The days are getting brighter and Spring is in the air. The green fingered amongst us have already started to venture out into the garden and prepare for the season ahead. If you’re dreaming of an abundant summer, it’s not too late to sow some interesting open pollinated varieties to crop this year. This week I’ll be sowing candy-striped pink ‘Chioggia’ beetroot, crunchy ‘French Breakfast’ radishes and aromatic dill.
Growers and gardeners based South West like me are lucky enough to have our own open pollinated seed company, ‘Vital Seeds’. Fred and Ronja at Vital Seeds produce and sell an array of different varieties which have been carefully selected to perform well for gardeners and small-scale growers based across the country. So, if you’re still looking for some interesting varieties to sow and grow – Vital Seeds is a good place to start!
Vital Seeds, along with a number of other agroecological growers, are members of the South West Seed Savers (SWSS) network, a group of commercial growers who are all interested in learning about seed production and exchanging seed. This January saw the annual meet up of the group which now has over 20 members. The day began with some farmer-to-farmer learning with Fred Groom from Vital Seeds, myself and Ashley Wheeler from Trill Farm Garden leading a workshop on time saving techniques in seed production and processing. We followed this up with a meeting to make plans for the year ahead! This year SWSS will each be saving a tomato variety to exchange at the next meetup. The group welcomes all growers interested in seed production who are based in the South West and you can get involved with this dynamic group of growers by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
If reading this has peaked your interest in seed production and you want to learn more, then look no further! The Seed Sovereignty Programme are launching a comprehensive set of training workshops on seed production. Delivered by the Real Seed Catalogue and Trill Farm Garden, we’re offering training workshops in cultivation, crop selection and seed processing which will provide you with all the knowledge you need to produce a successful seed crop. You’ll also have the chance to visit the growing sites at Trill Farm Garden and Real Seeds. Find out about the courses available here.
As the Eastern England Seed Programme Coordinator, and being based in Yorkshire, I have been connecting with small-scale producers and growers across the North, South East and East Anglia. There is growing interest in the seed sovereignty programme across all of these regions, where training days setting out the need for organic seed and how to incorporate seed saving into a commercial growing site, have all been well attended.
The South East has been particularly active, with five London community farms – London Freedom Seed Bank, Organic Lea, Sutton Community Farm, Spitalfields and London Growing Communities and the Forest Row area now collaborating with the seed programme through hosting trainings and connecting with organic seed producers. A dedicated South East Seed Savers Facebook group is about to start, and recent lively events in the region have included the now infamous Brighton Seedy Sunday, and Organic Lea’s seed swap.
A South East Seed Circle has also been established for 2019. This begins with a small number of people coming together to state what they are going to save seed from in the coming year. The hope is that there is a good diverse spread of the types of vegetables so that at the end of the season, all members regroup and swap seeds, giving them a whole selection of free seed for the following year.
We were thrilled to hear that thanks to connections forged through the programme, Tablehurst Farm Garden is now set to supply seed to our friends at the Seed Co-operative in Lincolnshire. The Seed Cooperative is a community-owned seed company who believe passionately in breeding open pollinated and affordable seeds that everyone can grow for the coming year. Founded by David Price and Kate Ayre, they sell a wide range of vegetables, flowers and herbs and green manures. David proudly points out; “We have fifteen people around the UK who are growing seed and then sending that seed into us, for processing, packing, selling and distribution. I see the future of food in this country as having many small seed companies all over the UK so you can buy the seed from your area. It will grow within your climate with very similar soil; “it’s how things used to be done.”
Two of the growers supplying seed to the Seed Cooperative are based in East Anglia, where there is great interest in further training on specific aspects of seed production. One of the farms in this region is looking to begin growing heritage grain varieties so we will be looking west for inspiration from the numerous welsh grain growers working closely alongside fellow coordinator Katie Hastings.
Thanks to a thriving community growing site at Claver Hill, the Lancaster Seed Library is now well established. In Lancaster and also South Manchester, Farm Start programmes are running and have agreed that seed saving will become part of all future trainings for new growers. This is a huge step in the right direction to reskilling the next generation of growers in the basics of seed saving.
Further North there is increasing interest in forming a Tyneside Seed Circle. If anyone would be interested in becoming part of this please do get in touch with me. Meanwhile in Hull, over 200 people attended a spring seed swap event which included a fascinating talk on growing Asian vegetables.
Happy planting and wishing you an abundant vegetable crop this coming summer!