What organic seeds do you buy?

Spring is in the air and thoughts turn towards growing.

While the full-time horticulturalist is always active, those who supply gardeners always see a spike in interest this time of year.

With the Grow it Yourself movement so strong (5,000 active card-carrying members), and a big shift towards allotments and community gardening, it’s not the worst time to be supplying growers with the essentials.

Brown Envelope Seeds and the Herb Garden have all been in business since before the recession. I made enquiries about what people buy.

The Herb Garden is a certified organic herb nursery at The Naul in north Co Dublin. They produce a wide range of certified organic herb seeds, as well as salad, flower and native Irish wildflower seeds. They also stock a small selection of herb plants.

Denise Dunne of the Herb Garden says: “People are more interested in cooking, gardening, organics and natural medicine. I wouldn’t link this with the recession. I have noticed these changes gradually creep in since I started The Herb Garden in 1995. I guess TV food and lifestyle programmes, cheaper travel, and greater access to world wide information through the web have all contributed to these changes.”

“When I started growing herbs commercially, very few people used fresh herbs, and even less grew their own. Over the past 10 years or so basil and coriander became quite fashionable. In the last two or three years I have had a lot of customers looking for native Irish herbs, and perhaps this is influenced by the recession. Surely it is better to use the plants that grow easily here, and are already adapted to our climate, rather than trying to grow basil all year round. Basil will grow here in the summer months, it just hates our winters.”

“I have nothing against exotic plants. In fact, I love them, and I am growing cardamom and kaffir lime leaf on my windowsill. But the current mantra of local, seasonal and organic that is used by many restaurants, applies to herbs just as much as it does to meat, fish, game and vegetables.”

This is a common theme — people want suitable simplicity, and they want challenging exotica. Usually, they want more of the former and less of the latter, but that varies.

Brown Envelope Seeds began in 2004, from a cattle farm at Skibbereen in West Cork. Madeline McKeever of the company says: “In recent years, cereals and more common-sense, less exotic vegetables are popular. Like carrots and parsnips. People are more keen on making dinner than decorating dinner.”

Cereals I found interesting. Brown Envelope supply the non-commercial sector primarily, so how and why are people buying cereal seeds? “I’ve only started doing them recently,” she says. “It can be for chicken feed, as a garden backdrop, or for food” — the latter, apparently, because people are making their own flour and porridge. And why not? Even porridge is processed (de-hulled, cooked), and thus less nutritious before it arrives on the shop shelves. Concurrently, oat groats are becoming more and more popular with health-aware consumers.

“There is less interest in West Indian pickling cucumber or caped gooseberry, we do have adventurous gardeners, and they all go through phases, so there is still demand for those sorts of things”.

A recurring factor for Denise and Madeline is sustainability. Denise doesn’t use artificial heating, limiting her growing season. She doesn’t “We only do small packets, the system here is unmechanised, so we can’t compete on price with the bigger companies. However our seeds are open-pollinated, so people can save seed from them. They are acclimatised to here, I don’t sell hybrids.”

More information: www.theherbgarden.ie www.brownenvelopeseeds.com

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