Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Annual Seed Catalogue Review Edition the Seventh

Wow! I've been doing this for seven years now. Am I running out of things to say? Is it harder for me (and the seed sellers) to find New! and Exciting! varieties of vegetables? Maybe! Or maybe not, once I get digging. So to speak.

Are there a lot more small seed companies, with a wider range of heirloom and open pollinated varieties than when I started? I'd say so, in a big way. In spite of this, the over-all number of varieties continues to drop, on the national and global level, as older seed houses close or are purchased by the big players. So let's buy our seeds from the people who are (still) providing open pollinated seeds, grown by themselves or their neighbours as much as possible. I believe that locally grown seeds are just as important as locally grown food. Varieties adapt to their growing conditions over time, and if they are not grown here, they won't ultimately be as adapted to growing here.

There is such a long list of new (to me at least) suppliers this year that I am going to try to stick strictly to new offerings here. (NOTE: I failed.) Don't forget that just about everybody has much more interesting stuff than I can hope to mention - click through and read. I also hope to post another list with my own personal favourites over the years, and who supplies them, later this month.

Trends this year seem to be sorghum (continuing the interest in grains from the last few years), lots of lettuce and other greens, and flowers in red and white (guess why!) Also there seem to be extravagant quantities of peppers... there always are, but more extravagant.

This isn't exactly a trend since practically the first vegetable anyone grows is tomatoes, but I have to say, there are A LOT of tomatoes out there. That is all.

As ever, don't forget to check Seeds of Diversity's  Seed Catalogue Index

Okay, let's get started... behind a fold because this is loooong...


AgroHaitai: Best Ontario (only Ontario?) seed house with a wide selection of oriental vegetables. I haven't ordered from them but I have heard good reports from other people who have. Marked as new are Purple Sword celtuce (lettuce eaten for the thick stem), Peking strain kohlrabi, Big Leaf edible chrysanthemum, Purple Shanghai F1 bok choy, and Big Round Leaf Malabar spinach. Chuan pole (green) beans aren't new, but look very appealing. Unfortunately, most of their new items (and many of their older items) are F1 hybrids. Might still be worth looking into, especially things not likely to be sterile - F1 hybrids can be a good source of diversity for developing strains of locally adapted vegetables.

Annapolis Seeds: This is their 9th year in business, and they have 50 new varieties this season. My eye is caught by Ba-Ye-Qi short-season sorghum, Fordhook zucchini, German foxtail millet, Golden Frills mustard, Gravedigger pea (I've wanted this one for years!), House tomato (yes that's right, you grow it in the house), Jimenez pole bean, Kogigo squash, Nord eggplant... in short, lots of fabulous things.

The Cottage Gardener: One of the best of the newer Ontario seed houses. They have some interesting new offerings including Flashback Mix calendula from plant breeder Frank Morton, who also bred another new offering, Jester lettuce. He says it's his "favourite lettuce of all time" and given that lettuce is probably his speciality, that makes me sit up and pay attention. Nash's green kale is another offering from the new wave of vegetable breeders and sounds excellent, being very cold-tolerant. Padron peppers, Perfection Drumhead, and Purple Sprouting broccoli all appeal as well. Alas, the broccoli is not cold tolerant. Scarlet kale, Shungkyo Long Pink radish, and Thorburn's Terra Cotta tomato all strike me as really interesting.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: This year brings an updated website and a slightly expanded list of offerings, with potatoes like Rode Eerstelling, Blue Mac from Newfoundland, Arizona, Candy Cane, Carlton, and Pink Fir Apple. If you just can't narrow it down they offer a number of mixed packs on different themes including a tower and container mix.

Edible Antiques:Some fun new things here including an owner-bred pepper, Queen of the North. Brighstone beans come with a romantic history, Biquinho pepper look great for growing in pots, Orion chickpeas look good, as do Red Swan beans. Strela Green lettuce looks fascinating - a very old form of lettuce.

Greta's Organic Gardens: A very large collection of seeds from an Ottawa area grower. Greta is not listing which items are new, so I will just name some things that catch my eye, starting with Alba Regia Hungarian peppers, Amethyst Cream tomatoes, Grazia arugula, Baklouti Tunisian hot pepper, and Dakota Black popcorn. Fast Lady Northern Southern Pea is a selection from Carol Deppe
that sounds like a must-try. H-19 Little Leaf pickling cucumber is a nifty little thing that can be hard to find. Lacinato Rainbow kale is a Frank Morton variety. San Cristoforo peas sound good as does Verdil spinach from German biodynamic breeders Kultursaat. It is apparently ideal for overwintering, which we do. Sand Mountain and White African sorghum fit into the sorghum trend.

If you are a smoker (and even as a non-smoker I am kind of fascinated) she has the largest selection of tobacco seeds I've ever seen. If you must do it, grow your own!

Harmonic Herbs: Not updated for 2017 as I post this. However, they are an Alberta company with a small but carefully curated selection, including some unusual and attractive items and strong in medicinal herbs and a good selection of seeds and hulless oats and barley.

Hawthorn Farm: Things that look interesting to me include Macuzalito beans (a fairly recent farmer-developed variety from Honduras that cooks quickly), Purple Queen bean, April Green cabbage, Cardoon, and Bionda di Lyon Swiss chard. We tried Bloody Butcher corn one year; it grew to be huge and was the most raccoon-resistant variety we have tried. They have Tres Fine Maraichere Endive, Cougar heat-tolerant lettuce, Jester lettuce, Misato Rose winter radish (wow, check out the photo!), and Mutabile mildew-resistant (yay!) zucchini. New squashes include Lofthouse Landrace butternut, and also Honeynut mini-butternut. Blush, Green Tiger, Napoli paste and Pink Bumblebee tomatoes round out the list.

Heritage Harvest Seed: One of Canada's most exciting collections of heritage seeds continues to grow. New this year I see Chevrier Verte and Drew's Dandy beans, Early Thorogreen Lima bean, Bush Crop cucumber, Honey tomato from Latvia, Fatalii peppers, and Mother Mary's Pie melon! Yes, for making pie. Wow. Source of several of our favourite beans, and the very successful Gnadenfeld melon.

Hope Seeds: This Nova Scotian company specializes in east-coast heirlooms. New this year they have Acadian heirloom Caribee beans, Joseph Dugas runner beans, and the beautiful Baie Verte Indian bean. There is the Canadian classic Oka melon and like me they have discovered how amazing dried melon can be. Onaway potatoes from Maine are a classic boiling potato that stands crowding in the garden. They have also put together a large selection of seed collections for the thrifty-minded gardener who wants to try a range of things.

Ferme Tournesol: Looks like someone had a mania for yellow pole beans last year (I know how it is to be bitten by the bug!) and they have 4 new ones right off the bat: Famille Ferland, Gold Marie, Golden Gate, and Grand-maman Dinel. There is also Mac pink tomato, Ruby Streaks mustard, Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon and Silver Sliver cucumber. Tokyo Bekana is a loose-leaf Chinese cabbage ideal for micro greens - huh! That sounds interesting.

Jardins de l'Écoumène: Site is in French and a little awkward to manoeuvre, but new offerings (nouveautés) include Violet Foncé bunching onions - cute! - Guatamalan Blue squash, Adelin Morin tomato, Verdil spinach, and Souchet comestible (chufa, I believe). 

Mapple Farm: They tend to stick to a small collection of very tried and true items, but there are some new things too. I see Black Coco and Gaucho beans, Gill's Golden Pippin squash (my fave!), Fisher's Acorn squash, and Montreal Market melon. Don't forget, they have Ken Allan's book on growing sweet potatoes in Canada - a must have if you are rebmotely interested in growing sweet potatoes. They are also the only source I know of for crosnes. And sweet potatoes; they have sweet potatoes.

Naramata Seed Company: Not updated for 2017 at the time of posting this. They are also new to me this year, but it looks like they are a small company in the Kelowna area of BC. For 2016 they listed some unusual items such as Zebrune shallots, Wilma rutabaga, May Queen lettuce (the same as May King and recommended!), Ella Kropf and Passion Brune lettuces, Ironbark squash, Sanjaku Kiuru cucumber, and Small Shining Light watermelon (another good one), Kamo eggplant, and a good number of tomatoes including quite a few Italian paste tomatoes. Others that catch my eye include Blue Berries, Haley's Purple Comet, Abu Rawan, Maremenno, and Yellow Trifele.

Norton Naturals: Well I take it back about Mapple Farm being the only source of crosnes. They are here too, along with edible daylilies (they all are but, you know; the classic and original), and double Tiger lilies, which I had no idea were edible in addition to being a beautiful garden plant. Those are their non-native plants; they also have native plants: Arrowhead, Camas (Quamash), Groundnuts, Hog Peanuts, 3 different Jerusalem artichokes, Spring Beauty (again, I had no idea it is edible), Meadow Garlic, and Ramps (Wild Leeks). In my experience, if you do not have the necessary fungus in the soil those last will not grow. Worth trying if you have a typical Ontario woodlot though.

All these items are available as roots, not as seeds. Some are currently marked out of stock, but presumably that will change with the seasons.

OSC (Ontario Seed Company): One of Ontario's older surviving seed houses, they list as new this year a number of F1 hybrid sweet corns, Rosa Bianca eggplant, and Little Gem, Red Oakleaf, Lollo Biondi, Outrageous Red lettuces. I believe that last is actually Outredgeous, which was bred by lettuce maestro Frank Morton. Eldorado Swiss chard has brilliant yellow stems. Snow Crown they describe as the best short-season cauliflower, but it's an F1 hybrid so likely sterile.

Potager Ornemental de Catherine: Site is in French. A nice selection of things including Kamo Japanese eggplant, Sucrine du Berry squash, Norfolk spinach (a Canadian heirloom), Grand-maman Dinel beans (ditto), Soissons Vert beans (a classic for cassoulet), and Moranga, a traditional Brazilian squash with a short enough season to grow here.

Prairie Garden Seeds: As I post this, Prairie Garden Seeds has not completed updating their site for 2017. However, as they note, they don't tend to change their listings much from year to year. They are the go-to source for many Canadian heirloom vegetables, and are particularly strong in tomatoes and beans, but also in grains - if you want small amounts of many historic Canadian wheats, or indeed all kinds of grains from all over the world. I note that they seem to be out of stock on quite a few items for 2017 but there is still lots and lots of interest there. Prices are very reasonable and amounts generous, but you cannot order online - you must send them an order form and a cheque. It's been well worth the trouble in my experience.

Richter's Herbs: I don't see a breakout of what's new, but things that appeal to me include Agretti (salsola soda) an Italian salad herb, Spectrum Red Husk corn, Muncher cucumber, Peruvian ground cherry, Huizontle, Jicama, Tronchuda (Portuguese) kale, Kagraner lettuce, Okahijiki (a Japanese relative of the Agretti), Corvair spinach, Sylvetta, and Teff, and the lovely Gold Ball turnip.

Salt Spring Seeds: At 30 years old this year, this is one of the original new wave of Canadian seed houses. They're celebrating with Cascade Ruby Flint corn, Chick pea of Spello, Ed's Red shallot, Nettles - don't laugh; if you don't have 'em you might want 'em - Streaker Naked barley (hull-less as you might guess), and Who Get's Kissed sweet corn.

Semences du Portage: Site is in French. New items include Côte de Beaune lettuce, Tante Alice cucumber (we grew it last year and it was a trooper), Westlander kale, Kakai pumpkin (grown for the seeds), Cindarella pumpkins, Lutz Greenleaf beet, and Vermont Cranberry bean. Te-You flowering broccoli (gai lan), Raxe radish, Scarlet Ohno Revival turnip are from last year, but look delightful. They have a large selection of herbs both culinary and medicinal (and just plain pretty) as well as green manures, and a good selection of gardening books in French.

Solana Seeds: This Quebec company has a big interest in peppers. In addition to Antigua striped eggplant, Lime basil, and Gold Medal tomato they have Corbaci Turkish peppers, Peach and Zavory habaneros, and Sandia and Sonora Anaheim peppers as new this year.

Stellar Seeds:  A small list and new items are not indicated; but you can buy their complete collection for $98! Seeds are all locally grown on their own farm or others nearby in the Kootenays in B.C.

Tatiana's TOMATObase: I don't see that Tatiana list new items as such; but there are 1233 varieties of tomatoes available as I type this. Tomato seeds are not necessarily grown this year, but in my experience the year of growth is marked on the packet and as tomato seeds should last at least 10 years if properly stored, you should be good to go. In addition to the largest collection of tomato seeds I know of, Tatiana also maintains the most complete encyclopedia of tomato varieties that I know of. She carries a small selection of other seeds, many for unusual items and with a tendancy towards Russian heirlooms. I believe she is still the only Canadian supplier of Grover Delaney watermelon, which I highly recommend.

Terra Edibles: As far as I know the oldest of the new wave of small seed houses in Ontario, many of our favourite varieties were first found here. Cylindra beets are new (to them - I've been growing them and they are great for nice even pickles). Beurre de Rocquencourt beans, Emerite beans, Henderson's Bush Lima bean, and Monte Gusto pole wax bean are new, as is Skunk (Chester, or Flagg). That last is one I've been interested in for a while. It's a large black and white dry pole bean, originally grown by Iroquois in Vermont. Minibel, Old German, Siberian and Teardrop are new tomatoes this year, but they have a very impressive list of tomatoes already - hard to squeeze in more, I guess. They mention White Current tomato and Duane Baptiste Potato bean as being back by popular demand. I think that if Duane Baptiste Potato is not the same as my favourite Deseronto Potato bean they are at least mighty close.

Terre Promise: Site is in French. Another vendor that's new to me. Their selection is fairly small but practically the first new thing I saw was Roscoff (Keravel) onions. I've been growing these for a couple of years from seeds I got directly from France with enormous trouble and expense, and I have not regretted it. THEY ARE THE BEST. Rat-Tailed radishes and a mix of Sunflowers are their only other new items. They have a nice selection of beans and St. Hubert (soup) peas, and some unusual tomatoes.

Urban Harvest: New (for them) this year is my favourite herb, Summer Savory. Look also for Druzba tomato, Dancing with Smurfs tomato, Montreal Tasty tomato, Lemon Drop pepper, Padron pepper, Doe Hill pepper (and Serrano, and Espelette, and Gold Nugget), Super Zagross cucumber, and Who Gets Kissed corn.

Urban Tomato: is a bit vague about newness, but you can sort their offerings that way. From the first couple of pages, then; Multi-Hued quinoa, Musquée de Provence squash, Moonglow tomato, Turkey Craw pole bean, Purple Hopi pole bean. Tomatoes are their specialty, and there is a large selection including White Queen and White Mikado, and Una Heartstock cherry tomato.

Wild Rose Heritage Seed Company: This Alberta seed company is a new discovery for me. They have a lot of new beans this year: Derby Bush, Dutch Brown, Light Red Kidney, Oceanis, Orca, Pinto, Red Mexican, Tenderette and Tendergreen. There's also Cosmic Purple and Solar Yellow carrots, Simonet Corn, Sweet Salsa pepper, and Red Kuri squash. You can even grow your own Victoria rhubarb from seed.

William Dam Seeds: A long-time favourite of Ontario home and market gardeners; in addition to reasdonably priced seeds they have an excellent selection of gardeners paraphernalia.Their selection of new vegetables is small, and leans more towards F1 hybrids than suits my taste; however their catalogue is, as ever, full of tried and true favourites.

They do have new this year Calima French filet bean, Algarve pole bean, Eva pole bean, and Red Volants kale. It looks like Orient Wonder has replaced Farmers' Long yard-long bean. They have quite a few new lettuces; Edox, Susana MI, Leny, Muir, Tropicana, Lettony and Deronda. Some of those are organic and some not.

No comments: