Northern Seeds: A west Quebec seed producer plants a future
Catherine Wallenburg was born and raised in Montreal. But today she’s a country gal; her spirit in full bloom when working the land.
"Manual Labour does wonders for me," smiles Wallenburg.
For years, in her twenties, Wallenburg lived in an intentional community in the U.S.; a commune founded in the 1960s.
"A lot of seeds were planted at that time. It was my first brush with rural living and with agriculture. And I was really taken with it," she said.
After working on some local farms in the Gatineau Hills, Wallenburg put down roots of her own in Farrellton, captivated by the gift of the natural landscape.
“The beauty of it is something I appreciate every day. I just loved it here, so I decided to make it my home,” said Wallenburg.
It’s also Wallenburg’s place of business. Along with growing flowers, vegetables and herbs, the grower wants to help you grow to love growing.
"The name of the company is Northern Seeds. I aim to produce really top-quality seeds for northern gardeners," she said.
"And that means seeds that are resilient to our conditions--the short growing season, pest pressure and occasional drought. Really, whatever comes our way," she said.
There are more than 90 varieties of high-quality seeds in Wallenburg’s catalogue, all certified organic, open pollinated and non-GMO.
"They’re alive. They’re latent but they’re alive. And I love that."
Her seeds begin as plantings or transplants in her fields, or inside a greenhouse where Wallenburg’s reverence for the natural world is reflected in her growing practices.
She strives to improve soil quality and foster biodiversity. At this time of year, the beds are full. Wallenburg’s work is devoted to crop maintenance, irrigation and endless weeding.
"The rest will come in strong in September, October. That’s crunch time here," she said.
There is a diverse offering of flowers, herbs and vegetables. Wallenburg picks a seed pod from a flowering patch of red Russian kale to reveal the seeds inside.
"It started flowering about six weeks ago and now it’s forming these seed pods which when opened up show the kale seeds. And each one of these makes a single kale plant, so there’s quite a bit of food in a single seed pod," said Wallenburg.
The seeds are hand packaged at the grower’s kitchen table.
"This winter I did 25,000 in a couple of weeks. It was grueling. Thank goodness for podcasts," she laughed.
Since the pandemic, Wallenburg says there are a lot of new gardeners out there.
"I think the pandemic has encouraged people to recognize how wonderful gardening is. It’s something you can do at home, and you can engage the whole family. It’s COVID-safe, outdoors and full of wonder."
And like Wallenburg’s seeds, that wonder continues to grow and flower.
"There’s never a gardening year where you don’t learn a thing about plants and the natural world," she said.
"I just love it. I have a hard time picturing myself doing anything else."
Northern Seeds are available at northernseeds.ca and many retail gardening centres