Some of you will already have ordered your seeds for the coming year. Some of you will be browsing the catalogues and will be trying to reduce your initial selection, after all, you only have so much room to grow all that lovely veg! And the rest of us will be hoping that very soon we will have a garden or an allotment again in order to grow our own….boo hoo!
It is not necessarily such a good thing to have so much choice when it comes to selecting which varieties of vegetables to grow. The list seems to get longer and longer every year. Strange and obscure varieties from all over the place are now available to us, far more than probably ever before with the resurgence in growing your own. Having grown vegetables for many years now l have come to the conclusion that it is a pretty safe bet to choose the old trusted varieties wherever possible. After all, they have stood the test of time, usually have great flavour, and you know that what you are growing and will eventually eat will be the same as those folk who probably tended your plot all those years ago too. I get a great kick from that.Some modern varieties will offer greater disease resistance and possibly a heavier yield so the choice is yours. Its always good to try something new, or old come to that!
So what are these old varieties and where can they be found?
Most seed firms will offer some of these old varieties today and by scouring the internet you will also find specialist nurseries and seed companies offering ‘heirloom varieties’. Garden Organic, Chiltern Seeds, Suttons, amongst others. One of the best resources comes from Garden Organic and their HSL (Heritage Seed Library). Once you are a member they give you a choice of up to six different heritage seed varieties to grow that are not available to buy in the shops.
Back in the days of the Dig for Victory campaign seeds were generally bought loose in paper bags from your local supplier and the choice was take it or leave it! Very often it was first come first served especially when it came to seed potatoes. There were some good seed companies around who initially offered catalogues but as the war went on some decided the paper should be put to better use and hence catalogues became scarce. Seeds themselves became scarce due to the enormous demand the Dig for Victory campaign made on the seed companies which urged people to order early in order not to be disappointed. Not only do we have so much choice today we also have many other outlets in which to purchase our orders, including the wonders of the internet. I wonder what they would think of that?
The W.I. had access to a good seed supply that was given to them from the Canadian W.I. as a gesture of goodwill. Varieties included (Zucchini) courgettes and Mange-tout. I wonder what they thought of those?
Seed companies back in the 1940’s included Bees, Webbs, Lowis, Suttons, Carters, Dobbie & Co, Thompson & Morgan and Cuthberts who sold through Woolworths, of which both companies have since gone. I remember buying my seeds from Woolworths as they were usually much cheaper than the rest.
I have a good collection of books and catalogues from the 1940’s and these have adverts in from some of these old seed companies. Varieties included:
Potatoes; Arran Pilot, Duke of York, Epicure, Arran Banner, Gladstone, Majestic and King Edward.
Carrots: Early Horn, Early Market and James Intermediate.
Parsnip: Student and Tender and True.
Onions: Bedfordshire Champion, Ailsa Craig, Rousham Park Hero, Up to Date, Giant Zittau and White Lisbon.
Leeks: Lyon, Musselburgh, Prizetaker, and Walton Mammoth.
Runner Beans: Best of All, Princeps, Prizewinner and Scarlet Emperor.
Dwarf Beans: Canadian Wonder and Masterpiece.
Broad Beans: Broad Windsor and Seville Longpod.
Cabbages: Primo, Winnigstadt, January King, Offenham and Flower of Spring.
Brussels Sprouts: Harrisons xxx and Wroxton.
Cauliflower: Early London, Snowball, Allthe Year Round and Autumn Giant.
Broccoli: Veitch’s Self Protecting, Snow’s Winter White, Late Queen and Leamington.
Spinach: Long-Standing Summer, Round-Leafed Victoria and Prickly.
Celery: Covent Garden Red and Sandringham White.
Lettuce: All the Year Round, Feltham King, Lobjoit’s Green Cos, Arctic King, Stanstead Park and Hardy Winter White Cos.
Radish: French Breakfast, Scarlet Globe and parkler.
Tomato: Open Air and Sunrise.
Ridge Cucumbers: Stockwood Ridge and King of the Ridge.
Vegetable Marrows (Courgettes): Green Bush and White Bush.
This is not a comprehensive list and l will add more as and when l come across them. Maybe you can help me?
Of course, for those fortunate enough, you could have always saved some seed from last year. More on that next time.