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Real Seed Catalogue 2006 Newsletter

Note: This newsletter is a file that we email out to people.
To keep the size down, the pictures are not in the document but stored on the web.
So if you want to see the pictures, you need to be online!





Well, we've been living in Wales now for two years, and we're starting to feel a bit more settled. The gardens are doing well, despite a slow, cold & windy spring. As ever there are lots of new and exciting things that we are looking forward to trying out and then hopefully passing on to lots of other people!

At the moment we are enjoying lots of Golden Sweet mange-tout peas, and lots of mustard greens and other great veggies from our ongoing trials of oriental greens. Last year we were so busy growing the Golden Sweet for seed, we didn't have any spare to eat; so this year we planted a long row just for us, and have been eating mange-tout by the handful straight off the plant.

I'm also excitedly watching my Luffa plants in the polytunnel - we're not sure whether they'll actually come to much there (as opposed to under glass, where they will do well), but so far they seem happy and are scrambling further every day. We probably won't be offering luffa seeds for making your own backscrubbers this year, but if they do well, maybe they'll make it into the catalogue in a couple of years' time when we grow more.



Sowing calendars - you can sow in Summer Too!

One of the questions we often get asked, particularly in the summer, is what things can be sown and harvested outside of the main spring period. Although we always include written instructions on the packets, of course that doesn't help if you're trying to decide what seeds to order.

To try and help with this question, Ben has been putting together a series of calendars on the website, showing main sowing and harvesting dates for the different vegetables. At the moment he's mainly done these for the oriental vegetables and different greens, but gradually we should get them done for everything in the catalogue.

 

calendarHere, for example, is the calendar for Pak Choi.
You can see the main sowing and cropping period, in dark green. This is after midsummer because it bolts in lengthening days.


You can also see an alternative sowing and cropping period that is worth trying, in light green, very early in spring. It may run to seed, but you will get a good crop of leaves when they are most useful in April.

Now these are not completely strict instructions, just a guide. We hope these will make it easier to see -at a glance - what you can use at roughly what time. Obviously, you'll need to add a bit of common sense and familiarity with your local climate to get it really right, but this will at least help you with an outline plan.

 

So what can I sow now, in July?

Which of course leads on to the question, what can be sown now? Its all too easy to stop sowing once the main summer veggies are in the ground, and then regret it come autumn & winter. There are lots of things you should be sowing now, including:

Outdoors, in July & August we sow lots of winter radishes (of which more later), turnips, more chard and leaf beet to make sure we have plenty to see us through the cold weather, and cabbages for spring greens. We make our main sowing of fennel, which will usually last up to Christmas and sometimes beyond, depending on the weather. We also carry on sowing lettuce, rocket and endive to make sure that we have a good supply of salad into the autumn.

In the tunnel as soon as we have space (after the summer crops are out) we sow a whole range of oriental vegetables, including mizuna, pak choi, mispoona, mustard greens, and tatsoi. We also sow more lettuces, land cress, rocket, and some broccoli raab, to give us a good range of salad and cooking greens that we can pick right through until the spring. Ideally we find it best to sow as much as possible for the tunnel by the start of September, so that it gets going well before the colder weather comes, and often this means starting things off in trays on a bench outside, so that we can plant them into the tunnel as the summer crops finish.

Together with stored squashes, beetroots, onions and carrots, plus the leeks and kale outside, and a good selection of bottled and pickled vegetables, this gives us plenty of variety in our meals all winter, without needing to resort to peppers from Spain or beans from Kenya!


A look behind the scenes . .

plant pictureSometimes people think we are much bigger than we are really! Although we try to do things really professionally, this is a small, family-run organisation. We, Ben & Kate, who started the Collection, manage things and do pretty much everything equally, although Kate does a bit more growing and Ben does a bit more more computer stuff.

We are helped by Cathy, who joined us as a part-time employee last year. Cathy does all sorts of things both in the office and in the garden - we couldn't do without her - and packs all the seed requests that you send in. Two other people help us from time to time as necessary - Anja and Ellie - packing lots of seed and making the labels for the seed bags.

The seeds all sit in bins on big shelves that cover the walls of our sitting room - and the office is in the loft. Our house has been completely taken over by them, and at harvest time there's often nowhere to sit simply because there are drying seeds everywhere! We are thinking of finding somewhere bigger, as there are always more vegetables to grow and try out . . .


New Books

A new addition to our catalogue this year is a small selection of books which we actually sell ourselves rather than directing you on to Amazon. In general, we've tried to concentrate just on offering really good vegetable seed, and have resisted expanding further. But we felt that these books deserved to be more widely available, and would be helpful to a lot of vegetable growers.

We now offer Joy Larkcom's book 'Grow your own vegetables'. This is a straightforward, no - nonsense gardening book that contains everything you will ever need to know about growing veg. Simply and logically laid out. We learnt to garden from her previous edition, and we think it is absolutely great. 370 pages or so distilling a lifetime's experience into easy explanations of how, and why things should be done a certain way.


plant picture
'BackGarden Seedsaving' is ideal for anyone who wants to develop their seedsaving beyond the more basic vegetables. Although we try to give as detailed instructions as possible for seedsaving from each type of vegetable on your invoice, it is really helpful to have a good book on the subject, which has the space to go into things in much more depth.



Website - Please Order Online if you can!

As the Seed Collection has grown, we are finding it hard to get enough time to grow all the seed! One thing that is particularly slow (and incredibly boring) is reading and typing in paper order forms, so we have decided to encourage everyone who can to order online. (Online orders come straight to the computer and are ready to be packed straight away)

plant pictureSo we have added a new, really simple, 'one-click' shopping cart system to the website. We would encourage you to order online if you can.

It is the simplest, easiest web-site we can think of. No animations, no flashy gimmicks, just quick-loading pages for each type of vegetable. We have made it all very painless - and if you order online it saves us hours trying to decipher written orders and type them in!

Paper Catalogues for now, but maybe not forever . .

We are thinking about a long-term move towards having fewer paper catalogues, as the web-site has a lot of advantages both for you and us.

For you, there are several advantages to ordering from the website: You should get your seeds quicker, as there's no need to wait for the order to get to us in the post. There is also the space to include more detail about each variety, including our new sowing and harvesting calendars.

We also have a much wider range of seeds available from the website, as we can include limited stock varieties. In the paper catalogue, we can only include varieties where we definitely have enough seed to last for the entire year, whereas we update the website several times over the season and add any new seed that is ready to go out.

For us, the paper catalogue is a bit stressful. We may send out say 5000 copies, but only have grown 200 packets of a particular variety. Those catalogues will be in circulation for several months - so that's fine only as long as you don't all order the same variety. We might run out and have to find a substitute or refund, and you'll be disappointed. On the website, its much simpler. While we have seed, we put it online, and when its gone, we mark it sold out.

Obviously, many people do like having a paper catalogue to thumb through, and not everyone has web- access. So for now we will keep the paper catalogues as well, but encourage you to order online whenever possible.


Trials: New in the gardens this year

plant pictureTurnips
A bit of a Cinderella vegetable, we think that turnips are much under-rated. As well as being good in winter soups and stews, they are also excellent sliced thinly and added to a stir fry.

Over the last couple of years we've been trying out a whole range of traditional turnips, looking at which taste the best; which have tops (as well as roots) that are good to eat; and which will store well.

Navet de Nancy, which has been in the catalogue for a few years, remains one of our favourites, but we should be adding a couple of other varieties, particularly some long keepers, over the next year or so.

Winter radishes
These were a bit of an accidental find for us last year, but we were so pleased with them that we're going to sow a big patch for this winter. Unlike summer radishes, we really like these big winter radishes peeled and cooked, particularly sliced and stir fried. They have a very distinctive, slightly mustardy taste, but are not at all hot once cooked.

They are sown just after mid-summer, and will grow to a nice big size by autumn, then stand overwiner for pulling as needed.

plant picture And, one more thing that you may not know . . .leave any left over plants that start to flower come the spring time, and they'll make masses of small crunchy seed pods which are nice in salads, or which also make a good pickle. (picture, right)

Or indeed, even better, leave a nice patch to flower, and keep lots of seed for you and all your friends next season, and we won't have to send so much out!


Quinoa
plant pictureWe've grown quinoa for a while, as it seems to be one of the best plants for small scale grain production in Britain. It always attracts lots of attention, especially in the early stages, where the plants look like extra-large Fat Hen (which is in fact a close relative - no wonder it does so well!).

The only real problem with quinoa is that it is from dry climates, and common varieties tend to go mouldy or sprout in the head before it is fully mature & ready to harvest. This year we're trying out several new varieties that have been bred for home gardeners in northern / wetter climates, that are less inclined to hold water in the head & therefore dry and mature better.

We have great hopes for these, as we would really like to grow much more quinoa, and encourage others to have a go at growing their own grains at home.


Oriental veggies & other greens

plant pictureWe've finally managed to grow enough of our favourite Mispoona (see last year's newsletter) to add to the catalogue, and have lots more flowering in the gardens now. This was bred by Frank Morton by crossing Mizuna and Tatsoi. It has the huge productivity of Tatsoi, but with the bolt-resistance of Mizuna - you can sow it at pretty much any time of the year, which is really rare for the oriental vegetables.

Apart from us, and Frank of course, we don't think anyone else has this, so we are pleased to have grown a good 400 packets worth of seed this year.

We grew both our strain and Frank's original side by side in the trial this year just to see how they have diverged in the past 6 years.Our strain is a bit different from Frank's original as we have been selecting for rounder leaves and he has been selecting for more deeply cut ones. We think ours tastes better too, so we are sticking with it!


Mustard Greens
plant pictureplant pictureAlongside this, we've been trying out a whole range of different mustard greens, looking for the most vigorous, tastiest, and easiest to grow. Mustard greens are quite hot and spicy when raw, but lose all of their heat on cooking.

In the garden they have lots of advantages; they grow fast, and don't seem particularly attractive to pests, and as they are really quite cold hardy they are ideal for awkward times of year.

They come on very quickly from an early spring sowing (although they will then bolt when the weather heats up), or they can be sown in late summer to harvest into the autumn and winter.

Many are also very attractive, with coloured and frizzed leaves, so they are ideal for smaller gardens where looks are important.


plant pictureKales
Apart from the oriental veggies, we've also been trying out lots of different kales. We're working on bulking up a really hardy kale from Sutherland in Scotland that was sent to us a number of years ago. Its grown by the crofters there, and we've found that it stands better than just about anything else over the winter; it also has good tender leaves, and is good in winter salads as well as cooked.

Among the other kales in our trials, another that we have particularly liked is Red Ursa, which is also a good hardy variety, similar to Red Russian, and we think equally pretty, but with rather broader, less cut leaves (and so easier to harvest and wash).

Achocha & Exploding cucumbers

plant pictureOne of last year's great successes was the Achocha. We grew achocha many years ago when we lived in Cambridge, but forgot about it for a while when we went to Spain, as it really doesn't like hot climates. A batch of ten year old seed got dug out from the seedbank and germinated fine last year, rather to our surprise, and we ended up with achochas in odd corners all over the gardens.

Our big discovery was that they are really delicious cooked. We've always eaten them before raw in salads, like baby cucumbers. Last summer, though, we tried de-seeding and frying the mature fruits, and found that they actually much better that way. They taste very much like fried green peppers, with the huge advantage that they grow easily outside, and produce absolutely loads of fruits per plant.

Here is a close-up of one of the many Achocha pizzas Kate made, which were a great hit at a big evening meal we had last summer. Everyone (all 20 of them) liked it! You'll see that we used yellow tomatoes for the sauce, just to show off the colours a bit better...

This year Ben has got hold of a close relative of the achochas that sound rather more alarming - exploding cucumbers. W e are waiting to see what happens when the fruits get ripe - we will report back next year! Keep an eye on the web-site for a few 'sneak preview' packets of seed if we find a way of collecting them. (Butterfly nets and a riot shield?)

Seedsaving

We've been really encouraged to see how fast 'Seedy Sunday' community seedswap days are spreading across the country. We took part in three seedswaps this year; in Brighton (where Ben was interviewed for the Food Programme on Radio 4), in Machynlleth, and much nearer home in Newport.

If you haven't heard about seedswap days, have a look at www.seedysunday.org, which is the website of the Brighton seedswap, and has lots of nice pictures as well as suggestions for starting up your own swap.

If you're running a seedswap - or indeed if you just want an easy reference sheet - we've produced a basic seedsaving leaflet which can be downloaded from our website and photocopied for free. Copy it, pass it on, and encourage all your friends to start seedsaving and swapping their seeds with others.

As another part of our mission to encourage everyone to save their own seeds at home, we're running a seedsaving course this summer. If its successful, hopefully we will repeat it again next summer, and maybe look for somewhere to hold it that is a bit more accessible to people living outside Wales.


Feedback

We are very keen to hear from you - we like to know how our vegetables do in different parts of the country. So if you have any comments, good or bad, please do let us know, either by email or letter. It gives us a wider picture when comparing and choosing new varieties for the future. We don't always have time to reply to every single one - though we try - but they are all really appreciated.

Likewise, if you have any problems with your seeds, please do let us know. We try really hard to offer only the best seed there is of the best varieties there are, but despite our efforts, things can go wrong! So if you have any problems with germination, vigour or even taste, get in touch so we can replace your seed and figure out what to do better in the future. We would far rather know that there was a problem & fix it!

About the Collection

This is a private collection of rare, heirloom, and unusual vegetables selected particularly for the home grower. All have been chosen from our personal experience, for their excellence in both the garden and the kitchen. All are non-hybrid, interesting and easy to grow, and will add new possibilities to your gardening and cooking. Our seed comes with detailed sowing instructions, recipes, and seed saving notes.

Our new Real Seed Catalogue will be available in early autumn. Everyone who ordered from the last catalogue will be sent a copy of the new version when it becomes available, but if you know anyone else who would like a copy, let us know by email or post to the address below.

If you like the Collection, tell your friends . . .

If you know someone who would like a free copy of our catalogue,
it can be requested by email tocatalogue [at] realseeds.co.uk , by telephone on 01239 821107 , or from this order page.