GARDENING: Seeds of a good idea sowed a great crop of vegetables

There was a period during lockdown when certain sections of the gardening trade were overwhelmed by the demand for seed and plant materials.

By Tom Pattison
Thursday, 27th August 2020, 12:00 am

Whether the attempt was to place an order online or by phone, the response was generally the same. `We are extremely busy at present.` One attempt to engage with a popular seed firm via computer, revealed that my

number in the queue was x hundred, and when my turn came I`d only have y minutes to complete the transaction. On the phone I listened to their music for a while in hope before deciding that we had enough seeds at home to see the year through.

Last week Suttons (www.suttons.co.uk) released its figures of seed sales during lockdown (March 23 rd to July 4 th 2020 inclusive) and the data reveals just how staggering that demand placed on the firm was. Gardeners sowed 100 million of their lettuce, 25 million herbs and over 15 million beetroot seeds during lockdown. Their sales increased by 2,500% on some days, and nearly 80% of those bought were vegetables. The firm`s conclusion is that `the lockdown period encouraged traditional gardeners to grow more and inspired many brits to cultivate vegetables for the very first time.` A breakdown of the best sellers shows that `Lettuce Seed Mix` was most

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popular, comprising one fifth (22 million) of the total lettuce demand. It is a blend of Cos, red-tinged Batavia, and Oak-leaf types. I grow these for the leaves on a cut and come again basis.

Part of the attraction is their adaptability, Lending themselves to cultivation in containers or a simple gro-bag. Rapid growth makes them an ideal salad crop. They can be picked as micro-leaves within three weeks of sowing when situated in a sunny spot. No wonder Suttons lettuce seed sales sky-rocketed during lockdown!

Of the fifteen million beetroot seeds sold, the cultivar `Bolthardy` (3.5 million) was the most popular choice. All beets are packed with antioxidants and nutrients, there`s an interesting colour range and it's a most versatile vegetable.

David Robinson, Managing Director of Suttons sums up the recent demand for seed nicely with: “In an increasingly developed and technologically driven world, we`ve seen customers taking solace in their gardens, reconnecting with nature and rediscovering the basic urge to provide their own food.”

We are rarely without fresh lettuce leaves in this garden. In late September they are sown in modular trays, a pinch of seed to each cell. These are later introduced as plug plants to the border of an unheated greenhouse and are harvested throughout winter. Young plants go into the spring vegetable beds with cloche cover, and successive sowings follow in the open garden until autumn approaches. Keeping them well supplied with water during dry spells helps to avoid bitter-tasting leaves.

Varying colour and form are essential to ornamental features, but this applies to vegetable growing too. In choosing lettuce varieties consider those with compound leaves, add some reds for sparkle, and a spicy mix for interest.

Why is beetroot so popular? For me it`s the reliability of varieties such as `Bolthardy.` However, if you want more colour than the deep red root offers, try the golden F1 cultivar `Boldor` or `Chioggia` with its dark pink and white-ringed flesh. `Rainbow Mix` offers a host of colours all in one packet for circa £2.00. These plants are nutritious and versatile, lending themselves to a range of cooking processes. Sown directly into a drill in the open garden, the seedlings can be thinned-out and the resultant small leaves used in salads.

Store them in a box of sand for winter use. Confirmation of the importance and popularity of herbs in the garden is borne out by Suttons data. 25 million seeds bought and coriander the most popular with 1.5 million. They add spice to soups and salsas, curries, and Masalas. Two raised beds in our garden are dedicated to assorted herbs. They were initially raised from seed but in maturity are continually offering stem cuttings that root so easily. Kitchen use apart, their different leaf textures, fragrances and forms are reason enough to grow them!