Sunday, 16 February 2014

Saving seeds

It is that time of year again, the rain has got even me feeling a bit down (serves me right for writing such a chipper mid January post). Living at the top of a hill has its benefits even if they seem distant when schlepping back from the pub, and I feel so sorry for those that got flooded out during the last few weeks and months because even without having your life turned upside down or indeed floating away, this weather has been thoroughly depressing.

A little respite from the rain (it does happen)

You can do little amidst these deluges to be honest. At work, out in the country, I had decided to throw the largely uncomposted material over the unmulched areas of the veggie garden as it appeared to me that it was getting a battering, I will be raking it back off anon, once the ordinary weather is back, and it'll go back into the large composting bins to complete its metamorphosis. I also spent a fair amount of time protecting plants from pests ( we have rabbits in these parts ) although in my experience they shelter as much as we do in this sort of weather, so damage seems to be down to a certain extent anyway.

The big job in January for me is getting some of the seeds going, and getting a head start. This means that there is more room available at a later date when the Spring really kicks in. The tomatoes ( 'Alicante', 'Gardeners Delight', 'Marmande', 'Ailsa Craig' ) all get sown in small pots, as do Aubergine 'Black Beauty',  Pepper 'Serrano', Pepper 'Corno Di Toro Rosso' and Melon 'Rugoso di Cosenza Giallo'. They will be pricked out and potted on when large enough - hopefully producing enough plants for myself and some friends. Also the potatoes have been selected and laid out to chit ('Maris Piper' and 'Nicola' so far, other varieties will be brought in)

The tomatoes could be sown later, there is no real benefit to the plants being sown this early and any later sowings will catch up, but it does free up time and space later on when things start to hot up. The trick is to keep potting on, any check in growth really seems to affect these crops, and you end up with unhappy stunted plants. The Melons, Peppers and Aubergines however, need a long growing season, and a warm start in a propagator so this is important or we may never get to fruition in its most literal sense. Last years 'non spring' meant that melon and pepper harvests were pitiful, even with a nice big polytunnel to play in and a hot Summer.

And I'm thankful that they need an early start, because when it doesn't stop raining and you feel like you haven't seen the sun for a couple of weeks it is the best thing to see, those green shoots and leaves emerging. It never loses its appeal, and its a fresh start, like a new exercise book, or a new term. Full of promise, a clean slate, hope, trepidation and something I'd recommend to anyone, period.

But the cool thing about seeds is you can save them.

I select in the main, open pollinated heritage varieties for my seed, these are the ones which can be saved with a degree of confidence. I bought some F1 varieties, where I felt choice was short or I wouldn't try to save seed from this year.

I am going to save seed from my Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, Beans and Peas. I may do more - it depends on how much time I have, but I aim to do as much as I can. The squashes will be on my radar, but they are promiscuous and will need to be 'chaperoned', as will some of the Peppers ( pollination would have to be carried out by myself before any chance of random insect pollination ) Some of the carrots will be allowed to stay in the ground to run to seed in their second year.

Peas and beans were saved from last season, these are so easy I suggest everyone keeps some back at the end of the season. It is fool proof. Broad bean 'Aquadulce Claudia', Pea 'Lincoln' and Alderman', Runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor' and a French bean who's name escapes me reside in the shed awaiting warmer soils, or indeed are already in the ground producing young plants.

Not only will seed saving 'close the loop', but it begins a process which will produce plants with their roots (pun intended) in this piece of the earth. Because when the ancestry of a crop comes from the same piece of ground, it is there BECAUSE its predecessors flourished in this piece of ground. So instead of Runner Bean 'Scarlet Emperor' we now have East Sussex, Hastings, or indeed, Bohemia (yes I do live in Bohemia - cool eh?) 'Scarlet Emperor. And that seed, enough generations down will be genetically modified for this place.

If we select seed from the healthiest, most abundant plants, we will get healthier more abundant plants next year. We can, however also select for other reasons. Early cropping is helpful in most circumstances. Also size of fruits, colour etc... If we have pests, we can select plants that seem to cope best.

So I'm on the whole avoiding the F1 strains so that I can try and save as much seed as possible. Because if sowing the seed is one of the most hopeful things we can do, surely sowing our own, saved seed enhances that experience. We have ownership over the complete cycles and we can select for specific circumstances - how exciting and life affirming is that? I say its about as good as it gets.