The last few days have been hectic and very rewarding.  Now is one of the sweetest times for a vegaholic as we can see spring is well on her way, the ground is warming up and there are a whole host of seeds to sow, plants to pot up, pot on and put out.

BUYING SEEDS: Although I save seed of about half of all the vegetables I grow, there are many, like roots and salad crops and especially hybrid seeds which I buy.  I am enraged at the cost of seed in the UK.  Compare a packet of seed from any of the main suppliers here with what you can buy from say the Italian seeds people Franchi and you might share my view.  However, sowing just the right amount of seed means one can get best value from a packet and properly stored, most seed will remain viable for years.

SOWING SEEDS: By far the most expensive seeds are those of F1 hybrid varieties.  Recently I bought a packet of broccoli seed called Olympia which contained just 24 seeds.  I sowed 2 into twelve small pots and they all germinated, so I transplanted the duplicates into twelve more pots.  I nly wanted twelve for my allotment so the other twelve are now in the hands of a couple of gardeners in the village.  There are two lessons from this experience.  Firstly, only sow enough seed to give you the quantity of plants you can comfortably eat as they come to maturity.  Crops like broccoli, calabrese and cauliflowers are in thehabit of maturing all at thesame time.  For me, even twelve of any variety is probably six too many.  With just two mouths to feed most of the time I know that over a three or four-week cropping period I will only really want to heads of broccoli for example per week.  The second lesson is to only sow one seed per pot of Olymia next time!

I am sure seed companies just love us to sow too thikly and too many and to buy fresh seeds every year.  But a packet of lettuce seed which contains 300 seeds will give you, as near as damnit, 300 lettuce to eat.  Sowing at monthly intervals through the season, maybe just a two-foot row of something like Little Gem means there are four or fiveto be left to grow on and maybe a dozen to transplant.  the transplants will mature a few days later than those left in the ground.  Sow the lettuce seed individually at one-inch (25mm) intervals.  The two-foot row will yield up to 24 plants, so even with this method you will end up either giving a few seedlings away or chucking them on thecompost heap.  But for a family of four, that packet of lettuce seed should last you at least two or three growing seasons. Small seeds like carrot should be sown as thinly as possible.  certainly no more less half an inch (12mm) apart.  Ditto radish, which can be thinned and eaten as you go.  Beetroot is another vegetable that should be sown very thinly and in short rows.  A 2-metre row will yield at least 40 beetroot and the seedlings can be transplanted when they have four true leaves.  Parsnip are slow to germinate and require warm ground, so starting them under a cloche is a good diea.  I put three seed at 6 inch (15cm) spacing and this out the two weakest seedlings.  Parsnips can grow very large – see my intro video – so just how many does the average family need through the winter.  I always grow too many – that is an five-metre row.  But many are given away.  If I was just to grow for Julia and myself then perhaps twent roots would be enough – a ten-foot (3 metre) row.  Parsnip seed have a reputation for not storing well.  This year I sowed  the last of a packet of seed I bought in 2009and every seed germinated!

Soon it will be timeto sow beans of all sorts – Runner Beans, dwarf and climbing French beans. But how many to sow?  Too often come August the world and her husband are giving away their gluts.Sensibly, a family of four can feast on 10-foot row of kidney beans and still have plenty for the freezer and to give away.  I only grow a one-metre row of kidney beans, but beans for drying I want lots of so up to ten metres or more of Borlotto or Ryder’s Top of the Pole for me!  Peas are another crop I can never have too much of.  The siurplus end upin teh freezer for consumption as a winter treat.

KEEPING SEED SAFE:  The best way to keep seed so they remain viable for several years is to store them in an airtight box or jars in the fridge.

Enjoy your gardening and see how much money you can save on seeds by a judicious use of this precious resource.

Entering the Golden days

At last, the euinox is just past and for the next six months the sun is in the sky for more than twelve hours a day.  Yipee.  Lovely early mornings beckon for time alone to sow, plant, hoe and harvest.  And boy is it kicking off big-time right now.

Today was just blissful.  Clear blue skies, a temperature of 18 degrees and plenty of time to work on the plot.

First up was to transplant a summer cabbage called Greyhound into a bed I had ready at the top of the garden.  I had sown seed in root trainers in the greenhouse back in February. The plants have been hardening off in a cold frame for the last three weeks and were ready to go in the gound.  Likewise I planted a broccoli called Olympia.  A fiendeshly expensive hybrid we’ll see what it does but I got every seed in the packet to grow – 24 in total – so my neighbours are benefiting too.  I also planted up a couple of short rows of Little Gem lettuce for good luck.

It was time too to get the last of my early spuds in the ground.  Using my tried and tested method of planting through black-poly and covering with a cloche I now have twenty Nadine safely in the soil, and hopefully providing meals in June when the spuds in the polytunnel have all been eaten.

Rocket forging ahead on 23rd March

The crops in the polytunnels are doing well now we are having a decent warm spell of weather.  I have been harvesting lettuce for some weeks but there are more than enough left to keep me and the neighbours in salad stuff until the frst of the outdoor crops come fit to eat later in April.  

gaps opening up as harvesting enters its fourth week

My overwintering Aquadulce broad beans are looking promising, the first flower buds are starting to form and I even noticed a solitary bumble bee buzzing hopefully in the tunnel – maybe she needs to wait another couple week for the first flowers to open!

A dangerous time for impatient gardeners

It’s the end of the first week of March.  The sun is shining and in my polytunnels and greenhouses the temperature is in the 80’s.  But as darkness falls so does the thermometer!  This time of year can be a dagerous period.  Seduced by longer days and the need to get sowing we hope for the best and scatter our seed injudiciously.  Caution is required.

Protected crops can forge ahead.  Early potatoes in the polytunnel are already pocking their noses through the soil; broad beans are pushing skyward and lettuce are beginning to fill out.  But unless your precious germinating seeds are protected by cloches they may refuse to grow and simply rot.  If in doubt, wait a week or two.  Later sowings will catch up.  Better to prepare seed beds and finish getting the ground in perfect condition to get working later in the month.

Having said all that, I do risk the weather.  Just a couple of days ago I transplanted into open ground some early summer cabbage that I had growing over the winter in pots in the greenhouse and more recently, hardening off in a cold frame.  My garden greenhouse is absolutely chock-a-block with seedlings.  I have started celeriac and fennel, more tomatoes for growing outside – the awesome Salt Spring Sunrise and an orphan from the HSL called Victory.  Also early sweet-corn which I will plant in a polytunnel next month for a crop in July – the first of a succession of sowings of sweetcorn over the next two months.  Also germinating on the greenhouse bench are various French beans and more cabbage, broccoli and calabrese need to be moved into a cold frame to harden off.

I need to make space because tomorrow I will transplant my peppers and chillies and start some squash going in the propagator.  I am on my travels for a couple of weeks so needs must.  Hopefully, when I return the greenhouse will be a mini-jungle, my early spuds will be green mounds of loveliness, my lettuce will be begging to be eaten – I did have one tonight for supper, (yum yum) – and my broad benas will have started to flower!

Us gardeners can but dream!

A busy February weekend

With the days lengthening and sunshine warming the ground I felt it was time this weekend to get some root crops started.  I checked the soil temperature of  the ground I had prepared in late January and covered in cloches a few weeks ago.  The surface was 20 degrees and an inch below ground 9 degrees, so ideal for starting carrots and parsnip.  I sowed two early varieties of carrot; from Thompson and Morgan an F1 hybrid, Adelaide and a Dobies F1 variety called Rocket.  I grow a parsnip called Gladiator which is resistant to canker and provides often very long roots indeed.  I also sowed a short row of radish, Scarlet Globe and beetrot, Red Ace, an early variety that does well started under a cloche.

The broad bean called Bowland Beauty that I had started in the greenhouse in January needed planting out.  Because they were getting a bit leggy and I hadn’t hardened them off in a cold frame I transplanted them into a bed manured this winter and covered them in a cloche.  I also sowed a row of a very reliable early pea called Feltham First, again, covered with a cloche.

My tomatoes have been growing well in the propagator so today I have transplanted three varieties into 3 inch pots and put them back on the propagator to get established over the next week or so, at which time they will need to be transfered to the greenhouse bench.

Yesterday a neighbour called with her pockets filled with packets of chilli seeds.  Sussy is Danish and is landlady to a Danish chilli collector who I have sent seeds to called Henrik.  Now I have about thrity new varietes to add to my collection.  Although I have six varieties growing in the propagator already I couldn’t resist trying some of his so I sowed a Habanero called Condor’s Beak,and three others; Brazilian Pumpkin, African Naga and Berbere.  All very exciting.

At this time of year preparation is everything, so that when the conditions are right one can sow and transplant.  To that end I will be repairing raised beds, manuring, liming and covering ground in the certain knowledge that March is a demanding time for us vegaholics, both outside and in teh greenhouse.

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.