Old-School Seed Buying

John A. Bruce & Co Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of SeedsThis turn-of-the-century seed catalogue, John A. Bruce & Co.’s Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of Seeds, 1884, was perfect reading this morning as I prepared to make my final seed choices and orders for the 2008 growing season. The gorgeous illustrated book (do not miss the cover on page 6), reproduced in full and made available online as a part of the Ontario Time Machine project is fascinating to explore including vegetable varieties many of us still enjoy today (they sold my favourite dwarf pea ‘Tom Thumb’!). Reading through the book sent me off on some wild but fruitless chases for interesting varieties like ‘Alpha’ a blue wrinkled pea, and ‘Black Portugal Musk Rock’* (page 13) a fascinating, bumpy-skinned cantaloupe.

As you turn through the pages be sure to click on descriptive photos, text definitions and audio files that provide further insight and historical context.

I’ve got to include an additional shout-out here to my spouse Davin who designed the Ontario Time Machine website.


*Cantaloupes or musk melons were called “rock melons” around the turn-of-the-century due to their hard, rock-like rinds.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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9 thoughts on “Old-School Seed Buying

  1. “Cantaloupes or musk melons were called ‘rock melons’ around the turn-of-the-century”

    these are still called rock melons in new zealand! and perhaps other part of the world as well?

    what a nice reproduction of an historical document. :)

  2. Completely random, but…. What do you do with your old container soil at the end of gardening season? Do you store it and refresh with compost the next year? Do you dump it somewhere?

    It just struck me that, since you use a lot of really big containers for your rooftop veggies, you’d have a lot more “old” soil to deal with than the average person.

  3. Thanks, quant!

    (I’ve always reused mine if it was just a year old, and just mixed in fresh compost or soil. But it’s usually the flowers that get the old stuff. I baby my veggies.)

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