seeds

Seed Selection for the Homestead Garden

The weather here has certainly taken a turn, which has been a welcome reminder that it is actually winter out here…meaning that spring is only weeks away. 

garden
The current wintering garden

And with spring comes work in the the very first garden I have been independently responsible for. Garden prep is a little behind right now as I could easily be starting some seeds indoors right now if I had my game together. Newsflash: I don’t. Not yet. But I’m on my way, and in the next few weeks I will be starting seeds both indoors and in our tiny garden shed. I’m very excited for the entire process to begin, so below is the culmination of a weekend’s work: my shopping list of garden seeds.


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My view.

I relied on four seed catalogs for my selection:

Johnnies Selected Seeds: the most “commercial” catalog I have, with an emphasis on marketable products for farms rather than the backyard gardener. Biggest selection, but fewer rare heirloom plants and not as fun to page through.

Seed Savers Exchange: a catalog of “heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid, non GMO seeds” that is big, beautiful and a delight to browse. The plant descriptions give a lot of back history about where each variety originated

The Good Seed Company: similar catalog to Seed Savers, but a little smaller and a more “quaint” feel. My favorite catalog because the selection wasn’t overwhelming and seeds could be bought in smaller quantities than in the other ones

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: A catalog that focuses exclusively on species that thrive in a southern climate and the only catalog I had that sold ginseng. Newspaper material pages, not glossy.

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Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, The Good Seed Catalog, Seed Savers Exchange, and Johnny’s Select Seeds

The seeds that I will be buying for this coming year:

Beans

  • Trilogy (Johnny’s)-
    IMG_5202
    Courtesy of Johnny’s

    Actually a mix from Johnny’s that includes Provider, Royal Burgandy and Rocdor for a pleasing mix of colors and flavors. A bean harvest extender because each species will ripen at a different time 

Beets

  • Golden Beet (Good Seed)- Another one of my favorites from Nature’s Pace, this beet has a rich, sweet taste and won’t stain your hands like a red beet. The color remains vibrant even when cooked.

  • Detroit Dark Red (Good Seed)- I’ll be honest, my choice of this beet was entirely due to home state pride. Michigan lover for life!!

Carrots 

  • Paris Market
    IMG_5210
    Courtesy of Seed Savers

    (Seed Savers)- our shallow, clay-filled soil will be a difficult barrier for any root vegetable to push through, so this French heirloom’s short, round taproot should be ideal for us.

Corn

  • Xtra-Tender 2171 (Johnny’s)- In all honestly, I’ve never grown sweet corn before and the wide selection available almost overwhelmed me. I ended up choosing this variety almost at random. At least it’s an early variety.

Cucumbers

  • Beit Alpha (Good Seed)- tender, no peeling necessary, a robust grower with a long self life. What’s not to like?! Apparently also very popular in the Mediterranean

  • Boston Pickling (Good Seed)- Good Seed’s most popular cucumber and considered excellent for pickles. Good enough for me!

Decorative

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Courtesy of Seed Savers
  • Ginseng Seed (Southern Exposure)- Ginseng does phenomenally in the Appalachian mountains, but a very high market price has driven wild ginseng close to extinction. Ian hopes to plant native seeds in our woods in hopes of slowly reintroducing it to our home.

  • Sunflower Mixture (Seed Savers)- All sunflower varieties are glorious and I couldn’t get myself to chose any one type, so this variety pack was the only way to go

Greens

  • Arugula (Good Seed)- The best salad green I’ve ever had the privilege to eat. I’m perfectly happy skipping every other salad ingredient and just eating fistfuls of Arugula.

  • Halbhoher Gruner Krauser Kale (Seed Savers)- a North German variety described as tasty eaten fresh or cooked and harvested into the winter. Since I’ll only be growing one variety of kale, it seemed a steady all purpose one to grow

  • New Zealand Spinach (Seed Savers)- not technically a spinach, but similar in flavor and usage. The selling point for me was that it’s resistant to bolting and thrives in hot weather. Now our spinach salads won’t be limited to the fall and spring

  • Prize Choy (Seed Savers)- “an especially uniform, vigorous, and bolt resistant variety of Bok Choy”. The bolt resistance should allow me to be able to extend its growing season into the warm summer months. I can taste the stir fries already.

Kohlrabi

  • Early Purple Vienna (Good Seed)- an under-appreciated apple of the vegetable world, kohlrabi forms a sweet,  cabbage-y bulb that is excellent cooked or raw. Just looking at this funky plant makes me happy. 

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Photo courtesy of Good Seed

Melon

  • Charentais (Good Seed)- considered a “superb heirloom French melon” that is super sweet and very fragrant. The selling point for me was that it’s considered the perfect size for two people

Onions

  • Cabernet F1 (Johnny’s)- growing onions in our compact soil is such a gamble, I didn’t want to waste money on lots of varieties. I’m hoping this sturdy, early yielding red onion will give us a good sense of what we could grow for next year

Tomatoes

  • Sungold (Good Seed)- tangy orange cherry tomato that I ate to great excess while interning at Nature’s Pace Organics. These little tomatoes will tear your mouth apart, but that doesn’t mean I can resist them!

  • Brandywine (Good Seed)-
    IMG_5200
    Photo courtesy of Good Seeds

    classic heirloom tomato and reasonably difficult to screw up. Considered to have an incredibly rich, delightfully intense tomato flavor. Maybe not the best choice for intensive canning, but I prefer my tomatoes fresh anyways. 

Peas

  • Sugar Snap Peas (Good Seed)- Whenever I’ve grown these before I never managed to bring them into the kitchen before they were entirely consumed. Incredibly sweet and crisp, one of the vegetables I would absolutely chose to eat as a dessert.

Peppers

  • Etituda (Good Seed)- sugary sweet orange pepper that can reach over half a pound in weight. Considered to be hardy and versatile in a variety of growing conditions, so hopefully my clay soil will work as well!

  • Cayenne Long Thin (Good Seed)- we needed something to satisfy our spicy craving this summer, so I settled for the “the Classic American hot pepper” which is described as vigorous and productive. Hopefully I won’t be regretting the “very hot” warning!

Potatoes

  • Adirondack Blue (Johnny’s)- life is too short to have boring potatoes. If I’m gonna grow my own, I wanna have them be blue, gosh dangit. 

    IMG_5211
    Photo courtesy of Johnny’s
Squash
  • Golden Zucchini (Good Seed)- Zucchini grows so quickly and prolithically that I doubt we will need more than a plant or two to keep us satisfied. I opted for yellow squash because I think the flavor is a little better than green zucchini

  • Waltham Butternut (Seed Savers)- Considering how much butternut squash soup we consumed this past fall, attempting to grow a few of our own could be a very good idea

Total Cost in Seeds: $83.80, plus tax and shipping.

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So what are your thoughts? A little overambitious for a medium-sized, clay-filled garden? Too much food for two people? Did I miss your favorite species and/or variety? I would love to hear your thoughts and see some pictures of what you will be growing this coming year.

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13 thoughts on “Seed Selection for the Homestead Garden

  1. Not sure if you ordered yet, but I can attest to the Peaches and Cream variety of sweet corn. My grandpa has been growing it for years and years and it’s always wonderful. It’s a hybrid variety, but with the amount of GMO corn in our area, I can’t save seeds anyway.

    1. I love acorn squash too, but for some reason I didn’t have much luck growing it when I was a farm intern. I found it kind of annoying and the squash itself was really small, so I thought I’d try butternut instead! I’ll let you know how it goes….

  2. If you can find Jade green beans you’ll not be sorry. Three ounces of seed is plenty.
    Detroit Dark Red is a hearty beet–be sure it gets a good periodic deep watering.
    We love kholrabi–lots of ways to use it. Fennel root is also great.
    If you want a second type of potato I’d recommend some fingerlings.
    Waltham Butternut squash is a great choice, especially for clay soil. Just be sure you have lots of space since it spreads like crazy. It’s a good vine to interplant with corn.
    If you have any pests–rabbits, etc.–you may want to sow a perimeter of marigolds.
    I can’t believe you are already ordering seeds–you are really on the ball. We have DeBruyns in Zeeland so we can wait til the last minute and get whatever we want.
    Have fun!!

    1. Good to know that you think I am early… I was feeling stressed that I was already behind! I will take some pressure off myself then. And I am a big fan of fennel and had it on my list for quite a while before ultimately deciding that Kohlrabi was enough for one year. The marigold idea is a great one and I will definitely be adding those to my list. Thank you so much for your insightful comments!

  3. I tried serendipity sweet corn. It is an sh2 hybrid. It is pickable for a good week to week and a half. Sweetest corn I have ever tasted. We also have very clay soil. If you like radishes, try german giants. They get the size of baseballs, not very hot, and take forever to get woody.I get alot of seed from bay city seed, also known as main street seed. Very cheap prices for bulk seeds.

  4. Consider Michigan Heirlooms. They are in SE Michigan, so maybe a little north for you, but a good company with a wonderful selection. I met Karen last fall, and was impressed with her commitment to provide the best plants available.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion John. I’ve never heard of that company, but being a Michigan native I have a lot of home-state pride and would be happy to check out this company. I appreciate the tip!

  5. I have such a small garden that my seeds last more than one year, sometimes too many. I keep them marked by year to help. With such a short growing season I hate to lose time with seeds that might not sprout. I plant direct in the soil in April and my first crops are ready by mid-June. I purchase at the local nursery. That way I know the seeds they stock are the best for our location. – Margy

  6. Your post made me think of my first garden spot, a 10’10’ block under a tree in a community garden. One midsummer day I walked into my home to proudly display to my boyfriend a small stack of split Cherokee Purple tomatoes and a bag of wild Sungolds. He took one glance at them and told me they looked rotten. I reigned myself in, as I was very proud of my Cherokee Purples, and walked into my kitchen to make salsa. I went back into the living room with a bowl of fresh salsa and some chips. He took a few bites, looked me in the eye and said “This is the best salsa I’ve ever had”. I smiled and told him I had made it with those “rotten tomatoes ” Now he tells everyone “Kim grows rotten looking tomatoes, but they taste good.”

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