Friday, 24 March 2017

More spuds planted!

Yesterday I judged that it was time to plant the rest of my potatoes. Having planted my First Earlies about a fortnight ago, the remaining ones were mostly Second Earlies, with a couple listed as possible Early Maincrops. I don't generally grow Maincrops, for two reasons: first, their late maturity time makes them vulnerable to blight; and second; their (bigger) size makes them less suitable for growing in the pots I have.

Having been kept indoors on the windowsill of an unheated spare bedroom for the last two months, the chits (shoots) on these potatoes were gratifyingly impressive:

The varieties I planted today were Charlotte (4), Nicola (2), Kestrel (2), Ratte (2), Orla (2) and International Kidney (2).

Following my usual technique, I planted them into the big black plastic pots, making a hole for them in the soil with my trowel and placing them rose-end (the end with most shoots) upwards, and then covered them over to a depth of about 3 inches. As the shoots grow, I will earth them up again with some more soil / compost.

Most of this batch went into my biggest pots - these 35-litre ones:

A few of the lucky ones went into the protection of the "Seedling Greenhouses". Hopefully the extra warmth will bring them on more quickly than the ones out in the open, so that I will have a nice steady succession of harvests.

Now all I have to do (apart from the earthing-up, which is a fairly quick, probably once-off, task), is water them occasionally and wait for them to mature...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

New shoots everywhere

The sap is rising and the plants in my garden have sprung into action in no uncertain terms!

A couple of weeks ago I pruned my Rose bushes, and they are responding vigorously:

It's the same with the Dogwoods:

I haven't pruned the Cotinus, which is still recovering from a near-death experience in the Autumn of 2015, but it's not hanging back - it's covered with little black buds splitting open to reveal new red leaves like these:

Even my Rhubarb is beginning to show a certain amount of promise. It always starts off with small leaves, but normally goes on to produce some huge ones later on.

The site where my Rhubarb grows is far from ideal, being partially shaded and very close to a massive Leylandii tree in my neighbour's garden. That tree sucks up all the available moisture and has rendered the nearby soil very dry, which is not good for Rhubarb, so a couple of years ago I moved it into a big deep container filled with rich home-made compost, in which it has rebuilt its strength very nicely.

Elsewhere in the garden I have another issue - something is eating the flowers on my Fritillaries:

I have looked carefully to see if I could find the culprits, but in vain. I have in the past seen Lily Beetles attack the seed-pods of Fritillaries that have finished flowering, but I've never seen whole petals eaten like this.

In the raised beds there's more welcome news. The Radishes I sowed alongside my Broad Beans, only a few days ago, have germinated:

In case you're wondering, the grey thing at the right of that photo is the frame of the protecting cloche.

Since I'm writing today mostly about shoots, I think the PSB qualifies too, doesn't it?

As some readers will know, I have two "Early Purple Sprouting" plants, one grown from Mr.Fothergill's seeds, and one from Marshalls. The contrast between these two plants is very marked. This one is the Mr.Fothergill's one:

And this is the Marshalls one:

I'm going to finish my post today with a photo of something that is finishing, instead of starting: a Hellebore.

My Hellebores have done better this year than previously. As the plants mature they produce more and better flowers. I think the fact that we have not had much heavy rain during their flowering period has helped, because the blooms have not had so much of a battering.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Getting the best from your mini-greenhouse

If you are not fortunate enough to have a "proper" (i.e. glass) greenhouse, then the little plastic ones you can get are the next best thing - as long as you know how to get the best out of them!

In the early Spring, I use my greenhouses a lot. They allow me to get plants started much earlier than would otherwise be possible. Seedlings grown on that mythical "sunny windowsill" are often a bit under-par because they seldom get as much light as they need - unless you are prepared to keep shifting them round your house to follow the sun!

I keep my greenhouses in different places according to the season. Until recently I had them up against the house, in a sheltered position, because they were protecting dormant pot-plants against the worst of the Winter chill. Now I have moved them out into the middle of my plot, where they get light for most of the day, and direct sunlight for several hours. Later in the year, when strong winds are less common, I have been known to move the greenhouses around the garden two or three times a day in order to get the best light conditions.

As it happens, mini-greenhouses are designed to be kept against a wall. Most of them have some metal D-rings at the back, which are there to facilitate attaching them to hooks or nails in a wall. If like me, you want to be able to move them around frequently, you will need to consider other ways to stop them blowing away, taking your precious plants with them, because they are very light and have high wind-resistance. I use bricks laid over the bottom layer of rods, as you can see here:

Each one of the greenhouses gets 4, 5 or 6 bricks. Anything less would be tempting fate. If you don't have any bricks, I reckon a couple of paving-slabs or a big bag of compost would work just as well. You'll have noticed that I only use the 2-Tier type of structure, because I found that the taller 3-Tier and 4-Tier ones were very susceptible to damage. I think they would definitely need to be tethered to a wall.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with these things is maintaining the correct temperature inside them. Stood in the shade, a plastic greenhouse will not raise the temperature, though it will certainly protect young plants from frost, damaging winds and heavy rain. However, put the greenhouse in the sun with the door closed and it's another matter altogether.

Yesterday was the sort of day that poses some big problems for a gardener. The forecast said it was going to be sunny most of the day, and I wanted to give my young chilli plants the benefit of a few hours of real sunshine (as opposed to the artificial light of the Growlight House). The outside temperature was cold though (about 4C at 0800 and 9C at midday) and it was very windy too, so I would have liked to keep the greenhouse doors closed. However, with doors closed and in bright sunshine, the temperature shot up to over 35C.

Sure, chilli plants like warmth, but little seedlings can easily be damaged by such high temperatures - especially if they go too quickly from cold to hot, without the opportunity to acclimatise. I had to make a compromise: with the doors zipped-up to the halfway point (and flapping around furiously in the wind!) the temperature was in the mid-20s, which is probably quite comfortable for a little chilli plant.

You know, if I were designing things like this, I'd put a zipped opening in the roof, to allow more flexible ventilation. Heat rises, doesn't it?

Once the sun had moved on during the afternoon, and the greenhouses were again out of the direct sunlight, I went out and zipped the doors to the fully closed position. Now the point here is that not everyone will have the luxury of being able to do such a thing. A working person leaving the house for the day has to make a decision: shall I leave the doors open or closed (or halfway)? They may live to regret their decision! On the other hand, a non-working person like me (whose plot is right outside the back door) can pop outside several times a day to make the necessary adjustments. Ahhh, the joys of Retirement!

P.S. If you want to know more about where to get these things, and the costs, you might like to read this post I wrote last year: Re-vamping the mini-greenhouses

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Starting some salads

The weather has improved sufficiently to tempt me to sow some more seeds. I sowed a seed-tray with a couple of pinches of seed from two different packs of Mixed Lettuce. One of them is French Salad Leaves Mix, which includes not only Lettuce but also a proportion of Endive, Radicchio and Rocket. I placed the seed-tray in my big new coldframe, and they germinated within just a few days (I think it was only 4).

I am also having a go at a batch of what I call "Daddy Salad" - i.e. salad leaves intended to be cut at a very young age. The name is the one that my kids gave to this style of salad when they were young, and it has been used in our family ever since.  Last year I used a technique that proved very successful, so I'm using it again. It involves sowing the seeds in a sort of "bed within a bed":

Last year I made two of these little wooden squares, using bits of scrap wood. They are roughly 45cm square. The idea is that with the wire grilles laid over the top, as seen in the photos, they act as a protected environment, shielding tiny seeds/plants from the ravages of cats, foxes and badgers.

The wooden frame and the metal grille is held in place by a bent wire "staple" at each corner.

For this salad I have used a mix of Lettuce, Rocket, Endive and Greek Cress, which should give a crop that is varied in colour, shape, texture and flavour. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches high, I will sow the second square with a similar mix of seeds, so that they mature at about the time that the first one's plants are finished. You can usually get 2 or 3 cuts from this type of salad.

Today I also want to show off this:

It is Wild Garlic coming up amongst the Lysimachia (or vice versa!). I think it makes a good colour combination, don't you?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Harvest Monday - 20th March 2017

This week my harvest has been confined again to .... (yes, you guessed it!) Purple Sprouting Broccoli. My "Rudolph" plant has just about finished cropping now (it gave us enough for 3 meals), and most of what you see here is from "Red Spear".

I also want to take this opportunity to show off some bread I made recently. I can't claim that it is anything to do with home-grown harvests, but my reasoning is that people who appreciate home-grown veg will probably also appreciate home-made bread! This loaf is made from a recipe in Paul Hollywood's book "Bread":

The flour used in this bread is a mix of Rye (40%), Spelt (40%) and White (20%). The Rye gives the bread a pleasant slightly sour taste, and the Spelt is distinctly nutty. The White is there just to lighten the texture.

The recipe calls for a "sponge" to be made the day before - in effect a short-term Sourdough. Yeast and water is added to some of the flour and left to ferment overnight, and it becomes soft and bubbly. It certainly works, because this bread was a winner in every respect - extremely tasty, with a good texture. I was pleased with the balance between crust and crumb too, which I think is a sign of good kneading technique.

Paul Hollywood is not my favourite person in terms of personality, but he certainly writes good bread recipes!

I'm linking my post today to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Potting-up Chilli seedlings

A few weeks ago when I sowed my chilli seeds, I put 6 seeds in each 5-inch / 12.5cm pot. Germination has been variable. In most cases it has been good (6 or 5 seeds germinated), but in one or two cases I have only had one germination. The pots with the 5s and 6s were getting crowded, so I realised that it was time to transplant the seedlings to individual pots.

This pot holds 5 seedlings - one of which is very small (bottom left)

This year I am trying to be "sensible" with my chillis and not grow too many, so there is no way I can keep ALL the seedlings. I decided for now to keep a maximum of 3 of each type, and discard the surplus. This is basically "One for me; one as a spare; and one to give away". So, I had to make a selection. I chose the best / strongest-looking seedling to be the one to keep, and this one got re-potted in the 5" pot. The next-best two seedlings were put into some of those tall thin Elmlea pots that I use.

The biggest advantage of the Elmlea pots is that although they are tall (allowing good long roots to develop) they are narrow, so I can fit lots of them in my Growlight House.

Even so, there are too many pots now, and they don't all fit inside the "House". These ones are on the outside, but in a position where they can still benefit from a high proportion of the electric light available.

The bad news is that there are loads more to come. Some of the seedlings are not yet big enough to transplant, so I will have to repeat this exercise in a week or so...

If things go according to plan, I will end up with about 12 (well, possibly 15) chilli plants. Some of the seeds I sowed have yet to germinate, so I can't be sure.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Propagating Thyme

We use a lot of Thyme in our cooking, so I try to make sure we have plenty of it in the garden. This has proved harder than I expected. I find that it is very susceptible to insect damage - I think from thrips. Whatever it is, they eat away the surface of the leaves, stripping them of the glossy dark green part that contains all the essential oils, and leaving them brown, dry and unappetising.

I am reluctant to spray edible plants like herbs with too many chemicals, so I have been forced to accept that in my garden Thyme needs to be grown as an annual, not a perennial. Most years I buy a few potted Thyme plants and put them either in bigger pots or in the border. This is one of last year's plants:

They get cropped until they succumb as described above, then are replaced by new ones. This can be expensive, but fortunately this year it probably won't be necessary - because of these:

Last Autumn I realised that my most recent batch of purchased Thyme plants had self-seeded after flowering, so I potted-up some of the seedlings and kept them over the Winter in my coldframe. They are now quite decent little plants.

I have planted some of them in the border over by my fruit trees.

I wonder how long they will survive???