Surprises are a staple in Suzanne Ashworth’s Sacramento
vegetable garden. Peppers come in half a dozen colors and shapes;
tomatoes range from pea-size to whoppers 6-1/2 inches across. Certain
potatoes open to reveal yellow or blue flesh.
Although most of us have never seen or heard of many of the crops
she grows, they are not new. They are among thousands of nonhybrid
kinds once commonly available through standard seed companies, but now
rapidly disappearing as hybrids take over the market. Where did these
seeds come from?
All the uncommon vegetables here were tracked down through Seed
Savers Exchange, a nonprofit group of gardeners dedicated to preserving
nonhybrid vegetables in danger of extinction. Their publications can
help you find more than 5,000 varieties of vegetables through regular
but little-known seed sources. If you join the exchange, you’ll
have access to up to 4,000 additional kinds.
Their Garden Seed Inventory gives names and addresses of 239
mail-order companies in the U.S. and Canada that sell vegetable seeds,
noting any specialties such as nonhybrid, Oriental, European, or
It also lists and briefly describes 5,785 nonhybrid vegetable
varieties still sold in the U.S. and Canada, and tells where you can
order each. Nearly half of these old favorites are now sold by only one
of the sources listed. The 448-page inventory costs $12 postpaid for
softcover, $20 for hardcover; see address below right.
If you want access to still more variety, or if you like the idea
of saving your own seeds, you may be ready for the Seed Savers Exchange.
Their annual winter yearbook lists names and addresses of 550 members,
seeds they are offering, and seeds they are trying to find. You get the
seeds by writing directly to the grower who offers them. Nonmembers
(anyone not offering seeds in the current catalog) pay $1 for each
sample of seeds. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and
indicate if substitutions are acceptable.
Members (those exchanging seeds) pay only postage. Some varieties
in short supply are available only to members.
If you request seeds through the exchange, you are on your honor to
grow more than you use, and to save and pass on the excess through the
exchange the following year.
Browsing through the yearbook, you’ll find offers of seeds for
rarities such as red turnips and Pueblo orange and blue flour corn
interspersed with comments from gardeners on care and climatic needs.
To get a copy of the 256-page 1985 yearbook, send a $10 check or
money order ($7 for senior citizens) to Seed Savers Exchange, Director
Kent Whealy, 203 Rural Ave., Decorah, Iowa 52101. You will also receive
the fall Harvest Edition (with some seed-saving advice) and if you wish,
free publication in the exchange and plant finder listings in the 1986
Some savers also sell seeds of nearly extinct crops to certain seed
companies, thus reintroducing them to the public. You can buy seeds for
the watermelon, tomato, and eggplant shown from Seeds Blum, Idaho City
Stage, Boise 83706; catalog $2. Seeds of over two dozen kinds of
peppers are sold by Horticultural Enterprises, Box 340082, Dallas 75234
(for a price list, enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope).