Great seed companies you may not know, part 1
Eight small-staffed but high-quality seed companies to consider for this growing season.
A decade ago, heirloom and open-pollinated, or OP, varieties of vegetables and flowers as well as certified organic seeds were the domain of small, regional seed houses. Today, most mainstream seed companies, such as Johnny’s, Stokes, Burpee, Park’s, Vessey’s, Harris, Thompson & Morgan, and Jung also offer these choices, a change that put many of those small, alternative companies out of business.Skip to next paragraph
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Some are still around, however, and new names appear regularly. If you want to try some blue-highway seed companies, to steal William Least Heat-Moon’s title, try some of these less-well-known seed sellers. Most but not all also publish a print catalog.
Marianna’s Heirloom Seeds: This family-owned Tennessee company grows and sells “extraordinary heirloom and Italian seeds,” hundreds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. You can find tomatoes from near white to near black and both sweet and hot peppers, but even more special is the eggplant collection: 28 varieties in white, apple green, orange, amethyst, rose, pink, lilac, violet, and best of all — at least on the color scale — “electric purple with white clouds.”
Ronniger Potato Farm: The Ronniger family has been growing certified seed potatoes — “the best all-round bundle of nutrition known” — for more than 30 years. Theirs is a rainbow inventory, everything from ‘Red Thumb’, ‘Purple Peruvian’, and ‘All Blue’ to yellows like ‘Yukon Gold’, their bestseller. Traditionalists wedded to white-fleshed spuds can find plenty to like, including the heirloom ‘Early Ohio’ and ‘Atlantic’, guaranteed for potato-chip making.
Nichols Garden Nursery: Sixty years old this year, Nichols is still family owned and operated and still sells a topnotch manifest of seeds from its location in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Gardening conditions there are the “best possible,” but its seeds — vegetables, flowers, but especially herbs — will grow anywhere. Even a Connecticut Yankee or a Georgia peach will love its agrimony-to-wormwood herb inventory. Where else can you find 22 basils?
Diane’s Flower Seeds: A new kid on the block, Diane Linsley also grows many of the seeds she offers, especially hard-to-find varieties. Heirloom, rare, and endangered flowers are her metier, but she also offers 100 heritage tomatoes and a small array of old-time vegetable varieties. Most special are her perennial flower seeds — achillea to viola — which are suitable for patient gardeners not demanding blossoms the first year.
High Mowing Organic Seeds: Tom Sterns, a hero of the sustainable farming and buy-local movement in Vermont, lists 450-plus varieties of certified organic vegetable seeds, a mix of heirlooms, OPs, and hybrids — plus a handful of flower seeds. What seeds Sterns can’t produce on his farm he purchases from other independent growers and a few wholesale seed companies that “stand out in terms of their commitment to organics.”