Thursday, 20 January 2011

Seed Ordering Time for All You Gardeners!

So the other thing I have been doing this week, besides not cooking anything of great interest, is finalizing our planting plans and ordering seeds. I wrote about ordering veggie seeds last year as well and not all that information is repeated here.

Same as last year the first place to go look for who sells which seeds, where, is Seeds of Diversity. They have an excellent list of seed sellers, of both vegetables and ornamental plants, Canadian, American and further abroad. On top of that, you can look up each vegetable individually and see if anyone in Canada sold seed of that variety in the last year. For a volunteer-run organization, they do a good job of keeping these lists up to date. Believe me, there are waaaaay more interesting seed sellers in Canada listed there than I can even begin to list here.

This year I am ordering from Annapolis Seeds, William Dam, Ontario Seed Company, Greta's Organic Gardens, Solana Seeds, Tatiana's TOMATObase, The Cottage Gardener, Hawthorne Farm Organics, Heritage Harvest Seed, Mandy's Greenhouses, Prairie Garden Seeds, Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes, and Mapple Farm. Oh my poor credit-card!

In the past I've also ordered from and had good results from Terra Edibles and Richter's Herbs, and been happy with both. There are still a lot of other seed suppliers out there but I'm going to write about my experiences with these companies this year, insofar as I can - not all seeds have arrived (or even been ordered) yet, and I don't have experience growing seed from all the companies.

Annapolis Seeds: run by a young guy in Nova Scotia. I have ordered some peas from him, as he has a good list of unusual peas. In particular, I want to grow pole peas, and they can be very hard to find with the exception of Tall Telephone. Most people seem to want bush peas. I've ordered Crown peas (a genetically rare novelty; beautiful plant but low productivity), Sapporo Express, Mrs Van's, and Spring Blush. I've also ordered Shirafumi soy beans and Purple Peacock beans. Annapolis Seeds doesn't take credit cards, so ordering must be done with a cheque, through the mail. It does slow things down a bit and so I haven't received these seeds yet. Note that he is also short of pea seeds this year (damned deer!) so if you want some from him you should order promptly.

The Cottage Gardener: My order from here came very promptly. We got a few things from them last year and they all did well. Since the seeds are in front of me I can critique their packaging though: seed quantities are a little skimpy compared to some (not awful) and there isn't any information about seed count, germination rate, planting advice, or anything but the name, really, on the packets. On the other hand, how many seeds does the average small gardener need? And prices are on the low side for organic at $2.50 a package. Every little bit helps.

Again, we're ordering from them because they have things we can't get anywhere else: Bleu de Solaise leeks, Small Shining Light watermelon (this is the one that makes me say "skimpy". I haven't opened it, but if feels like about 6 seeds), Ailsa Craig onions and Federle tomatoes, which hardly anyone seems to even know about, but everyone who does know it raves and swoons. It's a paste tomato, and we thought we would try something other than our old staple Opalka this year.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: Just seed potatoes, and garlic later in the year. We were very happy with our order from them 2 years ago. We'll order again this year, although I haven't done it yet. I have my eye on Pink Fir Apple and Green Mountain. Russian Blue, Russet Burbank and Purple Viking are all foregone conclusions. Mm, potatoes!

Greta's Organic Gardens: Again, I've placed an order but it has yet to come. I know it was processed immediately, because I made a mistake entering my order and so had some email contact with Greta. I expect it in the next day or two. She's a bit more expensive than most places at $3.50 per packet, but she does have things not otherwise available. I got Chieftain Savoy cabbage (open pollinated savoy cabbages are very hard to find, I think that was the only one I found in fact), Red Express cabbage (a very fast forming small red cabbage; looks nice and handy), Thelma Sanders' Acorn squash and Wood's Early Scallop Squash. All things pretty much impossible to find elsewhere. Definitely worth checking out.

Hawthorne Farm Organics: Last year I was excited to find they were selling seed for Meeting Place Organic Farm snow peas. Hey, we know them! We planted the peas (a little too late) last fall and they grew well and were starting to produce tasty peas before they got killed by the frost. We've ordered more for this year. We also ordered more Mammoth Melting snow peas and Trionfo Violetto beans. New to us will be Fortex beans (people rave) and Winter Luxury pumpkins. We got all the seeds very promptly except the pumpkins, which are still being tested for germination and which should come next week. Good packaging here for a small local company: date of germination tests, test results and seed count all prominently displayed on the the packages. At $3.00, prices are average for organic seed.

Heritage Harvest Seeds: These folks are out of Manitoba. Their website is nicely laid out and easy to navigate but I had some troubles at check-out time and ended up phoning in my order. Hopefully computer glitches will be fixed soon. Prices are average to high at $3 to $3.95 per package. Again, things that no-one else has; huge long lists of rare things. (How to sell seed to me: put RARE! in the catalogue.) The ones I succumbed to were Hidatsa Red bean, Alma paprika, Kaiser Alexander cucumber, Arikara squash, Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin, Algonquin pumpkin, Mandan squash, Gnadenfeld melon, Sweet Siberian watermelon, Amish Bottle onions, Harrison's Glory peas, Amish Snap peas, Caroube de Maussane peas and Djena Lee's Golden Girl tomato. Look them up! Some very cool stuff there.

Mandy's Greenhouses: Another Manitoban. She only takes money orders, not even cheques, so a bit of a challenge. You have to really want her seeds... and we did. Nobody else has half the varieties of corn she has. Excellent carrot list too, and I have to respect a gal with a radish obsession bigger than my own. We bought Snow White and Purple Dragon carrots, and Bloody Butcher, Chires Baby and Simonet corn. Almost succumbed to Orchard Baby corn but will have to save that one for next year... beds are full.

Mapple Farm: Last year I urged them to gettawebpage, and they promptly did! (Co-incidence, I'm sure.) I plan to order from them, but haven't yet. If you want sweet potatoes, they are pretty much the only Canadian source. They're located in New Brunswick. Short-season sweet potatoes are their specialty, but they have some unusual seeds and a good selection of really unusual root crops as well. Very interesting stuff indeed. Crosnes, anyone?

Ontario Seed Company (OSC): Look at their website, and you will be left with the impression of a very old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy company. And it's true. They're based in Waterloo and have been selling to local Mennonite farmers for over 100 years. The thing is, they are so old-fashioned and out of date, that many of their seeds are now... heirlooms! They don't particularly advertise this fact; it's just the stuff they've been selling for years and years. Decades and decades, even. But don't tell them, or they might raise their prices, which are ridiculous. $1.69 per package seems about average (not organic). Shipping costs are on the high side with a $6.95 flat rate, though. In other words, it pays to order enough to make that shipping charge worth while. Also old-fashioned? I ordered Monday morning (Sunday night, actually) and the seeds were in my mailbox, in a sturdy box, and all present and accounted for by Wednesday noon. Impressive.

I ordered Sweet Cubanelle, Jalapeno and Hungarian Yellow Sweet Banana pepper seeds... all tried and true varieties. Also Large Musselburgh leeks, and Soldier beans. We got Dwarf Grey Sugar snow peas and Henderson Bush lima beans in the large economy packs.

Prairie Garden Seeds: One of my later discoveries of last year. We ordered some Pfalzer yellow carrots and Tom Thumb peas from Jim Ternier mid last summer. Both went in late and the peas were promptly eaten by rabbits, but you can't blame the seed supplier for those problems. This company is out in Saskatchewan, and if you are a small gardener interested in grains you won't do better than to check out his lists of wheat, oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa, etc. No-one else has the range he has, and prices are low at $2.50, while quantities are quite generous. Packaging is pretty makeshift though, so you will need to know what to do with your seed once you get it. Descriptions tend to be pretty laconic and the layout of the listing is a bit of a pain, with everything lumped together in a paragraph. Persevere though. There are treasures in there. Orders must be made through the mail as he only takes cheques, no credit cards.

We ordered Arikara Yellow, Kahl, Dragon's Tongue, Snowcap, True Red Cranberry and Grandma Nellie's (Yellow Mushroom) beans; Boothby's Blonde and Early Russian Pickler cucumbers; Zeiner's Gold (dry), Spanish Skyscraper and Golden Sweet peas. We are also getting Mortons's Lettuce Mix and Purple Peacock broccoli which are all open-pollinated new varieties from Wild Garden Seeds in California, where some very interesting vegetable breeding is taking place. The broccoli is actually a cross between broccoli and kale - looks like a small headed broccoli, and you eat the whole thing. Wow!

Solana Seeds: while this is a Quebec site, it can be navigated in french or english. There's a good selection of many vegetables with an emphasis on cold hardiness. They have the Oka and Montreal melons, of course, but also a surprisingly large selection of peppers. We have ordered Doe Hill Golden, Aji Amarillo, and Black Hungarian peppers, Cocozelle zucchini, Ogen and Rampicante Zuccherino melons, Aunt Ruby's German Cherry, Snow White Cherry and Jaune Flammé tomatoes. Seed packets are not information rich, and in french anyway, so you will need to get your planting information elsewhere. Prices vary but in general are low. Seed quantities also vary, and are sometimes on the low side. They do generally state on the website what you are going to get. I've been happy with what I've gotten from them.

Tatiana's TOMATObase
: This site has been around for a few years and has a well-known reputation as being THE encyclopedia of information for just about every variety of tomatoes out there. I didn't notice until this year that she is also selling seeds. Since it says "New", next to the link I presume she hasn't been selling them for long. As you might expect, she has a good long list of verrrrry interesting tomatoes there. Our choices: Gardener's Delight (Sugar Lump), Eva Purple Ball, Sasha's Altai, Amish Paste (tried and true for us), Great White, Paul Robeson (a Mr. Ferdzy favourite), Persimmon and JD's Special C Tex which is a fairly recent black tomato/Brandywine cross with good reviews. Cheques only, so through the mail. Prices are low at $2.25 per packet, but quantities are not given.

William Dam: I've saved them for last but they are definitely not least. Like OSC, they've been around for decades, although at 62 years old they are a somewhat newer company. Like OSC, at first glance their listing don't look particularly exciting. They have a lot more new main-stream hybrids (which I try to avoid) than OSC, but they also have a good selection of older, open pollinated varieties in there. Again, they don't tend to tell you a lot about the history of these varieties so if you don't know them already you could just slide right over them. Their prices are generally low (though not as low as OSC) but quantities are good. Their packages are a joy, with dates, seed counts and good planting information on them. They sell mostly conventional seed, but have a good solid sprinkling of organic seed available as well. When we were growing in an allotment garden years back, we got our seed mostly from them and their seed has always been very reliable; as advertised and with good germination. On top of that, they have a great selection of seed starting and other garden equipment at good prices.

Our order from them this year will include Blue Lake S-7 beans, Chioggia beets, Nelson Hybrid carrots (supposed to be very fast growing), Amazing cauliflower, Brocoverde, Bright Lights (5 Colour Silverbeet) chard, Sweeter Yet Hybrid cucumber, Waltham butternut squash, Zucchini Black Beauty, Hilde II Improved lettuce, Dixter MI lettuce, Candy Hybrid onion, Red Marble onion, Tall Telephone (Alderman) peas, Upland Cress and Aqua Watercress.

We're not going to have enough vegetables, are we? I think I had better place another order.

And finally, one last link not to miss if you are a grower of vegetables: the Vegetable Varieties for Home Growers site from the University of Cornell, in New York state. You can review and read reviews of vegetable varieties there, and if you dig around on the site you will also find excellent growing advice from people in basically the same climate as us. This site is a treasure and I refer to it all the time.

Happy gardening in 2011! Let's hope we get an excellent summer including plenty of RAIN but no blight. Yeah, and world peace while we are at it. Never mind, onward and upwards.


Liz said...

I'm glad you mentioned a source for sweet potatoes. I wondered where one got their hands on them. Thanks!

Ferdzy said...

You're welcome! But maybe I shouldn't have told anyone about them until I ordered myself...!

Maggie said...

I've ordered from several of those companies in the past few years. I am really excited to try the Pepino Dulce from Solana, and the crosnes and chufas from Mapple. I was so excited to see the chufas for sale - do you know how expensive they are at the health food store? And so yummy. Good luck with your garden planning - can't wait till the snow goes.

Kevin Kossowan said...

Thank you for making me appreciate our local seed potato co. I always assume they serve the western market, but Canada Post is a marvelous thing at times, getting seed potatoes to you out east for the same cost as getting them to me a couple hours north of them!

Ferdzy said...

Maggie, I haven't had chufas (or crosnes) although they are things I'd like to try sometime. I don't know how expensive they are since I've never seem them for sale, either - but I can imagine! In a way this is best part of the gardening year - everything is still in my imagination, perfect - no deer or rabbits to contend with; no drought, no blight, no weeds. Still can hardly wait though...

Kevin, yes, three cheers for Canada Post. They do a good job considering what an enormous, semi-populated country this is. Eagle Creek is definitely the best supplier of interesting potatoes in Canada, at the moment. Nice for you they are "local".

spencer said...

hey ferdzy, im wondering how well the peppers from Solance turned out?

and the carrots from Mandy's Greenhouse?

even though the garden is just ending for the year i can't help but lok and see what i can grow next year lol

Ferdzy said...

Spencer, the carrots turned out okay, but I blame myself for leaving too much manure in the beds - they would have been better without it! Not a fault of the seed, obviously. Germination was fine. We liked some varieties more than others, but that's also related to personal prefernce. I would order from Mandy's again.

As for the peppers from Solana, we only ordered 3 varieties. We loved the Doe Hill, and the Black Hungarian performed well but are too similar to Jalapenos for us to grow again. Unfortunately the Aji Amarillo appeared to be crossed with Cayenne or something like it - they were odd, and didn't look like any of the photos (longer and redder, though not quite as red as Cayennes). So I would order from Solana again, but they now do have that black mark against them... but so do an awful lot of other seed suppliers these days.

No doubt I'll be posting about seeds again early in January! Never too early to start planning.

spencer said...


thanks ferdzy!