– Posted in: Acquisitions, Seeds and Seed Starting

Only I’m still trying to figure out whether I feel like I’ve betrayed Johnny’s or that Johnny’s has betrayed me. One way or the other, one of us has been betrayed.

I’m ordering most of my seeds from a different company this year!!!

Aren’t you shocked? I’m shocked. I always order from Johnny’s. Teman has always ordered from Johnny’s. Everybody orders from Johnny’s. Johnny’s is where you order your seeds from. It just is.

(For those of you who want the short story, I’m doing a lot of ordering from Fedco. But that’s no way to tell a story!!)

I suppose it all really started last year, when it seemed like I had stretch my seed money just as much to buy less seed from Johnny’s. I had cleverly tested to see if my old seed was good enough to not have to buy any more. Some of it was, so I didn’t buy those, but I still seemed to spend the same amount. And their magazine had begun to seem like more and more of an un-interuppted salespitch, with less information. And they started selling more herbs and flowers than they were selling vegetables.

And last year, in my quest for the cheapest Wall o’ Waters, I had ordered from Seeds of Change. I discovered that they had excellent (read “incredibly tempting”) photography. Their prices were comparable to Johnny’s, and they were organic besides. I especially liked their lettuce and leeks, two places where Johnny’s seemed to be particularly lacking. I still think the have the best, most tempting selection of lettuce I have ever seen. But they didn’t have a lot of my old standbys, i.e. vegetables who’s descriptions clearly read “Neglect me, forget me, run me over with a dump truck, and I will still produce.” I did buy ‘Jericho’ lettuce, which wasn’t in Johnny’s that year. This year it is, and it’s labeled as their best tasting lettuce, but I beat them to the punch on that one.

And here is where it finished. When my Aunt Ro was on the phone with me, she once again (I think she has been for years), suggested I check out Fedco’s. So this year, since Johnny’s had sown the seeds of discontentment, I did go and look. And I was blown away. They have a huge selection, rock bottom prices, and the most entertaining seed catalog I have ever read. Not only that, they are quite honest about what they’re selling. I have been buying Yukon Gold potatoes for years, and this the first place I have ever hear some one say that they give low yeilds and have poor emergence. Funny, I’ve always felt it was my own incompetence at growing potatoes.

But shortly after discovering Fedco’s, I began to feel pangs of guilt. Yes, it was true that Fedco’s was cheaper, but Fedco’s didn’t develop it’s own varitites. Part of buying Johnny’s was supporting new varities right? (Ooh, look Johnny’s is selling ‘Genovese’ Basil for $2.20 for 100 seeds, and Fedco is selling ‘Genovese’ Basile for $0.80 for ~1,450 seeds!!!) One must give the little companies a chance. Let’s see, for intance, how Johnny’s price compare when it’s the seed they’ve developed themselves. . .let’s see. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard. Johnny’s is selling it at $2.95 for 210 seeds. Fedco sells it for. . .$3.00 for 440 seeds! Holy Cow! Johnny’s may have a bottom line, but so do I! Here’s yellow crookneck squash (organic), which Fedco is selling at $1.00 for 40 seeds, and Johnny’s is selling 30 seeds for $4.10. What do they think they’re doing with such high prices? That’s over 4 times as expensive!

Almost everything at Fedco’s was half the price, and they had a much larger selection. The things that were closest to Johnny’s non-organic price were the organic seeds at Fedco. Often, I could buy more for less money, and have it be organic as well. And the tedious, dry chore of reading the catalog had been transformed. To quote the catalog itself:

“The idea that a catalog should do nothing but sell is a fit adjunct to the
doctrine that the sole obligation of business is to look to its own bottom line,
that maximizing private profit always translates to public gain and therefore
that pure capitalism is the best way to solve all social problems.
Our catalog aspires to more. Each year we have chosen one of the canons of
culture to provide a thread of structure. The quotes, whether from Citizen
Kane, the Last Whole Earth Catalog, Shakespeare, Whitman or Virgil invite
readers in on several levels. On one hand, they break up the monotony of what
would otherwise be either an insufferable uninterrupted sales pitch or else a
bland catalog of facts with no function at all beyond the mundane. On a
deeper level they invite contemplation of the culture of agriculture, of the
meaning of our gardening and farming endeavors in the larger context of our

To keep their costs down, Fedco has a list of “How Not to Oder” :

“� Sorry, we do not accept telephone orders.
� Sorry, we do not have a rush order service.
� You may not combine orders from different divisions to qualify for
discounts or to avoid small-order handling charge.
� We will return the following orders unfilled: illegible orders, certain
orders past final deadline, or on maverick computer-generated forms.
We will mail you the proper order form so you can try again.”

I amuse myself imagining the maverick computer receiving another order-form to try again. . .Then again, maybe I just have an odd sense of humor. Or possibly I am so taken by surprise by an “alive” seed catalog that things seem more funny than they ought.

There are so many quirky entries I felt I had a duty to share at least one. But then I couldn’t pick. In the end, I just picked the entry for the Amish Pepper that I’m going to try to talk Teman into:

“Amish Pimiento Sweet Pepper OG (85 days) The problem with growing seed for Amish Pimiento is that you have to restrain yourself from eating the seed crop. Blame it on the rich sweet fruity taste of these 2×4″ squat ribbed fleshy fruits, productive and relatively early. Go ahead, succumb to the temptation, you can eat your seed and have it, too: our growers are ready to produce more. To steal the slogan from another Waterville entrepreneur (who is in the tattoo business, not the seed business) �Welcome to your next addiction!� Demeter- and Stellar NOP-certified.”

Oh, and also this one:

“Pruden�s Purple Tomato OG (72 days) Ind. We usually cooperate well at Fedco and tolerate each others� peculiarities except during tomato taste tests. When we compare tomatoes, a subject about which we are all impassioned, tolerance evaporates and remarks are made about �people who have no taste buds,� who �eat yellow tomatoes� and who �put sugar in their sauce.� CR thinks you don�t need Pruden�s if you have Brandywine. Susan and David like Brandywine fine but think Pruden�s tastes better and ripens three weeks earlier in hot seasons. Opinions aside, Pruden�s is early for its size, and makes a great sandwich tomato. Its vigorous potato-leaf vines yield spreading irregular pink 1 lb. fruit with very few seeds, a silken texture and rich tomato taste, nicely tart with a balanced undertone of sweetness that is neither insipid nor cloying. Maryland growers Brett Grohsgal and Michael Goldman praise its flavor, productivity and disease resistance. MOFGA-certified.”

I giggled quite a bit while researching seed this year, though Lachlan (who was in the room at the time) didn’t seem to find it quite as funny. Maybe that’s just because lifting weights can suck the humor out of anything, though. It’s hard to giggle while contemplating the next set of deadlifts.

Despite the fact that I feel a little bit guilty abandoning Johnny’s after all these years, I am emmensely enjoying Fedco’s so far. Now, if I can just get them to pick up ‘Little Leaf’ Cucumber, ‘Trinity’ bi-color corn, and perhaps ‘Dakota’ peas, I might not have any reason to order from Johnny’s. Well, maybe not no reason–I should at least check out their new varities every year.

I have a good bit of guilt and defiance rolled into one. “Fine! If you don’t want to play my game, I’m taking all of my toys and going home!” After all, if Johnny’s was being reasonable, there wouldn’t be any reason for me to switch to Fedco, but since they insist upon charging up to 4 times a much for their seed. . . it really is all their fault that I’m leaving!

I hope they won’t be too mad when they find out.


About the Author

Talitha spent the last few years doing an absurd combination of work and school, and found it wasn’t very pleasant. Now she’s doing work, school and a garden, and life is a little better! She also enjoys photography and hand feeding her ducks. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: herbs, vegetables, cutting garden, cottage gardening

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

jeff October 9, 2005, 10:17 am

You can save paper and get the catalog faster by downloading the pdf from their website: (they also have their tubers, growers supplies, trees, and bulbs catalogs there as well).

I’ve been a fan of fedco since ’97, they’re a Co-op located 1hr. from me here in Maine. They concentrate on cold-weather crops, and are farmers and gardeners themselves. Their prices have gone up a bit in the last few years, but are still the best deal around.

The have also relaxed a bit on their “Das is nicht richtig” way of recieving orders, now you no longer have to presort your items into numerical order before filling in the form (thank you computers).

Liz March 2, 2005, 4:45 pm

I have been ordering from Fedco with a group of friends for a few years, the more you buy, the bigger your discount! Plus the quality and quantity of seed can’t be beat. Enjoy your seeds.

Chan S. February 19, 2005, 8:39 am

This is *most* entertaining! I’m done with ordering seeds this year (I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.), but this makes me want to order the Fedco catalog just to read it…and I’ll save a place for it at the top of the list for seed ordering next year. Cheers!