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Starting Seeds, Part 2: Where to Get Seeds

Six great companies to get you growing

Last week we covered many great reasons to start your own seeds. While we will be providing seeds to get your garden started during our winter seed starting classes, you may want to find your own seeds to start if you can’t make the class, or if you want to grow more than what we provide. You may also just be curious about where we get our seeds, and why.

In general, we look for organically grown seeds, and especially ones that are open-pollinated, or heirloom. Open-pollinated and heirloom seeds will produce fruits/vegetables with seeds that you can save and use next year. Hybrid seeds will produce fruits/vegetables whose seeds will not be able to produce more plants. Sometimes hybrids may be the best option, though, for availability or disease resistance. Additionally, we like to support companies with fair labor practices -- especially co-ops, where the profits are shared amongst the workers and/or members, rather than going to a single owner or corporate shareholders.

So here are the places where we buy our seeds. Each company is unique, and we’ve tried to provide the reasons why we like each of them. There are many other great companies out there, but we find these take care of our needs quite nicely. Please let us know if you have any questions!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: This is hands-down the most beautiful seed catalog and seed packet you’ll find, but that’s not all that makes this company special. While often more expensive, Baker Creek focuses on heirloom varieties - especially those that have existed since the 19th century. You’ll also find varieties in their catalog from all over the world -- 100 different countries, in fact. They are based in Missouri, so have more warm climate varieties, but there are plenty to choose from that are suitable to Pittsburgh. They have also taken the Safe Seed Pledge.

Fedco Seeds: This exceptional Maine-based company is both a member and worker-owned cooperative, and offers mostly organic varieties, and a large number of heirloom and mostly open-pollinated seeds, especially suited to cooler climates (and that will do fine here in Swissvale). One of my favorite things about Fedco are the descriptions and stories of the varieties - where they came from and why. Additionally, they have a tuber division and a tree division, as well as a division selling supplies. Fedco has also signed the Safe Seed Pledge, and also indicate the size of company from which the seeds come - an interesting notation that others don’t provide.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: This is an employee-owned company (worker co-op) that is based in Maine, so most of their varieties will do fine in our slightly warmer climate. You’ll find more onions and potatoes in their catalogs than most others. They also provide extensive info on the disease and insect resistance of their varieties, and have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. While they have a lot of organic and heirlooms/open pollinated seeds, they also have many hybrids. For this reason, we use them a little bit less. They also sell a wide variety of tools and equipment.

High Mowing Organic Seeds: This all organic company has a wide variety of vegetables, and especially those better suited for cooler climates, as they are based in Vermont (but with growers elsewhere as well). They’ve taken the Safe Seed Pledge, and support a wide variety of organizations with donations. In addition to the website, you can also find their seeds locally at the East End Food Co-Op. Since the East End Food Co-op accepts SNAP benefits you can use those here to purchase High Mowing seeds!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Another worker-owned cooperative, but this one is based in Virginia, so there are more varieties suited to the mid atlantic and southeast. They have many “southern” heirlooms, like okra, greens, field peas, and peanuts. Over 60% of their seeds are organic, and about the same % are from small farms with which they cooperate. They have also taken the Safe Seed Pledge, and in our experience, their seed viability is exceptional.

Turtle Tree Seed: This is a really unique company -- they are based out of Camphill Village in NY, which is a community where people with developmental differences live and work. All of their seeds are organic, biodynamic, and open-pollinated. They have a wide variety of greens and flowers, in addition to the usual and unusual veggies. They have also taken the Safe Seed Pledge.

Stay tuned for the next part in our series, which will help to decipher the overwhelming number of varieties and information about them - Starting Seeds, Part 3: What to look for in a seed variety.

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