Having been brought up in a mining community in South East Northumberland, huge vegetables are part of my upbringing. However these giants were always reputed to be tough and tasteless, a myth debunked by Margaret Robinson in her talk on Saturday morning at the AGM.
This whopper contains the same amount of fibre as a normal onion, would run with juice if cut in half and not condemn anyone to exclusion if they decided to eat it raw.
Margaret is 4th generation in the family owned business of Robinson’s Seeds and Plants and her nephew Andrew is now involved having trained at Myerscough. She says that it’s good to have his input to challenge the “We’ve always done it like that” mentality. At their site at Sunny Bank, near Preston, Robinsons grow, process, pack and distribute all the seed they sell, unlike many large companies which bring in seed from overseas, and this causes some confusion with the paperwork that they have to submit to Brussels for all the seeds that they want to register. Forms are regularly returned to them because ‘they tick all the boxes’, unusual in a seed company.
Margaret talked us through the cycle of onion and leek seed production. Traditionally the seed is sown on Christmas Day – to give the man of the house an excuse to get out of doing the washing up – and planted outside mid to end April. Harvested in mid August the plants are replanted into a greenhouse and left to sprout. By the end of March the following year the flower heads start to develop and by the end of August the seed is set. It is then cut and put into special drying rooms, passed through threshing machines, sieves and blowers to separate the seed from the chaff, before it is packed and ready for sale the following year. Three years from seed to seed.
Pollination of the flowers in the greenhouse is a challenge and they have experimented with Honey Bees – problems with stinging, Blow Flies – getting through 6 gallons of maggots a week, before settling on Bumble Bees as the ideal agent – they even work when it’s cloudy.
Margaret made some recommendations; a long and tender runner bean called ‘Liberty’ (they had considered calling it Libertine until someone pointed them in the direction of a dictionary), ‘Show Perfection’ and ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ peas, (taller varieties which tend to taste sweeter and you don’t have to bend to pick), ‘Malabar’ spinach, ( all parts of the plant edible including the flower buds – great in stir fries), ‘King George’ cucumber (sweet taste and small seed core), ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes (instead of petunias in your pots), red Perilla, also for your stir fries and colourful chard (good in the flowerbed as well as the pan).
Margaret was a very entertaining speaker and told us about one of her customers who told her ‘everytime I have a bath I think of you’. This chap grows loofahs from Robinsons seeds and give them to all of his family as presents.
Margaret had to dash off as they are exhibiting at Chelsea, with a theme of ‘The World on your Plate’, showcasing their tremendous range of vegetables from around the world, Horseradish being the only vegetable which can be claimed as originating in the UK. The pile of catalogues she left were quickly snapped up and we will all be thinking of her next weekend as she drives down to Chelsea alongside the orange scarf adorned cars of Blackpool supporters going to Wembley. I will certainly go and see their stand when I am up there.