SSE - catalog vs. yearbook - need advice!

bella_trix(z6b SE PA)January 20, 2007

I'm in the mist of a dilemma. I can't decide whether to order my seed from the incredibly cool, absolutely gorgeous, apparently open to the public SSE catalog (get one free from their website ) or wait for the yearbook in February. I have to admit that I was a little confused about the benefits of membership when I joined SSE. I naively thought that the cost of seed from the yearbook would just be shipping and packaging. I didn't realize it would be the same (or more?) as their don't-need-a-membership catalog. Can anyone tell me what the cost from the yearbook will be? Specifically small seed, potatoes, beans and garlic. How much do you receive per order (number of seeds/garlic,etc) I really wish all this was spelled out on their website - it's a little misleading. From what I can tell, small seeds will be $3.00 each which is exactly the same as the catalog cost plus shipping. Is there any reason I should wait for the yearbook, other that to order varieties that are only available there?

I'm not terribly disappointed that I joined SSE, but I might have been better off joining in a year or two. I want to re-offer seeds, but I need a year to make sure my seed collecting skills are up to snuff. Right now, the open-to-the-public catalog has more than enough interesting varieties to keep me occupied for next year.

Any thoughts?



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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Their catalog has some great offerings, many well worth trying. Generally, you will get about 30-50 seeds in their packets (and often more), usually more than enough for the average garden.

The yearbook is best for locating a specific rare variety, or for seeking out the rare & unusual. Many of the varieties currently carried in the SSE catalog began as listings in the Yearbook. If you become a dedicated seed saver, you will use it more heavily.

For unlisted members, small seeds are $3.00; large seeds (such as beans, corn, and squash) and biennials are $4.00; and most roots, cuttings, and plants are $5.00. These prices include all shipping, and are mailed directly from member to member. Seed quantities are 25 minimum (most members send more) or at least two bulbs (in the case of garlic).

To encourage members to save seed (which is the mission of the Seed Savers Exchange) there are two sets of prices in the Yearbook; one for "listing members" (those that offer seed for at least one variety) and one for "unlisted members". For the listing members, all prices are $1.00 cheaper. I realize that this pricing structure must appear unfair to new members... but it is intended to encourage all SSE members to preserve at least one variety.

Your first Yearbook will be an exciting experience; you won't believe the incredible diversity that is available to you, greater by far than any collection of seed catalogs.

To improve your seed saving skills, I heartily recommend Suzanne Ashworth's book "Seed to Seed". It gives comprehensive instructions on saving nearly all types of vegetable seed.

Since I have many listings in the Yearbook, I may even be hearing from you! ;-)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 11:35PM
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tomakers(SE MA Zone 5/6 or ?)

The price increase puts them above most any other seed house. While I do understand, and support, the mission, it does seem rather unfair. $35 is not cheap, but I wanted the yearbook any how.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 12:57AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Depends on how you view these things. The annual Yearbook is not intended to be a seed catalog; and your $35 isn't payment for it.

If you look at the Yearbook as a seed catalog, and your dues as payment for it, then, yes, you are getting ripped off.

But that's not how it works.

Membership dues are used to help support the work of the organization. In SSE's case, that work is preserving heirloom seeds. One of the ways it accomplishes that is to facilitate member-to-member seed exchanges via the Yearbook.

When you obtain seed through the Yearbook you are not, in theory, using that seed to grow a table crop. You are using it to produce a seed crop: to provide yourself seed in perpetuity; to trade with other seed savers; to share with friends and family.

As to them being higher priced than other seed houses, ask yourself this: If it weren't for SSE and other seed saving organizations, would those seed houses even have seed to offer? In many cases, the answer is a resounding "no."

I've seen it myself. AHSC (Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy) is only three years old. But already there are several seed houses offering varieties that we collected as family heirlooms. SSE is ten times older than us. So you can imagine how many varities, now in general trade, SSE has contributed in the time it's been around.

There's also the unquantifiable question: How much of the current heirlooms industry would even exist had it not been for SSE in the first place? Is that not worth 50 or 75 cents more on a pack of seeds? Something that's going to be a one-time purchase?

As the managing director of a seed saving organization, I can tell you, catagorically, that your $35 dues doesn't come close to paying SSE's bills. Doesn't even cover the costs associated with the Yearbook. It takes grants, gifts, and corporate support to keep the organization viable, plus the many hours of volunteer labor put in by members.

Personally, I would (and do) pay SSE membership dues even if the Yearbook didn't exist, because I support its mission. To me, the Yearbook is just an extra benefit; icing on the bio-diverse cake.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2007 at 8:19AM
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tomakers(SE MA Zone 5/6 or ?)

I said I support the mission. I would not have paid otherwise.
The same seeds cost less if I buy them somewhere else is my only point. The SSE gets nothing from the sale of these seeds, unless I am mistaken.
You apparently think I am being petty, but I supported these concepts before there were any organizations.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2007 at 10:16PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Tomakers, as a supporting member, you have a right to question some of SSE's policies; many of us do. There was a whole thread - a very long-running one at that - about the organization. It included comments by many SSE members & some of its critics, and is worth looking up.

But Gardenlad's comments above seem to cover the majority of the complaints. If a member views the $35.00 fee as an investment, then they may feel disappointed in the way that the exchanges work.

The Yearbook should be viewed less as a reward, and more like an invitation to participate as a partner in preservation (hopefully by maintaining & offering a few rare varieties in the future as a listing member).

The Yearbook does indeed list many vegetables that are still available commercially... but it is not meant to be used as a super-catalog. Such usage actually detracts from SSE's mission, since it takes business away from the many independent seed companies that help to preserve our heirloom seeds. SSE is meant to be a safety net, not a competitor.

If a variety is available commercially (whether cheaper or not) then by all means support that company by purchasing from them. It may allow that variety to remain in circulation.

And by the way, SSE - as a listing member in the Yearbook - offers numerous varieties each year (over 1700 last year) for which they are now the only source. The huge effort expended by them to grow out all that seed, and to re-introduce these varieties to the public, gets little recognition.

No, SSE gets nothing from member exchanges... except the enormous staff hours spent each year to compile, print, and mail that huge Yearbook, and having to mediate the occasional exchanges gone wrong. It remains the greatest service provided by the organization to its membership.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 12:21AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

No, Tomakers, I don't think you're being petty. But you did mix up the two concepts in your post.

On one hand, you talk about price differences between the Yearbook and commercial vendors. But then you toss in the line about $35 not being cheap. This implies that the $35 membership dues was actually payment for the Yearbook; which, of course, it's not.

Price differentials between the Yearbook and commercial sources is just one of the problems with the listed-member approach; and is specifically why AHSC went in different directions. Our philosophy is that the best way to preserve a variety is to assure that somebody, somewhere, is growing it. To facilitate that, we include free seeds with membership (to my knowledge, AHSC is the only seed-saving organization that does this). Members also have the option of becoming conservators in our Living Seed Bank project. And, at our annual Fall Conference formal seed swaps are an intergral part of the meeting.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 6:58AM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

Whoops, didn't mean to bring up everything from the last thread - sorry!

Zeedman - thanks for the info. Does Garlic fall in the $4.00 or the $5.00 group? Also, in the printer catalog, are the description for Georgian Fire Garlic and German Extra Hardy Garlic mixed up? The picture and the description don't seem to match. I love "Seed to seed" - great book! It's actually one of the reasons that I'm so hesitant to offer seed my first year. I will have a very small plot (no room for isolation by distance) and will be growing a number of varieties in my first year. I want to make sure I've isolated properly and have pure seed before I offer any one seed. Would you recommend getting the new (2002?) version of seed to seed? I have the old version, but keep thinking I should update.

Gardenlad - I actually agree with you about the membership fee, purpose, etc. I'm not really that upset about having spent the $35, but I do think how everything works should be made clearer on the website. I also think more people should know about the open-to-the-public catalog. My impression had always been that seed was only available from the yearbook. The smaller catalog is a great resource for those just getting started in heirlooms/saving seed. On a side note, I wanted to thank you for your awesome posts. I picked quite a few varieties based on your recommendations in past posts!

Right now, I'm just trying to decide now if I can save a little money by waiting for the February yearbook or if I should just order now from the catalog. Actually, this is an excercise in futility. I know that I'll give in, order from the catalog now to get my onion seed in time, then totally flip out when I see everything that's in the yearbook. I probably end up ordering just as much from it. Not having seen a yearbook, I suspect I will be totally amazed (and overwhelmed)

Thanks again for the input,

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 2:05PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Bellatrix, garlic falls in the $5.00 category for unlisted members - which is identical to the price listed for garlic in the SSE catalog.

And yes, it appears that the garlic photos in the SSE catalog may have been mixed up. I grew both garlic varieties last year, and "German Extra Hardy" was white, while "Georgian Fire" (a fine garlic) was reddish.

As to "Seed to Seed"... I have both editions, and there are few fundamental differences between them in the seed-saving & isolation recommendations. The 2002 edition added several new paragraphs for most of the common vegetables:
- "Regional growing recommendations", breaking up the U.S. into seven regions, with specific cultural recommendations for each.
- "Growing from seed", which is a basic planting guide with seed depth, soil temperature, days to germination, and some cultural tips.
- "Seed statistics", which lists the average seeds per ounce & the Federal germination standards for commercial seed. It also gives the number of variety listings in both the Garden Seed Inventory & Yearbook, but since that was as of the 2002 publishing date, it is outdated.

If you already know when & how to plant the vegetables that you grow, then you probably don't need all the additional planting info, and the first edition has all the seed saving info you need. But if you are thinking about trying new & unusual vegetables, then it might be worthwhile to update.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 12:42AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>On a side note, I wanted to thank you for your awesome posts.Sometimes it's just hard to be humble. :>)

Zeedman, I reckon we're even, in that you beat me to it this time.

My recomendation has always been if you're a first time Seed To Seed buyer, make sure to get the second edition. If you already own the 1st edition, the added info is probably available via other sources, so there's no real need to spend the money.

Of course, if somebody really wants the 1st edition, and is willing to trade for,say, the 6th edition of the Garden Seed Inventory, I'm willing to do a deal.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 2:55PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>I also think more people should know about the open-to-the-public catalog. My impression had always been that seed was only available from the yearbook.You're not alone in this. For instance, one of my friends, among the most fanatic heirlooms collectors I know, only found out yesterday that there is a public catalog.

Yet, Kent Whealy attributes the continuing drop in listed members to the existance of the public catalog, because, he says, people no longer have to be members to get the varieties they want.

Go figure!

Further depondent sayeth not.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 6:35AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"Further depondent sayeth not." (Gardenlad)

ROFLOL (((;-o)))
(it's an inside joke)

Actually, I am surprised to hear that some members are unaware of the catalog... doesn't SSE mail catalogs out to all members automatically? If not, then they should. I just assumed that most people found out about the catalog first, and the organization second (as I did).

Believe it or not, my first exposure to SSE was through an Extension publication (Recommended Vegetable Cultivars) during a Master Gardener class... ironic, given that SSE is so at odds with mainstream agriculture. It listed them as the source for several varieties that do well in my area - and began what has been, for me, an interesting journey.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 9:37PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>I just assumed that most people found out about the catalog first, and the organization second (as I did).Probably a little of both. Some hear about the organization and discover the catalog that way, and some see the catalog (or a reference to it) and thus find out about the organization.

SSE has never promoted itself properly, IMO, and most people find out about it more by accident than design.

>(it's an inside joke) I have nothing to say on that subject. And you can quote me. :>)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 11:54AM
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I can tell Kent and others at SSE there are other reasons why I joined this year and may never join again. I sent them an email and explained so they know. I understand now the way they run SSE but like stated above don't feel everything is explained very clearly when you join. I feel they serve a good cause but don't agree with some of their beliefs. We all have to do what we feel is right for us.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 7:26PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Elkwc, there is a saying that I fall back on often: "Don't judge the message by the messenger".

While SSE certainly has some PR & customer service issues, they are still accomplishing great things. Nowhere else is the diversity of our food heritage so widely available. We can quibble over what is meant by "available", and how, and at what price... but the point is, for thousands of varieties, SSE represents salvation from extinction. The buck stops here.

The 2007 Yearbook is out... and much to my surprise (and probably Kent's as well) it has the highest number of unique varieties ever listed in SSE's history! 12,920 varieties are being offered by 726 listing members (those who offer seed). After several years of setbacks, this is encouraging. Even if we assume that 5-10% of the listings are duplicates under different names (which is not unreasonable), this is still a huge number.

And once again, Heritage Farm - which is the SSE organization itself - listed itself as the source for a large number of those varieties (2199 to be exact). You will note that this is a major increase over the 1700 varieties they offered last year, so they are making a greater effort to get seeds out of their vaults, and into the hands of gardeners... which is, after all, the purpose of the organization. Consider how difficult it is to grow that much pure seed; it's a tremendous accomplishment, on a scale no one else can match. The increase alone - 500 varieties - is more than the total offerings of virtually any seed company. It kind of puts things in perspective.

And incidentally, lest you think that SSE headquarters competes with its membership... if any other member lists a particular variety for exchange, SSE will not list it, even if it has seed to offer.

In a current thread, a GW member was searching for pole wax beans, and expressed frustration with how few were offered commercially. SSE members offer 33 varieties this year, from around the world. To me, this speaks volumes.

So my advice to those who have expressed discouragement is... give it a chance. As you learn the ropes & begin to utilize all that SSE has to offer, you may see it in a different light. It is an invaluable resource. My own gardening experience has been enriched immensely; not only by the seeds offered, but by the opportunity to network with other gardeners of like mind. It is, in many ways, very much like GW... what you get out of it, may depend upon what you bring into it. ;-)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 12:10AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>...but don't agree with some of their beliefs. We all have to do what we feel is right for us.Absolutely. And, unlike 20 years ago, you now have choices. Among them:

Abundant Life Seed Foundation: Now back in business after the disastrous fire that all but wiped them out.

Native Seed/SEARCH: Incredible resourse for growers interested in the indigenous crops of the Southeast and northern Mexico.

Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy: Specializing in the heirloom crop plants and sustainable agricultural practices of the mountain south.

Southern Seed Legacy: In conjunction with University of Georgia, deals with heirlooms of the entire south.

And several others that escape me at the moment. So anyone who is interested in seed preservation, but who has a problem with SSE, does have options.

What I do is send in my SSE dues, each year. But put my energy and time into working with other groups I feel are more in touch with their members' needs and wishes.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 8:21AM
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Zeedman I gave them a chance. Now will give some of those Gardenlad mentioned a look and possible try. I won't go into my reasons here on this forum. I did email them and tell them. So they know why they will be losing my membership. With membership declining you would think they migh become more interested in why members are leaving and how to retain their current members. I've always believed to have a successful business you have to retain customers. And no matter how you look at it SSE is a non profit business.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 11:34AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Gardenlad, is Abundant Life Seed Foundation (the organization) truly back? I would be happy to hear that they are... but it was my understanding that only their seed sales were taken over by Territorial Seeds (as Abundant Life Seeds), while the organization itself was dissolved. I believe the non-profit operations morphed into the Organic Seed Alliance. All this was posted on the Abundant Life Seeds website, copyright 2007.

Any of the other organizations you listed are worthwhile alternatives to SSE.

As you and I have often discussed, Gardenlad, SSE is not for everyone; I certainly do not promote them to the exclusion of all others. In fact, I have had my own share of problems with them over the years... but I direct my efforts toward bringing about change. I have had some small success recently, so I try to be optimistic.

(How do ants eat an elephant? One bite at a time. ;-) I may only be an ant in the machine, but I am a tireless ant.)

I will add to your list a couple more organizations, that are based outside the U.S.:

Association Kokopelli is a French seed preservation society, but they also have U.S. members.

Seeds of Diversity Canada (SoDC) is a Canadian equivalent to SSE, with a focus on Canadian-bred & short-season vegetables. They also have U.S. members (I may join them myself). And since most of the U.S. seed saving organizations are from Southern climates, SoDC is a good alternative for those in the higher latitudes & harsher mountain climates.

None of these are rival camps (although SSE is the 500-pound gorilla)... they all serve the same purpose more or less, and it is not unusual for someone to be active in two or more.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 11:34PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

You may be right about Abundant Life. I haven't been keeping up with recent changes.

I didn't bother listing the foreign associations for several reasons, Zeedman, not the least of which is that it is illegal to send seeds into the U.S. without a phytosanitary certificate. So you either pay an inordinate amount of money for one of those or engage in smuggling.

But if anyone is interested, in addition to those you've listed there are two in Australia, and one each in New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland, and Great Britain.

Then there are the many groups, such as Echo, for whom seed preservation is a secondary priority.

>And since most of the U.S. seed saving organizations are from Southern climates, Hadn't thought of that, before, but you're right. Excepting SSE, all the viable ones are now from the south.

The key word is "viable." Eastern Native Seeds Conservancy has never been much more than a name. And there's that one in Maine that you still see references to, but they never respond to inquiries.

Not that there's any particular virtue in being a southern seed saving group. There is, for instance, the late, lamented Texas Seed Savers, among others, that just didn't make it for one reason or another.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 2:22PM
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