Sunday, 17 July 2011
I have too many seeds.
I didn't think I'd been too greedy buying them, but when they're all gathered in one place, it's frightening. So many varieties, so little space! I've learnt more about the best ways to sow and grow this year, with many failures due to lack of space/inconsistent watering/laziness. This second round of sowing should be more successful as a result. For instance, I've saved and washed as many plastic trays from food containers as I could, so all the pots will have their own reservoirs, and not dry out (or ruin the windowsill).
So what am I sowing? Well, I rediscovered a lot of seeds I'd bought reduced a few weeks ago, which are going to have to wait until next year as it's too late to sow them now. These are mostly flowers, so I'm not that bothered. However, July is a good time for many vegetables. I was going through them in my head, partly for myself, and partly for my friend, who now has a raised bed in her garden, and which would be a shame not to fill with edibles for the autumn. It struck me that all those you sow now are leaf, stem, and root crops. Those which were sown in the spring for summer/autumn cropping were fruit crops. It makes sense - it takes maybe half an annual plant's life to get to adulthood, then the same time again to flower and ripen its fruit. So the tomatoes started in March, and after four months are flowering freely. In another four months, they will have produced their whole crop, and died. Those vegetables that we don't want to flower (such as lettuces, spinach, root crops, and so on) can be cropped when they are much younger. It makes sense put like that, but I'd never seen it that way before.
With the exception of one or two oriental vegetables whose flowering shoots can be eaten (like a quicker version of sprouting broccoli), and broccoli itself (well, calabrese), all the current sowings are for leaves, roots, and stems. The quickest are baby leaf crops for salads. I sowed a tray of mesclun, a mix of salad leaves, over a week ago, and it's growing fast. At the same time I sowed namenia, which is a kind of mustard grown for its leaves. These germinated a day or two later, but are doing fine. Indoors this week, I've sown pots of mizuna, mibuna, mispoona (all similar, fast-growing, tender leaf crops), kailaan (which resembles broccoli in its uses), and komatsuna (akin to spinach, though again a type of mustard). Green and red perilla, the latter of which I grew very successfully last year, will add colour and spice (they are a pretty, nettle-like herb, much used in Japanese and Korean cooking). Yellow and green pak choi will provide bland, bulkier crops for stir fries - I've also read they can be dried for use in winter soups, which I find intriguing. Tsoi sim (or choy sum - there are many variant transliterations) is another leaf vegetable to add to the mix, along with 'Yukina Savoy', a sort-of loose-headed cabbage (though it may be a mustard, I'm getting confused by them all), and a true heading Chinese cabbage, 'Yuki' (what the Americans call "napa cabbage", I think). Meanwhile, mustard greens (which is to say, mustards without other confusing names), both red and green, will provide hotter leaves.
There are some western leaf crops, too. Summer spinach is tricky, but hopefully worth the effort. Perpetual spinach has proved itself tough, productive, and reliable, so I'll sow lots of that, but later in the year. Mixed chard (in various colours) should brighten the garden up, though I've never had big crops from them, especially the yellow-ribbed kind. Turnip greens 'Rapa Senza Testa' should be quick and easy (if a little coarse). Kale 'Nero di Toscana' (better known as cavolo nero) is a nice, tough, hearty leaf crop for the long term. For salads, I also have a heading lettuce 'Lakeland', which I don't think I've ever grown before - they seem a bit daunting in a garden with so many slugs and snails!
Roots and swollen stems will take a little longer to mature, but are less perishable and don't wilt down. I still have 'Snowball' turnip seed (the packet has lasted me a couple of years, and provided several excellent crops), and I bought a purple-shouldered variety to take over when they're gone ('Purple Top Milan'). To replace the failure carrot seeds I tried in spring, I've got a small, quick type 'Amsterdam 3 - Sprint', and a more standard kind, with the very encouraging name 'Autumn King 2' (I don't know why carrots seem always to have numbers in their names). Swede 'Collet vert' (green-shouldered) is a bit more of a gamble - I've never grown it before, so I don't know how easy it will be. Bulb fennel was a surprise success last autumn, and is so expensive to buy, it's worth growing a larger crop this time round (amazing how the tiny, feathery seedlings can bulk up so much by November). Kohl rabi 'Azur' (despite its name, it appears to be purple) should be straightforward, though the one time I did sow some (a different variety), they didn't germinate. Beetroots, both standard red, and 'Chioggia', which displays concentric red and white rings when cut open, will be sown direct, as the spring sowing into modules was an almost total failure. Radishes should be quicker. I have standard red and white summer radish 'Sparkler 3', although the seeds are getting a bit old. I have two pointy white varieties (I bought two by accident, I don't like radishes that much!), 'White Icicle' and 'White Dream'. Finally, and most unusually, I have German black winter radish, which are cooked, rather than eaten raw. They should be interesting! Even more exotic is "zha cai" (榨菜), a kind of mustard grown especially in Sichuan for its swollen, knobbly stems, and often pickled. I couldn't resist something so unusual! It shouldn't be any more difficult than any of the other varieties though.
And a few herbs. I have a load of different basil seeds, which I'll try and coax into fast production on the windowsills and in the greenhouse. There's also dill, fennel, parsley (I sowed this at the same time as the mesclun, but it's been slow to sprout), lovage, and sage - which I find a little more daunting, being a perennial.
How many varieties is that, then? Maybe 50? Too many, perhaps. But I won't go hungry, at least in theory!