Thursday 1 December 2016

Mighty Mole Seeds

Sparkle looks for his seeds

It came back that our old house Betula in Bolton Percy had sold for a third time. Apparently the new owner was an agronomist and worked for Mole Seeds. It gave me a warm feeling that the new owner was involved with the land.
I was even happier when Jim who had put his spies out to alert him to my next visit to the cemetery came round to say ‘hello’. He invited me back for a coffee. It was great to have a tour of my old house and garden. After ten years how they had changed! The house for the better!

Jim and Mr Mole (And Peter) at Four Oakes trade fair
It later emerged that Jim was a keen gardener and recently as a keen birder he contributed to my recent post about birds in conifers. Last year Peter Williams and I visited the annual Four Oakes Horticultural Trade Exhibition near Jodrell Bank in Cheshire and met him on Mole Seeds fine stand.
Jim is now a keen member of the cemetery ‘C team’ who help me with cemetery development and maintenance!

Mole Seeds was just a vague name to me. Jim informed me that they were substantial seed suppliers to the UK Horticultural Industry but that they also concerned themselves with keen amateurs.
It is very easy these days to buy seeds on the net and most seedsman have excellent and easily navigated websites. Although I still browse catalogues and mark my future buys I now almost invariably place my order web-wise. It is so much easier to order for someone like me who cannot add up long lists more than once and get the same answer!
I was impressed and surprised that a large wholesale supplier such as Moles have a ‘Minimum Order’ as little as £7-50 pre-vat.

I found that their cheapest seed packets for my kind of seeds - at that stage just vegetables - was between £3 and £6. I have explained before that I am a tight Yorkshireman and that works out a little expensive especially with VAT. I am so mean that I am amazed that seedsman’s catalogues give you space to order more than one packet of an item! One packet is surely enough for any gardener like me?
This shows my age! Some seedsman put so little seed in a packet you can price them almost for individual seeds! It also shocks me that some people pay good money to buy actual plants! This might be sensible for things difficult or needing very early sowing in heat but for lettuce, tomatoes and cabbage - well I ask you! Half the fun is sowing your own seeds. Some people’s so called ‘home grown’ vegetables come very-very expensive and pay little tribute to their personal skill!

Last year’s tomatoes

We love the large Albenga, a disease free Marmande tomato. This year a single fruit filled this same bowl!
So why have I deserted the excellent Marshalls about whom I have previously posted? Well they are still on my list and so are Chilterns about whom I waxed lyrical. Chilterns offer such a wide range of rare ornamentals and vegetables and have no rival.
For three years now my main order has gone to Mole Seeds and it’s working out cheaper! I now receive their wonderful large catalogue packed with a huge range of seeds and technical data (on their website) about how to grow them. Not so many gimmicky sundries either although professional growers are not immune from silly notions and expensive solutions. Moles’ sundries are limited to clips and labels and include a decent water proof pen.
There are various pluses for Mr Mole. He is speedy and efficient. The seed packets are large and metallic. Unopened the seeds probably last a little longer than those in paper packets. Opened there is plenty of room to fold over to stack in a box and keep them for next year. 

The seeds are sometimes treated with protectant fungicides and similar. Some packets contain prilled seed which makes small seed easier to space-sow. Like most seedsman the packets often contain inner small paper packets. With certain seedsman it helps to find the seeds which are so few! With my velvet friend you always know how many seeds to expect.
Some of the seed is even ‘organic’. Suitable for the innocent and those nurserymen who wish to maintain their own organic marketing integrity.

The results are only as good as the operator (me)
                        My kale looks a little better (link)
The real bonus is the quality, range and quantity of seed. There are packets of fifty F1 peppers and tomatoes and that is the smallest size. You can if you are big, buy by the kilogram!
The large number of seeds in a packet is the problem but one that provides its own solution. Keep the seed for the future. Some seed like tomatoes in my own experience will last if cool in a packet for ten years and more. Very few seeds will not keep for at least one extra year. 
This is why my seed order is cheaper, the packets I buy last me two or three years!
(This advice does not apply to many ornamental seeds you might collect in your own garden and need to sow straight away)

My Florence Fennel is somewhat ‘past it’ 
More on longevity of seed
Although longevity is botanically extremely complex, for practical purposes as long as old seed is viable it will give plant quality as good as fresh seed. Until someone shows otherwise  - in these days of epigenics - I can say with confidence that the plants are genetically unchanged!
With age the main change in nurseryman’s seed is depletion of its stored resources. If within widely circulated storage times the only effect you will notice is a slight fall off in percentage germination.

My old colleague Bruce Rigby used to give his students a handout of a long traditional poem about gardening lore that amusingly and memorably reviewed seed storage times. I have spent several hours trying to find it on the internet. I would be immensely grateful if any reader, perhaps an old student can help me!
There are of course several useful lists that you can google. For what it’s worth I provide my own summary.

  • Parsley, parsnips and perhaps even onions will be a bit of a gamble. These represent two families, the umbellifers and the Alliaceae that do not  tend to store very well. No more than two years for leeks and three years for carrots.
  • I tend to shy away from storing large seeds. Published lists do never-the less give peas and beans three years. I felt I was pushing the boundaries to sow one year old sweet corn this year but it did very well. To my surprise the cucurbit family including marrows, squashes and cucumbers are good for four or five years.
  • The brassica family are a huge group including cauliflowers, cabbage, collards and turnips. All the well known examples are good for four years
  • The above recommendations are very conservative. If you have very old seed that looks ‘interesting’ just give them a try. If it’s something common harden you heart and throw them away.
Moles' flowers

We threw and grew

It was foolish of me to originally limit myself to vegetables.The Mole catalogue has a fat 160 pages of flowers. Everything that possibly can be raised from seed and that can be found at a garden-centre  will be there. There is a fantastic range including many little found treasures such as Nemophila ‘Penny Black’ that I recommend to naturalise in the garden. As holder of the National dicentra collection I don’t need true breeding Dicentra spectabilis and Dicentra spectabilis alba but at £4 for 25 seeds you might.

The main difference to catalogues with which you might be familiar is that they offer a wider range of cultivars rather than species. They offer perhaps only a dozen different primula species but for primroses and polyanthus and hybrids the choice is large. The same for pansies and violas and many more. 
I was spoilt for choice when I bought my sweet peas.

There is plenty of seed for the flower arrangers among you. I indulged in everlastings such as statice and limonium last year. 
They have a huge range of ‘Throw to Grow’. You can also buy named wild flowers in very generous packets.
It was when I turned to the flowers that I realised how cheap some of their packets can be. In the flower section some of the prices fall to £2.
They have a very wide range of fantastic ornamental grasses. If your taste in grasses is limited to your lawn you can buy them too - in mixtures. If you want individual lawn-grass species and cultivars you will have to wait for my next but one post!

Rhyme not really found
Peter has come up with this verse written by historic organic garden guru Lawrence Hills in mock old English style. It’s very good but not as good as Bruce’s

You have in your drawer since Christmas Day,
All the seed packets you daren't throw away.
Seed Catalogues cometh as year doth end.
But look, in ye drawer before money you spend,

Throw out ye Parsnip, 'tis no good next year
And Scorzonera if ther's any there,
For these have a life that is gone with ye wind
Unlike all seed of ye cabbagy kind,

Broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage, kale, 
Live long like a farmer who knoweth good ale.
Three years for certain maybe five or four.
To sow in their seasons they stay in ye drawer

Then fillen ye form that your seedsmen doth send.
For novelties plentie, there's money to spend.
Good seed and good horses are worth the expense,
So pay them dollars as I paid in cents.

Relevant links
Mole seeds at Four Oakes exhibition

Birds and conifers  - includes Jim’s pictures

I did a guest post about Marshalls here

Link to Chilterns recommended here

Don’t forget you can get seeds and plants from Japan


  1. We get most of our seats from Kings seeds. Being members of the NSALG we get quite a good discount. I do wish they would sell seeds in smaller quantities though as we like to grow a variety of things and even with our allotments have too many some types of seed.

    1. Thought you and Martyn are a bit too busy to sit around, Sue. Just kidding!

    2. Oops flipping speech recognition again - such a pity it can;t get used to my voice. I do try to check and my eyes play up,

  2. For the last couple of year I have had my seeds FOC from Marshalls, in return for blogging about them, but I have in the past ordered from Moles. Like you, I generally keep seeds much longer than the seed companies recommend. They just want to sell more seeds!

  3. Last year I sowed the last 10 Moles calabrese seeds I had been given from a part packet that was at least 6 years old. All 10 germinated. On the basis of this and your blog I have now invested heavily in veg seeds from Moles and a neat box arrived last week. I am now wondering whether surplus seed will be OK stored in the cellar where we have a constant temperature of around 10 deg C?

    1. It sounds an excellent place G. I. W.
      I clicked on your blogger but could not find your name

    2. No .... I am keeping quite until the blog if more developed! .... but I have communicated before - as Nell, daughter of Douglas Williams

    3. Hello again Nell I searched for your blog.... I will look forward to it

    4. So far not disappointed in the seeds. I have had excellent germination from brassicas, cucumber, aubergine and some herbs sown in the greenhouse! Just looking forward to seeing how other veg do outdoors!

    5. Good news Nell! We are all on tenterhooks! Mole's profits are on a knife-edge.

  4. Hi, I have also ordered some seeds from mole seeds they cane in a gold color airtight packets, now I will plant them see how well they will perform, and then I will upload a video on my YouTube channel" Happy Home Gardening"


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