The cat jumps from windowsill to windowsill, meowing pitifully. The dog paces the room before dropping down in front of the fire with a sigh. And the chickens refuse to do more than poke their heads out into the frigid air and survey the knee-deep snow. We try to work through the list of tasks we've saved for the winter months, but how much basement cleaning, closet tidying and tax organizing can a gardener stand?
In a month or so I can start the earliest batch of indoor seeds, but just now, spring seems awfully far away. One consolation is that the seed catalogs have been jamming the mailbox since just after Christmas, providing a wealth of obsession material. Most of them end up in the recycling bin because I avoid buying from the big seed conglomerates in favor of smaller outfits that offer more interesting options and focus on open-pollinated and heirloom varieties. Here, a few of my favorites.
FEDCO. I discovered this co-op thanks to advice from my friend Donald, a professional gardener in Vermont, and they've been my first choice seed source for years now. Their 158-page catalog is a no frills newsprint affair, illustrated sporadically with old cuts and hippyish drawings, but the text is mighty good reading with lots of information from home gardeners and independent small farmers sprinkled throughout. Best of all they send more seeds per pack than most seed houses, and offer bulk quantities of many items. Extensive range of vegetables and a decent selection of flowers. Potatoes and Onion sets too, plus soil amendments, tools, books and some home livestock supplies.
P. O. Box 520
Waterville, Maine 04903-0520
BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS. This is without doubt the prettiest catalog I've received this year, and it's nice to see how this business has grown from its modest beginnings. It's still family owned and obsessed with seeking out treasured varieties lovingly saved and handed down from generation to generation. The photos are so beautiful and the names so enchanting, it's hard to resist ordering more than I need! Mostly vegetables, and somewhat more oriented to southern and midwestern climates, but still plenty of great options for our region.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
2278 Baker Creek Rd
Mansfield, Missouri 65704
SELECT SEEDS. The way this catalog is organized makes me crazy... nothing alphabetical and everything by common name... but this is still the best source for unusual, antique and heirloom flower varieties. Always something new to try here, and old favorites too, offered by the mother-daughter team of Marilyn and Allison Barlow. Many items can also be purchased as starter plants. A few vegetable varieties are listed, but flowers are their real strength.
180 Stickney Hill Rd
Union, CT 06076-4617
TURTLE TREE SEED. We're all trying to buy locally now, and you can't get much more local than this seed producer right here in Columbia County. I didn't get one of their catalogs this year, but their website is full of tempting photos and good descriptions. Several size packets of seed are offered for most items, which is a nice option. And as part of the Camphill community, this non-profit employs adults with special needs on the team that harvests and processes the seed shipments. Strong on vegetable and herb seeds, but I find the flower offerings a little too basic for my needs. Still, a wonderful local resource.
Turtle Tree Seed
10 White Birch Rd
Copake, NY 12516
This is just a personal sampling. There are lots of other worthy sources around, and I encourage you to seek them out and spend your seed budget with some of these smaller firms whose dedication, hard work and integrity deserve our patronage.
Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.