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Grow your own: getting started

There’s something deeply satisfying about settling down by a warm fire with a cup of tea or something stronger in one hand and your favourite seed catalogue in the other and gently starting to plan for the coming year’s growing season.

Planning and researching what you want to grow in advance will save you time, work and money
Planning and researching what you want to grow in advance will save you time, work and money

You can almost taste all those truly scrumptious meals you’ll make and visualise your freezer, fit to burst with your stored harvest, as your seedy wishlist takes shape. It’s a task perfectly suited to all these rainy, snowy and blustery days, because it’s real gardening (honest) without the backache.

But beware! There’s many a way the Grow-Your-Owner can come unstuck… from the temptations of Grow-Your-Own Bling; the pitfalls of ‘oops! I forgot we’re not in Cornwall’ syndrome; and the irritations of getting your ‘P’s the wrong way round (more next time)…

But the quickest way to make your 2013 Growing Season more profitable for the supermarkets, garden centres and horticultural suppliers than it is for you is to get beguiled into a bit of seedy retail therapy.

Seed packets are so very, very tempting. The pictures are so very, very glossy and the promised crops so - well - abundant. And (individually at least) they’re amazingly cheap – you couldn’t buy a loaf of bread nowadays for the price of a packet of All Green Bush.

I know. I’ve been there - getting carried away and buying way too many organic seeds online in a fit of save the planet euphoria; adding just a few (more) packets to my supermarket shop; getting to March and panic-buying at the local garden centre – I’ve done them all! And the outcome is always the same – I’ve overspent (sometimes massively) and under-produced (sometimes seriously). That hard-earned cash would have fed the family better if it had been spent at the local greengrocers.

The key to a profitable growing season is the bit you should do before it starts – research and planning. I know it sounds boring, but it saves you huge amounts of time, work and MONEY. 

And it couldn’t be simpler:

1 Make a list of all the fruits and vegetables you love to eat or want to try this year.

2 Either: Check in a good gardening book which plants will do well in your soil and climate. (Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland by Ken Cox and Caroline Beaton is a great book that’s really helpful in choosing plants and varieties that can cope with the challenges of our Scottish weather.) Cross off your list any that just won’t ‘do’. This is a tough one – it’s always tempting to go exotic, but it’s a hard act to pull off. I once tried to grow my own loofahs to give as Christmas presents along with handmade goats’ milk soaps. Guess how that ended!

3 Or: catch yourself an experienced local gardener and quiz them about what plants and varieties do well near you – you may want to add in a few ‘wildcards’ to jazz things up a bit. Cross off your list any crops that are non-starters.

4 If you can, find yourself a seed buddy – so you can share seeds and cost.

And that could be it – you could luxuriate in seed bliss as you finalise your list and get ordering!

Except. The world of seeds is a political hot potato.

Seeds were once at the very heart of traditional, diverse, abundant farming systems and communities across the world.

Seeds used to be part of the culture, as this story shows:

In the 1830s, the Cherokee nation was forced out of its original homeland and forcibly repatriated to the poorest lands in Oklahoma. Marching through blizzards, thousands died along the way, which became known as the Trail of Tears.  Some of the survivors carried the small, shiny, black seeds of a variety of French bean they had grown back home. That bean became known as the Cherokee Trail of Tears. In 1847, hearing of the plight of the starving Irish poor, and remembering their own hard times, the Cherokee people of Skully, Oklahoma  collected $170, a large sum in those days, and sent it to Ireland for famine relief. The seed has come to symbolise the plight of the poor and hungry, and the interconnectedness of people and their crops throughout the world.

I grow Cherokee Trail of Tears, but I have to hunt high and low to find this amazing seed – or save my own from year to year.

Why? Because the system has been taken over by multinationals, agroindustry and big chemical companies and many traditional varieties, perfectly suited to small-scale local production are no longer ‘commercial’.

Nowadays, you have to work really hard to find seed companies that aren’t just a subsidiary of a big multinational and seeds that are untreated or organic and suitable for home growing.

So as I settle down to plan this year’s growing, it will be with catalogues from such fantastic companies as Plants with Purpose, The Green Seed Company and The Real Seed Catalogue –there are many other UK family seed and plant businesses that deserve our support – let me know your favourites!

The seeds of a revolution start here.

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