Seeds Matter – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews – Seed Saver’s Exchange

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.

2017 Seed Saver's Exchange Catlatog CoverWhat’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 ringrandpa-admires-lettucegs …”

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….”

trophy-tomotoNot 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 historic-emerald-gem-melonseed 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 moonglow-2cucumber, 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 Seelistada-de-gandiad 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.

5 Simple Steps to Seed Starting Success

Fellow gardeners take heart that spring will come and the snow will melt! In the meantime, starting seeds indoors helps keep the winter blues away.

seedlings like light
Seedlings under lights


Here are 5 simple steps to successful start your plants indoors:

  1. Choose high quality seed from a reputable seed company. For a list of the companies I recommend, click here. See prior posts under Seed Companies for more on choosing a seed company.
  2. Pick crops to start indoors that transplant well like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and cucumbers. Read your seed catalogs or the back of seed packets to see if that type of plant is good started indoors.
  3. Use quality seed starting mix. Either choose an organic mix from a reputable company or make your own with peat, vermiculite and perlite.
  4. Give your seedlings lots of light and warmth. You can set up a simple home seedling rack with 3’ shoplights over a shelf that can hold 5 seedling trays. Building it yourself will save you money.
  5. Start your seedlings at the right time. Seed catalogs and packets will tell you when to start your seedlings. For example, cucumbers, melons and squash are generally started 3 to 4 weeks before they will be planted out. Remember to add in time for hardening off. For more on this, see my upcoming post.

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grow your own plants
Homemade Seed Starting Rack


Do You Know Quality Seed and Where to Get It?

Seed Catalogs
Catalogs from some of our recommended companies.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Does the company actually grow the varieties they sell?

Seed Packets from some of our recommended companiesThere 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.

  1. 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.

You can make the process easier and let us do the research for you. See our list of Recommended Seed Companies and/or the rest of our Seed Company Criteria.


Growing Your Health

Grow Your Health logo 2014One of the reasons to grow your own food is because home grown organic food is good for your health.  We don’t really know what genetically modified food will do to us over the long term, but for those who don’t want to chance it, home grown food can help.

This year and last year we were compelled to sponsor Grow Your Health, Gardening, Food & Wellness Festival because it is a great place for our community to learn about how gardening links with yummy food and good health.  All good things, right ? You bet !

This year at Grow Your Health, we will have a raffle at our table for winning prizes.  In addition we will have our new product line that includes our Seed Starting Kit, Laminated Companion Planted Garden Designs and Debby’s new booklet on seed starting and seed buying.  We will also have plants ! Yes, yummy spring greens plants to put in your garden.

Come by the Prior Unity Garden Booth at the Grow Your Health Festival and say hi !
Come by the Prior Unity Garden Booth at the Grow Your Health Festival and say hi !
Debby developed the Prior Unity Garden Seed Starting Kit as a seed starting system to insure your success growing plants from seed.
Debby Ward developed the Prior Unity Garden Seed Starting Kit as a seed starting system to insure your success growing plants from seed.

Debby & Russell will each offer a class.  Debby will talk about Growing Food in a Small Space, covering useful tid bits for containers, townhouses and small space gardening on a larger property. Russell will talk about how a good garden design, including permaculture design principles allows for productive use of your space so you really get what you want from it.

But we are only part of Grow Your Health, last year we had over 450 visitors and we expect more this year.

The event, which is Sunday March 23rd, from 11:00 am to 5:30 pm at Woodson High School, will have at least 21 classes and demos, many local vendors who provide services and products to help you not only grow food, but find local health foods, and improve your health and well being in several ways.   The food court will have local food vendors providing meals for most all diets (think vegetarian, meat lovers and raw foodies) along with food artisans of various kinds.

They even have stuff for kids !

For a crazy reasonable price in advance of $10 for adults and free for children under 16, this event is really a fun day of learning, good food and making new friends, along with the old ones you bring along to share the experience.

Stop by the Prior Unity Garden booth, say hi.. and maybe win something too !

Stop by and get your spring greens plants.  We will have kales, chard, lettuce and more.
Stop by and get your spring greens plants. We will have kales, chard, lettuce and more.

Seed Catalog Review: John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

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.

Catalog Pros:

  • Nice selection of standard favorites, loved older varieties and new ones.
  • Good descriptions on each variety
  • Excellent seed count for the price
  • Recipes

Catalog Cons:

  • No photos, but some beautiful drawings that give the catalog a bit of old fashioned feel
  • Minimal  how to grow advise

Do you know about the Safe Seed Pledge ?

It is a delineation of the Safe Seed Initiative by the Council for Responsible Genetics.  Companies who adopt this pledge do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered or modified seeds or plants.

Some people poo-poo the list because some of the companies who signed the Safe Seed Pledge had purchased some seed from Seminis seed house that was subsequently bought out by Monsanto – hence the perceived link between some honestly safe seed companies and Monsanto.  These companies responded and stopped buying seeds from Seminis, to be true to their Pledge and their values.

The other reason the Safe Seed Pledge is poo-poo’d is because of the phrase “we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants ”.  The word ‘Knowingly’ has been criticized as not good enough, but is used because of the possibility of contamination from genetically modified plants, by such situations as wind bringing pollen onto an organic farm, which is out of the control of the farm (and isn’t making them happy either).

Check out our recommended seed companies which genuinely care about you getting safe seed: