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10 Easy Pieces: Heirloom Seeds for Spring

March 03, 2015 2:30 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

The writer Michael Pollan advises: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” To that, we would like to add: Don’t grow anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as a seed. Here are 10 sources for our favorite organic and heirloom vegetable, flower, and herb seeds to plant this spring:

Above: Photograph by Mimi Giboin. Seeds on display at MIX Garden; for the whole story, see MIX Garden, Healdsburg’s Well-Considered Shop on a Mission.

Above: From Italy, family-based Franchi Seeds are favorites of renowned London restaurant The River Café, which grows a year-round garden to supply menu ingredients. For more, see Kendra’s report from The River Café, Sow Now for Winter Salad.

Known for its winter-hardy chicories, chards, and spinaches, Franchi Seeds are available from Seeds of Italy for European gardeners and from Grow Italian for US gardeners. Our favorites include Chicory Grumelo Verde ($3.60 per packet) and Lettuce Leaf Basil (“large leaves and mild taste”) for $3.25 per packet.

Above: Photograph by Janet Hall

Said to be the oldest seed company in the US, Connecticut-based Comstock Ferre & Co is one of Janet’s favorites: “An admitted weakness of mine is falling for gorgeous seed packets, and Comstock Ferre doesn’t disappoint,” she writes. Her spring list includes Antigua Eggplant ($3 per packet), White Cosmic Purple Carrots ($3 for 300 seeds), and Purple Top White Globe Turnips ($1.75 for 600 seeds). 

For more, see Shopper’s Diary: Comstock Ferre & Co.

Above: Photograph by Janet Hall.

Started in a San Jose, California warehouse in 1917, Kitazawa Seed specializes in offering seeds of 250 traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan. In addition, “Kitazawa sells curated chef specialty garden seed collections, such as the Kitazawa Asian Herb Garden Seed Collection and the Kitazawa Thai Garden Seed Collection, that offer selected combinations of the most popular Asian vegetables and herbs,” says Janet. Each collection includes seven different seed packets and is $23.

For more, see Seed Source: Kitazawa’s Asian Vegetables.

Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Erin buys flower seeds from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds “in my native Connecticut. It’s a terrific small seed company,” she writes. Among her favorites: Blue Color Cascading Lobelia ($3.15 for 1,500 seeds), Marine Heliotrope ($3.25 for 200 seeds), and Picante Salvia Splendens Mixture ($3.45 for 25 seeds).

Above: Seeds from Baker Creek. For more, see Gardening 101: How to Sprout a Seed.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which started as a mail order seed catalog in 1998 sent by 17-year-old Jere Gettle, is on a mission to find and preserve rare seeds. Among this year’s offerings are Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon, “thought to have been developed in Georgia in the 1830s” ($2.50 for a packet); Dixie Speckled Butterpea Lima Beans ($2 for 40 seeds), and Gelber Englischer Custard Squash–”fruits are oddly flattened–impossible to describe”–($2.75 for 10 seeds).

Above: Photograph via Seed Library.

Hudson Valley Seed Library founder Ken Greene was working as a librarian in upstate New York more than a decade ago when he developed an interest in saving heirloom varieties. After adding seeds to the library’s catalog for patrons to “borrow” to grow in their gardens (and to return collected seeds from their harvests to the library), he and co-founder Doug Muller started a small company.

Today Hudson Valley Seed Company sells its own seeds and also seeds from other small, local farmers. On offer are vegetables, flowers, and herbs such as Cinnamon Basil ($2.95 for a package of 250 seeds), Pixie Delight Dwarf Mixed Lupine ($2.95 for 75 seeds), and Dino Kale ($2.95 for 100 seeds). 

Above: Photograph via Chiot’s Run.

Renee’s Garden seeds are favorites of Seattle-based flower farmer Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm, who grows Long-Stemmed Zinnia “Blue Point” in shades of pink, white, yellow, red, and orange ($2.79 per packet). 

For more, see Ask the Expert: 7 Tips Floret Farm for Growing Cut Flowers at Home.

Above: I recently purchased Jardin Seed Co.’s Chef’s Garden Collection ($29.95), in which there are packets of 12 varieties of seeds with names like Imperial Star Artichoke, Red Express Cabbage, Sweet Marketmore Cucumber, and Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce (Shown).

For more, see Growing Guide: 135 Rare Heirlooms from Jardin Seed Co.


Above: Photograph by Diane via Flickr.

Waterville, Maine-based Fedco Seeds specializes in cold-hardy varieties that thrive in the Northeast. The company conducts field tests at multiple locations to determine which varieties will grow best in a cold climate.

This year’s catalog lists 333 organic varieties including 45 different tomatoes, such as Black Prince ($1.40 for .2 grams) and Aunt Ruby’s German Green ($1.30 for .2 grams).

Above: Photograph via Coupon Karma.

Founded in 1989 and sold to Mars eight years later, Seeds of Change sells “100 percent certified organic vegetable, herb, and flower seeds,” ranging from Mahogany Nasturtium ($3.49 for 20 seeds) to Wheatgrass ($3.49 for 1,000 seeds).

For more of our favorite seed sources, see: