Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Propogator or Kitchen Work Surface?

Some people swear by electric propogators, others by a windowsill or kitchen worktop. I am one of the latter. These are sweet pointy peppers and were sown on the 14th giving a germination time of 16 days which is about average. What you will notice though is that they are germinating SLOWLY, with no legginess or yellowing that can often accompany propogater germinated seeds.

The secret is a fairly stable temperature with moist, but not waterlogged compost. These seedlings will be pricked out into individual 2" pots to start with and will go straight into a heated greenhouse with a constant temp of only 10 degrees C. This again keeps the growth slow, giving compact stocky plants that will go out into the tunnels sometime in April.

The kitchen where all of my tender crops germinate is north facing so once germinated the seedlings do need to be moved into a lighter location but it also prevents any harsh sunshine burning through the window and shrivelling them up.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pots and Module sowing

Having two polytunnels available to keep the worst of the weather off our seedlings is a boon. The greenhouse at home was rather full so most of the onion seedlings have been moved to the new tunnel where I have made some temporary staging. The seedlings shown above are Banana shallots, Rose de Roscoff , mammoth red and some mammoth improved onion. They will be planted out in April.

The module sown beetroot are just up now as the above picture shows. I sow 1 or 2 seed clusters per module and aim for 3-5 individual seedlings per module. If any more germinate they are pinched out otherwise they end up a bit too crowded. These will be planted out into the raised beds as soon as the roots fill the module, about 5" apart.

For spring onions, just sow about 5-7 seeds per module and plant out exactly the same way.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hative de Niort Shallots

A check just after Christmas on my stored Hative de Niort shallots let me to realise that one or two were starting to sprout. As its much too early to plant them out into the ground they went into pots in a cold greenhouse to slowly start growing.

A month on, whilst much isnt happening where you can see above soil, its all happening under the soil where great roots are being sent out. These shallots will be ready to go out at the begining of March and will already have a great head start.

Cape Gooseberries

On one of our plots we have two greenhouses joined together and grow cape gooseberries in one of them. For two years now we have overwintered the plants by cutting them right back and mulching the roots with a good layer of compost. This year has been so mild that they are not only managing without the mulch but are already sending out new growth. Some of the longer shoots have been cut back but we will leave the newer shoots alone now to grow.

Finally, herbs in the herb bed.

The collection of herbs that we had in readyness for the herb bed being ready, are now, in the main planted. We need to source a few more plants but in the main, we have most things.

We have five varieties of minty in the herb bed. As its quite invasive we have potted the plants into large pots and plunged these into the soil to prevent them from taking over.

The Five pots of mint are just starting to shoot so will be ready to yield lots of fresh mint to go with our new potatoes in May and for mint sauce whenever we cook lamb.

Cordon Fruit Trees

Lidl was selling fruit trees for £3.99 a few days ago so a quick visit yielded a dozen mixed apple and pear trees. Having bought some of these last year and indeed the year before I can vouch for the value of them. We picked several pounds of fruit from each of our cordons last autumn and they had only been planted that February.
Seven of the trees went into a cordon "hedge" at the front of our main plot and were all tied in. The rest will go along the boundary of our new half plot later this week.

Winter Weeding

Every minute spent clearing the ground ready for spring now, is worth 10 come April or May. Our main plot is laid down in the main to raised beds, and even after all of the rain we have had they are all workable. As we never walk on them they never need digging but they still need weeding.

And weeds such as this are the reason why. The mild winter has meant that lots of weeds have just kept growing and will be ready to swamp any seedlings come spring so it really does pay dividents to clear the weeds out.

Clean beds not only give you a head start for spring, but all of the over wintered crops such as these spring onions and celeriac fare much better having no competition.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A new herb bed

A bed of "marshmello" strawberry plants were moved to another plot today and were planted through membrane. The resulting empty bed has been earmarked for use as a herb bed for quite a while and plants have been sown, propogated or bought, in readiness over the last 4 months.

To add some interest I have made 2 herb wheels in the bed from bricks reclaimed when I knocked our fireplace out to make way for a multi fuel stove.

There is plenty of room for herbs even as big as lovage which grows up to about 6' high. All of the perennial favourites will be there including rosemary, thymes, mints, fennel, tarragon and lemon balm to name but a few. Hopefully they will also bring in lots of friendly bugs such as lacewings in the battle against greenfly and the like.

In need of a spring clean

The three beds of "Aromel" strawberry, a perpetual variety cropped right up until the first frosts and really needed a sort out. Fifty plants were bought from Moles seeds last year and these gave a very good harvest considering they were only one year old plants.

A quick haircut with the pruners soon had all the old growth cleared away leaving just fresh new leaves. The new leaves are quite well developed due to the mild winter.

The beds were soon cleaned up, ready for spring.

As an added bonus, as well as the 90 odd runners I took last autumn, I found another half dozen that had rooted into the bark chippings. These were all potted on ready to be planted out later.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Parsnip "Gladiator"

To make room for the new raised bed shown in the next post, I had to lift the last of the parsnips. The variety is "Gladiator" and as you can see they are huge. The parsnip seed was pre-germinated on wet kitchen paper and sown in toilet roll inners before planting out into the bed and was, as you can see, an unqualified success.

More raised beds

Now that the last few parsnips have been lifted from plot 2, the next raised bed has gone in. The next bed has got leeks in it and when these have been lifted I can build another one.

More boards have been used to keep the soil from spilling onto the path from the permanent climbing bean bed. As we add lots of kitchen waste and compost every year it was starting to become a nuisance, one that is now a thing of the past.

The scaffolding structure is used as a support for the 8' canes that we grow the beans up. It makes for a very sturdy and neat solution to the perenial problem of fabricating a bean frame that doesnt fall down under the weight of the beans or due to wind.

Monday, January 21, 2008

For dinner tonight, were having

Roasted Toby!!!!
well he does fit quite nicely in the roasting pan. I wonder if he tastes just like chicken?

At last, quality onion sets.

Last year I bought our "sturon" and "Red baron" onion sets from a very well known seed merchant. While the sturon were ok the Red baron were pitifully small and most were covered in mildew as they had been packeged whilst wet. A replacement package turned out to be just as bad. This prompted an emergency purchase from Wilko, the quality and size for the price charged was acceptable but not top drawer.
Today however, I popped into my local hardware store which sells an awfull lot of gardening stuff and found that they had onion sets in at 65 pence a pound. I was allowed to hand pick mine and came away with 4lb of onion sets for £2.60, all of which are large and in perfect condition.
For once, top drawer onion sets and at a rediculously low price to boot.
If you want any, the shop is
Main Street

Forcing Rhubarb

One of the rhubarb crowns in our rhubarb bed has decided to start to grow now. It has been covered with a 25 litre barrel and the darkness will produce long pink stalks of very tender, sweet, forced rhubarb.

A few stalks will be pulled and then the crown will be left alone for the rest of the season to recover. If you keep harvesting the stalks will keep coming but it will ruin the crown, leaving it fit only for the compost bin. A little bit of forcing and then a good rest will cause no lasting harm. I force a different crown each year to ensure no one crown is worn out.

A new carrot bed

In an atempt to grow decent short carrots for showing, I have doubled the height of a section of raised bed. The medium in it is very friable and perfectly suited to carrots so what was in the standard height bit, went to fill the double height bit. The empty part of the bed will be refilled with allotment compost.

The carrots I will be growing are a Japanese variety supplied by Medwyn Williams called "sweet candle".

Its music to my ears

The "music" garlic planted in late autumn is shooting very well, as is the lautrec and standard white varieties purchased in France, during the summer.
We use more and more garlic and find that roasted, it loses a lot of its pungency and goes quite sweet. A couple of bulbs just broken up in a roating pan with veg is fabulous.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hard graft

Kazzi likes digging.

However this last patch in the old tunnel nearly was the straw that broke Kazzis back. Remember to dig little and often and take breaks. Its a long time till spring so some can wait for another day.

Little Jack Horner sat in a

Lurking in our shed was a bare rooted "opal" desert plum needing planting. A large planting hole was dug and the bottom of it loosened. Make a mound of soil in the middle of the hole and spread plant roots out evenly on the mound. Do not set trees too deep. As you add soil to fill in around the tree lightly press the soil to collapse air pockets or add water to help settle the soil. Incorporated into the soil was good allotment compost and a good sprinkle of blood fish and bone. The support stake was knocked in BEFORE the tree was planted to prevent any root damage from occuring.

Once planted, the tree was tied to the stake with a piece of recycled bicycle inner tube, you can get them for free from bicycle shops and work very well indeed.
Expensive trees really do benefit from a proper stake and being secured to it. A £30 tree as above is a large investement and deserves a £3 stake.

Leeks and more leeks

The leek beds are now coming under some serious harvesting, the trug full shown destined to be incorporated into chicken and leek pies for the freezer.

Out of several hundred leeks planted, three have bolted and now reside in the compost bin. Some people on our site have had most of their leeks run to seed. Personally I think that this is because they sow them too early in the year. As they are bi-annual, growing in the first year and setting seed in the second, it seems only natural for plants sown in January to run to seed in early winter,especially if its mild, its what they do. To prevent this from happening in future, try sowing them in March or even April. Perhaps the girth is not so large as earlier sowings but for me, a whole bed of slightly smaller stems is better than most of the bed being in the compost bin.

To be honest, I do sow some leeks in January but these are eaten as baby leeks in summer and are not left to overwinter.

Great varieties to try are blue de solaise, oarsman, musselburgh and toledo.

Time to divide your perrenials

Now is an ideal time to divide your perrenial plants. The "lump of roots" above is a piece from a large clump of michaelmas daisy. It is now in 7 pieces, some given away, some in new locations but all well firmed in and given a sprinkle of growmore under the root ball ready for spring.

Its not that often you get something for nothing but this is one of those occasions.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A riot of colour

Before transplanting our blueberries, we needed to pick up some ericaceous compost from the local nursery. Kazzi saw this riot of colour outside, their delivery of pots for the spring.

What a riot of colour.

Do the fruit cage hokey cokey

Having a 25' square fruit cage is a real boon. However if half of the stuff inside it are not bothered by birds and a load of stuff outside is, then its time to do some serious rearranging.

Inside the cage, 10 blueberries and over a dozen cranberries were lifted and outside some 8 gooseberry bushes had the same treatment. Their positions were pretty much "swapped" as my blueberries are never bothered by birds but the gooseberries, unless netted were pillaged by them.

The gooseberries were planted in good sized holes and given a good helping of allotment compost before being well firmed in. The blueberries were a bit more involved in that they had half a bag of ericaceous compost put in the planting hole before they went in. To keep the blueberries nicely "acid" I will give them a good water with sulphate of iron in the spring and again 2-3 times during the season as our soil is naturally only just acid.

This year, hopefully I will get lots of gooseberries at the expense of the birds.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Polytunnel raised beds

With this tunnel only being finished in April and pretty much being planted up with peppers and tomatoes immediately, there was no time to build or indeed fill raised beds like in our other tunnel.

However, with the tunnel being kept empty, it was an ideal time to build the beds and these can now be filled with allotment compost and my vintage 12 year old manure over the rest of the winter. This tunnel is going to be planted exclusively with tomatoes this year to allow for some form of rotation and being gross fedders, the manure will get them off to a flying start and also hold onto water well.

Autumn Planted Onions

These radar autumn planting onion sets are really coming along now and are between 4-6" high. Hopefully they will give a reasonable return of onions come June for use in the kitchen.

Making friends

The last row of gooseberries are now neat and tidy having had a good prune. On the last bush, 6 low branches had layered themselves into the bark chipping mulch and rooted really quite well as you can see in the top picture.
A newbie plot holder (Jim) was pottering about a few plots along and I made his day by offering them to him. He had been looking at gooseberries in a local garden centre but was baulking at the £7.99 asking price so very gratefully bit my hand off at the offer. It does give a "warm fuzzy" being able to help other plot holders get a start with their plots, even something that took no extra effort on my part.
The blackcurrants were looked at again and another old bit of wood was cut out of one, it produced three more cuttings which I stuck in the end of a raised bed.