Back to work on the allotment

Monday, 9 April 2007

OK, so I should have posted this blog before the start of the long weekend but the sun has been shining, I’ve been away from my beloved veggies for the last month and there has been shed loads to do. In any event, if y’all have been sitting on the www rather than communing with your plants then you have been in the wrong place.

I managed to smuggle back some bean seed from Houahini which is one of the Society islands about as far away from anywhere as you can get. I was visiting a vanilla farm and amongst the mix of vanilla vines, Noni plants, and every other exotic fruit tree you can name I saw some climbing beans with fabulous 50cm long pods of completely stringless green beans. The farmer said he’d been growing them for as long as he could remember and always from his own saved seed. He called them Chinese beans. Anyway, I found a couple of pods with nearly dry seeds in them and will be seeing what they manage when I sow them later this month. I also found a native chilli plant which is a common perennial across the equatorial regions of the world and will see how they grow too.

No doubt you have all been busy planting potatoes and salad crops and carrots and beetroot etc., etc. But this is a dangerous time to be seduced by an early warm spell. I am not in a hurry to start French and runner beans or courgette and squash. The danger of sowing too soon is that plants are up or needing transplanting just as a nasty cold snap hits us in early May. So if you haven’t sown these types of veg yet then wait another week or so.

I have sown fennel in pots in the greenhouse this weekend and because I want to create a new asparagus bed have sown F1 asparagus seed in the greenhouse too. Outside it’s been short rows of lettuce, rocket, radish, turnip and Italian parsley and more broad beans and some of my HDRA saved pea seed, (these under a cloche to help them on a bit). I will put cloches over the ground I am planning to sow my other beans this week as it is forcast warm for the next few days and so I can warm the ground up before sowing seed directly into the allotment around 20th April, (Hitler’s birthday). I have stopped sowing bean seeds in pots in the greenhouse and transplanting them as the shock always stops their growth for a while. Better to sow directly in warm ground.

Other crops to start now are spinach and get those brassicas growing in pots to transplant in May. Lime the ground you want to grow them in if it hasn’t had any for the last three or four years.

And finally, it’s all too easy to grow to much of stuff and end up with a glut you get sick of. Successional sowings in very small quantities means seeds go further and you make best use of available space. Even bulky crops like sweet corn and cabbages should be grown in moderation. How many lettuce will you eat in a fortnight say, and how many cabbage in a month?

Must dash. Time to pick some purple sprouting broccoli for supper!

A message from Singapore on 10th March

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Dear all,

I may be trundling around the world right now but that doesn’t mean to say I am not thinking about the allotment. Jesse has tasks this weekend which include planting up the early spuds through black poly as previously described, manuring one of the beds in preparation for early peas and to transplant some of my Bowland Beauty broad beans and turning in all the green manure on remaining beds.

March is a very busy time for vegaholics. Now is a good time to start brassicas for the summer and autumn. These include summer staples like minicole and favourites like January King, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts and winter cauliflower. I like to sow a few seeds evenly spaced in deep square 3″ pots. using John Innes seed compost. You can get about 24 to 30 seeds in this way. Cover with a thin layer of compost and put on the bench of an unheated greenhouse to germinate.

The broad beans I sowed in loo rolls are now ready to be hardened off outside. So they are coming out of the greenhouse and into a cold frame for a week before being transplanted in their loo rolls into the allotment in the well manured bed Jesse is preparing today hopefully.

I am off to town to check out some exotic veggies for lunch in the steaming tropics.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

OK, so I wish I had a bloody arc with this weather but yesterday I did a couple of other things not planned.

Firstly I sowed some radish, spinach and also early beetroot under the cloche that was sown with parsnip. the reason being that parsnips are very slow growing and so a ‘catch-crop’ of fast veggies like radishes and spinach can be sown close to the parsnip – just 6 inches apart in fact – because they will be out and eaten long before the parsnips want their space. I also sowed in the propagator self-blanching celery and celeriac. A pinch of seed in seed trays with 48 partitions, which I’ll thin to one per partition when I am back from my hols.

A tip for getting really great celery is firstly to keep the plants well watered once you move them to their final position in May. I put a plastic bottle cloche over each plant for the first month to help them establish and harden off. Once the plants are about a foot high I put a 9″ length of cardboard carpet tube over each one to help blanch them. (Go visit your local carpet shop and get a 4-metre tube from them. Free and perfect re-cycling). Even self-blanching celery benefits from light exclusion of the stems, which is why they should always be close planted in blocks, not rows. You can use this method with traditional celery that needs blanching too. Much better than earthing up. I also do scatter a few slug pellets around the plants once they get their tube cover as slugs ADORE celery.

Friday, 2 March 2007
Friday 2nd March

It’s pissing it down out there tonight and the forecast isn’t brilliant for tomorrow either. I’ve got to make 100 Cornish pasties for the market in the morning so tonight’s blog is, in the metaphorical sense, a quickie.

Weather permitting I want to sow carrots and parsnips in the bed I covered with a poly cloche last week. Carrots need to be sown very thinly. I will be putting the seed directly into the ground but a good tip is to germinate the seed before sowing. Carrot seed is notoriously difficult to germinate evenly; the seed doesn’t like the cold and also depth of sowing is critical. The seed should be just below the surface of the soil. In general sow seed at a depth the equivalent of its size. It’s still very early to sow carrot so try this tip. Buy some old-fashioned wallpaper paste, (it MUST NOT contain any fungicide) and mix up about a litre fairly thinly. For a 5 metre row allow about a third of your average packet of seed and mix this in the paste and leave in a dark, warm place for a few days until the seeds start to germinate. You’ll know this because a little white protrusion will appear at the end of each seed. As soon as possible you need to extrude the mixture – I use an icing piping bag – into the seed drill. If the seeds are well mixed in the paste you will get a more even line of seedlings and they’ll come up quickly. It’s best to be frugal with the extrusion and run up and down the row a couple of times to use it all up. I thin my carrots to 1″ apart when they are about 2″ high and then as they grow eat the thinnings until I have a row to mature with plants three inches apart.

Now for parsnips. The seed is very light and large so sow when there is no wind or else you’ll have rogue parsnips all over your garden. Sow in shallow drills, 3 seeds to a station every 3″. Parsnip seed is notoriously slow to germinate and does better sown later if you don’t have any warm ground. So if you didn’t prepare a cloche bed when I told you to, wait for another couple of weeks and then sow directly in the open ground. If the weather remains cold wait. Everything will catch up. You’ll thin the seedlings when they are about 2″ tall leaving the strongest and thin again to 6″ apart in early summer.

I had a note from Michael about sowing peas in gutters in the greenhouse and transplanting them later. This is an effing nightmare. The peas grow, you try and tip then into a drill and the soil in the gutter crumbles, the seedlings go everywhere and go on strike for weeks, recovering from the shock! Better to sow under cloches, starting now. Mice don’t like going under plastic and pigeons cannot get at the young seedlings when they germinate.

Happy gardening folks.

My first message to y’all

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

I should have started sowing seeds last weekend but only got the propagator in my new (Gabriel Ashe), greenhouse working by dusk on Sunday. So tomorrow I am going to be a very busy bunny. There are two main tasks.
The first is to prepare a bed for my first early potatoes. The variety I grow is called Advent. They are waxy and very fast growing. They tend to get very big if you leave them in the ground too long which is why it is important to grow just enough for my needs. So… I will start by mixing about five barrow-loads of well rotted manure into one of my raised beds, which was last used for growing carrots and parsnips. The ground has not been manured for three years and effectively potatoes start the rotation period for me. I will then cover the ground with black polythene, made secure with a few bricks around the edges. I will also place two rows of polythene cloches over the black poly to help bring up the temperature of the soil underneath. As I am off on my World Tour on 9th March I plan to plant the tubers through the poly in the first week of March. The bed is 18 feet long and three feet wide, room enough for 34 tubers in two rows of 17.
I have some winter density lettuce growing on the allotment under a piece of glass. I need to thin them and then cover each plantlet with a plastic bottle cloche to aid growth. I also need to sort out bedraggled chard and spinach by reviving them with a feed of liquid seaweed to give them a kick-start into making fresh growth.
If I have the energy I’ll prepare a bed for pulses with more manure, but what I really have to do next is the second job. This is sowing seed in the greenhouse.
My propagator is 6 foot by 2 foot and can take a number of plant trays with individual clear plastic covers. The temperature is set at 70 degrees. I’ll sow into pots a pinch of seed of at least six different tomato varieties, yet to be decided, based on what takes my fancy when I open up my seed boxes. I’ll also be sowing Moroccan, Ukrainian and Indonesian chillies as I need to refresh the seed from this year’s crop for the future. I use JI seed compost and water in with a dilute mixture of cheshunt compound to prevent damping off. I’ll also be sowing four or five Italian red onion seeds in individual protapacs in the propagator.
I’ll also sow into trays on a bench in the greenhouse seed of Little Gem lettuce, spring cabbage, Romanesco and beetroot in individual protapacs, all for transplanting into the allotment in March. (A job for Jesse in my absence). These seed germinate better at temperatures lower than 70 degrees. As the greenhouse is kept at a minimum temperature of 45 degrees they should germinate fine.
That’s it. My first blog. Please pass on. Maybe one day this will be read by millions, I will become an Internet phenomenon and make a fortune so I don’t have to make TV any more, ever, ever, ever.
The nice thing is I am still harvesting carrots, leeks, kale, Romanesco, winter radish and celeriac. Now the purple sprouting is starting to come good so I’ll be eating that this weekend for sure!
Happy gardening. More next week if I can remember.

Dear fellow veggie growers

Just a quickie as I have had a productive morning on the allotment. Firstly, the idea of planting potatoes through black poly is that you do not need to earth them up. If the poly is very dense you can put the tubers just below the surface using a dibber. I use cheap thin poly which is slightly opaque so put my tubers about six inches below the surface through holes cut in the poly every 12 inches. Maker a 4” cross with a knife and plant through the plastic. The ground must be moist but not water-logged when you plant. The benefit of using poly is that you conserve moisture and can easily scrape the soil away to collect your harvest, starting early in June. I never water early spuds planted this way. But beware. Don’t start them off too early. I’ll plant mine next weekend and cover with a poly cloche. I don’t use this method for main crop spuds which are in the ground for much longer and will need watering through their growing season.

Which brings me to one of my little campaigns. If you haven’t bought your seed potatoes yet then do so now and set them too to chit – eyes up in egg trays in a light and airy place. Please try and buy your seed from a local supplier and not, at great cost, through a catalogue. Ditto garlic and onion sets, both of which should be planted now if you haven’t done so already. Also, if you want to use cloches and black mulch, (poly then I suggest you find your local commercial horticultural supplier and buy from them. A roll of mulch lasts me for years and cost about 10 quid! You can try Harrod, a mail-order outfit too. They have loads of stuff to damage the bank balance.

Next weekend I’ll sow carrots and parsnips under cloches in a bed I prepared today – also early peas under cloches. But that’s another story.

And how will you cope without me??? I’ll leave you with a list of things to think about from mid March to Easter when I will be back…