Saturday, 2 January 2010

Seed Catalogue Season Coming Up...

So here it is, barely 2010 and already I am hitting the seed catalogues. I don't know about you, but I have pretty much given up on the printed ones, so I'm hitting them almost exclusively virtually.

There are an awful lot of good catalogues available online and when you find a variety listed that sounds interesting, you can immediately do a little research and try to find out some of the things that the catalogues inexplicably fail to mention... like for example that a particular pea or bean grows to be a 10 foot vine or that a particular tomato will collapse in a mushy heap at the faintest whiff of blight. On the other hand you may find forums full of gardeners singing their praises, and confirm that that's the veggie for you.

For a really complete list of the seed sellers out there that are best suited for Canadians see this post at Seeds of Diversity.

I don't yet have a lot of experience ordering seeds on line, but I'll mention a few I've tried and a few that look really interesting. And holy moly, there are some really interesting looking seeds out there right now.

I haven't ordered from William Dam in a few years, but they were always very reliable when I did. They have mostly conventional, but some organic seeds and they have some surprising things like Red Bull Brussels sprouts (yes, red!) and fascinating German salad radishes. Also their prices are among the best. They have a lot of heirloom and open pollinated seeds that are not always labelled as such; I find that once I have a list of seeds that have been "sold" to me by some other company I should go back to William Dam and see if they have it for a dollar or so less per package. They often do - and that can add up, after a while.

The Cottage Gardener
is new to me, but I'm seeing lots of good things there. They have an impressive selection of melons, including the Crane melon, and 6 pages of tomatoes from Amana Orange to Zapotec Ridged. In general, it looks like a good, comprehensive selection of vegetables and at $3 per packet prices are reasonable, especially since they are all organic.

Hawthorne Farm Organics
also has organic seeds at $3 per packet, and a good, comprehensive selection of vegetables. I don't think they have as large a selection, but they have some interesting items nevertheless, including a long list of unusual lettuces. I have my eyes on Carouby de Maussane snow-peas, which are huge (both plant and peas) and have beautiful 2-tone pink flowers.

The seeds at Greta's Organic Gardens are a bit more expensive at $3.50 per packet, but again, a wide selection of heirloom veggies. They've got Moon & Stars watermelon, Citron melon, Dakota Black popcorn, du Puy lentils, paprika Kalocsa, two kinds of tobacco, and 206 tomatoes. Yes, I said 206. And many, many more.

By comparison Heritage Seed & Produce has a much smaller list, but it includes Hookers Sweet corn and Stowell's Evergreen corn. Heirloom corn seed is a lucky find - since it's wind polinated, it's a bugger to keep it true to type. The also have d'Espelette, a Basque hot pepper. At $2.50, prices are affordable. Also, Black Plum and Green Zebra tomatoes - 2 of my favourites from this summer.

Located in New Brunswick, Hope Seeds & Perennials has an east-coast slant, and has some items I haven't seen anywhere else, although it should be noted their catalogue hasn't been updated for 2010 yet. But Gilfeather and Melford rutabagas! Pattison Panache scallop squash! Long Pie pumpkin! Golden Bantam, Ashworth's "Rat Selected" and Painted Mountain corn! Falstaff purple Brussels sprouts! Giant Red celery! As if all that isn't enough, they have a very decent choice of potatoes, an impressive selection of garlics, and two Jerusalem artichokes, including one called "Passamaquoddy Potatoes" which is fabulously knobby and purple, and has a great history.

If you want herbs, common or obscure, Richters Herbs is the place to go. I have not always had good luck with their seeds, but most of the things I've bought from them have done well, and it's always a bit of a crapshoot when you buy seeds for a plant you've never even seen, let alone grown. And seriously, there are few herbs so rare that they don't carry them.

Solana Seeds is another delightful little discovery. They are in Quebec, and are désolé that their seeds are labelled only in French. But the website can be navigated in English, and they have some very good stuff listed. White, Yellow, Purple and Red carrots. Boothby's Blonde cucumbers. Numerous eggplants. A fabulous selection of melons, including the legendary Montreal Market and Oka, as well as a couple of Spanish winter storage melons. Peppers galore, including Pimentos, Purple Marconi, Doe Hill, Corno di Toro, Anaheim, Ancho, Cascabel, Purple Cayenne, Cheiro Recife, White Bullet Habanero, Black Pearl... and on, and on. Blue Shaman and Oaxacan Green corn. Yellow radishes. Honestly, they've got vegetables I've never heard of. Colour me impressed.

Terra Edibles is an old favourite of mine. They've been around a good few years now, and have a good selection of certified and non-certified organic veggies at the affordable price of $2.50 each. They are particularly strong in tomatoes and beans, and have such choices as Thibodeau de comte Beauce beans, Sangre de Toros beans, Hopi Black beans, Flambeau and Cranberry beans. They introduced me to almost all my favourite tomatoes, including Amish Paste, Opalka, Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Striped German, Stupice, and Tigerella. Mind you, that's just the tip of the tomato iceberg with them. Smaller but choice selection of lettuces, melons, and peas as well.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes
doesn't sell anything but seed potatoes (and a little garlic), but they have the best selection in the country as far as I can see. We ordered from them last year and were very happy with them.

Mapple Farm doesn't have a website (get with the program, guys!) but they are the only Canadian source I know of for sweet potato slips. They also have Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes, Egyptian onions, French shallots and Horseradish. And tomatoes, apparently. Send for a free catalogue to Mapple Farm, 129 Beech Hill Rd., Weldon, New Brunswick, E4H 4N5.

Annapolis Seeds
is my final and most recent discovery, and I am totally in awe of this guy. He's 17 years old*, in his second year in business, and has an impressively well designed website and great list of seeds at a reasonable $3.00 per packet. Look for Gallina, Sicillian Saucer and Bali tomatoes amongst a list of old favourites, Blue Jay beans (Canadian heirloom) Papa de Rola, Kahnewake Mohawk, Stevenson's Blue Eye and Bird's Egg beans; Amish Snap and St. Hubert peas, a surprising number of soybeans, Purplus lettuce and many others.

*I wish I had had even a glimmer of a clue what I wanted to do at that age. Half a glimmer would have been good.


Matt S said...

I will put a good word in for the Cottage Gardener. I've been ordering from them for a few years, and the seeds have always arrived promptly and worked well.
Their catalogue makes for an intersting read, full of bits of information on the plants.

Ferdzy said...

Thanks for that god word, Matt. I have to say I do learn a lot from seed catalogues.