News Superbugs may have found their match in manuka

April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Jeremy Lawrence

Manuka honey, the premium product found on fashionable breakfast tables, could play a role in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, scientists reported yesterday.

Honey is known to have antiseptic properties but the antibacterial potency of manuka honey, from New Zealand, is 10 to 50 times more powerful. It has been shown to stop the growth of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – the superbug that causes MRSA.

Manuka honey is derived from nectar collected by honey bees foraging on the manuka tree in New Zealand and is included in modern wound-care products such as dressings and ointments available on NHS prescription. However, its antimicrobial properties have not been fully exploited, according to researchers.

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The Welsh Vegetable Project from Dyfi Valley Seedsavers

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Welsh Vegetable Project from Dyfi Valley Seedsavers is a summary of Wales’ heirloom cultivars, published January – December 2010.


The Welsh Vegetable Project


The aims of the project were to seek to find and trial Welsh Heritage Vegetable varieties within Wales that are not available on the National List and to trial them amongst a variety of growers in Powys.

The project aimed to seek out varieties that may be on the verge of disappearing, or new varieties bred in Wales and to raise awareness of the importance of vegetable diversity by encouraging seed saving. The project was further motivated by a need to reduce food miles, and to encourage food growing using varieties that are suitable for the growing conditions of the local area in the light of climate change and the growing need for food security.

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March bestsellers at

April 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Below is a list of the 15 most popular purchases in March at 

February was the month of the Brassica- loads of orders for Pentland Brig, Sicilia Violetta, Nautilus and Rouge tet Noire. Early April we are seeing lots of orders for peas, companion flowers and sweet peppers, and loads of seed orders too.

1. Sweetcorn ‘LARK IMPROVED’ 6 Plug Plants Lark is an exceptional cultivar, this recently improved strain is going to be great for early planting. At our plugs are grown in individual coco fibre pellets. The growing medium means we can let them get quite big without them getting spiral rootmass or running out of soil nutrients. Sweetcorn plugs can thus be planted up until end june, unlike seed which has to be in the ground soon.

A quick digression on planting sweetcorn from seed … there is a short window when outdoor conditions are right for planting sweetcorn seed. Sweetcorn seed is sensitive to both temperature (likes heat) and moisture (no waterlogging or seeds may rot). In the UK end April is usually a good time to direct sow. you want to get that second or third week when the soil has properly begun to retain the suns heat.

To avoid sweetcorn seed drying out and germinating poorly I plant quite deep- at least 1.5″. This is probably deeper than seed packets suggest, but it also means a slightly deeper rooting profile for this already very shallow rooting crop (so more anchorage, and stronger plants).


2. Herb Collection- 10 Plants – Dispatch March until October Seriously, we can’t grow enough herbs. No matter how many we plant there is never enough.
3. Heirloom Tomato Seeds ‘OPALKA’ Opalka kicks ass.
4. Heirloom Tomato Plant ‘ORANGE BANANA’ This is a really robust cultivar with thick stems, large leaves and big bunches of very large tomatoes. Support it well!
5. Broccoli (sprouting) ‘RED ARROW’ 6 Plants Old faithful, and not as massive as Early Sprouting Rudolph.
6. Lettuce ‘FLAME’ 6 Multisown Plug Plants Flame is one of the prettiest lttuces around, ad it grows nice and tall so makes a nice feature in the garden whilst taking up little space.
7. Pumpkin Plant ‘ROUGE VIF D’ETAMPES’ I thought Galeux D’Eysine or Zapallo Plomo would be number 1!!
8. Cucumber Plant ‘SPACEMASTER’ An attractive, compact cutivar which responds well to light pruning. Vines are short with short leaf spacings.
9. Cucumber Plant ‘BUSHY’ Good quality fat fruits. If given enough space and fertile soil this cultivar can be extremely productive.
10. Chive Seeds ‘Extra Fine’ The best chive for cutting all summer.
11. Fennel ‘BRONZE’ Large Plug PlantDecorative, good for herbal teas.
12. Summer Purslane Seeds A brilliant summer leaf, can be planted March til August. Leaves are really succulent with a bright, gentle flavour. Successional sow. good one to sow in the shade of maturing rows of crops like brassica or chard.
13. Chilli Pepper Plant ‘AOC PIMENTE D’ESPELETTE’ March’s most popular chilli is the only one in our whole selection with no Scoville’s! How British 😉
14. Heirloom Tomato Seeds ‘ISIS CANDY’ A heat loving indeterminate. Slim vines need careful training and staking.
15. Large Collection- 84 Plants – Dispatched May/June Our bestselling collection is the biggest one! 

This year we have quite a few orders for the Large collection from community allotment projects, city farms and small business enterprises, so we will keep in contact with them and try get some good photos!

The Real Seed Catalogue

March 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you’ve never visited the Real Seed Catalogue its worth a look. We grow around 10 of their cultivars, Napia Early Pointy sweet pepper and Verde Marchigiano cauliflower being the most popular. Their business ethos, general information and seed saving instructions are excellent.

Here are a few of their newer cultivars which we are trialling this year and all going well selling via our website next year:

‘Wautoma’ Cucumber
An excellent cucumber from the breeding program at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980’s, this was recommended to us by cucumber expert Robert Bruns. It can either be used small for pickles or left to grow for use as a slicing cucumber.

The plants set many lightly striped dark green fruit , with tiny white spines that come off easily. We got an awful lot of cucumbers off this one!

Quick to set fruit, bitter-free, and Robert says it resists nearly all known cucumber diseases. (anthracnose, angular leaf spot, CMV, DM, PM, & scab!)

You can grow it indoors or out, and we think it’ll be quite a few years before we find anything that can even come near it in terms of yield or reliability. We grow huge numbers outdoors here in Wales with no trouble at all.

Provide some support outdoors, under cover quite happy on the ground.

Parisian Pickling’ Cucumber
A proper gherkin-type cucumber with a long history – selected in the 1800’s for the cooler northern climate of Paris when cucumbers became fashionable in the city – other ‘southern types’ just couldn’t crop reliably that far north.

It is a very reliable, early and productive cucumber, making lots of fruit with no fuss, even outdoors in the UK. It used to be grown as a pickling cucumber (picked small as ‘cornichons’) – but we find it also works well letting it get bigger for use in salads.

You would of course need to peel it if you let it get huge or over-ripe (like any cucumber), but the skin is just fine to eat up to a normal size, so this a good choice if you only have room for one type of cucumber, but want pickles as well as salad.

We used lots in salad this summer.


Originally collected from Geza Korbely in Hungary in 2001, this is a great early sweet pepper.

Hungary has a tradition of early sweet peppers, and this one was given to us by pepper-collector Sharon Vadas-Arendt in response to our request for the best early-season peppers she knew of.

The flavour is great, and it has large (3” x 6”) sweet & juicy yellow fruit that ripen to orange.

“Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato”

This is a great Acorn Squash we have added. Acorn squash have a good flavour, and we have been trying various types to find one suitable for the UK climate.

We are really pleased to have come up with this one which is much earlier than the others, producing lots of squash even in short summers.

The pale heart-shaped fruit are pointy and have gentle fluting down the sides. When mature, you can simply cut them in half and bake in the oven. (Though of course there are other options for the experts – Kate’s mother once made a very fine acorn-squash soufflé!)

Originally collected by Tom & Sue Knoche in Ohio, USA.

Very productive. Remarkably long-keeping too.

Grushovka (Early dual-use type) WEB SPECIAL
This is a really good producer of big pink tomatoes – halfway between a plum and an ox-heart type – with an excellent flavour.

Compact plants grow to around 3 or 4 foot tall and are easy to manage.

The heart-shaped fruit are shocking pink. A bit like a plum tomato – good for sauces, but also very pretty in salads, or for making a lurid pink gazpacho soup.

Medium sized blocky fruit, very tasty . Tall Bush .

Just a very few packets grown this year by John Wheeler in Pembrokeshire.

plant picture


‘Rainbow’ Quinoa

Quinoa is a high-protein grain you can easily grow at home. It is cooked just like rice, and as well as tasting nice, it is rich in lysine, giving a good nutritional balance to your meal.

This is a diverse population of different colours all selected for an open flower-shape that sheds water easily and helps grow good seed even in slightly damper climates (like, for example, the west coast of Wales where we are . . .)

Note that at first you might question the name – we certainly did to start with. As it starts to grow, it seems to be just different shades of green. But wait patiently! As the seed ripens, they do indeed go all different colours, making an impressive display.

It did very well this year, reaching about 6 feet tall by the end of July, even despite a cold windy spring. The plants flower in July/August, and seed is ready in Sept/Oct.

Bred for home gardeners.

Descriptions and images courtesy the Real Seed Catalogue. Joy Larkcom

March 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Francine Raymond

Without a shadow of doubt, Joy Larkcom has had more effect on the way we grow and eat salads and vegetables than all the celebrity chefs put together.

Often described as the original hunter gatherer, Joy studied horticulture at Wye, and her academic background encouraged her to dig deep — everything she writes has been researched in depth. She writes about what she knows and what she has grown.

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A quick note on bolting

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Bolting is when a plant produces flowers prematurely. In the vegetable garden this is most commonly seen in mid to late summer with plants like lettuce and spinach. Day length and light intensity are natural triggers for flowering in plants and of course lettuce and spinach are cool weather short season (short daylength) crops.

Plants also bolt as a survival mechanism: if they think they are not going to live very long even very young plants will try to produce a flower to produce seed, even if day length is optimal.

Here is a Palla Rossa lettuce beginning to flower. This extending of the central portion of the plant is characteristic of heading lettuce:

Note the following:

Plant is very healthy so not bolting in response to ‘survival issues’;

Bright, sunny day implies mid-summer day lengths …

… we can conclude the person who planted it put it in the ground at the wrong time. I can confirm she did. I can also confirm said plant tasted like an old boot.

As soon as most of the brassica, celery, root vegetables, lettuce and most soft herbs flower proper they lose flavour and texture. Picked within a few days of the first signs of flowering they won’t taste too bad, though in some cases it might be better to leave the plant flower; appreciate its beauty, maybe use a few flowers as garnishes and/or collect seed from it.

The broccoli in the image below is a few days to a week past optimal harvest date- you can see that a few of the florets are about to open into yellow flowers.

Conversly some cultivars have an improved flavour if left to flower- purple chuy sum (a flowering brassica), kailaan chinese stem broccoli and some kales, for example.

Bolt resistant varieties take longer to develop a seed stalk and so focus on vegetative growth for longer, but there is no guarantee that bolting will not occur. Managing environmental factors (see below) will mitigate if not eliminate the likelihood of bolting in vegetable crops.

Watering regularly and shading from the sun is key to keeping cool weather crops happy if you’re growing them out of season. See companion and inter-planting for some ideas on how to create shady conditions in your garden.

A very comprehensive guide to beating the bugs

March 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

I found this on an old memory stick, its a 130 page e-book published in 2005 by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (US based) called ‘Manage Insects on your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies’ (click here to read it)

When I say its comprehensive, I do mean comprehensive. I recall reading it in summer 2006 and feeling distinctly smug to be in possession of such a battleplan.