Editor's note: a little feud with a "conventional" seed supplier.

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by Mort Mather

It is seed catalogue time again. How wonderful! I can almost smell the seeds and the soil. I have four favorite catalogues. Burpee, Warminster, PA 18974 has the most mouth-watering pictures. They also have a favorite lettuce of mine, Green Ice. Johnny's Selected Seeds, Albion, ME 04910-9731 is my sentimental favorite. I have known Rob Johnston who founded and still runs the company since his first catalogue in 1974. Fedco Seeds, PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903-0520 is the least attractive catalogue but by far the best prices. Harris Seeds, PO Box 22960, Rochester, NY 14692-2960 was Ruth Stout's favorite seed company and Ruth Stout's No-Work Garden Book is a favorite of mine.

I have had a running disagreement with Harris Seeds over their use of fungicides. The fungicides they put on their seeds are unwelcome in my garden. I have written to them to express my desire that they make untreated seeds available. They usually write back that I shouldn't be concerned about the seed treatment as it is such a small thing. The amount of chemical that would reach my garden that way probably is a small thing but the amount that is manufactured and put into our environment needlessly is not small. I like to smell and handle my seeds but not when they are coated with chemicals. Some years they have carried untreated seeds and then I get careless and find myself with treated seeds in a subsequent year. This year they are offering untreated seeds for their most popular varieties and they are clearly marked.

The real reason I have bothered to keep in touch with Harris is a variety of zucchini, Elite, that I particularly liked. Last year I found two other varieties that I liked equally well, Burpee Hybrid Zucchini and Condor from Johnny's. Since Harris has untreated seeds this year and because I have written to them so many times about it I guess I'll have to order some seeds from them. If I ever get stuck with treated seeds again, though, they are off my list.

Fedco seed is the least expensive because they are essentially repackers. Their seed trials are conducted through a network of gardeners and small commercial growers. They are highly principled. They offer organically grown whenever available and will not offer genetically engineered varieties. They recently began providing a market for heirloom varieties stimulating an interest in growing commercial quantities.

To give you an idea of the price differences I compared buttercrunch lettuce which all four catalogues carry. It is not easy to do. Fedco was lowest with 1 gm pkt at .50 and Johnny's highest with a 1 gm pkt at $1.80. Johnny's pkt contains about 800 seeds while Harris says their pkt contains 1,500 seeds and costs $1.00. That would seem to indicate that Harris's price is the same as Fedco. Burpee was close to Johnny's at $1.75 per packet.

To get away from the problems with small seeds I compared Provider beans. Fedco wins again at $2.10 per half pound. Johnny's is next lowest at $2.65 followed by Harris at $2.75 and Burpee at $3.45. Next we have to figure in the shipping and handling charges which I'll leave for you. If you don't already have catalogues, send for them now. They are a great way to beat the winter blahs.

ŠJanuary 6, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.



Catalogues, the Sequel

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