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Selecting Seeds 101 (Seed Catalogs, What to Plant, Seed Testing and Viability, Seed Saving)

Nothing sweeps away the doldrums of deep midwinter like flipping through a seed catalog: The colors! The flowers! Living things to eat! But with hundreds of catalogs featuring thousands of ornamentals and vegetables, it can all get a little overwhelming. Where to start? This 101 on seed selection should point you in the right direction. And for you seasoned seedlings, please add your own two cents in the comments box below. We'll incorporate your expertise—our master gardeners on the ground—into the 101.


When deciding whether or not to purchase from a particular company, you might check out the Garden Watchdog tool from Dave's Garden, a free directory that's a bit like the Yelp of mail-order gardening companies. Some 7,376 are listed, with gardeners' reviews. Dave's Garden also hosts PlantFiles, a massive plant database, and PlantScout, a search tool for specific seed/bulb varieties and where to purchase them.

Some of the organic and heirloom seed purveyors most popular with HOMEGROWN members:

High Mowing Organic Seeds (also a HOMEGROWN member)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Jere Gettle, owner of Baker Creek, was a Farm Aid Farmer Hero)

Johnny's Selected Seeds

Landreth Seed Company

Wood Prairie Farm

Sow True Seed

Botanical Interests


Seed Savers Exchange

Territorial Seed Company

Adaptive Seeds

Wild Garden Seed

Victory Seeds

Happy Cat Farm

Mary's Heirloom Seeds (from HOMEGROWN member Marianne, aka Mary)

Want more input? A while back, HOMEGROWN member Carrie asked about where to purchase heirloom seeds, and her fellow HOMEGROWN types (that's you) responded with enthusiasm. Peruse these three pages of comments and add your own favorite catalogs to the mix.



Our friends at High Mowing Organic Seeds continue to post fantastic resources about seed selection, seed starting, and planting. Below are a few key links to have at your fingertips as you rustle through your existing seed stash and browse new catalogs.

Choosing the right organic vegetables for your region: Here, High Mowing covers key factors to consider when planning your garden. Bonus: The post offers clear definitions of some basic terms, including "growing season" and "days to maturity."

Hybrid seeds: High Mowing covers what they are, how they're produced, and whether they're dangerous.

Easy-to-grow organic vegetables

Cold-tolerant organic vegetables

Heat-tolerant organic vegetables


Let's say you've got seeds left over from last year—or maybe it was the year before, or the year before that—but you're not sure if they're still good. We feel you. So does High Mowing Organic Seeds. They've put together a seed viability chart, organized by crop type, that givew the longevity of seeds stored under proper conditions, as well as tips on how to create those proper conditions.


Now let's say you've consulted the viability chart, but you're still not sure. Maybe you forgot to label your seeds with the year you purchased them, maybe you're a nervous nelly (like us). Whatever the case, it's High Mowing to the rescue again with this at-home germination test.


Or maybe you don't have seeds left over from last year because you didn't know how to save them. Well, that's easy enough to fix. You'll be a lean, mean seed-saving machine in no time. Below, a few resources on the subject.

• Save the tomatoes! HOMEGROWN member Chris shares a 101 on saving tomato seeds.

• Want to pass the good news along? We've also got a downloadable, printable, and shareable HOMEGROWN how-to card on saving tomato seeds.

• Enough with the tomatoes already, you say? HOMEGROWN member Ohsweetie shares a blog post on saving squash seeds.

• John asked; his HOMEGROWN brethren and sistren answered. Check out this thread for tips on harvesting and saving seeds.

• Make your own seed packs! Download the HOMEGROWN how-to.

• The International Seed Saving Institute shares seed-saving instructions for 27 common vegetables. (Hello, seed-swapping parties!)


Seeds? Check. Germination test? Check. Boundless enthusiasm for planting? Check. Now all that's left is to get those seeds in some soil. For that, we refer you to the Seed Starting 101. Have fun!


Those guys and gals at Instructables, they've got all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. We love this how-to on making seed-embedded paper that you (or a giftee) can plant in the ground and watch grow. Fancy, right?


Got another beloved seed source? Or your own germination test? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. Then, in addition to the Seed Starting 101 above, you might also be interested in checking out the Garden Planning 101, the Testing Soil 101, the Fall Planting 101, and the Winter Planting 101. And you can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and sow in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.


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We have a local source for heirloom seeds that I would like to share.  They are Victory Seeds at www.VictorySeeds.com.  They are located in southern Clackamas County in Oregon, so if you are in the Willamette Valley they are a good source.  I have had good luck with many of their dry beans, which can be tricky to grow in this area.  Just sent in my seed order yesterday.

Awesome. Thanks, Sue. I added it to the list up top. And just curious: What did you order for this year?

My order consisted of the following:  Heidi Tomato (heirloom paste tomato), Anaheim hot pepper, Evergreen parsley, All American parsnip, Boston pickling improved cucumber, Golden Bantam sweet corn, Red Acre cabbage, Catskill Brussels Sprouts, Montezuma Red Bush dry bean, Large Purple kidney bean, Plains coreopsis, Mohawk tobacco, Cilantro and Bouquet dill.  

They only sell heirlooms, so I am hoping to do some seed saving.  I have had good luck with their kidney beans, not so much with the red dry beans (thought I would give a go one more time).  It is challenging to get beans to germinate in the cold, damp springs we have here in western Oregon.  The tobacco is for ceremonial uses and I am hoping I will have some luck with it, as it has gotten very expensive.  

And don't forget Mary's Heirloom Seeds!  No catalogs, just online info.  The website is powered by "green" wind energy and shipping is FREE!  Score!

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