if I am wrong. Burpee still purchases seeds from a Monsanto subsidiary. The following is from George Ball - Burpee Chairman and CEO "We do purchase a small number of seeds from the garden seed department of Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary, and so do our biggest competitors." On the safe seed pledge he stated "sounds creepy-I don't believe in lists," Support Burpee.....Support Monsanto.

dongallo
10/7/2013 11:09:25 AM
I love gardenbuddy.org you can get seeds from multiple suppliers, so it's like a huge depot of seeds and bulbs...

David
10/6/2013 4:16:30 AM
The Best here in Australia is Natural Seeds (naturalseeds.com.au) service is amazing and seeds always keep producing top quality products for me.

Candance M
2/13/2013 1:50:48 PM
My favorite seed company is Pinetree [superseeds.com] they are priced right especially for tying something new. Everything is priced reasonably especially for small gardens

nancy ruggeri
2/11/2013 11:48:28 PM
I heard that Ferris - Morris seeds were in the process of being bought or had been bought by a big industrial seed pro gmo outfit?? I would appreciate if you could verify this ? they do have nice prices but thats the reason I wont purchase from them. Thank you

KELLY TAUSANOVITCH
2/8/2013 8:16:53 PM
I find that Johnny Seeds NEVER has a sale on any of their equipment for the small farmer. They have very few sales or decent pricing on anything exclusive. Seeds that they have are always priced higher than the competition. I am sorry that Barbara did not include pricing in her estimation. All the products Johnny's carry exclusively, they try to price gouge. I tried to talk to their customer service about it nicely and they were terribly rude. I think they should be last - not first. Or perhaps Barbara is very wealthy and can afford their incredibly high pricing.

Priscilla Bode
2/8/2013 6:56:47 PM
Oops - late 1800's, I think about 1885

Priscilla Bode
2/8/2013 6:55:32 PM
I am really sorry that once again you omitted Bountiful Gardens in Willits CA from your list. Not only do they provide wonderful seeds, they are a sustainable community and sponsor interns from all over the world to teach sustainable farming methods. They are always top of my list. We don't buy hybrid seeds and never use Johnny's Seeds. Part of the fun of gardening is saving seeds from year to year. I still have Scarlet Runners which a friend's mum's grandad brought over from England to Vancouver BC in the last 1800's where he had a dairy farm. How cool is it that I have seeds saved for well over 100 years!

Ray White
2/8/2013 5:34:51 PM
Baker Creek Heirlooms is an outstanding supplier. I also enjoy doing business with Sustainable Seed and Trade Winds Fruit (which isn't listed here). I found Botanical Interest and Seeds of Change to be very expensive, even though they had a great selection. Being from NW AZ I have yet to find a large heirloom tomato that will do well in this heat and the dry winds we "enjoy" but Yellow Pear and several other cherry types thrive here. Any suggestions for a beefsteak or even a roma type heirloom that thrives in a hot dry climate?

Rena
2/8/2013 5:15:49 PM
I used to buy from Seeds of Change until I found out that they are owned by the Mars company who contributed heavily AGAINST GMO labeling. I've switched to Johnny's.

Carol Acutt
2/4/2013 1:53:06 AM
We love High Mowing Seeds. They have a wonderful selection of heirloom and organic seeds that grow beautiful edibles. UrbanFig.com

LYNDA TRAVERS
11/24/2012 5:30:20 PM
I get a zillion seed catalogs, but one of my fave seed sellers are only online: Renee's Garden Seeds. I live in the Pacific Northwest. Rain, rain, rain - and a cold for growing (even in summer) season on the coast (& midget growing season) I've used Renee's seeds for many years and have had like a 99% germination rate (the very best of all my brands of seeds). They do awesome test gardening before selling I tell you. I had carnations blooming in the snow last January. A Renee's perennial heirloom, Enfant de Nice seed. You won't be disappointed.

Alice Doyle
12/19/2011 4:50:27 AM
We started our wholesale nursery 37 years ago and for the first time in the last few months GMO bT roundup ready corn varieties are listed as available in many of the 2012 seed catalogs including Holmes, Siegers and Rupp. These catalogs are for farmers and for growers like us that finish material for retailers who sell to home gardeners. Do we need more roundup sprayed in home gardens? Do we need bT corn that is registered not as a variety but as an insecticide that is 1000 times more potent than naturally occurring bT? There's got to be an immediate expose. Monsanto's roundup ready patents are expiring in 2014. I think they're trying to quickly get inroads into home gardens. Help!

Eco Easy
12/12/2011 4:28:55 PM
The best seeds I have EVER purchased come from Landreth Seed Company. Landreth is the oldest heirloom seed company in the U.S. and it's a huge oversight that they didn't make the list. Another GREAT one you overlooked is Sustainable Seed Company.

Tamara Hanson
12/5/2011 4:05:11 AM
I was disappointed in this article. I find your average gardener really doesn't know the scoop on many of the catalogs they receive. Making a list of which companies they like doesn't teach anyone anything. No offense meant. The Safe Seed Pledge is virtually meaningless because GE seeds are never available to home gardeners. The same companies that sign it still carry Seminis seeds, who are owned by Monsanto. So if you buy those varieties the money goes to Monsanto. A few companies do not carry any Monsanto seeds. Of these my favorite is Fedco. As a CSA/market gardener I need results and some veggies I grow I choose hybrids, which Fedco carries, but they do not have Seminis seeds. I also order a little from companies who do have some Seminis varieties but I avoid those of course. Companies like Pinetree have not removed all their Seminis seed but all in all they are a good company. When I asked them about this subject they said they have worked with Seminis and their employees long before Monsanto bought them out and don't want to break that relationship. I disagree but just choose what I order from them carefully. The last type of company I buy from sell all open pollinated seed. Baker Creek is the best of these. Their prices are good, much better prices and less snobby than Seed Savers Exchange.-----When you chose seed please be aware of what you are buying and who the money ultimately goes to. Check Seminis website for the varieties they own and avoid them. Compare prices. Don't buy hybrid or open pollinated seed from a company that has outrageous prices. Many are using consumer ignorance to make huge profits. Take away that ignorance and you are powerful. Therefore be informed and know what you are getting. Dave's Garden is a great resource to learn the scoop of each company and see who is owned by who. They are out to pull the wool over your eyes and get your big bucks when you could get better seed cheaper!

Jeannette House
12/3/2011 7:52:21 PM
pinetree seeds are fantastic... i've used and loved them for many, many years.

Sandi Metzger
12/2/2011 7:25:08 AM
I've had excellent results with Landreth Seed Co. Sorry to see they didn't make the list.

Bob Knack
11/29/2011 7:49:28 PM
Many of the old-time favorite seed suppliers have fallen to the big bio-chemical companies more concerned with pushing their chemicals. Good to see some new companies rising. I've had great success with Clear Creek Seeds and Annie's Heirlooms.

PAUL GREGORY
11/29/2011 6:18:04 PM
This was the first article I read in my new issue last night. I saw many of my favorites and oddly some I had never heard of. If you are ever any where nearby I highly recommend stopping at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company. It was actually the highlight of my midwest vacation one year! I have two you should consider. Pinetree Seed Company (www.superseeds.com) because they sell smaller packets of seeds at lower prices. You can sample 3 tomatoes for the price of one. They carry the AFINA CELERY mentioned on page 27 (under Continental Vegetables). Also take a look at Artistic Gardens & Le Jardin du Gourmet (www.artisticgardens.com) again great sample opportunities and European vegetables.

JOHN SEALANDER
11/19/2011 4:01:22 PM
Great survey and many great companies that I trade with, but as a local food producer I try my best to get local seed. There are some fairly new start-ups that could use our support. In my locale, Western North Carolina, the one I use is Sow True Seed, based in Asheville, NC. They are newer and so smaller and while they don't have as huge a selection they're in the mountains and so am I, so the seed works really well in the Appalachian high country region . And their service and personal attention is outstanding. I'd bet there are others in other regions that would appreciate the exposure and support. How about a survey to find and promote some of these 'newbies' around the country?








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