Choosing seeds and varieties

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Which seed variety to buy – these have worked for me, over several seasons.

Firstly let’s consider seed quality, of what you may buy.

Seed Sourcing and freshness

I have had good results with seed from  Real Seeds and biodynamic growers Seed Co-operative (greenhouses in Lincs) and Bingenheim Saatgut, (although I am not sure if they are still exporting to the UK).

As I understand it, apart from Real Seeds, Bingenheim, Franchi (Seeds of Italy), Sativa Rheingau in Switzerland, and Seed Co-operative, most seed has similar origins in multinational seed houses. The seed may be older or younger, according to how much stock of old seed is carried by each operation. The information you see is “packeted year ending”!

  • Bingenheimer posted 4th February 2021 that due to pressure of customers looking to buy, they can supply only their existing customers, and no new ones.

Also worth a try is eBay! Plus we need to save more seed, for our own security.

See my Saving Seed video. See also my archived  September 2008 blog, also October 2011 for saving seed of runner beans and Borlotti. Mostly it is difficult and skilful work to save good seed, and time must be available at certain key moments. Real Seeds offer good advice and excellent seeds as well.

Variable germination

Most of us suffer poor germination from one or more batch of seeds. Often we blame ourselves, unless we have a comparison with another sowing made at the same time and with different seeds. I often do the latter and am shocked at the variability of seed quality.

Comparing germinations reveals mainly the age of seeds, with old ones germinating slowly and erratically. Also they grow less strongly.

Do complain to the seed company if this happens to you! And save seed where possible, because then you know it is fresh.

Hybrids or open-pollinated

“Open pollinated” means normal/natural breeding has produced that variety of vegetable, and you can save seeds from it. Breeders need to maintain these OP varieties by selection of harvests to grow seeds from.

Many OP’s are well maintained. It’s a reason why I appreciate companies like Bingenheimer, Sativa, Seed Co-op, Real Seeds, and Vital Seeds, who are being conscientious in their seed production.

However, OP seed production apparently earns less money than breeding F1 hybrids. Probably because of that, the maintenance of OP varietal traits is being allowed to slip.

  • For example Gardeners Delight tomato in the 1980s was a small, sweet cherry, whereas many ‘Gardeners Delight’ seeds now grow larger and less sweet fruit. The seed packet has the same name, but results are different.
  • Since 2019, many of us have experienced disappointment with Greyhound cabbage, which is not inclined to make the tight heart it used to, even after waiting and waiting.
  • Botardy beetroot is not the force it was. Seed producers are not paid enough to weed out (rogue) the misshapen beetroots before they seed, so root quality is declining. I saw this a lot in 2020, check this video for example.
  • Be wary of the word “heirloom”, which means only that a variety originated x years ago, and does not guarantee quality, or even flavour sometimes.

“Hybrids”prefixed ‘F1’, are from two inbred lines of breeding to achieve desired results, which are then cross-pollinated in isolation. They grow reliably, of a uniform size, can have excellent flavour such as Sungold tomato, and they mature uniformly – this may or may not be what you wish for
Do not save seeds from hybrid vegetables, because they do not grow true and plants are nothing like the parent you saved seed from.

Choosing a decent variety/cultivar can make all the difference, and chicories for hearts of radicchio are a good example. I had this comment from Wim in the Netherlands, which echoes my experience. The variety I recommend is 506TT, see below:

“In one of your videos you mention a variety of radicchio from Bingenheimer Saatgut. As we are very fond of Palla Rossa chicory I grow it ever since I had my allotment. But often the heads were diseased or even rotten before they were big enough. This year I ordered some Bingenheim seeds: what a difference! Very large healthy heads and not a brown leaf showing! Since I discovered your site and videos gardening is much easier and more fun! And, a bit reluctantly, your ideas are also spreading among my fellow gardeners.”

 

My recommended Varieties

An asterisk (*) indicates vegetables that grow in half a season (in southern Britain, zones 7-8 roughly), so they can be grown before or after other half-season vegetables. For example, carrots then oriental leaves or endives, lettuce then beetroot or bulb fennel, autumn sown beans then leeks or kale, second early potatoes then leeks or broccoli. Italics are for varieties I strongly recommend.

Asparagus

One planting can last for more than 20 years, so choose carefully, and buy good quality crowns or seeds. I recommend all male hybrid varieties, because the spears are fat and the ferns do not grow berries. The latter usually have viable seeds which can become quite a weed, because you end up with too many plants and thin spears.

Aubergine

Needs warmth, is best grown under cover. I struggle more often than succeed, because in SW England our summers are rarely hot enough. However, in the last eight summers I have enjoyed good harvests from Black Pearl F1, and even bigger ones from grafted plants of the same variety, purchased for approx. £2 from organicplants.co.uk. Mostly I don’t rate most grafted plants, these are my exception!

Beans, climbing

The old favourite runner bean varieties such as Scarlett Emperor are good, as long as they have been well maintained by the seed companies. From what I hear, results are variable.

An excellent climbing French bean is Cobra. Or Golden Gate for yellow and flat pods. Borlotti beans are tasty both as green pods, and for dry seeds if you have a long summer.

Beetroot

Boltardy used to be good, see above, especially from sowing as early as February in plugs or pots in warm conditions. I have been successful with early Boltardy since 1983, but now recommend Pablo F1, more expensive for sure. Seed companies have not maintained the variety, and it’s getting worse. In 2020, as well as the two companies in my photos, I heard of bad results from Mr Fothergills Boltardy seeds.

.For later sowings from mid April you can sow Boldor and Touchstone Gold for a different flavour and yellow colour, Chioggia gives pretty pink and white stripes when cut, while Cheltenham Green Top is long, sweet and stands well in winter.  For winter use, sow from early May to mid June. Also Cylindra, Detroit and many others.

Broad Bean

For sowing in autumn to overwinter, Aquadulce Claudia is reliable and develops great flavour if beans are allowed to mature until white and creamy. It also crops well from sowing by early March. Masterpiece Green Longpod has tasty green beans, sown from February, and Green Windsor has arguably the best flavour of all.

Monica or de Monica grows a smaller plant 1.2m/4ft high, with pods of 4-5 pale coloured, sweet beans. Broad Bean Wizard, from Real Seeds are great over winter, and produce a tasty crop in May, with many small pods.

Broccoli (also see calabrese below)

A common broccoli in climates with mild winters is Purple Sprouting to overwinter, and sowing in June is good for this. I grew Early Purple Sprouting and Late Purole Sporouting for many years, with fair results. However the shoots were thinner every year – lack of maintenance.

Then I tried Claret F1 and have not looked back – large main heads in April, followed by many secondary broccoli shoots, finishing by mid to end May.

  • Try also Kaibroc and Brokali, for small plants which are very fast at heading into small spears. Sow as late as the end of July, for cropping in October onwards, even into winter.

Brussels Sprouts

And once again as with so many vegetables, the open pollinated, old-fashioned, heirloom, heritage, varieties have not been well maintained for the most part. I receive many questions from people who ask why their Brussels sprouts are not growing firm buttons, and it’s because they are growing the non-hybrids.

Fresh, well grown Brussels actually have lovely flavours all the time, with less bitterness than is sometimes found in bought buttons. Doric F1, Braemar F1 and Trafalgar F1 have always grown well for me as medium to  late croppers from December to March, while Marte F1 and Brigitte F1 are excellent for cropping September to December.

Noisette is reliable, of good flavour and open pollinated!  Groningen is a very tall open-pollinated variety.

Flower Sprouts (F1 hybrid cross with kale) have open buttons of sweeter flavour, especially in mid winter.

Cabbage

I am wary of caterpillars in hearting autumn cabbage but using mesh over June plantings, for nine weeks, makes it possible to have some good hearts. Or spray Bacillus Thuringiensis if you can buy it, see Links page under Learn.

Try Piacenza and Quintal d’Alsace from Real Seeds, while Filderkraut from Mr Fothergills and Bingenheim makes large, pointed hearts which are tender and delicious in coleslaw or for sauerkraut. In November 2011 I harvested hearts of 5-6kg (24 inch spacing) and they were so sweet, but 2012 hearts were only 1kg because I planted them too late (10th July) in a cool summer.

For red cabbage I like Rodynda and Granat. They both keep for 2-3 months in my shed from a harvest in late autumn.
Sow autumn cabbage for hearting in mid May for planting by mid June. For spring cabbage sown late August, all varieties I have grown have performed well, more for leaves than tight hearts.

Savoy cabbage Paresa F1 can be sown June, planted July to harvest in late winter, when greens are so welcome. Savoy hearts are frost hardy.

Calabrese

For large, tight heads try F1 hybrids such as Belstar and Marathon. More stem and smaller heads over a long period come from Apollo F1. Harvests of smaller shoots and over a longer period are given by open pollinated varieties such as Green Sprouting.
Bingenheim seeds do an excellent open pollinated variety, Calinaro. In 2015 I sowed it June 20th and planted after broad beans, for heavy crops in October.

Carrot

Early Nantes, for early and later sowings, grow vigorously to a fair size, with good sweetness. Raymond Blanc’s tasting team gave it top marks in a 2014 trial of 32 varieties. Berlicum and Autumn King varieties are good for sowing by mid June, to store through winter. Coloured varieties have variable vigour: yellow ones grow easily, purple ones are more tricky, all have different flavours.
For winter harvests of great flavour and storing quality, try the stump rooted Oxhella, best sown in June.

Cauliflower

It’s fun to grow coloured cauliflowers such as Purple Graffiti F1, and Sunset which is yellow or orange. The old variety All Year Round is reliable to sow at any stage. Some varieties such as Medallion F1 and Aalsmeer are for summer sowing (second half of July here), to crop eventually in the spring.

Celery

Hybrid varieties such as Victoria are a leap forward compared to the old-fashioned Golden Self Blanching and Tall Utah. I rate Victoria as best of the bunch, by some margin. There are also fun varieties which have a pink flush on their stems, and Granada which resists Septoria blight in the autumn. And there is Chinese leaf celery, for leaf/stalk harvests.

Celeriac

A large trial at Raymond Blanc’s garden revealed few differences in flavour and growth. I find that Prinz has slightly healthier autumn leaves (less Septoria) than Ibis, although both grow to a fine size. In 2015 I tried Monarch and Mars, finding both to be good, and the Mars in particular carried on growing into November, with healthier leaves than other varieties which can suffer septoria (“late blight”) from about August in wet summers and autumns. Giant Prague matures late, with flatter roots of fine flavour.

Chicories

Leaf chicory is bitter while the heads are bitter-sweet, best sown after mid June, to reduce bolting. A last sowing around 12th-15th July is good for heads in November even December, in Somerset. Fine red radicchios should develop from Palla Rossa varieties, especially 506TT from Bingenheim, which also stands well.

I find Marzatica from Seeds of Italy makes variable heads and about half are firm. They are complemented by amazing pink and yellow colours of varieties such as Lusia, Romea, and Castelfranco, but these do not stand well, tending to rot.

Chillies

I urge you to visit the experts at Seaspring Seeds, they breed them and offer a great range. See here about keeping chillies as perennial plants.

Courgette

I like Seeds of Italy’s selection, which emphasises how all shapes, colours and sizes are possible! Genovese and Striato of Naples have grown well here. Early Gem F1 has grown well for me since 1984, as has Defender F1. F1 varieties produce more fruit and less plant!

I find that yellow varieties are less productive. Remember that courgettes are simply under-grown marrows, of the summer squash family: see winter squashes for Butternut et al. Pumpkins are different again, see below.

Cucumber

All-female cucumbers for growing undercover are expensive in seed, and highly productive. I like Carmen F1 for whole size fruits and Passandra F1 for half-size cucumbers, and I grow them up strings. Outdoor cucumbers need less training and fruits are less regular, especially La Diva, while Tanya cucumbers are more even, and prickly like many outdoor (‘ridge’) cucumbers – just peel the skin before eating. Home grown are tasty, you should notice a big difference compared to what you can buy.

Endive

For large leaved scaroles, try Bubikopf and Diva, which keep healthier than many others (less browning at the margins). Bingenheim’s Diva is excellent for this.

For a frizzy endive, try Frenzy (seeds on EBay) for a long season of picking, then cutting and plants can crop for 12 weeks from a June sowing. Also I like Fine Maraichere for its abundant green leaves, pickable of outer leaves like lettuce, Aery F1 for high yields, and Bianca Riccia da Taglio (Real Seeds) for luminous and tasty leaves, of a bright yellow, highly decorative colour. Of all these my winter favourite is Aery F1, for its amazing vigour.

Exotics

Some I like include Tree Spinach (Simply Vegetables), which has beautiful magenta shoots all the time while it grows up to five feet high by August, watercress for its (invasive) vigour and flavour, and lime basil for stunning citrus aromas and tastes. Trials of oca in 2013-15 were successful, though be wary of mice eating the tubers in late autumn, and yields were not high.

Sweet potatoes are worthwhile only undercover – Carolina Ruby was my most productive variety, see October 2013. In 2019’s warm summer and in the polytunnel, I harvested two wheelbarrows of leaf and stem, but only 4kg of sweet potatoes.

Yacon is worth growing if you can buy a plant, order in winter for spring delivery eg from Real Seeds. I harvested 10kg from two plants, tubers are sweet but low in calories.

Bulb or Florence fennel (two names, same plant)

There are two seasons of harvest, separated by flowering in June. Make the first sowing on a windowsill in February to mid March, or sow in July, even until early August. The two seasons of bullying are early summer and mid to late autumn.

Zefa Fino and Perfektion are reliable. In 2013 I trialled five varieties and found few differences, except for Solaris F1 bulbing better from the June sowing.

French Bean

Climbing beans come in many shapes and colours. Blauhilde has lovely purple pods, Fortex (Seaspring Seeds) has surprisingly long ones of good flavour, Cobra is a green all rounder and crops all summer, really nice beans. My favourite dwarf beans are Cupidon for long, green pods, Safari (see photo above) for cropping thin, long beans over a long period  and Sonesta or Orinoco for waxy, yellow pods.

Purple Tepee grows flavoursome beans that appear to go from too small to too large in as little as 3 days but do not appear to be tough or stringy.

Fruit – apples

In terms of disease resistance here, I am mostly concerned about apple scab. Flavour and crispness of fruit is equally important! Check for local varieties which should be adapted to your weather, and see if you can find some to taste before committing to planting a tree, because it is such a long term commitment.

My favourites are Sunset for eaters October-December, small and sweet, Ribston Pippin for russeted fruits of great taste and density which gives it longevity over crispness, Lord Lambourne for sweet eaters in October-November, and and Kidds Orange Red for exquisite flavoured fruit which may keep until February.

Red Windsor and Cevaal are excellent in Sep-Oct, gorgeous colour and healthy. Court Pendu Plat keeps well through winter as does Falstaff.  Jupiter has large, red, tasty eaters until Christmas, and grow Bountiful for large, green cookers from September, which turn yellow and become sweet in December. Both resist scab and Bountiful is especially clean, and high yielding.

Garlic

Once you have a harvest of bulbs that you like, I recommend keeping the largest bulbs to separate into cloves to re-plant in early October. See my garlic video for advice.

Flavourwise I like Solent Wight which also stores well.

Hardnecks make slightly smaller bulbs, harvest about two weeks later than softnexks, and are easier to peel.

Green Manures*

I grow almost none of these, preferring instead to plant or sow second crops of vegetables in July, August and until about mid September. Then I sow any spare ground, from about mid September to mid October, with mustards or broad bean Aquadulce Claudia, which provides an early crop if it survives the winter, otherwise it will have helped provide soil cover. White mustard (Synapsis alba) is the only green manure I occasionally sow in September, it is killed by moderate frost of -5C/23F, so there is no mulching or digging-in needed.

Herbs*

Chervil is delicious and misunderstood, best not sown in spring. When sown July to mid August, it crops for a long time through autumn, and sow mid August to early September for growing under cover through winter and until it flowers in early May. Coriander likewise – look for Cruiser, slow to bolt and with fleshy leaves.
Dill grows well from a February sowing indoors, planted early April under fleece and cropping by May, giving a long harvest until flowering in late June. Or sow July for autumn cropping. A plant or two of summer savoury, set out in May, is great for extra flavours.
Basil needs warmth and not too much wet on its leaves, sow in warmth from April, or buy pots of basil seedlings in the supermarket, divide and pot on. I recommend any sweet basil, and lemon basil such as Mrs Burns.

Kale*

For tenderness and eating raw, try Red Russian or Sutherland (Real Seeds). For lovely red colours, grow Scarlet or Red Devil. Probably the tastiest kale is Cavolo Nero, less frost resistant than curly kale but sweet and tender: when preparing the latter to eat, cut each leaf off its tough central stalk.

For kale fall the time, find a plant or cutting of Taunton Deane or Daubentons perennial kale, truly amazing plants, so productive. Taunton’s leaves are not the most tender, but make up for that with vigorous growth.

New varieties of kale are exciting. I have grown Afro, Candy Floss, Emerald Ice and Midnight Sun – all good in different ways, and highly ornamental.

Lambs lettuce/corn salad

Mostly this disappoints me with its small size, meaning one needs to endure a lot of winter weather and cold fingers to harvest a decent amount. Best so far is Valentin, and Trophy looks promising.

Land cress

Excellent hardy plant with good flavour produces leaves all winter without protection – just remember pigeons like it too. Sow July-August because it flowers in May-June.

Leek

The early varieties Swiss Giant, Zermatt and King Richard grow large in autumn, and have less frost resistance than Autumn Mammoth and Philomene, which itself have less frost resistance than Musselburgh, Bandit etc. Read the small print to be sure of having a variety suitable for the season in which you want to be eating leeks.

Sow them all at the same time in early to mid April (seed bed outdoors), or from very late March under cover in modules. In 2018 I trialled a variety Malabar, because it claims ’rust resistance’. I found it suffered as much rust as other leeks, plus it has a much shorter stem, which was not mentioned on the seed packet.

Lettuce

So many choices. Batavian and Romaine (cos) varieties can be picked of outer leaves as leaf lettuce, although they can also be left to grow heads, while the seed packet may suggest they are suitable for heading only.

For winter lettuce, an absolute star is Grenoble Red (search Rouge Grenobloise for more results), for resistance to frost, slugs and mildew. From a sowing in early September, it has an ability to grow for longer than most varieties in spring, when its outer leaves are repeatedly picked off. It’s a fast grower and if allowed to heart up, it needs plenty of water to avoid tipburn.

For cos I like Tesy and Bijou (dark red), Valmaine, Freckles, Paris Island,  Little Gem including Maureen, Amaze and Intred, and Winter Density, In batavians, Maravilla di Verano and Saragossa are great from both spring or summer sowing. Lollo Rossa and Bianca offer prettiness, and  Navara plus Cantarix grow gorgeous red leaves with some resistance to lettuce root aphid.

Onion

Onion fly is increasing and mildew has become more common so I am growing onions from seed to avoid risk of contamination from sets. Sturon is good for even growth and long storage, Stuttgarter has strong flavour and keeps well, Long Red Florence is mild and does not keep beyond Christmas. Red Baron is good but all red onions are more prone to bolting than white ones from sets, and cost about twice as much to grow; however from seed, they are cheaper and bolt little compared to plants from sets. For mildew resistance try yellow skinned Santero which stores well too.

For spring onions, my favourite continues to be White Lisbon. And Lilla grows nice red spring onions, as well as bulbs.

Oriental Leaves*

A big subject! Sow after the summer solstice, to make more leaves and less flowers, (early August is best date here) and they like moist soil. The mustards are pretty and of great flavour, especially Green and Red Streaks/ Frills. Green in the Snow for top pungency, Red Giant is good for stir frying, Red Dragon for salads.

Pak choi is adored by slugs but worth a try, while leaf radish is the most vigorous of all, with mild, hairless leaves that keep growing until December outside, sometimes. Mizuna is vigorous in late autumn but prone to slug damage. See CN seeds  for excellent choices here.

Parsnip

White Gem is reliable, while the hybrids Gladiator and Javelin are longer and resist canker to some extent. This makes them good for heavy soil, and both have excellent flavour. Buy fresh seed every year. Tender and True is reckoned to have best flavour but I find that all parsnips taste good, especially after some cold weather which converts starches into sugars.

Pea and pea shoots*

Tall varieties in general grow 2m/6.5ft or higher, and crop more heavily than dwarf ones. They also crop for longer. Alderman is my favourite tall pea for podding, and Sugar Snap for snap/mangetout pods of notable sweetness. These tall varieties are also good for pea shoots.

Try Oregon Sugar Pod for classic mangetout, with plants 5 ft/1.5m tall, and Hurst Greenshaft for one metre high plants with tasty podding peas. In 2019 I had a long season of picking from Cascadia, of delicious snap pods on 1.5m high plants.

Peppers

Like aubergines, best grown under cover. Sweet Banana bears many fruit, long and of pale colour, ripening to orange. Sweet Baby Orange is good for containers.  Hungarian Hot Wax is an intriguing mixture of pepper and chilli. Roter Augsburger from Stuttgart is great for cooler climates, eventually ripening to red.

Potatoes

First earlies in order of maturity Swift, Rocket and Casablanca.
Second earlies Charlotte, Gourmande, Estima, Wilja, and Ratte (salad)
Maincrop: Sarpo varieties for blight resistance, King Edward

Pumpkin (not squash)

Rouge Vif D’Etamps is a typically straggling plant capable of covering a large area and making medium sized, flatter, reasonably tasty fruits. They are of much less flavour than winter squashes – and pumpkins’ softer skin means they also store less well. For enormous fruits, grow Atlantic Giant.

Rhubarb

Timperley Early keeps producing lovely red stalks by late winter and throughout spring, over a decade or more. Gardening Which? in 2013 trialled many varieties and found The Sutton to have best flavour.

Salad rocket

Produces well through winter, good flavour but small leaves in winter (as all salad leaves, because of low light levels mostly).  Best sown early August for autumn abundance, and I find that standard salad rocket is good, especially the selection from Bingenheim.

Spinach*

Spinach for salad in winter can be had from Medania (excellent variety) and Red Cardinal sown in August outside, or early September to grow under cover. Sow Medania or F1 varieties in March, to crop by early May for six weeks: harvest by pinching off larger leaves, see video.. To have green leaves in summer it is more reliable to grow leaf beet or swiss chard.

Spinach Medania was multisown 10th August, planted between lettuce still cropping, this photo 4th October after two harvests

Sweetcorn

Sweet Nugget F1 has been around a while, always matures nicely and I find it sweeter then older varieties, also it retains sweetness after picking. For open pollinated we are impressed by Bingenheim’s sweetcorn, I sowed some of their early, mid and late varieties for a long period of cropping in 2015. Tramunt the late variety has performed best of the three.

Tomato

Sungold orange cherry has a fine, refreshing sweetness and ripens early. Rosella fruits are dark skinned, and the flavour is nice balanced sugar and acid. Honeycomb F1 is like Sungold, and less inclined to split.

Sakura F1, a red cherry, offers great flavour and larger fruits. Matina and Ace give red, medium size fruits. Marmande is ever reliable for beef tomatoes, Black Russian/Krim are great for tasty dark fruit, Feo de Rio is excellent for beef tomatoes and Yellow Brandywine for top flavour. All do best under cover in most of Britain, unless it is a hot summer.

For outdoor tomatoes in temperate climates, try Crimson Crush F1 for juicy flavour and blight resistance. I have had top results from varieties offered by Culinaris in Germany, and here is a catalogue in English. Resi, Primabella, Primavera and Dorada all have good points, depending on your taste. They are all cherry tomatoes and grow well in cooler conditions, with resistance to blight.

Winter Squash

Red (or Uchiki) Kuri trails and makes red fruits of excellent flavour, which manage to ripen in damp summers. Crown Prince‘s blue-grey fruits are of superb flavour, ripening a little later. Butternut’s tasty fruits are hard to ripen unless summer is hot: their skins need to be brown and hard if you want best flavour, and to keep them through winter. On the whole I would go for Kuri.

Also Tromba d’Albenga from Seeds of Italy. They happily ramble amongst climbing beans and sweetcorn or fruit bushes.

98 thoughts on “Choosing seeds and varieties

  1. Hi Charles
    I’ve recently taken on an allotment (in October 2020) and am starting to get ready for planting. I’ve been reading our website, getting inspired and learning a lot – thanks so much for all the information. I have a question which is how to store seeds – should they go in the fridge? I’m hoping to save some of the seeds from the packets for next year. For the most part they are seeds from Real Seeds and Vital Seeds, bought this year.
    Thanks very much
    Clare
    Bristol, UK

    1. Hi Clare, I hope it all goes well and while seeds keep better cool, fridges are damp. Need to be in sealed container with silica gel.
      Or in same container in cool room of house is good.

        1. If you plan on keeping them in an outside building a metal tin is a good idea. Our local rodent population have feasted on mine over the winter in the past!

  2. Charles

    One odd thing that happened to me in the 2020 season concerned the Butternut Squash ‘Waltham’.

    I planted them out at the same time as my Red Kuri and Crown Prince, both of which roared away and harvested incredibly early in what was a warm and sunny summer, with heavy rain in August.

    The Waltham plants steadfastly refused to grow for a good while and I was resigned to no crop when one suddenly decided to start growing about 6-7 weeks after transplanting it. It then grew like the wind and we harvested around a dozen squash, several of which were huge, by leaving the plant into early November.

    Is there any evidence that Butternut Squashes do better by sowing/planting out even later than normally recommended, like sowing in late May and transplanting around the Solstice?

  3. Charles,

    Hello from Oregon, where the climate is very similar to yours! I know it’s a long way from England, but you should try seeds from the Adaptive Seeds of Oregon. They have only open pollinated varieties, all grown in the Pacific Northwest by local farms, all excellent for our (and your) climate. All seeds are super fresh and of excellent quality. https://www.adaptiveseeds.com/

    I am a backyard gardener and their seeds are simply the best: lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, endives, onions, etc etc.

  4. Hi Charles
    Listened to your No Dig session the other night, very useful thank you.
    My problem I think is with my soil. I have been putting homemade compost on in Autumn for 3 or 4 years now made up of grass, leaves, kitchen waste, twigs, weeds and chicken bedding waste and some wood ash from woodburner. Looks good but vegetable results not brilliant. Carrots just don’t seem to work anymore, beetroot only grow to golf ball size at most, celeriac the same and even courgettes weren’t abundant. Would you advise getting soil checked? I see that RHS do it for around £35 but it seems mainly to be the ph level rather than any contaminants etc. Would be grateful for your thoughts, thank you.

    1. Oh what a pity! I wonder whether your garden is surrounded by trees or tall hedges which have roots feeding into the ground? If so then growth in winter is stronger, such as spinach?
      I would suspect other factors such as this, before soil issues.
      If it’s not tree roots I would dig a hole to have a look, maybe somebody left a membrane in there or whatever. Do report back! Soil test should be last resort and may not reveal much. What is your reason for suspecting a pH issue? You need to say that 🙂

      1. Hi Charles, thanks for your reply. Veg plot is a raised bed in sunny position, well back from surrounding trees and higher than where trees are so is in full sun most of the day. We put plot in 10+ years ago, not huge but enough to do beans, broad beans, beetroot, sweet peas and courgettes so no membrane. Wondered if ph issue because results have been much better in previous years. Did add Growmore this last year and still have celeriac which looks healthy but very small and leeks only 3/4″ diameter having been there since June. Perhaps it is the seed quality after all, think last year I got it from Thompson & Morgan? Or could it be something to do with the wood ash?

        1. That is interesting and it’s just so hard to say without seeing for example the compost you are putting on. I add some wood ash to my compost, maybe only 2 to 3% of the total ingredients.
          Have to say I don’t like the sound of adding growmore, temporary gain but long-term damage to soil organisms, and makes them lazy to so you get on the treadmill.

        2. Hi Victoria,
          Just saw your messages after I read Charles’ article. I had quite a poor record with Thompson & Morgan seeds – peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers – 1 in 5 seed germinate and 2/3 of germinated peas were damaged. Maybe try different seeds this spring.

  5. I would like to grow some beans to dry (my ideal would be pinto, but I understand they may be difficult in Belgium). When I look up substitute for Pinto, I see Borlotti. In your wonderful book “no dig organic home & garden” page 145 you mention Borlotti and also about drying beans. suggestions? Thank you in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Valerie, I don’t know pinto beans but imagine they are similar to others for drying.
      Simply grow them as usual except you don’t pick them, harvest late September early October and finish drying in the house et cetera. With borlotti you can choose between dwarf and climbing beans.

  6. If I grow one of the new runner bean french bean crosses, moonlight snowstorm. Would they cross with an old red variety. I have a saved seed type of red bean have grown for many years for sentimental reasons really but they do go stringy. I want to grow the new variety for its flavour and abundance but keep the red ones true to type

    1. Good question Mandy and there is indeed a risk of that. Furthermore I have heard recently from people that one at least of those New Cross varieties was not brilliant last year.

  7. I am a long time organic allotmenteer, raised on Lawrence Hills. Your videos have really inspired me to convert to no dig beds which have been doing really well.

    I wanted to comment on seed life which can vary from 1 – 7 years. I am often disappointed with the expense and small numbers of seeds provided by most companies, so buy quite a lot from a commercial supplier. Expensive hybrid seeds (squash tomato pepper melon etc) I keep in a sealed container in the fridge with dessicant packs, and this seems to double their active life – making this quite cost effective. And in particular parsnips have been doing well for a second year. They need’nt take up too much space and can be shoved right to the back.

    1. Thanks Jay this is brilliant feedback. I quite agree that seed quality and quantity has slept a lot! So your message sounds really good. Which commercial supplier are you using?

      1. I use Moles seeds. And I share a bit with friends. Not sure how they compare but they do have some a reasonable organic choice which I use when possible.

  8. Sativa are also no longer delivering to the UK. I just spent an hour picking seeds from your recommendations only to be unable to complete the order at the checkout. Any ideas where else folk can get the 506TT radicchio?

  9. Hmmmm, looks like Bingenheim are no longer shipping to the UK as it doesn’t appear in the drop down menu in their checkout. Brexit I presume.

    1. Hi John I spoke to Bingenheim on Friday. There is a UK dispatch issue with their online checkout which they are hoping their IT guys will sort out in a few days. I was advised to try again early this coming week (11th onwards). Good luck.

  10. Hi Charles,

    Shame to hear about your results with Boltardy. I grew it this year and about half were too small to be useful. Not sure if you’ve heard of it but the Boston variety is supposed to be an improved selection of Boltardy so probably won’t have the same issues.

    As for your tomato recommendations, I have to put a good word in for Rosella, from the same breeder as Sweet Aperitif. It has a bit more tang to balance out the sickly sweet taste that Sweet Aperitif has. It’s the only tomato I’ve found that I will definitely grow every year.

    Thanks for putting this page together, really useful.

  11. Thank you Guru Charles.
    Deborah Madison, an acclaimed American author of many cookbooks, says that the only courgette/zucchini she grows now is Costata Romanesco. We tried it this year ( we got it from Chiltern Seeds) and are delighted with it. It’s a fine, meaty courgette and it’s the last plant surviving in the tunnel. We’ll keep growing this.

      1. One gardener quipped, “ It’s the only summer squash worth growing unless you’re just thirsty.” If tastes good because it has winter squash in its parentage. It’s a slow grower, though, and doesn’t produce tons of fruit. Two others I recommend are Zephyr and Tempest, both F1.

  12. Hi Charles! Thank you so much for the great content you provide here on your website and the youtube channel. I’m a very new gardener and the amount of conflicting (and often complicated!) information I find online often makes me feel like throwing in the towel. Your videos have been so clear and valuable to me – especially the seed sowing and seedling transplanting ones!
    I’d like to recommend you a seed company that you don’t have on your list – they’re called Sementes Vivas (Living Seeds), and they produce all of their organic and biodynamic seed here in Portugal where I live. I’ve ordered quite a few online, always with fantastic germination rates, and they’re adapted to drought in the summer, but cold winter weather and freezes as they’re grown in the interior of the country where it gets quite chilly in the winter.
    They’re also very affordable, and they ship to the EU + UK. I’ve had very bad results with other seeds bought at garden centers in previous years, and always blamed my own inability to make them germinate. But this year every single seed I’ve sown has germinated.

    Thanks again for all your wonderful work and information, and greetings from sunny Portugal!

    1. Thanks Inês and what a great tip.
      I only hope that after Brexit we might still be able to buy their seeds!
      Yes I know a lot of people who blame themselves when in reality there is so much old seed in the system. I shall mention this company in a post.

  13. Hi Charles
    Great videos and advice.
    My family for 3 generations ( my grandfather, father and then me) have grown Gardeners Delight tomato and said that was the only one tomato to grow. However recently I have been really disappointed the taste has definitely been bred out of these once lovely tomatoes. So never again.
    With a sad heart I ask “can you recommend a replacement for a sweet cherry tomato that’s reliable in the north of England?”

      1. I bought Gardeners Delight seeds many years ago and loved them. About 6 years ago I stopped buying the seed and instead every year I just collect from my own tomato. Who knows if they are a true Gardeners Delight but they are certainly as tasty as I remember and a true delight every year.

  14. Charles, do you have any variety suggestions for Chinese cabbage please? RHS advice is as below, fyi:

    ‘Early Jade Pagoda’ AGM:A cylinder-shaped or ‘Michihili’ type. Uniform, with dark-green outer leaves and a short internal stem. Late maturing.

    ‘Kasumi’ AGM:High yielding and barrel-shaped, with solid heads and pretty green outer leaves.

    ‘Questar’:Medium-large with dark green outer leaves and firm. Slow to bolt and can be harvested around 65 days from sowing; claims to be club-root resistant.

  15. This is wonderful! Such a fount of knowledge. Have you tried delica (not delicata) squash? Beautiful green fruit with orange flesh that is so buttery that it’s almost like avocado when cooked. Will try red kuri next year. Thanks

  16. Please, is it worth saving the seed from my Iona F1 Celeriac plants, just realised they are hybrids and cannot find information anywhere on the internet. Do you know?

    1. Hi Jane. Ilona is indeed F1 and don’t save seeds! If you do, they will grow a motley collection of unworthwhile roots next year. I think you would regret the waste of time and space.

  17. Hi Charles,

    I have planted a 100 foot row of Kuri squash to sell to a local farmers market later this season. Just this morning I discovered that the original seed package must have a few “imposters” seed thrown in. The leaf shape and female blooms are very different (look like a summer squash variety). Should I relocate these imposter varieties before my main crop starts pollinating or should it be fine? I recall someone saying that corn varieties have to at-least 100 foot away so that they don’t cross pollinate. Is this the same for pumpkins/squash?

    1. Different varieties do not cross pollinate fruits, but only seeds.
      Each plant grows true to its seed genes.
      Then if you sow a cross pollinated seed NEXT year, you get mixed sauashes!

  18. Charles, I have your Organic and Winter Veg books and Veg Garden Diary, all really valuable and strongly recommended. In the first week of May we proudly harvested mangetout (3 pickings) and new potatoes (Home Guard, planted end-Feb – two harvestings so far) and are now taking the first picking of over-wintered broad beans. This is all in the polytunnel so I guess there’s some protection advantage. I’m in Worcestershire.

  19. Hello Charles,

    Thank you so much for all your vegetable growing information here You are such a passionate grower. I often watched your gardening videos and my harvests have improved year after year since I found your channel on Utube.

    I love everything about celeriac. I have decided to give it go this spring (it is September in Melbourne, Australia) when I saw your impressive celeriac harvest on Instagram. I could not find any Prinz celeriac seeds here so I bought the Giant Praque variety instead. I am glad to hear you have great experience with this variety.

    Have a great growing season in UK.

    Annie

    1. Hello Annie
      This is great feedback thanks, I find it amazing to reach people so far away!
      I hope your GP is good, I found it grew large but with proportionately more leaf to stem than the Prinz.
      However this could be from the seed company’s selection process.

  20. Hello Charles. I love your blog and YouTube channel. Amazing content. I tried no dig with hay, but slugs loved it more than I did. This year I try compost. A bout seeds, I thought there were clear regulations in europe. Germination rate has to be tested every year and above 80%; and there is an end-of-use date on each package. Do you think that the controls are not implemented correctly ? I buy a lot from kokopelli, which is independent, organic, ancient and free-to-reproduce seeds. I never had any germination problem but for romaine lettuce once, coming from another Organic supplier. but I always fear that problem!

    1. Thanks Valerie.
      Issue with germination is how they measure it – in a lab, 25C, so more chance of a sprout appearing than in a garden situation.
      Next is how they count it eg a sprout/root appearing from a seed = germination for them, but again not always in a garden situation, where it may be feeble growth and failed plants.
      So it’s buyer beware, unless as you say you deal with a conscientious company, nice job Kokopelli!

  21. Hello Charles, I love your videos on YouTube, and watch them all the time. I live in the southern US and live in my garden as much as I can. I was watching one of your videos where you were giving a tour of your garden, and you mentioned two varieties of beans that tasted like butter beans. I know one was called Zar, I think, and the other may have been Borrloti. Could you please give me the names of these to so that I may can find seed for them in the US? I would love to try these this year.
    Thanks,
    Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin, nice to hear, and yes they are Czar (white seeded kidney bean but eats like a lima bean) and Borlotti.
      I hope you find seed!

  22. This is an amazing resource, thank you Charles. Do you have a preferred variety of turnip as you often refer to growing them in your videos but I can’t find a turnip harvest video? Just ordered my calendar, diary and cook book so keep up the good work

  23. Hi Charles, I have 3 rows of Elephant garlic that I planted late last year (all about 5″ high at the moment) spaced 1ft apart all sides in a bed that’s is about 3m long, I am looking for a crop to interplant with them was thinking of something along the lines of Lettice, spring onions or radish. Would I run into any issues in general doing so.
    Would love to come to one of you talks any chance of doing one north of Leeds ?

    1. Paul I would plant radish and or lettuce.
      Am speaking near Edinburgh late October.
      Thanks for the idea, travel time is my difficulty.

          1. Hi Charles, I had a packet of old pea seeds (Kelvedon Wonder I think), planted them all in a trough in November, inside on the windowsill. Now I’m eating mini pea plants as salad shoots in my sandwiches. Would never have thought of trying this if not for seeing your video with the greenhouse full of things growing on like that over winter.

  24. Hello Charles, I just moved into my house circa 1962 in Gig harbor WA and it has a lovely slopped garden. I wasn’t intending to do anything with it except let the dog enjoy it but then I found you on youtube and I am inspired and excited to garden!I have already started my compost, however I’m doubtful it will be ready in time for this year. What can I use on my no dig beds until mother natures helpers create my gold?
    Also there is one area of the garden overrun with the biggest blackberry brambles I have ever seen. I have tried clearing them down to the root, should I cover the area now with heavy plastic ? or what do you suggest to stop them from invading my garden?
    Thank you for such wonderful youtubes and website of knowledge, I have ordered your calender, diary and books and watch the post for their delivery!
    Fiona

    1. Thanks Fiona, lovely to hear.
      Bramble roots do indeed grow back so take a sharp spade to cut around each clump and remover just the main woody middle piece, not every root, to about 6in depth.
      I would buy compost, depends what’s available say old mushroom compost.

  25. Hello Charles. Last August I was staying with a friend who lives in the Malvern hills. While there, she introduced me to an organic grocer in the town. The abundant fruit and veg they were selling were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and grown locally by the staff there. I asked them about their methods – Charles Dowding No-dig and a little seaweed fertiliser I was told. Well, for various eco related reasons I was already toying with the idea of turning my decent sized suburban garden in Yorkshire over to growing food. That decided me. Ignoring my husband’s howls about the shrinking lawn and disappearance of the neglected pond (he won’t complain when he’s eating the results and I’ve made an alternative home for the wildlife), I’ve spent the time since preparing the ground and creating beds and spaces to see what your methods will bring forth. I’m trying a lot of things I haven’t grown before, but so far the garlic in the old tin bathtub is doing very well alongside chard that has survived the winter, the new herb beds are established, and the fruit bushes are getting ready to burst into life. I can’t wait to start sowing the early veg and learning how to make the most of the Earth’s gifts throughout the year. Many thanks for your inspiration and knowledge, wish me luck!

    1. Helo Sian
      What a lovely comment, a gift for me because what I wish for is that people feel inspired and empowered, which you are 😀
      How amazing about the greengrocer near Malvern, that thrills me too.
      You are making your own luck, and I wish you every success.

  26. My first year of no-dig I have had the best ever peas!! Thanks to you.
    I have a 3ft wide flower bed against the house wall which has been neglected for years. Therefore the soil is solid. Can I use your no-dig methods now, ready for planting next spring, or would I have to dig the soil first?
    Eve (Essex, England)

    1. Nice to hear about your peas Evelyn.
      No need to dig that soil, ‘solid’ is not the same as compact and adding compost to the surface encourages worms and other soil life to come up and feed, thus loosening the soil enough for plant roots – which prefer firm to crumbly.

  27. Charles ,
    I appreciate you and your advice much .
    Thank you for all you do .
    Ray Sussex NJ USA

  28. Really spot on for quick go to varieties , bought some of your books because I felt your efforts putting this out their for free required some monetary reward hopefully see many more videos.and articles , front of house and side of house is my only growing state area half the sun at most towards 2pm onwards but still getting results 2nd year and learning fast thanks to your tips

    1. Many thanks Joshua that is lovely of you and I am happy to hear you are doing alright in less than perfect conditions!

  29. Thank you so much for generously sharing your years of expertise!
    Love this article and really appreciate your amazing videos.
    Thank you for who you are!
    Blessings to you and yours,
    Lara

  30. My parents and grandparents always grew a cover crop of turnips for over wintering – they harvested and ate the greens as they grew but there was always enough left over to cover the soil. Of course, in spring they tilled, so that wouldn’t work for me.

    Thanks so much for providing these seed recommendations, especially the planting times. I have to adjust for the difference in climate but it will certainly help, as I’ve had little luck in the past with beets and cabbages.

    I saw your suggestion for coriander (cilantro) but I just can’t keep the stuff from bolting. I don’t know if our climate is too warm, but it seems that with the first hint of warm days in spring it just goes to flower.

    1. Hi Jeff, thanks for this.
      Turnips need sowing before mid August in the UK so need time in the autumn.
      You could try sowing coriander mid August.

  31. charles, i live in the states in oklahoma. zone 7. we have so few choices for op seeds. can you please recommend some companies in your area that i can order a catalog from? love all your youtube programs..have learned soooo much. thanks, mary

    1. Also, there are some really fabulous companies offering open pollinated seeds in the States. For organic seed I’d specifically mention Adaptive Seeds in Oregon & Wild Garden Seeds (wonderful salads in particular). Annapolis Seeds are a bit further from you in Canada but again great offerings. The Organic Seed Alliance brings together lots of US/Canadian seed growers & is another good place to find sources of OP seeds.

  32. Thanks for sharing Charles! RE: Summer squash: I haven’t tried Crown Prince, but I did compare the taste of Red Kuri and Delica F1 (Bobby Seeds). Delica won hands-down (not even close). Part of it may be that Delica is supposed to get sweeter while in storage (I tasted them in January). If this Delica F1 is the same variety as Ebisu Delica F1 (as I think), then it may to need a longer season than Red Kuri (not obvious to me but then again last Summer was unusual).

    1. Hi Frederik and this is disappointing for Kuri! still great flavour. Nice tip though and always good to compare flavours.

  33. The great Lawrence Hills introduced many of us to value of seeking out ‘amateur’ varieties of vegetables which taste better than commercial varieties and crop over a longer period. He was a particular enthusiast for good potatoes (partly because he was wheat intolerant) so wrote very passionately about potato varieties. His favourite was Duke of York, a variety saved from EU regulations by the mass lobby of organic gardeners. Unfortunately DoY has poor blight resistance, especially against the new, more virulent strains. So it’s great characteristic of tubers maturing into great main crops if you can’t eat them all as earlies, is hard to benefit from these days. We grow Charlottes for flavour) as almost everyone does, but particularly like Nicola (waxy) and Picasso (floury) for main crops. Sarpo, Axona and the other Hungarian varieties have great blight resistance, so are worth having as an insurance policy against bad blight summers, but they do not score highly on the flavour and texture scales.

    Similarly with tomatoes, the finest flavour is often in old varieties with little resistance to the new blight strains. In my humble opinion, English outdoor tomatoes are the finest tomatoes there are, with a real link to the taste of tomatoes in our childhood (I’m 73). Lawrence’s favourite was Harbinger (still available), which won all the HDRA taste tests in his day (1970’s). Modern blight resistance hybrids Ferline and Fandango are good runners up IMHO.

    Here in Bristol, many of us have learned from old gardeners with a Carribbean heritage the value of growing Callaloo. It’s a variety of amaranth, which is a staple of West Indies cuisine, but grows well in southern England. Easy to save seed and with a superb spinach flavour.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Keith, and really useful tips. I have not eaten Harbinger, sounds great. And yes callaloo, easy to grow too!

  34. I grew 3 varrieties of blight resistant tomatoes last year, all outside. It was such a lovely summer that we had far less blight on our allotment than normal but all 3 were impressive.
    Crimson Crush mid size red tomatoes, nice flavour, good salad tomato.
    Magic Mountain large abundant fruit, not particularly flavoursome but was great as a cooking tomato, sauces, soup,passata. I use bottle these by sterilising jam jars and pouring the boiling contents in. There was far too much to freeze.
    Vesper sweet tasty, red, cherry tomato, when I tried to grow it up a cane I had poor results, once I let it ramble over the ground the crop was prolific and cropped from early summer to October. It was very impressive and the tomatoes did not split.
    I too think Gardeners Delight is not the lovely tomato it once was and is no longer worth growing. I have bought it from two different seed companies but had poor results from both.
    Love your website and newsletter and am a convert to no dig. I compost all the green material from my local florist, who pays me to take it away. My soil is improving year on year and weeding is no longer the great task it once was. But I do spend quite a lot of time making compost, which I find satisfying.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Anne, and your tips for tomatoes.
      That is a good deal you have with the florist!

  35. Charles, I have been trying to research the possibility that neonicotinoids ( used by many growers for coating seeds) May persist (they are, as you know, systemic insecticides that can kill
    bees) as far as being present in seeds gathered from crops treated with them and hence be dangerous to bees and other pollinators if such seed is used. It seems the effect may dissipate over time but I’ d like to be sure. Have you considered this issue and if so how do you tell if a supplier is selling contaminated seed?
    There is a lot of research available on persistence of neonicotinoids in soil and in plants pollen and nectar but I can’t find anything yet about persistence in seeds?
    Marcus

      1. Hi Charles, I was quite surprised you weren’t recommending organic varieties. I won’t get into the politics and guess we can prob find these all as organics 🙂

  36. Wonderful suggestions Charles! I also grow the Belstar calabrese (broccoli) here in FL, and since November I have harvested a dozen large, beautiful tasty heads! I am looking forward to the Crown Prince and Kuri squash this spring. My favorite tomatoes are the Sun Gold and highly prolific red cherry called Mexican Midget. As usual, FABULOUS suggestions. (Aubergines and corgettes grow very well here in the heat until the Vine borers get them. I have mine started now to transplant to gain more time before they arrive)

    1. Thanks Karen. I am amazed by your cropping possibilities in Florida and this time of year sounds so good. Not the vine borers though and that is a good strategy..

  37. This is a really useful article. I wonder if I might share it online on our Facebook page for our annual Seedy Saturday Seed Swap in Northampton on February 16 th ?

  38. Good morning,

    I am a debutante gardener and I bought lots of seeds which I will not be using. Some are heirloom varieties from France (where I had a large garden – now I have 100 m2) May I send you some seeds? I am just afraid that here in Dresden without a greenhouse I will never plant some of the south of France varieties and they would go to waste.
    No payment or anything wanted.
    Sincerely,
    Alexandra Cork

    PS
    Thank you so much for your videos! You have helped us a lot. The difference between reading a book and actually seeing how things are done is very big. This is another reason why I wanted to send you some seeds.

    1. Hi Alexandra, this is kind of you.
      I can’t guarantee using them, but if they are not too old it will be fun to try some.
      I hope the move goes well, it must be a shame to leave your garden.
      Charles

        1. I do have a lot of seeds because I keep buying and have a small garden… but how do I send them to USA? Aren t there restrictions? If not, send your address at cork.alex at yahoo dot france.

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