What does it say about you when your favorite books are seed catalogs? That you’re a hard-core gardener, that’s what. When the harvest is finally over and at least some of fall’s garden clean-up has been accomplished, I’m pretty drained and wonder about the wisdom of working so hard growing and preserving a large garden full of fruits and vegetables. But by the time seed catalogs start rolling in during January and even as early as December, I’m all atwitter at the prospect of trying out new things in the garden.
As most gardeners do, I get a lot of seed catalogs. I find I most often rely on four or five of them. Below are my favorite seed catalogs along with an explanation of why I love them so.
I almost don’t dare open this one—it’s so full of rare seeds for unusual plants, my personal weakness, that I find it hard to impose any self-discipline. Everything about the story of this company is inspiring. The founder, Jere Gettle, printed his first Baker Creek catalog when he was only seventeen in 1998. What a feat! According to the catalog, Baker Creek offers almost 2,000 varieties of vegetable, flower, and herb heirlooms, the largest number in the country. The catalog features rare and endangered seeds from the 19th century and around the globe.
The company holds heritage festivals once month during the growing season at its headquarters in Mansfield, Missouri and for the last seventeen years has hosted a spring planting festival with music, vendors, craftspeople, and workshops. It’s on my calendar.
Baker Creek has a flat shipping rate of $3.50, regardless of how little or how much you order; it has low prices; and in many cases, the catalog tells you how many seeds are in a packet, so you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
What I love: Hands down, the unusual plants that are highlighted throughout. And there’s this—a couple of years ago, we purchased a packet of seed that didn’t germinate. We didn’t think to report it, assuming we’d picked the wrong location in the garden. What a pleasant surprise to receive, unsolicited, a gift certificate for twice our purchase amount because the company had determined it was a bad batch. Now, that’s customer service.
The first page of this catalog features all its new varieties. (They must know my weakness!) The last two pages feature a planting chart for each type of vegetable offered in the catalog. Nice perk!
For each vegetable, there is solid cultural information—a must for me. The catalog also lists its prices in a chart, so it’s easy to compare the prices of different varieties. High Mowing offers variety of cover crops, as well as a number of gift box collections (winter garden, bee’s garden, kids’ garden, and others).
What I love: Competitive prices with free shipping for orders over $10.00
Sow True is the new kid on my gardening block. This Ashville, NC-based seed company has only been around for eight years. Ashville isn’t too far down the road from my mountain home, so I get to visit the retail store personally and I’ve watched the business grow. It’s easy to see that the staff members are passionate about what they’re doing. Sow True features only open-pollinated seed, many of which are and USDA-certified organic. It offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, to boot.
In addition to offering a brief cultural summary for each variety, the catalog features a chart of growing information, including the number of seeds per ounce, seed viability, and isolation distance. Good info to have and nice to be able to see it all in one place—before you order.
In addition to the usual suspects, and some not so usual ones, Sow True sells a variety of mushroom plugs, its own line of organic sprouting seeds, and ready-made seed bombs. Prices are competitive, often lower than those of other companies.
What I love: It’s local! With a mission of supporting independent, regional agricultural initiatives that foster a sustainable economy and food sovereignty, I’ve just got to support Sow True in return.
Johnny’s is my go-to catalog for detail. There’s a prominently displayed growing guide for both direct-seeded and transplanted vegetables. There’s a detailed sidebar for each type of vegetable that includes information on things like culture, harvest, disease susceptibility, storage, and more. There’s the in-depth description of each variety as well as good-enough-to-eat full color photographs of nearly every variety.
Johnny’s is known for the high quality of its seeds. The catalog has extensive flower and herb selections, too. To top it off, you’ll find a nearly forty pages’ worth of tools and supplies to round out your gardening experience.
What I love: The detailed sidebars. This is such an easy tool that I count this catalog as one of my gardening reference books.
Other winning catalogs include Botanical Interests, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seed Savers Exchange, Fedco Seeds, The Cook’s Garden, Pine Garden Seeds, and Jung Seed. Now that you’re armed with a list of great catalogs, all you have to do is get your hands on a few of them, circle all your favorite veggies, place your order, and plant those seeds.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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