Heirloom Vegetable Seeds for the Kitchen Garden

Online vegetable seed catalogs offer an almost unlimited wealth of choices for the home gardener and small farmer. I try in my reviews of seed companies to highlight good collections of heirloom vegetable seeds, and seed collections with strong regional offerings.

If your  favorite vegetable seed supplier is not listed here please leave a comment and I will look at your suggestion. I am always looking for seed companies with an heirloom, heritage, regional, ethnic, or other specific focus. Price can also matter, so if you buy some of your vegetable seeds from a company that offers especially good value but isn’t already listed here, do let me know about it.

I would also like to offer links to organizations that support home gardening and small farmers. An example, is the Organic Seed Alliance. Please leave a comment with the organizations that you’d like to see listed here.

Thank you,

William

 

Amishland Heirloom Seeds
This is a fabulous small seed company. In the words of the owner,”I have been searching out family heirloom seed varieties grown for generations by local Amish, Mennonite, and Pennsylvania German farm families.” Skiretts, a root vegetable that was popular in the eighteenth-century are amongst the rare vegetables that are sold by Amishland Heirloom Seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Jere Gettle founded Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in 1998. His purpose is to promote rare and endangered vegetable varieties. The site currently lists approximately 600 vegetables and herbs and a few flowers. You will find vegetables that were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including American, French and Italian varieties. The web site is not illustrated and the plant descriptions, though evocative, are minimal. There is a good page on saving your own seed.

(Heirloom) (Botanic names: no) USA

Burpee Seeds
Burpee, the largest American seed company specializing in the home garden needs no introduction to North American gardeners. Burpee has recently begun reintroducing  heirloom vegetables that they had dropped from their catalog in the last decades of the previous century. Burpee has wide distribution in retail stores. There are excellent plant descriptions and photographs with each catalog entry.

(General) (Botanic names: no) USA

Evergreen Y. H. Enterprises
With 300 varieties of oriental vegetable and herb seeds, this well organized site is a fantastic resource for home gardeners and truck farmers. The plant descriptions are good. The catalog is well illustrated.
(Oriental) (Botanic names: no) USA

Franchi Sementi
This link to the American company, GrowItalian.com that distributes the wonderful Italian Franchi seeds. Franchi Sementi was founded 1783 and is still run by the family. Franchi seeds are sold in two of my local nurseries so I buy their seeds all the time. I also stock up when I am in Italy. In addition to the fabulous choice of beans and chicories and other vegetables that the Italians like so much you get lots of seeds in every pack. And I mean lots. I use Franchi seeds for most of my staples like spinach, lettuce, chicory, and shelling beans.

I’d like to call you attention to the pumpkin selections. While pumpkins come from North American, we have not done well by them. In America, pumpkins are valued most for carving — and secondarily for pies. In Europe they are valued as a squash for use in savory dishes, including soups. Italian cuisine uses pumpkin in many contexts, including as a filling for ravioli. The Franchi pumpkin selection reflects the Italian culinary interest in this squash. You will find them in the zucca, or winter squash section of the catalog.

Fratelli Ingegnoli
This is an Italian seed company located in Milan. The web site is in English and prices are given in US dollars. Typical of Italian seed companies, the chicory selection is excellent. The zucchini section is strong.
(General) (Botanic names: no) Italy

Harris Seeds
Harris Seeds traces was founded in the 1870s. It sells seeds both to home gardeners and to farmers. Many, with some varieties, most of their seeds are F1 hybrids. If you don’t save your seed, then I personally wouldn’t worry about it. They sell to organic farmers and so do offer untreated and organic seed. They also sell to growers who grow in greenhouses, so you will find specialty seeds for peppers, for example, for use in greenhouse horticulture although not in home gardener quantities. A solid commercial seed supplier. They sell a product I have not come across before, a plastic mulch/blanket ground cover with built in drip irrigation. The current price is around $70 for an 8X10 blanket, but it lasts 5 years uncovered and 20 if it is mulched so a low amortized cost. Liquid fertilizer can be fed into the system. A seed catalog well worth reading. Be sure to look at the garden tunnels and other season extending products.

Heirloom Seeds
This Pennsylvania seed company offers a substantive catalog of heirloom vegetables (they approximately 1400 varieties) which they define as varieties that are about fifty years old. Their descriptions are terse but to the point and do include the botanic name of the vegetable. There is also a nice short statement on soil pH and general growing requirements for most of the vegetable varieties offered. As always, you have to know your own climate when ordering from a seed company that is outside your growing area. An heirloom tomato that might do well in Pennsylvania is unlikely to thrive in my coastal Northern California garden. Planting guides with reference to first frost dates are provided for gardeners who live where the winters are cold. Overall, a seed catalog well worth perusing and ordering from. The seed prices are exceedingly reasonable.

Manhattan Farms
Manhattan Farms is a Canadian company (British Columbia) with a range of products for the city gardener, including labels for home canning projects. Manhattan Farms packages seeds from five different types of a given plant — like five tomato varieties, or five pepper varieties — into a single packet. This is an excellent idea as it promotes planting a vegetable garden that has depth as well as breadth.

Redwood City Seed Company
Hot peppers and native grasses are specialties of the Redwood City Seed Company. The site includes a page of pepper photographs and an extremely valuable page on growing peppers from seed, as well as advice on pepper culture. If peppers is your thing — especially hot peppers — then this specialty seed company is for you. Pepper seeds are offered by individual variety and grouped as collections.

(Heirloom) (Botanic Names: yes) USA

Reimer Seeds
This is  a very interesting company. Their seed offering is vast. Whatever you choose to look at you will find that refreshingly there are real choices. My first test of a site is usually to check the artichoke offering and then something like beets. Reimer Seeds offers 6 different artichokes which means that you are likely to  see a variety you have not seen before. The Italian heirloom Romanesco Artichoke is one that I haven’t seen before. Their beet offering is  impressive. They sell two white beets (Albino and Blankoma) as well as a carrot-shaped beet (Colossal Long Red Mangels). The tomato offering is so huge it is broken up alphabetically. You can download a PDF of any section of the online catalog you look at. The PDF for the A section of tomatoes is 4 pages. This includes pictures and descriptions.  You can also search by country of origin which will find you, for example, six chili peppers from the Central African Republic. The company is master of the database. You can also search on heirloom, on gourmet selection, and many other ways to help you find what you might be looking for. The plant descriptions are good with an emphasis on taste and use as well as cultivation advice. There are customer reviews of some of the seeds ordered and the web site tells you what other people ordered who purchased the seed variety you are looking at. In short, a complex site with 5000 vegetable, herb, and flower offerings. Reimer Seeds sells seeds in packets as well as in pounds for farmers.

Renee’s Garden
Renée Shepherd sold her first seed company (Shepherd’s Garden Seeds) to White Flower Farms and started a new one. This is the link to her current seed company. Beautiful drawings and good plant descriptions. Renée sells many European seeds, especially seeds from Italy.
USA

Richters
The medicinal herb collection is strong. The vegetable seed collection is fair. Plant descriptions are good, and since this is a Canadian seed company attention is paid to plant hardiness. (Botanic Names: yes) Canada

Robinson’s Mammoth Seeds
This vegetable seed company, founded in England 1860, specializes in show vegetables, for example, a 5 pound (2 kg) onion. While big may not always mean better, growing large vegetables is both fun, and a horticultural challenge. (UK)

Roguelands Heirloom Vegetable Seeds
This is a delightful catalog. You will find many seeds that are virtually unobtainable elsewhere, for example a 19th century white tomato from the US. The stories about their offerings are often excellent — and many suggest something about the world at large. For example, they offer the “black” tomato named after the great American singer Paul Robeson. It is a Russian offering. Paul Robeson was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. This great baritone was popular in the Soviet Union, so this tomato’s story emodies some of the complexity of the early years of the Cold War. Roguelands is friendly to US and Canadian gardeners.

(Heirloom) (Botanic names: no) UK

Salt Spring Seeds:
This is the site for an ambitious project: “maintaining, evaluating and keeping databases for all the edible, medicinal and useful crops that can be grown in Canada.” The database project is operated by a nonprofit organization affiliated with Salt Spring Seeds. The selection of wheat varieties is impressive. The online catalogue, however, is a little rough around the edges — plant descriptions range from minimal to extensive. As a Canadian company with an interest in Canadian crops, the selections offered are appropriate for northern climates. On my most recent visit to the site there was a notice stating that they can no longer ship seeds to the US. The site is worth a visit, regardless, and hopefully this will change and they will once again be able to ship to American clients. (Heirloom) (Botanic names: yes) Canada

Sand Hill Preservation Center
This is a family-run farm dedicated to preserving rare poultry and vegetables. Orders are accepted by post only, and credit cards are not accepted. You will not believe the breadth of Sand Hill’s offerings, many of which are rare. For example, they offer a selection of heirloom beans form Appalachia. Unfortunately, while there are some good thoroughly descriptions in their catalog, others are terse, in the extreme. For example, this is the description for a tomato called Stone: mid, Ind, rather hard fleshed, round in shape, 10 oz. fruits. Pkt. $1.75 OG. Plant descriptions are probably overrated, anyway, partly a literary form that makes perusing seed catalogs such a pleasure. In this case, which is really always the case regardless of the prose, I doubt you can go wrong with any of their selections as long as you live where the summers are hot. Sand Hill Preservation Center is located in Iowa. They are thus able to grow and offer sweet potatoes, a root crop that will not thrive in my Coastal California garden. If you are lucky enough to live where the summers are hot, at the very least, peruse the Sand Hill catalog and order sweet potatoes. This is a family business that can use your support.

Seeds of Change
Seeds are sold in quantities for home gardeners and small farmers for a wide array of open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They do also sell hybrids (sometimes they are the best choice for ones situation) although all seeds are organic. Seeds of Change is marketing partly to urban gardeners who grow vegetables in containers so if that describes you then you will definitely want to look at their offerings. Seeds of change is a new kind of seed company. They are working with farmers, distributors, and end users, like chefs, to develop a marketplace for cultivars that are suited to organic growers, farmers markets, and cuisines based on the refreshing common sense that whenever possible, there are good reasons by “buy fresh and buy local.” They have an active plant breeding program working with farmers and chefs to improve cultivars which one can think of as producing the heirlooms of tomorrow.

Seeds Trust
When seed catalogs were all printed people used to order dozens of catalogs and then spend hours with them during the winter months dreaming of their summer gardens. This online seed business offers a different kind of sitting and dreaming in some ways, unfortunately, less pleasant than sitting in an armchair beside the fire though with tablet computers that is becoming more possible. What one finds with online catalogs is that one often catches glimpses of the families behind the business as many seed companies are still very small – real labors of love. The Seed Trust is run by a father and son team with a particular interest in high altitude gardening — which means in practice that they are interested in vegetables that thrive in short seasons and intense weather. Seeds of Trust were pioneers going to the Soviet Union as it opening up in the late 1980s to collect seeds. Their offering of short-season tomatoes is extraordinary. You will want to spend time at this site. They are in the midst of developing a new site and I hope that one of you will let me know when they do so I can review it.

Shepherd’s Garden Seeds
This is part of White Flour Farms. It can be frustratingly difficult to find the seed information on their web site. If you can’t find it, then call customer service and ordera a catalog. The vegetable seed selection is good and the information about each of the vegetables is excellent. There is an emphasis on European market vegetables, particularly from France and Italy. A few years after selling her seed company to White Flour Farms, Renée Sheperd started a new company, called Renées Garden. You will find this company in the list, above.
(Botanic names: no) USA

Siegers Seeds
This seed company is for farmers. Small quantities of seeds are not sold. When appropriate, seeds are identified as hybrid or open pollinated. Sieger’s specializes in market vegetables for the Eastern United States and Canada. Siegers has been in business since the early 20th century.

(Botanic names: no) USA

Stellar Seeds
This small seed company offers a careful selection of organic seeds. The web site is well organized and beautifully illustrated .Stellar Seeds is associated with Left Fields, “a diversified organic farm nestled at the base of Squilax Mountain, perched above Shuswap Lake, a stone’s throw from the village of Sorrento, British Columbia.” Plant descriptions are lively and personal.

(Botanic names: yes) Canada

Stokes Seeds
A large and fabulous Canadian seed company with a huge selection of vegetable and flower seeds. Stokes Seeds provides detailed growing instructions for farmers and separate detailed growing instructions for home gardeners.

(Botanic names: yes) Canada

Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center
If you are looking for heirloom seeds from Appalachia, then this is your source. The Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center’s specialty is beans and tomatoes. Heirloom seeds is only one part of a larger program supporting regional farmers.

Sustainable Seed Company
This is a Northern California seed company with a vision for a sustainable future which in the context of its Northern California location includes minimal irrigation. The Sustainable seed company sells seeds to both small farmers and the home gardener. All seeds are listed as being “hierloom”. It is a mostly a basic collection of vegetable seeds though it does have spots of depth. The been collections are interesting and it has a notable collection of tobacco seeds. They also offer a selection of 15 grains, each with approximately two cultivar choices. While not especially deep the grain selection may inspire you to add grains to your garden or small farm and certainly offers enough choice to get you started. They display a shade of paranoia with their “Safety Seed Collections.” Unless one were already gardening on a substantial scale a collection of seeds will do you little good in a real economic emergency, one that sweeps you, your neighbors, and all local seed purveyors into an economic black hole. But the collections do offer a big savings on seeds so if the selections work for you, then you might look at these collections as the basis for a ambitious vegetable gardening project.

Territorial Seeds
A fabulous company based in Oregon serving home gardeners and small farmers. The web site is particularly well organized — a model for what online vegetable seed catalogs should be like. This is a good company to order from if you live where the summer’s are cool. They have an excellent selection in all categories of short-season vegetables. There is a separate section of the web site devoted to growing instructions. I use this section of the Territorial Seeds site as a reference book.

(Botanic names: yes) USA

Terroir Seeds
See Underwood Gardens, below.

The Cooks Garden
One of the biggest specialty seed companies in the US. The emphasis is on heirloom varieties. Amongst other vegetables, Cooks Garden is strong in lettuces (50 varieties) and chicories (20 varieties). The photographs and plant descriptions are amongst the best on the internet.

(General, heirloom) (Botanic names: yes) USA

The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener’s Assistant
I recently came across this phenominal list of links to heirloom vegetable seed supppliers. Kathy Mendelson’s pages of links is more thorough than mine. We each have our own approach. My advise is to look at both our pages. There is overlap — but our editoral content differs. Kathy’s page of links to public gardens organized by state is also worth a visit.

The Thyme Garden
This company offers thousands of varieties of herb plants, and a selection of seeds. (USA)

Thomas Etty Esq.
Thomas Etty is the supplier of heritage vegetable and flower seeds. In his own words, Thomas Etty is a “heritage seedman.” In many ways, he is the heritage seedman. Every vegetable offered is described with its first known introduction date. If you are interested in 18th and 19th century vegetables the you must download this catalogue. Of all the companies included in my list of hierloom vegetable seed suppliers this is the only one that doesn’t permit online ordering. While the website does state that online ordering is coming soon, I’d order from the paper catalogue as soon as you download it. The catalogue is especially informative for cooks trying to recreate historic cuisines. Many seeds sold by Thomas Etty are difficult to impossible to find anywhere else. The catalogue is offered as a PDF. I would print it out, put it a small binder, and include it with your gardening books. It is an invaluable resource. The web site also offers in PDF form a Vegetable Seed Timeline and approximately 20 lists of vegetable varieties from various sources between 1440 and 1948. As of this review (October 2011) it seems as if they may not ship seeds outside of the EU, but if you live outside of the EU I would advise making an inquiry before giving up.

Thompson & Morgan Seed Company
This is the biggest English seed company with a focus on the home gardener. Its selection is broad, though you will find other companies with more depth in particular areas. As befitting and old English company, the web site is set up for international sales. There is a selectioni of organically grown vegetable seeds. (UK)

Twinleaf House Seed List
This is the seed list, by common name, of the shop affiliated with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. You will have to search for the vegetables among the flower offerings. There is an heirloom bean and salad collection. This is obviously an important collection for the heirloom vegetable grower, and for culinary historians. (USA)

Underwood Gardens
I have recently revisited Underwood Gardens. On this review I’d like to point out their focus on what they term “Extreme Gardening“. These are plants selected for deep continental climates where there are wide extremes in temperature, both hot and cold. Underwood Gardens offers a large number of 19th-century selections. Be sure to look at the bean list. The plant descriptions are superior, a model of excellence for offering a mix of historical information for the selection, growing information, and suggestions for use. Underwood Gardens also offers the botanic names of its selections which is particular helpful when perusing vegetables such as beans because all beans are not Phaseolus. Underwood also offers a number of unusual selections such as the Dwarf Bees Bush Bean (Pahseolus coccineus) with its red flowers.

Victory Seed Company
One of the best web vegetable seed sites. The site is well designed and there is good depth in the descriptions, particularly of the more popular vegetable varieties. While the Victory Seed Company specializes in heirloom and open pollinated seeds, the company is more than just a seed company. They have a broad vision of agriculture and life. Visit the site to learn more.

(Botanic names: yes) USA

Vida Verde Seed Collection
This company claims for itself “Interesting Vegetables for the Kitchen Garden,” and it’s true. The collection is interesting! In keeping with the dynamic English gardening tradition, you will find a broad acceptance of plants that are not currently customarily part of our food tradition. The Vida Verde Seed company is particularly strong on grains. (UK)

Vreeken’s Zaden

This is a Dutch web site. With some patience, even if you don’t read Dutch (I don’t), you will be able to find vegetable cultivars that are not familiar. The site, though in Dutch, is indexed by Dutch, English, and Latin plant names. Between a combination of these languages you ought to be able to find your way around. If you want to read the plant description, then cut and paste it into the Google Translate utility. The English comes out a bit confused, but legible, as in this example for a dark colored pepper:

Growing in the greenhouse or outside in warm sheltered place. Outside before the end of May Driving distance ± 1 m in the row 50 cm. How is it that brown fruits once the word “chocolate” elicit? Well, this funny little peppers’ll go for chocolates! A welcome addition to the color palette.

The Dutch, of course, have been famed market gardeners for centuries. They are also famed for growing in greenhouses. I always find it ironic that in January, in my California groceries, the red peppers are from the Netherlands. For home vegetable gardening and for greenhouse gardening you will find something in this catalog that will tempt you. If the Vreeken’s Zaden shopping cart confuses you, then call the company. You will find a phone number in the “contact” section. You can assume that everyone in the office speaks English. Check the local time in the Netherlands before calling. The contacts page lists the phone number, office hours and the email address.

West Coast Seeds
A seed company in British Columbia. Like Territorial Seeds, this is a good choice for those of us living in an area with cool summers. I live in coastal Northern California and often order from them.

14 Responses to Heirloom Vegetable Seeds for the Kitchen Garden

  1. Pingback: Rare vegetable seeds ← Vegetables

  2. kwaku ampofo Dwamena says:

    I am looking for mange’tout seeds, sugar snap seeds and fine beans and extra fine bean seeds. Also Jalapeno seeds which are also refered to as green bullet and red bullet seeds. All these vegetables are sold in the UK to restaurant chains.

  3. Robinson says:

    I just discovered your website. Thought I’d share one of my favorite seed companies with you: http://www.seedsavers.org/

  4. Thor says:

    Thank you for this great list :)
    I’ve just bought some interesting heirloom seed from Amishland Heirloom Seeds.

  5. Alice says:

    Great list and a wonderful subject!
    As a long time member of this organization (which has been the main source of the growing interest in heirloom vegetable varieties in the US (information, gorgeous photos, and access to the seeds thru their members’ seed exchange as well as their seed company), may I second the recommendation of Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), and also suggest Real Seeds in the UK, Solstice Seeds in Vermont and Adaptive Seeds in Oregon. All are small companies, offering interesting locally adapted, open pollinated varieties.
    Gardening in far NW coastal Washington, a supposedly “English” climate, I have been very interested in trying English heirloom varieties. Since 9/11 however I cannot find English or European companies that will actually sell to me–including Thompson & Morgan; their US branch will, of course, but from a different list of American varieties (Mid-West/hot summer adapted)–not the English varieties I’m looking for.
    Enlarging this list is a great project–Thanks!

  6. Bob Knack says:

    Clear Creek Seeds is new but they have great service and prices. They keep growing their selection also. I had great success with the seeds I purchased last year and will be ordering more this year.

  7. warbaby says:

    What a beautiful website. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas

  8. Paul says:

    My wife and I love Sustainable Seed Co. We love what they are doing for the environment and we love the selection. Over 1,000 types! You can’t go wrong.

  9. Jason says:

    The list of heirloom vegetable seed suppliers appears to have gone away. Can you repost I would like to see what you’ve collected.

    Kind Regards,

    Jason

  10. Pingback: Heirloom Sourcing/Monsatan Follow-up « soilentgreens

  11. William Rubel says:

    I offer a list of seed companies to offer a wide range of seed offerings to the home gardener and truck farmer. Burpees is a large company with a wide range of seed offerings, including many “heritage” varieties. For many American gardeners Burpees is a company they trust and with whom their family has been dealing for generations. I think it is important to respect family traditions and also to note when large companies are responsive to changing times. Burbees has brought back many varieties that they’d taken out of production in response to this renewed interest in older varieties. Burpees has a heritage seed line.

  12. William Rubel says:

    Jason – Not sure what might have been wrong. The listis up today.

  13. William Rubel says:

    I’ll add them to my list. Thank you for sending me the link. I appreciate it when readers offer suggestions for seed companies they like, work for, or own. It is helpful for me if you explain why you like a particular company. There are so many seed companies, many with their own specialties. If you know what a company is especially proud of, do let me know in your comment. Thank you.

  14. kumlama says:

    Thanks for finally writing about > Heirloom Vegetable Seed Catalogs < Loved it!

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