About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ordering seeds

As I may have mentioned before, I find the garden a bit daunting. Luckily, we moved in the autumn, so I've had the whole winter to get my head round the idea of planning and managing an entire veg garden that's supposed to be making a very significant contribution to our food requirements next year. In the past, I've only had small plots with no ambitions whatsoever, so questions of 'How much do we need?' never came up.

I made a start, back in November, by listing all the plants I thought I might want, divided into big trees, small trees, other fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers. This took up the back of a very large envelope, and has proved useful. Leaving it for a while has helped crystalise choices over the 'maybe' veg, though this may have been influenced by what was in season at the time (yes to celery, no to sweetcorn. I had a craving for celery in December - no idea why).

I also had time to get to know the garden and think about where I might put things, and concluded that I have space for two big trees at most, so that'll be one chestnut and one walnut, then. Unfortunately, decisions about where to put smaller plants sent me into a blithering fuzz of confusion. I've earmarked the largest of the lower beds for potatoes, and planned a row of sunflowers and asparagus along the back (highest) fence, but apart from that I still don't know where I'm going to put things. I'll come back to that, I think.

In the meantime, I needed to order seeds. I felt it was time to move on from the back of an envelope (though it is a very large envelope, I'm bound to lose it at some point) so I made myself a nice new spreadsheet. It has columns for type of plant, seeds/bulbs/plants/etc, how many, cost, source and date, dates sown and harvested, and notes. Surely such a spreadsheet should set me up for a productive veg garden!

Next, I started entering details of seeds I already have (still no ordering, you notice), which gave a satistfying ten rows of vegetables, mostly thanks to some free seeds that came with 'Grow It' magazine (which was also free, thanks to friends at the publisher. Shhh, don't tell anyone).

Having made a start on the spreadsheet, I finally felt up to the challenge of placing an order! I started with potatoes, having found a potato specialist, JBA. I'd done a rough calculation and thought I'd need 100 plants for maincrop plus some new potatoes, but they have a very useful calculator on their site to tell you how many plants you actually have space for. I'd been wondering whether to devote all or just half of the big bed to spuds, so entered the dimensions of the whole bed, which turns out to be enough for fifty plants. That'll be why people say potatoes take up too much space to be worth it. Hmm. Fifty it is then... well fifty maincrop plus 25 new. I don't suppose I'll actually space them out as much as you're suposed to...

Next stop was the Real Seed Catalogue because I like their style. They strongly encourage gardeners to save their own seeds, and provide instructions on how to do so. They also offer a fairly small range of selected vegetables, which makes it much easier to choose! I went through the list on the envelope and ordered as many of the herbs and veg as I could, though I think I may have already left it a bit late in the year, as their parsnips were listed as being available for autumn 2011. I didn't order those.

Finally (I assumed), I turned to Seeds by Size which, last time I ordered from them, seemed to be run single handedly by a Mr John Size. He has no pretty pictures on his website, variable levels of detail in his descriptions, and can't handle online orders, but appears to have absolutely any type of seed you could think of. At the moment, though, his flower section is out of action, so I had to take a detour to find sunflower seeds.

My reason for growing sunflowers is to extract oil from them. I covet a Piteba oil press and if I'm to justify buying one, I'd better have an oil crop in the garden, rather than relying on foraged beech nuts, whose oil I've never even used before. The Piteba website helpfully informs me than for sunflower oil you need the variety with black seeds, not the stripy ones. I find that people selling flower seeds will tell you a lot about the colours of the petals, but don't tend to mention the colours of the seeds. However, people selling sunflower seeds for feeding wild birds do specify the colour, as apparently black seeds are also better bird food, presumably also due to the higher oil content. Bird food comes in quite large bags, or at least, smaller bags aren't very much cheaper than the big ones, so you might as well buy more. Five kilos seemed to be the smallest quantity available before the price per kilo started shooting up, so that's what I bought. They arrived the next day, so I have them sitting in the hallway now. Five kilos of sunflower seeds is a lot. I don't think I'll sow them all.

Returning to Seeds by Size, I almost got to the end of my list. They even sell sugar beet seeds, which are hard to obtain in less than agricultural quantities anywhere else (I noticed that jam and wine making use a lot of sugar, so I'm going to try growing my own). Providing they have all my seeds available (they ask you to check before ordering), the only thing left apart from trees is the French Tarragon. Apparently it's not possible to grow this from seed, so all they have available is Russian Tarragon. I bought this last time I ordered from them and it really doesn't taste the same, so I'll have to buy a plant from somewhere else, possibly the same place that I buy fruit trees from.

Just in case you're interested, my final list of veg and herbs looks like this:

Asparagus (seeds collected from a plant in the garden. Not the usual way to grow asparagus, but there are plenty of them)
Garlic 1 (tiny bulbules saved from a plant in the garden. These will take two years to grow)
Garlic 2 (ordinary cloves given to me by my dad, who wasn't terribly impressed by the bulbules)
Onions 'Bedfordshire Champion' (bought from Focus and sown in trays in the greenhouse, because they need sowing now-ish)
Aubergine 'Black Enorma' (freebie)
Chilli 'Numex Twighlight' (freebie)
Gherkin 'Parisian Pickling' (freebie)
Tomato 'Roma' (freebie)
Tomato 'Tamina' (freebie)
Tomato ? Cherry (seeds saved from tomatoes I bought for eating)
Pea 'Little Marvel' (very old seeds)
Pea 'Little Marvel' (seeds saved from plants grown from the very old seeds)
Chives (old seeds)
Potatoes – Desiree (I went for names I recognised here)
Potatoes – King Edward
Potatoes – Foremost

From the Real Seed Company:-
BroadBean (Aquadulce Longpod)
Carrot (Long Lisse de Meaux)
Brocolli (Early Purple Sprouting)
Cabbage (Rouge Tete Noir )
Celery (Full White)
Fennel (Mantovano)
Basil (Genovese sweet basil)
Frise Parsley
Leek (Long de Meziers)
Squash (Burgess Vine Buttercup)

Sunflowers – black seed (bird food from Vine House Farm)

From Seeds by Size, hopefully:-
Sugar beet blend
Parsnip 'Tender and True'
Peas 'Greenshaft (Hurst)'
French beans 'Cannellino'
Runner beans 'Painted lady'
Oregano Italian
Thyme English broad leaf

All I have to do now is figure out where to put them and plant them all!

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