Ordering Seeds the Hard Way

Photo by Gayla Trail

I recently sent off seed requests via Seeds of Diversity Canada, a seed exchange organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage varieties that I joined last summer. In the face of online ordering, the ease of PayPal transactions, and good ole’ email the whole experience felt downright old-fashioned, involving about three hours of painstaking reading and rereading instructions cross-referenced against further instruction. Having mastered that challenge I’m thinking about doing my taxes on paper, just for fun.

The process went as follows:

  1. Highlight selections. I chose yellow this time around. With a five-colour brick on hand I take my highlighting needs seriously.
  2. Next, decipher confusing abbreviated code and cross-reference abbreviated names and locations with a full list at the front of the catalogue to ascertain who to send money to and where.
  3. Address an envelope and affix appropriate postage. I can do this. This is familiar.
  4. Make copies of the printed form found in the middle of the catalogue. You will need copies if you plan to request from more than one grower or if you are prone to making mistakes on written forms yet insist on using indelible ink. I used the “copy” feature on my ancient and nearly useless fax machine. Surprisingly this was my second time turning it on in the same day. Hello 1993!
  5. Fill out the form. Oh crap, I do not know my membership number. Apparently I was supposed to keep the envelopes containing all correspondence from the organization since my membership number is printed on the mailing sticker. Apparently this was all outlined on my introductory membership letter. The introductory membership letter I filed away without reading because I do not care to read instructions. Write long-winded explanation for lack of membership number in supplied tiny space.

Was it worth it? Absolutely! The catalogue that arrived in my mailbox last month contained more plant names in one place than I have ever seen in my life. Making my way through it with the highlighter was a gardener’s wet dream, so-to-speak. Imagine 37 letter-sized pages of single-spaced text and no photographs dedicated entirely to tomatoes. From such an exhaustive list I bought only one variety, a purple cherry called ‘Haley’s Purple Comet’ that I fell in love with at a Tomato Tasting Party last August. I had not been able to locate seeds for this genetic fluke — a delicious love-child derived from tasty favourite ‘Cherokee Purple.’ And from another grower I ordered four lettuce varieties I have not seen available anywhere else: ‘Cheetah Oak’, ‘Devil’s Ear’s', ‘Ibis’ and ‘Drunken Woman.’ Surprisingly I ordered the last one for more than the name alone!

Placing completed forms and envelopes containing cash money into the mailbox this morning felt about as certain as making a dandelion wish and releasing it into the wind. Will my seed selections actually arrive or did I just buy lunch for some disenfranchised postal worker? Only time will tell.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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13 thoughts on “Ordering Seeds the Hard Way

  1. Did you have to send “SASEs” too? Ah, the olden days of snail mail. I guess I miss it.

    I’m very excited about the Haley’s Purple Comet. Let us know how that one goes.

  2. Ciao Gayla-

    I had to smile. I’m a member of Seed Savers Exchange, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. In my case, however, add another line.

    6. Go to bank and exchange Canadian cash for American cash. Take risk and send cash for seeds instead of buying money order that costs almost as much as the cash and postage to the States.

    Brad Gates is the creator of Haley’s Purple Comet. He’s quite busy at the moment and I’ve not gotten the ok to distribute seed, but once I do, I’ll have several others of his for tasting as well as trading in the Fall. The absolutely gorgeous yellow tomato with the red stripes, Beauty King, that you saw last year is one of his as well. He’s most noted for creating amazing striped varieties. His stuff can be found at Wild Boar Farms if people are interested in seeing what else he’s concocted.

  3. That does sound like a gardener’s wet dream! I’ve been looking around online for a good seed exchange as well as trying to get my friends to save their seeds for me as I will be planting a garden for the first time in 5 years this fall, it’s been too long since I’ve had my toes mushing around in fresh mud!

    I love your site, it’s helped me to get through this shaded apartment living these past few years.

  4. “Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed” lettuce is also available from Territorial Seed Company, just in case someone wants to know. Territorial and Nichols Garden Nursery tend to have some good heirlooms among their offerings.

  5. Oh my … that last statement really made me snort giggle !
    gardeners are forever optimists .. with a small dose of reserve .. fingers crossed seeds arrive safely and that posty brought his/her own lunch !

  6. Sorellina: I had some U.S cash leftover from my last trip so was able to avoid that step. Otherwise I would have just ordered from Wild Boar Farms except that they have a minimum order and I only wanted one variety.

    I Zimbra: NO SASEs although I kept reading and re-reading the instructions wondering why nobody asked for them and certain I must be missing something.

  7. Girl, your nuts! lol.
    But seriously, I can’t even look at catalogs that have black and white drawings, let alone no pictures. My brain runs on pictures and unless they turn a seed catalog into a novel where my brain can make pictures itself, I doubt I will be buying anything from this catalog. I do love the thought of the heritage varieties, but I just can’t take it. :(

  8. Good for you, Gayla…and good for all of us who support heritage and seed diversity projects. I wonder if we know how lucky we are to have this option!!

    I just read a post at Daughter of the Soil that laid out the horrible situation in France where selling “unauthorized” seeds is a crime and punishable by stiff fines. (Sorry, I don’t know how to incorporate links in these comments, but you’ll find the blog on google or track back to my site; it’s on my blogroll). I do worry about the US scene too…with a few big companies determined to buy everyone else out. But France’s situation seems totally big brotherish.

    I too am a member of Seed Savers (Decorah, IA); I also order from J.L.Hudson one of the longest standing advocates for seed diversity in the US…and talk about the gamut of stuff! no online ordering but you can request a catalog online.

    Keep spreading the word!

  9. There are many times I prefer to fiddle around on paper. I might order online sometimes but I do all my underlining and notetaking and research via paper catalogs. The more words the better! I want informative descriptions and personal critiques.

    One reason I started blogging was to find out more about how specific plants did in my locale…usually the packet descriptions are written for growers with Connecticut seasons.

  10. Oh I love Seeds of Diversity!! I joined them in 2005 when I was taking part in the Canadian Tomato project. Do they still allow you to pay with Canadian Tire money??? I loved that so much.

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