Heirloom seed companies have been making a comeback, but what exactly are heirloom seeds, and where the best place to buy them?
I'm sharing my favorite seed companies, plus reader recommendations and some unique seed sources to investigate. These heirloom seed companies will help you bring old fashioned flavors, scents, and colors back to your garden for beautiful and delicious crops.
- What are Heirloom Seeds?
- 10 Best Places to Buy Heirloom Seeds
What are Heirloom Seeds?
Many heirloom seeds are literally family heirlooms. These seed varieties have been passed down through generations in a family or community, adapting to the local conditions.
Some people say the term only applies to varieties developed before WWII, others are more flexible.
The book “Heirloom Vegetables: A Home Gardener's Guide to Finding and Growing Vegetables from the Past” has gorgeous photos of many heirloom vegetables. It's an older book, so used copies are inexpensive.
What's the Difference Between Hybrid and Heirloom Seeds?
Hybrid seeds are a cross between two or more different varieties, while heirloom seeds are from a single variety.
Some vegetable seeds are open pollinated (they breed true to type), but are not heirlooms because they have not been around a long time.
Why do seeds companies sell so many hybrid seeds?
Generally, hybrids are bred for disease resistance, higher yields, uniform appearance, durability, and other traits useful for commercial growers. If you have a pest or disease problem, a hybrid might be the right answer while you work to improve overall garden health.
“Hybrid” does not mean genetically modified. Most hybrid crops are bred the old fashioned way, with two plant varieties mixing pollen.
Currently, the only genetically modified garden crops are corn, potatoes, summer squash, and soybeans. The companies in this article do not sell genetically modified seeds.
10 Best Places to Buy Heirloom Seeds
These are my favorite seed sources, plus reader favorites and one we want to try.
Note: Many heirloom seed companies are experiencing higher than normal order volumes. Please be patient with your orders, and allow extra time for delivery.
1. Pinetree Garden Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds – I've been ordering from Pinetree the longer than any other company. They are located in New Gloucester, Maine.
Their prices are reasonable, and they give smaller quantities of seed in each packet so you don't end up carrying over so much seed from one year to the next if you have a smaller garden.
2. Fedco Garden Seeds
Fedco Seeds – Their prices are very affordable, they carry a large number of varieties, and they source from ecologically sound growers – no GMOs here. They are located in Clinton, Maine.
Their catalog is not flashy – it's printed on plain newsprint, all black and white – but their variety descriptions are tops. They point out which varieties store best, are best in certain recipes, and are resistant to various garden problems. They also give troubleshooting tips.
3. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – Baker Creek has gorgeous photos in the print catalog and online. They have many unusual heirloom seeds and open-pollinated varieties.
Their headquarters is in Mansfield, Missouri.
4. Seed Treasures
Reader recommended Seed Treasures is located off grid in Northern Minnesota, a plus for northern growers. They specialize in preserving heritage open pollinated seeds. Some are heirloom seeds, others Native American crops or modern open pollinated varieties.
5. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange carries about 800 varieties of vegetables, flower, herb, grain, and cover crop seeds. Located in Mineral, Virginia, they specialize in varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
They are certified organic, and offer many unique southern heirlooms like butterbeans and naturally colored cotton.
6. Stover Seeds Company
Stover Seed Company is located in Sun Valley, California, and features water wise choices and vegetables and herbs for western climates. They also sell large quantities of native forbs and grasses for landscaping.
7. St. Clare Heirloom Seeds
St. Clare Heirloom Seeds is located in Cecil, Wisconsin. They only sell non-hybrid, untreated, heirloom and open pollinated garden seeds. Their website is conversational, with things like suggestions for use of heirloom flowers. They are a conservative, family run company.
8. High Mowing Organic Seeds
High Mowing seeds is located in Walcott, Vermont. They offer 100% certified organic seed. One unique section of their site is their crops that grow well in high tunnels, a useful option for market gardeners.
9. Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange – I love the idea of Seed Savers Exchange, and they have a beautiful and inspiring catalog. Unfortunately, not all the seeds I've ordered from them have had the quality I expect from a seed company.
Germination rates have been poor, squash that were supposed to store well stored poorly (they were the first to rot in storage our of six varieties).
Plants have failed to thrive (right next to similar plants from other seeds sources. Tomatoes that were described as crack resistant cracked worse than any others in my garden (and I grow around 20 varieties).
When I emailed with my concerns, I received no response.
10. Experimental Farm Network
The Experimental Farm Network Cooperative seed store is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of their seeds are grown in Minnesota and New Jersey. As an experimental seed developer, they have varieties I have not seen for sale anywhere else.
Did I miss your favorite heirloom seed company? Do you have other questions about garden seeds? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
You may also enjoy:
- Free Gardening Journal Templates and Other Garden Record Keeping Tips
- Build Your Own Simple Seed Starting Shelves
- When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar
- Seed Starting Indoors – Step By Step Guide
- Types of Tomatoes (Best Uses, Flavors, and Plant Sizes)
Originally posted in 2011, last updated in 2021.