Thursday 1 January 2009

Crème de la crème

I've been agonising a lot over this year's selection of seeds for the garden - do I select for novelty? heirloom qualities? rarity? and it's easy to forget that a long time ago it was possible to pick up a seed catalogue and become totally overwhelmed by the choice available.

Rather that publish a long list of stuff that I hope to cram into the garden this year it seems more practical to share the selections that we've found reliable year after year. I might not be growing these this time but if you asked me for a safe recommendation this is what I'd say.

The selection may seem idiosyncratic but represents the sort of vegetables we actually use. Where there are omissions it's because they are impossible to grow (like cauliflower), only for very specific purposes (like pickling cucumbers), of such limited available variety that recommendations are pointless (like salsify) or needed in such small quantities that buying half a dozen plants is more sensible (this is how we do cabbages and it works).

They are all (I think) variously available from mainstream suppliers like Chiltern Seeds, Unwins, Tuckers, Suttons, Realseeds and the rest and although you may not find them in the garden centres there should be no difficulty in getting them mail order.

Broad Beans - I really love Red Epicure (and will be growing them this year).

Dwarf French Bean - Annabel is quick and very tender.

Climbing French Beans are my nemesis. If you are growing for drying Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco (also Barlotto) are strong, pretty and have a good name. Young pods are edible whole. If you're growing for pods choose a round or pencil podded green variety. The purple ones go green when cooked anyway and the yellow ones always look a little sickly to me.

Runner Beans, for me it has to be White Emergo. The pods are rough and relatively short but the flavour is the best. Painted Lady is fun and pretty but tougher.

Beetroot. Unless you are a huge fan you won't want that many of these. Forono is an excellent long rooted sort. Egyptian turnip rooted has always done well for me and the thinnings are excellent in salad and stirfries.

Broccoli. It's not worth trying to compete with commercial green broccoli (which is calabrese anyway) but if you have space and butterfly netting to spare Early and late Purple Sprouting is a food of the gods and doubly useful as it crops in March and April.

Carrots - don't waste money on F1 seed but get Nantes and/or Autumn King selections. Cover the rows with fleece to stop carrot fly or make little fences around your rows (the flies are a bit stupid) or try the rhythm method and sow at times when the flies aren't flying.

Courgettes, I love the long white Cousa types but almost any available will be just fine. I usually have at least one round fruited plant.

Squash/Pumpkins. I try to grow a Musquee de Provence type every year, they are gloriously fleshy, orange and long keeping. However, if your household can't cope with the size of these then Uchiki Kuri, Melonette Jaspee de Vendee or Sweet Dumpling are excellent smaller fruits.

Onions, buy sets from a reputable supplier and follow the instructions on the packet for guaranteed success but I also like to sow some Long Red Florence in early August. Thinnings are great for salads and they will usually overwinter to give an early crop of torpedo bulbs which are excellent for cooking.

Garlic, again buy only firm healthy looking heads from seeds suppliers, garden centres or supermarkets. I have sown eating garlic from UK and French supermarkets (Spanish sourced stock) without any disease problems but you might not want to take that chance. Planting early, like now or even earlier, is a good plan but you'll be o.k. up until the beginning of March if conditions don't permit this.

Lettuce. Call me old fashioned but Webbs Wonderful is the one for me. We've also had great success with Marvel of Four Seasons and there are good mixtures available which help to break the monotony of single variety sowings.

Parsnip White Gem has always worked for us.

Rhubarb Chard either Red or Mixed is much easier than either Spinach or summer cabbage and looks beautiful too. Swiss Chard with white ribs is also excellent.

Tomatoes. There are far too many of these for any meaningful recommendation to be made. Stick a pin in the catalogue. My default choices in the past have been Roma for plum/cooking/paste (as good as San Marzano in our climate) and Marmande for salads and I have no complaints about either but ask locally for opinions and see what you get.

Potatoes. We recommend Ambo to everyone for general purpose use. They are strong growers, heavy yielding and keep well if you can stop the mice from getting them (of which, more later). Stroma are excellent clean second earlies and I like Epicure as first earlies. If you want Jersey Royals try International Kidney but they are only as early as they seem because the climate on Jersey is so good, they don't perform any better than the other earlies on the mainland.

This selection won't be everything you need but it's a good start. After a year or two you'll be ready to branch out into all sorts of experiments and these varieties will be yawn making and boring but you'll come back to old favourites like these time and time again when you want to be sure of success. Good luck.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy browsing through my seed collections and planing my selections for the year. I like to grow a few new things each year to try. This year will be Romanesco broc and cauliflowers.