Shop Till You Crop

I’ve written recently about seeds and seed catalogues and the options that we gardeners have.  But as I try to put together my orders for the new year I’d like to share details of some special organisations and companies I use.

Since I started saving my own seeds, joined a seed saving circle and go to seed swap events my seed shopping habits have changed. Hopefully for the better! But I don’t save all the seeds I need, some plants are tricky or a bit fickle, some take more than a year and besides I don’t have enough land to save seeds and grow food to eat. So every year I top up my seed stash, maybe there’s something new that’s caught my eye or maybe a new vegetable for me to try. But it also comes down to freshness.

Some seeds can be stored for years and they will still germinate. The rate of germination might drop, but you will still get some that will grow and mature. After all haven’t scientists grown from seeds found in Egyptian tombs and the like? But some seeds need to be fresh, it’s just Mother Nature’s way, she hasn’t created all seeds equal in this respect. So I buy fresh sweetcorn, carrots and parsnips every year. I’m still on the hunt for the perfect sweetcorn – not too sweet, must mature quickly (I don’t have a long growing season), Parsnips, well I tend to go for the heritage varieties – tried and tested. And carrots, I grow the classic varieties but I’m always tempted by the coloured ones – the yellows and purples, they are so pretty on the plate. Remember I’m just a big kid at heart, and besides I love playing with colour.

So I get to do some shopping, mostly  online, I can sit in the comfort of my own home, write lists, check out prices, and generally end up distracted and ordering more Squash seeds! So I’d like to share a couple of sites that I’ve found and used over the years. And of course as I live in the internet age it means I can go shopping anywhere in the world. I still get a kick out of that!

Firstly there are a few non-profit making organisations ~

The Heritage Seed Library. – I’m a member of the HSL, they are part of Garden Organic, a great organisation, but with possibly my least favourite website! That aside, they do important work. As part of my membership I’m entitled to choose 6 packets of seeds a year from their collection. Their business is to rescue, save and distribute valued varieties. Their blurb is that they “work to safeguard rare vegetable varieties, that were once the mainstay of British gardens”

The equivalent in the US is Seed Savers Exchange – another non-profit organisation “dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds”. and the Austalian Seed Savers Network who are based along similar lines, providing “Educational programmes for the preservation of open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds and the genetic diversity of plant varieties”. I’ve had many a good mooch through both the websites, often when I’m looking up details of varieties. They both share a wealth of information for gardeners.

Then there is Association Kokopelli, again a non-profit making organisation, based in France  “is involved in the protection of biodiversity and in the production and distribution of biodynamic and organic seeds” . I later discovered that they have a farm, educational institute in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu – oh how I wished I’d known this when I was last there!

Then there are some smaller companies, whose seeds I love, and I like their approach to business – some are organic, others not. All sell interesting varieties, are extremely knowledgeable, helpful but most importantly passionate about what they grow and sell.

Irish based Brown Envelope Seeds – their mission is to “enable people to grow their own food”. Couldn’t be much simpler than that eh?!

Real Seeds  “ You’ll find no hybrids or genetically modified seed here – just varieties that do really well and taste great when grown by hand on a garden scale” They encourage you to save your own seeds, and produce great factsheets which you can download.

Pennard  Plants – “growing the dream” is their mission, (a dreadful pun if you ask me!) they have some wonderful old varieties and I love their salad mixes the best!

Next up I like Baker Creek – a US company that has a truly drool worthy list of squash, and some of the most wonderful beans and salads imaginable, again lots are old European varieties.

I couldn’t write this list up without mentioning Tom Wagner and New World Crops. –  “ when he started saving seeds and making his own fruit and vegetable crosses in 1950s Kansas, Tom Wagner aka “Tater-Mater” began a life-time adventure now it its 58th year. His most famous creation, “Green Zebra” tomato, is one of his older varieties that figures in the parentage of many of his newer varieties.”

Take some time out to check out Tom, he sells TPS and potato tubers of the most amazing varieties imaginable, plus other veggies like tomatoes and beans. His knowledge is unsurpassed, and his enthusiasm will sweep you in.

There are many more great companies out there (Nicky’s, More Veg, Franchi, to name a few), these are some of the ones I’ve used over the years, and keep going back to.

Do you have any favourites or recommendations for this particular Seedaholic?


    • Thank you Mandy, it was a tricky one to write as I wan’t sure about who to include and who not. There are lots of great companies out there, I just haven’t discovered them yet 🙂

  • Parsnips. What caught my attention here was parsnips. What do you do with parsnips? My mother doesn’t like them so when they come in the farm box I never know what to do with them. Any suggestions?

    • Hmmm, Parsnips. Well I tend to be lazy and roast or mash them. But you could add them with potatoes to make a dauphenoise, or there are several soup recipes like parsnip and ginger, or pasnip, potato and apple. Is it the flavour or the texture your mum doesn’t like? I wonder if anyone else has some bright ideas?

      • I don’t know if this is exactly a bright idea, but they are fantastic roasted with garlic–and very pretty as well. Or add just one to mashed potatoes–it adds a lot of flavor without being too parsnippy(new word?).

  • oh well done darling, another one for the FB, and thank you so much for having a few US options in there. i shall be checking them out Forthwith.. love c

  • Hi Claire
    I ate green zebra tomato for the first time last week it was so delicious thank you for the history I will check out the site. I loved your trip back to the snow story great photos all over the world airport coffee is the same. Blessings RosieG

    • Hi rosie, lovely to “see” you 🙂 Green zebra is definitely on my list this year. It sounds delicious.
      And thanks for the compliments on my journey, I think maybe we should start a campaign for the improvement of airport coffee !!

  • Thank, you, Claire, for taking the time to gather & write this down for all of us. There’s plenty of info here end even more to check out. With temps so low around here, this is perfect! 🙂

      • Crickey! That was quick off the mark 🙂 I’m still at the dithering stage. I just need to get my act together and order them! I hope your seed order comes good 🙂

    • You’re welcome John. I guess this blogging thing is about sharing.
      And an afternoon spent indoors mooching around seed sites is a well spent one in my book 🙂

  • We went to Wyevale this past weekend but didn’t see any seeds worth buying yet. Just normal stuff that was so un-interesting. I’m hoping that garden centres will wake up to the fact that people like to grow unusual things also – things that they can’t find in the supermarket!

    • One tip I have about Wyvales is that around Sept/Oct they discount a lot of their seeds, usually to 50p a packet. It’s great fun seeing what bargains you can pick up, I tend to get lots of flower seeds – like marigolds, sunflowers, cosmos, cornflowers. But you are right about them being slow off the mark in not having their full range out, strange.

  • I am a Baker Creek girl myself! I can verify their great service, and super selection of heirloom seeds! Love the big catalog!
    Thank you for all the sources.

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