Where to buy Non-GMO & Organic Seeds, Bulbs, Crowns, Bare root plants, Seedlings… All that. These are the trusted sources we’ve used the past few years at Tyrant Farms.
Looking through seed catalogues and putting fluorescent sticky tags next to all the things we want to grow in the coming season is one of our favorite things to do when the weather is being uncooperative and keeping us cooped up inside. This post was 4 months in the making (in 2012) and is continually updated (most recently on 3/27/15) as we get more information or discover more resources. Make sure to bookmark it in your browser and check back in when you begin planning your upcoming seasonal gardens.
So, why exactly did it take so long to make this list?
Because it’s complicated.
Back in 2012, GMOs were just starting to become a mainstream word in home horticulture, heirlooms were really gaining popularity and organic seeds weren’t as easy to come by. Fast forward to 2015 and there still seems to be a great deal of confusion — terms are often blurred, with people equating non-GMO to being just as good as Organic (they’re actually quite different) and hybrids to GMOs (also not the same thing) and general fear-mongering about GMOs.
You, the home gardener, can’t buy GMO seed.Let me repeat that…you can not just go out and buy GMO seed for any plant (except maybe grass, in the near future). Got it? So far, only a handful of garden crops are GMO and NONE are available commercially. Lori, a commenter on a Mother Earth News Article, made me giggle when she said this:
“Plus, know this – any seed company that lists ‘NON-GMO’ seed on their catalog cover is misleading you – it’s the same thing as saying ‘Sugar is fat free’. Of course it is. No retail seed catalog in the world can sell GMO seed. It’s too expensive, and none of the crops would grow in the home garden anyway.”
The reality of the situation is that the breeders of GE corn aren’t trying to cleverly slip you seed from their Round-up Ready SV9813SC Silver Corn in those packets of Silver Queen you just bought. You’d notice if they were. How can I be so sure? Your corn would cost 5x’s as much, you’d have to sign a Technology Use Agreement (like a SLA, Software Licensing Agreement, you’d get from Microsoft when buying MS Office) and you’d be required to plant your seeds in agreement with certain environmental requirements (adequate buffer zones and whatnot)—although I understand this is largely unenforced.
but, pesky mother nature…
That said, as any gardener knows, cross-pollination happens unless you take careful measures to ensure that it doesn’t. Because of the nature of, well, nature, that cross pollination can happen from a small plot of heirloom corn or from a neighboring RR Corn field—mother nature isn’t picky. A good seed company will either test their seeds on a regular basis or require their seed growers to regularly test their seeds to ensure that they are not selling a seed that has been accidentally contaminated by pollen of a nefarious GMO variety. When they find that their seed lacks purity, they’ll pull it from inventory and not sell it.
If you’re not buying Organic Seed, it’s especially important to you because conventional seed farmers are not required by any regulatory body (such as the National Organic Program – NOP) to make sure their seeds are free of GMOs. But any company that sells high-quality conventional seed in the home horticulture market should be willing to stand by their seed and their commitment to their consumers.
If you’re buying the cheapest seed possible, do you think that grower is going to have the resources (or even care) to test to ensure that they’re providing you the best quality product?
That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. CHEAPER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER.
A breakdown of terms:
Non-GMO is not equivalent to Certified Organic. Non-GMO only means there are no traces of GMOs; not that there are no traces of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.
- Certified Organic Seeds: Certified Organic seeds are grown without use of harmful synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Certified Organic seeds can never contain traces of GMOs. Many people know about the array of harmful chemicals used in conventional food production, but they don’t know that conventional seed growers can use more of those chemicals on crops grown for seed, since the plants are not intended to enter the human food supply. According to the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Alliance, the production of conventional seed requires heavier application of chemical pesticides than their food crop counterpart as seed crops are generally in the ground longer, and being a non-food crop, the allowable levels of application are much higher. These include methyl bromide, endosulfan (both of which are banned in the EU and much of the world), metaldehyde and many other highly toxic chemicals that damage air and water quality, biological diversity, and human health. This means more soil degradation, more water and air pollution, more harm to the farmworkers, more danger to the local communities where the seeds are produced, and ultimately more danger to you, the seed purchaser.
Not to mention that if you want to have an organic garden, starting with organic seeds is a great way to improve your success. As it turns out, cutting edge plant research on plant epigenetics has shown that parent plants pass along information to their offspring (via the epigenetic information in the seed) to help them acclimate to their growing environment. Thus, plants grown from organic seeds are more likely to have stronger immune systems, a heightened ability to fend off pest insects and produce strong root systems that aren’t dependent on being drenched in synthetic fertilizers.
- Heirloom:Heirlooms represent our seed heritage. Heirlooms are always “open-pollinated” seed varieties, which allows them to be saved and passed down from year to year over many generations. There is no consensus on how old a particular plant variety has to be to be considered an “heirloom.” If you want to grow a piece of history and/or really interesting and unusual varieties of produce that you’ll never see in a grocery store, heirlooms are the way to go. It’s also important that people alive today create “new heirlooms” for the future using the genetic stock from the heirlooms we were given by our ancestors. It is important to note that if you want to have optimal success with any seed, especially one that isn’t hybridized for specific resistances such as an heirloom, try to find ones that have been grown and passed down in your area/agricultural zone and they will likely show a natural resistance/ability to tolerate your climate, local soil conditions, local pests and diseases…
- Open Pollinated: Plants that are capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings identical to the parent. This is the seed you can save, regrow, and have the same fantastic plant you had the year prior. As I mentioned before, all heirlooms have to be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.
- Hybrid: The result of either a natural or deliberate cross between two different parent plants in an effort to create offspring that display the best (or ideal for the situation) traits of the parent. This is the seed you always hear not to save. If you do, it will yield a variety grab-bag of seedlings that exhibit the parent plant’s traits, none of which will be identical to the fruit from which you saved the seed. For instance, one year we saved seed from a yummy pepper that I picked out of a community garden. I don’t remember the variety. We only grew out a few of the seeds (maybe five out of 200) b/c we just don’t have the room to grow 200 seeds in the hope that one will be amazing. Of the five, the one pepper that made it was… well, all the “genetic trash” of the parent plant — the fruit was thin walled with little flavor, and the plant itself was sorta weak and small. However, had we grown out all 200 and found one amazing pepper, we could have continued to grow out that seed and create a new line of pepper that thrived in our soil. There’s so much more that I could blab on about hybridizing plants & creating new lines; far more than anyone wants to read in this post, so I’ll be doing another post on this subject later. One Last Quick Note: I’ve read numbers as high as 90% of our heirlooms started out as either natural or deliberate crosses (hybrids) that eventually became stabilized. A hybrid can be stabilized (and therefore become open-pollinated) after a number of successive offspring reliably produces an identical plant to the original hybrid (called the F1). A hybrid is not and heirloom or open-pollinated.
- GMO: The term ‘GMO’ is an acronym for a Genetically Modified Organism. A GMO is any plant, animal or microorganism who has had it’s genes altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. For example, Bt Corn is corn that has had Bt bacteria spliced into its genes reportedly making it resistant to certain pests like corn borers. In this case, Bt would never find its way into a corn kernel, however there are genetic modifications that simply speed up what could happen as a result of natural hybridization. Hybrids are not GMOs. If you stick to Certified Organic seed, you can be assured they’re not GMO, will have no harmful chemical residues and no GMO contamination.
- Safe Seed Pledge: “The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 by High Mowing Organic Seeds, guiding a coalition of 9 other seed companies as a statement about the signers’ stance on genetic engineering as well as a resource for consumers wishing to find sources of GE-free seeds. Over 70 companies have signed the pledge, ranging from large seed companies to family-owned businesses such as ours. […] We feel that the regulatory framework for the introduction of genetically modified crop varieties is flawed, and that GMO seeds themselves present a threat to plants’ genetic diversity through their ability to pollinate non-GMO plants.” ~ High Mowing Seeds In short: The reasons we choose to, where possible, buy from companies that carry that pledge is because we wish to support agricultural processes that lead to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately people and communities.
- Biodynamic: I know so little about this, I just decided to cheat and copy and paste from Wikipedia. When I have more time, I’ll do more research, watch some YouTube videos, and actually write more about what this is. For now, my apologies. Broadly, it is a method of organic farming that emphasizes the holistic development and interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system. One of the first modern ecological farming systems it emphasizes a sustainable approach to agriculture. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include an emphasis on integrating farm animals, the cultivation of crops, and the care of the land; the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays; an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distribution systems using local breeds and varieties; and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar. There are independent certification agencies for biodynamic products; most of these agencies are members of the international biodynamics standards group Demeter International. ~ wikipedia
Some of Our Favorite Seed Companies
Where possible we try to only buy Non-GMO & Certified Organic seedNote: Just in case it’s important to you, companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge have SSP noted next to their name.
This list hasn’t been updated since 2012. We are planning to update it in the coming weeks, so check back for more seed companies!
Certified Organic Seeds of the Month Club:
GrowJourney Seeds of the Month Club SSP - GrowJourney is a monthly subscription service that discovers new organic, heirloom non-GMO seeds for you, then teaches you how to easily grow them organically in your own garden. We also teach you how to save seeds from each seed variety we provide. Please consider joining or giving a GrowJourney gift membership to someone you know.
We also wrote a much more in-depth blog post about GMOs and Organics on GrowJourney. You can read it here.
Vegetables – Heirlooms & Organic Seed
- Baker Creek SSP - These guys have become one of our favorite companies to procure seed from. Much of our summer seed and winter seed this past year (2012) came from them. Their catalogue is just gorgeous; it’s really more like a magazine. We can’t wait for this year’s catalogue to arrive. They offer tons of heirlooms from all over the world — in some cases, varieties that you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me: Order a catalogue.
- Peaceful Valley SSP - The other main seed resource we used this year (2012). While Baker has just seed and a few supplies, these guys are a one-stop shop for seeds (herb, flower, cover crop…), supplies, bulbs, bare-root trees, etc. This is another catalogue that is a resource in and of itself, with helpful graphs and grids to help you pick the best solution (be it fertilizers, wildflowers, cover crop, and so much more).
- Seeds Savers Exchange SSP - A great collection of heirlooms prized by seed savers all over. Another beautiful catalogue. If you’re really serious about growing heirlooms for the purpose of preservation, check out the Seed Savers Garden Seed Inventory 6th Edition, which is a comprehensive inventory of 274 U.S. and Canadian mailorder seed catalogs with varietal descriptions and ordering information for 8,494 standard (non-hybrid) vegetables.
- Territorial Seed Company SSP - Awesome catalogue — We’ve primarily bought brassicas and greens for the fall and cucurbits (squash, melons, cukes…) for the summer from them. Wide selection, awesome catalogue.
- Abundant Life SSP - A sister company to Territorial Seed that deals primarily in organic seed. They also offer a selection of certified biodynamic seed.
- High Mowing SSP - The originators of the Safe Seed Pledge who offer almost exclusively Organic seed. We’ve never ordered from them, but they come highly recommended from gardeners we trust. We do intend to try them when we order for our 2013 summer garden.
- Seeds of Change SSP – The other company we’ve never ordered from, have heard nothing but wonderful things about & intend to give them a try this coming spring/summer.
- Johnny’s Select Seed SSP - We’ve primarily used them for greens, edible flowers, herbs, and root veggies. They have a very extensive offering of all types of seed (conventional and organic), but can be a bit more expensive for the home gardener. Great resource if you’re buying in bulk. They also have a wonderful selection of products and supplies.
Vegetables – Specific or Specialty Seed
- Tomato Growers (Non-GMO commitment)- We bought many of our eggplants and peppers from these guys in 2011 (and replanted in 2012) and again in 2013. Amazing variety (probably the best we’ve seen anywhere); many hybrids (which can be good if you have disease-prone soil) and they don’t seem to label organic or address if their seed is cultivated organically, but they do state that none of their seed is chemically treated with pesticides or fungicides.
- Solana Seeds - A seed company out of Quebec with an amazing variety of heirloom and rare veggies. Over 200 varieties of tomato; 95% of our tomatoes in 2011 & 2012 came from Solana.
- Trade Winds Fruits – A great selection of hard-to-find seeds. We bought our horned melons from these guys when Baker Creek ran out. I’ve also bought some pitcher plant seeds and spices.
- Horizon Herbs - Amazing selection of hard to find medicinal and culinary herbs; they also sell some veggie seeds and live plants. You can also order Horizon through Peaceful Valley, which we have done to bundle the shipping. I don’t think PV carries the full inventory of Horizon, so make sure you check both places if you’re looking for something special.
- Beautanicals / Beautanicals New Site - Another fantastic resource for medicinal herbs. All seed is organically grown, bio-dynamically tended, garden hardened and open pollinated. They grow the plants, harvest the seed, clean and winnow, and pack your order ourselves. Australian, so shipping is a bit higher, but I’ve found some really rare/not US approved things.
Garlic, Alliums & Potatoes Bulbs/Tubers
- Peaceful Valley SSP - We ordered: Garlic bulbs (2011 & 2012) // Short-day Onions (2012) – fantastic selection of conventional and organic garlic and a pretty nice selection of live onion plants.
- Territorial Seed Company SSP - We ordered: Garlic bulbs (2010) // Shallot bulbs (2011) – very wide selection of both garlic and shallots. I prefer them for shallots and PV for garlic.
- Baker Creek SSP - We ordered: Onion seed.
- The Potato Garden SSP - Great selection of potatoes for all seasons (early/main/late) and fingerlings.
Trees & Perennials
- Peaceful Valley - I know I’ve mentioned them 3 times now, but we use them for a lot of things. They have tons of bare root trees, berry bushes and seasonal things like rhubarb, horseradish, artichokes, and asparagus.
- Miller Nurseries - Horseradish & Asparagus (2012). Fantastic selection.
- One Green World – Another catalogue with a fantastic selection. They tend to have some more rare things too. We’re intending to get some bare root plants from here when it’s cool enough to ship.
- Raintree Nursery – Great selection with unusual items. Another one we have some items earmarked in.
- Farmtek Growers Supply - Great selection with fantastic prices. If I needs lots of something (seed tray, row cover…) I usually go with them b/c of their close to wholesale pricing.
- Peaceful Valley - Typically I’ll only use them for fertilizer or tools.
- Johnny’s Select Seed - Primarily tools.
I know I’m leaving some stuff off, so I’ll continue to update this list. It’s a work in progress.