Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cracking On!!

I've just returned from a week or so in Singapore for work, a country with a climate of 28-32 degrees C all year round and green house like humidity, that grows nothing more than the odd lettuce!

I love to pop into supermarkets whenever I'm in another country and see what their food supply looks like, Singapore, despite the above advantages imports apples from the UK, tomatoes from Holland and cucumbers from Japan. True Singapore is a small country, but surely they can do better then this. Their milk comes from Australia or New Zealand, food mileage out there doesn't seem to be an issue.

Given the temperature out there you can imagine my joy and shock at returning to this..... I bought Heather a cold frame for her birthday, so somewhere under that snow and hopefully happy are our broads.

Is winter ever going to end? We have a holiday coming up right in the middle of planting season so I'm keen to get some things started and spread the load a bit. So in my jetlagged state I ventured out for a bag of compost, (I used the last I had to rescue a Mercedes in the last round of snow), and set to.

Currently on the kitchen sill are 12 cabbages, 5 sprouts, 5 PSB and 5 kale pots, once up these will go in the cold frame to stop them getting too leggy.  

Joining these are some recycled food containers with Salad Bowl and All Year Round lettuces. This time last year lettuces were already directly sown under cloches.

I've seen that some gardeners start their shallot sets of in pots/cells, something I've never tried. As the start of the season is a delayed I thought I'd give it a try this year. I'm only planting a few, possibly for pickling so I've planted 10 Yellow Moon shallots in a plug tray to transplant later, we'll see how it goes.

Elsewhere the seed potatoes are doing their thing under the bed and growing some nice solid chits, not leggy white ones, but visiting the plot to do anything in this weather is a no.

Fingers crossed the weather improves soon and we can all get this season on the move properly.

Happy gardening folks!!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Stop Bl**dy Raining!!

If it's not raining, it's too cold, and some days its both raining and too cold.... not a good start.

This time last year I had some cloches set up with lettuces, radishes and turnips directly sown underneath, this year its too cold in the shed to even dig out the cloches!

It looks like this year is off to a slow start, the only digging so far is for parsnips, which are proving very successful I'm glad to report.

That said we haven't been completely idol, 33 out of 35 of the broad beans are up and to stop them getting leggy and too comfy indoors Heather has been moving out onto her balcony every morning for a touch of reality. The leeks have also been nice enough to put in an appearance.

Ideally these would be in an unheated cold frame, but I haven't time to build the one I've been promising Heather for.... shall we say a little while.

Heather has been busy planting her chillies, quite a lot of them, he likes planting them in trays so they can sit on the radiator more easily for a boost of heat to get them going, she'll prick them out later when they get going.

I've planted 5 pots of Cape Gooseberries, 3 seeds per pot to thin to the strongest seedling later. I was surprised how big the plants got and how many fruits they produced last year so no need to over do it.

To make a long winter evening fly by last week I decided to tackle the seed tin and the plant labels. It was a task much helped by a generous helping of red wine! All the labels from last year got a wash, and the stickers were removed for anything we aren't growing this year. The seed tin is now subdivided into the coming months and I've put any labels for the seeds in the packets to save me trying to store the things in any kind of order, ingenious I thought, for a man on the red wine!

Hopefully the beast from the east will pass quickly and we can get cloches sorted by the middle of March at the latest.

Happy gardening folks!

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Lets Get This Season Started!

The first temptation is of course to grab the seed catalogues and start clicking away on the websites, running up a lovely bill in the process, and that is what usually happens. However this year a little bit of common sense has prevailed, (we must be getting old), and the first port of call was the Lessons and Thoughts page of this blog to check any notes made last season. The second port of call was the seed tin to see what we have left from last year.

It turns out that we have a lot of seeds left, and a quick scan of catalogues to see if there was anything new we wanted to try revealed that for once, our seed bill will a bit less eye watering. Armed with this information and being reminded by the notes that the local garden centre was a good place to shop and worthy of support, we set off.

This years potato crop will be mainly salads and first earlies, more suited to summer eating. I wasn't going to plant main crop at all this year but as I have quite a few of last years crop left I'll chit enough for a couple of rows and use them as my seed potatoes. These will be hiding under my again for a few weeks.

The garden centre has a wide variety available, both pre-bagged and sold loose, although you must have 10 per bag and not mixed. I like these smaller quantities and selected 2 bags of Charlotte and 1 bag of Foremost for this year. that should be 3 and 4 rows respectively, with 1 or 2 rows of mains.

We are not growing onions this year, the amount we use and the price in the shops means its not really worth all the weeding involved, plus the risk of allium leaf miner. We did buy some shallots (Yellow Moon), possibly for pickling, or just for cooking.

Last year I put a new frame around the asparagus bed, which has left room for a few more crowns. No one remembers what the current variety is so we just picked one from the selection available, we went with Ariane, which I'm sure isn't what is there already. It will be interesting to compare once its ready. I'll delay planting these until the plot warms up and drys out a bit so they don't just rot in the ground.

Our total seed purchase amounted to only 11 packets, and 2 of those were flowers! We'll use up the stock this year and return to a huge seed bill next year! Best of all it was buy one get one free!

The total seed purchases required for this year were:
Courgettes (Mixed - Black Beauty, Grisette de Provence, Di nizza, Patty Pan, Golden Zucchini, Yellow Scallop)
Broad Beans (Aquadulce Claudia)
Radish (French Breakfast 3)
Leeks (Autumn Giant 3 - Albana)
Sweetcorn - (Ambrosia F1)
Parsnip - (Javelin F1)
Tomato - (Garnett & Tumbling Tom)

And Finally, Carrot Flyaway F1, on a seed tape which I've never tried before thought would be an interesting experiment to avoid the thinning.

And finally, some planting. There were no overwintered broad beans this year, something which I think turned out to be a good decision as the recent high winds would have decimated them. So here we have 35 broads beans (XX) and a small tray of leeks (XX) which I'll thin out and plant on to give about 40 to grow to maturity.

Nice to be adding something new to the "Now growing" list.

Happy gardening folks!!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017.... A Review

Well we had weather that couldn't make up its mind with warm start then a cold/wet snap followed by hot and dry, which made things interesting.

We were fairly lucky with the pests this year, not a single slug pellet was needed, the pigeons didn't really get a look in and the carrot fly were kept away. The biggest disaster was the allium leaf miner which destroyed all the garlic, shallots and onions, and might be having a crack at the leeks which look, well a bit wimpy. The usual tomato blight hit hard, but I have an experiment for that one next year, and a bit of blackfly.

Crops wise everything was either really good, or an utter failure!

The good bits -

Courgettes - Obviously looking at the final count.
Sweetcorn - The best year ever, will definitely grow those this year
Beans - All 3 varieties got a bit carried away and we are still eating them from the freezer
Spaghetti squash  - which we are still working our way through
Potatoes - A good crop of both mains and earlies.
Carrots - A good crop and flavour from the carrot fly resistant varieties with less work covering and uncovering to pick and weed etc. some non resistant varieties got a small attack when left in t he ground a little late but still good.
Cucumbers - I'd always grown Marketmore, but the Burpless Tasty Green are now the way forward.
Rhubarb - A big crop from some older plants, which I'm thinking I must split the root at some point.

The bad bits:

Peas - Were not on the menu this year, several sowings all came to nothing
Summer PSB - Bolted as soon as you looked at it
Celery - Wasn't really worth the effort and arrived too late to be of much use.
Onions, shallots and Garlic - Totally destroyed by leaf miner. Which seems to a spreading problem reading the forums.
Kale - In fairness the only failure here was that the kale plants I bought, turned out to be cabbages.

At the beginning of the season I wrote an article on good intentions, so how did I do?

1. Thin out beetroot, radishes, turnips carrots etc -- We did  pretty well on this and the crops were better for it. they looked less squashed as well.

2. Use fleece or cloches more -- Cloches yes, and the early start to salads etc in Feb will be done again. fleece not so much as no frosts etc threatened us.

3. Use mulches -- I used all the grass cuttings I could get to mulch round squashes and onions and planted a lot through weed control fabrics. There was noticeable difference in weeding and watering requirements.

4. Not burying squashes -- Failed, I forgot to build my mounds. That said I didi put plastic bottles in the ground near the roots and water through those so that helped.

5. More regular feeding - A lot better this year, but some more organisation needed. Most things seemed to do ok with what was provided though.

6. Test the soil - Was done, using a probe tester, all within limits, I haven't checked for this year yet.

I feel I'm a little behind this year already as I haven't had a serious look at the seed catalogues yet. The planning for this season needs to get a serious move on. Sounds like the ideal job for a wet Sunday in Essex!!

Happy gardening folks!!