Note: This newsletter is a file that we email out
2005 has been a busy year for us, with lots of changes. Last year we finally made the move away from our smallholding in Spain, and are now living in west Wales. And funnily enough, we love the Welsh climate, and are really appreciating the cooler summer weather.
We spent most of this winter and spring clearing and transforming a field full of brambles, bracken and abandoned soft fruit and turning it into our new seed garden. Ben also spent much of the spring racing against time to put up our huge new polytunnel before all of the plants heading there outgrew their pots.
All of this work now feels well rewarded as the garden fills up with crops and the polytunnel overflows with tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.
The other big change for us this year is that we now have two other people helping us with the work. Anja has taken on most of the seed packing and is probably busy sorting and weighing out seed as you read this newsletter. Cathy is helping with just about everything else, from weeding to sending out seed.
Having the two of them working with us has made everything much more manageable, so hopefully you should see even more interesting new varieties working their way into the catalogue over the next couple of years as we have time to test and grow more things.
Those who received the last seasons catalogue may have noticed our name change from 'VidaVerde' to 'Real Seeds'. We felt that we needed a new name for the catalogue which would describe better what we do. As a result the catalogue is now The Real Seed Catalogue, and at the same time the website address has changed to www.realseeds.co.uk
We hope that the new name is easier for people to remember and spell, and we also feel that it reflects quite well what we are trying to preserve in the Collection
seeds for real gardeners wanting to grow proper vegetables
2005 has also been the year in which our Growers Network has started to take off. Although we try to grow as many varieties as possible ourselves, we are always limited by the time and space available.
Because of this, there are always good varieties that we would love to include in the Collection catalogue, but just cant manage to fit into the gardens. One way that we get roundthis is by cycling varieties from year to year - so remember to save seed from your favourites incase we dont list them next year.
But we also have a steadily growing number of keen gardeners who are taking on one or more varieties and producing seed which they then pass on to us. It may take a while to bulk up stocks, but over the next couple of years there should be more and more Network grown seed making it into the catalogue.
If you are interested in joining the Network, do get in touch with us. If you are a reasonably experienced gardener, it is pretty easy and actually doesnt need that much space. We provide the initial seeds plus full instructions for growing and producing healthy pure seed, and will talk people through the various stages of isolation, processing etc.
Unfortunately the scale that we work at means that we cant offer to pay cash for seeds, but we do offer a decent voucher for seeds from the catalogue in return, as well as the satisfaction of helping to maintain varieties that would otherwise risk being lost forever.
Anyone growing well away from all other vegetable gardens (1/4 mile or more) is particularly welcome as isolation distances are always a limiting factor for us, but dont worry if youre in a city or on an allotment site, there are plenty of crops where isolation isnt needed or there are simple solutions to it.
Tools and Other Resources
With lots of hoeing, planting and digging to do,we are always on the look-out for tools that will make our work easier and quicker. Weve written in previous years newsletters about the wonderful Collinear hoe designed by Eliot Coleman and described in his book The New Organic Grower (see the References section of the website for more details), and also about the Glaser wheelhoe.
The only problem at the time was getting hold of them. The good news is that both of these tools are now being imported from Switzerland by Dave and Val Taylor of Blackberry Lane farm. See their website at www.blackberrylane.co.uk for more info.
Apart from the collinear hoe, the one tool that we couldnt manage without is an Azada or Digging hoe. The tool of choice throughout much of the world, we use the azada to dig, clear land, make trenches, mix concrete and do just about anything else you can imagine short of making the tea.
Ours came from the south of Spain (where they are the main tool used by all gardeners) but you can also get them from Simon Drummond at www.get-digging.co.uk
Simon also imports long handled pointy-ended spades and nice light weight sickles from Spain. Both of these tools are very often borrowed from our toolshed, and are always slow to come back, so were glad that we can now tell people where they can get their own!
Our other much-envied tool (in fact we have two one each) is a short handled Japanese sickle hoe. Like the collinear hoe it is very light and very sharp. This means that instead of hacking plants out of the ground, it is easy to slice off the weeds when hand-hoeing and thinning less work but also less root disturbance to the plants that you are trying to grow.
The sickle hoe comes from Dick Tools in Germany (www.dick.biz yes, really - and search for 717907 or in Sickles & Scythes for Tsuru Kubi Gama) but sadly unless you also want to buy lots of nice woodworking tools the 15 Euro postage charge is a bit steep. Perhaps Dave & Val or Simon will start importing them in bulk . . .
As well as starting out with good hoes and tools do remember that it is very important to sharpen them regularly. The best hoe is useless if the edge gets dull, and if youre doing a lot of weeding you may need to sharpen it every time you use it. To make sure that things really do get kept sharp we have a little pocket sized diamond sharpening stone which lives with the tools so that it is always to hand.
New in the gardens this year
Weve written about various oriental vegetables, particularly Mizuna, in previous newsletters. The great thing about many of the oriental greens is their tolerance for cold weather, and that they will thus grow over the winter and in early spring when any change from kale, cabbages and leaf beet is particularly welcome.
This spring weve been enjoying two different oriental vegetables. Tatsoi (or 'Rosette Pak Choi'), shown here on the left, is similar in taste to normal Pak Choi, but grows flatter leaves in a rosette shape. It has nice dark green glossy leaves, and seems to us to be easier & quicker than normal Pak Choi to grow as a full sized head.
Our other new vegetable is rather more uncommon, but also extremely handsome and delicious. Mispoona, shown here on the right, is a stable cross (probably between mizuna and pak choi) bred by Frank Morton, who has developed many excellent varieties for home gardeners. It is really quite remarkable, as easy, quick growing and vigorous as mizuna, but with much more substantial leaves.
We are bulking up seed this year, and hopefully will be offering it in the 2007 catalogue but in the meantime, do check on the website this winter as we may have some seed available this year too.
Weve always had problems growing pea seed with pea moth reducing large amounts of our crop to a maggoty mess. So, we dont want to get too excited about our big patch of peas until we have the crop safely harvested and stored.
But . . . we cant resist including a nice picture of one of our favourite varieties, which we hope to eventually bulk up and offer in the catalogue. Golden Sweet is a beautiful pale yellow mangetout pea. It grows about 1.5 m tall and has pretty purple flowers, and is very decorative as well as producing lots of lovely crunchy pods.
We are also trying out some other new pea varieties. We are quite taken with the idea of smooth-seeded peas as they germinate better in cold conditions, so can be sown a bit earlier. Wrinkle-seeded peas store their energy as sugar and so tend to attract fungi and bacteria in the soil, but the smooth ones store it as starch and so dont leak so much as they wait to germinate. The trade off is that smooth-seeded types need to be picked small & young as they do get starchy if left on the plant too long, but we think it is worth the earlier and heavier crops that you get.
This year we hope to have several excellent new tomatoes. People often ask how on earth we find & choose all our varieties - this is how it works with the tomatoes:
As with many of our other sections in the catalogue, we are building on the work of others. We wrote to lots of people all over the world who have huge tomato collections, described the UK climate, and asked them for their best tasting, earliest & heaviest yielding tomatoes.
Each person sent us a couple of varieties (chosen from hundreds they have grown) and we then grew all these best of the best next to each other. From these, a couple that we think are really good get chosen for the Catalogue. So although we may offer only four or five varieties, they have effectively been chosen from thousands around the world!
Over the years we have accumulated a large collection of extra early and/or especially tasty tomato varieties this way. This year we are trying to bulk up a number of these varieties so that we can offer them in the catalogue. Look out for Latah an untidy sprawling bush,but by far the earliest variety that we grow. Our new polytunnel is proving fantastic for this - its huge at 56 feet long and 21 feet wide!
We have been working on expanding our bean selection. Last year we found quite a few interesting old varieties from France (where there still are a couple of independent seed houses) and are trying them out. Several of them look really good as I write, so they may well make it into the catalogue.
In particular we have a great bush french bean that has very wide flattened pods (but still tender and stringless), and another tradtional filet type with incredibly long thin straight pointy beans, which was specifically bred for hand-harvesting - most modern varieties crop all at once so they can be collected with a combine, but this one is meant to come ready over a long period for collection by hand.
Although our emphasis is on really good normal vegetables, we are always on the look out for interesting & unusual additions to the vegetable plot - providing theyre easy to grow and taste nice! One we hope to reoffer this year is Achocha, which is a small (but very vigorous) cucumber relative with little curved spiky fruits that you can use like a cucumber in salads. We used to grow these in Cambridge years ago and they always did very well, although not all varieties are adapted to the UK climate. We found a small packet of 10-yr old seed when we tidied up the seedbank and they grew just fine, so weather permitting they should make it to the catalogue this year.
One of the nicest things that we did this spring was help to organise a Seedy Saturday community seed swap day in Newport this March. The first Seedy Sunday in Britain happened in Brighton in 1991, and since then the idea has spread out across the UK.
Seedy Sundays (or Saturdays) are really simple to organise. All you need is a room with space for everyone to bring their spare seeds and plants, ideally some seeds and plants to start things off, plenty of tea and cake to help things along and some publicity to tell everyone about the day. We had a very simple system to sort the seeds, with one table for vegetables, another for flowers, one for herbs and one for tree seeds. Beyond that, everyone just rummaged through the pile, a bit like a giant garden jumble sale.
We were worried to start with that we wouldnt have enough seeds to get the swap going but in fact we almost ran out of table space to put out all of the seeds, and we had to spill outside to find places to put all the plants and cuttings that people brought. Other contributions included piles of pots to recycle, and the offer of a giant load of horse manure (luckily not brought to the room on the day). We all went home with new seeds and plants to grow, with plenty for everyone whether or not they had anything to bring to the swap.
We also went to the Seedy Sunday in Machynlleth, where Ben gave a talk on the history of agriculture. Again we had a lovely time, met lots of seed-savers and gardeners, heard all sorts of other interesting talks, ate lots of cake and came home with yet more new seeds to grow plus some more new (recycled) tools from the Tools for Self Reliance stall.
If youre interested in starting your own Seedy day , the Brighton website www.seedysunday.org is a good place to get ideas and tips on how to do it.
Keen seedsavers might also like to join the Seedsaving newsgroup that Ben set up in 2004. The aim of the newsgroup is to let seedsavers exchange information and ideas, and generally help and support each other.
To join the newsgroup send a blank mail to:
and if you dont like it just unsubscribe by mailing to:
Powered by the Wind, Sun and Water
Those of you who have read our catalogues and newsletters over the past few years may know that our office at our old smallholding in Spain was completely off-the-grid, with all of our electricity produced by solar panels and all our waste water etc. recycled onto the land.
Well, here we are now in Wales, but not much has changed. Where we now live is also powered by a mix of wind, sun and water. Electricity comes from a windmill in one of the fields, a small hydro power generator and some solar panels (yes, we do get the odd sunny day even here in Wales). Such a system costs about as much as a new mid-sized car and allows you the comforts of a modern lifestyle without causing climate change.
We are quite concerned about the way our culture relies on the constant consumption and manufacture of more and more things simply to make the 'system' work. The world's resources and ability to absorb pollution are limited and so-called 'economic growth' simply cannot continue forever! We have added a few books to our reference section that explore the questions we need to think about if we are to restructure our society in a more sustainable way.
One that we would particularly recommend is Patrick Whitefield's book 'The Earthcare Manual'. It is quite expensive, but covers an enormous range of subjects, ranging from raised bed gardening to renewable energy to green building methods, to mention just a few. It is equally interesting whether you are a total newcomer to the subjects or already know something about them, and covers both the 'big issues' and practical things that we can all do. It is published by Permanent Publications ( see www.permaculture.co.uk) but is also available from bookshops.
In the kitchen
Last years newsletter featured some rather nice courgette recipes but given the tendency of courgettes to go into overdrive at this time of year, this recipe for courgette pickle seemed worth including. I seem to remember everyone laughing at me last summer when I was busy chopping up mountains of courgettes and mini-marrows, but in fact it turned out to be one of my most popular productions.
Wash and trim the courgettes, peel the onions, and chop both into slices 1 to 2mm thick. Put the sliced courgettes and onions into a bowl and cover with water. Sprinkle with the salt and leave for 1hour, then drain through a colander but do not rinse, and put into a large saucepan.
Mix all the remaining ingredients and bring slowly to the boil. Pour the boiling mixture over the vegetables and leave to stand for 1 hour. Then bring everything very slowly to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring very gently from time to time, but being careful not to break up the courgettes.
Spoon into clean sterilised jars and cover. Ready to eat after about a month, and will keep all winter (we are just now finishing up last years pickles).
We are very keen to hear from you - we like to know how our vegetables do in different parts of the country. So if you have any comments, good or bad, please let us know, either by email or letter. It gives us a wider picture when comparing and choosing new varieties for the future.
Likewise, if you have any problems with your seeds, please do tell us. We try really hard to offer only the best seed there is of the best varieties there are, but despite our efforts, things can go wrong! So if you have any problems with germination, vigour or even taste, get in touch so we can replace your seed and figure out what to do better in the future. We would far rather know that there was a problem & fix it!
About the Collection
The VidaVerde Seed Collection is a private collection of rare, heirloom, and unusual vegetables selected particularly for the home grower. All have been chosen from our personal experience, for their excellence in both the garden and the kitchen. All are non-hybrid, interesting and easy to grow, and will add new possibilities to your gardening and cooking. Our seed comes with detailed sowing instructions, recipes, and seed saving notes. We are happy to answer questions, or help people choose plants - just email us.
Our new Real Seed Catalogue will be available in early autumn 2005. Everyone who ordered from the last catalogue will be sent a copy of the new version when it becomes available, but if you know anyone else who would like a copy, let us know by email or post to the address below.
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who would like a free copy of our catalogue,