The Urban Gardener’s Favorite Seed Catalogs

Where Can I Find That?  Favorite Seed Cataolgs and Websites

by Cyndy Crist

I’m an urban gardener,growing things in a small city lot in Saint Paul, MN, that is largely shaded by two-story homes and old trees, so as the seed catalogues begin arriving in December, I try to restrain myself.  While the romantic in me pictures a lush potager full of heirloom tomatoes, Genovese basil, French melons, and more right outside my back door, the pragmatist reminds me that it would be crazy to buy hundreds of seeds when I have so little space in which to grow them.

 

Still, there are many reasons to peruse and enjoy seed catalogues, including getting information to inform purchases at local markets, and a garden box full of partial seed packets from previous years provides evidence that my internal, practical voice doesn’t always win the argument!  As a result, I’m pleased to share with you some favorite seed catalogues, all of which are also available on the internet, and a few reasons why each has made my list.  My comments reflect input from other Master Gardeners in Minnesota as well as my own experience.  I hope you’ll find something of value here.  Happy reading!

 

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.  John Scheepers is a great source for high quality seeds whose website is inspiring from the minute its oh-so-attractive screen comes up on the computer.  The catalogue provides excellent, clear information about planting and growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers along with useful gardening tips and featured recipes.  The illustrations are great and the website and on-line catalogue easy to navigate.  A great selection of high quality bulbs are sold on a separate website (www.johnscheepers.com).  Check out the seeds and request a catalogue at www.kitchengardenseeds.com .

 

Renee’s Garden.  Renee Shepherd has long been one of my favorite sources for  “heirloom and gourmet vegetable, flower, and herb seeds,” first sold under the name Shepherd’s Garden and now Renee’s Garden.  Although the selection is smaller than some of the other catalogues featured here, the illustrations are enticing, the quality is consistently good, and the choices outstanding (I’m especially intrigued by one of this year’s new selections, “Mandarin Cross” Japanese Slicing Tomatoes).  Some seeds come in two- or three-variety combos, which is great for an urban gardener with limited space (examples include a Red and Yellow Mini Pear Tomato combo and a trio of Black Krim, Sweet Persimmon, and Costolluto Genovese tomatoes). You can see it all at <reneesgarden.com> .

 

Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  This catalogue is frequently mentioned by Minnesota Master Gardeners who grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers from seed.  The website and catalogue are easy to shop by type of plant (e.g., tomato, bean, or melon) as well as by such categories as heirloom, organic, AAS winners, “easy choices,” etc.  Plant descriptions are accompanied by good photos, and the website includes videos on useful topics like pruning tomatoes, growing guides, a seed calculator, and a blog offering growing ideas.  Although for me it doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of some others, the quality is first-rate and it’s a great source worth a visit at www.johnnyseeds.com .

 

Seed Savers Exchange.  Seed Savers is widely known for its mission of preserving plant diversity by encouraging gardeners to save seeds and thus help maintain the wide array of plants that were grown before factory farming and mass marketing began to seriously narrow the choices of plants, seeds, and produce available in the U.S.  And what a variety the Seed Savers catalogue has to offer!  For example, they sell more than 80 kinds of tomato seeds, and for much of what is on offer, a shopper can choose the number of seeds s/he wishes to purchase (sometimes as few as 25).  The site includes good photos and growing information, and this year they are launching a new webinar series. Find Seed Savers Exchange at www.seedsavers.org .

 

The Cook’s Garden.  Focused on serving “Gourmet Gardeners,” Cook’s Garden Seeds offers a gardener with limited space the advantage of being able to purchase organically grown plants as well as seeds.  A growing calendar is useful, but search categories are limited (for example, there is no way to search specifically for heirlooms).  Once at the top of my list, the catalogue is neither as distinctive nor as beautifully illustrated as it was when it was owned by Shepherd and Ellen Ogden (it’s now owned by Burpee’s and it’s catalogue largely mirrors their catalogue).  Still, it is a reliable source for the home gardener and can be found at www.cooksgarden.com .

 

 

Top 5 Seed Catalogs for Ordering Heirloom Tomatoes

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!