Seed saving?

It’s in our shed, perhaps our darkestĀ  gardening secret, a massive collection of pre-loved, left over, surplus to requirement seeds. Blame frugality or whatever but I have real trouble throwing out old seeds even if they are past their use-by date. That is until a few weeks ago. The revelation came when I was listening to one of Gayla Trail’s Whatcha Growing podcasts. Gayla was confessing she had also shared the same tendency, but with one clear explanation, she was able to change her dark habit and I am also a changed gardener.

Just short of a quarter of a bucket of out of date seed!!!
Just short of a quarter of a bucket of out of date seed!!!

What changed? A plant scientist pointed out to her that just because a seed could germinate didn’t mean it would make a healthy plant. Indeed old seed will most likely produce dodgy or low viability plants, a state which seems to be obvious to any pest or passing disease.

So we began a major clean out (see results above). Maybe I haven’t changed completely because we didn’t chuck the seeds in the bin. Instead we decided to use them as a green manure in the area where our chooks have been undertaking soil renovation.

After the chickens, this part of the garden needs re-seeding.
After the chickens, this part of the garden needs re-seeding.

Believe me this part of the yard was completely covered in grass before we let the chooks in. This should also be a warning to anyone who thinks chickens look good roaming around the garden unsupervised – have you seen what strong digging claws they have? The chooks are now off rota-tilling another section of garden, where the polyhouse normally lives.

Having spread the seed on the ground and raked it in, we just waited for the local Crested pigeons to come along and have a feed. Oh, what a surprise! the Crested Pigeons have arrived.

Half an hour after seeding and the pigeons have arrived.
Half an hour after seeding and the pigeons have arrived.

Despite regular visits the pigeons haven’t eaten all the seed yet. Indeed with several bouts of rain in the past weeks what’s left of the seed is actually sprouting.

And what was the oldest seed we had kept? Several packets of herb seeds from 1997 – now that’s bad.

All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!