The Quest For Seeds
Last Spring I wrote a blog entitled "The Pleasures of Growing From Seed," a two part series, my confessional about my passion and love for growing vegetables from seeds (as opposed to from starts). There was also some useful information of course, about how to grow from seed. I will spare you more of the same here, but if you don't have the seed bug, like I do, that blog post is a good place to start. If you are in the camp of crazy for seeds, you will enjoy this blog post, where I take up the question of where and how to acquire your own organic vegetable seeds.
The search for and acquisition of seeds is my very first act of gardening each year. For me, this process begins months before I amend my soil in the spring or plant the first pea seeds. It is a process that I take deep pleasure in for several reasons.
For one, it is something I can do curled up by a fire, over a steaming bowl of soup, or reclined on the couch, with a beloved seed catalog. It is among the few "gardening activities" that are so cozy, and this alone recommends it! It is also a way that I can indulge my gardening instincts in the darkness of winter, even in the darkest hour before we crawl back from the solstice towards Spring and Life and Fruit. I get tremendous inspiration, education, and all sorts of ideas for the next year along the way.
Sourcing Seeds from Local Retailers
Ordering from catalogs is not the only way to come by your garden seeds. In fact, most people who buy seeds never touch a catalog and get their seeds from local nurseries or even from grocery stores.
The Portland area has incredible offerings when it comes to seeds, and we are extremely lucky to have access to such diversity and quality. Some of the advantages of buying seeds locally include: Instant gratification! No waiting around for seeds to arrive by mail. Limited Selection can be less overwhelming (There can be too much of a good thing). Guidance in selecting seeds from nursery staff can be helpful if you aren't sure just what you want.
Some disadvantages to buying locally include: less diversity/selection if you are looking for specific varieties. Also, seeds can arrive at nurseries at unpredictable times. Finally, Seeds are available later in Winter/early Spring at nurseries, than when ordered via catalog.
Here is a list of some local retailers who carry vegetable seeds!:
Naomi's Organic Farm Supply: 2615 SE Schiller St.
Naomi's is deeply committed to supporting organic, local, and sustainable practices and businesses. This is reflected in all of their products and their seed collection is no exception. All seeds at Naomi's are sourced from Pacific Northwest seed companies! Seeds they carry include: Adaptive Seeds, Siskiyou Seeds, Uprising Seeds, and Horizon Herbs
Garden Fever: 3433 NE 24th Ave
We love this NE Portland locale for their thoughtfully curated collection of seeds, plants, tools, and other gardening resources. Friendly staff and quality products through and through. They carry a unique collection of seeds from locally grown to specialty Italian bred. Seeds they carry include: Botanical Interests, Renee's Garden Seeds, Nichol's Garden Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Company, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Horizon Herbs, and Italian-based Florsilva Ansaloni
Portland Nursery: 5050 SE Stark and 9000 SE Division
An institution for Portland area Gardeners and a great resource for all things garden related. They carry a wide variety of both flower and vegetable seeds concentrating mostly on some of the bigger seed companies but carrying some regional collections as well. Seeds they carry include: Renee's Garden Seeds, Lake Valley Seeds, Botanical Interests, Territorial Seed Company, and Ed Hume Seeds
Dennis' 7 Dees Locations: Cedar Hillls, Lake Oswego, SE Portland, Seaside
If you live outside of the Portland area, you can still find quality seeds at a number of larger nurseries and garden centers. Dennis' 7 Dees has limited but quality selections of vegetable seeds. Seeds they carry include: Territorial Seed Company, Renee's Garden Seeds, and Ed Hume Seeds
Home Depot: Many locations throughout the Portland Metro Area.
This is another reasonable option if you live further from the city center, carrying some of the largest seed producers. Very limited organic selections. Seeds they carry include: Burpee Seeds, Ferry-Morse Seeds, Stover Seeds, and Seeds of Change
Sourcing Seeds from Seed Catalogs
While getting your seeds in the spring at local retailers has many advantages, it takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. I get so much joy out of pouring through seed catalogs that I would never give it up. But I'm a seed nut (oxymoron?) as you know, and I'm clearly biased.
Even so, ordering from seed catalogs has some clear advantages over getting seeds from local retailers including: Nearly unlimited variety and selection, ability to acquire seeds early in the season, ability to plan ahead and know what you will be direct seeding, and of course the joy of browsing seed catalogs. Even if you don't order any seeds from afar, I think you will find immeasurable joy and inspiration simply in browsing.
But where do you get seed catalogs, and which ones should you check out? Almost all catalogs are free but they aren't available locally and must be ordered in the mail. Simply sign up and request a catalog at any of the websites that follow here and you should get a catalog in the mail within a few weeks. There are dozens of seed companies and catalogs to choose from. It can be totally overwhelming, and though I myself receive far too many in the mail, I would recommend starting with just one or two and leave some room for growth.
I have painstakingly whittled my list of favorite seed catalogs down to five that I will share with you today: (drumroll)...
Johnny's is sort of the old standby for seeds. They are a large seed company but they go a very professional job and have extremely diverse offerings from conventional to organic to hybrid to heirloom. They have been around for more than 40 years and they do a bang up job. If I could only have one seed catalog it would probably be Johnny's.
Baker creek is an extremely unique seed company based in Missouri and carrying exclusively heirloom seeds. They offer over 1700 varieties in fact! If you are interested in heirloom fruits and vegetables or if you just want to look at the most beautiful seed catalog out there, check out Baker Creek.
This local seed company, based in Cottage Grove, was founded by Steve Solomon, Author of the definitive gardening guide for our region "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades." Territorial is now a large seed company with extensive offerings both organic and conventional. Since Territorial is based in Oregon, their seeds are often well adapted for our climate. An excellent source for all the seeds you needs.
Established in 1996, High Mowing ranks as one of the newer seed companies relative to others on this list. They offer 100% certified organically grown seeds, which is a huge undertaking that no other seed company on this list can claim. They are based in the Northeast and are well known for their hardy and diverse offerings. Highly recommended by us.
Seed Savers Exchange is a unique and inspiring seed company/non-profit organization that offer's heirloom seeds that are saved, and distributed, to SSE by over 13,000 members in 40 countries across the world! Their catalog represents the collection of all this work as they continue in their mission to preserve genetic diversity, and heirloom varieties. Many rare and otherwise unavailable varieties are offered through their catalog. Another beautiful seed catalog, by the way...Check it out!!
But Which Seeds Should I Choose?
...Stay tuned for the next blog post: "Selecting Seeds and Varieties for Direct Sowing at Home"
This post will cover what sorts of vegetables to choose for direct sowing in your garden, how to evaluate different varieties, as well as the inside line on some of our very favorite varieties that you won't find available locally.
In the meantime, order some seed catalogs and put on that pot of soup! Happy Holidays from Portland Edible Gardens and we will be back with more Edible Gardening hints and tips in 2015!!
Sincerely, Ian Wilson