Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Seeds: the organic or heirloom and heritage debate

I love looking at seed catalogues (have I mentioned that?) but how do you choose between organic, hybrid, heirloom or heritage: especially if you want to try new introductions?

Unless you have strong ideas on this and are firmly in one camp or the other, I would suggest that the majority of gardeners simply want seeds that do what it says on the label, taste good in the case of veggies or salads, have a degree of resistance to nasties and are robust enough to cope with regional climates.

Organic seed for anything edible would always be my first choice. This would also include flowers for culinary purposes; essentially anything which I will be ingesting either via my cooking, in summer salads or in ice cubes (like blue borage flowers which I love and which look fantastic). I do not exactly garden organically but dislike using any herbicides or pesticides anywhere - preferring instead old fashioned and traditional methods. So ok, I occasionally lose some of the produce to snails, slugs or birds etc, but I think that's fair, as long as they leave enough for us.

If I had room I would also include heritage or heirloom varieties: these are survivors. For more than 30 years, coming in and out of fashion, these seeds will always come true to the parent plant (they are open pollinated) and all are old favourites. They are reliable in production and have historical resonances and references - and are as much part of our culture as York Minster or the Tower of London.  If that's not enough justification to grow them, there's the added advantage that you can use the seed saved from one harvest to sow the following year. No more seed buying! That should appeal to us Yorkshire folk.

Sometimes, an F1 hybrid selection is the only option if you have a special yen for new varieties, where selective breeding has married the best traits of parent plants to produce a plant with unique characteristics. Fancy white aubergines, purple carrots, green cauliflowers? I admit to being a bit of a purist in this respect, inasmuch as I like my carrots to look carrot coloured, my aubergines to have that lovely purple hue and caulies to be white. How boring is that? 

My husband is a chilli addict so we have to grow those, together with my own weakness, Charentais melon, which have either more varietal options or produce better from F1 seeds. 

When we lived in the Gers an old guy down the road very kindly gave me 6 melon seeds, dried from his previous year's fruit, which I planted. As we were still working in the house they got a bit neglected, with no watering other than heavy dews, but I have never tasted anything as delicious as the fruit they produced. Still drooling about that!

So, hoping for great things eventually - which is why I'm still looking at seed catalogues.

Oh, and must buy an estate agents camera. Why does every photo they manage to take make any space look huge - when more often than not it's tiny?

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