In spite of the recent snow a few green shoots are beginning to poke their noses through the soil so Spring must be on its way. Another sign of an impending Spring is the sound of seed-catalogues thudding through the letter-box. And that means it’s time for me to sort through my seed collection and start thinking about what I need to order for the 2017 growing season.
Firstly, I’ll be throwing out the seeds I’ll not be using again. These are usually the failed experiments of the previous year (aubergine, butternut squash). But I’ll keep them back for the Community Garden Seed swap – a great source of interesting and useful seeds – because someone might be able to make a success out of my failures.
Secondly, I’ll check the ‘sow-by’ dates and throw out old seed. I don’t grow that much of any one vegetable so tend to have a lot of ancient seeds knocking about and the germination rate goes down with time.
Thirdly, I’ll check how many seeds I have left in each packet. There’s nothing worse than running out of seeds half-way down a row of radishes.
Fourthly – and this is the fun bit – I’ll trawl through the seed catalogues and decide what to order and also have a look to see if there’s anything new on the market. This might be a vegetable I haven’t tried before, or a new variety of something I already grow.
There are lots of seed companies out there, but I generally stick to my two favourites, Thompson and Morgan and Marshalls. But if I can’t find what with either of them I want I’ll go to one of the specialist seed companies, of which there are an increasing number. For example, UK Chilli Seeds specialises, not surprisingly, in chillies. Value for money is also an issue. Marshalls can be cheaper than Thompson and Morgan – eg £2.65 for 50 seeds of Leek ‘Oarsman’ while T&M charge £2.99 for 40 seeds. Having said that, T&M has a good selection in their 99p packet range. This article in the Telegraph looks at value for money in more depth and mentions a number of other seed companies worth taking a look at.
I generally buy F1 seeds. They give a more uniform crop and tend to be more vigorous, although this can be a disadvantage. I find that F1 cauliflowers, for example, tend to grow at the same rate and produce cauliflowers in the same week, which isn’t very convenient. Also you usually get less F1 seeds in a packet which may be an issue. Another thing I look out for is the RHS Award of Garden Merit which is a good indicator of a reliable performer.
So, having checked through my seeds and my planting plan, here’s what I’ll be sowing in 2017 using seed I already have in stock. All of these have done well for me in the past:
Beans and Peas
Broad Bean ‘The Sutton’ (a dwarf variety); Dwarf French Bean ‘Delinel’; Runner Bean ‘Firestorm’; Pea ‘Tendrilla’ (a petit pois form).
Calabrese ‘Kabuki’; Kale ‘Dwarf Green Curled’; Cauliflower ‘Graffiti’ (purple); Cabbage (Spring) ‘April’.
Beetroot ‘Bolthardy’; Swede ‘Tweed’.
Salad leaves and herbs
Lettuce ‘Colour shades mixed’; Radish ‘Flamboyant 3’; Coriander ‘Calypso’.
Cucumber ‘Diva’ (a mini-cucumber variety), Spinach ‘Amazon’.
Quite a few vegetables are missing from the above list because I’ve run out of the seeds. I need to re-order which means I get to pick some new varieties. And then there will be something I’ve not grown before – if I have space, which is always an problem. This year, however, I’ve decided to give up on a few things I normally grow – outdoor tomatoes (blight), chard (leaf miner), sprouting broccoli (too big)), so I ought to be able to fit in a few experiments.
So, having done a bit of research, this is my seed ‘wish-list’ for 2017:
Dwarf Borlotti bean which I grew many years ago. They’re really pretty but the dwarf variety is hard to find.
Sprouts – a medium height variety if possible since they have to fit into an insect-mesh cage; Orange cauliflower – difficult to find except in mixtures. This year I may experiment with a winter harvesting tenderstem broccoli, and also a winter cabbage. Other experiments for 2017 will be Flower Sprouts, a cross between sprouts and kale, and Kohlrabi which Kaska recommended. I’m not sure I’ll have space in my brassica cages for all these new vegetables, but I’m going to try to squeeze them in.
I’ve run out of carrot seeds. Last year’s variety was a 99p trial packet of ‘Kelly’. It did OK, but no better than my usual variety ‘Nantes’ which I’ll probably go back to. Parsnips – given that the seed is best bought fresh I try a different variety every year since I’m still looking for the ‘perfect’ parsnip. This year I’m going to try ‘Gladiator’ from Marshalls.
I already have some lettuce seeds so can’t justify buying another variety, although I’m tempted by the red-splashed variety gown in the Community Garden last year. However, I do need some new salad leaves seeds. My usual mix ‘Speedy’ contains pak choi, which always bolts, and rocket which I like to grow separately, so I’m looking out for a mix that doesn’t include either. I also need new rocket seeds but find the regular salad rocket does just as well as the named varieties. I usually buy spring onion plants but this year I’ll maybe try growing them from seed.
I’m out of courgette seeds so need to re-order those but find most green courgettes are pretty successful (and win me prizes at the Dundee Food and Flower Festival!). I grew Leek ‘Zermatt’ last year and they didn’t do well so this year I’m going back to ‘Oarsman’, an F1 AGM variety – expensive but reliable.
These include such seed potatoes, onion sets and the like. I generally buy seed potatoes from Bridgend Garden Centre since they sell them by weight and I only want a few tubers. I usually grow ‘Charlottes’ but would like to experiment with another salad variety. Peter’s recent blog has already given me some ideas: Red Duke of York looks promising. Interestingly, this variety was also recommended by John Marshall in the recent ‘Tattie Workshop’, along with ‘Arran Pilot’, so I’ll look out for these varieties when I go to Bridgend. (The Garden Centre also sells onion sets by weight but I don’t grown onions myself due to a white root problem in my soil.)
There are only a few flowers I regularly grow from seed: white foxgloves, sweet peas and pot marigolds. But I also like to try something new every year. Last year it was dahlias which were a big success. This year I’m tempted by a pink scabious. One of last year’s surprise successes was a supermarket packet of ‘bee-mix annuals’ so I’m looking out for something similar, although it will be interesting to see if last year’s plants have seeded themselves.
So it looks like there will be lots of trawling through seed catalogues and websites to do in January, but I really enjoy it. It’s one of the few gardening activities you can do inside in the warm without getting your hands dirty. So I’m going to make the most of it!