This is my 13th year growing heirloom tomato plants in Forest Lake, Minnesota and I’ve learned a lot over these years. I’ve gradually developed a list of tried-and-true varieties that always do well in our particular growing season, but every year I trial 5 or 6 new ones (gardeners and farmers are always learning you know). Over the years I have also ordered my heirloom seeds from a lot of different seed companies, and I thought I’d pass along my opinion of the top 5 seed catalogs, as well as “why”.
Caveat: I sell the tomato plants I start from seed at various twin cities farmers’ markets, and I use specific tomato varieties for making products later in the season. So, when I order seeds I am looking for two specific categories:
- varieties that will meet a wide range of the customer/gardeners’ needs (i.e., earliest tomatoes, most disease resistant, biggest, meatiest, mildest, etc.)
- specific varieties that I need for making my own tomato products later in the season (i.e., varieties for drying, varieties for smoking, varieties for jams, etc.)
My Top 5 Seed Catalogs for Heirloom Tomatoes (in no particular order):
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: This catalog is definately eye candy and the first one I go through as it has great descriptions and great photos of a huge variety of heirloom tomatoes. They are a little more spendy than some, but often they are the only ones that carry a particular variety that I want (i.e., Vorlon and Goldmans)
Tomato Fest (Organic Heirloom Tomatoes): I order these seeds online as they don’t have a paper catalog that they send out in the mail. You can download their pdf catalog (82 pages) if you want, but the website is easy to navigate. They have over 600 varieties, many of them rare and some of them exclusive. This was the only place I could find the Julia Child variety, Aussie (my favorite of the large reds), Carmello and Dona. And they’re organic seeds!
Pinetree Garden Seeds: This company is great for gardeners that want to order smaller amounts of seed, but still have a good range of variety choice. They usually have about 15-20 seeds per pack rather than 30-40, and each pack costs about $1.00 to $1.50 less than other companies. Germination rate has been great from these seeds and I always order from them whenever they carry the varieties I want (I will order 3 packs at time and still save money)
Seeds of Change: These seeds are all 100% certified organic and everything I have ordered from them has come out perfectly. They don’t carry as wide of a variety selection as I prefer, but they are a very dependable, service-oriented company.
Totally Tomatoes: This has been my go-to catalog for a number of years. They have a huge number of heirloom AND hybrid varities. I always include some of the better hybrids in my order, as they generally have better disease resistance and some are just as flavorable as the heirlooms. Not all my customers can successfully grow heirlooms, and I include a range of hybrids for specific purposes (like Bush Champion for patio tomatoes) in my overall order. They also carry a wide range of sweet and hot peppers. Prices range somewhere between Baker Creek and Pinetree. Germination is dependable. They are not organic, but they probably have the largest range of varieties.
So, there you go. Hopefully this has been helpful to you as you do your winter garden planning. Spending a cold snowy day with my seed catalogs and a fresh cup of coffee ranks right up there with one of my favorite winter activities (I think you could call it an activity?). Cyndy Crist, Master Gardener Extraordinaire will be guest posting next on her favorite catalogs from an urban gardener perspective.
The greatest thing about winter paper gardening is the vision of how great the tomato garden is going to be “this year”. Hope does spring eternal. Happy Planning!