Time to start gearing up

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)
  • Tarragon
  • Caraway
  • Borage
  • Soapwort
  • Basil — Sweet Genovese
  • Dill
  • Parsley — Italian Giant
  • Peppermint
  • 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…

11 Responses to “Time to start gearing up”

  1. With our polytunnel up and raised beds made inside we are looking forward to our first season growing under cover. Our seed order has arrived and optimism is high…….!


  2. I have been following your blog for some months and really enjoy reading your latest offerings. Further, I work in rural Aberdeenshire and often pass your place on my way to Kennethmont and beyond, so seeing the pig in the paddock, for example, makes the blog stories more meaningful.

    I wanted to comment on your seed list and in particular the reference to you having 150Kg of tatties in store – that is wonderful but how on earth do you keep the blight at bay? Living just 8 miles away, my tatties suffer from blight that totally destroys the crop each year – with little to eat and none to keep for winter usage or seed. Do you spray with a copper fungicide as a preventative measure? And, in what way do you store that volume of tatties – in a clamp?

    As for seed merchants I favour Thomson & Morgan and occasionally buy the very cheap seeds that B&Q and Aldi sell. Last year I tried some heirloom seeds from ‘Plants of Distinction’, in particular the rainbow carrot mix – they grew profusely to 1m high, flowered and developed small, hard and woody inedible roots that required a saw to cut, let alone the kitchen knife. They were recycled through the shredder and onto the compost heap!

    With best wishes


  3. Off you trot then, no time to be lolly-gagging!

  4. Actually, we store more than a tonne of potatoes altogether, some for seed, some for pig feed and the rest for us.

    To stave off blight, we mainly go for blight resistant varieties, spray with Bordeaux mixture and compost tea, cut down and burn any haulms that show a hint of blight, and, if it looks like getting out of control, I scythe all the haulms in one hit.

    I then leave the potatoes for at least a month to mature and for the spores to die off. Then they’re lifted and sorted.

    Any with rot or green go in the fire; damaged ones go for immediate use by us or the pigs; the 2-3in ones in perfect condition go for seed, and the rest are stored (length of storage depending on variety and size, big maincrop tatties see us through to June if the weather remains cool.

    The potatoes are stored in steel bins lined with straw, with a thick layer of straw in the bottom and layers of straw between and around layers of tatties. The tatties must not touch each other as this helps prevent rot spreading. Air flow is essential, as is dark. Our bins have air holes in the top and bottom, but I’m looking at setting up 12v computer fans to increase air flow.

    It’s very important to check through the potatoes every month or so to pull out any with rot. Also, we only use saved potatoes for three years before buying in disease free replacement.

    Each year, we replace a third of our potato varieties with a small amount of seed potatoes. They are used to grow the seed potatoes for a larger crop the following year, with a proportion of that crop reserved for the third year. Then back to the beginning again.

  5. Phew!

    I have one packet of onion seeds, one packet of tomato seeds and a bag of Maris Piper seed potatoes! One day I hope to have a little more space and perhaps I can grow a quarter of what you’ll be hauling in this year.

    Good Luck!


  6. Moles’ seeds are good and in growers’ quantities. They do a good selection of organic veg seeds now as well.

  7. That’s a lot of spuds! So you plant 165kg each year – how much land does that take up? I am trying to plan our vegie garden to produce most of our needs, I figure we need about 260kg spuds a year. But then if we had pigs… did it take you long to work out how much of everything to plant?

  8. 6kg of seed potatoes is enough for a 30 metre row. We plant between 25 and 35 rows, including part rows.

    Theoretically, we could get in excess of 2.5 tonnes of potatoes from that planting.

    However, yields of first and second earlies are always lower (smaller tubers), we lose some to rabbits, we lose some plants (even whole rows) to blight which means reduced yield, we don’t irrigate so if we get a long dry spell the yield drops (and we do get long dry spells up here), then we lose some in storage, and so on.

    I always plant far more than we might appear to need of almost all our crops to allow for losses, but even then we sometimes find we get nothing (courgettes coming out our ears one year, three courgettes the next).

    I also calculate our useage, so we use about 400 onions a year for example. That means planting at least 650 onion sets, plus specialist varieties grown from seed.

    It helps enormously to be both the cook and the gardener/crofter. I know what I use so I know what I need to grow.

    You have to grow a lot of fruit and vegetables to ensure you have enough for a year, come what may. The plus side is that if your crops do well, then you have surpluses to trade or sell.

  9. Thanks for that, it really does help. I don’t know anyone here with even the ambition to produce all or most of their food, so you have at least given me something to aim for!

  10. All very interesting. Are the varieties listed tried and tested by you? I too live in Aberdeenshire and have had very poor results for the past two years and am trying to identify which varieties will grow best.

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