Best Vegetable Seed Companies | Chappaqua NY Homes

By the time you poke your first seeds into the ground each spring, you  already have huge hopes for the success of your crops. You’ve spent hours  planning, weeks waiting, and your soil may reflect years of hard work spent  building its fertility. With so much potential in those seeds, you want to buy  from a seed company you can trust. So how do you know which have the best seeds  and selections? And which follow sustainable practices?

To answer these questions, we asked hundreds of gardeners to take our 2011  Seed Company Survey. Our survey group was a well-seasoned bunch: About 65  percent had grown food gardens for more than 10 years. Each respondent picked  his or her three favorite vegetable seed companies and then ranked companies  based on individual qualities. Ultimately, the survey revealed 15 standout  vegetable seed companies, all of which emphasize sustainability. (Join our Gardening Advisory Group to take future surveys.)

Top 15 Sustainable Seed Companies

Our Top 15 list (toward the end of this article) is based on how often the  vegetable seed companies were ranked in gardeners’ top three. For our survey  takers, it wasn’t just about the seeds. In addition to an array of varieties  with consistently high germination rates, they wanted seed companies that  provide detailed variety descriptions, growing advice and interesting stories.  Genetic integrity was also a top priority. The gardeners we surveyed were deeply  concerned about genetically modified (GM) food crops, so we made sure all of the  companies here have signed the Safe Seed Pledge — a written commitment to sell  only non-GM seed — or made public declarations that they will not knowingly sell  GM seeds.

Many gardeners said they didn’t know there were more than 100 mail-order seed  and plant companies. You can find a national list in our Directory of Companies Offering Mail-Order Seeds and  Plants.

Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s  Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in  the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the  hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern  gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool  tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked  doing business with an employee-owned company.

Gardeners want to support preservation of heirloom varieties, so Seed Savers Exchange  received high marks for providing unique and nearly forgotten heirlooms. Seed  Savers, a nonprofit organization, has “wonderful heirloom seed, a beautiful  catalog and a great mission,” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener who puts  sustainability first. The Seed Savers catalog was rated highly for its variety  descriptions and photographs, plus customers said they liked being a part of  seed conservation. “They’re outside of the mainstream, consolidated  seed-production system, and they have a wonderful community feel to their  operation and network,” wrote an organic gardener in the Pacific Northwest.

A strong sense of purpose has earned Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds many  loyal patrons. A prominent spokesman against GM “Frankenfoods,” founder Jere  Gettle has amassed a global selection of rare and worthwhile varieties. “What’s  not to love about Baker Creek?” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “They’re making a  hugely positive impact on the world. With all the GM seed obscenities going on,  they’re helping make sure humans will be able to eat in the future!”

Passions for ethical responsibility and high-quality seeds helped put Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds and Fedco Seeds near the top of the list, too. Here’s what some  respondents had to say about them:

Seeds of Change: “Good combination of heirlooms, open-pollinated and quality  hybrids, all organically grown.”

“I find the agronomics information listed for each type of vegetable very  helpful, and I like their emphasis on biodiversity and sustainability.”

High Mowing Organic Seeds: “I love the personal service and wide variety of  organic selections from High Mowing.”

“The varieties they offer are excellent and suitable for organic market  farming; everything is certified organic, which makes life easier if ordering  seed for a certified organic farm.”

Fedco Seeds: “Excellent variety choice, and usually the cheapest prices. I  like supporting a co-op, and Fedco offers information on where their seeds are  from.”

Crazy for Seed Catalogs

Nearly 70 percent of gardeners said they buy most of their seeds from  mail-order vegetable seed companies. Most gardeners were quick to heap praise on  their favorite seed companies and their catalogs. Of Fedco, one gardener said, “Their catalog makes wonderful, entertaining, laugh-out-loud reading, and all of  the vintage graphics are wonderful.”

Loco for Local Seeds

Most gardeners send at least one seed order to a local or regional company,  and this practice offers certain benefits. For instance, locally grown seed is  more likely to be suited to your climate. In the upper and mid-South, Southern Exposure Seed  Exchange has a strong following. “I go here first,” said a Mid-Atlantic  gardener. “Southern Exposure provides mostly locally grown seed, heritage and  open-pollinated varieties, excellent service and decent prices.” Known for  offering unique items, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was called “a small  company with a big heart” by a longtime organic farmer.

In the Northwest, Territorial Seeds reigned supreme as a regional seed source,  with excellent ratings for producing catalogs brimming with varietal and  cultural information. “They always have what I want in stock, so I don’t have to  wait. The variety descriptions are excellent,” wrote a gardener with a small  plot who’s just getting started. And Territorial Seed is successful nationally,  too. “Territorial has good selection across the board, dependable seeds and fair  pricing,” said a New England gardener. Additionally, Territorial is one of the  only major seed companies that publishes a winter catalog, which is of  tremendous interest to food gardeners in areas with mild winters.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Gardeners of all skill levels enjoy trying new crops and varieties, and many  look to mail-order seed companies to add to the adventure. “Nichols  Garden Nursery always has something new and interesting, plus they continue  to carry my old favorites,” said a veteran gardener from the Southwest. A  Mid-Atlantic gardener noted, “The family warmth of Nichols shows in the care  they take with each order, and they have taken a stand against treated and GMO  seed.” A gardener from the Midwest with more than 20 years of experience summed  it up this way: “When I’m looking for old-world heirlooms or just plain fun,  Nichols Garden Nursery is my favorite.”

Those in search of undiscovered garden pleasures often find them in packets  from Renee’s  Garden, which is also a valued source for garden-worthy annual flowers. “The  Renee’s Garden catalog introduced me to favorite new crops, including ‘Trombetta’ squash and ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce,” said an experienced gardener  from the Southwest. A Midwestern gardener with 20 years of experience praised  Renee’s “combo packs” that include three varieties of lettuce, squash, tomato or  pepper.

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