Monday, 2 January 2012

Thinking ahead

It's funny how our brains change over the Christmas holiday. We start off focusing on preparing for the "big day". Organising presents, buying and making food and co-ordinating various visits. And then for a few days after Christmas we sit around, rubbing our fat bellies, feeling lazy and cosy. It all seems like we are right in the middle of winter, winding down as the year comes to an end...

And then, suddenly, New Year's Day arrives and we wake up. We chastise ourselves for our gluttony and make promises about how we will be better people in the coming months. We begin to look forward. For the kitchen gardener, it is all about the move into spring and the new growing season. It was hardly a surprise then to find me sat on the sofa this new years eve, with one eye on Jules Holland's Hootenanny as the minutes ticked past towards midnight, the other eye on my laptop as I placed my seed order.

It is a serious business buying the seeds for the coming season. Some people do it by going into a garden centre and selecting seed packets from the racks. For me it is a slower, more meticulous and enjoyable task done at home. I start by gathering together all the seeds that I still have left from the previous year. I go through the lot, making a note of anything I still have a good supply of. I use my judgement too as to whether the seed has become too old to keep. Most seeds will be good for a second year (although parsnip seeds should be fresh every year). Many seeds will be good for three years. You can usually tell when seed is too old because the germination rate will become poorer and poorer with age.

As I go through my old seeds and empty packets I make a note of anything I remember I definitely want to grow so I don't forget to order more later. Next I get out the collection of seed catalogues that started coming through my door in October and which I have carefully stashed away for this moment. I share this task with my girls too so they get a say in what they grow (with guidance) and feel ownership of the whole experience. We go through the catalogues and star those things we think we would like to order. These are a combination of things we have grown before and we know are reliable in our conditions or produce a particularly lovely crop. They may also be things we have grown before that failed but which we would love to try again to see if we can get them to work this time. And there will be selection of things we have not tried before but we fancy because of their description (and/or picture) in the catalogue.

The next task is the make a list of all the seeds (with their order codes) that we want to order from each catalogue. This gives me a chance to check that I'm not ordering the same thing from different catalogues, and checking I'm ordering the one at the best price. Finally, armed with this list, I can sit down at my computer and place my orders via the companies websites.

Once again my youngest daughter has chosen a selection of yellow vegetables to grow in her veg patch. I love this idea and it has led me to discover some very good crops that I might not otherwise have tried. The yellow mangetout and yellow climbing beans have been very good and this year I shall only be growing yellow courgettes as they taste better and have a better texture. Against that, I won't be ordering either of the Mayan potato varieties the girls chose last year as they provided too tempting for the slugs and gave a very poor yield of thoroughly munched potatoes.

I have ordered my usual favourite, reliable varieties, of course, such as Early Nante carrots, Boltary beetroot, Marathon calebrese, Mussleburgh leeks, Jack O'Lantern and Baby Bear pumpkins, Burpless Tasty Green cucumber, Blue Lake and Hunter French beans, Scarlet flowering broad beans and Sutton broad beans, Kestrel and Charlotte potatoes. But I'm also looking forward to trying out some new varieties, particularly as this year will be the first year ever that I've had a greenhouse. Placing the order is always exciting and as usual I'm eager to get started. Roll on spring!

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