Garden Seeds Part 2 – Heirloom, Organic, Specialty and Market

Part 2 of 2 – Click here to read part 1, “”Old-Time Prices, Classic Varieties, Old-Fashioned Companies.” 

Today’s rapidly growing selection of different kinds of garden seeds allows for an amazing variety of flavors and growing experiences.  Growing heirloom varieties opens a new door into other cultures and bygone days.heirloom tomato snip

Heirlooms – What does “heirloom” mean?

Saving bean seeds
Saving bean seeds

An “heirloom” variety simply means that it has been passed down within a family or a community for at least one hundred years, by saving the seeds.

Heirloom varieties have been created on purpose by cross-breeding, or simply discovered as a “sport,” which means that it just kind of happened, and someone noticed it and saved the seed.

Grandpa Ott's Deep Blue Morning Glory
Grandpa Ott’s Deep Blue Morning Glory

Many heirloom varieties are named after the person who first passed them down – “Dr. Wyche’s Yellow” “Aunt Ruby’s German Green,” or “Grandma Josie’s Amish White” tomatoes, for instance, and “Grandpa Ott’s” morning glories.

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash seeds were shared with Seed Savers Exchange with a neighbor of Thelma Sanders in Iowa–Miss Thelma could sure grow some tasty squash!

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash
Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash

Others are named after the community that passed them down, like “Amish Paste” and “Cherokee Purple” tomatoes.  Many varieties with “German” in their name came from Amish and Mennonite communities.   Amishland Heirloom Seeds sells seeds that are collected, grown and saved in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Grandma Josie's Amish White Tomato from Amishland Heirloom Seeds
Grandma Josie’s Amish White Tomato from Amishland Heirloom Seeds in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Some are named after their country of origin, like Russian Red Kale,  which was brought from Siberia to Canada by Russian traders around 1885.

Russian Red Kale
Russian Red Kale

Most seed companies offer at least a few varieties of heirloom seeds these days.  Many companies offer both heirloom varieties and modern hybrids, so you can grow some of both.territorial 2016 catalog

Territorial Seeds offers heirloom, organic, and hybrid varieties that are specifically selected to grow in our maritime Pacific Northwest climate.  We like Territorial, but they are often more expensive than other seed suppliers.

Our favorite multi-purpose seed supplier is Pinetree Seeds, a family owned business in Maine ( They have a lot of unusual heirlooms, and their prices are great.  We especially like the fact that they offer inexpensive packets that have fewer seeds in them, so we can experiment with more varieties for the same amount of money.

Pinetree's Speckled Hound grew beautifully on our farm last year!
Pinetree’s Speckled Hound grows beautifully on our farm!
Italian Milan turnips grow well here
Italian Milan turnips

We get most of our imported Italian heirloom seeds from Seeds from Italy ( More and more seed companies are offering Italian heirloom seeds, as people discover their flavor and quality.  We particularly love their turnips, radishes, beets, and chard.

Some seed suppliers sell only heirloom seeds, like Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Baker Creek’s website is carrots

Heirlooms, although fascinating to grow and delicious to eat, can be trickier to grow than modern hybrids.  Their plants can be huge and sprawling, and their yield can be lower than hybrids.  They often take longer to ripen.  They can be harder to transport and store.  They often have irregular shapes, which can make packing them a bit of a challenge.

But they are well worth it!

Mixed heirloom greens and their lovely edible flowers
Mixed heirloom greens and their lovely edible flowers

We grow mostly heirloom varieties on our farm, but we also grow a few hybrids, just to be safe.  We do our best to make sure that we grow heirloom varieties that are suited to our climate.

People tend to think of tomatoes when they hear the word “heirloom,” but you can grown all kinds of heirloom vegetables, flowers, and herbs.veggie snip 3

Every year, more kinds of heirloom varieties from around the world are being discovered by seed explorers and brought back to the U.S., to be bred and either traded or sold commercially.

Dragon's Tongue fresh snap beans
Dragon’s Tongue fresh snap beans
Tromboncino summer squash

Our own favorite heirloom summer squash are Italian Tromboncino (at right), Romanesco and Yellow Crookneck (both below).  Our favorite heirloom winter squash is Thelma Saunder’s Sweet Potato Squash (above), and our favorite cucumber is the delicious, crispy brown skinned Poona Kheera from India, shown here.

Crispy and delicious Poona Kheeras - traditional street market cucumber from India.
Crispy and delicious Poona Kheeras – traditional street market cucumber from India. Eat them peel and all!

Our favorite snap bean is tender, sweet Dragon’s Tongue (shown above), and our favorite lettuce is Flashy Speckled Trout Back, also known as “Freckles” (shown below.)   Our favorite tomato is Striped German.  All grow quite nicely right here in south Thurston County!

Sautéed Romanesco summer squash
Simply sautéed Romanesco heirloom summer squash
Striped German
Striped German tomatoes

Overall, the best prices on heirloom seeds are from Baker Creek ( and Seed Savers ExchangePeaceful Valley Organic Seeds ( has good prices on bulk heirloom lettuce seed.

Flashy trout back or "freckles" lettuce
Flashy trout back or “freckles” heirloom romaine lettuce

Generally, your best bet to save money is to pool with other gardeners and buy in bulk.  A lot of the cost of seeds is in packaging.  Most seeds last for years, if they are protected from moisture and heat.

The more you grow heirlooms, the more you want to dive into the stories of the families and communities who carefully saved the seeds for generations!

Roast or grill crookneck squash - an easy summertime dish!
Roast or grill crookneck squash for an easy summer dish!

Johnny’s also has a great selection of culinary and medicinal herbs.

Johnny's Bouquet Dill
Johnny’s Bouquet Dill
Johnny's Wild Bergamot - "Bee Balm"
Johnny’s Wild Bergamot – “Bee Balm”
Johnny's Ellagance Lavender
Johnny’s Ellagance Lavender






Baker Creek’s “Marsh Mallow” is both a lovely tall perennial flower, vegetable, and a medicinal herb.  And yes, the root was used to make the original marshmallow candies!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds "Marsh Mallow" (
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds “Marsh Mallow” (

Organic Seeds

Johnny's organic Red Ace beet - a great quality beet
Johnny’s organic Red Ace beet – a great quality beet

Many companies now sell Certified Organic seeds, and the number of varieties increase every year.  The quality of organic seeds is also improving over the years.

The companies with the largest selections of organic seeds that grow well in our area are Territorial, Johnny’s, Pinetree, Seed Savers Exchange, and Peaceful Valley (

Organic Five Color Silverbeet Rainbow Chard
5 Color Silverbeet Rainbow Chard from

Baker Creek’s seeds aren’t certified organic, but they are all heirloom and naturally grown.  All heirlooms are non-GMO, for people who care about that.

Specialty Seeds – Tomatoes, Beans, and Wildflowers

Solar Flare from Totally Tomatoes
Solar Flare from Totally Tomatoes

There are two really great companies that specialize in tomato seeds, that also offer some other vegetable seeds.  These companies do not sell GMO seeds.

Totally Tomatoes has an amazing variety of tomato seeds and tomato plants, as well as a nice assortment of other vegetable seeds and plants.  They have every kind of color and size imaginable, from heirlooms to hybrids.  Their seeds germinate, grow and produce very well.

Delicious Eva Purple Ball tomatoes as low as $1 for 30 seeds
Delicious Eva Purple Ball heirloom tomatoes – as low as $1 for a 30 seed pack

Their printed catalog has a stapled insert that has lots of tomato and other vegetable seed packets for $1.25 each, or $1.00 each for six or more packets.  I have tried a lot of these varieties, and they are really great.  You can click into the descriptions on their website of these inexpensive seeds.

Totally Tomatoes gourmet heirloom blend for as low as $1 a packet!
Totally Tomatoes gourmet heirloom blend for as low as $1 for a 20 seed packet!

At this low price, it’s fun to try lots of different kinds!  You can even get twenty seeds of their gourmet heirloom tomato assortment at that price.  And their seeds store well from year to year, if you keep them away from moisture and heat.

You can order a copy of their catalog on their website, to get to those special deals.

42 Day tomatoes
42 Day tomatoes

Their Chef’s Choice Orange and Goliath hybrid tomatoes are really good producers, and really nice tomatoes.  Their Goliath hybrid jalapenos do really well in our climate.

This year, I’m looking forward to trying their new “42 Day” tomatoes!  Wow!

Grushovka tomatoes
Grushovka tomatoes

Tomato Growers Supply Company is another great source.  This family business has 500 varieties of tomato and pepper seeds that germinate and grow well.  They also have eggplant and tomatillo seeds.

If you are looking for a different kind of oval canning tomato, try their pink Grushovka.  It grows nicely on a small plant, if you are short on space.

Vermont Bean has got a great selection of all different kinds of beans–from fresh snap beans, to runner beans, to soybeans, to shelling and drying beans.  They also have a good variety of other vegetable seeds and plants.

Jacob's Cattle shelling beans from Vermont Beans
Jacob’s Cattle shelling beans from Vermont Beans
Wildseed's African Daisies
Wildseed’s African Daisies

If you love unusual wildflowers and classic garden favorites like zinnias and cosmos, you have to check out Wildseed Farms.  Their seed prices are amazing, especially if you buy in bulk.  Their catalog and website is full of lots of helpful information.

Wildseed's Tidy-tips
Wildseed’s Tidy-tips – a cheerful addition to your garden

Want to grow something really different and fun?  Try Wildseed’s African Daisies and their Tidy-Tips!

Special Help for Market Growers

Some seed companies offer special help, products, and services for market growers, especially beginning market growers.

Johnny’s Seeds is probably the best known of all of the market-oriented seed companies, with lots of good supplies and helpful tools for small scale market growers.  They have really good customer support, and lots of heirloom and organic seeds, as well as lots of colorful and unusual varieties you won’t see anywhere else.  They also have a good supply of medicinal herbs.

Harris pansies
Harris Desiderio pansies

Harris Seeds has got a good selection of market-oriented vegetable, herb and flower seeds, as well as bare root plants and bulbs.  They have good customer service.  Their pansy selection is absolutely gorgeous.

HPS Seeds also has a really big selection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds for market growers, with really good bulk prices.

HPS Dwarf Snapdragons
HPS Dwarf Snapdragons

Both Harris and HPS have great seeds for bedding plant sales, and HPS has nice pre-printed markers (“pixie stakes”) for bedding plants.

HPS also has a good selection of perennial herbs and flowers.

Order Early!

It’s always best to order early, especially when dealing with smaller seed companies.  Their supplies are limited, and you don’t want to miss out on a new adventure in gardening!

Please feel free to ask a question or post a comment below.  We’re all lifelong learners here!

Part 2 of 2 – Click here to read part 1, “Old-Time Prices, Classic Varieties, Old-Fashioned Companies.”

-Melissa Genson

Click here for Territorial Seeds website.

Click here for Pinetree Seeds website.

Click here for Seeds from Italy website.

Click here for Seed Savers Exchange website.

Click here for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website.

Click here for Peaceful Valley Organic Seeds website.

Click here for Johnny’s Seeds website.

Click here for Totally Tomatoes website.

Click here for Tomato Growers Supply Company website.

Click here for Vermont Bean website.

Click here for Wildseed Farms website.

Click here for Harris Seeds website.

Click here for HPS Seeds website.

assorted beans



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