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.

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