The growing season is just around the corner, which means the preparations and hard work kick off in earnest over the next fortnight.
First, though, comes the seed order.
We start by working through the seed that we already have in store, a mixture of saved seed from last year’s crops plus excess seeds from the previous two years’ orders (we always keep enough seed for two seasons).
The seed packets and boxes are divided into three piles – older seeds that must be planted this season, fresh seeds where we have sufficient for this year alone, and fresh seeds where we have enough for this year and next.
Then it’s time to start sorting and organising.
If a particular vegetable has been unsuccessful three years in a row, it’s ruled out.
If a particular variety has been unsuccessful two years in a row, it’s ruled out.
If a particular vegetable is especially successful and can cover an unsuccessful vegetable, then we need to plant more.
If a particular variety is especially successful, then we need to plant more.
If a variety grew well, but stored poorly then we need to plant less and find a better variety.
If we have a vegetable that has done grown well but yielded poorly or been heavily hit by pests and disease, then we need to try a new variety.
We prefer certified organic, open-pollinated, traditional varieties but also have to pragmatic where organically grown varieties are not available or where hybrids thrive and traditional varieties don’t.
Then, we have to work through the seed catalogues to see if we can match available seeds to our needs.
It’s particularly difficult when a robust, high-yielding variety for our conditions has been removed from the catalogues — which happens every year.
At the moment, our seed order is:
- Potatoes — Pink Fir Apple 3kg, Valor 6kg, Cosmos 3kg, Orla 3kg
- Pumpkins — Tom Fox
- Marrows — Scallopini Yellow
- Squash — Butternut
- Broad beans — Super Aquadulce, Witkiem
- Pea — Greenshaft, Douce Provence
- Calabrese — Pacifica
- Lettuce — Belize, Catalogna, Vienna, Rubens Red, Marvel of Four Seasons
- Cabbage — Marner Lagerrot, Marner Lagerweiss, Storing White, Marner Early Red
- Broccoli — Purple Sprouting Early, Bordeaux
- Kale — Red Winter
- Courgette — Partenon F1, Genovese
- Cauliflower — Snowball, Vroege Mechelse 2
- Carrot — Flakkee, White Kuttiger, James Scarlet Intermediate, Amsterdam Forcing
- Turnip — White Globe, Noir d’Hiver
- Swede — Willemsburger
- Parsnips — Half Long Guernsey
- Mangels —
- Parsnips — Half Long Guernsey
- Radish — French Breakfast, Short Top Forcing
- Shallots — Longor (sets, 6kg)
- Onions — Sturon Globe (sets, 6kg), Jet Set (sets, 1.5kg), Red Baron (sets, 1.5kg)
- Basil — Sweet Genovese
- Parsley — Italian Giant
- Sorrel — Broad leaved
- Tomato — Mexican Honey
- Cucumber — Gerkin Adam F1
We source our seeds from The Organic Catalogue (not as good as it thinks it is, but the only source of some seeds), Secret Seeds (some unusual varieties), Mr Fothergills (a big commercial fallback), Suttons Seeds (another big one to fall back upon), Meadowmania (good for grasses and leys, also some veg and herbs, mangels and stubble turnips have gone), Moles Seeds (good for big orders), Real Seeds (heirloom vegetables and a favourite of mine) and Tuckers Seeds (one of the few seed merchants to still stock mangels).
On top of that, we have 150kg of saved seed potatoes, 50kg of jerusalem artichokes, half a kilogram of broad beans, hundreds of peas, and scores more packets of seeds to be used.We also have many perennials, soft fruit fruits and semi-cultivated wild plants, including rhubarb, sweet marjoram, sage, spearmint, oregano, rosemary, bay, thyme, chives, lemon balm, horseradish, raspberries, blackcurrants, tayberries, gooseberries, blueberries, nettles, hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, apples, elderflower, lavender and more.
It gives us plenty to do, with the vegetable patch containing 15 large raised beds and six smaller one, three field sized areas to work (two half acre, one quarter acre), the herb garden, the soft fruit beds and the hedgerows all needing work.
I suppose I’d better get started…