This is my 23rd year growing heirloom tomatoes, chile peppers, berries, squash and assorted veggies on our small farm.
Over the years I have ordered my seeds (heirloom and hybrid) from a lot of different seed companies, and have compiled a list of which ones work best for germination rates, variety selection and cost.
Below are my top picks for heirloom tomatoes and other garden vegetables.
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What to Look for when Deciding on Tomato Varieties
When I personally order tomato seeds I am looking for two specific categories:
- Home gardeners needs: Since I sell tomato seedlings at the farmers’ markets I look for varieties that will meet a wide range of the home gardeners’ needs. This would include:
- earliest tomatoes,
- most disease resistant,
- best for containers
- Personal favorites for cooking: For my personal use I look for specific varieties that I need for home cooking and making specific tomato products. This would include:
- varieties for drying,
- varieties for smoking,
- varieties for jams,
- varieties for sauces
If you are confused about all the various uses and flavors of heirloom tomatoes, this article on the flavor profiles of heirloom tomatoes might help.
Best Seed Catalogs for Growing Heirloom Tomatoes
The following recommendations are in no particular order. They each have pros and cons and are distinctive from each other.
This catalog is definitely eye candy and it used to be the first one I went to in the spring as it has great descriptions and great photos of heirloom varieties. In 2023-2023 however, they reduced the range of varieties they carry, and they started charging for the catalog.
It is now $14.95 to get the catalog if you have not ordered from them before. I personally won’t pay for the catalog, but I did get a free copy because of prior orders.
In 2023 I was unable to find any of the specific or rare varieties of heirloom tomatoes and heirloom winter squash that I have ordered in the past. Still beautiful photos, but their selection has diminished.
Tomato Fest specializes in organic heirloom tomatoes. I order these seeds online as they don’t have a paper catalog that they send out in the mail. You can download their pdf catalog (82 pages) if you want, but the website is easy enough to navigate.
Tomatofest has over 600 varieties of tomatoes, many of them rare and some of them exclusive.
This was the only place I could find the Julia Child variety, Aussie (my favorite of the large reds), Carmello and Dona. And they’re organic seeds!
Pinetree Garden Seeds is a great resource for gardeners that want to order smaller amounts of seed, but still have access to a large range of variety choice. They usually have about 15-20 seeds per pack rather than 30-40 of other seed companies, and each pack costs about $2.00 to $3.00, which is less than other companies.
Germination rate has been great from these seeds and I always order from them whenever they carry the varieties I want (I will order 3 packs at time and still save money). No pretty pictures though!
This has been my go-to catalog for tomatoes for a number of years. They have a huge number of heirloom AND hybrid varieties.
I always include some of the better hybrids in my order, as they generally have better disease resistance and some are just as favorable as the heirlooms.
Not all of my customers can successfully grow heirlooms, and I include a range of hybrids for specific purposes (like Bush Champion for patio tomatoes) in my overall order. They also carry a wide range of sweet and hot peppers.
Prices range somewhere between Baker Creek and Pinetree. Germination is dependable. They are not exclusively organic, but they probably have the largest range of varieties.
Best Catalog For Berry Plants in Zone 4 & 5
Indiana Berry & Plant Company is my one of my favorite catalogs for strawberries and raspberries that grow well in the Midwest. I also like Norse as a good source for small berries.
I grow 600 blueberry plants, but they are over 20 years old now and I purchased them way back from Towerview Nursery in Michigan. Blueberry plants are something you want to research more in depth for your particular micro-climate.
Good Companies for Vegetable Seeds
Sometimes the seed companies have crop failures or low inventory of certain seeds. I have missed out on some of my preferred varieties in previous years so I always order early now.
I order all my seeds the first of January and find I still have to scout the internet for a few of the hard-to-find varieties.
For vegetables & herbs beyond just tomatoes, I have found the following companies to have reliable germination rates, good seed selections and be responsible in their seed conservation:
Guides for successfully growing tomatoes
- For germinating seed indoors
- Growing tomatoes in pots
- Best seed catalogs for tomatoes
- Best trellis systems for tomatoes
- Season extension for tomatoes
- Taste of heirloom tomatoes based on color
Remember that planning for your end use is key
So, there you go. Hopefully this has been helpful to you as you do your winter garden planning.
Spending a cold snowy day with my picks for the best seed catalogs for heirloom tomatoes (and peppers and squash btw), along with a fresh cup of coffee ranks right up there with one of my favorite winter activities.
I consider it the ultimate “hygge” for January. Don’t know what hygge is? Here is a fun summary article on starting a cozy hygge Winter.
The greatest thing about winter paper gardening is the vision of how great the tomato garden is going to be “this year”. Hope does spring eternal. Happy Planning!
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