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