Sunday, February 26, 2017

Good Intentions as Always

Not much progress gardening wise in the last few days, unless it was seeds germinating etc. What with storm Doris, work commitments and decorating the lounge. When I bought this house 4 years ago I intended to refurb it in a year, 4 years and 3 months later I still have the hall to do.

This got me thinking about all those promises we make ourselves at the start of each growing season, the next season I'll do that differently ones, and then next season forget all about it. Every time I decide to grow something different I look up how to get the best results, take the best care possible, and then forget all about it......again!

So this year here are all my good intentions laid out in writing so I don't forget them all, we'll see how I faired at the end of the year. 
  1. Thin out beetroot, radishes, turnips carrots etc - I am a great one for planting a row of something and thinning generally involves waiting until some are big enough and harvesting them, meanwhile all its neighbours are rather squashed and deformed, well not this year.
  2. Use fleece or cloches more - I  have plenty of both in the shed, but I forget about them, apart from maybe cloching a few early lettuces. This year I'll use them to extend the season, protect from frost and get better germination rate.....honest guv.
  3. Use mulches - Lots of things benefit from mulching, and given our available evening time for watering I'm sure our crops would benefit from better moisture retention, especially celery and fennel which need it. So this year I'll make use of the grass cuttings.... I promise.
  4. Not burying squashes - Some how I always forget that squashes shouldn't be watered directly and bury them in a kind of crater so the stems get wet, instead of on a mound with watering holes at the base. This year they will stand proudly atop a hill of their own......even I can remember that.
  5. More regular feeding - Feed every 2 weeks, feed weekly, feed regularly. Except time flys and I can't remember when we last did it most of the time. This year I'll leave a note on the shed door each time to remind us. ... If I remember a pen that is.
  6. Test the soil - Do I need to lime for brassicas. Well this year I have bought a tester and actually done this one. Go me!!

Wish me luck & post your good intentions below 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Strawberry spring cleaning

We've been basking in warm temperatures this week, our corner of the UK got up to 16!  We don't want to get ahead of ourselves by planting out too early as it will get back down to 2 C later this week, but it was a perfect day to review and renew the strawberry plants.

Here are our strawberry runner plants from last autumn.  It wasn't the best crop as I used our local Essex (heavy clay) soil and we had some variable temperatures when they were supposed to be hardening off.  They spent the winter on the rooftop garden, on my patio table.
Here they are after all the dead leaves and dead plants were removed:   
In total we have 35 plants that will get planted at the allotment once we've had a little more warm weather.

The plants are getting a little confused with the warm February weather.  Noticeable root growth and baby crown leaves have started.

Here is the total output of dead bits, plus some baby weeds!

This is my main strawberry planter on the rooftop garden.  Since I'm limited in space I had to go vertical, but it does the job.  The primary thing to remember on these type of planters is to directly water the lower pockets as they sometimes miss out if you only water from the top.  It also got a haircut today:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sunshine and Progress

Today the temperature read out in the car hit a barmy 16 degrees C today, the sun was out and I felt the urge, so  it was on with the gardening gear for a bit of a general tidy up and the first outdoor sowing of the season.

The lettuce and radish packets say you can sow outdoors in Feb but I've never bothered always thinking it was too cold, however given that we have had a good week of warmer weather with decent day/night time temperatures forecast for the next week or so I though I'd see what happened if I sowed some seeds under a cloche or two.

The bed has been under plastic since November so I rolled back just enough for my planting. The soil still looked in good condition and I had taken a couple of gadgets to check it out. The soil temp an inch down was 12.3 degrees on average as soon as the cover came off, the moisture level was good and the PH read a little above 6.5 as it had been manured last year.

I put in half a row of French Breakfast 3 Radishes, half a row of snowball turnips and a row of lettuce seeds which I'd mixed from Little Gem, All Year Round and Red/Green Salad Bowl. I've covered the rows with polythene cloches and blocked up the ends. They run east west so should capture any available midday sun..................... and now we wait. Hopefully I'll soon be escaping the salad shortage!!

Elsewhere on the plot I just picked few leeks, sprouts and parsnips, all of which are still rather small. The parsnips are starting to sprout again and will go woody soon so we only have a few weeks to use them up I suspect. I planning to make leek and potato pasties (with cheese) soon which will help to use the leeks up too. The chard from last year has pretty much given up so that was composted and I did some general weeding. I need to give the broad beans and over wintering onions etc a top dressing as soon as I buy some Growmore or similar.

At home the leeks have come up well, the summer purple sprouting broccoli is just starting to get it's first true leaves so will be repotted soon, the chillies are just starting to get going and around 50% of the marigolds have come up. I never have much luck with those. The only thing not yet to have put in an appearance is the aubergines. If nothing happens with those by the end if next week I'll try chitting some seeds on damp kitchen paper and potting up from there.   
Herbs and Alpine Strawberries (freebies from a popular gardening magazine) have gone into pots as well. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Container gardening: garlic

A sunny day today in our corner of the UK and it's finally above freezing.  Not much happening in the garden these days, but my garlic adds a nice bit of greenery to my rooftop garden.

We grow garlic down at the allotment and I love it so much that I grow it in containers on my rooftop garden, especially as I have no other use for my containers during the winter months.

 It's hardy and tolerates overwintering along with my coffee grinds that get thrown on it on a daily basis as they are the closest pots to my rooftop door.

It's quite simple to grow, just pop it into the ground in late autumn with the cloves pointing up and wait for spring.

I must admit, I am a *rebel* when it comes to garlic.  I plant whatever starts to sprout from my supermarket stash.  Down at the allotment Dicky orders proper garlic from garden supply stores, but truth be told, the supermarket version works just fine for me. 

My current generation of garlic was a 'leftover' from a previous season.  I missed to harvest a few cloves and they started to sprout again so I separated them out and planted them.
Previously I used large soda/water bottles.  They work quite well as they are deep: 


Here is fresh garlic from last year.  If you plant in the new year you usually get one large bulb of garlic.  Planting in autumn will give you a traditional head of garlic with multiple cloves.

Depending on where you live you may be able to get a little garlic in now to harvest in late summer.  

A word to the wise--fresh garlic is stronger than the dried version that you buy in the supermarkets, so use less until you gauge its strength.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Growing and cooking spaghetti squash

It's the depths of winter here in the UK with only 'stored' UK grown food such as carrots and potatoes in the shops, or food flown in from near and far locations such as Morocco or Kenya.

This year is especially challenging in the UK as much of our fresh produce this time of year comes from Spain or Italy and they had some cold weather so crops were ruined and now there is a courgette shortage.

Fortunately last summer we grew and stored spaghetti squash!  While the UK is reaching into the freezer or cans we're reaching back into the cabinets to eat a little home grown goodness.


What is spaghetti squash?

In a nutshell it's a squash that has flesh that separates like pasta, it's quite popular in the States where I come from, especially with low carb eaters.  Here is a full rundown of its details.

As you can see from our allotment photos, it grows like its cousin, the pumpkin.  It needs a bit of room to spread out.  Our plants each would support five squash at one time.  After one was picked it would then continue to grow more.


Here was the peak of summer harvest last year, in July.  Spaghetti squash are shorter than a long carrot or cucumber but have a nice sized girth.

You'll know that your squash are ready to be harvested when you knock on them and you get a hollow thump.  A second indicator is if you twist the stem and it immediately pops free.  If you test one carefully and slowly you can leave it another week or two if needed without damaging it.

Once you've harvested your spaghetti squash, it is important to 'cure' them.  So you cut the vine and then allow them a week to 10 days to dry out a little.  You can cure them in their growing position if it is same from nibbling creatures or move them elsewhere.  The important part is that they get some sunshine to help the yellow colour to develop a little further and to dry out the stem.

Once your squash are cured, keep them in a cool, dry place.  In my case, that was the top shelf of a wardrobe.  You want your squash to not be touching each other and safe from critters such as mice.

Your squash should last you into spring when kept at the right temperature.

 How do you prepare a spaghetti squash?

Some will say to slice lengthwise but others prefer slicing through the middle.  You can even slice a number of rings if slicing across.

I prefer the lengthwise method as the strands go 'around' the squash.  If you slice up and down you get shorter 'spaghetti'.

 Here is after my slicing action:


Next, get out a spoon and remove the seeds, just like if you were taking them out of a pumpkin.

Here are my two sides post-seed removal:

Next rub a little oil onto the fleshy round rings and pop them into the oven to roast.

It depends on your oven and squash size, I run them at about 170 C for 30 minutes.  You want to have a little bit of browning like here.  You'll know it is ready if you give it a poke with a fork and the strands separate easily.

Now it's time to remove the strands.  I use a regular fork and hold it over a bowl like this:

 Here we are halfway through:

Almost there.  It's surprising how much one little squash can produce!

Here is our finished version:

For estimation purposes, I'd say that one squash can feed three adults if used in place of spaghetti and included in a meal that has other items such as garlic bread and meatballs.

It's an awesomely versatile thing to grow as it can
  • be cooked to please multiple tastes:  vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low carb or even used in place of pasta for carnivores
  • be used as a new texture/filler to add nutrition in basic casseroles, bakes and enchiladas
  • be stored to last you through winter when vegetable prices are higher and availability is lower

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Let The Planting Begin!!

November was the last time we planted anything and it seems like a very long time ago, but now it's that time again, having poured over the seed catalogues and spent our cash on seeds we can finally start planting. The most obvious thing to do is rip open all the seed packets, fill pots with compost as quickly as you can and plant the lot, however this year a bit of common sense has prevailed.

This year I've actually read the seed packets properly and taken into consideration that pretty much everything will be planting out on the plot, which is in a dip, by a river and therefore at risk of a late frost.

This in mind we have so far only planted a few things, chillies and aubergines that need a long growing seasons into pots, leeks in a tray instead of a seed bed outside and marigolds for companion planting into something that I think mushrooms came in. The rest will be staying in the seed tin, sorted into the order they will be planted for a bit longer.

It may not be much but even this little bit of planting gets you feeling that it might be a good year on the plot. Something has already sprouted in the leek tray, but sadly it's not a leek!

You can check our planting/potting/harvesting progress on the PLANTING TIMETABLE here.   

Happy Planting Folks!