The trials and tribulations of a small garden vegetable patch in Kent.
By it's very nature, diary based blogs such as this become repetitive after a couple of years and it's increasingly fifficult to find something new to add. So, from March onwards, I'm going to cut down on the number of posts to only those that I think will be of interest to readers. Posts from previous years will still be accessible but I won't repeat stuff unless there is significant change.
If you really need more information on a post or topic, please feel free to message me and I'll do my best to respond within 24 hours.
Too wet to do anything else, other than start to clear out the greenhouse. Tomatoes are finished, so they're gone. Last of the chillies are still very slowly ripening, so I'll leave them where they are until the first frost is forecast.
Well, the threatened storm was certainly no worse than we're reasonably used to in October with no damage done. Country lanes were a bit dodgy with broken off branches lying about, but nothing to get excited about.
We're harvesting tomatoes, lettuce, leeks and spinach, but the real star is these 'Inferno' chillies. They average about 6" in length and have a kick of heat which is just about right for the purpose I grow them for. That is grilling on the BBQ or stuffing with rice, cream cheese or whatever takes your fancy. There are still quite a few remaining on the plants that haven't turned red yet, so I'll give them the chance for another couple of weeks and then harvest them yellow if needs must.
Planted a further 15 cloves of garlic between showers. Variety is 'Tesco's Finest'!!
I know it's still a long way off, but 2014 somehow seems to be a bit closer now that my first planting has been made. As ever, that crop is garlic. As previously reported, for next year I'm planting 'Solent Wight', 'Early Purple Wight' and, for the hell of it, Tesco Finest! I was going to leave the planting for another week, but with so much rain forecast, it seemed sensible to get it done between downpours. So a 7am start saw me separating the largest cloves from the 4 'Wight' bulbs, dibbing 2" holes 6" apart in rows 9" apart. All in all, I planted 36 cloves. The Tesco bulbs will have to wait a while longer until the ground dries a bit.
For the 4th year I've trekked to London to see the Autumn Harvest show, although I must admit, I nearly gave it a miss this year as it appeared, in 2012, as I thought the standard of the show as a whole was on the decline. However, this year was better and I really enjoyed the visit. It was also to meet up with Simon Smith (aka Smithyveg) who kindly helped me out with a fresh batch of Hative de Niort shallots as mine have all rotted this year.
The giant pumpkins were something to behold! Might have a go next year, just for the hell of it.
The Garlic Farm from the Isle of Wight always have a stand at this show from where I buy my stock for the following year. This time, I bought bulbs of 'Solent Wight' and 'Early Purple Wight'. I'm not going to bother with elephant garlic for 2015 as the lady of the house prefers ordinary garlic for cooking, as do I. However, I've also bought some Tesco Spanish bulbs with a view to establishing once and for all whether or not they are as disease ridden as the UK merchants would have us believe. At 4 bulbs for £1.50, as opposed to £3 per bulb, it has to be worth the 'risk'.
Other than that, the only other thing I've done is to add a packet of a cipollini-style onion 'Rovato' to my seed stock for 2014.
Well, I said I'd be back, and here I am after a particularly hectic summer. It's been really difficult finding the time to fit everything in and unfortunately it's this blog that's suffered most. Still, we're up and running again in the hope that the future will afford me enough time to post updates on a regular basis.
It has, without doubt, been a challenging year as far as the plot has been concerned. With the cold, wet spring and early summer, I honestly didn't expect to achieve very much this year, but then the weather changed for the better and we've had it really good from mid-summer onwards. Even now in early October, we're getting bright sunny days with temperatures in the mid teens which has helped to lengthen the growing season by several weeks.
As far as competition was concerned, although my village show entry was not as good in terms of quality as in previous years, I did well enough with 8 cards including several red ones and Best in Show with a pair of Pendle Improved leeks. The most obvious area where I just didn't have the quality was with my onions which just didn't make the size I was aiming at. Having said that, I won the class as everyone else was suffering with similar problems.
Current state of play............
Onions in store.
'Sweet Candle' carrots, in the first box on the left, have done really well this year and got me a red card at the show. This really is the best variety I've yet to find. The second box contains 'Flyaway' which we've almost finished with in the kitchen. We also have a box of 'Purple Haze' which are also doing very well and making superb eating. In the foreground we have a few 'Pablo' beetroot and 'Autumn Giant' leeks. In the background are my 3 remaining 'Pendle Improved' leeks.
'Enorma' runner beans still in production.
The last of the lettuce with 'All the Year Round' in the foreground and 'Little Gem' behind.
Tomatoes are struggling to ripen now, but there are a few still to pick. Made a couple of jars of Green Tomato Chutney yesterday.
Not a good year for chillies, but these 'Inferno' are doing well. I'll harvest the red ones this weekend and leave the yellow ones a bit longer.
No photo of the few parsnips that I have in a carrot-type box, but they look to be doing OK.
That's going to be about it for the 2013 season, I think. However, I'll endeavour to keep posting as preparation for 2014 progresses.
If there's one job I dread at this time of year it's clearing out the main greenhouse in readiness for the new season. It always takes me far longer than I anticipate but as a plus means I usually find 'lost' items, such as my new secateurs which I mislaid last autumn. With tomatoes, chillies and cucumber plants at, or approaching, the time when they need to go into their final containers, it's a job that really couldn't wait any longer. As far as my indoor crop of tomatoes are concerned, this is Gro-Bags.
My preference is for the larger Giant Tomato Planters from Levingtons, which have the benefit of holding around twice as much growing medium as standard bags. This year, I'm growing 'Dometica' which, after trialing it last year, seems to have more flavour than 'Cedrico', but still delivering the quality I want for my local show. My plants are a bit on the small side this year, but they'll soon catch up.
As in previous years, I'm only growing 2 plants per bag in bottomless pots fitted into the Gro-bags. Between the plants, I fit smaller bottomless pots which act as watering points. This allows all the water/fertiliser to get straight to the roots and ensures that the compost remains moist at all times. Using this method has definitely contributed to the better crops I've had over recent years.
Waking up to a glorious Sunday morning without a cloud in the sky was a rare treat, especially as I had 2 days of planting out, sowing and general maintenance planned. So, after an hour in the woods with the dog and a breakfast of bacon sandwich, the planting out commenced
My Pendle Improved leeks are not as advanced as last year's due to the dreadful winter/early spring weather. |However, with warmth at last, they're now showing signs of picking up. I only grow these leeks with a view to getting an entry in the local show, which I've won for the last 2 years. This year, I've planted out just 12 plants so far, but another 8 are waiting in the wings for any spare space I may be able to find. Normally, I'd start the blanching process at this stage, but this year I've decided to wait until the plants have put on a bit more weight before fitting anything more than short collars which are only designed to increase the length of the stem. Hopefully, I'll be able to start the blanching process blanching before the end of May.
My runner beans are the variety 'Enorma', which were good for me last year. Just 6 plants feeds the 3 of us for most of the summer. The dark patches behind the plants are where I've scattered a handful of pot marigold seeds saved from last year.
I've got several modules of brassicas on the go. These are Cauliflower 'Raleigh' and Purple Sprouting. Cabbage and broccoli plants are going to be a little later this year.
Other than a few lettuce plants and Dwarf French Beans (var. Speedy) I filled my largest raised bed with what I hope will end up as large onions. The varieties are 'Mammoth Red', Kelsae and a locally saved selection from Kelsae stock that I was given some time ago last autumn.
Woke up to much the same cloudless, but noticeably warmer morning. The poor old dog had to endure an even earlier outing at 6.30am. She was not amused until she realised I'd got a load of dog treats in my pocket. The first big event was that the following bacon sandwich benefited from the addition of a fried egg, thus creating the classic weekend breakfast. I think I'll designate the bacon sandwich as my signature dish.
Today it was the turn of the smaller 'Vento' and 'Centro' onions to get planted out. Although I had great hopes for 'Vento', now that the seed is no longer pelleted, again I've been disappointed with the germination rate at about 75% as opposed to 100% for 'Centro'. So, it's the latter that is better represented. All in all, I now have around 80 plants in the newest of the raised beds.
Last year, we suffered high winds through much of the earl;y part of the summer which severely damaged the top growth of my onions. I quickly cobbled together a windbreak for one of the beds which worked well, but those not protected were badly damaged. The upshot is that I've constructed easily removable protection for the whole crop this year.
New sowings were made of Marrow var. 'Table Dainty', Cabbage var. 'Golden Acre', Lettuce var. 'Little Gem' and more Dwarf Bean 'Speedy'.
Finally, knocked this together. What is it, I hear you ask. All will be revealed in about a month or so, at a guess.
So, that was pretty much it for the long weekend on the plot. A very pleasing couple of days.
I started these couple of posts with a picture of the plot as it was on Saturday morning. By last night, it looked like this. Happy days!
Well, at last the Winter appears to be over. Having said that, we had a couple of frosts at the beginning of last week, and the possibility of low night temperatures were mentioned on last night's forecast for later this week. Hopefully, I've got enough protection set up in my greenhouses to minimise the risk to young plants.
It's been a rather frantic couple of weeks with everything needing attention at the same time. Other commitments have meant that every spare daylight moment has needed to be spent trying to keep on top of things. Later today I begin my habitual business trip to Manchester, Stockport and Huddersfield, so nothing more will get done on the plot before the middle of next week. While in Huddersfield tomorrow, I'm going to visit Pauil Bastow's latest venture for a light lunch, his tapas restaurant, Casa Colina, in Slaithwaite, which apparently is rapidly becoming the must visit destination north of Watford. The attached ferreting museum is World renowned, so I'm given to believe. I'll hit Trip Advisor with my review next week, so the food better be good. LOL!
The main greenhouse is packed to bursting, with so many plants catching up lost momentum due to the cold weather. The legacy of the dreadful winter we've all endured is that just about everything is about 3-4 weeks behind where it should be for the end of April. The current rate of growth would seem to indicate that most crops will catch up, but whether they perform as well as usual remains to be seen.
This photo shows a mixed bag of onions and flowering plants. In the left corner is a locally bought large, white onion which I've set for seed. This is the third (or fourth!) year I've tried this, but without success. This year will be different..........
Here we have more onions, Gardener's Delight tomatoes and, in the background, my chilli plants which are well behind previous years.
In the top photo you can see my John Trim Pendle leeks which are also a couple of weeks behind. Having said that, they're now growing well and should produce reasonable specimens for the village show in September. Also on the bench are Dwarf French Beans, a tray of Autumn Giant leek seedlings and modules of cauliflower, cabbage and brocolli.
My first batches of carrots have just been sown. Sow far, I have Sweet Candle, Purple Haze and Early Nantes. Next month, I'll be sowing more of the same, plus Flyaway.
The first outdoor planting is of Red Baron onions grown from sets. After a slow start in pots in the greenhouse, they've started to come on well and were planted out on Sunday. This is the first time I've grown red onions from sets and I'm only taking this route as I forgot to order seed last Autumn!
The second outdoor planting is of 'Show Perfection' peas.
The third is of just a few parsnips - we don't eat that many.
That's really about it for now. The only things I haven't mentioned are the runner beans (Enorma) which have just germinated, Dometica tomatoes and courgettes which are just sown. Finally, I've prepared a mini raised bed with well rotted cow shite, horticultural sand and good quality compost which is destined to be the home for the best of my Long Green Trailing marrow plants. I'm going to try and grow a seriously big marrow this year, and to quote the late Harry Worth, 'I don't know why, but there it is.'
Well, it's now a couple of weeks since we had any rain or snow worth talking about and the soil on the plot is just about workable for the first time since last October. Surly this must have been the most vicious winter we've endured for many a decade. So, I dug out my little electric rotavator and gave the plot a good going over. I'll run over it again over the weekend and a couple more times over the next few weeks so that I have a good and fine tilth for the early sowings and planting out.
After a certain amount of nagging from 'er in doors, I moved 7 bags of compost off the drive and, after mixing with various potions, finished filling my 3 carrot boxes and the parsnip box. 'Various potions' means sharp sand, Vermiculite, Sulphate of Potash, Superphosphate, Vitax Q4 and lime.
Last week I set my parsnip seed to chit. Now the seeds showing signs of life are sown in bio-degradable tubes filled with MG compost.
Have sown my tomato seeds indoors. This year, once again, I'm growing 'Dometica' which has a lovely balance between flavour and a shape suitable for showing.
Exactly a week after they were set out to chit, the first four seeds have come to life. They've now been planted in biodegradable tubes filled with MG compost. Hopefully they will be showing through the compost within a fortnight or so.
With the weather still bitterly cold, there's no immediate prospect of getting anything else done this side of Easter as far as the plot is concerned. However, on my day off on Wednesday, I'm hoping to get my main tomato sowing done, The Gardener's Delight are now germinated but will remain in the growing chamber until the weather warms up.
As far as the current contents of the greenhouse are concerned, mostly onions and leeks, they will catch up to a degree, but I'm getting close to giving up on producing any show stoppers this year.
Well, it's back to arctic conditions her with bitterly cold wind, rain and a real threat of more snow if the temperature drops by another couple of degrees. It really is very depressing, to the point that I'm seriously considering just producing good kitchen quality crops this year,. rather than attempting grow top quality stuff which may or may not get entered into local shows. Just about everything I've sown so far this year is way behind, probably by almost a month in the case of some of my onion seedlings. At least my Pendle Improved leeks are growing away nicely, but even they are behind by a couple of weeks or more.
The only outside job I've done today, before the rain set in, was to plant out the first of my shallots into the big planter I built a couple of years back. These are bulbs saved from my last years crop which were planted at Christmas. They're OK, but growing rather erratically and are certainly not as good as at this time last year. I've still got quite a few new Hative de Niort and Jermor bulbs in pots in the greenhouse which I'll try and get planted out by Easter. Sorry there's no photo, but the rain started before I had a chance to do it.
I'm not growing as many parsnips as usual this year as we just don't use enough of them to justify it. However, I do like to grow some, so I've set the seed out to chit as usual. The reason for chitting is quite simple. Firstly, with parsnip seed being somewhat fickle when it comes to germination, starting them off in the kitchen on damp kitchen towel means that one can eventually plant only those seeds that have actually sprung into life. Secondly, starting them off this way seems to give stronger plants earlier. Thirdly, it involves little effort other than placing the seed on on the wet paper in a saucer and putting a glass over them . They'll start shooting in a week or so and be planted into compost immediately they show that first sign of life.
By 7am yesterday, the garden was bathed in the first serious sunshine we've experienced in 2013. By 9am, the aforementioned sun had begun to warm the air resulting in a truly Spring-like day. Fortunately, I had nothing planned, other than to work in the garden. Even 'er in doors appeared outdoors, together with the Director of Horticulture. However, the latter seemed more inclined to playing football rather than helping!
As I am still recovering from a chest infection and a flu-like bug, I thought it best to get the only urgent heavy job out of the way first and then do the easy stuff later. This involved moving the remaining pile of topsoil that has sat on my drive for the best part of 8 months. The soil has always been earmarked for the new raised bed I put together in January, but this has been the first opportunity to finish filling it owing to the persistent wet weather of late. Anyway, it's done now. All that remains is to slowly but surely incorporate it into the existing compost by going over it a number of times with a 3 prong cultivator, followed by a good raking to produce a fine tilth.
The same wet weather that has stopped me from filling the raised bed has also meant that I haven't yet been able yet to rotovate the open part of the plot or indeed, do anything to it. The remains of last years crop of spinach is still in the ground having survived temperatures down to -5C and starting to send up new growth.
I've now tidied up the plants in the hope that I'll get a nice early crop well before this years sowings mature.
The only real job of consequence to do in the greenhouse was to fit the first collars to my 'Pendle Improved' leeks in order to encourage them to lengthen. I'm not too optimistic that I can produce leeks to the same standard as last year's, but I'll certainly have a go
While on the subject of leeks, for general kitchen use, I've sown 60 stations with 'Autumn Giant' seed, a variety that I haven't tried before. They're now in the warmth of my office until germination.
Other sowings included Chilli - 'Demon Red', Cauliflower - 'Raleigh' and Cabbage - 'Golden Acre' and Lettuce - 'Little Gem'.
Last week, Thompson & Morgan sent me a 'come back, all is forgiven' mailshot which included a £5 voucher. This was timely seeing as I'd planned to buy some 'Gardener's Delight' tomato seed which I'd forgotten to get, some more chilli seed to replace the failed 'Firecracker' sown just after Christmas and 3 packets of Cosmos seed. The whole lot for £2.10. Cant be bad!
Finally, I found 2x 15-cell modules in one of my propagators with onion seedlings poking through but without labels. I think they're the remains of my 'Vento' seed, but I'm not at all certain. Age does wonders for the memory.......not!
Suffering from some sort of winter bug has stopped me doing anything much outdoors for the past couple of weeks. There's nothing that won't wait for a few more weeks when, hopefully, the weather will be starting to settle down a bit. I hate bloody winter!
In doors, things are starting to move on as expected. I've only got onions, leeks ands shallots on the go,but all seem to be coming on fine. This week it was the turn of my Vento and Centro onions to get repotted.
The Centro, were re-housed in 3" square pots in Humax MG compost. At the next re-potting, they go into a stronger growing compost from Sinclair.
I usually leave re-potting until the plants are growing on strongly and filling their module cells with roots. However, most seem to re-plant when the seedlings are at the crook stage so, with this in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I sowed a batch of 'Vento' in small cells. They have now been re-planted into 24 cell modules to grow on.
That's it for now. Hardly an exciting post, but hopefully things will start to get busier within a couple of weeks.
Given the set up I have, the onions I'm growing in root trainers are coming on fine as can be seen in the photo above. Varieties are Kelsae, a Kelsae-type strain from a local grower and Mammoth Red.
Last week it dawned on me that I had forgotten to order any red onion seed this year, other than the Mammoth Red. My local rip off garden centre didn't have any seed so, as I've never grown red onions from sets, I thought I'd give them a try and bought a small bag of Red Baron. I've now got 45 planted in 15 cell modules in the greenhouse.
Other than sowing a small tray of both red and white Cipollini onions, that was it for today. Hopefully, I'll have a bit more to report later in the week..........weather permitting!
From bitterly cold last week to an outside temperature yesterday of 13°C and almost 19 in the greenhouse. Now, we have torrential rain forecast yet again, but at least it's another bright day today. The ground is still absolutely sodden so it's still a case of no work being done on the plot. Actually, there's nothing vital that need my attention just now, but it would be nice to spread the work now rather than have it all build up for the spring.
So, with the above in mind, it was a case of rearranging the greenhouse and sow a few more seeds.
The John Trim leeks have settled in well. They are now all in the greenhouse on heated mats which should encourage strong root growth. I also moved all my December sowings of large onions into the greenhouse but am keeping an eye on the nightime temperatures as I don't want them getting too cold.
On the plot, the garlic has emerged unscathed from being covered in 4" snow for a week or so. All 42 cloves that I planted in October are shooting well, with some varieties really motoring. The 4 elephant garlic cloves are also doing well, although only 2 out of 3 of my own stock from last year have broken into life.
Back in the early autumn, at the behest of my dearly beloved, I bought half a dozen French Tarragon plug-plants online. One didn't survive the first week, but the other 5 appeared to be doing quite well until early November when they all appeared to die quite suddenly. I dumped them next to my compost bin still in their pots and watering tray and forgot about them. Since that day, the tray has been permanently full of water, they've suffered temperatures down to -5°C, and been covered in snow on 2 occasions, most recently for a full week. Whilst tidying up yesterday afternoon, I noticed them in their pseudo-aquarium and, to my amazement, they were all showing signs of new growth. So, once drained, they again reside in the greenhouse drying off!
For the record, unlike the more usually seen Russian Tarragon, French Tarragon is not hardy in the UK........apparently!!!
I also sowed the last of my 'Centro' onion seed having achieved 100% germination from the first sowing.