Published in the Toronto Star – January 27, 2018
Do you enjoy saving money? Want to pursue a healthier lifestyle? We have an answer to both questions: sow seeds of your favourite food plants.
Before you lay down a single carrot seed, you should start with a plan. We are working on ours right now. It is important in winter to think through the space that you plan to grow veggies, fruit and herbs. Come spring, the demands on your time and energy are so great that you will be glad you did this now.
We begin with a shopping list of seeds for 2018, as ‘seed starting season’ is here. Ben will be growing a big ‘tea and herb garden’ for drying, as well as a selection of new varieties and heirloom seeds to round out his “five daily servings” of fresh, healthy food. Mark will repeat his mass planting of 200 tomatoes, 50 peppers, plus an assortment of favourite vegetables which has evolved over the years.
There is some confusion about the many families of seed types on seed racks and catalogues. Here is a guide to the top six terms found in seed catalogues and seed racks:
Heirloom (or ‘heritage’) have been cultivated for over 100 years, and are typically open pollinated – which means they are often fertilized by other varieties of the same species. This is how a pumpkin and cucumber, members of the cucurbit family, can produce a “pumpumber”. All heirlooms are open pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.
Hybrid seeds are created when two parent varieties are cross-bred by human intervention, which creates desirable traits in the offspring. This is called ‘hybrid vigor’. The downside is that the seeds produced by hybridized plants are genetically unstable and cannot be saved for future crops. If you like a hybrid variety you will have to buy fresh seeds each year.
GE means ‘Genetically Engineered’. This occurs when plants are bred through an unnatural process, such as inserting a gene, for desired traits. For example, the majority of corn and soy grown in North America is genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant. There are no ‘garden variety’ seeds on the retail market that are GE, that we are aware of.
GMO refers to ‘Genetically Modified Organism’, which can include GE but also includes hybridization. It is more of a catch-all term. For example, a hybrid pepper plant in your backyard is considered ‘GMO’.
Organic seeds have been produced in accordance with organic-growing practices, and the seed has not been coated with any pesticides or fungicides.
Treated seed is coated with a fungicidal treatment to protect against soil-borne pathogens and pests during germination.
Here are some of our top picks for 2018:
- Red Dragon Chinese Cabbage (Napa cabbage) A new variety of hybrid Chinese Cabbage that has a deep red colour, inside and out. With a slightly stronger flavour than green types, I am looking forward to how this will perform in homemade kimchi, the traditional Korean side dish. Available from http://www.johnnyseeds.com/.
- Common Chamomile seeds are easy to come by, and easy to grow. This heirloom is a favourite after-dinner tea, and is easily prepared by drying the flowers. Available through your local retailer by Ontario Seed Company, https://www.oscseeds.com/.
- Cumin appears in more of the recipes we make at home, however it is not a common herb for most Canadian gardeners as it requires a long, warm growing season. To address this, I will be starting my heirloom seeds indoors. Available through your local retailer by Ontario Seed Company, https://www.oscseeds.com/.
- A Pollinator Mixture will form the border of my garden to create a colourful boundary and draw in pollinators. The best mixtures contain nectar and pollen producing native heirlooms such as New England Aster, Black Eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Eastern Columbine, Forget-me Not and White Clover. Available through your local retailer by Ontario Seed Company, https://www.oscseeds.com/.
- Gold Rush Yellow Beans and Prevail Green Beans are two bush-type hybrid beans that are dependable for delicious plentiful harvest. Available through local retailers by Ontario Seed Company.
- Ingot Carrot is a crisp and sweet hybrid variety, which resists cracking and maintains a great shape. Available through local retailers from Ontario Seed Company.
What seems like a slow time of year for gardeners is indeed the best opportunity to plant a healthier and more economical garden. Today we order our seeds and peruse the seed racks. Tomorrow we sow.