We've seen very little rain here in the UK over the past couple of months and the sun has been cracking the earth, drying and scorching the grass lands. Many flowering plants seem to nonetheless be thriving, and my Devonshire sweet peas are no exception - I have barely given them any extra water in recent weeks and they are putting on a gorgeous show.
My Sweet Peas started flowering here in South Devon nearly two weeks ago! I've cut back most of the flowers in the hope that the plants will generate a bit more vegetative vigour before putting on thir full floral display through July and August. The heirlooms varieties in particular have been very eager to flower - 'Wretham Pink' and 'Cupani' in particular have been beautiful (a mix of 'Cupani' and 'Matucana' are shown in the foreground here).
I am excited to share with you an inspiring and informative podcast recently recorded by Hilary Dahl of the Seattle Urban Farm Company with Guest Expert Simon Crawford - my father - who generously offered to represent Owl's Acre Seeds as an experienced and knowledgable sweet pea grower! You will hear about a few of our favourite varieties, some top cultivation tips, and advice on growing conditions and seed saving. You can listen HERE or click the image above.
The Seattle Urban Farming Co. is committed to promoting local food production and sustainable, productive land use in urban areas. They support communities and farmers to design, develop and maintain site specific, city based edible landscapes. I'd like to thank Hilary for championing our seed, and for her passion for the beautiful Sweet Pea.
Sowed in mid January, these little Sweet Pea seedlings are really shooting up now, really full of life and vigour! They've been enjoying some warm days in the polytunnel, and I'm wondering if and how the cold snap we are expecting this week may affect them. The plan is to have these planted out in my organic plot in South Devon by mid to late March.
Mark Rowland and Maggie Goodsell are the originators of Owl's Acre Seed, previously Owl's Acre Sweet Peas. I am grateful for our continuing business connections and their ongoing support and advice, gleened over many dedicated years of working with Sweet Peas. I have recently listed a range of chilli seed in the shop that has been bred and selected by Mark and Maggie's company, 'Gourmet Genetics', and we are offering some tomato varieties from them too. I've been meaning to put the chillies online for a while, and am really happy to now have ten of Gourmet Genetics selections available.
Mark's significant chilli program has involved trialling chillies from all over the world, to find those most suited to growing in the Northern European climate. His focus has been on determining those varieties with the most outstanding flavour. The chillies now available from Owl's Acre comprise three different cultivated species: Capsicum anuum, Capsicum baccatum and Capsicum chinense, as well as 'Lancer', a cross between C. anuum and C. frutescens. All the species originate in Central and South America, and comprise fruits with a wide varieties of flavours, colours and forms: from sweet bell peppers (C. anuum) to fruity, mild chillies (C. baccatum) and the more fiercely hot and pungent varieties (C. chinense and C. anuum).
All the varieties on offer here are suitable for Northern European cultivation, where they generally perform as annuals (though most are technically perennial in their native climates). Ideally chilli seed should be sown mid-February, and kept at a temperature of around 24 degrees or warmer for germination. They can then be kept slightly cooler, between 20 and 24 degrees, with plenty of light. As the plants become established the temperature can gradually be decreased. They can be grown in pots or in the soil.
Podding 'Olive D'
This year I have been joined in the polytunnel by documentary photographer Tessa Bunney, who is working on a series about British flower farming for an upcoming exhibition, Farmer Florist. It is exciting to have such a careful focus brought to bear on the processes of seed growing, and has helped my own appreciation for this work. Harvesting and podding can seem laborious, but there is also a meditative element, and a joy in preserving all these precious seeds that will bring beauty to gardens in future seasons. You can see more of Tessa's work on her website: http://www.tessabunney.co.uk/ or instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tessabunney/
Digitalis Limoncello is a new foxglove bred by our colleague Maarten van der Saar. Both delicate and striking with its luminous pale yellow flowers, 'Limoncello' was Chelsea Plant of the Year finalist at this years flower show.
Our Digitalis varieties should be sown in September/October for flowers next spring. Sow on the surface of moistened compost and place inside a propagator or cover with a sheet of glass or plastic in a warm spot. Keep a close eye on the seed tray and bring into a shady pace and keep moist after germination. It will take about three weeks to see some evidence of germination. When the plants are large enough to handle transplant into small pots and grow on in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. Our Digitalis product pages can be found here
Growing in a slightly unkempt corner of the garden hasn't deterred 'Windsor''s exuberant elegance! These deep bronze red blooms are so striking at the moment, the warm evening sunlight really bringing out a velvety quality in the flowers, mingling maroons and even a few intense pink shades. 'Windsor' is one of our very popular 'Spencer' varieties, ideal for exhibition and cutting.
It's been a while since my last blog update, but offline Owl's Acre Seed has been far from idle! We have relocated our production grounds this year nearer to home in East Yorkshire, for ease of management and to begin cultivation on organic certified land. For the time being our seed will not be certified organic (a costly process), but a number of varieties from September 2017 onwards will be guaranteed free from any pesticide sprays and fertilizers, both in terms of treatment during production, and the chemical load of the land on which they are grown. Why do I think it is important to offer organically grown Sweet Pea seed? I believe strongly that care of our land - every inch of it - is vital for the future viability of our lives and those of most other species on the planet. The use of chemicals in ornamental seed production may not seem as contentious as their use in food production, where harmful substances may be directly consumed by humans (UN, 2017. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56311#.WRXbLtLyvIU). However in every small way it is possible to stand in solidarity with the growing movement to revitalize and protect our land and all that relies on it for survival. I want to support a move away from the use of degrading, toxic chemicals in every area of life, and offering organically produced Sweet Pea seed extends a choice to our customers to support this development too. As this is a new venture, I am excited to see how our plants grow on this different land, and to share our experiences with you as the season progresses - as well as what ranges of seed will be on offer later in the year. I hope all your Sweet Peas are looking happy and healthy!