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Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: It’s OK to order seeds from companies in different climates

Dear Helen: Your recent advice to begin planning for acquiring the seeds that will be needed for next year raised a question for me.

Dear Helen: Your recent advice to begin planning for acquiring the seeds that will be needed for next year raised a question for me. Is it preferable to buy seeds from sources located in a similar climate to ours? I enjoy looking through catalogues from companies situated in places with growing conditions very different from ours, but I hesitate to order from them. I tend to stick with fairly local seed sources, but would love to look further afield.

J.I.

We are blessed with a good number of local seed sources that produce all or most of the seeds they sell. They promote organic growing methods, the preservation of heirloom varieties, and seed saving. Examples are Salt spring Seeds and Eagleridge Seeds on Salt Spring Island, Brother Nature Organic Seeds in Victoria, and Full circle Seeds in Sooke.

Acquiring seeds from sources like these supports local growers and earth-friendly growing practices.

Like you, I take great pleasure in looking through catalogues from many different places. Personally, I’ve never resisted the urge to order from over a dozen sources every year. Some are located in very different climates, but most major companies grow few, if any, of the seeds they list.

William Dam Seeds in Ontario is an all-round fine catalogue with interesting European varieties and moderate prices.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine breed many of their own exclusive varieties. Some growers at my local farmers’ market favour Johnny’s vegetable and cut flower varieties.

Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa has a sensational selection of heirloom vegetables and flowers.

J.L. Hudson in California has a no-frills catalogue packed with unusual and rare seeds. I’m currently growing their species petunias.

Dear Helen: Your column describing different ways to use zucchini was interesting and helpful, but it left me curious to know what varieties of zucchini (and other summer squash) you have found to be easiest to grow and most productive.

L.S.

For their pleasing texture and good flavour, I grow mainly Italian “Romanesco” zucchini varieties, and in some years I also plant a Middle Eastern summer squash.

Romanesco zucchinis are narrow, light green with pale flecks, and marked with noticeable lengthwise ridges. I find these zucchinis less watery than the usual plain green types, and the flavour is mildly nutty.

Cassia (William Dam Seeds) is the variety I’m growing this year. It is productive and easy-growing. Next year I plan to add Costata (Johnny’s Selected Seeds), another Romanesco, to my zucchini roster.

Costata is open-pollinated, that is, not a hybrid. The plants are described as large and semi-vining, and while they produce only half the yield of hybrid varieties, the fruits “taste much better: great texture, nutty flavor, delicious raw or cooked.”

The low-yield comment in the catalogue is surprising in light of a table at my local farmers’ market piled high with Romanesco zucchinis. The growers identified the variety as Costata, from Johnny’s.

Middle Eastern summer squashes have a slightly blocky shape and pale green skin with cream mottling. They are traditionally picked small, at just 10 cm long. I like the creamy flavour and texture.

Deema (Dam) is doing very well in my garden this year. Next year I’ll be trying Magda (Johnny’s), described as tasting sweet and nutty — “the best flavor of any Middle Eastern type in our trials.”

Dear Helen: My seed-grown bergamot plants were in bloom when a rabbit ate the tops off. Will they regrow and produce more flowers, and will the plants over-winter to grow and bloom again next year?

C.F.

Bergamot (bee-balm, Monarda) is a showy perennial that flowers over a period of around six weeks in July and August. Your plants have been prematurely dead-headed, but should produce more flowers if they can be protected, perhaps with chicken wire or something similar.

Sun, a rich soil kept evenly moist, a nourishing mulch applied when the first flower buds appear, and regular dead-heading all help to keep Monarda plants in good health and blooming well.

Plant sale. The Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St. in Victoria, is holding its Annual August Organic Plant Sale on Saturday, Aug. 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., outside the centre’s demonstration site. Seven local farmers will be offering a wide variety of over-wintering, organically grown vegetable transplants as well as perennial fruiting plants and herb seedlings. There will be live music, and more.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com