Friday, January 20, 2012


I’m at home sick from work today, smothered in a cold.  All my weekend plans have to be rethought…still though, at least it is an unexpected (if unwelcome) chance to listen to the radio and drink 7up and make some tough decisions in relation to my groaning box of seeds.

I like seeds.  In fact I think they might be my favourite part of gardening and of growing vegetables.  I love the different packets and the variety and the promise within.  I love sowing a batch in spring and then the thrill as the first tiny seedling emerges.  I love the value in a packet of seeds, the possibility of hundreds of plants from one €2 investment.  And in Autumn I love collecting seeds from foxgloves, snap dragons, marigolds, love-in-a-mist, oriental poppies and many more – an entire cottage garden that renews itself year after year.

As a result, I have loads and loads of seeds.  I just did an approximate count and it came to 80 varieties of vegetables and herbs alone.  Obviously I only use small amounts of most packets, but I find that most (the biggest exception would be parsnips) last really well for a few years.  My advice is to disregard the best before dates on seed packets – just try a few in a small pot.  If they grow then great, if not then throw them out.

Back to the tough decisions – my aim this year is to grow fewer varieties and not to grow anything that has been very disappointing in previous years.  I want an easier summer this year with less weeding and less coaxing.  I want to grow things that will grow quickly and well, leaving less room for weeds to take over and more time to relax in the sun.

So no more sweet corn – it just hasn’t been warm enough.  Ditto cape gooseberries and outdoor tomatoes.  I’m undecided still about celeriac and celery – I’ve had only puny specimens the last couple of years, but friends of mine have had great success.  The other big group I’m cutting back on are the brassicas – too many things attack the cabbage family.  I’ve had problems with caterpillars, cabbage root fly, pigeons, slugs, aphids and some sort of white mould in the last year – it’s just not worth the effort.  Plus we don’t eat that much cabbage and it tends to be cheap to buy.  So, I’m evicting cauliflowers, two varieties of kale (I might grow one later in the year for winter), red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli and 3 types of cabbage from the plan.  I’ll grow small amounts of broccoli, some sprouts for Christmas and some Romanesco (a sort of mix of cauliflower and broccoli) under nets, and that’s it.

Carrots are another problem.  My parsnips had a small amount of canker this year, but they were fine on the whole.  The early carrots were fine but the later ones were riddled with carrot fly, even interspersed with onions.  I have to decide not to grow them, or commit to netting them which I don’t like doing – I hate nets, they get in the way!

On a more positive note I’m expanding my chilli varieties from three last year to five or six this year – Cayenne, Elefantenrussel, Razzamatazz, Jalapeno and one or two more I haven’t yet chosen.  Also a sweet pepper, Mila’s Bulgarian from Irish Seedsavers.  Pumpkins are brilliant things to grow too – once they get going they’re satisfyingly huge plants, and then there’s the weird and wonderful fruit to pick.  I’ve a new one this year to try – Musquee de Provence – as well as a butternut squash and ‘birdhouse gourd’ that my sister brought home from Texas this year.  Should be interesting!

I also want to keep the salad supply going throughout the summer, I want to find  spinach that doesn’t bolt before I can pick it, and I want to grow a melon bigger than a golf ball.  This year’s going to be great…

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