Seedy thoughts

img_9262-1Sugarloaf chickory

Many of us are poring over gardening catalogs at this time of year.  It, admittedly, is a fun exercise, this paper gardening:  such potential!  Such success, if it’s all on paper!  And not to knock all those catalogs that come in the mail, most unbidden, but…have you considered the alternative?  You know, seed houses that are either so small they haven’t a catalog, and/or seed houses that are actually trying to do the world a bit of good by preserving diversity?

The longer I have lived on this farm the more I do try to walk the walk:  I am a seedsaver, but I am not yet entirely self-sufficient in seeds.  This year I am doing a bit of seed-trading with some local gardeners, so I anticipate new additions in the form of both seeds and rootstock from these trades.  But there are a few other outfits that I think should get more traffic because of what it is they are trying to do.

Into growing the grains for your daily bread?  The Heritage Wheat Conservatory both sells grain and is a great advocate for the preservation of heirloom grains.  Recipes included!

The child and I experimented with leather breeches beans last year with a usual green bean variety that I grow.  Trouble is, this variety is not grown to be preserved this way!  Beans are a vastly varied species of edibles, and the average seed catalog barely budges beyond green beans and the occasional heirloom dried bean.  I will purchase some creasy (greasy) beans from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center this year.  The objective of this organization is to recover and encourage Appalachian heirloom tomatoes and beans.

Nobody beats the Sage of La Honda for preserving seed and plant biodiversity.  His catalog is a botanical education.

Sand Hill in Iowa is a family-run organization that preserves rare seeds and poultry.  I will be getting our Chantecler chickens from them this year, but their seeds are also quite notable.  Don’t be put off by their byzantine ordering process.

NativeSeeds Search aims to preserve the seeds and foodways of the American southwest.

Amishland Heirloom Seeds is a one-woman seed store based in Pennsylvania Dutch country.  She’s stingy with her quantities but her heart is true:  you are to preserve the entirety of your first crop for next’s year’s seed.  Word of warning:  she hasn’t updated her catalog for 2009 so I have no idea if she’s even still doing what she’s doing.  UPDATE, 1/8:  seems she’s just a little slow getting her website running!

This year, I think I will give my beloved Fedco a pass and order all of my seed needs from Turtle Tree.  This company, based in upstate New York, suits both my latitude and growing expectations and is ALL open-pollinated, a necessary step in my own adventures of seed saving.  They also have forage crops for the expected four-legged additions for the farm this year.

And finally, there is one fruit tree company you should all know about.  They’re local to me so I do have a bias, but their catalog is much deeper than either Fedco Trees or Trees of Antiquity.  The problems he has had with an embezzling employee are over, so he’s back to providing the best fruit tree diversity in the country.  Shop Southmeadow Fruit Gardens!

21 responses to “Seedy thoughts

  1. Thank for sharing these, I’ll check them all out, I’m sure. But…..I don’t really have to give up my garden eye candy catalogs do I? I promise, no ordering…and I’ll be sure to recycle!! 😉

  2. You mean there is another seed company besides Jung’s (ha) Thanks for the encouragment! I will be sure to explore these sources further! Kris

  3. What about Seed Savers of Decorah, Iowa? I got several kinds of seeds from them last year. As their name suggests, they are devoted to saving many heritage seeds and they have a large catalog of many small seed savers across the country from whom you can buy seed or make exchanges.

  4. Thanks for the new catalog suggestions. I have a flower and herb garden at my shop, which draws a bit of attention; I’m considering adding vegetables this spring.
    I don’t know what the reaction will be to the addition of tomatoes and beans to the historic business district. Maybe I’ll need to offer gazpacho instead of coffee–
    I’d go to a shop that fed me gazpacho.

  5. Thanks for the new catalog suggestions. I am moving over to more and more of my own seeds, in fact we save all our pinto beans years. (We plant Bill Zees).

    But to get to the place where I don’t have ONE hybred is my goal.


  6. (coming out of lurkdom)….do you know of another reputable source of chantecler chicks? we’ve been researching heritage breeds and had finally settled on chanteclers, only to find out that sand hill is sold out. blergh.

    i really enjoy your blog, by the way. i’m another southwest michigan blogger, and gardener-to-be.

  7. Thanks for all the info – I don’t know much (barely at all) about seed saving, and it sounds like a great thing to do for at least 1 or 2 veg in the garden. Though I must admit, getting those catalogs are a burst of hope in the winter – we’ve got freezing rain and ice outside now, and its hard to believe the earth will ever be ready for planting again!

  8. No, Angie, don’t give them up! Just consider them appetizers! Appetizers and meal-planning tools for the next big garden fiesta!

    Yeah, Kris, might be an interesting year for you as far as gardening goes, right? You might have a move in the midst of it! (It’s one of the reasons we chose to move out here in November: I would have a winter of garden dreaming.)

    Oh yeah Dennis I know all about Seed Savers, and I will bet most others do too, which is why I didn’t include them. I used to belong to them and was able to get their humongo catalog with access to something like 4000 seed varieties. That was fun but really wasn’t worth the expense after a while of seed-saving on my own.

    I dunno, Pamela, I would come to a store that had gazpacho. (Did you ever see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown? I confess I am a bit of an Almodovar fan.) But why wouldn’t the historic district wanna see vegetables: aren’t they historic?? 🙂 I think gardeners are a big draw no matter what it is they’re growing, though!

    Linda, that’s my goal too, which is why I am slowly weaning myself off hybrids. I am down to one, a huge sweet red bell pepper, but I think I have found its replacement in an Italian heirloom. (I’ll find out what they are; I’m undercaffeinated at the moment and can’t remember offhand.)

    Serinat, yayyayyay! A neighbor AND a gardener AND a chicken rancher (or is it chicken rancher to be on the latter?) I guess Sand Hill is mostly sold out of the white ones. I was looking into the partridge ones. There’s one other big commercial hatchery that sells them, Ideal Poultry, in Texas. I don’t know anything about that company frankly, and at this point I am going round and round about what to order where (as I want some broilers too to get us through 2009’s chicken meat needs) so I might instead go with some other old dual purpose breed. Chanteclers are reportedly stingy on the egg front and also can be stand-offish so I might need a more egg-happy friendly bird, considering I will have a mixed flock for a few years yet. Decisions, decisions. Anyway, welcome, and thanks for coming out of hiding!

    MC, exactly, but like I told Angie it’s kind of like those things are out there to just whet your appetite. Johnny’s Selected Seeds came a bit earlier this year to the house, but I remember a couple of years ago it came a good month or two after the catalog avalanche and it was so fun to look at it with fresh eyes. Don’t worry, spring will come again!

  9. Just found your blog and am SOOO happy!! I’m a fellow SW Michigander, and your list of local resources (esp. the fruit trees) thrilled my soul. I roam the Kalamazoo-South Haven area – it seems you might be nearby?

  10. Also a huge Almodovar fan!

    Thanks for the South Meadow Fruit Gardens link. They are fairly close to me to (northcentral IN). Do you know if they offer pick-up?


  11. Thanks for the link to Amishland! I am in the next-door county. I will check on her and see if she is still in business. The seeds will be almost perfectly adapted for my region.

  12. Hiya Jen, and welcome. Yep, I am a little bit south of you. Let me know if I can help you with any local info: I’ve scoured the ground for years now for good stuff, so I can save you some legwork!!

    Gina, hi! Great, I am glad to learn my gazpacho reference wasn’t too…obscure to some. But yes, he loves visits. He’s very passionate and will gladly steer you in the right direction for your needs and open your eyes up too. He has a discount program too for certain quantities. It’s not too far from you up US31 and over…

    Matriarchy, you are quite welcome. There is something like homework being done for you already with all those seeds being grown right next door, isn’t there? Do let me know if she’s just not gotten her website up for 2009. If I had buckets of time I would love to do what she does, really.

  13. She seems to sorta have her site up now. The main page of the site has a link for 2009, and there is a long discussion of several disasters that last year, resulting in some reduced quantities of some seeds. Some of the interior pages of the site still show links to 2007-2008 pages. I think her site might just need work. I will order from her, and later see if I can stop by her place during the growing season.

  14. Awesome list El! Thanks. Drooling over catologs is my favorite night time activity round here this time of the year.

  15. Matriarchy, thanks for the update: I noted it now in my post so I don’t throw people off buying seeds from her. She does kind of sound like a crabbypuss doesn’t she? I understand though if you have to do it all AND deal with a stupid website too (as you might know, hah). Hope you get some good old-fashioned heirlooms from her.

    Shawna, well, let me know if I can get you anything from Turtle Tree! Like maybe those mangel beets for your girls? (And please don’t let on to your hub that it’s your FAV nighttime activity, okay 😉 ?)

  16. I do like Baker’s Creek myself, which many might be familar with: http://

    I particularly like their selection of melons, watermelons & winter squashes.

    Many thanks for the other references, EL – I was not familiar with and was glad to find out about some of them.


    • Sylvie, Baker Creek is the one seed company I cannot recommend. It seems to ONLY be me, but I have had all the bad things happen: poor/no germination, wrong seeds in packet, two kinds of seeds in packet, moldy seeds, from this company. I’m not an overly fussy person but that seems beyond the pale of expectation. They do have two things going for them: they’re cheap if you want to overlook potential problems, and they have THE BIGGEST selection of squashes, melons AND cowpeas that I know of. Sorry; I know people like them. Maybe if they get their act together in about 10 years I might order from them again. Could be that they got big too fast and didn’t have great oversight of the suppliers of their seed…

  17. El – this post is why I love your website. You are awesome. Thank you!!!

  18. mmm…. sorry to hear about your troubles with Baker Creek. That would not make me an happy customer either if that had happened to me. Would make me no longer a customer as a matter of fact!


    • Yeah Sylvie; like I said it could’ve just been me but it’s not an experience I wish to repeat. It was back when we first got the farm so that would have been 2005; I presprouted the seeds (because I was nuts back then) and that’s when I thought, hmm, something’s not quite right here. There are many great companies out there most of which won’t send you crummy seeds is all!!

  19. Thought you might like to check out our seeds and Seed Library program. Thanks for putting together this list, I hope next time around our homestead seed project will be on your radar as well!

    Ken Greene
    Hudson Valley Seed Library

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