THE ANGRY BEAN IS IN A GOOD MOOD

Madly floweringThis lovely Lima bean is from seed that was given to me by fellow vegaholic Anne Wafer who lives in the Slovak Republic. Anne believes it is the same as the Angry Bean I discovered in Burma last year and I think I agree with her. If this is the case then this bean is also known in the US as the Christmas Bean, a very rare heirloom. The flowers look identical but Annne’s seed is more prolific with a fabulous set. I am pinching out the plants at two metres, although, like my crop last year, they will grow to three metres or more if left alone! I shake the wigwam a few times each day and a shower of old yellow petals fall to reveal yet more embryo beans.A tub full of beansIf anyone can tell me any more about this wonderful bean, which I hope to start eating towards the end of August as the beans swell and ripen, then please get in touch.a mass of flowers

IT MAY BE WET BUT THERE IS WORK THAT CAN BE DONE

I am often asked, “What should I sow now?  What can I do when it is so wet? What can I do to be able to garden now?”  Well, it may be raining and pouring, the ground may be sodden, but all is not lost.

I am a passionate believer in working with raised beds.  Anyone who has them will be able to start work sooner because with a raised bed you avoid compacting the soil by walking all over it.  I am currently living in a little cottage with a tiny garden whilst I search for a new home.  Fortunately I have been able to prepare some ground for growing vegetables.  Three weeks ago during a lull in the rain I double-dug a strip of ground some 1 metre wide by 7 metres long.  Double digging is hard work but you only ever have to do it once, and if you create a raised bed as I have done you will never need to dig the ground again.  I covered the new bed with black polythene to keep any more rain off, having first put a good 5cms layer of well-rotted manure on the ground.  Yesterday the sun shone and I put two polythene cloches over the bed.

new raised bed with cloches

new raised bed with cloches

I have early seed potatoes chitting on a windowsill and next week I shall plant them through the black poly under the cloches where, hopefully they will grow on through wind and rain snug and warm. Don’t be put off by this ghastly weather. So long as you do not need to walk all over your vegetable patch and if you can either make cloches as I describe on the website, or, like me, renovate and resurrect old and forgotten frames, you can get lots of things started now. I dug over an old fruit bed during Christmas and created two raised beds which I duly covered with polythene. I had started some garlic off in pots in the greenhouse the month before and now I have planted them out, again through black mulch as I fear the beds are infested with weeds and I need to keep the ground clean. I have reduced the shock of transplanting by covering the young bulbs with frames and after a week or so, removed them. the large frame in this picture contains some of my Omani garlic that likes it hot, so I will leave the frame on until mid-summer.

Large cloche contains Omani garlic.  In the foreground is Chesnock Wight and Carcassone Wight

Large cloche contains Omani garlic. In the foreground is Chesnock Wight and Carcassone Wight

Herbs in pots like chives, mint, and parsley should be given a good high nitrogen feed and put under a frame if possible to bring them on

Parsley, thyme and garlic keeping warm and growing on

Parsley, thyme and garlic keeping warm and growing on


I have a green house so am growing early crops and finishing off over-wintering salad crops, all grown in troughs and pots. If you don’t have a greenhouse then do try and sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, radish, rocket, carrots even in deep pots or long troughs and place under a frame or cloche.spinach seedlings in foreground, radish and salad crops background S Continue reading

OMANI GARLIC RACING AHEAD

Omani garlic in pots January 2014After a very mixed harvest of the Omani garlic I received back in June 2012, planted up in the autumn of 2012 and harvested in late July 2013, both in a polytunnel and outside I selected the best cloves to plant again to see if I could get a better harvest this year.  At the end of November I planted up cloves as well as cloves of Provence Wight and Chesnok Wight.  As you can see from the photographs taken in the middle of January, the Omani garlic is racing ahead, although the habit is somewhat different.  Over the coming weeks I will move the plants out of the greenhouse and into a cold-frame ahead of transplanting the Omani under cloches in March where I hope they will respond better to more warmth than the English Wight varieties.Omani and English young plants January 2014

MORE AUTUMN SOWING AND SAVING

My friend John Tamplin likes to sow his over-wintering broad beans on Guy Fawkes day and I will be doing the same.  However, I first must clear squash out of one of my greenhouses to make room.  The F1 variety is a cross between Crown Prince and a butternut type and is called Autumn Crown and tastes fab.  They are great keepers too.  The fruit are a golden yellow and nice and ripe now.  I’ll store them in the potting shed where they should keep into late winter.

In place I plan to sow home saved seed of the classic bean Aquadulce and  also a row of home saved pea called Douce Provence and a few more Omani garlic cloves too.  I like to grow these over-wintering crops under cover these days as the winters can be so cold and damp that once trusty varities suffer.  At least in the greenhouse I am reasonable sure I’ll get a good early crop.

I have harvested the last of the beans I am saving for seed to put in my library, grow next year and share.  They include the black-seeded runner bean Meesner, the show bean which is also delicious to eat when young called Jescot Longun.  This runner bean has grown to 23 inches this year.  A guaranteed show-winner.  Other beans include a fantastic climbing French bean called ryder Top of the Pole and a Swiss pole bean and a dwarf French bean also from Switzerland called Brown Swiss.

Yesterday I had a great harvest from my polytunnels which I brough home in the back of the car.  In the picture you will see Crown Prince squash and a small Pompeon squash too; Italian Treveso onions courtesy of Franchi seed, ruby chard, winter radish called Pasque, Jescott Longun pods, some salad leaf, Mizuna and red Japanese cress and hidden in amongst it all a few beetroot too and also some sweet pepper from Syrian seed I found in Aleppo last year.

Great news for garlic-lovers

Back in March this year I visited Oman.  (see my earlier post). I had wanted to visit this corner of the Arabian Gulf to witness the great diversity of flora and fauna it is famous for. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.  The great surprise was coming across large amounts of garlic being grown on the Sayq plateau at Jabal Al Akhdar.  There I met a wonderful, hospitable and very enthusiastic garlic-grower, Nabhan, owner of the delightful Sahab Hotel.  He promised to send me some of his crop to both taste and cook with, but most importantly, to grow.  Last week a large sweet-jar full of garlic arrived with the post.  How it made it through customs I have no idea – you could smell the contents from down the street – a heavenly sweet garlic perfume.

Nabhan tells me that this garlic is unique to his region of Oman and probably originates from a French garlic brought to the Middle East in the 18th century. However, this quite magnificent variety could have a more ancient provenance and is certainly a distinct variety having been grown in Oman for centuries. I plan to share some of the cloves with other collectors and will be planting myself in the autumn in one of my polytunnels. I do believe though, that this garlic will do well here. The Sayq Plateau is high at over 1,000 metres above sea-level. The winters are short but can be very cold with snow and freezing temperatures. Nabhan plants his garlic in the autumn and harvests in June.  My guess is that I will be able to harvest in July from a late Octobetr planting.  Only time will tell.

FULL OF BEANS

A couple of weeks of decent May weather and sanity is restored.  The polytunnels are yielding a wonderful harvest of broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, potatoes, radish and beetroot and finally everything is growing like fury on the allotment.  The last few weeks have been madness, up with the sun to open the glasshouses and polytunnels, to water, to nurture, to transplant and to sow seed for summer and autumn crops. The garden at The Brockweir Inn is coming along really nicely. Check out developments.

I am thrilled so far with my broad bean finds in Syria last year.  Syria Small grow to around 70cms in height and have been full of flower.  Now, the young pods are starting to come fit to eat.  I have picked some at between 10 and 12cms in length. They are delicious chopped up like French beans and sauted in oilve oil with garlic! The pods are prolific and I hope to be able to allow many to grow on to maturity for seed in 2012. A very nice discovery indeed.

FULL STEAM AHEAD FOR SUMMER CROPS

It may bea shitty, cold, wet day but that should not stop us from getting lots of stuff going for planting out in May when all danger of frost is past. At the weekend I sowed runner beans – an HSL black-seeded variety called Meesna, Borlotto climbing French beans and Ryder top of the Pole, all from seed I have saved in previous years. I sowed seed individually into root trainers and put on the greenhouse shelf to germinate. I already have squash, courgettes and cucumbers growing on in the greenhouse, but it is not too late to sow seed of these vegetables now. Being lucky enough to have several greenhouses and polytunnels to grow crops in, right now it is gratifying to see early potatoes making good growth, broad beans flowering and setting freely – helped by an army of bumble bees – and peas swelling in their pods.

I transplanted sweetcorn into one of my polytunnels which should be ready to eat in July. I will sow a second crop next week to give me cobs in August. Again using root trainers and the greenhouse so the plants will be hardened off and ready to plant outside at the end of May. If you have got room in your greenhouse border or polytunnel then sowing carrots, beetroot, salad crops including radish, rocket , spinach and lettuce in early February promises crops throughout the spring.

If you haven’t got salad crops on the go start now outside and continue to sow a pinch of lettuce seed every couple of weeks for the next few months to give a constant supply of leaves into winter. Now is also an excellent time to plant up your main-crop of potatoes. Plant 30cms apart in rows 75cms apart using a dibber to make a deep hole so the tuber is at least 10cms below the surface. As the shoots appear in a few weeks time earth up to protect from frost and encourage a bigger yield.

SWEET POTATO PLANTING

I have had some success growing sweet potatoes through black polythene in a polytunnel. Last year I found mice also liked my crop and I d to remove a number of very lovely nests and badly nibbled tubers. But even now I have some of last year’s crop to finish eating. Sweet potatoes are magnificent keepers if they are cured properly after harvest. To do this I put them in trays in the airing cupboard for about ten days!

For reasons I do not understand other than profit, buying sweet potato ‘slips’ for planting up in May can set you back a small fortune – at least £1.50 per plant. so, this year I am growing my own slips using some of last year’s crop. The variety I like is Beauregard which has a deliciously sweet orange flesh. Last year I dug just over 20 kilos from ten plants.

In late February I filled a polythene bag with damp sand, put it in a cardboard box to keep its shape and buried four tubers about two inches deep. I put the box in the airing cupboard and left it for a month, making sure the sand didn’t dry out. At first a few fibrous roots appeared on the surface but then the first shoots stuck their noses up and I moved the box into the kitchen, during the day onto a sunny window sill and at night next to the Aga, although any warm spot in the house would have been fine.

On 30th March I lifted the tubers and selected seven of the longest shoots which I cut off at their base and planted up to their necks in potting compost mixed with a lot of sharp sand. Now the plants are in the greenhouse propagator rooting I hope! I put the tubers back in their sand box as there are a few more shoots still growing, just in case I need to have another go if the first lot fails.

FULL ON SEED SOWING

In the last month I have not been idle.  Despite a very unplesant cold snap in February I have been able to keep on top of my sowing schedule and hope that you all will now be limbering up to get a load of veggies going if you haven’t started already.

I started a second sowing of onion seed in mid-February.  It is certainly fine to sow more now.  I like Franchi Seeds who sell large packets of seed for a fraction of the price of their competitors.  I like to grow red onions which are as a easy to grow as white ones, but, for reasons I cannot understand, cost twice as much in the shops!  Try Rossa Lunga di Firenze.  I also planted a Dutch variety of shallot called Ouddorpse Bruin given to me by a fellow vegaholic.  Due to problems last year with white rot on the allotment I am growing alliums now on a new plot I have been given nearby which hasn’t had alliums on it for many years.  I also planted out a brilliant garlic, Solent Whight.  Highly recommended.  Just yesterday I saw shallots, onion sets and garlic for sale in a garden centre, so there is still time to get these in the ground.

By the end of February my tomato seedlings were reay to be transplanted into 3-inch pots.  I also transplanted the Syrian mini broad-beans I sowed a month ago into the allotment under a cloche.  I also transplanted under bell-cloches some rather pathetic cauliflower plants, All The Year Round, which I had been overwintering in the greenhouse.  The seed of the same variety I sowed at the end of January are growing well and are now hardening off in a cold-frame.  I will be interested to see how the two crops perform.

I also sowed a quantity of my favourite broad bean, Bowlands Beauty, into my new plot in a rasied bed which had a foot of wonderful compost added.

In the last couple of days I have sown more lettuce, Little Gem and an HSL variety, Brown Bath Cos.  If you want to have a continual supply of lettuce througout the year successional sowing is essential.  I have lettuce seedlings in a polytunnel which I will transplant in a coule of weeks’ time.  My over-wintered lettuce in the polytunnels are almost ready now that the endive and radicchio on the allotment are all but finished.  I will sow more lettuce later in March – just a pinch of seed at a time.

Now too is a good time to start off a few leeks in pots in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill.  And today was a bit of a marathon as I sowed parsnip, spring onions and radish on the allotment under cloches and in the  greeenhouse, fennel, celeriac and artichoke in modules in the propagator.  I also sowed some patio tomatoes, Tumbler To and Maskotka, which will be planted up finally into hanging baskets in late April.  And finally I sowed a nice purple-flowered climbing French bean called Cobra which gives a good crop of green beans and a yellow wax bean called Gialli.  These will be planted out in a polytunnel for an early crop at the end of March or in early April along with sweetcorn.

With sowing over it was time to pot up some chillies and spend a considerable amount of time reconfiguring everything to fit in the greenhouse!

 

With sowing over it was time to pot up some chillies

THE POLYTUNNEL IN WINTER

I am a passionate believer in the virtues of polytunnels. If you have the space they provide a far cheaper alternative to a greenhouse and will extend the growing season dramatically. I am fortunate to have three of them; two which are 30 feet long by fourteen feet wide and one which is ten feet wide by 15 feet long. This gives me the best part of 1000 square feet to grow in.

Succession is very important to get the most out of one’s polytunnels. In late Februaruy I will plant new potatoes. In March I will be planting up French beans and sweet corn. I use these poltytunnels to grow crops in isolation for seed so this year i will also be sowing Stenner runner bean as I have very little stock of this magnificent variety and in another polytunnel I will grow climbing beans.

Come June things can get a bit crowded as you can see!

Squash and sweet corn do particularly well