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Organic Seeds & Heirloom Seeds - What They Are and How to Choose Them

It may be the hardest time of the year for gardeners.

So many seed packets, so little garden space

Did you see Tricia in our video on selecting seeds?  She's standing in front of a wall of seed packets. All great seeds. But which are the best for your garden? You can't just choose the most appealing package because, frankly, all our custom designed seed packets are stunning. We have worked with a local artist, Randy Griffis of North San Juan, and Nicole Martinez of Auburn to create hand drawn and colored images. We're very proud of the results.

Safe Seed Pledge

First of all, buy your seeds from us, because they are all safe. We signed the Safe Seed Pledge. We only carry seeds that are organic or sustainably grown. You will not find any GMO (genetically modified) seeds, nor seeds that are treated with fungicides. We also stock as many heirloom and open-pollinated seeds as possible, to help farmers and gardeners continue growing for generations to come.

How long is your growing season?

Most warm-season vegetables are tender and cannot live through a frost. Your "growing season" runs from the date of the last springtime frost in your area to the first frost of fall. Get the local frost dates from your Master Gardener or Cooperative Extension office. In California you can find your Master Gardeners by county with this list. You can also find a local Cooperative Extension and Master Gardeners in your county. Make sure the seeds you plant will have time to mature in your growing season. This is a particular issue for those of us who live in short-season areas with chilly springs and cold snaps in the fall.


Don't just buy one packet of cucumbers and one packet of tomatoes. Try several varieties of a vegetable. See which one works best in your garden and which one tastes best. Next year plant your favorites again, and try some new seeds too.

A seed glossary

Certified Organic Seeds are harvested from certified organic crops. The seeds may be a hybrid or heirloom variety. Organic farmers must seek out organic seed in order to qualify for USDA Organic certification. If they can't find organic seed they're allowed to use conventional, untreated seed.

Heirloom Seed An heirloom is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination.

Open-pollinated Open pollination is pollination by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms. The seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants. Because breeding is uncontrolled and the pollen (male parent) source is unknown, open pollination may result in plants that vary widely in genetic traits. Open pollination may increase biodiversity. Seeds in our catalog are open-pollinated unless labeled as hybrid.

Hybrid Seed Hybrid seed is produced by manually cross-pollinated plants. Hybrids are bred to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants, such as better yield, greater uniformity, improved color, disease resistance, and so forth. Hybrid seed cannot be saved, as the seed from the first generation of hybrid plants does not reliably produce true copies, therefore, new seed must be purchased for each planting. These are not genetically engineered.

Seed Saving Open pollination is the key to seed saving. Plants that reproduce through natural means tend to adapt to local conditions over time. They evolve as reliable performers, particularly in their localities.

Tomatoes, Determinate Determinate types bear a full crop all at once and top off at a specific height; they're often good choices for container growing. Preferred by commercial growers who want to harvest a whole field at one time, or home growers interested in canning.

Tomatoes, Indeterminate Indeterminate cultivars develop into vines that never top off and continue producing until killed by frost. Favorite of home growers who want ripe fruit throughout the season.

Choose flower seeds by zone  Our flower seed packets all show the USDA zones where they will grow best.

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