This is my 18th year growing heirloom tomato plants in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Over the years I have ordered my heirloom seeds from a lot of different seed companies, and I thought I’d pass along my opinion of the top 5 seed catalogs, as well as “why”.
At the end of the post is a list of catalogs that are reliable with good selections for vegetables and herbs beyond just tomatoes.
When I personally order seeds I am looking for two specific categories:
- Home gardeners needs: Since I sell plants at the farmers’ markets I look for varieties that will meet a wide range of the customer/gardeners’ needs (i.e., earliest tomatoes, most disease resistant, biggest, meatiest, mildest, best for containers, etc.)
- Personal favorites for cooking: For my personal use I look for specific varieties that I need for home cooking and making specific tomato products (i.e., varieties for drying, varieties for smoking, varieties for jams, sauce tomatoes, etc.)
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.
My Picks of the Best Seed Catalogs for Heirloom Tomatoes
(in no particular order):
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: This catalog is definately eye candy and the first one I go through as it has great descriptions and great photos of a huge variety of heirloom tomatoes. They are a little more spendy than some, but often they are the only ones that carry a particular variety that I want (i.e., Vorlon and Goldmans)
Tomato Fest (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 to navigate. They have over 600 varieties, 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: This company is great for gardeners that want to order smaller amounts of seed, but still have a good range of variety choice. They usually have about 15-20 seeds per pack rather than 30-40, and each pack costs about $1.00 to $1.50 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)
Seeds of Change: These seeds are all 100% certified organic and everything I have ordered from them has come out perfectly. They don’t carry as wide of a variety selection as I prefer, but they are a very dependable, service-oriented company.
Totally Tomatoes: This has been my go-to catalog for a number of years. They have a huge number of heirloom AND hybrid varities. I always include some of the better hybrids in my order, as they generally have better disease resistance and some are just as flavorable 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 organic, but they probably have the largest range of varieties.
Good Companies for All-around Seeds
Many of the seed company’s inventories are low this year (2021). Order early for the best selection. I had to scout the internet for a few of the hard-to-find varieties that were out of stock.
For vegetables & herbs beyond just tomatoes, I have found the following companies to have reliable seed selections and be responsible in their seed conservation:
- Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
- Pinetree Garden Seeds
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds
- Renee’s Garden Seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Seeds of Change
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? Check out this post for a starter on 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!