Bet there are some of you out there who are seed freaks like me. Can’t wait for the next seed catalog, find yourself trolling through seed websites, seeming to always be looking for the next thing you want to grow.
Then what do you do when you do order your seeds, and don’t use the whole packet? Do they go in a drawer, or bag in a big jumble? Oh, then sometime later, you find some other seeds you just have to get, and those packets get put, well, on the kitchen table, a pocket in your garden bag, in a jar – somewhere!
It is time to plant and you were absolutely sure you got that variety, but darn it, can’t find it, quick buy more. A month later, oh there are those seeds I knew I bought, darn, I double bought and now have more than I need.
I confess to have done all the above!
The answer is coming up with a seed inventory system that works for you. It can be simple or complex, depending on how many seeds you have, and what your personal style is. Make it something that works for you.
I have allot of seeds, I run a seed swap, save seeds, partner with seed companies and did plants sales for years, so having a system became critical to business. You don’t have to be in business to need to organize your seeds.
Here are some tips to create a seed organization system that works for you:
Create a spreadsheet, chart, list on your phone, or a notebook to jot down seed orders when they come in.
Have one place to put seeds that have not made it onto your inventory yet.
Have one place where you store your seeds after they are on your inventory.
Create a way to know when you have used up your seeds. I fold my seed packets in half for example.
Have a trigger in your system that lets you know when you need to buy more of that variety.
And a trigger if you grew something and you don’t want to grow that variety again.
Review your inventory at least once a year. I like to do it over the winter, and if you have a system in place, it takes much less time, so you can get back to important things, like looking at more seed catalogs and websites 🙂
For years I have considered Territorial to perhaps be my favorite seed company although I really cannot pick one favorite as you can see from this series of posts. The reason Territorial Seeds has gotten consistently high marks is because they have such a wonderful large diverse selection of varieties, with most being open pollinated. I must say, for 2017, they seem to be moving into more hybrids to a disappointing degree. I prefer a large selection of open pollinated varieties with a few highly tested hybrids for certain situations.
That said, they have made one major improvement in their already outstanding catalog. Territorial has always provided outstanding growing information in their catalogs, making it a great resources, but for 2017, they have improved the layout of the information, which now looks similar to Sow True Seed and is much easier to read than previous years.
Territorial is very conscious of offering quality non-GMO seed. Although not all their selections are organic, they do have organic options. One of the first seed companies we started using in the 1980s and the only one who has had the sustaining power to keep us coming back all these decades later.
Some interesting new varieties they are offering for 2017 are Sugar Magnolia, a violet-podded snap pea, Nurti-Red carrot, high in lycopene, Dazzling Blue lacinato kale with shocking pink midribs.
Wanting an orange cauliflower the variety of which is NOT owned by Monsanto (Cheddar is owned by them), try Orange Burst Cauliflower, a hybrid worth trying.
They carry many of our must have favorites including Blue Lake pole bean, Purple peacock broccoli, Alderman shelling pea, and Gourmet orange bell pepper. For red slicing tomatoes we like Stupice, Siletz and Carmelo. For smaller tomatoes try Gold Nugget, Chocolate cherry and Principe Borchese.
I’ve always loved their outstanding selection of lettuces. Some favorites include: Matina sweet and Victoria butterheads, Loma French crisp, Merlot and Two Star leaf and Flashy Trout’s Back (Forellenschluss) and Marshall romaine.
If you need or want a hybrid summer squash, Territorial has our two favorites, Raven zucchini and Bush baby, which is good for small space and container gardens. Considering great container varieties, Betterbush hybrid butternut squash lets you harvest butternut squashes from containers. Unheard of until recently, but we tried it last year and its true!
For those wanting to garden in all four seasons, Territorial has a Fall & Winter catalog dedicated to varieties for the cold seasons, including overwintering varieties. This catalog has the same type of great growing information you find in their Spring & Summer catalog.
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For you local Virginians who want to support Virginia businesses, Southern Exposure is for you.
They are a great source of varieties that grow well in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states, including some local heirloom varieties. Popular examples include Old Virginia tomato, an heirloom of the famous VA Ginter family, Anne Arundel melon, grown in Maryland since 1731, Mountain Princess tomato from the Monongahela National Forest area of West Virginia, and Seminole pumpkin, cultivated in Florida by Native American Indians since the 1500s and now grown by Living Energy Farm in Virginia.
Even if you are in another area of the country, they are a wonderful resource. They have a larger than usual selection of collards, okra, southern (or cow, or blackeye) peas, and tomatillos. If you want to try your hand at growing natural colored cotton or peanuts, Southern Exposure is your seed company.
Interesting new selections for 2017 include Withner White Cornfield bean, an Indiana heirloom for growing up corn stalks, and Geranium Kiss, a red dwarf determinate tomato for containers.
Early White Bush Scallop patty pan squash has been a family favorite of ours since the 1960s and these folks have it along with our other family favorite, yellow crookneck. We also like Sweet Valentine romaine lettuce which we have not found elsewhere in recent years.
I like their selection of watermelons which include red, yellow and orange fleshed varieties.
Southern Exposure has a good selection of seed saving equipment. We always enjoy their selections for hot humid climates like ours, hope you do too.
We love these folks more and more each year. Every time I open their catalog, it makes me happy. Their mission statement sort of covers why: “.. to preserve our shared botanical heritage and grow a new era of sustainable culture and ecological wisdom. We support independent, regional agricultural initiatives that foster vibrant, sustainable economy, and true food sovereignty.”
They carry only open pollinated varieties that ‘grow true from seed”, meaning when you save seed and plant it, you’ll get the same variety. Although they are not 100% organic, they support small farms who cannot afford organic or biodynamic certification. They provide seed from their network of skilled regional growers and independently-owned North American seed producers. That often means you are supporting small family farmers when you buy seed from Sow True Seed.
Want custom printed seed packets for your special event, business or fundraiser? You can get them from Sow True.
Sow True Seed has an impressive, very well rounded section of seeds, which can be hard to find from companies who don’t carry loads of varieties for each plant. It is obvious they really take care in varietal selection. This is a standout aspect of Sow True. They could easily be your only seed company and you’ll have a great garden.
Some of our favorite selections include: Jericho lettuce, Ashe County, Red Ruffled and Tangerine pimento sweet peppers, Hearts of Gold melon, Red Acre cabbage, Snowball self-blanching cauliflower, Ronde de Nice summer squash, Blue Hubbard winter squash, and Bush Pickle cucumber which is great for containers. They also carry Tam Jalapeno, a variety we grew years ago to make salsa for those who can’t take much heat.
Sow True Seed also has a fun selection of Seed Collections for those just starting out or wanting some inspiration. Their catalog provides useful information on throughout, including companion planting information, making the catalog a valuable resource.
Please support these folks, as they are a wow of doing the future right. Plus how awesome is there name?
If you are one of those people who want organic seed, not matter what and no matter the price, High Mowing if your seed company. They carry 100% certified organic, non-GMO verified seeds. That folks, is a big deal.
Having this type of standard does come with a cost though, their seeds are often high priced compared to other companies.
They also carry a large selection of hybrid; non-GMO, varieties. Although seed savers are not fond of hybrids, those who are looking for new varieties bred for our changing climate are grateful for them. High Mowing is very picky about who they partner with and offer such a large selection of hybrids, from modern hybridizer’s intent on expanding organic seed varieties. They carry seeds from breeders at Cornel University, Vitalis, Kultursaat, Genesis Seeds and other University and quality seed breeding programs.
High Mowing serves organic growers and is dedicated to providing very high quality seed. A new standout for us this year is their Halblange Parsnip, an open pollinated variety from Bingenheinmer Saatgut, a biodynamic company in Germany. Shorter and stockier roots are easier to grow in our clay soils, or in gardens where the soil has not been built up so much yet.
They also carry our hands-down favorite green leaf lettuce, Waldman’s Dark Green. We also particularly like their selections of radishes and spinach.
Whenever we have a bug or other problem that prompts us to look for a hybrid, we always go to High Mowing first. We’ve liked Caraflex F1 cabbage and Yaya F1 carrot, all first offered from High Mowing, so much they have become staples in our garden.
As you can see, the folks at High Mowing carry a unique collection of quality varieties from around the world, Great folks, great seed. Our only con, is some varieties are above our home gardener recommended price point of being below $4 a packet. You get what you pay for.
Each year we review seed catalogs and pick our favorites who meet our criteria for supporting biodiversity, organic gardening, local communities and provide safe, non-gmo seed.
What’s not to love here? Seed Saver’s Exchange is an easy place to start every year because they not only house the largest privately held seed back of open pollinated seed in the US, but also manage the largest seed exchange. They carry heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds. They also have hundreds of certified organic varieties.
Reading their catalog is a walk through history. Each varietal description is the short story of its history..
Chioggia Beet: “Pre-1840 Italian historic variety, introduced to the U.S. before 1865. Uniquely beautiful flesh has alternating red and white concentric rings …”
Grandpa Admire’s butterhead lettuce: “From the family of George Admire (1822-1911) a Civil War veteran who migrated west to Putnam County, Missouri during the 1850s. Bronze-tinged leaves form loose heads….”
Not hooked yet, check out Trophy tomato: “Introduced in 1870 by Colonel George E Waring, Jr, of Rhode Island. Sold for five dollars a packet (equivalent to eighty dollars today). Gardeners paid the exorbitant price hoping to win the $00 grand prize at the local fair.” …
In addition to these great stories come an amazing diversity of high quality seed. Become a member and you have access to literally thousands of variety, all open pollinated, so if you save seed from the plants you grow, you know you will be the same variety from the seeds you saved.
Some of our favorite must have varieties are: True Lemon cucumber, Emerald Gem melon, Listada de Gandia eggplant, Christmas Limas, CiCicco Broccoli, St Valery carrot, Cherokee Purple, Moonglow, and Tommy Toe tomatoes to name a few.
Supporting Seed Savers’ Exchange is one way to vote with your dollar in favor of preserving our seed heritage and biodiversity. As we said, what’s not to love.
“Oh, you’re a gardener, so what do you do in the winter? You don’t grow food right?”
I love this question because there are so many cool things gardeners do in the cold months.
November means cooking up yummy dishes from soups to pies from autumn’s harvest. The more you store in your root cellar, garage, basement and fridge from the year’s bounty, the more bang for the buck you get from your garden. If you get into fermenting and canning, your benefits go up even more.
If you planted a mid-summer crop of potatoes, December is a great time to harvest them. How cool is it to have friends over for dinner for the holidays and servethem fresh potatoes you harvest last week! So cool.
December also brings opportunity to share your bounty. You can gift those you love with home grown and dried herbs or fruits. One year we gave everyone popcorn we grew. Another year, it was kimchee we made from fall grown cabbage.
December also brings the first of the seed catalogs and these are one of the best things to read while sipping a cup of hot tea/coffee/coco on a cold wintry day in January and February. This is the time to dream about what you will grow next year .. oh, but wait .. we also do our seed inventory and reflect on what worked and what didn’t during the year with things like:
Did we use up seed of our favorite tomato variety?
Did anything new we tried do great or horrid, or just so-so?
Was there a whole crop fail? This is the time we chat with each other to see if everyone in our community had a bad year with that, or if we need advice on what might have happened in our garden.
Reading seed catalogs lets us dream of warmer days in spring and plan what we want to do next year in the garden. They also provide useful information and are great resources.
A creative winter garden project is designing the next phase of our garden. Whether it be the next phase of our long range garden plan (this is the year I put in blueberries and asparagus!) or so a new garden follow-on layout from spring and summer. Maybe you expand it into fall and winter if you have not yet ventured into four season gardening.
Likely the most rewarding is the continued harvest. My favorite winter harvest story is from a few years ago during a winter storm dubbed ‘snowmageddon’. It was the biggest snowfall I’d ever been in. We dug a path to the collards, buried deep in the snow to harvest some for dinner, and honestly they were the sweetest collards I’ve ever eaten.
Harvesting in winter can be less dramatic, simply have a few things in a simple hoop house or cold frame that could be harvestable in winter and certainly when they get a warm day or two to grow a bit and provide more food offerings.
Winter is also the time to start early spring and some summer crops. Your brassicas can be started indoors to be hardened off and planted our as soon as the ground softens up. Some summer crops like basil and peppers that take a long time to germinate and get growing also benefit from being started in late winter.
I’m also in mid-swing with teaching The Foundations of Organic Gardening Course, which empowers people to be successful gardeners.
Winter is a great time study, dream, muse, plan, order seeds, start seedlings and chat with other gardeners.
The easy answer is to purchase your seed from one of the companies on our Recommended Seed Company List. This works great if you have come to trust our process of evaluating companies.
I am not an “activist”, it is has never been my interest or my bent, yet I do “vote with my dollar” and so choose to support companies who have the values I consider important. To that end, each year I research companies, read a pile of seed catalogs and compare varieties and plant lists of those folks I know and trust and those I don’t.
It has become clear that in addition to the current 13 criteria we use to evaluate a company, two more need to be added. Here are our additional criteria and why we added them. See the first 13 criteria.
Does the company sell varieties that are owned by companies who engage in genetic modification of seeds?
One company in particular, who was on our list for years, has staunchly continued to offer a small percentage of varieties owned by Monsanto. Granted, most of these varieties were not bred by Monsanto, but were bred and owned by companies who Monsanto bought a few years ago. For those like us, who do not want to support companies who engage in genetic modification of seed, the act of buying from a company who buys from a company who engages in genetic modification of seed, is indirectly supporting companies who engage genetic seed modification. Prior Unity Garden does not support this activity. Therefore any company who buys seed from companies who create GMO seed will not make our list, even if they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge.
You may be thinking, but if they signed the Safe Seed Pledge, then they are not selling GMOs, right ? Generally speaking, you are correct, they are not selling genetically modified seed, but they can still sign the Pledge and sell seed that is not genetically modified from companies who make GMO seed. Doing this practice now excludes a company from being on our recommended seed company list.
Does the company actually grow the varieties they sell?
There are ‘seed houses’ who are resellers of seed only, buying seed wholesale and reselling it. They may grow some of it, but do not really have field trials, so are not really in touch with the varieties they are offering.
We have found the seed quality and reliability from these companies to swing wildly and these companies do not have people you can talk with about growing specific varieties they offer. While this may be fine for some folks, we find it frustrating when evaluating specific varieties for growing traits our clients have requested. In effect, you become the testers. Because we want to recommend the highest quality seed companies how offer the highest quality seed, we will not be putting companies on our list who do grow all or most of the varieties whey offer. These companies simply cannot support what they sell to the high degree other companies can.
In some cases, a company will offer seed from a variety of local farms and this is a practice we love seeing as it supports small local farms and seed. In this case, the seed house may not trial every variety, but their partner farms are growing seed and this practice has proven to be an excellent marker of quality seed, in part because the farm’s name is on the seed. These companies do make our list. Granted, most of them also test all or most of the varieties they offer.
Who owned the company?
As large Agribusinesses buy out smaller companies, this question is becoming more important. It used to be seed companies be handed down through generations of a family. Now, it is good to know and sometimes difficult to find out. Often the Agribusiness does not want their ownership known.
Call the company, see what is written in the catalog and website. The point here is avoiding supporting agribusinesses who engage in generic modification of seed.
Companies who are owned by large agriculture businesses will usually sell varieties they own, so knowing what those varieties are, helps you discern if you want to support that business or not.
Last year we started talking about seed companies and their catalogs. This year we continue, starting with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).
Beyond having a beautiful and whimsical cover, SESE specialized in varieties that grow well in mid-east and southern United States, AKA, hot humid summers. Historically, they have ties with Seed Saver’s Exchange, so they have a similar ethic of persevering heirloom varieties and encouraging people to save their own seed.
They have an outstanding variety and draw from small regional farms, some of whom are featured in their catalog. They have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, and are one of the 73 plaintiffs continuing their lawsuit against Monsanto, in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto.
Because they specialize in varieties for the south, you’ll find a larger selection of southern favorites including black-eyed peas (or cowpeas as they call them), okra, collards, peanuts and cotton (in various natural colors), than other catalogs. They have a pictorial designation for varieties well-suited to the southeast to help you find these quickly. They have many organic selections.
It may seem hard to follow Territorial with my glowing review, but John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds can take it. I found this company in the last five years and am SO glad. They, like all our recommended seed companies have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and they offer a really cool selection of seeds. Many of our favorite variteties are here, along with a great selection of European veggies. I found varieties from companies who have closed, I used to grow and loved in the 1980s here at John Scheepers. They have been serving gardens since 1908. They are geared more toward cooking so some of their variety descriptions will make your mouth water.
They do not have a huge selection, like Territorial, but what they have is often different and wonderful. One new favorite is a tomato called Lynn’s Mahogany-Garnet, beautiful and yummy. Another new favorite is their Orange Chiffon Chard, although it grows more yellow stems in our garden, the taste is so smooth and wonderful we don’t care what color the ribs are. If you want to find some varieties not offered in most of the other organic seed catalogs, check these guys out, they is worth it.
Nice selection of standard favorites, loved older varieties and new ones.
Good descriptions on each variety
Excellent seed count for the price
No photos, but some beautiful drawings that give the catalog a bit of old fashioned feel