I’ve made a start, later and more shaky than normal, on my vegetable seed sowing for the season ahead. My usual vegetable seed-sowing routine used to start with the Wyevale Seed Sale, just after August Bank Holiday, when seed packets were sold off for 50p each. They may have had a sale in 2015, but I skipped it; I have always got on well with Suttons Seeds, and conversely I’ve had a fair bit of bother with Thompson and Morgan, and in 2015 my local Wyevale only stocked T&M seeds so I didn’t bother to look out for the sale.
Times move on in other ways too, for the last couple of years I’ve augmented my seed purchases from Premier Seeds Direct (on eBay) as most of their seed packets are 99p and contain a decent number of seeds.
I’ve been meaning to give MoreVeg a go, as well as Just Seeds.
Most of MoreVeg’s seed packets are 50p each (other than some fancy F1 varieties) because they only have a “modest” number of seeds in each packet. That’s fine by me, I only need what I need. I’ve just taken the first example that came into my head – so may not be the best one! – the Lobjoits Cos Lettuce. I sow 6 lettuce seed (actually 6 each of 3 different varieties) every fortnight from March to Jun, so about 8 “sowings”, x 6 = 48 seeds required. Lettuce seed is close to 100% germination … MoreVeg is 50p for 75 seeds, Suttons is £1.75 for 1,300 seeds. MoreVeg is going to last me close to 2 years, whereas a packet from Suttons will last 27 years!! (of course it won’t, as Lettuce seed doesn’t have viability for that length of time, at least not when in my care it doesn’t!)
JustSeed is a bit different; they have their own brand (JustSeed’s Lobjoits Cos is 99p for 500 seeds) and they also sell other brands(*) – which can make for a convenient one-stop shop, but that also means that the Product pages are more cluttered. They don’t, for example, have a filter to be able to just view their/a specific brand.
A problem, for me, with MoreVeg is that whilst for most things a small quantity of seed is enough, for some things it isn’t. Take Musselburgh Leek seed for example: MoreVeg packet is 50 seeds – I want to grow at least 50 Leeks, I will get good germination, but not 100%; it would be nice if they also offered a “larger packet” Premier Seeds Direct has 1,500 seeds for 99p so clearly I am better off with that, rather than buying two packets from MoreVeg. (Suttons was £1.99 for 350 seeds, the other well known brands were similar)
Sadly I’m a Detail Person, so I then set about figuring out whether I should buy my Lobjoits Cos Lettuce seed from MoreVeg, JustSeeds or Premier Seeds Direct. There is undoubtedly a cost-benefit-equation to be done there, but saving the difference between 50p and 99p doesn’t allow much budget for time researching it!; of course I was also at risk of ordering from multiple suppliers when my numerous Wish Lists got in a muddle and overlapped. Not everyone sold all the varieties I wanted, so I was having to optimise my lists for who-has-what.
I kept prevaricating and putting off … and putting off … until I was spurred on by the need to start sowing Onions in January and the left-over seed from last year was insufficient for this year’s crop. The good news is that it is all done now, and seed sowing has started in earnest.
Something else got in the way of my getting started. For some years I’ve been very comfortable that I knew the Provenance of all the vegetables that we ate; I don’t have to worry (as I choose to do when I shop at the supermarket) about whether a crop was recently sprayed with pesticides – I haven’t used any on my plot in a decade or more. Of course I could buy Organic Veg at the Supermarket, but I’m not entirely convinced that is the best solution (from my perspective). Farmers have to make a living, Organic crops have lower yields and damage by pests still needs to be tackled – perhaps they solve that by selecting a variety which is high in natural Pyrethrins, and I’m not sure that is any better for me than the chemicals used on a non-organic crop, or perhaps the variety that the bugs don’t want to eat won’t have any flavour when I eat it either. So there I was, blissfully happy knowing the provenance of my own crops – in fact I’ve been lecturing friends and family as to that benefit for many years.
In addition to Provenance of the crops, each year I have selected one or two crops to trial several different varieties; last year it was Broad Beans and I grew five different ones. We then had a taste-trial, and in future years I can grow whichever the family prefers (and relegate the Losers). My cogs turn slowly! so it is only this year that I have come to the realisation that in addition to No Pesticides I should also only be growing Best Flavour veg. I’m lucky to have enough land not to have to maximise my yield, so no real reason not to choose Best Flavour varieties, irrespective of Yield and Disease susceptibility. Once I had come to that realisation I bought James Wong’s book “Grow for Flavour”.
I’ve watched James Wong’s TV series in the past and been interested in his Botanist’s views on a variety of things (although his series on “Grow your own Drugs” didn’t make me into an underworld gangster billionaire!), but I was a bit sceptical as to how much of a difference his suggestions might make. The book reads a bit the same to me, although he writes (scientifically) about various benefits, both in terms of husbandry and variety selection. Take Blueberries for example: “… have enjoyed a meteoric rise to popularity thanks to one little word: ‘antioxidants’. What supermarkets don’t tell you, however, is that while hyping Blueberry’s ‘superfood’ status on packets, behind the scenes they have been actively selecting the lowest antioxidant varieties possible. I kid you not! In the search of ever larger berries (which are quicker to pick), breeders have been selecting for fruit that have a much lower ratio of skin to fruit.” He goes on to explain how this, and other factors, mean that the varieties of Blueberry sold in Supermarket are much lower in nutritional benefit than other varieties, plants of which are readily available for amateur gardeners to buy. As well as describing techniques for growing for flavour he also include in depth details of varieties that he has trialled and found to have the best flavour (e.g. using the Brix sweetness test), so I set about buying seed varieties on his recommendation in order to grow them for my family’s this-year’s-taste-test. Suttons Seeds have a James Wong range which includes some (but not nearly all) of the things that James Wong suggests, so along with agonising over whether to buy a Brand-X packet of Lettuce seed for 50p, or 99p, I’ve also been splashing out £4 for a pinch of James Wong’s Carrot seed from Suttons!
MoreVeg: Pro: informative card insert in the packet. Cons: Plastic zip-lock bags (static electricity causes small seeds to stick to the bag when you try to get them out). Heat-sealed, so have to cut off that part of the bag which then leaves very little to grip to get the bag open. “year of packing” sticker over the mouth of the bag, which is cut off with the heat-shrink bit, and thus that information is then lost for future years. All packets are “small quantity”, which is fine, and cost effective, for most things but as I mentioned earlier it would be helpful to also have larger packets for things like Leeks.
JustSeeds: Pro: Nice packets, sowing details printed on the outside. Other brands(*) also available. Cons: Zip-lock bag of seeds on the inside so the same static-electricity problem. (Not heat-sealed though).
Premier Seeds Direct: the last two years I have received packets that were the wrong variety (compared to my order), and on one occasion the dwarf beans (on the label) actually turned out to be climbing beans. I notice that this year every [from memory] packet now has a barcode, which was not the case before, so hopefully that means that all orders are re-barcoded before despatch to double check that the right packets have been picked; my order was 100% right for the first time this year (although not grown them yet of course …). Many of the packets are foil, which is much better than plastic bags, but some are still plastic bags. Cons: plastic bags. No instructions on the packet, you are supposed to “see the website” but that information is buried in all the other wibble which makes up their eBay listing, which is far from ideal. I find ordering off eBay (where I want tens-of-items from a single supplier) is far more tedious than from a dedicated website; I think the Amazon shopping experience is even worse – there is no left-pane list of all the different vegetable types to make it easy to find “Some sort of Leek seed”). Range of varieties is small (which given my new objective or choosing varieties for flavour means that they don’t have many of the things that I would like, but I am sure for other folk who just want “regular Leek seeds” they will have something suitable)
(*) JustSeeds also sells: Mr Fothergills, Thompson & Morgan, Unwins, Johnsons, Jekka Herbs, Marshalls Seeds, and Robinsons Seeds.
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