December is often the time that we all as gardeners and growers like to sit back a bit, reflect on the year gone by and browse the seed catalogues looking for inspiration for the year ahead. Over the last couple of winters seeds have sold out from many of the smaller more interesting seed companies like Real Seeds, Seed Cooperative and Vital Seeds and many of the larger seed companies have also struggled to keep up with demand. Supply has also been an issue, in part due to Brexit and also Covid, and the demand that has risen hugely recently as more people are growing their own with the uncertainties of global food supply. The fragility of the global seed system has been highlighted over the last couple of years – but something that many of us who are involved in seed production have been aware of for years. This is why companies like Real Seeds are so great—they are offering really interesting varieties, preserving interesting crops which would otherwise be lost, whilst also providing instructions for growers to save their own seed. So, why not think about trying varieties that you haven’t tried before, and if you often use hybrid seed (F1) then look for varieties that are open-pollinated which will mean that you can save your own seed and it will grow true to type the following year when you sow it. If you save seed from F1 hybrid crops, it will not grow with the same characteristics as the parent plant, and although you could get some interesting results, often the flavour is the trait that goes downhill the first generation after you have saved the seed of hybrids.
So, look for open-pollinated seed varieties from small seed companies, but also think about saving one or two varieties yourselves next year. Choose a crop and variety that you really like and look into what the requirements are of saving the seed from this species. The main things to consider are whether the crop will need isolating. For example, if you wanted to save seed from a cabbage (Brassica oleracea) you would have to make sure you have no other cabbages of different varieties or no other plants from the same species are flowering at the same time (for example, cauliflowers, kohl rabi, broccoli and more in the case of what might cross with a cabbage). Good things to start with are tomatoes, peas, french beans and lettuce. With all of these crops you can get away with growing them next to other varieties of the same species and they are unlikely to cross (they are what is called inbreeders as opposed to cabbage which are outbreeders). So, in practice you could have 10 different varieties of tomatoes growing next to each other and you could save seed from each of them and they are unlikely to cross with one another, so the seed that you collect will most likely grow into plants that will be similar to the plant you have saved it from. Hopefully that makes some sense! Before growing a seed crop it’s always good to know what you need to do before it all gets too busy in the summer. Work out what is entailed in the processing and drying of the seed and make sure you have a little space and any simple tools for doing this (this might just be a kitchen sieve and a couple of bowls in the case of saving tomato seed).
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Best to wait until next year now!
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Garlic (if not planted already)
INSIDE: peashoots, sugarsnap and early pea varieties, spring onions, broad beans, garlic (for extra early garlic). Try and plant all of this early in the month.
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the winter by mulching with compost. Also any polytunnels or glasshouses could have a wash this time of year to get the maximum amount of light in for any winter salad and veg that you have growing in them. Don’t be tempted to tidy things too much—its always good to leave plenty of crop residue for worms and leave nettles for habitat for overwintering insects. Take the opportunity to take it a bit easier!