Ordering veg from seed catalogues can be a daunting process – where do you start? In this No Fuss Guide, Alan Titchmarsh explains how to choose the right veg crops for your garden and how to achieve a good balance between new varieties and familiar favourites. He offers advice on selecting seeds for length of growing season, cropping period and disease resistance. Then, he outlines the benefits of F1 hybrid varieties and considers the merits of seed tapes and pot toppers for first-time growers.
Watch now for expert tips on ordering your veg seed for the year ahead.
Watch Alan’s guide to ordering flower seed
Ordering vegetable seed: transcript
You’ve only got to glance at a seed catalogue nowadays to realise how confusing life has become, particularly when it’s down to vegetables. Nowadays, there are so many of them all boasting that this is the brand new one, which is going to replace all the others. They’re often now on the cover of seed catalogues and they’re almost always at the front rather than the back where they used to be, which rather shows the importance now and the popularity of growing your own food.
So where do you start? What do you look for? The most important thing is only to grow things you like eating. I know it’s an obvious thing to say, but once you start leafing through this, the temptation is to have one of this one or that one or the other. No, grow crops that you know you like. If nobody in the house likes broad
beans except you, you can still grow a few, but don’t grow too many. And work your way through the catalogues looking for different kinds of facility that each seed offers. For instance, here there’s a mixture and I always use Post-it notes to remind me which bits I spotted. ‘Enjoy beans for 21 weeks.’ This is a seed mixture here which will keep cropping right the way through. A long season is a good thing in terms of crops. If you get certain
crops which take far too long to ripen, and that’s particularly the case with things like tomatoes, which often come at the end of the summer or aubergines, then a variety like aubergine ‘Czech Early’, which has a shorter growing season, which will ripen much earlier. Well, that’s a good bet, isn’t it?
Don’t ditch all your popular favourites. Keep a good few of those still, but do try something new every year. When it comes to beetroot, you’ll notice that’s one particular crop. When you look at the catalogue, they’re not all dark red anymore. They come in all kinds of colours, from orange and yellow to stripy. Be a bit adventurous, without completely throwing out all your old favourites. There’s another one here which caught my eye and this is a Brussels sprout called ‘Brodie’. ‘Enjoy Brussels sprouts for over 26 weeks’, they say here. Lots of different ways in which you can cultivate. Look also for disease resistance. Some of the vegetables in here, these brassicas are more resistant to club root than ever before and if you are acid soil, that’s really handy to
have something which isn’t going to succumb to that dreadful disease. You’ll notice that there are certain packets that have F1 written on them F1 hybrid. You’ll get far fewer seeds in there, but this is a first generation cross. It’s usually full of vigour, often of disease resistance as well. You’re paying more money for fewer seeds, but generally speaking, you will get a much more vigorous variety.
If you’re new to veg growing and it’s all a bit baffling and you’re not very confident about sowing, there are various aides that will help you. You can get seed tapes. This is radish. Here are the seeds right along spaced out already for you. Draw out your drill with a hoe or the the edge of a rake. Lay the tape in the bottom of the
drill. Put the soil back. And they’re already spaced. You can get the same in pots. Here are seeds again in this kind of tissue, which you lay on the surface of a pot of compost cover again with compost and they will then come up already spaced.
For me, though, nothing beats a packet of seeds and nothing beats the thrill of growing your own. You can look for all those things you want – disease- resistance, vigour, early cropping, long cropping, succulence – but above all, look for flavour, because if you don’t enjoy ’em when you’re eating them, there’s no point in growing them! Good luck.