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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Kales outstanding in cold snap

In Helen Chesnut’s garden, two kale varieties weathered the pre-Christmas freeze up very well.

Dear Helen: I’m having difficulty finding sources for some of the varieties I want to grow. Some of my usual sources no longer list varieties I’ve grown for years.


I’m coming across the same issue. My best dwarf, small-leaved basil varieties have disappeared from all the new seed lists I have accessed so far.

A useful online resource for finding specific varieties of vegetable seeds is the Seeds of Diversity website: Click on “Canadian Seed Catalogue Index” and then on the vegetable you are researching. A list of varieties of that vegetable will appear, along with seed companies that list it. Click onto a company name to find further details, such as the price.

Dear Helen: Late in December, one of your columns mentioned two heirloom tomatoes available from Seed Savers Exchange in the U.S. Do you have a local source for the seeds?


The two tomatoes were Japanese Black Trifele and Salvaterra’s Select. I found Japanese Black Trifele in the online catalogue of Salt Spring Seeds. So far, except for online sources I’ve not used before, Seed Savers Exchange is the only familiar (to me) source for Salvaterra’s Select.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed, as have other keen home gardeners, continually changing (and disappearing) sources for some of our preferred varieties. I’m constantly on the search for decent alternatives to old favourites I can no longer access.

Dear Helen: Are all kale varieties equally hardy?


Not in my experience. I remember one really harsh winter that wiped out the kale plants in many gardens near where I live. The one variety in my garden that stayed in useable condition was Improved Siberian. Because of that experience, I always include at least two Improved Siberian plants in my kale patch each year.

That experience happened before I discovered Sweet Hardy, from Salt Spring Seeds, whose online catalogue describes the variety as an “Heirloom from Prince Rupert. Abundant thick and tender sweet leaves on multi branching plant. Withstands prolonged frost and alternating damp conditions.”

I often encourage visitors to the garden to nibble on a few small, young leaves from a Sweet Hardy plant. They are always impressed with the taste. This winter’s plants, like the Improved Siberian, weathered the pre-Christmas freeze-up very well. All my kale plants survived, but these two were outstanding.

I still grow Red Russian, though it seems just a little less hardy, because of its beauty and flavour, and the delicious mini-broccoli like florets it produces in late winter and early spring.

Salt Spring Seeds list all three of these kale varieties.

Dear Helen: I’ve been looking for a general guide to vegetable varieties for growing in containers. I garden in pots, on my deck. None of the seed sources I use includes a section on container food gardening.


Several of the catalogues I’m familiar with used to have a section on container vegetables, but so far I’ve not seen this in any of the new catalogues. I did, however, find an impressive number of suitable varieties and articles on growing in containers in the online catalogue from Renee’s Garden (California).

Visit the website ( and click on “Shop Our Catalog.” Go to Vegetables and look, on the list, for “Container Variety Sampler.” There you will find a colourful guide to many suitable varieties. I found this section especially interesting because of a friend who gardens on her deck. I noticed also, among the peas, a snap pea for hanging baskets called “Snack Hero.”

Back when Renee still put out a print catalogue, I used to order seeds often, and I still have two of her cook books. It’s only in recent years, when forced to turn to online catalogues, that I’ve re-discovered this source and begun trying out some of the unusual varieties offered by Renee’s Garden.

I’ve not been disappointed. Last year her variety of Italian climbing zucchini (Trombetta di Albenga) produced strong, lush vines and an extended succession of long, slim fruits.

Seedy in Saanich. Saanich Seedy Saturday will take place in the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd, on Jan. 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Look for a bounty of local, organically grown seeds and transplants, as well as winter vegetables, preserves and farm products.

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