Pippa Rosen writes about her organic seed business in Wiltshire
The Herbary is a private herb nursery which I set up in the 1980s, and in 2003 I started a seed business called Beans and Herbs which reflected my two main interests. Here at The Herbary I have had organic certification for seed production since 2003, and I am committed to safe, sustainable and stockfree methods of cultivation.
Organic seed production continues apace this season on my small piece of land in southwest Wiltshire in the United Kingdom. April and May are exceptionally busy months as I have the triple roles of running trade stands at shows (for selling seeds and for publicity), sending out mail orders, and at the same time trying to get everything up and growing at The Herbary. Last year saw a bumper harvest of seed from Straightneck Yellow Courgette and Aurie de Bacau Climbing French Bean, both of which were star performers and have been justifiably selling well.
Soil Well, it all starts with the soil. I once heard someone say: “We are all of us only a spade’s depth away from starvation.” How true this is. Yet I see much commercially farmed land which looks ‘sterile’, the soil being used merely as a medium for holding plants upright, but having no life of its own. I see poor agricultural practices – soil depletion, artificial fertilisers overused for a quick return, water pollution, soils left bare and the consequent soil run-off. Most of this degradation is for producing animal feed! All seems profit-driven with no thought for the future.
So here at The Herbary I respect my topsoil and look after it. Here it is teeming with life. Worms and microbes are part of my workforce! The plants are able to seek the exact nutrients they need, at the time they need them, for every stage of their development. I aim to take out in cropping only the amount I have put in. There is then little or no impact, no net gain or loss to the topsoil.
My large compost heaps work for me too. Seven years’ worth of slow composting means that I have an ample supply to condition the soil and add a balanced mix to growing plants. Red Clover is grown and harvested and so is Comfrey. I have quite a lot of grass, and among it grows White Clover. Spring grass cuttings therefore provide an excellent and nutritious mulch, while autumn cuttings with fallen leaves provide a mulch of low fertility ready for the following spring’s seed-sowing. This cycle repeats year on year.
What’s growing in 2015?
On the agenda this year are 25 varieties of Climbing French beans. These include six new-to-me heritage varieties which will get lots of tender loving care. They will be trialled for suitability to the UK summer, and of course for how good they taste! In addition to beans and all the usual herbs, I will be growing to the seed stage a beautiful variety of Red Orach, a very dwarf Pea, two tall marrowfat Peas, Golden Beetroot, two different purple Carrots, Lemon Coriander, Hamburg Parsley, Land Cress, Peanut Squash and a long, long Courgette. I am hoping for a sunny season like last year and especially at harvest time. This makes a huge difference to good ripening of the seed – not to mention the ease and delight of collecting it!
Beans & Herbs, 161 Chapel Street, Horningsham, Wiltshire BA12 7LU. Website (with mail order info): www.beansandherbs.co.uk. Pippa, who is a VON member. Here’s an earlier article by Pippa: www.veganorganic.net/growing-for-seed. There’s a gallery of photos (where Pippa is termed “the Queen of Beans”) on the GAP Gardens website at www.gapphotos.com/featuredetails.asp?featureref=912
This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 35 (Summer 2015), p32.