January – a time for putting Christmas back into the loft and looking eagerly ahead to the forthcoming growing year. With Daffodil bulbs sending up their tiny green periscopes to see if spring has sprung and early snowdrops blooming, the anticipation is building. Like me you’ve probably had at least four large seed catalogues drop onto your doormat in the past week. MrsGrow keeps putting them into the recycling bin when I’m out of the house in an effort to discourage my seed buying obsession. I have retrieved catalogues twice and stuffed them back underneath my side of our bed!
Of course printed catalogues are a little redundant in a digital world, I’ve certainly not ordered anything offline in years, but the catalogues are good for bedtime browsing and for keeping the suppliers’ brands in our minds before we drift off to sleep and dream of springtime sowing. As gardeners we certainly have a lot of seed choices on offer, not just within a single catalogue but across the myriad of different seed suppliers. But which supplier should you choose?
Choosing Vegetable Seed Suppliers On Price
Price is definitely a strong purchasing factor for many allotment holders (we’re something of a proud penny-pinching skip-contents-recycling bunch) but it’s difficult to compare seeds on price alone when packet sizes and varieties vary across websites. There’s also the difference between F1 seeds and organic and/or heritage seeds (which I’ve written about before). F1 seeds are arguably more expensive to maintain because the parent lines must be maintained although that doesn’t always seem to influence all F1 prices.
I decided to set myself the challenge of doing some research and calculating which seed companies are providing the lowest ‘cost per seed’ when averaged across 12 popular vegetable seed varieties (or similarly priced varieties), they are:
- Carrot Seed (Fly Resistant)
- Parsnip Seeds – F1 Gladiator
- Swede (Marian, Ruby, Tweed)
- Beetroot (Boltardy)
- Pea Sugar Snap / Ann
- Runner Bean ‘Lady Di’ or Enorma
- Sweetcorn ‘Lark’ F1 Hybrid or Swift
- Sweetcorn Mini Pop or Snobaby
- Pumpkin Dill’s Atlantic Giant
- Butternut Squash
- Cucumber (Burpless / Marketmore)
- Courgette ‘Soleil’ F1 Hybrid / Goldmine
I compared the largest seed supplying websites with one or two smaller niche heritage and organic websites to calculate an average cost per seed from the 12 different packets and seed quantities on offer. In most cases the suppliers provide matching varieties on a like for like basis, where this was not possible I substituted for a similar variety and price point (taking care to avoid any ‘rare’ or ‘unique’ seed types).
I must stress that PRICE alone ignores other factors such as seed quality, germination reliability, produce size, quality & consistency, disease resistance and packaging. One or two of the cheaper online-only suppliers provide seeds in small polythene bags with little information about when to sow and harvest and no foil packed wrapping to prolong seed life. It is obvious that more robust illustrative packaging also costs more to design and print.
Vegetable Seeds – The Most Expensive vs The Cheapest
From most expensive to least expensive the seed companies by average vegetable seed price in my selection of 12 varieties are shown below::
|Avg Seed Cost
|1000 avg seeds
Between seedparade.co.uk and thompson-morgan.com there is a difference of 255% on average price per seed across my ‘basket’ of 12 seed types. That does seem like a lot but on price alone it’s certainly not a perfectly even comparison (I’ve already mentioned the seed packaging aspect among other things). On a like for like basis some seeds are much more evenly matched – runner beans for example work out to 9p per seed on T&M and 6p per seed on seedparade.co.uk. It’s only in high volume that the price differential becomes more evident.
I’ve also heard some recent stories of seedparade.co.uk not responding quickly to angry buyer delivery queries – with T&M you have people on telephones taking calls and that support has be paid for somehow. You will also find deals on the more expensive supplier websites which do make them slightly cheaper than their own standard prices. For example today there is a deal on thompson-morgan.com of five seed packets for the price of four, a saving of 20%. My overall price findings are more of a general theme – that on average some suppliers are more expensive but there will be times when their discounting levels the playing field somewhat.
One of the best seed offers around seems to be the allotment association discount scheme available at Kings Seeds:
My price comparison table uses Kings Seeds online retail prices, undiscounted, if these discounts were applied to those prices then Kings Seeds would be an amazingly cheap supplier for vegetable seeds.
My next test is going to be a germination test comparing matching seed varieties from the two most expensive suppliers with the two cheapest suppliers. Since I have two extra allotments in 2018 I have the space to dedicate a few raised beds to testing side by side. Watch this space for the results of that trial later in the year and again at harvest time.
So where will I be ordering my vegetable seeds from in 2018?
As an exercise in seed research I discovered some wonderful heritage and organic seeds on offer at both realseeds.co.uk and organiccatalogue.com many of them rare and ancient. I like the idea of maintaining seed lines and open pollination to collect my own seed so will be dipping into those two sites for some unusual varieties of purple carrot and blue banana squash at the very least. These will be supplemented with seeds I already purchased from DT Brown in an Autumn sale and I shall pay a visit to kingsseeds.com who are frequently recommended by allotment holders on the allotment Facebook groups and fared well in this price comparison research. Kings Seeds was also founded in 1888, the year before my Great Grandad was born, I’ve no doubt he would have bought their seeds in the past too.