The start of a new year

Saturday, 5 January 2008

I feel most remiss that I haven’t written anything about the goings on with my veggies for 7 months. I will endeavour to turn over a new clod and try and regularly keep y’all updated as to what to do when and how and the success and failures on my allotment.

So, it’s the first weekend of January and time to start off broad beans. I do occasionally sow Aquadulce in November – Guy Fawkes day is considered the optimum date in the Forest of Dean. But I often have problems with blackening of the stems in spring and never get a particularly good crop. 2007 was a very poor crop so I am reverting to a more certain method which will ensure a good and early crop.

The variety I start now is Bowland Beauty, a magnificent long-podded variety which is sadly off-list so cannot be purchased, but is available through the Seed Heritage Library of Garden Organic or from HSL members like me who try and save extra seed to share out. This winter the demand for seed has been huge and I have run out. Last year I gave away so many I was only able to grow beans for seed. This year will be different! I save the centres of loo-rolls, kitchen rolls and wrapping paper to use as biodegradable pots. 9-months of defecation in the Alexander household yields more than 60 inners, enough for me to plant up a big tray.

This year I am also trying a new mix of potting compost. Normally I use John Innes seed compost for all initial sowing, but now I am mixing it in equal measure with a soilless multi-purpose compost to see if the more open texture will help water retention.

My tray of 60 loo-rolls each with a single bean seed is now in the greenhouse and hopefully germination should be in the next three or four weeks. I will transplant the seedlings in early March under a cloche and my guess is I will be eating broad beans just as soon as if I had sown Aquadulce in November. If you want to try this technique and do not have a greenhouse to start the crop off then leave the pots in a frost-free shed until the beans germinate and then put them in a light place during the daytime, bringing them in at night if there is danger of frost. The beans will grow more slowly but nevertheless, you will still achieve an early crop. You can do this with any variety of broad bean. A tip: If you are intending to fill loo-roll inners get yourself a narrow trowel to make the job easier and to limit the amount of compost that end up in the tray rather than the rolls!

I plant the onion variety Electric as sets in October as well as a long shallot called Jermor. Last year I bought some seed from Franchi of an onion/shallot variety Rossa Lunga Di Firenze. I sowed the seed in gentle heat in mid-February. The crop was terrific, but was very late to mature. I lifted the crop as clumps, like the classic shallot, in October but wished I had extended the growing season. According to the packet the seed can be started in trays in late autumn but I fancy starting them off now in heat and see if the extra six weeks of growing will mean the seedlings are more mature when the summer ends and they begin to ripen. Being Franchi seed, the packet cost me £1.50 and I have enough seed to last me for ten years! If only British seed merchants were as generous with their portions! So, I will sow a pinch of seed into a couple of trays of 1″ pots tomorrow.

I saved a lot of a fantastic variety of Runner Bean called Stenner. It’s early, prolific, stringless, incredibly tasty and very long. If you want some do e-mail me or send an sae.

Happy 2008 and may your crops be plentiful.

My experiment with global warming of keeping my lemon tree outside throughout the year may have been a mistake this winter, with a long cold and wet spell the tree is looking distinctly miserable at the moment. I just hope it will revive as the weather warms up, but I worry that the new growth from last year which should bear fruit is so damaged I will not get a crop worth shouting about.

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