Monday, 21 January 2013

Sarah Raven, Asparagus Peas and the Seed League Table

The ground may be blanketed in deep, crisp and not particularly even snow, but our valiant post lady has battled the elements to deliver a little bundle of hope and joy: my seed order. 
The farmhouse garden after the first snowfall.
I like a fresh challenge and although it is hardly as high-octane as Sprout's latest outdoor pursuit (dog sledging), I am more than a little excited about my newest venture (growing asparagus peas).  

The asparagus pea plant (Lotus tetragonolobus) is an attractive legume with pretty red flowers and winged, edible pods. Asparagus peas are half-hardy, so I will have to wait for warmer days before I embark upon my quest to grow them. 


I suppose I could pass the time by filing my tax return, but I have more exciting things to file. By the end of the next paragraph you might conclude that I really should get out more and since snow is preventing me from leaving the farm, you are probably right. You see, I am about to file my 2013 seed collection.

I tend to follow the Sarah Raven* method at the start of the season, which deteriorates into chaos by July (this is entirely my fault - Sarah Raven is not to blame). Sarah's system involves compartments in a box labelled with the sowing months and each seed packet is filed according to the month in which that crop is to be sown.  Should successional sowing be required, the packet is simply placed back into the system a month or two after each sowing. I have modified this technique with the addition of the grey-green subsidiary receptacle (stay with me on this - it could save a seed’s life). 


Once upon a time, the storage life of seed was determined by the timing of the next clothes wash, because after sowing, any leftover seeds would be stuffed into my pockets and immediately forgotten. Since using the sub-case to transport the seeds to and from the garden, no seeds have been making it into the washing machine and although a percentage of seed will still lose its viability each year, the storage life of my seed collection, which is housed in packets or envelopes in a cool, dry place, looks a little closer to this...

Top of the league on about 6 years or more are Courgette, Cucumber and Marrow
5 years or more for Aubergine, Celeriac, Celery and Chicory

4 years or more for Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Kale, Radish, Squash and Sweet Pepper

3 years or more for Beetroot, Chard, Leek, Lettuce and Tomato

2 years for Beans (Broad, French, Runner), Pea, Spinach, Swede, Sweetcorn and Turnip

and in bottom position, needing to be purchased annually, is Parsnip.

Which is all very well, but if the snow doesn't stop soon, there is a danger that my seeds will all have expired by the time I get round to sowing any of them. 


N.B. I have used a variety of sources for the approximate seed life expectancy league table, which isn't very scientific of me, but to be honest the figures differ from source to source and in any case, the league table is here to illustrate that the life expectancy of seed is significantly increased when the seeds are stored correctly and not accidentally put through a washing machine on a weekly basis. Although now I think of it, there might be some seeds which would benefit from washing powder scarification. Oh dear.

* Sarah Raven The Great Vegetable Plot  www.sarahraven.com

56 comments:

  1. Washing powder scarification, I wonder if that will work on very hard canna seeds, hmmm :) that filing system is very good, makes seed sowing and timing them much easier. Hopefully we'll all a chance to start sowing next year, if the predicted mild wether does come.

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    1. The filing system is excellent and makes successional sowing so much easier.

      If washing powder scarification works on Canna seeds, it will probably be due to an adaptation of the plant to cope with the number of gardeners shoving packets of seeds through the wash :-)

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  2. The system sounds like a good one, I might already have a set of files with months on the them. Seed life in my garden is determined by the next rain as I am prone to setting the unused seeds on the outdoor table and leaving them.

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    1. It is a great system - and a genuine time-saver. If you live on a slope, Shirley, the neighbours down the hill are probably enjoying self-seeded plants washed from your table!

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  3. You see, this is exactly what I need, more organization and more effort. I like your system...but Sprout is even more appealing.."now get on that sled!".

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    1. He is, bless him - and he has just developed a fear of snowmen!

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  4. Oh another interesting seed to look out for. Those sound amazing.

    Jen

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  5. Asparagus peas: I think that should have read "winged, inedible pods". Well, if you are organised enough to catch them really young they're sort of ok (I know how organised you are Sarah!) but above 2cm long it's like chewing the end of a pencil. However, the flowers really are pretty, as is the foliage, so I would suggest growing them at the edge of your borders as flowers where you can look at them, and harvest them if you feel you must.

    ps, I grew them 10 years ago, so you never know, you may have bought a newer, more tender and tastier cultivar...

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    1. Good morning, Claudia! The pods do have a reputation for being stringy, but you're right, the key is to pick them when they are very young.

      I am hoping that my natural greed and woeful lack of self-control will ensure that the pods are eaten before they go all fibrous.

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    2. It's fun to serve them up to your family with great pride, though, and watch their faces as they chew valiantly through them. Have a camera ready.

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    3. They had better keep chewing for at least ten minutes, otherwise I may miss the shot.

      (I write after three days of trying and failing to photograph an owl which is hunting at predictable times in a predictable place).

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  6. Never grown asparagus peas so I will watch with interest

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    1. I'll keep you updated, Sue - if nothing else, they're going to be pretty!

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  7. I use a wooden box, about shoe box sized to carry each month's seeds around, but I have an entirely more complex system for my year's seeds!

    And I agree with Claudia - asparagus peas look divine, smell like asparagus but sadly, taste like pencil sharpenings! I grow them for three reasons: their beauty at the front of an edible border; the high number of pollinating insects they attract; the way they provide ground cover and suppress weeds - but I don't eat them!

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    1. Hi Kay - and welcome! I'm intrigued by your complex filing system!

      I didn't realise about the high number of pollinating insects they attract. That IS a bonus! I'm very pleased about their weed-suppressing tendencies too. I shall pick them very young and see if they taste of pencil sharpenings!

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  8. I use exactly the same system, though my packets of seeds are sadly housed in an old cardboard box, nothing so lovely as your seed tins. I've heard mixed reviews of the asparagus pea but have never grown them myself, so I look forward to hearing what you think of them. Sprout looks as though he's enjoying the snow.

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  9. He loves the snow! I'll let you know how I get on - it'll be very embarrassing if I can't get them to grow!

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  10. My system is housed far less attractively - in plastic bozes - and the dividers are old envelopes, but I do the same thing. And lose it all completely around June some time. Which would go some way to explaining my problems with successionaly sowing! I tend to find old seed packets in the various fleeces and jackets I wear to garden in, often a year or two later when I finally delve deeply enough to discover them lurking amongst the plant labels, tissues and bits of string. I still always get excited though, as I yet again do the sorting and dream of a year-round productive plot.

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    1. That is the great thing about gardeners - we always believe it will be better next year.

      I love your description of your jacket pockets, Janet, you make yourself sound like an Enid Blyton schoolboy!

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  11. Every year I try to be organised with seeds - any system I use lasts until about February, then degenerates into random packets in shoe boxes and pockets (good to hear I'm not the only one who puts seeds through the wash though!)

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    1. I love the idea of all these shoe boxes of seeds. We're all as bad as each other!

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  12. Perhaps our garden may give the impression of me being well organised, but no, I need a teacher like yourself. In the meantime I think I will join Sprout.

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    1. Alistair - I thought you were completely organised. I am sure I am not alone in being surprised to learn otherwise!

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  13. Asparagus peas - that is entirely new to me. I'll have to find some.

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    1. They sound great, don't they? Here's hoping they don't taste of pencil sharpenings!

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  14. How organized you are! My seed packets are also stored in a box, but further attempts at order have failed! ;-)

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    1. In truth, I am completely disorganised. I just have momentary lapses of organisation, before chaos returns.

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  15. Here's a fun experiment: let some seeds run through the washer/dryer while others aren't and then sow them both (same variety). It would be cool to see if the washed seeds actually grow! I only grow a few plants from seed so you are way ahead of me. I'm trying purple bell peppers this year and am starting them inside early. I hope they grow! BTW - I have never heard of an asparagus pea!

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    1. I will try this experiment - you may be onto something! Good luck with your purple peppers - I look forward to hearing how they do for you.

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  16. My seed system is not very technical - if I want to sow in succession after I have sown one month I slot the seed packet into my diary for the same time next month. It seems to work considering my planting plan is just a little haphazard on the whole.

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    1. I like the sound of your method, Elaine, although if I were to try it, there is a strong likelihood that I would be trying to arrange a night out with friends and seed packets would be flying everywhere ;-)

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  18. This all seems like 'A' level gardening..... I am still at GCSE stage with lots of bought bulbs, annuals and perennials. I keep having a stab at the vegetables and 'seed' stuff..... but keep on running into complications..... Pests/Sun/Water, too much, too little etc etc.... I take my hat off to all those successful seed people... fortunately I have some as neighbours who give me their excess produce.

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    1. Every glut needs a grateful recipient! I like the idea of taking a GSCE in seed filing.

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  19. Sprout seems to enjoy the snow very much! I admire your organization. My extra seeds don't end up in the washing machine, but they do end up in the bottom of various drawers scattered around the house, where I tend to find them when I get around to cleaning out such drawers a few years later!

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    1. He LOVES snow! I have spent far too much of January throwing snowballs for him to catch.

      I'm pleased that you've been cleaning out the drawers on a fairly regular basis - if you leave them too long, they might get dirty enough to give those seeds a growing medium!

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  20. You really should get out more.
    I used to file my seed packets years ago. These days I just try to remember to sow the seeds. They don't grow if you leave them in the packet.

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    1. I know I should! If the snow hadn't cleared, imagine the areas of our lives we might have taken to ordering.

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  21. This made me giggle! I started off with the Sarah Raven system too last year (she is a legend!) and I was doing so well until my idea of succession planting was just throwing the packets into a biscuit tin and forgetting to sow them!

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    1. Bet you didn't forget to eat the biscuits ;-)

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  22. The Sarah Raven method while admirable has a bit too much of an organised feel for my liking. Its the sort of system designed to make me feel inadequate. Surely shoving everything in a tin is a good storage method.....or perhaps not....hmmm perhaps thats why my seed viability is a little, shall we say varied?

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    1. Shoving them in a tin beats losing them in a drawer, putting them in the washing machine or leaving them on the garden table, so that's a plus. Also on the bright side is that variable viability is better than consistent non-existent viability. Perhaps some of those pesky parsnip seeds filed themselves away in the wrong packet.

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  23. The Sarah Raven method while admirable has a bit too much of an organised feel for my liking. Its the sort of system designed to make me feel inadequate. Surely shoving everything in a tin is a good storage method.....or perhaps not....hmmm perhaps thats why my seed viability is a little, shall we say varied?

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  24. I started to file my seeds but didn't keep it up, good luck. Your little dog is so very cute.

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    1. Welcome Green Thumb - and thank you. He is cute, but I wish he would go to sleep more and stop trying to play!

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  25. I tried asparagus peas a couple of times (along with soybeans) but never had any success so I hope you do better!

    As for seed filing, I use much the same method as you, but mine are in a far less glamourous shoe box with cereal box dividers for each month - I used to keep the shoe box in the fridge, but it got booted out at Christmas and hasn't made its way back there yet.

    I think my use of the filing system however, is a bit of a hybrid with everyone else's method apparently - I have an old SMA formula tin and chuck all the ones I intend to plant imminently in it. It serves as a bleak reminder of good intentions all too often and I have to re-file the ones which have missed their sowing window with monotonous regularity...

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    1. I had forgotten about the ones I miss and have to stuff back into the tin. You clever thing - I think you may have discovered the cause of the chaos! Perhaps a third tin for our failed intentions is required. We can call it "long term plan". That way we will avoid reminding ourselves of our failure to sow in a timely fashion and instead we can congratulate ourselves on getting ahead with next season's organisation!

      Oh I hope the asparagus peas do OK - what with your lack of success and the risk of dishing pencil sharpenings up as a vegetable accompaniment, I fear I may be setting myself up for a massive disappointment.

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  26. Oh dear! I KNOW I commented on your last post but it's not there, this seems to have happened a lot lately. I think Blogger have decided I'm a criminal who must be kept out at all cost!! Anyway, this post has made me feel very inadequate! Although I don't grow veg any more I do grow flowers from seed sometimes but mostly I find the packets on a shelf several years later...I'm so disorganised :-(

    The peas sounded interesting...until I read the pencil sharpenings comment.

    I love the photos of Sprout enjoying the snow :-)

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  27. How frustrating! I'm sorry that you are suffering from a bout of disappearing comments. Happily, it appears to be cured since your comment here has stayed. Let's hope that's the end of it.

    I will let you know if the asparagus peas taste like pencil sharpenings. Even though you don't grow veggies, they would make an attractive addition to your flower border.

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  28. Now is Sarah Raven the equivalent of Martha Stewart for us Brits? Wotcher reckon?

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    1. Do you think it would be possible to have a British Martha Stewart?

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  29. Your organization is a good idea. I am not so good about that, but with a small yard, plant little seeds anyway.

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    1. It's a great idea - I just wish I could see it through to the end of the sowing season!

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  30. I am impressed! Never heard about such method. Thank you! I love your doggy picture! We had only one little snow shower in December...

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    1. You did well - there is still snow here. Every time I think I can sense spring, it snows again!

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