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Posts Tagged ‘heirloom seeds’

It has been a long and ridiculously cold winter. Last week we were seeing temperatures of -40 C and this week, I’m thrilled to say, we’ve hit +5 C for several days in a row. For my foreign readers, +5 C is t-shirt weather in Canada. Another two degrees and it’ll be time to break out the shorts. Granted, there’re still several feet of snow on the ground- so it’ll most definitely be shorts with boots- but such is spring in Canada.

Like many of my cold compatriots I’ve spent the last several weeks poring over seed catalogues, dreaming of warmer days. Yesterday I finally got my act together and put my orders in. I ordered my seeds through Salt Spring Seeds and The Cottage Gardener, two wonderful Canadian companies with a wide variety of heirloom seeds. That was the exciting part of the day.

Now, I have to say- there are times when I still get comments on the “About” section of this blog and I think the reference I made to us as “city kids” as passé. We are so beyond that. We know what we’re doing now. We are country folk. And then I remember, “oh no you’re not”. The gardens being a good reminder- because I still have no real idea what I’m doing, other than that some of it is working out.

The one brilliant tip that I have put to good use is to mimic nature, mixing my plants instead of planting all clean rows of single species. For the last few years I have happily thrown seeds willy-nilly all over the place and had pretty amazing results. Last year I had such a bumper crop of tomatoes I was eating them like apples throughout the day. Still, I know that I can get even better results if I know a thing or two about the vegetables, herbs and flowers that I’m planting.

As much as I love the seed companies that I deal with they are miserable for providing useful information. Take this as an example, from a Cottage Gardener package of Horehound seeds: This herb takes its name from Horus, Egyptian god of sky and light. Folk legend through the ages attributed it with the power to break magic spells. Syrups and cough drops have been made from it since at least he 16th century. So if I’m Harry Potter or a seed-historian, this is great information. But what about planting and caring for the little f*ckers?

So after ordering the seeds, the next stage involved inputting all of my seeds into an Excel spreadsheet. I have about 65 species to sort and I want to know everything from when I can expect them to mature, sun required, soil preferred, how tall/wide they grow, spacing, whether I should be planting a second crop later in the season, which are good companion plants, which will do best in a hoop house, etc.

That took me all freaking day. I had to google most of the plants one by one, and then a lot of the sites only had partial information so I had to research multiple sites. I am not quite done yet but even if I get no further, I have a ton of useful information. And I know a lot more about my plants that I ever did before.

My next step will be plotting a map, so that I can design my space to get the best results. And then I’ll need to start moving earth again (once the snow melts) and preparing the different soils for planting, building a couple of pathways between gardens, and getting the hoop houses ready. All this with one arm tied behind my back- because spring has finally arrived and though it may not be recognizable as such to my friends from warmer climes, I am Canadian! Full of piss and vinegar and ready to get my game on!☺

Beets from years past

Beets from years past

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We headed off to Cuba a while back thinking that a vacation was looong overdue and hoping to return to spring-like weather. No such luck. We drove through a near province-wide blizzard to get to the airport and returned to a blizzard that started up just minutes into our (normally) four hour drive home. Winter continues to dump a massive amount of snow in the region. It’ll slow down this week according to weather reports but we’re still due to get between 5 and 10 centimetres more by Friday.

 

So what’s a girl to do? Order seeds and dream of warmer days! And that’s what I did last week, finally whittling down my wish list to a more practical (affordable) one. Still not entirely cheap (by my standards anyway) by the time I was done, but a considerable savings if even half of it produces and saves me gas money and grocery store prices.

 

I’m not sure if I mentioned here or elsewhere (a friend keeps suggesting that I buy gingko for memory but of course I never remember to) but we’ve been following Michael Pollan’s suggestion to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Let me tell you, in our region that is a bitch to follow. Walking into our grocery store is like being transported in time- hardly any fresh produce, mostly root vegetables and nonsense like iceberg lettuces, all at ridiculous prices. If we ate canned or frozen food we’d be set but, well, ick!

 

I don’t have any difficulty avoiding processed/refined foods because I am making everything from homemade bread to yogurt to gnocci, soup, pasta, crackers and more but getting our hands on healthy produce is a trial. So I’m looking forward to gardening this year and determined to make the time, regardless of how busy the building season is.

 

On a related note, it looks like we have just about finalized our plans for an attached grow space. ‘Grow space’ rather than greenhouse because it’s not going to be a traditional greenhouse, not with the limitations of our climate and materials available to us right now. But it’ll do for the basics, we hope, and we’ll continue building up the outside gardens as well as look at plans for more buildings down the road.

 

Also making our ‘great news’ list is the fact that our tractor has come in! Yeah baby! Now there’s a tool I’m looking forward to having, after three years of moving every bit of material (clay, gravel, sand, soil) one shovel-load at a time. It looks like we’ll be picking it up this weekend and I can hardly wait! I’m hoping that we’re able to use it to move some of the heavy snow from our lower areas on the property before spring thaw and flooding. Couldn’t be better timing!

 

I’ll definitely be taking pictures of our new addition once we pick it up but here are a few totally-unrelated-to-anything photos of our trip to Cuba for now. Check out the Man o’ War. Shane had a run-in with one and they’re not nearly as harmless as they look. 😉

man'o'war church building2 building beach beach2

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I went a little crazy ordering seeds and seedlings. Have I mentioned that moderation just isn’t my thing? I keep meaning to do ‘just a little’ of something but so far in all my years haven’t managed to pull it off. Granted, I went with way less than I would have liked to and I think that counts for something. Maybe common sense is not long to follow. I hope (if that is the case) that it comes in small doses because I am greatly reliant on my abject refusal to believe in the impossible. It’s a lifestyle.

So- what we have on the way this year… 50 Manitoba maples, 100 choke cherry bushes, and 75 hawthorns- courtesy of the Agroforestry Development Centre. We had hoped for some Siberian crab apple trees and red osier dogwood but they were out of stock, so they’re on the list for next year. Still, that’s a lot of digging for this year.

From the Cottage Gardener, we have received seeds for mule team and Czech select tomatoes, fordhook giant Swiss chard, spaghetti squash, potimarron winter squash, common chives, Greek oregano, purple coneflower, Roman chamomile, dark Italian parsley, anise hyssop, borage, cilantro, feverfew, lemon balm, milk thistle, white sage, and Oriental poppies.

From Salt Spring Seeds we ordered, and received, quinoa, yarrow, evening primrose, purple amaranth, tomatillos, and sweet rocket (aka dame’s violet). And from PR Seeds we ordered onion, carrot, leek, quinoa, soy bean, and amaranth. We placed the order some time back and I am starting to get a little concerned having heard nothing yet. I’ll give it until next week and then ring dude who runs the place. We also ordered goji berry seeds from a place in Saskatoon and I’m quite excited to see how those turn out.

In addition to those, we have nasturtium, Swiss chard and red onion seeds harvested last year, as well as partial packages of beets, dill, bush beans, turnips, lupine, and lettuce. Ah, and I hope to separate out some of my rhubarb this year. And see if I can’t get those fern seeds that I harvested in Oregon started… Yep, so- quite the plan considering that I have to build most of the gardens that will house these wonderful plants. Of course, this in advance of starting the build on our earthbag domes with the intention of finishing this year. It’s alright though- I’ve been working out in preparation. (I shit you not.)

It’s been really interesting, planning the garden this year. I played around with companion planting last year, and with soil building and raised gardens, and it was pretty successful given the very limited amount of time I had to dedicate to it. By successful, I mean that we got a lot of meals out of it. And some decent seeds saved. This year will push the envelope a little further, with a concentration on plants that not only do well in our environment and with our soil type, but serve multiple purposes (as most of our herbs do, and even our trees and bushes). And we’re trying something a little different with shapes and contours. Some of it we’ve read about, some we’re just going to try and see what happens.

I can’t wait to get started- it should be a lot of fun! And plenty o’ work. There’ll be whining later, I’m sure. 🙂

still a ways off of planting anything but my bum in the ground

 

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Winter is well upon us here on the prairie and while I lament the passing of summer and ability to work outdoors, I know that a thousand tasks lay ahead and spring will be here before I’ve had time to accomplish everything that I’ve meticulously added to my “to do” list. It might be easier if the list wasn’t an ever evolving thing but I know from experience that I’ll no sooner finish one item than six new tasks take it’s place.

One of my shortcomings is the need to research everything to exhaustion. I suppose this is an attribute that served me well as a scientist but does not always make for the most productive day- depending on your definition of ‘productive’. Right now, I’m interested in measurable goals and let’s just say I’m falling short. I’ve decided, completely against my nature, to ask for assistance. Your assistance.

Of the many tasks ahead of me is to order seeds for our garden next year. I started building the gardens this year and have big plans for next spring. Okay, not so much ‘plans’ as ideas. Landscape design is on my list of things to do. So I need to find a company that sells heirloom seeds.

I’ve come across a site that features many Canadian companies that sell heirloom seeds. Too many companies. I find myself pouring over site after site, unable to make a decision. It’s quite possible that one’s as good as the next but I have trouble believing that and as seed purchases can be expensive (and by ‘expensive’, I mean in terms of financial investment but also cost in time and effort over the growing season) I’d like to feel comfortable with my choice. I hope to do a lot more seed saving next year than I was able to this last season.

Have any of you purchased heirloom seeds and, if so, what (Canadian) company would you recommend? Also, do you have a favourite book on seed saving?

 

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