A photo of Lawrence Davis-HollanderHere’s another batch of great seed catalogs for your consideration.  I’m  shortening the length of these reviews because I’ll never get to them all with the level of detail I gave you in my first review. I’ve been preoccupied with researching biblical herbs, culinary herbs and spices for some new posters.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalogMany readers are familiar with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds which has quickly positioned itself as one of the premier heirloom and open pollinated seed catalogs, in addition to creating a veritable heirloom seed industry. They’ve gotten a lot of media attention and deservedly so because they are doing a lot to promote and conserve heirloom seeds. Their catalog is impressive to behold, weighty and thick and filled with lots of photos. You might even call it a bit indulgent with lots of gloss and full page photo spreads, and this serves as a excellent photo resource yet with a down home feel.

It’s not always clear from their descriptions what’s an heirloom and what is an open pollinated variety and there is plenty of information in the descriptions.  Clearly they have made a great effort to include many rare and historic varieties. The listings of  cucumbers. eggplants, tomatoes, squash, watermelon, melons are outstanding and there’s even some species melons included. Other well represented vegetables include okra and cowpeas (usually waste of time in my Zone 5) beets, carrots and oddities like the tropical winged bean or Solanum sisymbriifolium, a nasty thorny tomato relative that’s interesting to sample, and clearly they liked the fruit a lot more than I do. There’s plenty of flower seed selection at the back of the catalog. All in all Baker’s Creek is a treasure trove of heirloom and other seeds 

If Baker Creek is becoming the big boy on the block then the Seed Savers Exchange must be the Dad.   This non-profit’s decades long seed preservation efforts created new awareness for the value of our food heritage and helped sprout other seed savers and programs. Their catalog is filled with many rare and historic categories and I’m pleased to see extraordinarily rare items I was growing ten years ago are available commercially.  For example in peppers there’s Maule’s Red Hot, a variety I reintroduced, which was available from only one seed bank I Europe, and Napolean a great sweet pepper. Particularly notable is SSE selection of melons,  squash, watermelon tomatoes, peppers, lettuce cucumbers eggplant and beans. They offer a limited selection of transplants, potatoes and garlic including a few of my favorite Bogatyr, Chesnok Red, Georgia Crystal and Siberian.  There’s also a good selection of  flowers and some prairie seeds although their geographic origin is  not clear, which is useful to know for native plantings.

Southern Exposure Seed has been actively preserving southeastern varieties since the 1980s and has maintained its environmentally friendly non-glossy catalog.  Their offerings are full of unique varieties, especially from the southern region that may not do well in northern climates—although always worth a try. This includes great selections of okra, peanuts, cornfield pole bean varieties, southern dents and flour corns. cotton, and cowpeas.  They have a number of Cherokee corns and beans.  Their selection of other vegetable types is excellent including tomatoes, summer squash melons and watermelons.

One of the most delightful parts of their catalog descriptions are they make it quite clear when something was introduced, thus leaving no doubt  as to the age/lineage of a variety. This is very helpful. SSE has broadened its offerings to include many modern open pollinated selections, and at least one hybrid onion. They have a good selection of potatoes and garlic, culinary  and medicinal herb including roots and rhizomes of ginseng and goldenseal, flowers, books and more.

S.M.R. Saia
3/2/2011 8:34:20 AM

Wow, thanks for the info!

Nebraska Dave
2/24/2011 3:47:45 PM

Lawrence, you are getting me inspired to start ordering seeds from the catalogs. Some would say I should have already started ordering and I suppose they would be right. Bear Creek are out of catalogs and only the PDF downloadable version is available. Even that is quite impressive. I'm more convinced every year that heirloom is the only way to go with gardening. Thanks for giving us the scoop on seed catalogs. Have a great seed ordering day.

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