The History of Territorial Seed Company
Territorial Seed Company is a privately held company, wholly owned by Tom and Julie Johns. Purchased in 1985 from its founder Steve Solomon, Tom and Julie have grown the business substantially over the past 40 years but have never strayed far from the original course set by Steve.
The first Territorial Seed catalog was written in the fall of 1979. Running a regional seed company responsibly meant sifting through the thousands of varieties available from a worldwide market to find the highest-quality, best-adapted ones, so Steve grew a serious trial ground in both summer and winter, consisting basically of comparison plots. The garden had clay soil with less than a gallon of water per minute from the well.
The earliest seed-production crops were grown in isolation within neighbors' backyards; including an open-pollinated Brussels sprout, a heirloom cranberry bean, and Lorane fava bean cover crop seed. In wintertime, the mail-order seed business operated in a drafty warehouse, where customers waited their turn on the telephone party line and neighbors who seasonally helped in the warehouse, took turns chopping kindling to keep the woodstove stoked.
Territorial Seed Company grew fast, and within a few years 100,000 mail-order catalogs and several thousand copies of Steve Solomon's 1981 natural gardening book "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades" were going out the door every year. Back in came several letters a day asking for answers to gardening problems, so Steve made time for horticultural study. He writes whimsically of being a ''capital-O Organic gardener with capital-O Opinions'' that hybridized over the five years in big-o organic wisdom. A fast-growing business started on a shoestring required the reinvestment of virtually every cent. After five years of hard work, Steve considered his choices for simple living or a big business.
Tom and Julie Johns remember the 1985 newspaper ad which simply read ''... mail order seed company in Lorane for sale.'' They were early Territorial Seed customers. It suited their self-sufficient lifestyle in Cottage Grove of organic gardening, home canning, and building their own home. Tom was part of the Cottage Grove Sentinel's advertising staff until 1984, calling on Main Street businesses for the booming 40-page weekly paper, when Main Street businesses sold everything needed for daily living. Through the recession of the early 1980s, Tom traced the decline of local business to those tied solely to the local economy. With this insight, Tom and Julie decided to add self-employment to their self-sufficiency. Cottage Grove had groomed a good team with Julie's accounting years at Cottage Grove Hospital and Tom's print and marketing skills. It would be exciting. They would have their Aunt Molly's Ice Cream Treats customers in the summer and package and ship tiny seed delights for Northwest gardeners in the winter. Sold!
Did you know that the average distance any supermarket-bound vegetable or fruit travels to the store is 800 miles? But a gardener's own fruits and vegetables move from the garden to the table within minutes, with every ounce of nutritional value intact. Tom and Julie's first Territorial Seed catalogs offered a fresh-from-the garden look and alternative, as Tom focused on expanding selections of customers' favorites; more tomatoes (from 15 varieties to 75), then sweet peas, garlic, year-round lettuces and sunflowers for the birds. After the regional catalog came a national catalog and a Canadian catalog. Their Winter Garden Catalog, first published in 1988, remains the only winter garden catalog in the United States.
In 1987, Tom and Julie invested in 44 acres for trial grounds at London Springs, south of Cottage Grove Lake. Each year Territorial's research garden staff grows and evaluates thousands of varieties for best taste, Northwest hardiness, and good germination. More recently they began reclaiming older, favorite vegetable varieties sometimes shelved by their seed suppliers. Harvesting their very tiny product has been their biggest challenge. In Lorane, they dried the bean pods on ground tarps and winnowed the seed from the pods by hand. Then they tried grinding tomatoes in a garden variety chipper-shredder and fluming the seeds out, similar to panning for gold. But seeds still keep their age-old secrets of survival, and Territorial's seed saving techniques range from natural fermentation to the newest processors. Today they grow almost 20% of the seed they offer, especially lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
Currently they find themselves in good company ''capital-O Organics'', excited about taking leadership in advising the evolution of organic agriculture from a movement into a mainstream market. There are about 70 full-time and seasonal employees locally, strategic alliances with universities and European plant breeders, and a zillion worms making compost and plant teas. Plant the seed, they say...or buy, grow, harvest and clean, store, catalog, package, sprout and love each seed and take a capital-O Opportunity to grow your dreams with Territorial Seed Company, Cottage Grove, Oregon.
London Spring Farms
Territorial's research and plant production facility
Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range lies a small valley that is home to London Spring Farms. This secluded 75 acre farm is surrounded by tall firs and flanked by the crystal-clear Coast Fork River, which runs through the valley, provides irrigation water for the farm and serves as the headwaters of the Willamette River. At an elevation of approximately 900 feet, our last frost date typically falls on May 12th and the first frost around September 15th. We have a reasonable growing season, but our cool summer nighttime temperatures make long, hot season crops a challenge. You can understand why we are confident in saying that if it’s offered by us, it will perform well just about anywhere you want to grow a garden.
All of the seed varieties we offer were trialed and evaluated at our farm. Only crops that have proven to thrive and yield the highest quality crops will receive our stamp of approval and be included in our offerings. In addition, the live plants that we offer and send to you are raised in our farm greenhouses. To ensure we sell only top performing seed, you’ll be interested to know we have established germination standards that are higher than prescribed by the Federal Seed Act. We test every lot of seed we sell to ensure success in your garden. In addition to providing our customers with the highest quality seeds and plants, we strive to operate our farm in an environmentally safe and sustainable manner. We are proud to have the following certifications at our farm: USDA organic by CCOF Certification Services LLC and Salmon-Safe by Salmon-Safe Inc.
As you browse our website, take special note of the culture information found at the bottom of each item’s page. Here we offer complete growing instructions and share with you a step by step process to planting your garden. You’ll be pleased to know we plant our vegetable, flower, and herb trials exactly the same way and the days to maturity listed for each variety come from actual results at our farm. Each year we evaluate thousands of cultivars, and we bring over 30 years of experience to our growing instructions.
Our Mission Statement
Our purpose is to improve people's self-sufficiency and independence by enabling gardeners to produce an abundance of good tasting, fresh from the garden food, twelve months a year.
Our customer service staff can help answer your questions about gardening from seed. Your success is important to us, so please contact us! 541-942-9547
Territorial Seed Company Guarantee
At Territorial our products are backed by our full guarantee. We want our customers to be 100% satisfied with both the seed and supplies that you buy from us. If anything you buy from Territorial proves to be unsatisfactory, we will either replace the item or refund the purchase price, whichever you prefer.
LIMITATION OF REMEDY: The liability of Territorial Seed Company for any loss or damage arising out of the purchase or use of its seeds or other products, including loss or damage resulting from negligence or strict liability in tort, shall be limited to replacement of the item or the return of the purchase price. As customary in the seed trade, in no case shall Territorial be liable for more than the purchase price of the seed. Territorial has based the prices of its seed on this limited warranty and liability, and these prices would be much higher if further liability coverage were required. By ordering such seeds, the purchaser acknowledges this limited warranty. Our seed is guaranteed for an entire year from the date of purchase.
Safe Seed Pledge
Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities. Territorial only offers untreated seed.
Our catalog covers have been brought to life by several different artists over the years, including Fred Calleri, Mara C. Williams, Joneile Emery, Lavonne Tarbox-Crone, and Richard Laycock.
Our seed packet artwork is by local artist Lavonne Tarbox-Crone. We are so stunned by her ability to render vegetables and flowers so vividly with watercolors.