Thank you all for waiting patiently for my fingers to mend. They are still sore and need to heal a fair bit further, but are at least usable now. As promised, we are beginning a new Monday series focused on the seed companies you should know more about. I gave a lot of thought to what company I would lead with and finally decided on Ohio Heirloom Seeds.
I am new to dealing with the company, but have been absolutely blown away by my experience so far. I’ll get into some of the details below as to why that is the case, but first let me give you a little background on the company. The owner was kind enough to speak with me at length to answer some of my questions and fill in a few gaps in what I already knew from the website.
With 44 years of experience in the garden, Mike Dehlendorf is no stranger to the plant world. More importantly, he was no stranger to seed saving. As a matter of course, he was trading seeds with neighbors from those he had saved. Six years ago, he took that passionate hobby and turned it into a business. Since then, he’s been running things as a one-man show to keep costs down while still offering amazing service.
The Ohio Heirloom Seeds website is pretty simple and strait-forward. There aren’t many frills, but everything is easy to find and laid out in a way that makes it simple to find the information you want. Each plant lists most of the data you expect to find. Names and prices are a given, but also each includes a minimum seed count per package and lists the current germination rates for that year’s seeds. For me, that is a nice touch since I have at times received seeds from other companies whose germination rates were terrible. One thing I especially liked is that almost every plant is given a personal entry about how it produces and performed for them. Sometimes the impersonal entries on other sites feel like rhetoric more than someones personal experiences with the plant. It is like talking with a neighbor about how his last year went rather than just reading a sales blurb.
Many companies these days have begun to take up a policy of having no physical catalog as a way to save on costs and trees. At this time, the only catalog for Ohio Heirloom Seeds is the website itself. Mr. Dehlendorf is considering creating a physical catalog in the next year or so due to the number of requests. It will be interesting to see how a physical catalog will affect the pricing. I have to admit that I am one of those people who often forgets about a company when the time comes to order if I don’t have a physical catalog, so I certainly understand.
Since the company only sells heirlooms, every variety they sell is GMO-free. The commitment to stay GMO free is upheld through the strict isolation of each variety. At this time, there is no lab testing done, but as it is still very locally controlled, there aren’t the same risks of contamination that come from some of the larger companies whose production is spread across a huge number of smaller farms.
Where the seeds come from
That local grown nature is very tightly focused. With the exception of a few varieties that are imported directly from Italy, all of their seeds are grown by the owner and a partner. All of them are grown in Ohio, so adapted most closely to the conditions there. This is advantageous in that you can be sure of how it will do under similar conditions. This is true of several companies I will profile in the future, each being adapted to a certain area, giving you a better idea of the absolute best conditions for growing that variety. Having bought seeds in the past from questionable origins that did far worse for me than the exact same plant did for someone else, this is a big boon. Two of the exact same varieties grown in two very different locations will render a very different seed being sent.
Pricing and Shipping
Oh my lord, where to begin. Let’s start with the price. No matter how many seeds you order, the rate is a flat fee. Not only that, but it is a relatively low fee. That is nice, but what really floored me was how quickly the seeds I ordered arrived. Within one day I had shipping confirmation. Within two more, I had seeds in my mailbox waiting for me. I did a little digging and apparently this is a very common situation. Almost everyone who ordered from the company had their seeds in five or less days.
Pricing starts at under a $1.50 per packet and the most expensive manages to come up to around the average price for most other companies. A lot of the low pricing comes from low overhead. Seed packets are kept extremely basic, all customer service runs through the owner, and there are almost no employees to speak of. As mentioned earlier, it is a one-man show by and large.
As I mentioned about the website, I really appreciated the germination rates being listed on every seed variety. This was something the owner had always wanted to see out of a company and I agree that it is a great addition. The company has been listed as being one of the top 5 for tomato seeds by Garden Watchdog and I have to agree with them. Tomatoes are a high level focus of the company. I also really appreciated how personable the owner was. In researching this profile, I read numerous accounts of how great the service was and how friendly the owner had been. Having spoken with him at length, I have to agree.
Looking to the future
In the next few years, Mr. Dehlendorf has stated that he is likely to begin adding a few employees to help keep up with demands. As mentioned before, he is highly considering adding a paper catalog in the next year or two. There are also plans to add many more unusual tomato varieties. The majority of these will be coming from Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
There are two notes that it would be good to know. First, don’t expect complicated seed packets. They are plain white with the name of the seeds on them, a date, the number of seeds and the company information. For some people, the lack of information about planting depth, days to maturity, etc. may be a turn off. Personally, I think most people who have been gardening for a few years have a grasp on that sort of information or can look it up quickly enough if they like. (For that matter, most of the maturity dates listed on seed packets I have ever gotten have been consistently wrong anyway).
The other thing to be aware of is that while the selection of tomatoes is respectable, many of the other vegetables are limited in numbers. The varieties listed are all good varieties, but if you are looking for certain specific items, you may not find them there. I suspect that if you check the site out, you’ll end up buying there anyway and just filling in the gaps through other worthwhile companies. I urge you to take a look and buy a few seeds from them this year. There’s still plenty of time and I expect you will be very pleased with your experience just as I have been.