Winter is a fun time to be a gardener. I know, that may sound strange… What can a gardener do in the winter? IT’S COLD OUTSIDE! Yes, I know! In several previous articles I have discussed DIY greenhouse options. A geodesic dome greenhouse is a fun project, and a DIY gothic greenhouse is a cheap alternative to buying a professional greenhouse. But even if you aren’t set up for four seasons gardening, you can still have a lot of fun on those cold winter nights, warming your feet by the fire, reading seed catalogs and making plans for the coming spring.
With the advent of the internet, almost all of the big seed companies have good online shopping options. Some have full service accounts that you can sign up for and start “wish lists” or other handy tools. But if you are like me, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of good coffee, a pen and pad and a stack of seed catalogs is a great way to brighten up a snowy winter evening. On the pad, you can sketch out your garden plans, then flip through the catalogs, circling interesting stuff and turning down the pages. You can clip out the listings and put them in a notebook, if you like. Of course, this can all be done digitally, but if you are a gardener, you probably like to work with your hands, and using the catalogs makes the process a little more “hands-on” and creative, in my opinion, anyway.
I’m going to list a few of my favorite seed catalogs, what I like about them, and how you can get your own. I would love to hear from readers about their favorite seed sellers, as well! Note: We prefer to plant heirloom varieties, because you can save the seeds and plant them again. I’ll be posting about seed saving in an upcoming article.
R.H Shumway is one of the grandaddies of the mail order seed business, and they celebrate it with their old-timey catalog. It’s a large format newsprint catalog and still looks like something from the 1800s. Founded in 1870 in Rockford Illinois, Shumway has a solid and long-standing reputation as a seller of high quality heirloom and traditional varieties. Their packaging isn’t flashy, but the prices are reasonable, and the seeds, bulbs and plants always come well packed. Their website is bare-bones as well, but go there and drop three bucks for the paper catalog. It’s a real trip into the past. RHShumway.com/
Today, Schumway is part of a bigger company, J.W. Jung Seed Company, which also owns Totally Tomatoes and Vermont Bean Seed Company, all of which are excellent companies. Check out their catalogs as well!
Seeds of Change
Seeds of Change is kind of the opposite of Shumway. Recently purchased by mega-corporation Mars, the candy bar people) Seed of Change’s catalog is slick and packed full of glossy pictures. Their prices aren’t the cheapest, but they have a huge variety of stuff and it’s all 100% certified organic. Order a catalog at SeedsOfChange.com.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek is more than just a catalog, it’s a reference book. 210 pages full of of giant, full-color pictures describe in detail their 1750 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs. Baker Creek carries American seed varieties from the 19th century, as well as many Asian and European varieties. Request a catalog at: RareSeeds.com
Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers is actually a non-profit group, with the mission “…to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 “…to honor this tradition of preserving and sharing.” You can either become a member and start saving and sharing seeds yourself, or buy heirloom seeds directly from members. Request a catalog at: SeedSavers.org
Fedco is another unique operation. It is a cooperative. Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%. They specialize in cold-hardy varieties, so it is an excellent resource for those of us up in the Northern latitudes. One of their specialities is what they call “Moose Tubers” – interesting varieties of root crops like ginger, sunchokes, sweet potatoes shallots and potatoes. Order a catalog at: FedcoSeeds.com
Gurney’s is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. They are one of those companies that is constantly advertising all kinds of sales and special deals. Their prices are low and they have a TON of stuff. Personally, I’ve had good experiences ordering berry bushes and nut trees from them – fast delivery, healthy plants. BUT- you can find A LOT people who have had lousy service. They have low prices because they do volume sales, and they make no claims about about plants being organic, heirloom, or even grown in the US. Caveat Emptor, and remember, you get what you pay for. And beware, if you get their catalog, you will probably get LOTS of other catalogs, all year round. Gurneys.com
Have any favorite seed catalogs we missed? If so, share them in the comments area below!