Seed Catalogues 2020 – Which One(s) To Use

Introduction

Well, it is that time again. The seed catalogues are pouring in and us “farmers” we have to decide which ones to use. This has always troubled me – so many catalogues to choose from. In 2007, Mother Earth News estimated there were 88 garden seed catalogues in the US. They missed a few. Today, Dave’s Garden lists 7,989 mail order gardening companies worldwide.

In what follows, I will look at a somewhat randomly selected set of catalogues that I have used in the last few of decades: Burpee, Harris, Johnny’s, Jung, Natural Gardening Company, Park, Pinetree, Scheepers, Seeds ‘n Such, RH Shumway, and Totally Tomatoes.

How To Choose

What are we looking for in a seed catalogue? My criteria include:

  • Comprehensiveness – it is just easier (and shipping costs less) if I can order most of my seeds from one catalogue. Back in 2014, there was no contest: Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalogue, at 210 pages, was the most comprehensive and informative. For 2020, Johnny’s Catalogue has expanded to 244 pages.
  • Beauty – yes, I know I can go online. But every year, I like to spend time reading my catalogues. I enjoy looking at the pictures, imagining what it would look like in my garden (never as nice as in the pictures), and getting excited about trying something new. Digital information will never take the place of a beautiful catalogue/magazine. Beauty – I know, the eye of the beholder. But Burpee’s and the John Scheepers’ catalogue, the latter with its hand drawn pictures, are both appealing.
  • Organization/Economy in Presentation – do you have to jump around in the catalogue when you are trying to decide what beans to buy, or is everything sensibly organized? And is there a good, easy to find index? Where is it? I don’t mind back page (Totally Tomatoes), inside front cover or near-first page (Harris, Johnny’s, Pinetree), or in the mid-section adjacent to the ordering page (Park, Scheepers, Seed’s n’ Such), or back page (Totally Tomatoes. But Shumway and Gurney’s: where is your index?
  • Information About Planting and Growing – even though I have been growing from seed indoors for more than two decades, I do like reminders on “best growing practices”. And on this, nobody beats Johnny’s.
  • Seed Quality – Is there a difference in seed quality, or do they all come from one place in China? Who knows? I would pay a lot to get “better” seeds. In comments on different seed providers, I see people complaining about seed quality. But from what I can tell, it is all anecdotal. Some people swear by the seeds from certain companies. Dave’s Garden has an ongoing rating survey for its members on the best seed companies. But there are many factors that go into the ratings. Rating results of selected companies for the last year are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. – Ratings of Selected Catalogue Companies

Source: Dave’s Garden

Park, Gurney, and Burpee’s got the most negative votes. Does that mean their seeds are inferior? I doubt it: many of the negative ratings result from mailing screw-ups or from a real/imagined “surly” catalogue phone person. Assuming all seeds are of the same quality is probably not a good assumption – I just don’t know.

Pricing

In 2010, I started rating catalogues on the prices of their seeds. I even went to the trouble of determining whether it saved you money to grow vegetables rather than to buy them at the super market. I soon realized that seed price differences are insignificant relative to the other costs of growing vegetables. However, we have price data so I present it below. For these comparisons, I have assembled data on eight quite commonly purchased vegetable seeds. I believe this sample is representative of the companies’ overall pricing.

Consider first the “packet” prices offered by seed companies. I normally buy one or two packets and not larger amounts. The packets of Pinetree, Park, and Seeds ‘n Such are inexpensive while those of Burpee’s and Johnny’s are quite expensive. Is that because the latter two have better seeds? Who knows, but I doubt it.

Table 2. – Packet Prices

Totally Tomatoes does not carry all the items in my sample. I include them because they have a huge selection of tomatoes (approaching 200) and tomatoes are after all the “signature” item in most gardens.

Of course, focusing on packets does not allow for differing packet sizes. So in Table 3, I look at price per seed. The rankings do not change much although Burpee does slightly better.

Table 3. – Price per Seed

One final thought here: Seeds ‘n Such charges only $1.99/packet each if you buy 20 packets.

Conclusions

This is a good time for northern gardeners. We can dream about all the great things we will grow this summer. What will I do? I cannot resist the Seeds ‘n Such deal. And I will choose a couple of special tomatoes from Totally Tomatoes. And I will probably buy a couple of items from the Scheepers catalogue to “keep them in business.”

The content above was saved on the old Morss Global Finance website, just in case anyone was looking for it (with the help of archive.org):
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