Seed planting time is the best time.
It’s the end of winter, everything is muddy, half frozen, and the chill in the air is just barely there. Already, your mind has begun planning out your spring and summer projects, and, if you are like me, it has to include poring through seed catalogs and putting together a gorgeous garden. But how does that start? With more and more companies than ever before, choosing garden seeds has become a tyranny of choice. Not to fear, I’ll walk you through my standards for seed companies, why I support certain practices, and finally, who the best seed company for your amazing garden needs!
What to look for.
Everyone has different standards, and that is a-okay. I’m just offering mine up for example. Personally, I look for food that is non-GMO, organic when possible, and grown with care, as well as a deep understanding of that plant’s needs and benefits. In my seeds, I try to support heirlooms, open pollination practices, and permaculture wherever I can.
Why non-GMO? I look for pure, whole foods. Genetic Modification is not a practice I want to support. It’s important to note that GMO’s are not the same as hybrids, the former being the result of a lab practice splicing together genes from two different species. Hybrids are a result of breeding two cultivars of the same species. It’s good to note also, that I don’t generally use hybrids in my gardens. There are several exceptions, when I stumble across a fruit or vegetable with outstanding qualities and want to try replicating it, but for the most part I avoid them. I like to save my own seeds, and hybrids do not breed true. (Meaning two parent hybrids may produce something similar or something totally different.)
Untreated seeds, are they different? Yup. Treated seeds are seeds that have been coated, sprayed, dipped, or rinsed with a solution designed to preserve them or make them easier to plant. These coatings are almost always made up of a cocktail of chemicals that will leach into your soil, and stay in the plant that grows from that seed. Avoid the treated seeds at all costs.
Is organic that important? It depends. If it’s a crop you are planning to grow for years from that one initial set of seeds, then yes, organic matters. If you go with hybrids, I don’t think it’s as important. Obviously in a perfect world we would always choose organics, but price wise it isn’t worth three dollars if you can only get one year of crop from it. Growing organically will reduce contamination anyway.
What does open pollinated mean? In short, open pollinated seeds are the opposite of hybrid seeds. They are able to pollinate with whichever method or plant is in their range, meaning more genetic diversity. In some cases, this can lead to creating new varieties when two kinds of plants of the same species pollinate, or, if you only plant one cultivar, you can get true breeding seed for years to come.
Why heirloom? Aren’t they finicky? Yes, there’s generally a reason why an heirloom is, well, an heirloom. Either they didn’t produce enough, fast enough, nice enough, to make it to today’s lineup in the commercial farm world. That said, heirlooms almost always have a rich history, beautiful product, and amazing flavors. I’ll always take quality over quantity, but for market farms, you may see more preference to more vigorous, disease resistant types. The home garden is always a wonderful place to learn how to care for heirlooms, so I recommend going for it! (And, yes, a tomato really can taste that much better.)
Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI): The world of seeds is becoming monopolized by a handful of giant companies with little interest in the actual seeds they sell, the customers they serve, or the impacts they have on the world of food production. What that means is that it is vital to have someone out there looking out for us little guys, to support the practice of saving seed, and to protect seeds from being patented, restricted, or taken away from gardeners and farmers everywhere. Remember how we discussed GMO’s? The companies that practice that science put a lot of money into it and want to control who gets to use it, how, and why. OSSI stands to support and protect the companies who vow to never restrict, patent, or prohibit the use of their seeds.
How to Tell Who’s Ripe, and Who’s Rotten
Navigating companies can be hard, but there are a few things to look for. The best seed companies will clearly label their seeds as non-GMO, organic, open pollinated, heirloom, and so on. These companies are supporting practices they believe in, and they want to show that off to potential customers. If you ever see packaging or a website that looks very nondescript, with very little transparency on values and principles, it’s a safe bet they are not operating at the level you would like.
Some big box companies (Like Burpee, Bonnie, and Ferry-Morse) do not advertise per their product packaging that they are non-GMO, but their website states that they don’t use genetically engineered seeds. Still, I don’t purchase from these companies, because there are a crazy amount of word games that can be played. “Not-knowingly” using GMO seed, is very, very different than actively seeking out non-GMO seed and responsible sources to acquire it from. I always look for the statement that a company either grows its own product onsite, or sources from thoroughly vetted farms. Trust me, you can never have too much information about what you’re buying!
The Champion Seed Companies
Did you learn a lot? I hope you did. Or, anyway, how to be a more finicky gardener! I could go on and on about seed companies, sourcing, and the like, but at the end of the day we want to have actually planted something. So pop over to one of my favorite seed company websites, get those seeds ordered, and start growing! Here are the best seed companies to support this year!
- Victory Seed Company I have to say, I don’t know where or how I found these guys, but I’ve never been happier for a chance occurrence than I am. Victory puts a huge emphasis on growing the best, highest quality stuff. They’re a family owned and managed company, an ambassador for OSSI, a non-GMO, non-hybrid, heirloom and heritage seed company that really puts quality first. They helped me achieve a 95% germination rate, plus they have a loyalty points program so that when you shop, you earn more goodness. Their prices are insanely affordable for the varieties they offer, including the original Brandywine. (The original is the Landis Valley red, not the common pink.)I honestly cannot say enough, but I’ll leave you with this final showing of their character: when I put together my order last winter, they sent a handwritten note along with it, thanking me for choosing Victory, and wishing me luck on my gardening endeavors! Nothing warms my heart like handwritten notes.
- Everwilde Farms I found this company because of green beans. Yes, truly. Do you know how hard it is to find an heirloom, non hybrid, non-GMO green bean that keeps well, cans well, and tastes great? I didn’t until I started looking. Everwilde introduced me to the Slenderette Bean, which, if you are unfamiliar, is a rock star and a staple in my garden lineup. Seriously, I had no clue green beans could grow like that! The other huge appeal to me was the packaging from Everwilde. Their Mylar pouches are just so incredible, you’re going to have to read about them yourself. Find the product page here. Trust me, no one else in the seed world offers this. It makes seed saving so much more enticing when you know your seeds have a permanent home where they can be fresh and viable for years! Did I mention that they are super reasonable on pricing? I should. They have the best prices of anyone I’ve seen for the quality they offer.
Those are the main two companies I support, but, here are a couple honorable mentions for you plant fanatics!
– Adaptive Seed Company – Their mission statement says it best: “NONE of our seeds are proprietary hybrids (F1), patented, PVP, or genetically modified (GMO). All of our seed is grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and NONE of it is treated.” I love their Kale Coalition, which has grown like wildfire for me.
– High Mowing Organics – This company offers a wide range of clean, organic seeds at modest prices for the home gardener. I especially enjoy their wide selection of melons! (Try the OrangeGlo, you won’t regret it!!)
– Turtle Tree Seeds – If you’re truly looking for a great cause to support while filling your garden, look no further. This beautiful small company is a non-profit community that provides purpose and home to many people of different walks of life, offering high quality seeds grown with great care in the biodynamic method.
Now, arm yourself, get out there, and plant those gardens!
Signed, Allison, the mastermind of seeds, the hoarder of plants, and snob of tomato varieties. (Just sayin’ Paul Robeson is the best. Grab it from Victory today!)