STARTING FROM SCRATCH – episode four

GROWING PEAS IS EASY PEASY!

I got a call from a friend who asked me if he could grow seeds in an egg box. I thought about this and recon they could be fantastic for starting off peas. I found four egg boxes at home. First I removed any sticky labels on the lids.

I filled the boxes up with a mix of garden soil and old potting compost. If you don’t have potting compost it doesn’t matter, just use garden soil and be sure to make sure to remove any small stones, weeds and crumble it into as fine a tilth as you can. I then sowed twenty seeds into each box in two rows as you can see. Thiose 80 seeds will be enough to grow a 1 metre row of delicious peas.

Then I gently pressed the seeds into the soil

And then covered the seeds with more soil. The peas need to be about 1 cm below the surface. I then put them in a large tray and very gently watered the boxes using a watering can with a fine rose. if you don’t have one of these it doesn’t matter. Water using a small jug. You don’t want to wash the soil out of teh boxes, exposing the seeds.

Now, leave the boxes in a sheltered spot outside. Mice love germinating peas so it is worth putting some cardboard or even a sheet of glass if you have some over the boxes. In a week or so the seeds will germinate and then any cover will need to be removed. Be sure that the soil is kept moist. When the seedlings are about 2 cms high I will plant the boxes straight into the ground where the cardboard will decompose and the peas will happily grow away.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH – episode three

It’s time to sow some beans

Last week in part one of this series of posts I suggested that all one needs to grow beans in a corner of even the most neglected garden requires no knowledge or expertise. Now is a good time to sow some bean seeds. In this demo I will be sowing a dwarf French bean called Vermont Cranberry. It is a delicious American heirloom that is held by the Heritage Seed Library. However, any variety of bean you can find will do except the dry beans you might have in your store cupboards which won’t grow into tasty green beans. If you have a few bamboo canes or sticks about 2 metres long you could instead sow climbing French beans or runner beans. It isn’t too late to sow broad beans either and for those you don’t need any canes. All you need are receptacles to sow the seeds into and something contain them. Loo rolls are ideal, as are used yoghurt or cream pots which you have made some drainage holes in. In this case I am using a mix of loo-roll centres and slightly larger kitchen-towel centres cut in half. I have put them into a plastic container that once held tomatoes bought from my local supermarket. If using this type be sure that it has some drainage holes in the bottom. A piece of string tied around the top will stop them falling over or out!

Next thing is to fill the loo rolls up with soil. As with lettuce and all seeds you want to sow in this way, you need the soil to be well sifted, free from stones and lumps. If you have any old, used compost it will do the job just as well because seeds do not need fertile soil in which to germinate. I fill the loo rolls to the top and then give them a gentle tap and firm the soil a little so that it looks like this.

Now put one seed into each tube – two if the tube is large – and cover with soil. You want the seeds to be about 2cms below the surface. Not all the seeds will neceassrily germinate so having a few spares is always a good idea. I have sown into 12 tubes and hope I can end up with 10 plants.

Water the pots and put somewhere warm like a windowsill. You can put another plastic tray on top but this is not necessary. Be sure the soil is moist but not water-logged and hopefully in a week or so plants will start to emerge and don’t forget to add a label! If you put something over the top be sure to remove it as soon as the first seeds germinate. With luck you will have some bean seedlings to plant through your cardboard or equivalent weed suppressant early in May. Gardening requires patience!

STARTING FROM SCRATCH – episode two

If you like lettuce now is a great time to sow some seeds. If you are going to plant seedlings through your weed barrier, (cardboard or similar) you will need to sow some seeds in a container like this one which I saved after a supermarket shop. You need to make some drainage hole with the tip of a sharp knife. If you are unable to buy some seeds see if a neighbour or a friend have some spare. All you need is literally a pinch.

The next thing is to add soil. I have used my trowel to scoop up enough from a corner of my garden which I have sifted to remove bits of twig and then rubbed through my hands to make it more friable.

One of my favourite lettuces is Little Gem. They are a tasty, fast-growing little cos type. Because garden soil can contain lots of weed seed sow the seeds very thinly as in the photo in rows so you can identify them when they germinate and not weed them out by accident!

Once you have sown the seeds sprinkle a little soil over them, gently firm and then, if you have a watering can with a rose, lightly water. Otherwise water carefully using a jug. You want the soil to be moist, not sodden. I like to add a label and date to remind me what I have sown.

Now you need to put the seed tray somewhere light and warm. A windowsill in the kitchen is ideal. If you have another clear plastic container the same size you can put it on top like a mini-cloche. Alternatively cover with some cling film. With luck, in a few days you will see the seedlings start to emerge.

After just seven days the first lettuce seedlings have started to emerge. Keep the seedlings moist and grow on outside out of direct sunlight if you are keeping the cover on, otherwise a sunny spot is fine. Watch out for slugs nibbling them. It is worth checking the seedlings when it is dark and removing any slugs. But, hopefully this will not be a problem. As you can see in the photo, the seedlings are roughly in three rows. If any weeds emerge they will now be easy to identify and remove.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH – episode one

We can grow delicious vegetables pretty much anywhere and at virtually no cost,

I am starting this post on 23rd March to help anyone who has even the roughest patch of garden, however large or small, to start growing a few delicious, healthy vegetables. I am doing this myself to demonstrate how easy and trouble free it can be. The first thing to do is select a site. Ideally you want to grow your vegetables in the sunniest and warmest part of your garden.. However, even if the ground is shaded you can still grow lots of great veg.

This is the spot of rough grass I have chosen.

The only tool I will be using to start with is a hand trowel, and I won’t need that for the next month. I need to cover the patch of ground with something that will suppress the grass and weeds. I have chosen a cardboard box, which when opened out measures 70cms x 60cms, (2’8″ x 2”) more than enough space for me to grow a few dwarf French beans. A few bricks I had lying around will keep the cardboard firmly in place. If you don;t have any cardboard alternatives that will do the job just as well are bits of old carpet or black polythene.

If you have never grown any veg before, my advice would be to start with just a small patch which you can expand as and when you feel able to and most importantly, when you are enjoying the experience of growing some of your own food! You will be amazed at how much you can grow in a small space. If you can cover a piece of ground 1 metre by 2 metres that will be an ideal start.

The most important part of growing food is the soil. Even the poorest of soil will grow something. Gardeners like to add organic material like manure or compost to improve the soil and fertilisers like fish, blood and bone. But it you don’t have any of these things it really doesn’t matter. Improving one’s soil is an ongoing process and the very act of growing vegetables will help to the soil anyway. If your patch is full of stones or rubble and you are able to remove the worst of it, then please do. If the ground is very weedy, especially if you have perennial weeds like nettles, docks, dandelions and brambles growing in it, then you will need to remove as much of these as you can. If your patch is just a neglected bit of your garden you might like to trim any weeds or grass – if necessary using some old scissors if you don’t have shears or a strimmer – but worry not. The most important thing is to exclude all light, which will stop all but the most persistent of weeds from growing. This preparatory work done, there is nothing more you need to do to the ground until you want to plant in early May.

So what are you going to grow? If your new patch is in a warm and sunny spot I would recommend starting with dwarf French beans. They are ready to be harvested from as little as two months after sowing, heavy cropping and very easy to grow. Beans like the soil to be warm too. If your plot is in a more shaded area then one crop that will grow quite happily is lettuce. So, whilst the cardboard is stopping the weeds and spring is yet to get into full swing, we can, non the less, start off beans and/or lettuce in the house, easily and very cheaply. So, start saving all your loo rolls as they make ideal starter pots. Also any small plastic pots like yoghurt and even those baked bean tins that normally go to recycling are ideal for beans. A small plastic food tray that is at least 2.5cms, (1″ deep) will do for lettuce. You will need to make a few small drainage holes in the bottom of any pots, tins and trays. If you are saving loo rolls you will need an old plate to put them on when it comes to sowing. Now for the seeds. 12 bean plants, enough to provide several meals over 6 weeks, will take up an area of 60 cms by 80 cms (2′ x 2’6″) so I will hope to grow 10 plants on my little patch. Lettuce can be spaced as little as 15cms apart. A packet of dwarf French bean seed, which costs between £2.50 and £3.00 contains up to 200 seeds, A packet of lettuce seeds costs under £2 and can contain as many as 1000 seeds, so one packet is enough for you and your neighbours. Any you don’t use this year can be kept in an airtight container somewhere cool- ideally your fridge – and be used next season.

If growing lettuces, you will want to dig up enough soil from your garden to fill a small plastic container. Try and remove and stones and all weeds from the soil and crumble it up as finely as you can. You only need to sow a pinch or two of seeds. Level out the soil in your tray to just below the top and sprinkle seeds very thinly on the surface When I say thinly I mean allow about roughly 1cm between each seed. lIghtly cover the seeds with a little more soil and gentle water. Put the tray on a warm and sunny windowsill. Keep an eye on the soil to be sure it doesn’t dry out. Equally, you don’t want it to be water-logged. Just nice and damp. Within a week you should see teh first signs of seedlings emerging. What to do next will be in my next post.

You will want to start off your beans in pots of soil which you have collected from the garden in the next couple of weeks or so. Lettuce seeds can be sown now. The first place to go for seeds is your nearest garden centre or ask a friend or neighbour if they have any spare. Otherwise you can buy online. My favourite catalogue is www.organiccatlogue.com Another very good company is http://www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk

For fantastic information and help with growing when you have few, if any resources visit http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk

If you have any questions please contact me through the website Ask Adam section. For people who live near me, I am able to provide some small quantities of seeds and you can always check out my seed list on the website. Next episode will be all about sowing seeds.

2020 SEED LIST OUT NOW

Many old favourites and a few new varieties I have added to my library. If you want to try some rare, endangered, delicious and colourful heritage, heirloom and ex-commercial veggies in 202 do check out my 2020 seed list. Many are varieties i have grown out for the Heritage Seed Library. If you want to enjoy growing more from their library then, if you are not a member, I would urge you to join.

TOO BUSY GARDENING TO WRITE BUT I AM ON TWITTER

It has been a trying but very busy summer and it is with considerable guilt that I see it has been three months since I last blogged.  Quelle domage.  A number of people have been giving me a hard time, so now I shall do my best to make amends.

Firstly, despite all the shite weather I have had more success than failures.  Last year I suffered terribly from white rot on my onions and garlic.  So awful was it that I thought I should abandon trying to grow these vegetables on my allotment for several years.  I then did some research and discovered that growing brassicas as a green manure on infected ground could help to limit the disease, which is caused by a pesky nematode.  To that end I sowed Calente mustard seed on one of the raised beds I had earmarked for onions last autumn.  In the spring I ran the mower over the crop to shred it and then turned it into the soil.  I allowed it to break down over a few weeks bedore planting up onions.  And this year I have no white rot.  This is a method I will now continue to employ for next year’s spring crop.  I have just sown some more mustard seed in a bed I would like to plant garlic into in November.  Hoepfully the next couple of months should be long enough to get the mustard to grow sufficient to kill aberant nematodes.

since the British weather has been going loopy I have decided to grow more crops in my polytunnels for everyday use.  My over-wintered peas and beans were fantastic this year, so I have now planted a bed of the red onion variety Electric for an early summer crop next year.  I have also planted up some of the garlic I rreceived from Oman with a comparator crop planted on the allotment.  I have also got the fabulous kale Ragged Jack as well as January King cabbages gowing under polythene as well as a late sowing of beetroot, carrots and some tasty winter crops of mizuna, red mustard, lettuce – with more to follow soon – spinach, chard and the fabulous winter radish Pasque.  With summer over and the nights about to become longer than the days I hope we stay dry to allow my squash and sweet potatoes to ripen in the polytunnels.

Back in May I bough for a tenner a half-hundred weight sack of Charlotte spuds which I put in an empty fridge at a temperature of 5 degrees centigrade.  Although some of the tubers sprouted mutant-looking chits I have planted a large number which are now taking over one half of a polytunnel!  When I see spuds for Christmas being sold for as much as fifty pence each I am glad I have tried this way to save money.  Also, with spuds likely to cost an arm and a leg this winter it is good to know I will be digging the beauties from December through to the end of February.  If you have can lay your hands on a few Charlotte or Duke of York it is not too late to plant now; ideally into a greenhouse border, or tubs or bags in a greenhouse or very sheltered spot.

A NEW YEAR FULL OF HOPES, DREAMS AND PLENTY OF PRODUCE

Today I couldn’t wait any longer.  I had to start sowing.  Too early for outside but with one of my polytunnels now empty after completing harvesting new potatoes I had prepared a lovely series of seed beds a week ago, giving a light dressing of fish, blood and bone.  In the warmth of a the polytunnel – it being another glorious, sunny day today – I sowed two varieties of carrot; an F1 early from Dobies called Parano and Amsterdam Forcing 3 Sprint from D.T. Brown.  I also sowed two varieities of beetroot; Red Ace and Boltardy, both from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.  Lettuce varieites were Winter Density from Mr Fothergill and Winter Lattughino, bio-dynamic seed I was given by the head gardener at my oldRudolph Steiner school, Michael Hall.  I also broadcast a handfull of winter mixed salad leaf from Dobies and sowed too a short row of rocket from Franchi seeds and Scarlet Globe Radish from Garden organic.  To be sure of lots of tsaty leaves in March and April I also sowed a short row of a spinach variety called Campania from Marshalls.

It’s been a very strange winter so far.  On 7th October last year I sowed the pea variety Douce Provence in one of my polytunnels.  Normally I would expect this variety to grow through the winter to no more than six inches.  However, I have a crop now at least a foot hight, if not taller and coming into flower.  In fact the first flowers appeared before Christmas.  I will be fascinated to see if the crop will set properly if temperatures remain low – already the first flowers have set – and maybe I’ll be eating peas before Easter.

Although I do keep a minimum temperature in my greenhouse I have not expected to still have chillies ripening.  However, Pubescens Rocoto, a black-seeded variety is still gowing strong.  Very hot and pungent, I expect to keep harvesting through to the end of February!

LATE SUMMER AND MUCH WORK

The last couple of months have been busy tending, harvesting and sowing for winter.  It is now that one realises the long row of runner beans sown with enthusiasm in May is yielding enough to feed the 5,000.  Remember the glut now and which will continue until the frosts kill the plants.  A little of lots of different vegetables is more satisfying than a lot of just a few varieties.  At this time of year I start to collect and clean seed for myself, for other seed collectors and for the Heritage Seed library.  Please check out the website seed saving section to see what I do and how you too can save your own seed to grow next year.

It may be the middle of August but it is not too late to be sowing now for crops later this autumn and into the winter.  If you haven’t sown spring cabbage or Kale get started now.  I like spring cabbage like Advantage, but the best stuff for those mid-winter meals and good spring greens is kale.  My absolute favourite is Asparagus Kale and I have a good supply of fresh seed just harvested.  So long as you are able to transplant your brassicas by then end of September you will get a good crop come springtime.  Start off seed in pots or root trainers in regular John Innes seed compost.  Keep well watered and also protect seedlings from attack by cabbage white butterflies using a screen of enviromesh or fleece which is obtainable from any half-decent garden center.

Overwintering lettuce can also be sown now.  Winter Density is a very reliable cos-type which if sown outside now can be thinned or transplanted in September either under a sturdy cloche or into the greenhouse border.  Large pots in a greenhouse are also good for growing on your lettuce.  Allow four plants to a 12-inch pot of good multi-purpose compost.  I like to add some dried blood when transplanting to encourage leafy growth.  This is especially important early in the new year if you want crisp tasty lettuce for Valentine’s day and before! Other very reliable winter lettuce worth a go are Valdor and the best cos of the lot, Lobjoits Green Cos.

Rocket, Mizuna and many Chinese greens can be sown now for harvesting up until Christmas and beyond if the weather is clement.

MIDSUMMER WONDERFULNESS

The spring may have been hot and dry, but June has changed all that.  Cool and wet.  The chilly nights haven’t slowed down the rate of growth however and the much-needed rain has come just at the right time for peas and beans which need polnety of water if they are to provide good crops.

After a very slow start and considerable problems from sparrows eating the growing tips, my peas are finally getting into their stride.  Early crops sown in March are in full flower and I did eat the first peas yesterday – straight from the pod.  My trial of Kew Blue are finally climbing but I fear they may not reach their full potential even though the plants of eight seeds I sowed are flowering quite freely.

TRANSPLANTING CABBAGES AND COURGETTES, HARVESTING BEANS AND SPUDS

Tundra cabbage, the flowering tops of Delaway winter kale, the first young garlic and a few garlic scrapes will make a wonderful stir-fry

It’s the middle of May and the last couple of weeks have been very busy, catching up with planting, transplanting and sowing.  The brassicas I sowed in late March needed to be transplanted into their riased beds.  I noticed that the dreaded Small Cabbage wWhite is around and found a few clusters of their yellow eggs on the underside of some of the leaves, so I decided to cover immediately with a fine mesh to protect the crop.

cabbage and cauliflower transplants on 5th May

The cabbage and broccoli I transplanted back in March are growing on well and should be ready for eating in the next few weeks.

Greyhound summer cabbage and broccoli with transplants behind

This very dry spring has been a challenge.  Not only do salad crops need lots of water, so do peas and carrots  Yesterday I installed a trcikle irrigation system on a couple of my raised beds and over several hours emptied a large water butt onto them.  You can see the system at work in this photo.  Highly recommended I say.  I bought enough tubing and connectors to irrigate 6 of my beds at any one time for just £29.  It’s worth checking out www.watermate.co.uk 

I am a passionate advocate of polytunnels.  They extend the growing season dramatically.  Having had problems with overwintering broad beans suffering recent very cold winters I sowed Aquadulce in a polytunnel last November and am now able to harvest a good crop of lovely beans.  With my second lot of early potatoes, the delicious variety Accord, now eating well another feast tonight is in order

Tender young broad beans ready for picking

Spring harvest

 

As well as transplanting cabbages last week I have also transplanted one of the tastiest squash I know, Pompeon, into one of my polytunnels.  I am growing aa American heirloom Armenian cucumber too.  I planted four rather straggly plants, two-feet apart in the greenhouse on the allotment and plan to train them up canes and along wires.  I also planted a couple of melon called Sugar Baby with which I have had some success in the past.

Young Armenian cucumbers with ripening strawberries on 15th MaySyrian courgettes transplanted on 8th May under bell cloches

I like to give my courgettes plenty of room so plant them at about three-foot intervals. I’ll keep the bell cloches on them for a couple of weeks until they are growing on strongly.  Courgettes, like all cucurbits are greedy feeders in need of lots of water.  I will eat some of the crop but plan to select a number of courgettes to grow to full maturity so that I can save and share the seed.  I amexcited about this local Syrian variety as the ones I ate in Syria in April where firm and tasty, a marked improvement on most courgettes I have eaten before.