Tag: Heritage Seed Library

New Seeds: Heritage Seed Library 2017

February 2017 Heritage Seed Library
This year’s selection plus a few from 2016 that still need sowing…

A couple of weeks ago, we took delivery of our annual selection of seed from Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library club. The H.S.L. aims to maintain and distribute heritage, or non-commercially available varieties of vegetables and herbs, encouraging its members to save their own seed and keep these varieties going as long as they can. It’s a great way to get hold of either reliable croppers that for some reason are no longer in favour, or varieties that just aren’t available in the regular seed catalogues.

The seed-requesting process has changed since last year. There’s now an online order form for club members which lets you know which seed varieties are still available. This means you can ask for more of your first-choice varieties, if you’re quick enough. I left it until early January to put my order in and a fair few of the seeds I really liked the sound of had already been divvied-out. Next year I’ll be online within half an hour of the catalogue coming through.

Here’s what I opted for this year, including a bonus ‘lucky dip’ freebie that’s available as an optional extra:

  • Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) ‘Dinah’s Climbing Blue’
  • Lablab Bean(Dolichos lablab) ‘Ying’s’
  • Sweetcorn (Zea mays) ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’
  • Leek (Allium porrum) ‘Kelvedon King’
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Asparagus’
  • Pea (Pisum sativum) ‘Kent Blue’
  • Callaloo (Amaranthus spp.) ‘Bangladeshi Dhata’ (lucky dip)

I also have three packets of my 2016 selection that I didn’t get around to sowing last year:

  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Georgia Southern Collard’
  • Squash (Cucurbita maxima) ‘Zapallito de Toscana’
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa) ‘Kaskinauris’ (lucky dip)

Plus, I’ve signed up to be a ‘variety champion’ – with the aim of saving seed and sending stocks back to Garden Organic – for the following:

  • Dwarf French Bean (P. vulgaris) ‘Black Valentine’

And, because I had a problem with a couple of bean varieties that refused to germinate last year (‘Major Cook’s’ and ‘Peewit’ both completely failed to break dormancy, alas), Garden Organic very kindly sent me a replacement packet of ‘Peewit’ when I mentioned it to them, so I have those to go in as well.

As for the Heritage Seed Library crops I did sow last year, results were generally good. Leek ‘Walton Mammoth’ went in late and so hasn’t yet achieved its ‘Mammoth’ stature, but the young leeks we’ve been eating over winter have been very tasty indeed, with a good, strong flavour. Runner Bean ‘Blackpod’ was superb:

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is worth the ticket price alone.

Vigorous growth and a good, heavy cropper. You do have to catch the pods early, when they’re still mostly green, if you want to eat them sliced and steamed, otherwise once they start to darken to their beautiful deep purple colour, they’re a bit too tough. The dried beans store well and are very good in soups and stews. I’ve saved a few seed beans for this year as well, so I’m hoping for a repeat performance.

For more information on joining the Heritage Seed Library and helping to preserve these old varieties, see Garden Organic’s website.

Now Sowing: Leeks and Broad Beans

There’s always a temptation – one I admit I succumbed to when I first started growing – to start sowing seeds at what seems to be the earliest possible opportunity. We get that first warm(ish) weekend in mid-February or early March, when surely Spring can only be a few days around the corner, and the urge to start sprinkling seed around starts to become all-but irresistible.

A well-stuffed seedbox
So many seeds, so little space left in the current storage unit…
Over the past few years I’ve learned, through trial and error (mostly error…) that it’s far better to exercise patience than it is to watch your first few crops of precious seedlings fall foul of the pitfalls of early Spring. A late March or April frost could kill them off, or they could stretch out towards the dribs and drabs of available sunlight until they’re so thin and leggy they’re likely to snap as soon as you look at them, or they might simply run out of steam before the conditions are warm enough for them to start developing the root, stem and leaf systems that they’ll need to power them on to productive adulthood. Better to wait until a little later in the season – especially here in North Manchester, where the weather’s seldom balmy until April at the earliest – than lose the lot and have to start over again.

There are a few exceptions to the general rule of thumb, of course: early-cropping veg, hardier varieties, those that take their time to germinate or need a long, slow growing season to develop, and crops destined to spend their entire lives under cover in a greenhouse. These are the sorts of seeds that I’ve learned you can get away with sowing round about this time of year. I’ve already sown my chillis (to grow under cover) a few weeks back – they’re doing quite nicely in the propagator at the moment – and over the past couple of days I’ve sown two more essential food crops: leeks (long season) and broad beans (early, hardy).


2015 Leeks and 2016 Garlic
Last year’s leeks and this year’s garlic, doing well in February 2016, despite the endless wet weather…

I’m a late but enthusastic convert to eating leeks. Up until three or four years ago I hated the things (due to a childhood trauma involving being force-fed leek and potato pie until I ran out of tears to cry) but then I tried them sautéed in butter and the proverbial lightbulb clicked on. I’ve grown them every year since, with a pretty decent success rate, although last year’s crop wasn’t the finest I’ve seen, mainly due to various house-move related timing issues.

This year I’ve sown three varieties of leek (Allium ampeloprasum / Allium porrum – sources differ): ‘Elefant’ (Mr Fothergill’s), ‘Herfstuezen 3 – Porvite’ (Thompson & Morgan – no longer on sale) and ‘Walton Mammoth’, an heirloom variety that I was sent as past of my first Heritage Seed Library selection.

I’ve changed my sowing method slightly; in the past, I’ve sown leeks in standard, shallow seed trays and then picked out individual seedlings to grow on in modules. That’s definitely one of the most laborious, tedious gardening tasks I’ve set myself to-date and has meant the loss of a number of seedlings in the process: not great fun.

This year, I’ve sown them in a deeper tray instead, with 2-3cm of seed compost on top of around 7-8cm of multi-purpose. The theory being that they’ll grown and develop to the ideal pencil-thickness in those tubs, and when the time comes I can just split them up and dib them in to their final growing position in one go. Less fuss, more leeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Broad Beans

Broad Bean 'The Sutton' ready to go
A quick top-coating of compost and a good soaking and they’ll be left in the greenhouse to germinate.

I’m a huge fan of all the members of the Fabaceae family that I’ve encountered so far. They’re a joy to grow and a wonderfully versatile, protein-rich food crop. This year I’ll be growing around a dozen different varieties of beans; it is the International Year of Pulses, after all.

The first to go in, sown this afternoon, are Broad Bean (Vicia faba) ‘The Sutton’ (SowSeeds.co.uk). It’s a white-bean variety, which should contrast and compliment nicely with the ‘red epicure’ (Unwins), which I grew and enjoyed last year and will be sowing tomorrow. I’ve also bought a packet of ‘aquadulce’ (Thompson & Morgan), which I grew last year as well. I’m saving those for an Autumn sowing, to see if I can over-winter them for an even earlier crop next year.

After some reading around, I decided to soak the beans overnight in tepid water to see which ones swelled and were therefore more likely to be viable. Of the 28 I soaked, 23 were definitely nicely fattened and one was borderline. Those 24 have now been sown in modules of standard multi-purpose compost: beans aren’t so delicate that they need special seed compost and the young plants should grow strongly in the richer compost. With any luck they’ll be large enough to be planted out sometime in April and Jo and I should be feasting on garlic-butter sautéed broad beans by June.

New Seeds: Heritage Seed Library 2016

My first ever seed selection from Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library has arrived!

New in from the Heritage Seed Library
New seeds from the Heritage Seed Library (pic fancied-up via Pixlr.com)

I’m delighted to say that I’ve received five out of my six first-choice varieties, and one of my second-choice (more about the request process in my earlier post on joining the HSL), as well as a lucky dip packet (one that isn’t actually on this year’s seed list, rather mysteriously).

Here’s what I’ve been sent:

  • Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccinea) ‘Blackpod’
  • Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) ‘Major Cook’s Bean’
  • Dwarf French Bean (P. vulgaris) ‘Peewit’
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Georgia Southern Collard’
  • Leek (Allium ampeloprasum) ‘Walton Mammoth’
  • Squash (Cucurbita maxima) ‘Zapallito de Toscana’
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa) ‘Kaskinauris’ (lucky dip)

A bit of research on that turnip variety turns up Garden Organic’s Adopt a Veg site, with the following info:

“The name is thought to be a Finnish compound word, ‘Kaski’ meaning an area managed using ‘slash-and-burn’ cultivation (which ceased more than 100 years ago in Finland), and ‘nauris’, which is the Finnish word for turnip. This variety has a very sweet long root that keeps well even in winter. The flesh is white and firm with a sugary flavour.”

Sounds good, I’ll definitely give it a go and see what happens, although it might be this time next year before I’m harvesting the roots.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to sowing and growing everything else and will providing updates in due course. The leeks will be the first to be sown as they can be started off as early as last February or March, depending on the weather. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the beans and squash. I did well with beans last year but my squash-growing efforts didn’t turn out well at all, largely due to the poor summer we had, and a lack of time to look after the plants properly. Here’s hoping for better conditions this year.

Heritage Seed Library – All Signed Up

Garden Organic

I’ve been thinking about joining Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library (@HeritageSeedsUK) since I found out about it a couple of years ago. This year, settled in to the allotment and with no major disturbances on the horizon (such as last year’s house move), I decided to take the plunge.

The HSL is a scheme that’s run, in effect, as a seed-swap club, with members of the HSL sent seed to grow and, ideally, collect and save for onward-swapping. It gives growers the opportunity to try varieties of vegetables – often old favourites or particularly good performers – that for whatever reason aren’t available in commercial seed catalogues. Bean, pea, squash and tomato enthusiasts are particularly well-served – presumably because these are among the easiest seeds to collect and save – but there’s a much wider range available in the catalogue, including a slightly more exotic crops like Achocha, Amaranth, Callaloo, Dudi, and two varieties of something called a Shark Fin Melon.

Here’s how it works: You pay your membership fee (£18, on top of the fee for joining Garden Organic; in my case £33) and they send you a catalogue of currently available seed varieties every December. You then request six seed varieties from the catalogue, along with a dozen second and/or third choices in case they’ve run out of your first choices (they’re assigned on a first-come, first-served basis). They then send the seed out to you within 28 days of receiving your request, and off you go.

I’ve requested a selection of fairly standard vegetable types that I’m confident should perform well on our allotment, with back-up variations on a similar theme:

  • Runner Bean – Blackpod
  • Climbing French Bean – Major Cook’s Bean
  • Dwarf French Bean – Hutterite Soup
  • Kale – Georgia Southern Collard
  • Leek – Walton Mammoth
  • Squash – Zapatillo de Toscana

I’ll be trying to save seed from all of them, even if only for my own use. And if things work out well, I’ll definitely look into volunteering to become a seed guardian for a particular variety or two in future.

In any case, I’m really looking forward to seeing what arrives in the post in due course.