“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.
–Henry David Thoreau
This time of year I go seed crazy. I sort and count them like money, only they are more valuable because each one can grow delicious, nutritious food which, unlike money, we can eat. In each seed I have high hopes for a beautiful and successful garden.
In January the seed catalogs start coming, and even though I have more than enough seeds from last year, dreaming of my garden is a fine way to pass a cold winter night. When I see a new variety that promises bigger, better, faster, more beautiful and tastier vegetables my knees go weak and my lip trembles. I could easily spend a fortune on seeds, wiping out our savings and dooming us for bankruptcy. So mostly I just “window shop” in the seed catalogs.
You can actually learn a lot about gardening from reading seed catalogs. They usually have sections on how to grow each vegetable, and other interesting facts. For instance, did you know Brussels Sprouts were first recorded in Belgium in 1752? Of course, you have to be careful because it might say to start something in February and plant it out in mid-March, but of course that won’t work here.
Always take a look at where the seed company is located to get an idea of the climate, and try to find seed companies with a similar climate to us. I like Fedco or Johnny’s in Maine and Territorial out of Oregon, but there are many great seed companies. Denali Seed Company supposedly makes its seed for Alaska, although they do not grow the seed here due to our short season and wet autumns.
It also helps to have a general idea of what will or won’t work up here. Cold-season crops like lettuces, the cabbage family, peas, and most greens do great up here and you can choose any variety that looks good. Dry beans, corn, melons, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, basil, and even tomatoes are all warm-season crops, and don’t do very well here without some sort of help; greenhouse, cold frame or hoop-house. Other vegetables are in between and you do need to pay attention to what variety you get.
Here is the down-and-low about other terms you might run into:
Heirloom: This just means it is an old variety that has been around a while. It might be well-known and available like Detroit Dark Red Beets, or an obscure variety you can only find in one place. Oftentimes heirloom seeds are bred for taste rather than holding capabilities, so they can be really rewarding to grow.
Hybrid: No, this does not mean GMO! A hybrid is simply a cross between two varieties. If you collected the seeds from a hybrid, you would not get anything resembling the hybrid or the parents. The advantages of hybrid seeds is “hybrid vigor,” which means they have superior qualities such as better germination, faster growth, and higher disease resistance. If you are not planning on saving seeds, there is nothing wrong with planting hybrids. They are usually denoted by an F1 on the seed packet.
Incidentally, you do not have to worry about inadvertently buying GMO seeds because they are not yet made for the home gardener market. However, you might be interested to know that Monsanto owns Seminis, one of the largest seed companies that supplies smaller seed companies. See the bottom for a list of Monsanto-free seed companies.
Open Pollinated: This is opposite of hybrid. You may save seeds from these plants and get something that resembles the parent plant, although there will be some variability. All heirlooms are open pollinated.
Organic: This means the seed is grown on a certified organic farm, without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. It’s a good idea to buy organic seeds because they will be better adapted to growing with less inputs. The production of conventional seed requires greater chemical inputs than their food counterparts because the crop is in the ground longer and they are not regulated the same as food crops.
I recommend buying your seed from a locally owned store such as Alaska Mill and Feed or Sutton’s Brown Thumb on Tudor. That way, you are supporting the local economy and avoiding shipping costs. If you can’t find what you want, there are many small seed companies online to try. But be careful, you will soon have more seed catalogs than you know what to do with, and you might develop a seed addiction like me!
Seeds do last for several years, especially if they are kept cool and dry, so don’t throw your old seeds away. If you are unsure if they are viable, you can put some in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag and check on it in a week. Even better, share your seeds with some friends so you can all try something different.
This coming Tuesday, March 20th from 7-9pm there is a free seed exchange at the Cooperative Extension Service (1675 C Street) in Anchorage. It is a great opportunity to share seeds and advice from other experienced gardeners. There will be mini workshops on starting and saving seeds and making your own seed tape. If you live somewhere else, why not host your own seed exchange? It is a great way to meet other passionate gardeners and spread the miracle of the seed!
Seed companies that do not sell Monsanto seeds.
Abundant Life Seeds
Annapolis Valley Heritage Seed Company canada
Baker Creek Seed Co.
Berlin Seeds – they don’t have a website. Atleast I didn’t find one.
Diane’s Flower Seeds (she has veggies now, too)
Fedco Seed Co. - phasing out seminis seeds.
Fisher’s Seeds - 406-388-6052 They don’t have a website, but they will send you a catalog if you give them your address
PO Box 236, Belgrade, MT 59714
Garden City Seeds
Heirloom Acres Seeds -I’ve heard from several people thier seed germination is poor and so is thier customer service.
Heirlooms Evermore Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Lake Valley Seeds
Mountain Rose Herbs
Native Seeds for the Arid Southwest
Natural Gardening Company
New Hope Seed Company
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Sand Hill Preservation Center
Seed Saver’s Exchange
Seeds of Change
Territorial Seed Company *Tom Johns, the pres. of Territorial posted in the comments on my blog about Seminis being owned by Monsanto, and said customer service will provide a list of seeds they buy from Seminis, so you can avoid them. He also said that Seminis is providing less varieties every year (typical of Monsanto) and they are finding suitable replacements. So, don’t count them out completely.* (info from AdinaL)
Tomato Fest - ask for bubble pack when ordering from them for seed viability
Trees of Antiquity
Underwood Garden Seeds
Wood Prairie Farm