grow your own 2010: it starts with a seed order

table of seedsI AM A PROPONENT OF GROWING YOUR OWN; you just have to check my freezer and pantry the last couple of decades to see that. But a vegetable garden is not without its costs or its commitments—cash and elbow grease both required, and then some. Vegetable harvests, like money, don’t grow on trees. This year, with the economy and increased awareness about our food (think “Food, Inc.”) again spurring an interest in homegrown, I thought I’d periodically detail what my attempts at it cost me. The beginning of any such confessional starts with the seeds, of course:

But first, you know me: There are always disclaimers and notes. (Full disclosure is the policy here.) The notes:

  • I am a garden writer, meaning I try more things than “normal” types. (Good excuse for shopping, huh?)
  • About half my 2010 seed and seed-like items will come from part-used packets from my 2009 order (above); this order will provide seed for next year and beyond for some items—meaning this constitutes about half a true list of varieties, but money-wise what I’d order annually.
  • In addition to this list and last year’s leftovers, I will probably impulse-buy $15 worth of vegetable and herb plants in spring at some point. Or even get some more seeds. Oops.
  • I order peas in a large (cheaper-by-the-pound) size every other or third year, for instance; same with mesclun and braising mixes of greens (by the ounce). And it takes a couple or few years to use up a packet of tomato or zinnia seeds, even when sharing with a friend.
  • Onions would be much cheaper from seed, but need about 10 weeks indoors.
  • Unless I have a crop failure, I will not order any garlic this fall; I have enough stock. If I needed garlic, that would add considerably to costs.
  • See thoughts on shipping fees, below the order.

brussels sprouts

My 2010 Order by Catalog

Territorial Seed, $21.55 including shipping.

  • ‘Bloomsdale’ Savoy Spinach
  • ‘Golden Sunshine’ Bean
  • ‘Roodnerf’ Brussels Sprouts
  • ‘Space’ Spinach
  • ‘Winter’ Red Kale

Fedco Seeds (Moose Tubers), $48.30 including shipping.

Seed potatoes:

  • ‘Rio Grande Russet’ organic (5 pounds)
  • ‘Yellow Finn’ organic (2.5 pounds)
  • ‘Red Gold’ (5 pounds)
  • ‘Keuka Gold’ (5 pounds)
  • Green Mountain (2.5 pounds)

(Note on potatoes: Where I ordered 5 pounds, I will share tubers with my sister.)

Sand Hill Preservation Center, $12 (no shipping on seed orders over $10).

  • ‘Giant Winter Spinach’
  • ‘Guatemalan Blue’ winter squash
  • ‘Armstrong Early Cluster’ cucumber
  • ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce
  • ‘Dukat’ dill
  • Black greasy beans

Note: Proprietors Glenn and Linda Drowns have some of the best packet prices anywhere. The dill I ordered is $1.50, and the lettuce (the first one Glenn ever grew as a kid and my first lettuce ever, too, years ago) is $1. Sand Hill prices things accordingly; special things are more, but you get bargains on things they can afford to pass along savings on. And there is no shipping on seed orders over $10.

Renee’s Garden Seeds, $16.11 including shipping

Kitazawa Seed Company, $23 including shipping.

  • ‘Leisure’ Cilantro-Coriander (Chinese Parsley)
  • ‘Red Noodle’ Bean, Yard Long Bean
  • Upland Cress
  • Natsu Rakuten ‘Summer Fest’ Hybrid Komatsuna
  • ‘Okame’ Hybrid Spinach

Note: I have never grown upland cress nor the Asian spinach nor komatsuna, nor do I know what they taste like; wish me luck. A reader comment nudged me to try them. Last year I so enjoyed my first crop ever of pak choi that I resolved to try more Asian-style greens.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: $12.38 including shipping.

  • ‘Riesentraube’ tomato, cherry
  • ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet
  • ‘Lutz Green Leaf’ (‘Winter Keeper’) beet
  • ‘Crosby Egyptian’ (‘Early Crosby Egyptian’) beet

Note: You may have missed (or read) my ode to ‘Riesentraube’ tomato recently.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, $68.50 including shipping.

  • ‘Ailsa Craig Exhibition’ onion plants – 1 Unit
  • ‘Copra’ onion plants – 3 Units
  • ‘Nelson’ (F1) (Pelleted) carrot
  • ‘Bolero’ (F1) (Pelleted) carrot
  • ‘Ruby Red’ or ‘Rhubarb’ Chard (OG)
  • ‘Speckled Hound’ winter squash
  • ‘Naples Long’ winter squash
  • ‘Metro PMR’ winter squash
  • ‘Ruby Moon’ purple hyacinth bean
  • Plus, ‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes, from Johnny’s, 25 units $15.55 plus shipping.

Important disclaimer: I waste about $20 on shipping. But…I do not accepting free garden-writer samples from seed companies or makers of other garden products. I buy whatever I use. In order to be able to recommend a diversity of sources first-hand, with conviction, I must therefore order from more than a place or two, meaning substantial redundant shipping charges. If I were not a garden writer, I would be more prudent, but I like to try a half-dozen or more vendors each year to keep in touch with the market.  I indulge this wastefulness in the name of research.

Total without any supplies to start some of these seeds (and the ones left from 2009):  About $222.

Cellpack of young tomato seedlings ready for transplant.
Other required items:

  • Seedling flats or cellpacks, with waterproof trays
  • Labels (can recycle plastic strips cut from yogurt cups or use last year’s from store-bought annuals, etc.)
  • Seed-starting light set-up
  • Electricity for 14+ hours a day
  • Seed-starting mix (NOT potting soil), fresh each year
  • Seaweed emulsion or other fertilizer that can be diluted

I guess you could call the above my downpayment on this year’s vegetable garden (remember: minus $20 for wasted shipping; $15 for potatoes that will go to my sister, and probably $30 for my garden-writer experimentation factor). Let’s see how much more it takes, shall we? Onward into another season we go.

  1. Lynn says:

    Sounds very economical really – not counting man hours of course. I’ve given up on all but arugula, herbs and whatever comes up out of the compost. One year 16 pumpkins! This year sadly just inedible gourds. Sometimes I can harvest potatoes from the pile that grow from scraps. That is pretty exciting actually. This year I tried to plan for it and of course disturbed them too much. My CSA is about $28 a week ( for a lot).

    1. Margaret says:

      @Lynn: My sister loves her CSA and has even expanded to get a lot of her meat and poultry in the same way. I know what you mean about the compost-heap yields — sometimes the most wonderful things of all.

  2. Jean says:

    Hi ,
    In referance to your post on Feb28th. Your Johnny’s seed order included ‘Ruby Moon’ winter squash. I have not been able to find it in the Johnny’s catalog or on line there. I did not recognize it and wanted to check it out. Any help would be appreciated. I very much enjoy your site, always learn something new.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jean. You are good! What an eye. The seed order confirmation I cut and pasted from for te post said “winter squash” when in fast that was my lab-lab (purple hyacinth) beans. Fixed it in the old post. I guess the order form was wonky, and I repeated the error. Sorry. :) See you soon again!

  3. Robin says:

    Hello everyone! Margaret, it’s very interesting to see the companies broken down like that. I LOVE seeds! I’m here is NW Connecticut, and grow vegetables and flowers. I usually plant the usual, along with something different, every year. You mention the economy and an increased awareness in food spurring people on to grow their own. But on the other hand, the economy has also caused people to stop growing their own for lack of money! I am one of those people, as I am on SSDI (Social Security Disability) I am the “head gardener” here at a small apt complex, and have found that I can make cuttings and such to get plants. I have always loved propagation. And save seed. But due to two major back surgeries, there is no money for seeds or anything else this year. What does a gardener do? I believe more people would love to grow their own food, if given assistance with the basics. What do you think? Anyway, sorry to appear to be on a soapbox my first time out. Looking forward to Trade Secrets!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Robin. One good thing about seeds is that they are fairly reasonable in price, and a packet is enough for many people, generally. I love old-fashioned seed swaps and exchanges — getting a group of friends involved, and then if each person involved just buys one or two $3 packets, and then everyone shares a bit of one another’s other packets, everyone has all that they need. The expense is when I want 15 different things, and it’s $45…or whatever the multiple…even though I don’t need all that seed all at once. I have a couple of longtime friends with who I swap like this, so nobody wastes or comes up short.

  4. melissa says:

    I’ve read this post before, but just wanted to say “Thanks” for it. I was reminded of it again in your links from today’s post! The Johnny’s seed Co. resource has been invaluable to me this year. Everything I have ordered from them has done wonderfully! I’m a total convert now to buying my seeds online! Love the Renee’s Garden as well!

  5. Stephanie says:

    Seed ordering for me is a long, complicated process, dominated by the Wishful Thinking lobe of my brain. Step 1: I pore over catalogues, make notes, dog-ear pages, and pretend I have MUCH more space and sun than I do. Step 2: I hide the catalogues and try to forget them. Step 3: I take stock of last year’s leftover seeds and find they’ve which proliferated like the baby creatures in ALIEN 3–now there are hundreds of them. Step 4: I rationalize the searing need for more (why is this so effortless?) and put in my order.
    However, having decided that vegetables will be restricted to pots on the deck, I keep myself to 2 catalogues (Scheepers and Baker Creek), and buy only easy to grow or hard-to-find-in-the-sticks items, i.e., determinate tomatoes, fava beans, lemongrass, Anaheim peppers, edible perilla.
    Pray for me.

  6. Elyse Clark says:

    Thank you so much for all your detailed information-so helpful and encouraging! Just wondering, besides the cherry tomatoes already mentioned, did I miss your regular size tomato seed choices?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Elyse. I order tomato seeds every few years (since I don’t ever need a full packet of one kind), and love paste types most of all (‘San Marzano’ or the common hybrid ‘Roma’), and also a plant of ‘Brandywine’ and one each of ‘Sun Gold’ cherry and a ‘Sweet Million’ or some such…and then I vary it year to year with the salad and beefsteak types.

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