Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seed Companies In Canada

As you know (if you've read our blog for a while) we really concentrate on growing open pollinated and heirloom seeds. We try to use as few hybrids as possible, not because they are bad or because they don't have great characteristics...they do, that's the whole point of making a hybrid is to improve something. No, we don't use them much because we keep seed from one year to the next in many cases and that means using open pollinated seeds. If we keep seeds from a hydrid they never breed true and you can have some unexpected results or none at all. So for that reason we buy heirloom or heritage seeds where we can. Make sense?

Here's a beautiful picture of some varieties of tomato you can grow at home.

In Canada there are many many seed companies. Some better than others. It's one of those areas where you get what you pay for. Generally the more expensive the seed, the better the germination rate. Dollar store special seeds may germinate at a rate of less than 25% compared to many other seed companies guaranteeing nearly 95%. A lot depends on how seeds are gathered and stored. One area this 'get what you pay for' does NOT apply is boutique seeds. You know the ones...fancy packaging, fancy display stands, expensive signage and marketing. Often those seeds are no better than ones from a large reputable organic seed company like West Coast. But supporting local business is important too so if that's your goal then by all means may a little more. There are plenty of local companies who charge really reasonable rates for their seeds and have varieties not available commercially so you just have to decide what you want and then go find it. Do your research. Seed research in the cold winter months is a great way to pass the time.

In my experience, companies that have a focus on organic or heritage seeds deliver good consistent quality for a reasonable price. Yes my lettuce seed packet may cost $4 compared to a cheaper brand for $2.29, but the germination rate will be good and if you divide that $4 up between the 5,000 seeds that are inside, it works out to a fraction of a penny per plant. Why do I even worry? Well, I worry because all those little $'s add up! Especially when you only get 20 seeds in a packet for some varieties. I want value for my money. And I feel that I get it from some companies more than others. Companies that offer different size packages will often offer 25g for $4 and 100g for $5.25 just as an example. Now if it's a seed I use a lot of or if I know that it's storage life is 3 years I'll buy the larger package and save half of it for next year, or I'll concentrate on growing only one type of pea instead of two. That sort of thing. But each of you will garden differently than I do. I try to have a years seeds in advance and to save seeds where I can, particularly from rare or Heritage breeds that have grown well in my area and that I want to grow again. The other part of this money saving thing is this...even if I spend $2 per seed for let's say a rare and wild tomato that I really want to grow. It produces 10 lbs of delicious tomatoes. That still only works out to about 20 cents for a pound of tomatoes, plus a bit more for labour and watering. Suddenly growing your own stuff seems like a really good deal. It's all a matter of perspective.

Here's a list of seed companies that I've heard are good or that I have first hand experience with. I believe that they will all ship across Canada but I'm not sure what the rules are for exporting to other countries. All I know is that there are strict rules because the governments want to control the spread of diseases and pests.

West Coast Seeds located in British Columbia. Started out small but now growing under new ownership, they've been the mainstay of seed companies for organic growers for many years. An excellent selection of heritage and open pollinated seeds with many certified organic. They offer a catalogue, subscription newsletter and gardening guides and tips. Great for a novice to advanced gardener. Many seed package sizes available from single packet to commercial quantities. Excellent website and good customer service. A Medium sized commercial company.

Salt Spring Seeds. Located on Salt Spring Island, home of many organic and alternate lifestyles, this terrific company have an interesting and diverse line of seeds focusing on non-GMO and organic seeds from smaller suppliers that they know. Nice people, but not a visually stimulating website as it's all text. The descriptions are clear and accurate but there are no pics so you need to know what you're looking for. Fine if you're an experienced gardener but maybe less so for a novice.

Veseys located on PEI have been serving the market in the Maritimes since 1939. Their website has online ordering, growing tips and they also have a catalogue. I will be ordering a few packages from then this year and I've heard good things about them from our friends and neighbours here in Nova Scotia. They have lots of gadgets, tools and supplies listed.

OSC Ontario Seed Company. Good selection, catalogue, website and good quality seeds. They seem to be widely available in some of the big box stores but the racks will be limited to the most popular varieties and not necessarily the best seeds for your local region. I'm not sure about that though so don't take my word for it. They do have a good selection of native plants and grasses worth a look if you're landscaping.

Annapolis Seeds A new company in it's 4th year of business, this little company prides itself on providing good quality seed at a reasonable price. Located just a few miles from my home it's one place I definitely want to visit, along with Incredible Seeds listed below. They've taken our local farm model and branched off into seed growing...much the same way we branched off into vegetable deliveries. It'll be interesting to see where they're heading in the next few years. One thing I'm for sure going to buy are some of their amazing tomato seeds. They have some spectacular varieties of tomato bred by wild boar farms in the US. Sure to be a show piece in my tomato garden this year. I'm hoping to grow pink, striped, yellow and'll just have to wait for the pics of these babies! Tomatoes don't just come in red and green...and the differences in flavour vary as much as they do between types of apple. There are way more out there than are ever found on the grocers shelf. Just look at the photo above!

Incredible Seed Company This local to me company is a relative newcomer to the seed industry but they focus on open pollinated and heritage seeds so for a person like me, they're terrific. They sell many of the same seeds as the big companies but fewer selections. Not necessarily a bad thing to have 4 varieties of corn to choose from instead of 30. You'll also fine some weird and wonderful old heritage seeds such as their Shamrock winter squash. We'll be getting some seeds from them, particularly those we buy in small quantities like squash, melons and some tomatoes. I've got some more exploring on their website to do first. They are located in the Annapolis Valley, I'm hoping I can go and see their set-up and write more about them later.

Both of the smaller local companies, Incredible and Annapolis, have been wonderful to communicate with. I think that as the months go on we'll have to go for a visit, take a bunch of pictures, and show you what seed saving is really all about. But in the meantime I'm looking into getting all my seed starting supplies bought so I'm ready for my seeds when I get them. Woo Hoo! I'm so excited! Fuzzy pink tomatoes here we come!


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  2. This is an older post, but I would just like to thank you for this post. I would likely not have found these local seed companies on my own.

    1. You're welcome. I'll look at adding a couple of others in the fall so we have the seed suppliers numbers all in one place ready for placing orders this Winter. Happy Growing!