Across Quebec, Canada and the world, the seed festival season begins in January and continues until March, when it’s time to plant!
On my urban terrace, I have limited space to try out new varieties of vegetable plants, so I don’t have many suggestions for you. But I do know people who know more than I do: seed growers! Who better to advise us?
You can of course go and meet them at your local seed festival, but today I’m giving you a taste. I’ve asked some of Quebec’s seed producers to pick out their favorite seeds, something new or simply something they’d like you to discover.
Let’s see what they have to suggest!
Allthough I’ve included links to the seed producers websites, few have an English version!
I met Brother Armand Savignac in 1984 at the age of 85. At the time, he was growing 200 Dufresne pink tomato plants, and praising their succulence. I grew this very tasty tomato in the foothills of the Lanaudière region with less success than I had expected. But I persevered, and through a meticulous selection of mother plants and bearing fruit, I succeeded in making the line earlier and hardier, while retaining its seductive taste. When brother Armand Savignac died in 1994, I decided to name the Dufresne’s northern line the Savignac tomato in his honor. Since then, I’ve been growing and improving it through targeted selection, making it one of the tastiest, most productive and disease-resistant tomatoes I know. This indeterminate cultivar must be staked.
Delicate, tender white turnip with a mild, sweet flavor. A popular vegetable with family farmers.
Children love it raw. It’s eaten like a radish or grated into salads. A discovery! Fast-growing, it can be sown successively so that it can be eaten all season long. It’s a cold-weather vegetable that can withstand a light frost. At its best at 5-7 cm (2″ to 3″) in diameter. Leaves can be eaten as greens.
Best covered with insect-proof netting to prevent cabbage maggot. Similar to the Hakurai variety (F1), Tokyo Market is open-pollinated.
An innovation in the pepper world: a Capsicum baccatum without any heat! So you get all the crispness and fruitiness of the species, but without the spiciness. In other words, Aji Delight is to C. baccatum what sweet bell pepper is to Capsicum annuum, and it opens up new horizons of flavors and recipes for people who appreciate peppers. It lives up to its name, as it’s very tasty, with a fruity taste and even a subtle note reminiscent of cinnamon (when very ripe). What’s more, it has a very crisp mouthfeel. And unlike standard sweet peppers, it’s already sweet when green, with a flavor that’s less bitter or astringent than that of green peppers.
It can also be dried to make a very sweet paprika with a candy/red berry flavor. Ripe red peppers, 9 to 12 cm (4 inches) long. 4 mm (1/8 inch) walls, 3-lobed fruits. Good production, sometimes 50+ peppers/2 kilos (4 lb) per plant. Relatively early for a C. baccatum, at 85 days. Large 1 m (3 ft.) plants with several lateral branches hanging down to the ground. Starts slowly but finishes strongly in September.
At the heart of our passion for biodiversity and regenerative agriculture at Jardins de l’écoumène, the Oka melon holds a special place. For years, it has held its place among our favorite varieties, not only for its exquisite taste and perfect adaptation to Quebec’s harsh climate, but also because of its precious historical past. The Oka melon is a vibrant testimony to Quebec’s rich and often overlooked agricultural history. The history of this variety dates back to 1893, when four Trappist monks settled in Oka, Quebec. Their ingenuity gave birth to the ‘Oka’ melon, the result of a cross between the renowned Montreal embroidered melon (Cucumis melo ‘Montreal’) and the old American cultivar Banana (Cucumis melo ‘Banana’). Thanks to the work of Father Athanase, this early melon has adapted to thrive in most Quebec regions. Its thick, orange flesh is renowned for its exceptional flavor.
At Jardins de l’écoumène, we reconnected with the history of the Oka melon when Jean-François Lévêque came across this variety in a catalog from Seed Savers Exchange, an American organization dedicated to seed preservation. In 2014, we even had the honor of collaborating with the monks of Oka, now in nearby Saint-Jean-de-Matha, to revive the traditional cultivation of this historic melon. For us, preserving this variety in our gardens and distributing its seeds year after year to Quebec gardeners symbolizes not only our commitment to biodiversity, but also our deep respect for Quebec’s agricultural heritage.
At La société des plantes, we’re very fond of the common iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum). We grow it in containers, in smartpots, in window boxes… and, like many plants native to arid environments, it loves it.
It’s satisfying to have a plant from the coast of South Africa that thrives in the cool, windy Lower St. Lawrence, and what’s more, it’s a curiosity that never fails to capture the attention of visitors. Its stems and leaf bases are covered with tiny papillae that shine like frost in the sun, like a sequined jacket. It almost looks like glass. Then you feel around to pick a leaf and taste it, and it’s unsettling to the touch… almost carnal!
In the mouth, it’s an explosion of freshness; it’s as if a salad had been injected with its own vinaigrette! It’s a little salty, a little tangy, and very refreshing. You eat them as if they were potato chips! No pests, no known diseases: a charm to cultivate.
We’re all familiar with the famous potato, which plays an important role on our plates and was once the very center of our daily fare.
Generally speaking, the potato is propagated by cloning tubers, but it is also possible to propagate it by sowing, from the seeds that reside in the aerial fruits of the plants.
Why start potatoes by sowing? Firstly, lines propagated from seed are much more adaptable to their environment than those propagated by cloning. Secondly, the potato’s genetic expression will be highly diversified, making it possible to create new varieties.
It’s worth bearing in mind that tubers obtained from seed propagation will not necessarily have the same characteristics as their parents. It is also possible to find tubers with a more bitter taste (no more than 2 to 5% of the crop).
One approach we adopt in our gardens is to select healthy tubers with good shelf life and pleasant taste and multiply them by cloning in subsequent years.
The aim is to discover and marvel at all the diversity that nature has to offer. It’s also a fun game to select the most interesting individuals and continue to learn more and more about this famous potato that has been with us for generations!
The response from the seed producers was so positive that I couldn’t fit it all into one article. More tomorrow!