Let me confess this: I kill my seeds every year. Then, I go to Al’s and Confreda’s greenhouses down the street. But this year, I’ve doubled down on education, and I promise:
To get some seeds in the greenhouse.
To get at least some of them in the ground.
To eat the food.
It’s time to put in the seed order. Last year seeds sold out everywhere as people panic bought unreasonable amounts of zombie apocalypse things like seeds and mason jars even if they never grew that plant in second grade or canned a thing.
Stores ran out. Online shops were overwhelmed. Johnny’s Seeds, one of my regular places, closed to the public and only supplied farms. Other stores stayed open but all the inventory except for some okra and fifty thousand radishes seemed gone.
I didn’t have a problem—I live in the county and our local Swamp Yankee stores had seeds. But it helps that I shop off-the-beaten-path at stores that only people who can identify wheatgrass know.
So, I’m all set.
But, if you’ve got your heart set on a specific plant from the Burpee catalog, time to order. With shipping delays and much of the world being home staring at the walls, you’ve got competition and a time crunch because you’ll need to get those things in the ground.
Since I’ve got a reputation for rescuing food, the “normal stuff” comes to me and I preserve that in season. So, this year, I’m ordering rare seeds. This means I have no safety net if I kill them. I can’t replace anything at the local greenhouse. I've got to keep these Goatbag tomatoes and butt-ugly Tuscan Kale Palm Tree (I’m going to put in the front yard when nobody’s looking) alive!
Here are some of my favorite seed companies and a couple new ones:
Baker Creek Seed Company. They shut the site for new orders due to a Covid backorder. It just reopened so I got my order in right away. I’m excited to grow a kajari melon or two, that strange kale tree, and even more rare and heirloom tomatoes I didn’t because I already ordered fifty or so. I’m growing Chinese red noodle beans (“long beans”), and a bunch of stuff I guarantee you no one here will eat because they’ll think it’s weird. More for me. (Free shipping)
Country Creek Acres. This is another rare and heirloom seed site. The site’s not polished, has a bit of a clunky checkout flow, and has thrown errors a couple times. But, they had fantastic selection and beat the prices of all other sites significantly.
I discovered them on Etsy but shopped on their site, which I often do if an online (Etsy/Amazon) seller also has a decent site. That way, they don’t have to give up a percentage of my order. Things are tough for small businesses.
[NOTE: I put in my order two hours ago. I just got a text that it shipped. Impressive! Already, Country Creek Acres gets some points!]
Renaissance Farms. This farmer has a mission: “To bring love, peace, and healing to the world through our garden projects.” I found Renaissance Farms when Baker Creek closed down. The owner is a serious tomato farmer—over 40 years experience. He has tomatoes you’ve never seen before unless you’re also a tomato farmer and has refined some of the breeds himself.
Fantastic stuff, affordable prices, clunky checkout, but I’m looking forward to this order, so I’ll put extra effort into these tomatoes. (Free shipping)
Johnny’s Seeds. This is a great company with a variety of seeds and a few gardening supplies, too. They’re employee-owned, and have some things that are hard to find elsewhere. I got corn salad (“maché”) and Itachi cucumbers from them today. Johnny’s is considerably more expensive than other places. And, no free shipping—nearly $7 for two packs of seeds. Usually that’s a no-go for me, but I wanted the corn salad.
True Leaf Market is one of the best places for microgreens and sprouting seeds, but they have garden seeds, too. They also have supplies for seed starting, and even emergency preparedness seed collections. Prices are fantastic, customer service is, too. My “backordered” order still came in a week.
Etsy. Etsy is my go-to place for a ton of stuff. First, because I’m buying from real people, small businesses. And second, because it’s usually reasonably priced. Etsy shops have things commercial seed stores don’t have because it’s hard to carry to many SKUs in your store. I always check Etsy before I make a purchase. Last year I got some Paw Paw tree whips. This year, I got a few plant cuttings.
Ebay. Ebay came through during Covid for the same reason Etsy did—it’s small people and businesses putting stuff online using it for discoverability.
They also have a wide variety of seeds, but there is one caveat—a lot are global. I realized I broke a few import laws when our Venus fly trap seeds (which didn’t grow anyway) were marked “barrettes” on a customs form. Look at seller reviews, and watch shipping costs.
Buy Nothing groups and local plant sales and swaps. You are likely to have some luck here. I’ve gifted and split many plants locally, and even boxed up some roots and bulbs and mailed them out.
Seed Saver’s Exchange. This is a mission-based store. They want people growing heirloom and rare seeds to beef up biodiversity. Since most mainstream seed catalogs or plant starts you buy in the store are hearty, common varieties (as is most store produce) we’re losing variety in our plants. You can join Seed Saver’s Exchange and contribute seeds, as well as buy them. I’ve bought from them before.
Seeds of Change. They’re looking to increase plant-based living. They use proceeds to start school and community garden projects. I’ve bought from them, and the quality is good. They don’t have some of the unique rare things I love to find, but there’s a good selection.
Fedco Seeds is in Maine. They’re a co-op, contributing to the wellbeing of many Northeastern small farms. This season, they’re backordered with Covid. Their store is closed and they’re taking online orders only, but seem to have a shipping backlog of 4-6 weeks. If you order for them and want to start your seeds, you have to get moving.
Guerneys. They always have a coupon. Get on their list or order their catalog and you’ll get $25 off $50 orders, $50 off $100 orders… I’ve ordered things like seed potatoes, strawberries, and many other things from them. They sold out of a lot of things last year, and this year, it looks like it might be happening, too.
Park Seeds. I didn’t order from them but look at their catalog a lot—there’s a great collection at good prices. They also have seed starting domes and other things.
Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. Great prices, heirloom varieties. Free shipping.
Burpee. This is a large national catalog. You’ll find these seeds in your local box and farm stores, but you can order from them direct.
Ferry Morse Seeds has been in operation since 1856. They’re located in Massachusetts. They’ve always had a presence in stores here, so I’ve never ordered from them online, but if you do, they’ve got a ton of coupon codes and popups. The quality is good.
Native Seeds. This is a biodiversity seed project seeking to save and spread seeds native to the Southwest. The seeds in the photo were a gift to me this winter. I’ve got a few carrots in the greenhouse now demanding a bit more heat. The rest, I’ll start on some heat mats soon.
This should get you started. Shop today! Those Covid shipping delays are real!
I’ll get an expanded list on the blog. This list is is pretty New England-centric, so send your favorites.
This post was completely inspired by a conversation with master urban farmer and Lord of Microgreens, Brandon Lester, aka “The Urban Farmer.” Check out his Instagram.