Saturday, 11 January 2014

Annual Seed Report

The mailbox is full of catalogues and in another 5 weeks it will be time to start planting onions and celeries, so it's time for my annual review of Canadian seed companies. The list is long this year! Partly I'm discovering places new to me, and partly there has been a real upsurge in the number of people going into the seed business. Excellent!

You can find my previous reviews here: 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

As usual, let me point out that if you are looking for a specific variety you can't beat Seeds of Diversity. The best place I have found for reviews of specific varieties is Cornell University's Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners site, although they have let their list of varieties get slightly outdated. Still, it's a valuable resource and I encourage people to use it and contribute to it.

We have been doing more and more of our own seed saving and trading, so our purchases this year are strangely weighted. We are still going to manage to spend over $200 at 8 different companies though! Yes, we are seed addicts! Still, I'm going to go on about things I think (or know) are good and interesting varieties rather than what we are actually buying, particularly.

Agro Haitai. We haven't purchased anything here yet, although as specialists in oriental vegetables they have a fascinating list. There are more F1 hybrids than suit our taste, but there are still plenty of open pollinated varieties too. They have 15 varieties of Pak Choy alone, along with Gai Lan, 6 kinds of Choy Sum, 9 kinds of radishes, Thai eggplants, and much, much more.

Annapolis Seeds. Located, not surprisingly, in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, this small company has a very interesting seed list. Their 2014 list is not up yet as I write this, but in general there is the largest selection of peas around, with The Pilot, Mrs Van's, Duke of Albany, Yorkshire Hero and Lancashire Lad being just a few of the offerings. King Sieg leek, Moonbeam watermelon (a dehybridized version of the popular Yellow Doll), Gaia soybeans (his own variety), Blooming Prairie and Kahnawake Mohawk beans,as well as many tomatoes including some Owen Bridge picked up on a recent trip to New Zealand.

The Cottage Gardener. This Ontario based company has a fine selection of very desirable varieties. Look for Arikara beans (a tough and well adapted regular for us!), Provider beans, Early Wonder beets, Bloody Butcher and Hopi Blue corn, Achocha, Tom Thumb lettuce (a personal favourite - stays delicious even as it bolts), Golden Purslane, Amish melon, Early Hanover (our best green) melon, British Wonder peas, Alma Paprika pepper, Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin, German Giant radish, and much more. We're giving Galilee spinach a try this year.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes. I don't know of any other source in Canada (they're in Alberta) that specializes in a large range of potatoes for the home grower. This year their special offering is a set of 4 different variety packs: Fingerlings, Mixed Season, Gardeners Favourites and Heritage. This is a great chance to try a large variety of potatoes and pick your favourites. We already know our favourites: Pink Fir Apple, Purple Viking, All Blue, German Butterball and Russet Burbank. Our standard source of potatoes.

Edible Antiques. This is a new company in Prince Edward County, Ontario, or at least I just discovered them a couple of weeks ago. They are working with Vicki's Veggies, a well-known area grower of organics, for locally adapted seed. They have some interesting things; look for: Jackson Wonder bush lima bean (still trying for success with lima beans), Taiwan Swordleaf lettuce, D'Espelette peppers (a famous Basque heirloom), Sibley squash, and their own White Calabash tomatoes.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden. Greta probably has the largest list of organic garden vegetables in Canada. She's got 66 NEW varieties this year alone, 40 of them tomatoes. They include Sakata melons, Prize choy, Long Pie pumpkins, Old Jake rutabaga, and Trombetta di Albenga summer squash. Tomatoes include Berkeley Tie-Die, Captain Lucky, Casady's Folly, Pineapple Pig and Red Furry Boar amongst many, many others.

Hawthorn Farms. Hey, we've been here! They have a very well considered and locally adapted selection of seeds. In their new offerings, I know Kim is really chuffed about Matchbox pepper. Double Standard corn makes me wish I was still trying to grow corn. I am going to give Sokol Breadseed poppy a whirl. I have hopes that Tatume, a climbing zucchini, will help in the War Against the Bugs. Old favourites include Fortex and Trionfo Violetto beans, she has all my favourite beets, Purple Peacock brockali, Ping Tung and Listada de Gandia eggplants, Rossa di Milano and Siskiyou Sweet onions, Meeting Place Organic Farm snowpeas, and German Striped tomato. Brown Goldring lettuce gets rave reviews, and I'll be trying it this year.

Heritage Harvest Seeds. If they can grow it in Manitoba, I figure I can grow it here! This is a really exciting list of heirloom seeds, with an incredibly long and tempting list of beans. Dolloff and Deseronto Potato beans have been excellent for us. Gnadenfeld melons are our best orange melon by far. Chieftain Savoy and January King cabbages are our standard winter cabbages. Jaune de Doubs carrots have done well. We are going to try Tante Alice cucumbers this year. The list of treasures goes on and on. How I wish I had room to try Scaly Bark watermelon and Yellow Carrot-Rooted radishes, and, and, and...

Hope Seeds. Not updated for 2014 as I write, but I expect them to continue to have a small but good selection of heirloom seeds with an emphasis on Nova Scotia (their location), New Brunswick and Maine heritage varieties. Look for Jacob's Cattle, Maine Sunset and Baie Verte Indian beans, Golden Grex beets, Ashworth's Rat-Selected corn, Ruby Streaks mustard, New York Early onions, Gilfeather rutabaga, and Tribe's Tobique ultra-hardy tomato. They also have 4 kinds of Jerusalem artichokes (that's a lot!) and a good selection of unusual potatoes.

Mandy's Greenhouses. Mandy is getting out of the seed business, but she still has some stock and always had very interesting things. Have a look before it's gone.

Mapple Farm. Mapple Farm has a short but considered list of seeds - I'd really like to try French Scorzonera and Gobo burdock. However, it's their roots that they are known for, specifically northern-adapted sweet potatoes. Georgia Jet is widely regarded as the best, and we have also tried and liked Frasier White. This year we plan to give Ginseng Red a try. They also have Volgo2 Jerusalem artichokes, crosnes and horseradish. Their site is a little odd but useable, and you will need to pay by cheque, but if you want sweet potato slips THIS IS THE PLACE. They also sell Ken Allans extremely useful book on growing northern sweet potatoes.

Ontario Seed Company (OSC). You will find these seeds in racks in hardware stores all over Ontario in the spring, and you could do worse than to stock up there, although if you want the complete line it's best to check the catalogue. They do carry a number of F1 hybrids and Monsanto varieties, so do some research before buying (if that matters to you and obviously it's my opinion that it should). They also carry a large number of old reliable open-pollinated varieties, old and reliable enough to qualify as heirlooms.

Look for Soldier beans, Sweet Granite melons (an Elwyn Meader variety), Laxton's Progress #9 peas, Valencia peanuts, Hungarian Yellow Sweet and Sweet Cubanelle peppers, and Crimson Sweet watermelon. This year they have special collections of hot peppers, including one of Mexican peppers that looks extremely promising. 

Prairie Garden Seeds: Not updated for 2014 as I write. This is a seed-geeks delight, a little more trying to the novice. The listings run together and descriptions are laconic. But persevere, because there are lots of treasures here. Prices are low and quantities are high, the downside is that the packaging is makeshift. Jim Ternier specializes in Canadian heritage tomatoes, and has an amazing selection of heirloom grains for the small grower - a genetic treasurehouse in fact.

Look for Pencil Pod Black Wax beans, Odawa Soup bean, Coffee Bean fava, and Spanish Skyscraper peas. Raisin Capucijner, St. Hubert, Zeiner's Gold and Carlin soup peas. Simonet and Orchard Baby corns look promising. Lacinato Rainbow kale, Morton's Mix lettuce (that would be amazing veggie breeder Frank Morton), Giant Red celery, Phalzer Yellow carrots, Scarlet Ohno turnip, Boughem and Farnorth melons, Bozeman watermelon, Bellestar tomatoes... there's much more but I'm running out of room here.

Richter's Herbs is world-famous for herbs, yet a company from right here in south-central Ontario. If any herb seed, however obscure, is to be found anywhere, it's probably here. What a resource! They do have a selection of fairly standard veggies if you are already ordering, as well as the genetic and garden lottery they call SeedZoo. Check it out regularly for strange and fascinating things from around the world - but if you see what you want order it at once because quantities are limited and items won't be seen again once they are out.

Salt Spring Seeds. One of the oldest of the new wave of small Canadian seed houses, as you may guess they are located in British Columbia, and their seeds reflect the mild Pacific climate. They have traditionally had a good selection of the standard garden vegetables - they still do - but they seem to be evolving more towards small field crops such as grains and beans. Excellent! This is an underserviced area of seed selling, I would say.

If you want favas, lentils or chickpeas, they actually have a selection. More soybeans than anywhere else I know of. Wheat, barley, oats, amaranth, quinoa, and flax - they have them. Particular varieties that catch my eye include Gold Harvest and Swedish Red soup peas, Tanya's Pink Pod bean, Manitoba Brown soybean, Nodding onion, Darcy's Purple leek, Early Black Egg eggplant, Cossack Pineapple ground cherry, Isle of Capri and Michael Pollan tomatoes.

Solana. I suspect (but don't know) that this small seed house in Quebec does not grow much if any of the seed they sell, but prices are reasonable and they have been a good source of hard-to-find items. Look for St. Valery carrots, Aji Limon peppers, Tondo Liscio cucumber, Thai Long Green eggplant, and Yellow of Parma onions. They have the largest selection of physalis species and varieties I know of, and an impressive selection of peppers, both sweet and hot, including Aji Amarillo, Biquinho pepper, and the famous Spanish Padron. Lots of tomatoes too.

Stellar Seeds is another one from B.C. I haven't ordered from them, but they have been around for a number of years. Items that look interesting to me include Jack's Giant bean, Lily Mae's Little White cucumber, Tokyo Bekana mustard, Aunt Molly's ground cherry, Durabel leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Punta Luze tomato, and Golden Treasure storage tomato (I have yet to try any of these, but they intrigue me).

Tatiana's Tomatobase. Tatiana's started off as the best tomato variety wiki around. It still is, but now she's selling seed too. She keeps a large number of varieties in circulation, so seeds will not always have been grown in the last year or two. However, she labels them clearly with the date and since tomato seeds are long keepers this will be fine for most people. She's the source for hard-to-find things you will want to grow out and save your own seed from anyway.

She is a great source for Russian varieties and in addition to the scads of tomatoes of every description that I will not even try to list, she has Hanson, Kupusnjara Salata, and Moskovskiy Parnikovyi lettuces; Aji Rojo, Faludi, Guajillo, Kop'yo Indeytsa, Osmarsko Kambe, Pasilla Bajio, and Pelso peppers; Khutoryanka, Kustovaya Oranzhevaya, Melonette Jaspee de Vendee, and Vitaminaya squash; Ananasnaya, Hero of Lockinge, Tam Dew, Valencia Winter, and Verte Grimpant melons. Want more? How about Cream of Saskatchewan, Kleckley's Sweet and Marmeladnyi watermelons. Poona Kheera cucumbers, Crimson Forest bunching onions, and Highland (Ethiopian) kale are some interesting items. I'm going to give the kale a try.

Terra Edibles is another Ontario supplier, one that has been around for quite a while. In fact I was ordering from them when we first had allotment gardens many years ago and heirloom seeds were very hard to find indeed. Somehow they have kept a low profile as the market has boomed, but they are still ticking along and have a great selection of well-maintained and adapted seeds. They specialize in tomatoes and beans, but there is a good selection  of other things too.

We first found Amish Paste and Opalka tomatoes here. Black Cherry and Black Plum are good'uns. Garden Peach, Green Zebra, Ildi, Jaune Flamme, Matt's Wild Cherry, Paul Robeson, Persimmon, Pineapple, Principe Borghese... it's practically a list of the tomatoes we've grown, although there's a whole bunch more yet to try. Beans include Cherokee Trail of Tears, Dragon's Tongue, and Greek Fazolia. There is Luther Hill and Stowell's Evergreen corn, Montreal and Oka melons, Golden Sweet snowpeas and Tall Telephone peas, Bulgarian Carrot peppers, Kakai hulless seeded pumpkins, and Tonda Scuro di Piacenza squash.

Ferme Tournesol. This small seed company is located in western Quebec, on the north side of the river from Salaberry de Valleyfield. They are market gardeners as well as seed sellers, so I would guess they have a good selection for that purpose. I actually found them through their interesting blog.

Six kinds of amaranth... okay, off to a great start here. Grenoble beans - what, pick them once a week?! There's a novel idea. All their pole beans are intriguing but Kahnawake Mohawk catches my eye in particular. Dolico Veneto cowpeas, wow. Chufa nuts - make your own horchata! Painted Mountain corn, and what's this? Abyssinian mustard, which looks to be the same as the Highland kale from Tatiana. Sugar Magnolia snap peas are hard to find but they have them! There's Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash, and Golden Midget watermelon. This was hard to find when I first tried it but now it seems to be around quite a few places. Tomatoes include Dancing with Smurfs, Montreal Tasty, and Wapsipinicon Peach.

Tree & Twig. This was the second seed grower we visited this year. Linda Crago doesn't have a large list, but again, some very irresistable items. As I write, the site is not updated for 2014.

Still, look for Blue Ribbon, Jade and Saskatchewan Dry beans. Christmas lima bean - we're trying this one out in our quest for a workable lima. She has the 3 Root Grex beet from Alan Kapuler. There's Snow White carrots, Piracicaba and Solstice broccoli, and Spigiarello, which I have been trying to get for three years now, and which keeps selling out, but I THINK I've been quick enough this year. There's Beedy's Camden kale, and Gigante kohlrabi; Painted Hills corn, Bushy cucumbers, Pandora Striped Rose eggplant, Little Gem and Yugoslavian Red lettuce, Orangeglo watermelon, Garden Huckleberry, Kiwano Melon, Morelle de Balbis, Sutton's Harbinger peas, Philadelphia White Box radishes, and Red Round turnip. The selection of tomato seed is small compared to the 100s of varieties sold as plants at her farm, but she has Green Doctors' Frosted Cherry, Federle, Pineapple, Stupice, and Ukrainian Purple.

Upper Canada Seeds. This Ontario company has been around for a while but now concentrates exclusively on tomatoes, which they grow themselves in Prince Edward County. Look for Beaver Lodge Slicer, Cuban Black, Doucet's Early Quebec Market, Ivory Egg, Japanese Trifele (Russian, naturally), Manitoba, Orange Banana, Ottawa, Peacevine, Arbuznyi, Black Brandywine, Cream Sausage, Flin Flon, Great White, Green Velvet, Pink Ice, Purple Bumblebee, Snow White, Big Rainbow, Kellogg's Breakfast, and Nebraska Wedding. How can anyone resist tomatoes? The names alone make them worthwhile.

William Dam Seeds. Well, you'd think by now I'd have nothing left to say. WRONG! William Dam Seeds may be last, but they certainly aren't least. They've been around for over 60 years, and their collection is well honed. They do carry a lot of F1 hybrids, and get seed from Monsanto, so do your research. They also have a great selection of Dutch vegetables, and prices and quantities are terrific. They supply the foundation of our garden in many ways, and are the best source for things like planting trays, fertilizer, row covers and netting. They have always supplied very reliable seed for us.

Our favourites include Guelph Millenium F1 asparagus, Chioggia Guardsmark, Early Wonder, and Touchstone Gold beets, Sorrento rapini, Groninger Blue collards, Amsterdam Maxi, and Flakkee Autumn King carrots, Telegraph Improved cucumber, Miner's Lettuce claytonia, Early Yellow Globe onions, Ostergruss Rosa and White Dream radishes, Giant Winter Viroflex spinach, Bright Lights, and Lucullus and Green Perpetual Swiss chards.

This year I'm looking to try Astro arugula (supposedly milder than the usual), Farmer's Long yardlong bean (dayneutral!), and Goliath broccoli (back by popular demand). Just when I think I know their list backwards and forwards, I make new discoveries. I've been trying to aclimatize Golden Berry (physalis peruviana) to our northern life for the last few years; meanwhile, it turns out they have had Little Lanterns under the name physalis edulis all along. Sneeeeaky. But now I'm on to them, and giving them a try. Likewise, we found a recommendation to use Baby Blue Hubbard squash as a trap plant for cucumber beetles, squash bugs and vine borers. Who has it? That's right, William Dam (and a few other places, to be fair. But they are definitely the first place to look.) 

Aaand that's about it. Goodness, writing this was a job. Imma go lie down now... and dream of lots of marvelous veggies to come this summer.

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