Friday, 16 January 2015

It's Time! My Annual Review of the Seed Catalogues

In between cataloguing all of our saved seeds, I've spent the last few weeks checking out Canadian seed companies' web sites, to see if they have their lists of "new" seeds up yet. Finally, most of them do, and Mr. Ferdzy and I can now start fighting discussing which ones we would like to grow this year. It does get harder every year to justify adding new varieties, as the quantity that we are already growing and saving seed from increases. Still, nothing will stop me from looking.

One of the things that has become clear is that there are 2 - okay, 3 - very noticeable trends this year: grains and grain-like seeds for the home garden, and "blue" tomatoes. Both a lot of fun, and I may just partake! Also, it seems "yardlong" beans are suddenly all over the place - and yeah, I have a packet of those I bought last year and haven't managed to squeeze in yet. This year for sure! I would hate to be out of fashion. 

So, as has become an annual tradition, here is a list of most of those Canadian seed companies, and some of their new or at least noteworthy offerings. Don't forget that you can also look in the Canadian Seed Catalogue Index at Seeds of Diversity if there is something specific you are trying to track down - that is the most comprehensive list of varieties sold in Canada that you will find. Here is last years report which will then take you to all the previous reports.

Agro Hai-Tai; Their catalogue makes fascinating reading. Mostly, they have Asian varieties of familiar vegetables, but there are some things that are extremely startling to the average North American. How about Toon shoots (xiang chun); sprouts of seeds from a deciduous tree! Or you could try growing them into trees, which are still useful as a vegetable. How about growing your own luffa, or chrysanthemum greens as a vegetable? Bottle gourd? Water spinach? Winged bean? Try it, you might like it! Prices are very reasonable, so experimenting will be cheap.

Annapolis Seeds; from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, a good selection of organic seeds. This years new introductions include Sweet Granite melon from famed vegetable breeder Elwyn Meader, Magenta Spreen, Blueberries tomato, Eezer Perennial wheat (yeah, we want to try that!), Dark Galaxy tomato, Minutina, Black Salsify, Kabarika Kenyan beans, and Maria Nagy's Transylvanian hot pepper. Lots of other good things from previous years too - Chinese Salad Mallow sounds fascinating.

Burt's Greenhouses: I know people want a source of sweet potato starts! Here is one right here in Ontario (Kingston), with a good selection and good prices. We intend to try their sample pack (3 or more varieties, pot luck) and see how we do. In addition to our old favourite Georgia Jet, they have Toka Toka Gold from New Zealand, Covington and Beauregard (most popular varieties in the southern U.S. at this time), Cuban Red (not Cuban, as far as I can tell), and several Japanese and Korean varieties. Sweeeeet! Potatoes, that is!

The Cottage Gardener: One of our favourite suppliers. Note that to get their new items for 2015, you need to click on "Browse Our Catalogue Online". All-Seasons Cabbage catches my eye, as does Canada Crookneck squash, Canada Wonder beans, Des Vertus Marteau turnip, Hopi Rattle gourd, Indigo Rose tomato, Sumter cucumber, and Arikara sunflower - which you can read about in Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden, an American classic on Arikara gardening techniques. Their list is comprehensive, their seed is organic, and their prices are reasonable.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes:  Alas, Eagle Creek has had a tough year. Their crop was seriously damaged by hail, and they have a lot fewer potatoes than they usually do. If you want to order potatoes from them, I suggest you get in there early to get the best selection (or any selection). The good news is, they are starting the process of converting to organic farming!

They still have Linzer Delikatess, Caribe, Pacific Russet, and Nicola, all of which look interesting. Hopefully next year they will have Amarosa, a strongly red-fleshed fingerling that looks amazing! Looks like it was one of the ones that got blitzed this year, though.

Edible Antiques: A relative newcomer to the veggie seed lists, Edible Antiques has a fairly small selection, strongest in tomatoes. However, she has the Montreal melon, Bootheby Blonde cucumber, D'Espelette pepper, Jimmy Nardello pepper, Sandra's Super Storage (a selection of Waltham) Butternut squash, and Thelma Sanders acorn squash. Likely looking tomatoes include Cuban Small, Jaune de Bipani, Ozark Sunrise, and Wapsipinicon Peach.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden: Greta, based just outside of Ottawa, has a truly staggering list. In tomatoes alone, she has 255 varieties, including 15 new ones. There are a dozen different "blue" tomatoes, including Dancing with Smurfs, and OSU Blue. Other new veg that catch my eye include Jagallo Nero kale, Bloody Butcher corn, Wong Bok Chinese cabbage, and Capitano beans. Definitely a place to look for hard-to-find items.

Harmonic Herbs: in northern Alberta are a new source to me, although I gather they have been around for a while. They have a smallish but interesting list of herbs, including Sea Buckthorn (is that an herb? Nevermind - Sea Buckthorn seeds!) and also including a few that would make very attractive additions to the perennial flower garden (Maralroot and Skullcap, I'm looking at you). They also have garden-sized packets of seeds and grains including hulless oats and barley, amaranth, buckwheat, golden flax and quinoa. After all this, you would expect the vegetable seeds to take a back-seat, but they have Gaucho Argentinian beans, Turga Hungarian parsnips, Margaret's Sugar Snap peas, and Midnight Lightening zucchini amongst other things. They also do some nice combo packs for those who want to get the most bang, or at least variety, for their buck.

Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds:  Another favourite supplier! We visited them a while back, and were very impressed. New this year, they have Jade bush bean, Diamond eggplant, Shintokiwa cucumber, and slew of peppers including, Aleppo, Wenk's Yellow Hot, and Corbaci Sweet. They too have some barley, oats, wheat (all new this year) and quinoa. Tender and True parsnip looks good (yes, I am looking for some new parsnip varieties this year). Old favourites include Cylindra, Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold beets, Ping Tung eggplant, Giant Musselburgh leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Meeting Place Organic Farm snowpeas, and Matchbox Hot pepper, as well as last year's hit, Tatume Mexican zucchini.

Heritage Harvest Seed: It's a good question how their marvellous list could possibly be improved by new additions, but they've managed to find some new things. Sanjaku Kiuri cucumber, Vicar Hulless oats (Told'ja! Told'ja!), Champion of England peas, and Ziar poppyseed all sound very tempting. How about Yellow Carrot-Rooted radishes? Heritage Harvest is also the home of many of our garden favourites, such as Anellino Yellow, Deseronto Potato, Dolloff, and Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom beans, Collective Farm Woman and Gnadenfeld melons, Chieftain Savoy and January King cabbages, and much, much more.

Hope Seeds: Their site is still being updated as I write, but I can see some good things ahead. Things like Rosalind (OP!) Purple broccoli, Tante Alice cucumber, Bernardo's Paste tomato, Listada de Gandia eggplant, and Small Shining Light watermelon. Their specialty though, is east coast heirlooms, and they have a great selection of those, including Melford rutabaga, Tribe's Tobique tomato, Ashworth's Rat Selected corn, and Baie Verte Indian beans. They also have 4 different varieties of Jerusalem artichokes - 2 of them east coast heirlooms - and a good selection of potatoes, including the delightful Pink Firapple, and the apparently similar Swedish Peanut.

Mapple Farm: The original Canadian supplier of sweet potato slips, located in New Brunswick. They recommend Georgia Jet as the best for Canadians, but they have a good selection of other possibilities. Not too much new here - they only mention Oka melons, but some intriguing things back again. French Scorzonera, Turkish Rocket, or Shosaku Gobo can be grown from seed, or Volgo 2 Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes (also not actually artichokes) and Horseradish can be acquired as roots.

Ontario Seed Company: One of Ontario's oldest remaining seedhouses, OSC carries a mix of conventional and heirloom seeds. Their new items this year include Lutz Greenleaf beet, Red Express Cabbage, Suyo Long cucumber, Lunar White carrot, and Ariana lettuce. Many other oldies and goodies at very reasonable prices, but do watch out for the f1 hybrids. Widely available in Home Hardware stores, although I doubt any of them have the complete list. Still, if that's how you need to get seeds, you could certainly do worse.

Prairie Garden Seeds: After a number of years of essentially being a somewhat idiosyncratic list, Prairie Garden has a new website which is much easier to navigate. They have not yet joined the Paypal world though; you will still need to pay by cheque. It is worth doing however; they have a great selection and prices continue to be very good. Jim Ternier has a great collection of Canadian-bred tomatoes, lots of beans and peas, 5 kinds of corn (in the world of grown-on-the-farm heirloom seed, that's a lot). I have gotten all kinds of fascinating things here. I am not even going to try to list them; just go read his site for hours of amusement and edification, not to mention lots of great seeds.

As for all those other companies jumping on the grains for the home garden bandwagon, Jim says: "Grains/Cereals 82". Yes, he is listing 82 different grains and cereals in small quantities, many of which you will never find anywhere else. That doesn't include the grain-like seeds. This list is a national treasure.

Richters Seeds: Internationally known for their amazingly comprehensive list of herb seeds and plants. I note they have declared my favourite herb, SAVORY, to be herb of the year. No argument from me! On the grain theme of this year, I see they have Teff, the Ethiopian seed used to make injera. Triamble winter squash is new, as are Butterbeans soybean, Taiwan Sugar snap peas, Mars celeriac, Red Swan bean, and Wasabi arugula. Lots of other interesting things as well!

I will note that they are the only Canadian company that I know of still listing genuine French, and Grey shallots - pretty much everyone else has the seed-grown ones now, which are really not the same.

Salt Spring Seeds: Now in their 28th year, they say, and in the last few years they've been branching out into more grains and cereals. Full Pint malting barley is one of their new offerings this year, for you gardener-beer brewers out there. Other new offerings include Japanese Climbing snowpea, Pink popcorn, Pomegranate Crunch lettuce, and lots of herbs. One of the few Canadian companies listing lentils and chick peas. Lots of peas, as befits their mild maritime location.

Solana Seeds: Located in Quebec, Solana seeds has a surprising and interesting list. They are very strong in exotic chiles (peppers), melons, and miscellaneous exotica. New this  year is Biquinho Yellow chile, a chinense variety, de Bode peppers, and Cumari do Para peppers - all Brazilian varieties. I note they have not one, but two, kinds of pepino. Lots of fun things. Quantities per packet can be small, but prices are generally very reasonable.

Stellar Seeds: Another B.C. seed company. I'm not seeing new listings, as such, although I note they have a write up about Amaranth on their front page. Look for Jack's Giant beans, Padron peppers, Lancer parsnips, Yellow Bedfordshire onions, Burgundy amaranth, and Satsuke Madori cucumber, amongst many others.

Sunshine Farm: located in the Kelowna Valley, B.C. I'm not seeing new items listed for 2015, but the whole company is new to me. Things that appeal to me: Haricot Tarbais beans, Dutch Golden carrot, Beluga lentils, and Golden Egg eggplant. There are 172 different tomatoes, if I'm not mistaken. 

Tatiana's TomatoBase: One thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed for sale. Let me say that again: one thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed. If you can't find it here, it's probably not out there. Seed prices and quantities are fine, seeds may not have been grown last year but dates are noted and you should have a couple of years of good germination left. But, there's more. Tatiana has an excellent selections of lettuces, peppers, squash, melons and watermelons, as well as a sprinkling of other vegetables. She has access to many varieties from Russia, which as it shares a similar climate with Canada means there are very interesting things here for the Canadian gardener. As a bonus, Tatiana maintains an encyclopedia of tomato varieties, so this is the place to do research on anything tomato.

Terra Edibles: They are the first of the new wave of we-grew-it-ourselves seed companies that I became aware of, and supplied us with many vegetables that became our favourites back when we were still gardening in an allotment. They are strong in tomatoes and beans, but have a good balanced selection of other vegetables as well. New this year are Charbonniere du Berry tomato, White Mikado tomato, Winterburn pole beans, Wachichu flint corn, Hungarian Hot Wax pepper, and German Giant radish. They also have, as always, a small but very choice selection of individual colours of sweet peas (ornamental).

Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm: Here is another seed farm we have had the pleasure of visiting. Linda has a small but always interesting selection of seed, some of which she grows hereself and some of which comes from Seed Savers Exchange in the U.S.

Some things which appeal to me this year include Variegated OP collard greens, and Halbhoher Gruner Krauser kale, which looks like it would do well container grown. Look for Painted Hills Multicoloured sweet corn, Orangeglo watermelon, Morelle de Balbis "groundcherry" (not exactly), Sutton's Harbinger peas, Black Scorpion Tongue peppers, Red Round radishes, and a small but exciting selection of tomatoes including Big Red Peach, Evans Purple Pear, Fahrenheit Blues, Purple Bumblebee, and Togorific.

William Dam Seeds: Last on this list, but one of the places we order from every year! They are one of Ontario's 2 remaining old seed houses. Like the other one (OSC) they have a mixture of conventional and organic, hybrid and open pollinated seeds. However, all their seed is untreated which is really great. (Although, if a company sells mostly treated seed, they will not even get a place on this list.) -They often have things that get hyped up somewhere else as the latest and greatest, and when I check back with them it turns out they've quietly had it all along. The Dam family are originally from Holland, and they still have a great selection of Dutch varieties that are workhorses. They are also the place to get all your non-seed, non-tool gardening equipment, from organic fertilizer to seed starting trays, row covers, pea mesh, etc, etc. Unfortunately, almost all of their new offerings this year are f1 hybrids, and hence I have zero interest in any of them.


Yvette said...

There is also Stokes Seeds, out of Ontario. For organic West Coast Seeds.

Terry McGinn said...

I really love the Burt's sweet potato slips. I've been growing Georgia Jet from them for years - although for the last three I've been growing my own, their ancestors were from Burt's.

Another place to buy seeds, that's relatively new, is Breseeds in Westport. They have heirloom and hybrid seeds - and some neat varieties I'd never heard of (Ontario Giant Bell Pepper, for example). I just happened upon them this spring through a Google search and I have been quite pleased with my experience. I've traded emails with the owner and he's quite friendly and helpful. I look forward to growing out the seeds I purchased from them this spring.

Thanks for the annual seed roundup, by the way, it's one of the most anticipated blog posts of the gardening year for me.

Ferdzy said...

Thanks, Yvette. Stokes has too much stuff from Monsanto for me to muster much interest, But West Coast Seeds looks like it has possibilities.

Terry, glad to get a good report on Burt's. Breseeds looks like a find! And thank you for your kind comment - I do sometimes wonder if there is really anyone out there reading this thing!