First earlies in the ground

It’s Friday 18th February and I have now planted up a couple of double rows of earlies, Rocket and Accord in one of my polytunnels.  With luck I will be digging my first meal early in May.  If you haven’t started already and you want nice new potatoes by the end of May from an outdoor crop now is time to get the bed prepared.  You can find out everything you need to know about growing new potatoes from watching the video and checking this web site.

Meanwhile, I go daily to my greenhouse to see how the seedlings are coming along.  Everything is ‘up’ and growing on strongly in the warmth.  In a week or so I will be able to start to pot up the first tomatoes!

Harry amongst my seedlings


Vital, rampant, like a lover you embrace the cane

Reaching to the sun, slender stemmed, white flowers abundant.

With the passing of the solstice your juvenile crop,

Tender, deep green, delicious after a moment’s steaming

Is the hors d’oeuvre.  Left alone

Through a long, warm summer you become voluptuous,

Heavy with pods, swelling with promise, the pleasure must wait

Until the sheath that shelters your seed starts to pale

Green morphs to yellow.  Now I can indulge in the entré.

White pregnant beans blushed lime green, no bigger than a fingertip, plump, tender

Begging to mix with summer’s bounty:

Tomato, garlic, onion, sweet pepper, chilli, parsley.

And with the equinox and late summer sun

Your pods, honey coloured, crinkle with the final course

Tasty pearls for winter stews of garlic sausages aromatic with fennel.

With you I am satiated, indulged, impassioned.

You never forsake me

My beloved Ryder Top of the Pole!

More sowing and hard labour

With a brief but lovely sunny day yesterday I was able to complete the preparation of one of my polytunnels which will be planted up with new potatoes in the next week.  Note the leaky pipe irrigation system under the unfinished left-hand row.  This thirty-foot tunnel will allow me grow p to 8 rows of potatoes. 

It is well worth growing potatoes like this if you have some space in a greenhouse or polytunnel as you will be harvesting from early in May

Back in November I sowed a broad bean called Aquadulce in my fifteen foot tunnel.

After the horrors of the winter of 2009/10 when my entire crop of overwintering beans rotted under the snow I figured it was time to give them a better chance under cover.  Now, with the days getting longer they are starting to put on a bit of a spurt.  With luck I will have beans to accompany my plate of new potatoes in May.

And finally, today I sowed in trays in the greenhouse a wonderful onion called Up To Date.  I saved the seed fromonions I first grew in 2009 and then re-planted in 2010 to go to seed.  This variety is off-list and only available from the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic, or from me if you send an s.a.e!  It is a wonderful long-keeper – at least until late March.  I also sowed two varietes of leek – early for me, but one from HSL called Early Market likes to be started now and I am trying another long-season typ from Thompson and Morgan called Porvite for the first time.  I’ll make a sowing of a late variety next month.

2011 Time to get started

I hope you find the slightly new look website helpful.  It’s early February and I have already been busy sowing seeds in the greenhouse.  I started a couple of weeks back sowing several varieties of chilli and pepper in my propagator at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade.  I also sowed Little Gem lettuce, spring cabbage and early broccoli on the greenhouse shelf and a large pot each of a new rocket variety, Buzz and a fantastic cut-n-come-again coriander called Calypso.  I also sowed loads of Bowlands Beauty broad bean seed individually into loo rolls filed with a 50/50 mix of regular potting compost and JI no: 1 and put them under the greenhouse shelf to germinate.

At the end of January I planted out onto the allotment my favourite long-keeping garlic called Solent White and some Jermour shallots that I should have planted in November but forgot and a new variety to try called Piquant.

Last Friday 4th February I sowed pots of several varieties of tomatoes in gentle heat in the greenhouse propagator.

Now is time to start preparation of the early potato bed.  Be sure to incorporate lots of well-rotted manure into ground that you have not used for potatoes for the last couple of years at least.  Sprinkle a handful of fish, blood and bone fertiliser per square metre and rake to a nice tilth.  Cover the ground with a mulch of black polythene.  I buy 200metre by one metre-wide rolls from LBS.  It cost about £60 including shipping but lasts a very long time indeed.  Ihold down the edges with a few bricks and now wait until the gales stop before putting up some polythene cloches in a couple of weeks’ time to enable the ground to warm up.

It’s the End of August Already

Dear Reader,

Please forgive me for being so tardy with my blogging,but the last couple of months has seen terrific weather – both hot and dry and warm and wet.  I spend most of my time tending to my vegetables and very little in front of my computer.  Anyway, an update.

At this time of year, with the nights starting to draw in vines are ripening and it is a time to harvest, harvest, harvest.  It’s been a good year generally with only one major disaster so far.  My pea crops which suffered terribly from a lack of water in the early summer when they were flowering has yielded very little.  Otherwise the recent warm wet weeks have meant everything has grown like the clappers.

Now is the time to start harvesting seed for my library and to share with others.  So the kitchen is full of beans dried and ready for shelling, quantities of silica jell in boxes for drying and envelopes awaiting labeling and filling.  see my new page for seed swaps if you are interested in trying some of my ‘off-list’ and heirloom varieties.

SUCCESS WITH RHUBARB JUICE.  For the first time I have tried spraying brassicas with rhubarb juice to ward off the dreaded cabbage white butterfly, because their noses are apparently in their feet.  They land on a cabbage leaf smelling of rhubarb and think it is therefor rhubarb.  Back in March I filled an old dustbin with water and my fellow allotmenters have filled the receptacle with rhubarb leaves over the ensuing months. What has resulted is a festering, stinky murky liquid which I filter through an old sock before filling my sprayer, adding a few drops of Fairy Liquid to ensure the spray stays on the leaves.  I have had remarkable success with this method.  It is necessary to use rubber gloves if one doesn’t want to stink of rotting vegetation afterwards, but if the leaves are well covered on both sides the butterflies really do stay away.  It has been necessary to re-spray after very heavy rain and I do keep an eye out for egg clusters because any missed area will surely be found by the butterflies.  I definitely recommend trying this next year.  It’s a free and organic solution to a major problem for me and many others who can find their gardens plagued by cabbage whites.

Now is also the time to transplant brassicas for the spring – cabbage, cauliflower and kale.  Also, I am sowing short rows of a number of Chinese greens including Mizuna, Pak Choi, Kailan and mustard.  With my summer radish now coming to an end it is time too to sow winter radish, more rocket and to think about early crops to get started in the greenhouses as the ground comes free – carrots, winter lettuce, broad beans even.

Early Summer Madness

Already it is the second weekend in June and I only have to blink to miss seeing how everything is growing.  but with success is disappointment.  my early peas, Feltham First, which overwintered amazingly well, surviving the snow and freezing temperatures under their cloche, have proven to be a pathetic crop.  I am harvesting them, but the growth is poor and most of the plants have died.  I do not know why, as I have replaced a half row with mange tout which are growing like the clappers and look very happy.  Hey, ho, hopefully my main crop will prove more productive.  I am also growing some off-list varieties for the HSL.  They seem to be doing OK.

It’s not too late to sow beans and more peas.  but at this time of year I have run out of space.  I have cauliflower and purple sprouting plants to put in but they have to wait until a bit of space comes clear – following on from early potatoes and those useless peas.  I have sown runner beans and some climbing French beans in the last weeks of May and they are growing great guns.  it’s amazing how everything catches up when we have warmth and rain.

Now it’s a matter of weeding and more weeding, helping my beans climb their poles and harvesting lots of lovely salad crops, summer cabbage and the last of the carrots from the greenhouse.

May Madness

Despite my best efforts to keep up to date with my blog i am failing dismally.  needless to say, with an unbelievably cold May still ongoing the garden is not as advanced as it should be.  My early broad beans and overwintering peas are really very poor and I do not know what to do to get them going.  the beans are flowering but are pale and short.  Half my peas have died.

Meanwhile life in the polytunnels goes on but with cold nights the plants are not as advanced as they should be.  However, early sowings of Kenyan beans and sweet corn are doing well and the squash are starting to take off.

This weekend however is a time to put up canes around my Borlotto climbing beans and to plant out the remaining squash and cucumbers both outside and in the polytunnels.  My peppers and chillies have also been growing on slowly in pots but need to be planted out in teh greenhouses and polytunnels.

No peace for the wicked

Very Busy Sowing and Planting

The nights may be cold but the days are warm and this week I have been busy catching up with my sowing schedule as well as transplanting.  The colds nights have meant my cloches stay up.  In the polytunnels early spud Rocket is in flower and asking to be harvested.  I have transplanted a block of 20 sweet corn Early Extra Sweet and a row of squash grown from home-saved seed called Table Queen.

This year I have spaced the plants a metre apart and will keep them trimmed rather than allowing them to go wild as happened last year even though I did get a pretty good crop of about thirty squash from just four plants.  In this picture Table Queen are on the left and behind the cucumbers by the door are rapidly growing Pennsylvania crookneck.

With this prolonged spell of dry weather it has been necessary to keep my seed beds well watered.  Those under the cloches retain moisture much better than open ground exposed to evaporating winds.  During the week I have potted up celeriac into 10cm square modules in the greenhouse, thinned carrots in another greenhouse and started pulling radishes.  It is one of the great pleasures in this world to select the largest specimens, pull them, wipe away any soil on the seat of one’s trousers and eat. And with the first harvest another sowing.  Just a short row the width of a raised bed, which will be repeated every ten days or so over the coming months.  Also sown was flat leaved parsley and beetroot, fennel, carrot and rocket under a cloche.

Spring onions are emerging and my transplanted onions are starting to grow away but need regular watering until fully established.  Over the weekend I’ll transplant calabresse and Romanesco which have been hardening off in a cold frame, making sure they are planted right up to the base of the second set of leaves and well formed in.  If night-time temperatures are set to improve I won’t bother to cover them with bottle cloches.  I might be tempted too to sow some climbing French beans in a bed recently cleared of winter cabbage.  Hopefully there will be more than just a solitary asparagus spear to have for lunch on Sunday!

Friday April 16 2010

The last couple of weeks have been dry, sunny and cold at night.

Life in the greenhouses and polytunnels has been growing like the clappers.  Outside things are moving a little slower.  Under cloches  my lettuce and early cabbage are growing on fine.  Today though it is time to plant my main-crop potatoes which have been chitting well.  I also will be sowing lettuce for succession – I still have overwintered lettuce to finish in the next couple of weeks in a polytunnel, to be followed with Little gem under a cloche on the allotment.  I have some Lobjoits seedlings coming on well in the greenhouse and which I shall transplant next week.  I will sow more Little gem and also a red-leaved variety for cut and come use.

Parsley is slow to germinate but a row the width of a raised bed will provide me with the herb right through until this time next year.  So, time to sow Parsley too.

It is also time to clear any ground with old crops. So, my dead globe artichokes are coming out and also old cabbage stalks where I plan to sow beans later this month.

It may be sunny during the day but with cold nights the ground is still cool so any sowing of seeds will benefit from cloche protection.  And I also need to keep seed beds well watered because the wind dries the surface of teh soil very quickly.

Notes from a seed collector, Episode two.

Monday, 9 March 2009

You win some and you lose some in the gardening game and this year has been no exception.

As an avid seed collector and seed saver the prolonged, cool and wet summer is causing some havoc with ripening and seed drying. Ever the optimist however, I expect my collection and my experiments to yield a valuable harvest.

In 2007 I travelled to French Polynesia. In a market on the small island of Huahini I bought some very punchy small chillies with the hope that I could germinate some of the seed. As I write this on yet another wet and windy August day, the two plants I was able to germinate from the pinch of seed I saved are growing slowly and pathetically in the cold greenhouse on my allotment. I hope yet for a warm and long autumn, when the plants might fruit and I could gather some seed to try again next year. The plants are isolated from other capsicums which are growing in another greenhouse in my garden. Of them more anon! The allotment greenhouse is also home to half a dozen plants of a cucumber called Dekah, which I received from the HSL. The crop is reasonably heavy, early, delicious and the plants are robust and fully six feet tall. I have allowed a couple of fruits on each vine to grow to maturity and look forward to harvesting the seed in the next few weeks.

Outside, on the allotment the wet weather has been wonderful for vigour and yield of most, if not all the sixty and more types of vegetables I grow. I was given a few pea seed by an HSL member, Victorian Purple Podded and the plants are cropping well. I have yet to try the peas as I want to save all the seed to grow a full row next year. However, I had no idea how tall they might grow and only now know that I will need at least five foot of support in 2009! Last year I was inundated with requests for my favourite broad bean, Bowland Beauty. Determined not disappoint the many people to whom I could not provide I have grown a thirty foot double row just for seed. The pods are blackening and ripening nicely but I need a few days of dry weather before I can harvest.

I had one surprise- an unintentional cross-pollination. I collect two other broad beans, Canadian Purple flowered and White Continental. I received a letter from a fellow collector who had some Canadian Purple flowered seed from me, to say the plants where both white and purple flowered. Horror of horrors. Even though I had sown seed of the two varieties at different times and opposite ends of the allotment I must have suffered cross-pollinations. Sure enough, when I sowed some purple seed myself, many of the flowers where white. As soon as I became aware of this ‘infection’ I removed the white flowering plants before they could be pollinated and I just hope that the next generation of beans will be true. But then again, maybe I have created a new hybrid… So, what to call it?

Next year I will see if I my White Continental seed is equally corrupted.

I have tried growing a new variety of Brussels Sprout called Seven Hills that another HSL member very kindly gave me. I started them off very early in late January – the time I usually sow sprouts. The plants are strong and vigorous, but one bolted in June and two others have a great crop of sprouts already! I will be interested to see if they hold until the winter. If not I shall try again with a later sowing next year.

The beans I found in a market in Tanzania and grew for the first time last year are growing well. They took time to take off, but are now five feet tall and starting to flower. The crop will be late but I hope can mature before the weather gets too cold. A prolific crop of stubby pods each holding four fat beans. On another part of the allotment I am growing an HSL bean, Bonne Bouche. The young beans are delicious, but I must not be tempted and allow the pods to mature to yield enough beans to share with others and grow more of in the future.

My surprise success this year is one of my staple beans, Ryders’ Top o’ the Pole. I had a complete germination failure in early May. Despite warming the ground up with a long cloche before sowing seed, come late May there was nothing to see. I had given all but a few of my seed away, but after a foray into the depths of a kitchen cupboard, I found some forgotten and ancient beans meant for the pot. They looked pretty inedible; wrinkled and dull white. But more in hope than certainty I sowed then and to my delight they all germinated. Now I have a magnificent crop of beans. Most I am allowing to mature, some to freeze as fresh shelled beans and some to dry. And of course, some to eat now as tender young whole beans. They are my finest crop.

I tried a Kale called Delaway last year. It’s delicious, slow to bolt and very hardy. I left the old plants to go to seed and a few weeks ago I was able to harvest them. The set was not brilliant but after hanging the plants up in my garage – safely cocooned in a bag made from fleece – to dry properly, I still managed to extract a jam-jar full of bright black seeds. I immediately sowed a few and they germinated within a couple of days. So, some time in late September I’ll be able to transplant my first lot of home-saved Delaway.

Other crops doing well include the sensational radish Pasque. Shelling the pods is enough to drive a sane man to drink, but, again, once we get a dry spell and the harvest can fully ripen I will be spending happy hours with these unruly plants. Then, as soon as possible I’ll sow a couple of rows to harvest through the winter. Yum yum.

And as for the garden greenhouse? A variety of chillies and sweet peppers are growing purely for the table. But I have isolated a couple of plants of a tiny chilli I discovered on the island of Rodriguez – using a curtain of fleece – and will keep back some fruits for their seed.

Time to check the forecast and pray for some sun.

Adam Alexander
© 2007