Sustainable Seed Company

Sustainable Seed Company.

This is a Northern California seed company with a vision for a sustainable future which in the context of its Northern California location includes minimal irrigation. The Sustainable seed company sells seeds to both small farmers and the home gardener. All seeds are listed as being “hierloom”. It is a  basic collection of vegetable seeds. The most notable collection is the tobacco collection. If you are looking for tobacco, this is a good source. They also offer a selection of grains. While not an especially deep offering, the grain selection may inspire you to add grains to your garden or small farm and certainly offers enough choice to get you started. They display a shade of paranoia with their “Safety Seed Collections.” Unless one were already gardening on a substantial scale a collection of seeds will do you little good in a real economic emergency, one that sweeps you, your neighbors, and all local seed purveyors into an economic black hole. However, if your thoughts turn toward apocalypse then you may find their advice on which seeds store the longest of some help.

Reimer Seeds

This is  a very interesting company. Their seed offering is vast. Whatever you choose to look at you will find that refreshingly there are real choices. My first test of a site is usually to check the artichoke offering and then something like beets. Reimer Seeds offers 6 different artichokes which means that you are likely to  see a variety you have not seen before. The Italian heirloom Romanesco Artichoke is one that I haven’t seen before. Their beet offering is  impressive. They sell two white beets (Albino and Blankoma) as well as a carrot-shaped beet (Colossal Long Red Mangels). The tomato offering is so huge it is broken up alphabetically. You can download a PDF of any section of the online catalog you look at. The PDF for the A section of tomatoes is 4 pages. This includes pictures and descriptions.  You can also search by country of origin which will find you, for example, six chili peppers from the Central African Republic. The company is master of the database. You can also search on heirloom, on gourmet selection, and many other ways to help you find what you might be looking for. The plant descriptions are good with an emphasis on taste and use as well as cultivation advice. There are customer reviews of some of the seeds ordered and the web site tells you what other people ordered who purchased the seed variety you are looking at. In short, a complex site with 5000 vegetable, herb, and flower offerings. Reimer Seeds sells seeds in packets as well as in pounds for farmers.

Sand Hill Preservation Center

This is a family-run farm dedicated to preserving rare poultry and vegetables. Orders are accepted by post only, and credit cards are not accepted. You will not believe the breadth of Sand Hill’s offerings, many of which are rare. For example, they offer a selection of heirloom beans form Appalachia. Unfortunately, while there are some good thoroughly descriptions in their catalog, others are terse, in the extreme. For example, this is the description for a tomato called Stone: mid, Ind, rather hard fleshed, round in shape, 10 oz. fruits. Pkt. $1.75 OG. Plant descriptions are probably overrated, anyway, partly a literary form that makes perusing seed catalogs such a pleasure. In this case, which is really always the case regardless of the prose, I doubt you can go wrong with any of their selections as long as you live where the summers are hot. Sand Hill Preservation Center is located in Iowa. They are thus able to grow and offer sweet potatoes, a root crop that will not thrive in my Coastal California garden. If you are lucky enough to live where the summers are hot, at the very least, peruse the Sand Hill catalog and order sweet potatoes. This is a family business that can use your support.

Underwood Gardens

I have recently revisited Underwood Gardens. On this review I’d like to point out their focus on what they term “Extreme Gardening“. These are plants selected for deep continental climates where there are wide extremes in temperature, both hot and cold. Underwood Gardens offers a large number of 19th-century selections. Be sure to look at the bean list. The plant descriptions are superior, a model of excellence for offering a mix of historical information for the selection, growing information, and suggestions for use. Underwood Gardens also offers the botanic names of its selections which is particular helpful when perusing vegetables such as beans because all beans are not Phaseolus. Underwood also offers a number of unusual selections such as the Dwarf Bees Bush Bean (Pahseolus coccineus) with its red flowers.

Seeds Trust

When seed catalogs were all printed people used to order dozens of catalogs and then spend hours with them during the winter months dreaming of their summer gardens. This online seed business offers a different kind of sitting and dreaming in some ways, unfortunately, less pleasant than sitting in an armchair beside the fire though with tablet computers that is becoming more possible. What one finds with online catalogs is that one often catches glimpses of the families behind the business as many seed companies are still very small – real labors of love. The Seed Trust is run by a father and son team with a particular interest in high altitude gardening — which means in practice that they are interested in vegetables that thrive in short seasons and intense weather. Seeds of Trust were pioneers going to the Soviet Union as it opening up in the late 1980s to collect seeds. Their offering of short-season tomatoes is extraordinary. You will want to spend time at this site. They are in the midst of developing a new site and I hope that one of you will let me know when they do so I can review it.

Vreeken’s Zaden

This is a Dutch web site. With some patience, even if you don’t read Dutch (I don’t), you will be able to find vegetable cultivars that are not familiar. The site, though in Dutch, is indexed by Dutch, English, and Latin plant names. Between a combination of these languages you ought to be able to find your way around. If you want to read the plant description, then cut and paste it into the Google Translate utility. The English comes out a bit confused, but legible, as in this example for a dark colored pepper:

Growing in the greenhouse or outside in warm sheltered place. Outside before the end of May Driving distance ± 1 m in the row 50 cm. How is it that brown fruits once the word “chocolate” elicit? Well, this funny little peppers’ll go for chocolates! A welcome addition to the color palette.

The Dutch, of course, have been famed market gardeners for centuries. They are also famed for growing in greenhouses. I always find it ironic that in January, in my California groceries, the red peppers are from the Netherlands. For home vegetable gardening and for greenhouse gardening you will find something in this catalog that will tempt you. If the Vreeken’s Zaden shopping cart confuses you, then call the company. You will find a phone number in the “contact” section. You can assume that everyone in the office speaks English. Check the local time in the Netherlands before calling. The contacts page lists the phone number, office hours and the email address.

Harris Seeds

Harris Seeds traces was founded in the 1870s. It sells seeds both to home gardeners and to farmers. Many, with some varieties, most of their seeds are F1 hybrids. If you don’t save your seed, then I personally wouldn’t worry about it. They sell to organic farmers and so do offer untreated and organic seed. They also sell to growers who grow in greenhouses, so you will find specialty seeds for peppers, for example, for use in greenhouse horticulture although not in home gardener quantities. A solid commercial seed supplier. They sell a product I have not come across before, a plastic mulch/blanket ground cover with built in drip irrigation. The current price is around $70 for an 8X10 blanket, but it lasts 5 years uncovered and 20 if it is mulched so a low amortized cost. Liquid fertilizer can be fed into the system. A seed catalog well worth reading. Be sure to look at the garden tunnels and other season extending products.

Heirloom Seeds

This Pennsylvania seed company offers a substantive catalog of heirloom vegetables (they approximately 1400 varieties) which they define as varieties that are about fifty years old. Their descriptions are terse but to the point and do include the botanic name of the vegetable. There is also a nice short statement on soil pH and general growing requirements for most of the vegetable varieties offered. As always, you have to know your own climate when ordering from a seed company that is outside your growing area. An heirloom tomato that might do well in Pennsylvania is unlikely to thrive in my coastal Northern California garden. Planting guides with reference to first frost dates are provided for gardeners who live where the winters are cold. Overall, a seed catalog well worth perusing and ordering from. The seed prices are exceedingly reasonable.