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Ryton Spearheads Exotic Seeds Project

Sowing New Seeds:  sharing resources for exotic food growing in the Midlands

This is a three-year project, led by Garden Organic funded by the National Lottery Local Food Fund. At the moment the project does not have enough seed to extend across the border into Wales, but that may be possible in subsequent years. In the meantime, growers in Wales may like to know about the project and try some of the varieties suggested in this article (as some people in the Rhayader and Llandrindod areas will be doing with their own local trials this summer).

The aim of the Exotic Seeds Collection Project is to directly enable and support gardeners, allotment holders, schools and community enterprises in the East and West Midlands to access, manage and grow exotic crops which are not traditionally grown in the UK. These plants have rarely if ever been commercially sold in this country: they may have come in with different immigrant communities or been handed down the generations from neighbours or friends.


The project will draw on the knowledge, skills and seed resources from growers across the community, and promote growing of exotic vegetables that are adapted to local agro-climatic conditions.

Aims of the project

  • Make seeds of exotic crop varieties available through Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library, and safeguard them for future generations
  • Publish fact sheets on exotic vegetables
  • Publish an exotic crops grower’s guide
  • Set up an exotic crops demonstration garden at Ryton Organic Gardens
  • Practical demonstrations on crop cultivation, seed saving, storage and cooking

Project partners

Women’s Environmental Network (WEN)

Black Environment Network (BEN)

Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens

National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners

Groundwork Midlands

Soil Association CSA programme

We are looking for allotment holders and small scale growers who are currently growing exotic vegetables to share seeds, knowledge and experience in this project.

If you are interested in this project feel free to contact

Anton Rosenfeld or Sally Cuningham

e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Telephone 02476 217738

Garden Organic, Ryton, Coventry CV8 3LG

The impacts of climate change and the growing awareness of cultural diversity is turning public interest to exotic crop growing.

The UK's population, as well as its eating habits, have changed dramatically in the past 40 years. In that time people from all over the world have come, settled here and grown their own vegetables in gardens and allotments throughout the Midlands. These growers are frequently isolated from traditional gardening networks.

Many older allotment holders from a range of cultures, such as Eastern European, Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities, are reaching an age when they can no longer be as active on their plots.  Do they still want to leave viable seeds of their special crops, as well as the knowledge of how to grow them, for their grandchildren?

Garden Organic is experiencing increasing demand for exotic crop seeds and information. More people are eating ethnic foods than ever before – why shouldn’t we grow more exotic vegetables?

To help all the growing community, we need your help.


So what are we asking people for?
Think if they (or somebody they know) grows anything different or unusual which might be a non-traditional plant.



Tell as many of their allotment or gardening group colleagues as possible about the project.



Act by growing an extra plant just for seed this coming growing season. If they haven't got time or space, donate a seedling or cutting to somebody else who might have room.


Please tell us about your exotic or non-traditional plants – we want to know why these crops are important to people.  What makes the plants you’re growing special for you? Did they grow in your grandparent’s garden or farm? Is this crop eaten at a special time of year, or for a particular festival? Or does it just taste really good?

If you’re not sure what might be a non-traditional plant, some examples include amaranth, Hamburg parsley, chick peas, chillies, white maize, dudi, yard-long beans or black-eye beans – or you might be growing something we haven’t even thought of!

Chick peas are very successful, provided they have the following: -

1. Good drainage and a light soil - lots of stones are OK - rough cultivated, not raked to a fine tilth

2. Sunny site (with sun). They don't like wet dull summers!

3. Sow directly into warm soil in late April/May - they can stand some light frosts - about when you would sow maincrop peas. Sow in a furrow, 3 seeds 1in/2cm apart at 4in/10cm intervals, 10in/25cm between rows, about 1/3in /1.5cm deep. If you live somewhere with high rainfall it may be worth sowing at wider intervals to avoid mildew problems.

4. Weed carefully when young - they will eventually grow to be a dense weed smothering growth about knee height, but are prone to becoming overwhelmed when small.

5. Pick peas as soon as they're formed and filled, not dried - either pod them with care as they have a little sharp tip at each end, and cook as fresh peas, or just wash, shake dry and put under a heated grill or into a hot oven on a tray for about 10 minutes to shrivel the pods and pick out the new peas when cool enough to handle - they taste very good sprinkled with a little garam masala, chilli or paprika powder and salt, and are eaten as an appetiser/social snack in Indian homes, in a similar way to popcorn or salted nuts.

Chick peas will go on cropping all summer; they don't have huge yields but should be treated as a luxury crop, rather like mangetout. We are trialling the only 2 commercial types available in the UK at the moment, but I've seen plenty of people doing well with sowing the white chick pea sold in Asian supermarkets or health shops. If you can save seeds from some you've grown you will gradually select for hardiness/UK weather tolerance.

Sally Cunningham, Exotic Seeds Collection Project Co-ordinator

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