Alright, now that I’ve rambled on about the specifics of choosing quality seed that is in line with our sustainable, organic ethos, we come to the task of actually choosing what seed we will offer to our participants. “What? I can’t just pick an open pollinated heirloom tomato seed and call it a day?” you say, unfortunately there are still other factors to take into account when choosing seed, luckily though, this part is a bit more fun. Over the past 3 weeks it seems that seeds are all I think about and all I talk about, Maggie has been diligently comparing seed catalogs to find the best prices and varieties, so as to compile a spreadsheet for our participants, while I have been contacting different companies in an effort to obtain seed donations. Admittedly I also end up spending a good amount of time looking at pictures and reading descriptions of the most interesting and strange vegetable varieties while compiling a mental list of all the different things I would plant in my ideal garden, and I have to say that my imaginary garden may not be the most practical, but it certainly would be fun.

Is This Seed a Practical Purchase?

So first on the checklist of course is price, and if you want to buy good quality seed you will probably have to be able to justify spending a little bit more money for the good of your garden. You also have to be willing to commit some time to comparing each variety that you want to order and their prices from several different companies because sometimes even the most expensive companies will surprise you and sell a certain variety at a much lower price than all the other companies. So if you put in the time now you will probably be happy later when you have a little bit of wiggle room in your budget.
            Next on the list is ease of growing, do you really want to spend lots of money on tomato seed that has to be started in a greenhouse then weeded and sprayed every day and can’t take temperatures over 65°? Probably not. For most gardeners it really doesn’t make sense to buy a variety of plant that will take extreme amounts of time and effort just to ensure it stays alive. Certain varieties have been tested and bred to do well in certain climates, depending on your region and where you plant your garden, you may need to look for plants that will be resistant to certain diseases, produce well despite drought/heavy rains, or be able to take long hot summers. Most seed catalogs will list these traits in their brief description of the plant, and it’s likely you all probably know of quiet a few varieties that are tried and true in your region for these exact reasons.
Djena Lee’s Golden Girl

            Next on the list is familiarity. Because we are providing restricted options for our participants we want to make sure that we have a lot of varieties on the list that participants are familiar with and like to grow. Many people in our area like to grow the same variety of certain vegetables year after year simply because that’s what they know, it is a taste they prefer, and that is what they have found to work well in their personal gardens, and how can blame em’ if it’s not broken don’t fix it, right?

In the same vein of familiarity is tradition, what is a family garden without stories, memories, and traditions that accompany the garden and the food that it produces. Kentucky is ripe with old tales of planting, cooking, and living off the land, and many seed varieties fit right into these stories. For instance the Conover Family Butter Bean, sold by Bill Best, is described by its family history “this bean traces back to the Civil War when Conover was in New Orleans at the end of the war and gathered butterbean seeds in gardens as he walked back to Kentucky”.  Some of our participants will also request a certain seed because “that’s what my granddaddy grew”; they cherish the memories that growing these plants bring back and want to continue the family traditions for the next generation. Some of our young families are starting their own traditions through Grow Appalachia and love to learn from these traditions and stories from the more experienced gardeners and their choice of seed.
OrangeGlo Watermelon

            In my opinion one of the most important categories is taste! Just reading the seed catalog descriptions of fruits and vegetables makes me hungry.  For instance the OrangeGlo watermelon which is described as having “solid deep orange flesh that is very crisp, very sweet, and very flavorful”, or the Djena Lee’s Golden Girl with its “delicious flavor, and rich balance of sweetness and tanginess”.  Of course you have to put faith in the seed catalog description of taste, but hey they know a lot more of what their talkin about than I do! And the pictures of each variety can really be quite helpful as well; most people like to know what they are growing and what the vegetable is supposed to look like.  I must admit that I really fall victim to the beautiful pictures and tasty descriptions, I think I could read the catalogs like a novel, but then I really would end up with a ridiculous garden filled with all the things that no one else seems to like, beets, eggplant, spinach, brussels sprouts, yummm. Please keep reminding me that I do not have the space or time to grow every vegetable from a-z.

Bloody Butcher Corn

So how do you choose what seeds to order? Is it simply what will grow well, feed you well, and not be too much trouble? Is it what your family has always grown? Or like me do you get lost in dreams of planting every single vegetable you could ever imagine in addition to all those new varieties that sound so interesting. Wouldn’t dinner be so much more fun if we referred to our food by its exact name “Could you please pass the Mammoth Melting Sugar peas”, “why yes Kathleen, and could you hand me an ear of that Bloody Butcher corn” hmmm yes, my roommates may get a bit tired of me this summer.


Pine Mountain Grow Appalachia will be hosting a Seed Swap Saturday March 24th 1-3 pm, bring seeds to share or trade, buy seed from expert collectors, or just come to learn and socialize!

Here is an interesting seed description of Candyroaster squash from Bill Best’s website: “Many people growing up in the mountains of North Georgia and Western North Carolina never ate pumpkin pies. Their families grew pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns or for animal, feed, but they themselves ate Candyroasters. Candyroasters are an excellent winter squash most likely from the Cherokee Indians.”

Bill Best will be at the seed swap with some of his wonderful heirloom seeds!