Researching Seed Vendors

Purple Bok Choi seedlings juxtaposed with snow (March 10, 2022)

In the world of seed catalogs, one is so famous that we all must pay to receive it; this past December I paid my $10.00 to receive the Baker Creek Whole Seed Catalog, rich in inspiring photography and deep long-form articles on beloved plants. I also receive several other catalogs from various seed providers: Johnny's Select Seeds, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Strictly Medicinal Seeds, and the list goes on. If you have read previous posts you will know I am astonished every year by the miracle of the seed, such a tiny speck encoded with all of the information to grow flowers, herbs, and food. I love the sense of accomplishment of growing a garden from seed!

In recent years, I have done my due diligence while garden planning to research seed vendors and purchase as many seeds as I am able using the following criteria in priority order:

  1. Local Seed Vendors - These seed savers and purveyors range within 250 miles of where I live and harvest and sell seeds that are acclimated and/or adapted to my gardening zone.
  2. Native Seed Vendors - These are the scientist seed savers committed to keeping native species thriving in native habitats and ensuring local biodiversity continues.
  3. Seeds I Could Not Find Locally - These are the remaining seeds I know I want to grow: favorites that I am out of, anything new and interesting that I feel would be value-added to our food forest, and any pollinator-friendly plants I do not yet have established. 

 

Local Seed Vendors

A glimpse of my seed hoarding collection.

Most of the seeds in my current collection are from Colorado seed vendors: Botanical Interests, Lake Valley Seeds, and Seeds Trust. I try to order most seeds locally as this means they are adapted to my climate and it supports local growers. Seeds Trust is a hyper-local, female-owned seed vendor originally located in Denver, but recently moved to Western Colorado. For the past few years, I have gone to them first, and then purchased what they don't have from Botanical Interests which in my opinion has some of the most beautiful botanical illustrations on their packaging.

This year I did make a few discoveries as I am in a new town and growing zone. I found Vibrant Earth Seeds located in nearby Cortez, CO via the local coop. They save and sell seeds adapted to this climate that mature early, require less water, and are adapted to the four-corners region. We also have a local seed library that will "lend" seeds with the promise of sharing the cultivated seeds with the library at the end of the season. 

These smaller seed houses hold the promise of truly locally grown and adapted seeds, which cannot always be guaranteed by the larger seed catalogs with seed stores growers across the globe. Each year as I make new discoveries, I imagine my seed collection will become increasingly locally adapted leading to the increased success of my future food forest and all of the creatures that need a place to thrive. I am no purist, but I do like the local first ethos when it comes to seeds for the health of my garden, local economy, and the local ecosystem.

 

Native Seed Vendors

Native galardia and rudbeckia seeds stratifying outdoors for eventual spring planting.

When I was young, we were only allowed to watch a few television programs and Little House on the Prairie was one. I loved the show and subsequently, read the books. I remember vividly the descriptions of the family living in a sod house built by cutting strongly root-bound blocks of soil to use as bricks to construct a home. Having grown up in Delta, CO, an agricultural community in the late 1970s, I remember wondering how a house like this didn't just blow away in the wind or wither away in a strong rain. By this time industrial agriculture had turned soil to dust and the fields around me were sparsely planted and machine-tilled wastelands dependent on chemical fertilizers.

A few years back I read the book Kiss the Ground (2018) which dedicates deep attention to the importance of our soil and all of the organisms that live in it; the organism - plants, bacteria, microbes, fungi - come together to support a host of critical jobs, most importantly sequestering carbon. Native plants have an important role to play in preventing devastating climate changes; native grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants are self-sustaining perennials adapted to our climate that keep soil fastened to the earth's surface and support the symbiotic networks beneath our feet critical to the health of our food, communities, and planet.

Native species above ground also depend on us creating food corridors for their lengthy migrations. The Audubon Society of the Rockies has a full list of recommended native plant retailers. Some of these I had purchased seeds from before and others were new to me. I have a future backbreaking project to complete in our sloped backyard that involves digging swales and berms; this listing will be a go-to resource as I plan the native perennials to hold the berms in place. I look forward to our yard and neighbors' yards (as I share plants with them) becoming a monarch and migrating bird sanctuary.

 

Seed Ordering Tips

As with anything worth doing, I must remind myself, that less is more and go slow to go fast. This year I am doing my best to limit how many seeds I buy and make sure I use up my significant stockpile of seeds first to grow what is viable and realistic for one season. In this vein, I made myself a garden planner to help grow only what we actually eat in our garden this summer, so I have time to contemplate the many spaces that need to be prepared for longer-term plants like asparagus, berries, fruit trees, artichokes and more. My only advice? Make a viable plan, grow what you eat and then eat what you grow and more than anything let the garden transport you to the present. Happy almost spring!

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