The Cottage Smallholder

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Choosing the seeds for 2009

Photo: vegetable seeds

Photo: vegetable seeds

I woke up a couple of nights ago with the name “White Lady” on my lips. I lay quite still, wondering where the words had come from. A few minutes later I remembered that Maurice had recommended “White Lady”  as the best runner bean seed available in the UK.

Jalopy and I were loitering in with intent in Fordham yesterday, visiting the organic butcher and the Secret Garden stand. Just opposite this wonderful resource there is a small branch of Scotsdale’s in the Fordham High Street. A good garden centre which is a mini version of the Cambridge outlet.

I decided to buy my 2009 seed from there. They sell Unwins seeds that are produced in the opposite end of our county. In fact, Newmarket is a great seed capital. This is the home of Mr Fothergill’s, D.T.Brown’s, Johnson’s (Mr Fothergill’s) and the budget Country Value seeds (also Mr Fothergill’s).

I’ve experimented with different manufacturers’ seeds over the past few years and now go for the high end brands because I discovered that they perform so much better, with stronger plants and better yields. They might seem exorbitantly priced at the outset but, if you match this against the value of the yield, the cost of the seed is peanuts. I would recommend Unwins, D.T. Browns, Mr Fothergill’s and Johnson’s if you live in this area of the UK.

I found the White Lady runner bean seeds within seconds and then I happily browsed. This is dangerous. Suddenly the kitchen garden seems vast and able to foster loads of different varieties of vegetables. Danny had put in a request for Pack Choi. I want to try cauliflower this year along with a good range of tomatoes and peppers (chilli and Romano). And we can’t forget the salad leaves, lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, squash and spinach beet. A summer wouldn’t be a summer without courgettes. I was tempted by a new (to me) vegetable: Asparagus Pea. Apparently the young pods taste just like a mix of asparagus and pea. They’re dwarf plants so could be poked into the herbaceous border if we have no space left.

Seeds are so beguiling. The promise of a bountiful future. Just what we need in these troubled times. I imagine myself out with a machete at harvesting time.

In the end we’ve spent just under £30 on seeds, seed potatoes and shallot sets this weekend. But expect at least a £300 return in fresh vegetable savings.  The runner beans alone feed us for a good three to four months (seeds £3.99). And they freeze well. These are so easy to grow. They can even be grown in a tub or mega pot so why not give them a go this summer? Water every morning and evening and feed generously every week and you could be enjoying fresh runner beans for endless weeks.

Read and digest the seed packet tips. These are written by experts. If they work you will be back next year for more. The tips are generally the minimum directions that you need for a good harvest.

  Leave a reply


  1. Hi Fiona,
    Thanks so much for your advice.
    I bought the seeds yesterday form the ones you suggested but, i could only find seeds for yellow corgettes “Harvest Gold” I think they are called.
    I will let you know how things go.
    Heidi x

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Heidi

    Don’t worry. Runner beans and courgettes are both easy if you feed them well. Lots of organic compost dug into the ground before planting (if you don’t have access to this buy chicken manure from your local nursery garden or Homebase) and then a decent liquid feed every week. The more that you harvest the more that you’ll get.

    I’ve only been growing vegetables for about five years – just herbaceous stuff before. I love my flowers but at the end of the day, I really prefer growing vegetables. They taste so much better than anything that you can buy as they are super fresh. I also think that a kitchen garden looks so decorative.

    Hello Allotment Blogger

    I love the idea of exploding cucumbers – fun on someone else’s plot. Am also intrigued by Celtuce?!

    Delighted that you’ve rubber stamped White Lady.

    Hi Nadia

    Happy sowing and growing to you too. Yes it’s an exciting inspiring time of year. And every nation needs to indulge in simple pleasures to counteract all the financial gloom and doom.

    So pleased that you have resuscitated Shadows and Clouds – I really missed it.

    Hi Rosie

    Seeds are seductive. As an addict so glad to hear that I’m I good company.

    I’m impressed that you are running hedge laying courses in France. Brilliant!

    Hello Alex

    It’s to be applauded. Perhaps we’ll rustle up this cocktail when we pluck the first beans!

    Hi Kate (uk)

    Thank you so much for the advice. A bit disappointing. But at least I’m noe prepared.

    Hello Belinda

    We bought our greenhouse cheap. It arrived in a long slim box with the glass in separate packages. It was a two day labour of love but we managed it in the end and it was just four times the cost of our mini cold frame. A greenhouse is a great investment. Look out for second hand or DIY – loads cheaper.

    Our aubergines didn’t even flower last year. I’m going to start them really early next time. Apparently they need a mammoth growing period.

    Hello KarenO

    Growing your own is so exciting.

    I’m deeply envious of your poly tunnel. We have a doll’s sized one – 1’x12’ and it’s a bit of a dinger. The condensation on the inside waters the crop and it’s worth its weight in gold or whatever is holding up ATM.

  3. “Suddenly the kitchen garden seems vast and able to foster loads of different varieties of vegetables….” Oh how true!! It’s fatal isn’t it? We had a little windfall & so invested in a polytunnel this year. We are waiting for a nice day when we’re both free to put the polythene on – hopefully at the weekend. We need to hurry as I need to get planting. We’ve spent some of the Autumn & Winter getting the ground prepared though so it’s nicely manured & ready to go. I bought most of my seeds from the ‘Real Seed Company’ recommended by someone on this site some time ago. Hopefully now we will soon be able to cancel our organic veg box & have veg really fresh as well as organic. Have lettuce & garlic well under way at the mo so really excited.

  4. Belinda

    My mind went to “Mists of Avolon” at the words white lady..and I too am addicted to seed… I havent tried beans yet.. borlotti yes, not much sucess yet, but this years look better… just hoping they didnt go in too.

    I really need to invest in a cold frame / green house on a small scale type thing. My toms are good, but my chilli is just6 flowering & we had a light frost one night last week. The aubergine hasnt flowered yet! Next year I will have to buy seedlings, or buy that coldframe.

  5. kate (uk)

    I grew asparagus peas, they are very pretty plants and pretty pea pods,look pretty on a plate BUT- don’t expect them to taste of anything much! Pick them when they are very young, when they get larger they rapidly turn woody and stringy, like eating matchsticks- but little baby ones mixed with some sugar snap peas look delicious.

  6. Is it wrong that the first ‘White Lady’ that came to my mind was a cocktail?!

  7. Hello – My name is Rosie and I am a Seed Addict!!! Not that I mind. Unlike other addictions this one, as you say, yields delicious results and unlike bags or booze, veg doesn’t go out of fashion or give you a hangover.

  8. how nice to hear your seed story, it’s a fun time of year isn’t it? just yesterday we were out in the garden planting seeds for veg and flowers, it was glorious! (in fact it inspired me to bring shadowsandclouds back to life too!).
    happy sowing and growing!

  9. Allotment blogger

    Aha! Another seed addict fesses up! We’ve got asparagus peas too, and celtuce, exploding cucumbers and White Lady (great minds, eh?) but I saved my own tomato seed this year …

  10. Hi Fiona,
    I am going to try runner beans and corgettes this year as I have not grown anything before and am a bit worried about it.
    My dad always grew runner beans and I love them!
    I suppose you have to start somewhere.

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