Varieties in the veg patch

Variety’s the very spice of life,
That gives it all its flavour.
William Cowper, 1785

When I started writing my post ‘Variety is the spice of life’ last weekend, my intention was to write about ‘varieties’  and somehow ended up at a slightly higher taxonomic level writing a bit about the range of vegetables/fruit that I grow. Today, however, my thoughts are turning to all the choice of varieties there are… or aren’t… available to us.

To be able to sell vegetable seeds in the UK, they must appear on the ‘National List’. Until recently this was a very costly process, but last year the regulations changed and now, I understand, it is possible to list an ‘Amateur Vegetable Variety’** for a fee of £100. Such varieties are those grown by gardeners and deemed to have ‘no intrinsic value for commercial production‘.  This has helped us ‘amateurs’ to access a variety of seeds without breaking the law, but I would still encourage you to support the Heritage Seed Library run by Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association), who have done a fantastic job for many years acting as guardians of varieties that would otherwise have been lost.

So, why should we be interested in different varieties of seed? What’s wrong with the ones that the big seed houses sell?

Well, first of all, listing seeds used to be a very expensive business, so the only varieties that were on the list were the ones that made money commercially… because they were valuable crops in one way or another. Something that’s good as a large-scale crop isn’t necessarily the best thing for your garden. It might be, for example, that the farmer wants a crop that is uniform in appearance or that isn’t readily damaged during transportation. But as a gardener, these are likely to be irrelevant – it’s likely to be more important that our variety tastes good or has a long season. The latter may be really inconvenient for a farmer who wants a single harvest.

The second key point is that seed houses want you to buy seed from them every year. What better, then, than the expensive F1 hybrids, which do not breed true? You can’t save the seeds from these and know what you will get next year, so you are tied into a never-ending relationship with the seed seller. The Real Seeds folk, in contrast, send seed-saving instructions with your seeds in a deliberate attempt to do themselves out of business!!

And then. there is the joy of supporting a small business that sells seeds produced on a small-scale – why shouldn’t it be possible to produce just a little seed each year and make a little money on it without being a criminal?

I have loved some of the varieties that I have grown over the years… crimson flowered broad beans are a particular favourite that only used to be available from the HSL, along with Greek squash, Salt Spring Sunrise tomato, bronze arrow lettuce, asparagus kale… I could go on. I’m on the lookout for new friends… perennial kale has promise according to Esculent et cetera.

In many cases, we have had wonderful flavours from our less usual varieties (as promised by the quote at the top!) as well as beauty… from beans, squashes and mangetout, in particular. We’ve also seen our crops attract large numbers of pollinating insects because traditional varieties tend to be more accessible to them.

So, why not try some of the less commercial varieties? Another little step on the path to sustainability.

** I’m amused by the concept of an ‘amateur vegetable’… does it have a day-job and is it just a vegetable in its spare time?

Next Post
Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. You put lucidly lots of the things I try to say to people and wind up babbling randomly. Thank you for the link – this has been my first year with the perennial kale but this year I’m looking forward to sowing Daubenton’s (ask @betonyjoy on Twitter for pics/info about hers) and a tree cabbage that may also be perennial. I’ve also found an old packet of Nine Star Perennial and as brassicas in my experience tend to be viable for quite a while I might pop that in and see how it does.

    I can’t help thinking Amateur Vegetables would be a great name for a magazine…

    Regarding your search for new vegetables to try are you already aware of the Blogger Seed Network? It’s the brainchild of Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots and you can find his page here: http://bifurcatedcarrots.eu/seed-exchange/ and on my blog I have a list of my own spare seeds. I’ve had disappointing results with two of my chilli varieties but otherwise even old home-saved seed seems to beat a lot of commercial varieties hands-down.

    Like

    Reply

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: