Gardening Tips: Time to Read About Seed

Editor’s Note: It is making the Spectator a bit giddy to announce the return of the weekly gardening column! Don’t let the snow fool you — spring will come, and Michelle and Madeline will make sure you and your garden are ready for it.


What to do this week

The weather may be blowing up a storm, but that’s a perfect excuse for curling up with a hot drink to enjoy the arrival of this year’s seed and nursery catalogs. Whatever the trials of the previous season and no matter how badly we failed in our lofty ambitions, in winter, armchair gardeners dream that this year will bring only sunny days, gentle rains and weeding done faithfully with sharp, well-cared-for tools.

There are many reasons for shopping for seeds this way, as opposed to grabbing those handy packets at the checkout of your local hardware store in the spring. First, the selection is going to be much more interesting, and second, the quality of the seed is often better than those that may have been left in moist or warm conditions, which is anathema to good germination.

Most seed companies and nurseries have on-line catalogs these days, but my own preference is for the printed catalogs — they’re easier on the eyes and do not require sitting for long hours in front of the computer. Either way, I suggest that gardeners starting out focus their attention on a few, reliable companies, preferably with a regional focus, so that seeds and nursery stock have a better chance of success in our challenging Maritime climate. Seed companies from California or ones that cater to large-scale commercial growers are not likely to accommodate the average Cape Breton home gardener. I have my personal favorites in terms of choice and quality,

Halifax Seed is one of the oldest seed companies in Canada. They have excellent germination rates and their varieties have been tested in our climate. In recent years they have been expanding their selection to include some more exotic choices but they are still for rather conservative gardeners.

William Dam in Ontario is a company I order from regularly. The quality is high and the selection is excellent for both flowers and vegetables. You have to exercise some caution – their growing season is hotter and longer than ours, so their days-to-maturity will have to be adjusted, if not abandoned entirely. They were also the first company to commit to untreated seeds and the promotion of organically grown seed and ecological methods.

There are many smaller companies these days that specialize in heirloom seeds. Some are more well-meaning than reliable but Hope Seeds, in Annapolis Royal, is very trustworthy. (Full disclosure: I have grown seed for them in the past, and can attest to the rigorous standards they hold for germination and quality.) I also order occasionally from other small companies but until I assure myself of the quality, I don’t spend more than $20 or so. Too often I have gotten excited about sourcing rare varieties only to be sent seed that had low germination or was not true to type. Established companies with a reputation to lose tend to be more fastidious.

It is also worthwhile to look at nursery catalogs, especially if you are planning on larger plantings of trees and shrubs. Maybe you’d like to establish a wind break of native fruits like saskatoons, viburnums and elderberries. Once again, the selection and prices will be much more attractive than those at your average department store. Cornhill Nursery outside Sussex New Brunswick has an excellent selection. They have stopped doing their fruit trees by mail-order due to escalating shipping costs, but if you’re up for a wonderful field trip to their impressive nursery, you can pick up your order in person. Get bare-root stock early in the spring and you’ll be amazed at what you can fit into a hatchback.



Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.