When I was at the Edible Garden Show a week or so ago, the lovely Fran on the Suttons stand gave me some pepper seeds – Corno di toro rosso, or Red Bull’s Horn.
Even though the weather is cold at the moment, and not suitable for outdoor sowing, things like peppers and tomatoes need a head start and so I sowed some right away. However, they needed to be able to travel, and so a portable propagator was fashioned:
The seeds were supplied with a little bottom heat courtesy of the radiator in my study bedroom, but not that much because it’s seriously stuffy in here despite the cold outside!
Even so, one of the seeds has already germinated. There is new life :)
Hopefully some of the others will soon join it. It’s a bit too soon for it to go on the windowsill, but when it does it will join the Peter Pepper seedlings what are soaking up some sun this afternoon:
Written by Emma Cooper
Posted in Blog on Mar 27, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 29, 2013
For me, one of the highlights of the Edible Garden Show last weekend was meeting Joy Michaud, who tweets as @SeaSpringSeeds and runs Sea Spring Seeds in Dorset with her husband Michael. They’re famous for breeding the Dorset Naga – a superhot chilli clocking in at 544,000 – 1,032,000 SHU that is surprisingly popular.
Joy was kind enough to give me a baby chilli – the variety is Fairy Lights, an edible ornamental plant that will produce small fruits that turn from purple, through orange to red. It also has purple-tinged foliage. It will make a stunning addition to my windowsill, but at 47,000 SHU it may be too hot for me as a I am a bit of a wuss with chillies!
You’ll notice there are two Fairy Lights in this picture. The third seedling is Apricot, a habanero with a much lower heat value at 700 SHU. They’re not mine, Alys left them in the car as I gave her a lift back to the station. I’m baby sitting until I see her again ;)
Sea Spring Seeds have far more on offer than just chillies, and I bought a packet of their Pea Shoots seeds.
This is a new variety of pea bred to be grown as pea shoots, not for peas. The difference is that the ‘internodes’ between the leaves are much shorter, giving you nice compact plants that won’t tangle. Four to five harvests should be possible from a single sowing, and peashoots make a lovely salad and stir fry vegetable. If you haven’t tried them before, I have previously blogged instructions on how to grow peashoots and also how to harvest peashoots so that they keep on growing.
Sea Spring seeds also have an interesting blog which is worth keeping an eye on.
More news from the Edible Garden Show as and when I have the time!
Posted in Blog on Mar 23, 2013 · ∞
Tags: windowsill & seeds.
Welcome to my Virtual Veg Advent Calendar. In the run up to Christmas I am revisiting some of the photos that have appeared on the blog over the years, and the posts that go along with them :)
This is the seed drying room at the Heritage Seed Library, as it was in 2005. I wish I had taken a photo of the adoption book, as the day we visited it happened to be open to the page with my name on it. I sponsored Uncle Bert’s Purple Kale, in memory of my much-loved great uncle Bert. Who didn’t garden at all ;)
Open today’s door
- Listen to episode 104 of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show to learn all about running your own seed swap
- Or find out how to grow sorrel, complete with pretty pictures of sorrel flowers and seeds.
You’re on a roll! Come back tomorrow to open door number 5 :)
Posted in Blog on Dec 4, 2012 · ∞
Tags: advent & seeds.
I’ve recently submitted my second essay for my ethnobotany course, and I chose to write it on the way that the history of heritage vegetable varieties (their origin stories) influences the choice people make to grow them. Whether or not I share any more of it with you will depend, in part, on whether it turns out to be any good ;)
In the course of my research I came across an interesting article by Derrick Purdue who did some research into people who save seeds in the west of England. He divides them into four ‘tribes’:
- ‘Botanic’ – people inspired by our botanic garden heritage, interested in plant families and endangered species
- ‘Biodynamic’ – people inspired by Steiner and New Age spirituality, who are motivated by improving the fertility of seed
- ‘Organic’ – people inspired by the organic gardening movement, and motivated by the current biodiversity crisis to preserve heritage vegetables
- ‘Permaculture’ – people inspired by the work of Mollison and committed to forest gardens and sustainability by design to save seed from perennial vegetables
Clearly there’s going to be some overlap between the categories, and a certain amount of over-simplification – it’s par for the course in anthropology/ ethnobotany, I’m afraid.
My essay concentrated on the heritage varieties available from the Heritage Seed Library and similar organisations overseas. (A sponsored vegetable, or membership to the HSL, makes a good Christmas gift for a gardener, by the way ;) I have been a member for years, and love reading the stories printed in the catalogue each year and wondering about the paths seeds have taken to get to me.
Daubenton kale plants in Patrick Whitefield’s garden, photo copyright Patrick Whitefield
One of the varieties I chose last year was the perennial Daubenton’s Kale. I have grown it myself, from a cutting (if you’re looking for your own then have a word with Alison from Backyard Larder and she may be able to hook you up), and was under the impression that it didn’t set seed. And yet there it was, in the HSL catalogue. And I had been trying to root some cuttings to pass on to a friend, but I failed miserably (Alison can’t understand why, as it should be easy ;) and so I ordered the seeds not for myself, but for him.
And I’m thrilled to say that he has had success growing the seeds, and has some young plants flourishing in his garden:
“I sowed them early in the spring and planted out two strong plants. Then I had to go off and teach a course in May and, despite leaving them surrounded by a generous cordon of bran, the slugs duly defoliated them. So I resowed, many more plants this time.
To my surprise the first lot recovered and started growing again, so I had both lots in the ground. Then I went away on another course and the cabbage whites defoliated the spring sowing again and did a fair bit of damage to the second sowing. But both lots have regrown! What an amazing plant.”
Daubenton kale in Patrick Whitefield’s garden, photo copyright Patrick Whitefield
What living history are you growing in your garden?
Purdue, D.A. (2000). Backyard Biodiversity: Seed Tribes in the West of England
, Science as Culture 9(2):141-166.
Posted in Blog on Nov 19, 2012 · ∞
Tags: perennial & seeds.
There’s a lovely article on BBC Nature today about how ants sow the seeds of the Cape. Researchers have been investigating the Fynbos habitat of the Cape region of South Africa and the climatically similar south west of Western Australia. These biodiversity hotspots have a large proportion of plants that are myrmecochorous – their seeds are dispersed by ants.
Apparently this is an adaptation to poor soils. Rather than shed its seeds into infertile ground, some plants develop seeds with an elaiosome – a fleshy bit designed to attract ants. The ants collect the seeds and take them back to their nest. They eat the elaiosome and discard the seed. The soil in and around the ant nest is enriched by their poo, and the seeds gets a nice rich soil to grow in.
The photo above is of some seeds that I saw being prepared for storage at the Millennium Seed Bank. If I remember correctly (I would have to dig out my notes to check), those colourful seeds on the left have elaiosomes to attract ants.
Discussing it with Rhizowen this morning, I was told that borage seeds also have elaiosomes. I duly tripped out into the garden to have a look at my borage plants, but they have only recently started flowering, and no seed pods have formed yet. My packet of borage seeds is in Malvern, so I can’t even tip those out and have a look ;)
I imagine it hasn’t been the easiest year for ants, as it has been so wet. Most gardeners would be thrilled not to have to deal with ants nests, and they can be a bit of a pest. I used to feed the ones I found to the chickens. Princess Layer was particularly fond of ant cocoons.
Of course, ants aren’t the only seed dispersal mechanism. Many seeds are encased in fruits designed to attract birds. The bird gets a tasty treat, and the seed passes through the gut and is deposited away from the parent tree, in a handy pile of fertiliser. Chillies developed capsaicin as a defence against being eaten by mammals, whose digestive systems would harm the seeds. Birds are immune (and some humans enjoy the effects!).
Dandelion ‘clocks’ are designed to disperse seeds on the wind. I once read a report of an investigation into the best weather conditions for dandelion seed dispersal. I can’t find it now, but if I remember correctly (my poor memory is being taxed this morning!) a sunny day with a light breeze took them furthest. If it was very windy they tended to go straight up and back down. Or something like that.
If you’ve ever wondered why so many islands have coconut trees, it’s because the seeds float and are dispersed by water. They can travel hundreds of miles across the ocean before being washed up on a suitable shore.
Rodents are also good at dispersing seeds. Although you may think mice have eaten your way through your entire sowing of peas, it’s possible that they’ve taken some off to store for later. Rodents don’t have the best memories (mind you, neither do gardeners, which is why we label plants and rows) and some of their caches are forgotten and left to germinate. Although the plant has to accept some losses, as some seeds are eaten, it benefits from its seeds being moved to new locations – where some of them will thrive and start new populations.
The study of the links between animals, plants and their environment is ecology. Chris Packham recently presented a stunning tv series called Secrets of Our Living Planet. I only managed to catch two of the four episodes, but they are absolutely fascinating. In the first one we saw brazil nut seeds being dispersed by the agouti – a small rodent with the only teeth sharp enough to crack through the brazil nut’s tough outer shell. When it bores its way through, it eats some of the nuts straight away, and scurries off to bury the rest in secret places.
I’m fairly sure that there was another species that relied on elephants to disperse its seeds, its original seed dispersal animal of choice being one of the megafauna that died out. Orangutans do a lot of dispersal work, as well.
Not all seeds that depend on animals for dispersal offer anything in return. Some have hooked or barbed seeds and hitch a ride on fur (or trouser legs). These fare dodgers are fairly benign, but there are hard seeds shaped like caltrops that are designed to embed themselves into animals’ feet. Ouch.
So why did the chicken cross the road? It was playing its role in a diverse ecosystem, and had some seeds to disperse ;)
Autumn is coming and plants all across the country are setting seed, or preparing to. What seed dispersal mechanisms have you spotted in your garden?
Posted in Blog on Aug 16, 2012 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 16, 2012
Tags: science & seeds.
On Monday 21st May (Chelsea Press Day), when various bloggers were tripping home from Chelsea with tarwi seeds, I decided it was time to sow mine. The above photo, which shows the tarwi beans in all their glory, is primarily aimed at Bugs and her bean-stroking cohorts. I know it’s only 2D, but it will have to do ;)
The instructions I was given was to soak them in warm water for 24 hours. I’ve always wondered whether those instructions mean that you should attempt to keep the water warm for 24 hours, but in this case it didn’t matter because it was sunny and the windowsill was warm.
24 hours later, 4 of the 5 beans I soaked had swelled, and the tiny little runty one I had few hopes for hadn’t. I sowed all 5 onto damp cotton wool, as instructed, and left them on the sunny windowsill in a propagator. Two days later they went to Malvern with me, by which time the most precocious bean had germinated. I potted it up on Saturday morning, and it’s in the greenhouse in Malvern.
By Monday morning, two more beans had germinated.
Including the runt! Its first root (radicle) was growing well into the cotton wool.
So I potted them up when I got home from Malvern, and this morning they have both broken through.
Which leaves two more tarwi seeds sitting on the window sill, and I don’t know whether they will germinate now or not. We will have to wait and see.
The budding botanists among you will no doubt have noticed that Lupinus mutabilis
displays epigeal germination
, with the seed leaves (cotyledons) appearing above soil level.
Posted in Blog on May 31, 2012 · ∞
Last modified on May 31, 2012
Tags: seeds & unusual.
On Sunday morning I noticed a tweet from Paolo at Seeds of Italy (@franchiseedsuk) saying that he would be spending the day at Bicester garden centre, talking about seeds and signing copies of his book (From Seed to Plate, all about growing and cooking Italian food).
Since I need a little sunshine in my life at the moment I thought I would pop along. I have been a fan of Seeds of Italy for years, and have ‘met’ Paolo online but never in person. I thought it was time to say hello, and as Seeds of Italy are mentioned in my book, I took take him a copy.
It’s been a while since I went out Bicester way, and in the meantime they’ve transformed the garden centre into a shiny new shopping mall, with a GIANT Wyevale garden centre that (at least at the moment) has more gardening gear on offer than scented candles.
I found Paolo next to the Seeds of Italy stand:
I bought a copy of his book, which he has signed for me. It looks great and I will no doubt be cooking some of the recipes from it very soon. I gave Paolo his copy of my book, and he was very nice about it :)
In return he has sent me some seeds! A lovely and intriguing parcel was delivered by the postman today:
That’s soy beans, peppercorns (Piper nigrum) and the jam pumpkin whose fruits are really used to make jam.
If Paolo is coming your way then it’s worth making the trip to see him – he’s a mine of information about seeds and gardening, food and cooking and Italy in general. Apparently those round-rooted carrots were developed in Paris, to cope with the clay soil. And wild rocket is hardier than salad rocket (I had 3 plants last year that survived the winter), while salad rocket has a milder flavour….
Molte grazie, Paolo!
Posted in Blog on Mar 29, 2012 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 10, 2013
Tags: events & seeds.
Posted in Blog on Dec 7, 2011 · ∞
Last modified on Dec 6, 2011
So far I have been burying my head in the sand as far as Christmas is concerned, but now that it’s December I have to accept that it is now a legitimate topic and people will be talking about it until it happens :)
The nice people at the Eden Project sent me a couple of gifts from their catalogue to have a look at. The first one is this shiny watering can:
Available in four different colours, this is apparently a compostable watering can, which is interesting. I wonder how they make it so that it composts, but doesn’t biodegrade when you fill it with water and leave it outside. It’s very clever, and it’s a good watering can – I have used it indoors to water my houseplants on the windowsills and the long spout makes it nice and easy. At £5 for a sustainable gift, I reckon it’s a winner.
I talked a little bit about seed bombs, one of the tools of guerrilla gardening trade, in The Peat-Free Diet – but I haven’t yet made them. Next year I can give it a go with this handy seed bomb making kit: it contains clay, compost, seeds and plant food. All I need to do is add water, shape the bombs and throw! As the label points out, I can add my own (local, perhaps) seeds to the mix if I want. I can just imagine wandering around with a pocket of biodiversity, waiting for a degraded landscape to enrich with wildflowers. The seed bomb kit is also £5.
While I was finding the links for this post in the Eden Project Shop, I got distracted and ordered the Christmas presents for my young nieces. I do like shopping at the Eden Project (preferably in person, but that will have to wait until next year), because they take the strain out of sustainability and you can choose what you want without wondering what the environmental/ social cost of it all is. They have a wide range of products, and as they are a charity the money they raise gets ploughed back into their environmental and educational work.
Posted in Blog on Dec 1, 2011 · ∞
Tags: seeds & general.
In a comment on Good Blog! Joanna asked “How do you deal with seedlings which are shooting away but the strata they are on is going mouldy. This happens to me particularly with those natural fibre coir? seed pots”.
Mould (mold) spores are everywhere, they’re inescapable, and moulds love growing in the warm, damp and humid conditions that seedlings need to thrive. If you have biodegradable pots then moulds can rapidly colonize those; but they will happily grow on the surface of compost as well. A lot of the moulds we see won’t do much damage to the seedlings, but some of them will and having mould on the windowsill isn’t much good for us either.
Good hygiene will help prevent mould problems – if you’re using plastic or terracotta pots then give them a good scrub before you fill them. A sterile seed compost gives you a clean head-start, and watering from below means that the surface of the compost remains dry (and unattractive to mould).
Mould problems are worse where air flow is limited, so don’t overcrowd your seedlings and if you’re using a propagator then open the vents as soon as the seeds have germinated (or prop up the lid so that there is some air flow). Don’t overwater your seedlings. There’s more about seedling care in The Peat-Free Diet; if you’re starting to have mould problems then try pricking out your seedlings into a clean home. That’s the way that the Mlllennium Seed Bank deals with the inevitable moulds that colonize their germination tests.
With biodegradable pots, my top tip is to use diluted (cold!) chamomile tea to water your seedlings. It has anti-fungal properties that really reduce mould growth, and can deal with existing mould problems, without hurting the seedlings.
Do you have your own secret weapon against mould?
Posted in Blog on Nov 4, 2011 · ∞