If you’ve read our review of two books on growing not-the-usual vegetables, you might be curious about where to find the seeds to grow them. By coincidence, a couple of leads fell into my hands last month, and sent me into a digging expedition for more.
Like the cute little mouse melon above? Read on to find seeds.
Growing Food from Around the World was this year’s topic at the annual Toronto Master Gardener education event called the Technical Update in January. Three presenters gave us a ton of info related to the two books reviewed. I’ll tell you more in a minute.
And my attendee goodie bag included packets for three of the veggies recommended by Niki Jabbour. One was for Poona Kherra Cucumber seed from Baker Creek, a U.S. company that ships to Canada. The other was from the Asian Vegetables line from Canadian company McKenzie Seeds, where I also found the Tokyo Bekana that interested me in Jabbour’s book. (Also carried by Urban Harvest.)
The Richter’s SeedZoo
The first speaker Conrad Richter of Richter’s Herbs alerted us to a fascinating initiative by his company. Richter’s SeedZoo is their movement to scour the world for rare and endangered food plants, and to offer the seed to vegetable growers like us. He’s deeply concerned about the diminishing diversity of food crops. These days, he told us, only 80 species account for 90% of commercial crop production. In the century between 1900 and 2000, the world lost 75% of its crop diversity. The SeedZoo is one response.
As an aside, I hadn’t realized before how active the Richters had been in plant introductions. If you grow Mojito Mint, for example, in anywhere but Cuba, you have Richter and company to thank.
For Asian Vegetables
Next speaker, Viliam Zvalo, a research scientist at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, talked about the escalating demand in Canada for foods like okra and Asian eggplant – $80 million worth of these are imported into the GTA every month. Imported! For freshness and nutritional value as well as for economics, we can and should be growing more of our own, both commercially and individually.
More of our local seed companies are diversifying their offering, but Zvalo suggested Agro Haitai as having the largest selection of non-traditional (non-traditional, that is, for us whitebread Canadians) vegetable seed in the country.
The good news is that more traditional growers in Canada are diversifying. Looking at the latest seed catalogs, print and online, I found that Stokes Seed has a growing section labelled Asian Vegetables.
Not all so-called exotic vegetables come from Asia.
Another Canadian company William Dam lists seeds for South American native mouse melon aka ‘Cucamelon’, Mexican tomatillo, Mediterranean asparagus pea, and African balsam pear or bitter melon.
If you’re looking for things in the Physalis family, which includes foods like tomatillo and ground cherry, you can find Canadian sources in places like Veseys and Cubit’s. Those looking to remix their choice of common vegetables might look at organic sources such as Terra Edibles. Their beautiful ‘Sweet Chocolate’ pepper is not only pretty, it’s good for short-season growers with a hot spot to spare.
Those are just a few potential hunting grounds. Do you have other suggestions? We’d love to hear from you.