/ 29 April 2008

UK’s veggie seed boom

Not very long ago, the growing of vegetables in the United Kingdom was commonly dismissed as a minority interest for eco-eccentrics and crumbly old allotment holders.

But concern for the environment, worries about healthy eating and the credit crunch have led to packets of veg seeds flying off the racks, with sales reportedly rising by up to 60% on last spring.

Many suppliers say vegetable seeds are now more popular than flower seeds.

Clare Dixey, of the Sussex seed supplier Thompson and Morgan, said sales of vegetable seeds had risen by more than 40% in the past two years and vegetables now accounted for almost two-thirds of its seed sales.

She said: “Since 2006 our sales have been very strong but they have really gathered momentum over the past 12 months.

There is definitely a credit crunch effect going on. “People are more conscious of where their food comes from and they would rather have plot-to-pot runner beans than have 10-day-old ones shipped over from Kenya. It is far cheaper and far healthier.”

Vic Plowman, who owns Plowman Garden Centre, near Wimborne, Dorset, said its vegetable seed sales had risen by more than 60%.

“We restock our racks every two weeks and this year we have noticed that by that time they are nearly empty,” he said. “There is nothing like cooking a pan of fresh potatoes you have grown and just picked from the garden.

“These days people are looking at tightening their belts and saving money where they can, and they realise that growing their own vegetables makes a difference to the purse.”

A survey by the mySupermarket website highlighted a dramatic rise in vegetable prices. Lettuce, for example, was up by 17% on the year before and potatoes by 19%. Tomatoes rose by 6%.

The increase in the price of farmland, which is bucking the downturn in most property, coupled with poor harvests for some crops, is likely to keep the prices rising.

Tim Rumball, the editor of Amateur Gardener magazine, said: “Anything that gets people gardening is good.

People want the shortest distance possible from plot to plate.

“People now realise that you don’t need a huge garden to grow your own — you can supply yourself with veg from just a few pots on a patio.”

Rumball added that only time would tell if this was a passing fad.

“It might be fashionable at the moment, but it involves a lot of effort and pests can be a real nuisance when you’re trying to grow things organically.”– Â