So I’ve bought seeds and live plants this year from a variety of sources. Last year, all of my seeds were from Baker Creek and Botanical Interests (and still I recommend both companies), but this year I’ve found several more companies worth buying from. Let me tell you about them!
Note that, due to Covid, every seed company that I’ve ordered from this year is behind on processing their orders. Some, like Baker Creek and Johnny’s Seeds, actually continue to shut down their website occasionally so no orders can be taken. (Johnny’s stops taking home gardener orders temporarily, and Baker Creek literally takes their entire website offline for a few days at a time.) Others are just taking up to 6 weeks to send out your order. All youtube garden channels I watch are explicitly telling gardeners to buy their seeds now due to the shortages. (Honestly, I didn’t need much convincing.) Currently, I have all of my seeds except for an order I put in at Swallowtail seeds mid-Feb and one I just put in at Barker Creek. I also have reserved a number of flower bulbs, asparagus crowns, sweet potato slips, and apple trees which I purchased a while ago but won’t ship until later this spring.
Favorite Seed Companies
(Note: Most of these seed companies specialize in heirloom, organic seeds. And all of the seeds–indeed, any seed that the home gardener is going to have the opportunity to buy–are all non-GMO. Only commercial farmers have access to GMO seeds.)
I rank seed companies using several factors. Large variety is key, closely followed by the quality of the seed packet, seed prices, and the efficiency of the customer service. I’m still too new to gardening to have much experience with the germination rates of seeds from one company to another, but hopefully by the end of this season I’ll have some good data on that as well.
Baker Creek is one of the larges heirloom, organic seed companies. They pride themselves on recovering forgotten flower and vegetable varieties from all parts of the world. They also focus on the stories behind the seeds. These stories tend to make up half of their Whole Seed Catalogue, which is, as far as I can tell, the largest seed catalogue in the business. The catalogue gives a lot of good information on each variety–though, in general, both their website, seed packets, and catalogue are missing some of the basic essentials of growing the specific seeds (date to maturation, height/length, some sowing info). Their seed packets are extremely colorful, though, most of them having full-color phots of the variety. Also, every seed order has free shipping, no matter the size, so the price you see is what you pay. They also include a free seed packet with each order. As I tend to buy my seeds in groups of 4-6 at a time, I have a ton of free seeds from them. Currently I have several free packets of Japanese Giant Mustard, Cosmos, and various lettuces which are unlikely to be used, honestly. Though Baker Creek is one of the companies that completely shut down several times this winter, I still recommend them due to sheer variety of plants and the lack of shipping costs. Also, tI’ve found their customer service to be responsive and helpful.
Botanical Interests is one of my favorite seed companies primarily due to their prices and their seed packets. Their prices usually range from $1.99-$2.49/pack (though shipping is not free). Their seed packets are absolutely beautiful and the back of the packets contain a ton of growing information for each variety:
I’d estimate that about ⅓ of my seed collection comes from Botanical Interests. Germination rates seem to be fine, as far as I can tell.The amount of seeds per packet does vary widely, so it’s always good to double check how many seeds you’re getting for the price. They have a pretty good selection of seeds, though not all of them are organic or heirloom. Their website is also very useful and has detailed information on sowing, growing, and harvesting each variety.
Two new favorites this year are Pinetree Seeds and Johnny’s Seeds. Pinetree Seeds has great prices on garden supplies–I bought my seed starting mix and some fleece covering for plants from them at very reasonable prices. They have a good variety of heirloom and hybrid seeds and good prices. Their seed packets have a decent amount of information, though not as much as BI’s do. They also sell spices, teas, and candle and lotion-making supplies. They are a small, family-owned business operating out of Maine.
Johnny’s Seeds, on the other hand, is a huge company that researches and produces many of their own seed hybrids. Some of the varieties are just upgraded version of old favorites, and some are completely new varieties. They also sell heirlooms. From what I can tell, this company is one of the main suppliers for Farmer’s Market growers in the US: they sell many of their seeds in bulk and their website focuses on providing the type of larger-scale growing information that farmers need. (They do sell to home gardeners, but their focus appears to be market gardeners.) I didn’t pay much attention to this company until recently, as I’m not a market gardener and their seeds are really pricey if you’re only buying them in small quantities. (For example, 25 seeds of any of their patented Salanova lettuces average $6/pack.) Still, people swear by the germination rate and quality of produce that their seeds deliver, so I decided to splurge and buy a couple of seed packs. I’ve struggled with growing peas last year, so I brought their Sugar Snap pea, which is supposed to be resistant to many pests/diseases. I also picked up a sampler pack of their Salanova Butter lettuces, as market growers on many of the youtube garden channels I follow swear by them, and they appear to be the highly valuable, really expensive types that are sold at Farmer’s markets and high-end produce markets. (I figure why buy it if I can grow it myself?) I’ve started both the peas and lettuces, so I should know in a month or so whether they are worth the money. Finally, their seed packs, though very utilitarian in style, include a good amount of growing information.
Other Seed Companies
The Farmer’s Almanac website has a good list of seed companies here. I’m glad to see that they’ve kept up with the times and are still providing useful gardening information in 2021. Other companies I’ve bought from this year:
—R H Shumway An old-timey seed company that was originally started in my hometown. Small seed selection and the seed packs are just OK. (I only brought from them due to the hometown connection.)
—Seed Savers Exchange A non-profit dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. They have a pretty good selection and their seed packets are also pretty good. I bought my garlic heads from them this year (Chesnok Red).
—Hirt’s Garden Their website shows a huge variety of seeds at relatively good prices. When I received my order, however, I fund that the amount of seeds per pack was less than most other seed companies (for example, 20 seeds instead of 50 or 100 seeds). They also–and this is a big red flag for me–package their seeds in really tiny clear plastic bags which contain very little in the way of information. It was a big let down, especially given the way they present themselves on their website. (RH Shumway’s is clearly a much smaller company, but at least their seed packets are decent.) Currently, I would not recommend this company to new gardeners.
—MI Gardener I followed this guy’s YouTube channel for at least 6 months before I realized he also owned a seed store. His prices used to be the best in the business–$.99/pack, regardless of variety–but as of this winter he has updated his prices to $1.99/pack. Still pretty inexpensive for many varieties, but I’m a bit sad I missed the $.99 prices. I’ve purchased a few packets of flowers and veggies from him, as well as some garlic cloves (Duganski). He’s based in Michigan, so we have similar growing conditions. I enjoy his videos for the most part, though he can come off a bit pompous and condescending in some of them (from what I can tell, completely unintentionally).
—Tradewinds Fruit This company focuses on rare heirloom seeds, and is one of the few seed companies I’ve found where you can buy seeds for, for example, Jojoba nut and Baobab trees. I bought Japanese Maple and am stratifying the seeds right now, on the off change that I can actually grow one from seed.
—Swallowtail Seeds I don’t know much about this company other than that they have many varieties of Echinacea. They seem to have a wide selection of other flower varieties as well.
—Sustainable Seed Company This is another one I don’t know much about. However, their “Bugout Seed Bag”–aimed at preppers and survivalists–though is absolutely amazing. It contains 34 varieties of heirloom seeds for about $36/bag. and includes a good-sized, illustrated booklet showing how to grow each variety. I bought one after I watched a youtube’s review of “prepper” seed bags, and I was really impressed. Also, unlike many “prepper” seed bags, this kit includes full-sized seed packs for each variety in a resealable mylar bag.
—High Mowing Organic Seeds This company purports to only sell organic seeds. This is another company that I’ve only bought a few seeds from. The cucumber variety I bought from them last year didn’t work out so well, but this is one of the only purveyors of the “Silver Slicer” cucumber than many youtube gardeners have raved about, so I bought a few more seed packs from them this year. We’ll see how they do.
I’ve also bought from larger seed companies like Ferry-Morse and Burpee, but my goal is to buy primarily heirloom organic seeds from smaller, independent seed companies.