Know your Manitoba Seed Companies!

By Darlene Belton, Master Gardener

Every New Year gardeners eagerly anticipate the growing season ahead. This year it seems new gardeners are too! In 2020 growing our own food became as popular as hoarding toilet paper and nurturing sour dough starter. The forecast is that in 2021 even more new gardeners will join us in our journey.

This skyrocketing trend means our services as gardening educators will not only be in greater demand but, as avid gardeners ourselves, we can expect to face stiffer competition for seeds, plants and supplies than in 2020. I know I’m not the only gardener who was astounded at the empty shelves in late May last year; some even missed out on their orders as seed companies ran out of stock in March and April.

For weeks already Manitoba’s seed companies have been preparing for what they anticipate to be another blockbuster year. Nevertheless, ordering early is their urgent advice. Therefore this month’s column focuses on food gardening, featuring Manitoba’s own seed companies and what I have learned about this complex industry by perusing their websites and interviewing their managers.

Heritage Harvest Seeds   Click Here 

Compared to other Manitoba vegetable seed companies, only Heritage Seed Company owner, Tanya Stefanec of Fisher Branch Manitoba grows, harvests and distributes her own heirloom seeds as well as other heirloom varieties she sources from growers across Canada who produce for her. Reviewed by Dave’s Garden ‘Garden Watchdog’ and (a homesteading and permaculture site), Heritage Harvest Seed received excellent customer ratings for both seed viability and variety, and fast order processing and delivery (now only within Canada). In business for 18 years, Tanya’s website claims her company has become Canada’s No. 1 source for rare and endangered varieties of heirloom seed (over 800 varieties in 2021). She also sells Seeds of Diversity’s Seed Saving Book ($24.95). Though not certified organic, all seed stock is “open-pollinated, non-hybrid, non-GMO, untreated, natural heirloom seed”. Tanya has a bachelor’s degree in horticultural technology and has been an avid gardener since a small child. She has been able to combine a fascination with history and gardening with her passion to preserve our local gardening heritage. “I am not able to grow enough seed to meet demand,” Tanya says. “Every year the interest in rare and endangered seed increases.” Ordering is online only in 2021.

Sage Garden Seeds   Click Here 

Sage Garden Greenhouses is a 100% organic garden centre known primarily in Manitoba. Sage Garden owner, Dave Hanson, also sources, rebrands and distributes about 350 varieties of certified organic seeds across Canada. In his usual helpful, knowledgeable style, Dave gave me a lot of information about the Canadian seed industry. Unlike what we might assume, most seeds, he says, originate in the U.S. via large-scale producers; the seeds are purchased and then rebranded by Canadian companies. Dave uses trusted sources of certified organic seeds from large American producers, “partners” he calls them. He has also found small “niche” Canadian growers of around the 50-acre size, such as Annapolis Seeds, that offer more specialized varieties better adapted to our short season. Both types of sourced seed he then packages, rebranded with the Sage Garden logo for online ordering and distribution. Sage Garden also offers seeds under other brand names, all certified organic. Like everyone else in the seed industry, Dave was caught unprepared for the rush of demand last spring, but feels ready for 2021 with more inventory, and a more efficient processing system now in place.

Why the insistence on certified organic seed I asked Dave. “Buying and planting organic seed goes beyond our own gardens,” he said. “The process of producing certified organic seed enhances land use in distant areas where the seeds are grown and harvested. It supports regenerative agriculture and is more holistic overall.”

What trends does Dave see in food gardening? “Vegetable gardeners are becoming more adventurous. They want colourful unique varieties that present beautifully,” he said. “There has been a revolution in varieties of tomatoes, for example. People want seeds that will do what they say they’ll do – especially compact varieties of favorites suitable for small space gardening and containers.”

Browsing the Sage Garden website is an education in itself; check out the podcasts and the seed-starting supplies. Dave especially recommends heat mats for starting your seeds (greater uniformity and speed of growth, plus stronger roots). He says hot season plants such as hot peppers and eggplant really need that extra boost.

T&T Seeds   Click Here 

Started in 1946, T&T Seeds has grown to offer a full range of vegetables, herbs, roots, bulbs and fruit shrubs and trees, plus supplies. The website claims no other Canadian seed company has such extensive refrigeration facilities for storing dormant fruit and berry root stock – shipped at appropriate times to customers across Canada. The website is worth a prowl, featuring a Canadian hardiness zone map, and the ‘Garden Guru’ tips & library. T&T’s chock-full charming print catalogue is a “must-have” for Manitoba gardeners (with online ordering also offered). Manager Brian Twomey says T&T is already one month into heavy sales – sooner this year, confirming his sense that 2021 may repeat the incredible demand of 2020. Ordering by February 15 rewards you with a 10% discount. Brian notes that sprouts have become a big seller and there is a growing market for sweet potato cuttings which sold very well last year and will be in greater supply in 2021.

Lindenberg Seeds   Click Here

This year, 2021, is the 86th year in business for this Brandon-based seed company. A simple website promises online ordering is coming soon; in the meantime you can download a PDF catalogue, or order a print one. Manager Rick Lindenberg is witnessing an across-the-board increase in food gardening seed sales. He is pleased to see the surge of interest in home gardening, and is hoping it will last. Lindenberg Seeds carry no GMO seeds or seeds treated with neonicotinoids. The company sources seed primarily from Idaho, California and Oregon, some of which is originally grown in Chile and other South American locales. There are no extra shipping or handling charges for orders over $60; orders under $60 are charged $8.95. Ordering/shipping is only within Canada.

McKenzie Seeds   Click Here 

In business now for 122 years, Brandon-based McKenzie Seeds claims it is “Canada’s number one packet seed company”. Its packages are a familiar sight in Canada’s larger retailers such as Canadian Tire. The website’s strong message to “Order now to secure inventory” and its early acceptance of pre-orders for spring planting materials both attest to the now-familiar anticipated shortages down the line in 2021. There is free shipping on orders over $55 (pre-tax) and the company is front and centre about no GMO products or neonicotinoids – “never has, never will, because of the impact on pollinating insects”. The website hosts rich garden tips and “How to Grow” (specific vegetables) sections, worth perusing, plus a gardening help line. Online catalogue and ordering only.