Get ready to grow: Seed swap returns to Ottawa

Eager buyers enjoy one-stop shopping for a wide range of regional specialty seeds. Photo: Lucy Martin

Gardeners enjoy one-stop shopping for a wide range of regional specialty seeds. Photo: Lucy Martin

I really don't know what took me so long, but last year was the first time I attended a mainstay of the Ottawa gardening scene, something called Seedy Saturday.

Twelve months later it's back, so I'd like to share particulars for the 2014 event:

Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre, Britannia Park, 102 Greenview ave
Saturday March 1, 2014          10-3

Calling All Gardeners!
Eager to get back in your garden?
This annual seed exchange and sale will feature an organic mini-market, garden talks and workshops, a swap table and organic snacks.
While your gardens sleep under their blanket of snow, why not come out for a visit?
Workshop seating is limited, so come early! Free admission, free workshops

10:15 Square foot Gardening with Carolyn Klickermann
11:00 Everything you ever wanted to know about Kale: growing, eating and storing – Jim Thompson, Notre petite ferme – Our Little Farm
12:00 Growing sweet potatoes – Dan Brisebois, Ferme de Tournesol
13:00 Beginner seed saving- Kate Green USC
14:00 The 10 meter diet – Tom Marcantonio

Contact: Greta@seeds-organic.com, 613-521-8648

Here's a small chat on how that works with the helpful couple who run the seed swap table, Edward and Linda MacDonald.

You may not have surplus or unwanted seeds that need a home. You may not want someone else's donated seeds. But besides the swap table and the (free) workshops topics, this event shines in another respect: it draws in a wonderful cluster of small/regional/heirloom seed vendors. This connects you with a wide array of standard and unusual vegetables and flowers, that grow well right here.

Yes, catalog surfers, and variety geeks, I'm talking to you. In Canada, at least. How many times have you seen some particular variety/varieties you'd love to try, but were put off by the unavoidable shipping and handling fees that make small buys less attractive? Skip all that by cherry picking without the fees.

Alas, alas! This particular seed buffet isn't completely accessible for gardeners who till in the U.S. Because the online rules are confusing, I double-checked with the Odgensburg Port of Entry, which referred me to the Alexandria Bay Ag query number. Basically, bringing garden seeds back to the U.S. requires proper paperwork & inspection, which is really more trouble than its worth. I wish the rules were simple and easy, but that's the realty.

If you want to try anyway, in hopes they let it through, be sure to declare all plant and Ag items at the border and realize the packets may be denied entry and thrown away. Keep in mind that many of those controls exist for very good reasons – particularly where soil-borne diseases or pathogens are concerned. (Don't be the harmful person who transports nasties to new places!) Oddly enough, it seems to be no problem at all to order seeds from the U.S. and bring them to Canada, so long as soil is not involved, as with bulbs and live plant stock.

One of the Ottawa Seed Saturday organizers is Greta Kryger, of Greta's Organic Gardens. She's won a provincial award for agri-food innovation excellence and has been featured in the 2013 Ottawa Citizen "Days of Summer" series:

This year on her River Road farm just a couple of minutes from Ottawa International Airport, Kryger is growing 340 varieties of tomatoes, many with exotic names like Amazon Chocolate, Black Zebra, Purple Calabash, White Queen, Speckled Roma, Big Rainbow, Green Sausage and Lemon Boy.

As well as tomatoes, she grows lettuce, melons, beans, okra, asparagus, beets, leeks, corn, eggplant, peppers, radishes, zucchini, spinach, celery, herbs, tobacco and more, all of it certified organic.

But if you want to taste some of her harvest, you may have to wait a year or so, because all she sells of it are the seeds — close to a million of them each year for the past two decades and a bit.

Another vendor worth looking for treks in from Quebec. Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm. It's run by dedicated young farmers and apprentices who have won prizes and gained media attention for their approach to agriculture.

You can also look for Urban Harvest out of Toronto; Terra Edibles from Foxboro, Ontario; The Cottage Gardener of Newtonville, Ontario and Seeds of Creation, among others.

These small companies contribute to a more vibrant growing and eating landscape. So, if you live in easy reach of Ottawa – and even if you don't – this is one of those not-to-be-missed chances. It's an invigorating day that reinforces the satisfaction of growing food – with easy opportunities to take that to new places.

Pembroke and Perth, Ontario will have their own seed swaps on Saturday, Kingston holds one on Saturday, March 8th and Gatineau, Quebec has one on March 16th. (Details are listed here.)

Lastly, in case anyone's interested, here's a link to an extensive list of Canadian sources of garden seeds that isn't hyper local. For U.S. gardeners here's a list of 69 garden catalogs for 2014 that can be requested for free.

U.S. gardeners who feel left out of this Ottawa shindig might want to check out Plattsburg's "Food From the Farm" event taking place this Saturday.  Martha Foley and Amy Ivy talked about it on Monday's garden chat, and Martha has more to add on connections that have more happen in Vermont in this blog post too.

Happy gardening and happy eating, everyone!

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