The need for seed

Gil­lian Vine vis­its a Dunedin gar­den de­voted to veg­eta­bles and fruit, and gets some Covid­19 ad­vice.

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE -

FOR­GET stock­pil­ing loo pa­per: Alan Savell thinks buy­ing veg­etable seed may be more im­por­tant if the Covid19 pan­demic drags on.

The Dunedin man is not alone in this view: there are clear in­di­ca­tions that gar­den­ers na­tion­ally are stock­ing up, not just on seed but also on plants.

‘‘It’s un­be­liev­able, it re­ally is,’’ Eg­mont Seeds gen­eral man­ager John Mc­Cul­lough said. ‘‘I don’t know if it’s peo­ple pan­ick­ing or just be­ing sen­si­ble.’’

Last Fri­day, he re­ceived two huge or­ders from com­pa­nies want­ing to re­plen­ish stock of dif­fer­ent seed brands Eg­mont dis­trib­utes. One came from The Ware­house, the other from Bun­nings, whose Aus­tralian stores had re­ported un­prece­dented sales. One store there that nor­mally had 10,000­15,000 pack­ets of seed on hand had com­pletely sold out.

Eg­mont’s mail­or­der sales, a rel­a­tively small part of the busi­ness, were up ten­fold, Mr Mc­Cul­lough said.

Other sup­pli­ers and re­tail­ers said the same, Yates NZ re­port­ing “mas­sive” demand from re­tail­ers want­ing veg­etable seed.

Jules Lloyd­Jones, chief of cus­tomer mar­ket­ing and in­spi­ra­tion for the Mitre 10 group, told the Otago Daily

Times late last week that the chain had ex­pe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant lift in sales of veg­etable seed and ed­i­ble plants at its stores since the Covid­19 pan­demic hit.

‘‘In the past week, we have no­ticed an in­crease in sales of ‘grow your own’ re­lated gar­den prod­ucts as well as a very strong in­crease in fresh sea­sonal veg­etable seedling cell packs, pack­ets of veg­etable seeds and planters be­ing bought. Sales of our fresh herb plants, berry fruits and cit­rus plants have also been pop­u­lar,’’ she said.

Re­tail­ers in Otago re­ported the same trend.

In Cen­tral Otago, Ni­chol’s Cromwell man­ager Jackie

Dann said the store was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing higher­thanusual au­tumn sales of veg­etable plants and seed.

“Peo­ple are def­i­nitely buy­ing more.”

Like other com­pa­nies, Kings Seeds had noted an in­crease in demand as peo­ple stocked up but Kings Seeds gen­eral man­ager Ger­ard Martin was re­as­sur­ing about sup­plies of im­ported seed.

“Seed im­ports into New Zealand haven’t re­ally been af­fected by the virus at this stage. Con­sign­ments are run­ning about two weeks be­hind sched­ule but are still get­ting here,” Mr Martin said.

Alan Savell thinks that, for the in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple in self­iso­la­tion, de­vel­op­ing a veg­etable plot is good for mental and phys­i­cal health, as well as en­cour­ag­ing sus­tain­abil­ity. Even if it’s just a few herbs or veg­eta­bles like sil­ver­beet in con­tain­ers, it’s worth the ef­fort, he says.

Apart from perhaps buy­ing seed ear­lier than usual, he is un­likely to change his ap­proach to veg­etable grow­ing, as he has 26 beds for veg­eta­bles and lots of fruit trees on his half­acre prop­erty.

‘‘My aim is to pick and eat

nu­tri­ent­rich veg­eta­bles ev­ery day of the year,’’ he says.

‘‘Why eat some­thing out of a jar or your freezer when you can eat fresh from your gar­den?’’ he asked fel­low mem­bers of the Dunedin Veg­etable Grow­ers Club when they vis­ited his Kew gar­den re­cently.

He ex­plained the pur­pose of a herbal ley, un­til last year a lawn. It has been sown with chicory and other greens, and he is plan­ning to get some rab­bits to graze it and add ma­nure be­fore he plants it.

Alan’s 20m, 130­year­old pear tree is a re­minder that this was once part of the Shiel estate (Shiel Cas­tle is be­low him). When he came here 18 years ago, the soil was heavy clay but is now a dark, fine tilth.

Asked about the work in­volved to achieve this, Alan says he adopted a no­dig ap­proach, spread­ing sea­weed and com­post and plant­ing as soon as the ground is ready.

“As long as you feed the soil, ev­ery­thing flows from there.

He started with con­ven­tional com­post bins, then aban­doned turn­ing for a sim­pler, heap­based style, which he strongly rec­om­mends to new gar­den­ers.

“I don’t have to turn it and it still breaks down,” he said.

Although he has a rel­a­tively large gar­den, he is a be­liever in ef­fi­cient use of space, say­ing: “You can grow so much by go­ing up.”

He used a north­fac­ing con­crete­block wall to es­palier two pears, Tay­lor’s Gold and Wil­liams Bon Chre­tian, both of which fruit ex­tremely well, although the trees are still young. Be­tween them, he put a tomato plant, tied to the wall and crop­ping well, too.

Pests and dis­eases are rare. “I’m a firm be­liever that if your plants are healthy enough, they will re­pel bugs,” he said.

Again asked about the work in­volved, he re­it­er­ated his nodig ap­proach, say­ing: “I’m lazy.”

He gath­ers 30 wool­sacks of sea­weed an­nu­ally, col­lects com­postable ma­te­rial from half a dozen neigh­bours and has in­sti­tuted a two­bin sys­tem at Go Bus, where he works, bring­ing home the com­posta­bles. That seems a very elas­tic definition of lazy.

His sim­ple ap­proach should en­cour­age oth­ers to fol­low his lead in the quest for sus­tain­abil­ity and more home­grown food, im­per­a­tive in these un­cer­tain times.

My aim is to pick and eat nu­tri­ent­rich veg­eta­bles ev­ery day of the year. Why eat some­thing out of a jar or your freezer when you can eat fresh from your


Dunedin Veg­etable Grow­ers Club

mem­ber Alan Savell


How it works . . . Alan Savell (far right) ex­plains the pur­pose of his herbal ley to mem­bers of the Dunedin Veg­etable Grow­ers Club. The orange mesh be­hind the group en­closes this year’s com­post heap.

No more clay . . . Us­ing a no­dig ap­proach, Alan Savell has built up his soil from the orig­i­nal hard clay.

Space savers . . . A Tay­lor’s Gold pear and tomato es­paliered against a north­fac­ing wall.

Good crop­per . . . Alan Savell says his es­paliered Wil­liams Bon Chre­tian pear crops ex­tremely well.

New crop . . . Alan Savell now grows tomatillo, a Cape goose­berry rel­a­tive.

Al­most ripe . . . This Cape goose­berry (Physalis pe­ru­viana) will be ripe when the pa­pery cover pro­tect­ing the fruit turns light brown.

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