Spring is just around the corner, and many of you probably have garden on the brain! While you may not be able to physically dig in the dirt just yet, there is still one very fun gardening activity you can do during the winter: seed shop! Once you have them, you can get your hands a little dirty and get your garden off to a nice early start by sowing seeds indoors.
Where should I buy garden seeds, you ask? Let’s go over some options, focusing on companies that provide certified non-GMO, heirloom, and organic options. I will also share a couple of our favorite seed varieties from each company! But first, let’s go over some of the basic seed terminology like “hybrid” or “open-pollinated” – so you can be more informed as you make decisions.
To skip the terminology lesson and go straight to the list of seed companies, click here
The Safe Seed Pledge
This Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 by the Council for Responsible Genetics as a way for growers and sellers of non-genetically modified seed to stand together in unison. The Pledge allows businesses and individuals to declare that they do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds, thus assuring consumers of their commitment. Every company included in this post has signed this pledge.
This is their statement to consumers:
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative. We pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats.
We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release.
More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.“~ The Safe Seed Pledge
Click here to see a full list of all the 300+ companies who have signed the pledge.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
Even if you aren’t entirely familiar with this concept, chances are you have heard it, and know that it’s extremely controversial. Essentially, GMO seeds are created in a laboratory, using biotechnology methods such as gene splicing. They are not natural products of plants reproducing in a garden. Scientists modify a seeds DNA to ensure the resulting plant produces desired characteristics.
Much of the public is very leery about this concept, and in my humble opinion, rightly so. It isn’t so much that GMO’s have been outright proven dangerous, but they have not undergone sufficient studies to prove otherwise. The repercussions of consuming GMO foods are not yet known, especially long-term effects. Therefore, many folks (ourselves included) choose to exercise the precautionary principle: do what we can do avoid exposure in the lack of full scientific certainty of safety. We only buy garden seeds from companies who have taken this pledge.
Here is another term you will likely see on seed sites. “Open pollinated” means the plants that are grown to produce fruit (and eventually, seeds) are allowed to breed freely and openly by natural means. This includes pollination by bees, butterflies, humans, birds, wind, and other insects. The result is a more genetically diverse plant, which can also result in more variation among the plant population.
Open-pollinated plants can be ideal for seed-saving and replanting year after year (unlike hybrids). However, this is only if cross-pollination was not allowed to occur between different varieties of the same kind of plant. For example, if the pollen from a yellow crookneck zucchini was used to pollinate a green zucchini, saving seeds from that green zucchini would not grow “true to seed” in future years.
Unlike open-pollination, a hybrid seed is created when pollination is controlled and two different varieties or species are cross-bred. This could happen unintentionally by nature, but often times it is intentional by humans. The goal is to combine two things that have beneficial attributes, for example a natural disease resistance or higher yield.
Hybrid seeds often include “F1” in their name. F1 stands for Filial 1 (“first children”) – the first generation of offspring resulting the breeding. This is NOT genetic modification. There are certified organic hybrid varieties. However, they will not “breed true” and produce future plants that are smilier to the parent plant. They’re genetically unstable and cannot be used for saving seed into future years.
An “heirloom” refers to a plant or variety of vegetable that is at least 50 years old and is either open-pollinated or self-pollinated, according to the Seed Savers Exchange. This means hybrids are not heirlooms. An heirloom variety usually has a story behind it ~ some sort of special significance. For example, a history of being passed down within a community, culture, farm, or family, just as a traditional “heirloom” would.
Crops grown for seed can be treated in a particular way that deems them “organic”, just as some food crops are. This includes natural, less toxic, more environmentally-friendly, healthier, safer growing methods. For seed crops to be USDA-certified organic, they must be grown using certified organic farming methods.
To be totally honest, we try to buy organic garden seed when we can, but do not buy exclusively 100% organic. For example, if there is a variety of plant we want to grow, I will always look around on a few different sites to see if I can find an organic option first, and choose that if it’s available. But if not? We still may buy a few that are not.
Here is why:
If we are choosing to get seed from a responsible company that does not sell GMO’s and generally aligns with our gardening beliefs (like the companies listed below), then it’s not a huge concern to get seed that isn’t certified organic. In regards to personal health and safety, it is more important how the plant you are going to consume is raised, like the ones physically growing in our garden, and we raise them 100% organically. The undesirable treatment of a plant grown for seed (e.g. sprayed with a pesticide once or twice) will likely have very little to no residual on the seed itself by the time you get it, grow it into a new plant, and eat it.
HOWEVER (this is big however!) we absoluetly prefer to support any and all organic farming practices, as much as possible. Thus, we are striving to choose certified organic seed more and more. It is not just about fretting over the quality or safety of the seeds we are putting into our garden to later consume ourselves. That would be a selfish viewpoint.
It is moreso about being willing and able to continue to support the demand for organic products and practices – using our consumer dollars – thus enabling the growers who are putting in those efforts to continue to reduce environmental impacts on their farms. Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides also makes for a healthier work environment for farm workers. Conventional farming practices are not something we support when it comes to buying food, so why are we okay with occasionally buying inorganic seed? Yes, I am calling myself out here.
Alright, now that we got that mumbo-jumbo out of the way…Back to the point
12 PLACES TO BUY ORGANIC & NON-GMO GARDEN SEEDS
In no significant order…
With a site domain of www.groworganic.com, you can see where Peaceful Valley’s agenda is. Based out of Nevada City, California, this company is all about supporting the movement for organic, sustainable, small-scale agriculture.
In addition to tons of certified organic and heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, Peaceful Valley specializes in bare root fruit and nut trees, fruit vines, and even has mushroom cultivation kits! That’s something we want to do, one day… They also have a large selection of potatoes. I think the very first seed potatoes we ever ordered were from here, many years ago! Everything comes in pretty seed packages, with fair prices.
2) Seeds Now
Seeds Now is a family-owned and operated business based out of Southern California. The overall selection of different varieties of veggies, herbs, and flowers is very good. This is a great place to get organic potato and garlic seed too – they offer a nice selection of both! We got our seed potatoes here this year. Their packaging isn’t as “Instagram worthy” as some other seed companies out there, but hey, whatever.
In regards to price, Seeds Now prices are very competitive! They’re on the lower end for most seeds I have seen out there. A bonus is that for each garden seed type, they often offer an even more affordable “sampler pack” size of seeds. This isn’t a mix of various seeds as it may sound. It is just a smaller package with less seeds, with maybe 50 seeds instead of 500. This could be great for someone with a smaller garden who wants to try just a little of something.
Last year was our first year sourcing seeds from High Mowing, and I am sort of like… Where have you been all my life?! The seeds they offer are 100% certified organic and non-GMO. Bred to perform well when grown in organic conditions – their garden seeds are strong, resilient, and will respond well to a natural approach in the garden. The company is based out of Vermont, and prides itself on sustainable practices and high quality in all aspects of their operations.
They have a really great and diverse selection of veggies, herbs and flowers. If it matters to you, their packaging is very pretty as well! Price wise, they’re about in the middle – average for certified organic. A nice perk is the low free-shipping threshold, given for orders over $10. Another company (ahem, Johnny’s… I am looking at you) offers free shipping too, for orders over $200… Ha! That’s a TON of seed, even for us! Like Baker Creek, High Mowing seems to have its own little cult following, but with the strictly organic crowd.
Botanical Interests has a really great selection with many of your favorite standards – and beyond! They have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and do not carry any GMO products, and offer an excellent selection of certified organic garden seeds as well.
These guys started out selling garden seeds mostly to retailers before moving into direct sales to customers, so don’t be surprised if you see this company in your local garden centers. At least around here, we find Botanical Interest seed racks in our local nurseries quite often – making impulse buys or a quick pick-up of “oops, I forgot that!” very convenient. This is a huge benefit for those who like to shop in person instead of online. Botanical Interests seed packages are attractive, with pretty painting-style images of the plants. Their prices are also very attractive!
At Johnny’s, you will find a lot of certified organic seed options. Not all, but a lot. They carry an excellent selection of different garden seed varieties, and their site is clean and easy to navigate. Their organic seed prices are pretty moderate as far as certified organic seed goes. They’re based in Maine – a 100% employee owned company, so that is pretty cool.
I like that they have a section for “early type” vegetable seeds. Most other seed companies all SELL early varieties, but their websites may not make it as easy to scope out all those plants in just one section. We like this feature because we have cool foggy summers here, which can give tomatoes and peppers a slow start. Using varieties with early-setting fruit can help to overcome that. If you live in a similar climate or one with a shorter growing season, this may be helpful. You can also sort and only look through their “organic’ section if you’d like. Like Seeds Now, Johnny’s packaging is nothing to write home about.
One of the things we really love about Johnny’s is their options for certain types of disease resistance. For example, they have sections of plant seeds are specifically resistant to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a huge issue in our garden, so we pick out PM-resistant squash from Johnny’s and have had great success with it! You can even search by the type of disease you’re trying to ward off: blight, downy mildew, mosaic virus, fusarium wilt, nematodes, you name it. Just because something has disease-resistant properties does not mean they’re genetically modified, by the way! Many things are naturally resistant, and then carefully bred to enhance that particular property. That is not genetic modification*.
*Speaking of GMOs: Johnny’s has gotten some flack in the past for selling a very small percentage of Monsanto-by-proxy seeds, so I might as well address this. It is a long story, but here it is in a nutshell: Johnny’s had been historically getting a small portion of their seeds from a seed supplier called Seminis. In 2005, Monsanto bought Seminis. Thus, Johnny’s sells a very small percentage of Monsanto seeds. Last I read, it was like 15 types out of the hundreds they carry. If you stick to their certified organic options, you’ll be avoiding this all together. Regardless of them carrying a few Seminis seeds, Johnny’s did sign the Safe Seed Pledge to not carry GMOs. I don’t love that they still carry a few of them, but it doesn’t stop us from buying some of our seeds from them.
These guys are a small company based out of the Pacific Northwest, near Sweet Home, Oregon. All of their seed crops are grown on their personal certified organic farms! They use friends farms when isolation is needed. With a slogan of “Bringing Biodiversity Back”, their seed is 100% organic, and not treated or sprayed in any way. While they do offer a great selection of seeds that could be grown well in any climate, they also bring to the table some excellent varieties for gardeners specifically in the Pacific Northwest or similar climates. Adaptive Seeds specializes in early-maturing, northern-adapted, winter garden, and cooler weather crops.
Though we are not in the PNW, being only a mile from the ocean on the Central Coast provides us with quite cool, foggy summers. We struggle to grow heat-loving crops, and seek out those early-fruiting and cool-weather friendly types. Adaptive is our go-to for many of our tomatoes, and winter veggies too! Since they’re a very small operation, they do seem a little slower to ship than some other seed companies. Their prices are competitive with other organic sellers. Like Johnny’s and Seeds Now, Adaptive has very basic, plain packaging.
This company is known for delivering highly unique seed varieties in very pretty packages. They draw customers in by distributing very colorful and tempting catalogs. In terms of unique or unheard of varieties, they cannot be beat! On the seed package, they usually include a little historical tidbit about where the heirloom originated. Baker Creek offers heirloom selections that are’t genetically modified, but they are not organically grown. Headquarters is located in Mansfield, Missouri with a satellite seed bank store in Petaluma, CA.
We historically purchased quite a bit of seed from Baker, but have chosen to support them less in recent years. Some of their seed germination was awesome, but some was iffy. I’m also not sure their company values align with ours. Baker’s prices can vary quite a bit, I think depending on just how rare the “rare seed” is. They are more pricey than somewhere like Seeds Now or PineTree, but maybe a tad cheaper than those who are offering certified organic seed. Most of their seed packages come in only one size, with a few bulk selection offerings for legit large-scale farmers.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization based near Decorah, Iowa. Their mission is: “We conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” To be honest, we have’t purchased anything from these guys (yet). After hearing good things about Seed Savers from many of their happy customers, I knew they needed to be included on this list.
While reviewing their site to write this post, I saw several attractive vegetable seeds I will definitely be purchasing in the near future! In addition to their standard seed “shop” page, there is an entirely separate “exchange” page that you can join – and exchanged saved seeds with other home gardener’s across the U.S. I saw SO many varieties I have never heard of there! Very, very cool. The prices through Seed Savers are very reasonable as well.
Territorial Seed company is based out of Cottage Grove, Oregon, owned by a husband and wife team who strive to live a simple and self-sufficient life. The website boasts a large selection of veggies, fruit, herbs, and flowers, including both seeds and living plants like bareroot fruit trees.
They carry both organic and conventional options, often times in the same listing – so use a keen eye when you are placing items in your cart! To avoid any confusion, there is an “organics only” section on their site if that it important to you. Like some other companies, Territorial offers many sizes of garden seed packages by weight, allowing you to adjust for your needs. In looking at their prices, I feel they’re very reasonable and in line with others!
Renee is very proud of her seed company, and the pledge to offer unique, high quality, non-gmo, heirloom and organic varieties. All seeds on the site are said to be tested and successfully grown in all major U.S. growing zones. Selections are made with home gardeners in mind. Her tagline is “The Garden to Table Seed Company”. While there may not be quite as many different varieties available as some sites, this company has your basics covered, and then some!
The packages of garden seeds are very pretty, with artistic watercolor images of the crops. Seed packages are offered in just one size, but at very reasonable prices. Our local Ace Hardware garden center carries Renee’s, so we often pick up miscellaneous packs of things there as needed, and have always been satisfied with the results.
Based out of the California Bay Area, Kitizawa is America’s oldest Asian seed company. The business started in 1917! Offering a selection of over 500 traditional Japanese heirloom varieties, this is the place to go if you love Asian veggies as much as we do. You may like Asian-origin vegetables and not even know it! Napa cabbage, daikon radishes, edamame, bok choy, and komatsuna mustard greens anyone? What they may lack in typical vegetable choices like tomatoes and summer squash, they more than make up for in their leafy greens, root vegetables, eggplant, and bean seed selections!
Nothing here is certified organic, but like everyone else on this list, Kitizawa has signed the safe seed pledge against GMOs. Fans of Kitizawa rave about their high successful germination rates. Their prices are moderate and predictable. Pretty much every garden seed package is sold for an even 4 dollars.
Last but not least, let’s talk about PineTree. This small family-owned operation is located in New Gloucester, Maine. Their site includes selections of over 1300 varieties of seeds, including many heirlooms & organics, plus an assortment of tools and gardening gear, books, live plants, and soap making/crafting supplies.
We discovered these guys this year when we were on a quest for one of our favorite summer squash varieties – “butta squash” – and they were one of the few companies to offer it! In addition to veggies, these guys have a super impressive variety of flower and herb seed available. Between the excellent selection and very reasonable prices, I know we will be repeat customers of PineTree.
13) Seeds of Change
Surprise… a 13th! We learned about Seeds of Change after first publishing this article. Given they are 100% certified organic and affordable (plus free shipping via Amazon Prime), they definitely deserved to be added to the list. You may be familiar with the company already, as they also make organic food products.
While they don’t have a massive selection, Seeds of Change does have a great offering of staple varieties – and then some! We were particularly impressed with these stunning Crackerjack marigolds, gorgeous Osaka purple mustard greens, and tasty plum purple radishes. Check them out!
And that’s that.
Did this help, or did I just make things one million times more difficult, by introducing you to more options than you can handle? As you can see, there are SO many wonderful companies that you could choose to support with your business. Personally, we like to spread the love! Note that this list is not inclusive of all organic seed sellers out there, but these are the ones that we are most aware of, have heard great reviews for, and/or use and love ourselves.
To learn more about seed storage best practices and expiration dates, please see this article: “The Best Way to Organize & Store Garden Seeds”.
How we seed shop:
Because we like to shop around, I have to make a plan when embarking on our biannual seed shopping venture – once in the summer for fall/winter veggies, and again in the winter for the spring/summer crops.
First, I pull out our seed storage boxes to sort through our current seed collection to see what we already have “in stock”. What are we out of, or running low on? Is there something that didn’t work well last season that we don’t want to grow again, or maybe something new we’ve been meaning to try? We always pay attention to attributes like I mentioned in this post: Will this variety like our particular climate? Does it have favorable properties, such as natural disease resistance or is slow to bolt?
After I get an idea of the things we are looking for, I make a general list like: more sweet peppers and tomatoes, give me allll the flowers, no more beans needed, and so on. Then I start perusing these websites or catalogs. No, we can’t get to all of them every season. As I go, I create a separate list from each site. Before making any final decisions, I review all the lists to see if there is any overlap, or if something is missing. Maybe I will decide that some things can wait until next season or next year. It’s hard to make cuts to the team, but I try to narrow it down a little before purchasing!
And then, as any good seed addict does, we drop a nice little chunk of change on seeds! Keep in mind however, we have a pretty large garden, meaning we buy more garden seeds than the average bear. We also save waaaaay more money in grocery bills by growing our own food than even comes close to the amount we spend on seed. So….
I hope this article helped you discover some new awesome companies to buy garden seeds from! Did I miss any great resources? Please let us all know in the comments, and feel free to share this article.
Thank you for reading, and good luck not blowing your whole paycheck on garden seeds. You’re welcome.