The trials and tribulations of a small garden vegetable patch in Kent.
By their very nature, diary based blogs such as this become repetitive after a couple of years and it's increasingly difficult to find something new to add. However, after a 2 year break and a bit more time on my hands, Vegpatchblog is re-born. I hope you enjoy my often frivolous ramblings.
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.
The greenhouse is starting to fill up now. With British Summertime starting on Sunday, I've turned off in the early morning and evening lighting. The propagator is still running at 20 degrees as are a couple of the heated mats.
A little later than last year, mostly due to the rather cold weather we're getting, but Friday was glorious warm sunshine all day inspiring me to sow all my various tomatoes seeds. This year's selection are:
'Dometica' - my prefered variety for both kitchen and the village show. They've won me a red card 3 years running.
'Gardener's Delight' - popular small fruited variety that are perfect for outside against a south facing wall.
'Golden Cherry' - thought I'd have a go at these by way of a change. As a bonus, there's a class for them in the local show.
'Cherry Cascade' - 'walk past, pick and eat variety' The grandchildren love them! Good in salads.
'Big Boy' - a beef tomato. Trying them for the first time.
I've also acquired 6 seeds of 2 varieties that are reputed to produce giant fruit. Looks like I've got a full greenhouse to look forward to!
Re-potted my chillies into 4" pots and moved from the propagator to bottom heat only. Their next move will be into their final large pots. I have high hopes for a bumper crop this year as the plants are well ahead of where I normally get them to at this stage,
Finally, I planted out the last of my shallots which will be destined mostly for the kitchen although a few will likely be kept back as seed for 2016. Varieties are 9 each of Jermor and Hative de Niort.
I have a feeling that little else will be achieved on the plot this weekend if the weather forecast is to be believed.
Having dreadful soil for root crops, for some years I've grown my carrots in 18" high raised wooden boxes filled with a compost mix of my own making, but based on that devised by a friend who has had considerable success in both local and national veg shows. The advantages of growing this way are two fold. Firstly, the compost is designed purely with carrots in mind and produces super results both in terms of size and quality. Secondly, being raised, the incidence of Carrot Fly damage is rare. I shall raise the beds still higher using very fine mesh netting soon after sowing, which will be in mid-April. The downside is the cost of the compost which, although based on a recycled peat-based mix from my local private nursery, makes the resultant crop financially not worth growing.. However, it's all part of the quest to be partly self-sufficient on the vegetable front, so worth it to me.
For the first year, I've managed to save enough of last years shallot bulbs for this years crop. These are 'Hative de Niort' that were started in pots in the cold greenhouse just after Christmas. The planter, constructed several years ago, has done me well and is used every year for my exhibition bulbs, followed by cascading tomatoes and various salad mix crops.
Sowings this week so far have been sunflowers for the garden and shallot seeds var 'Ambition' which I've grown with some success in previous years.
Finally, I was busy buying the various ingredients for my carrot box compost at a local nursery when I spied a variety of onion sets I didn't recognise. Called 'Picko Bello', they are described as, 'anew variety which is an improved 'Sturon'. Very high yielding is is good for storage.' As they were being sold loose, I bought just 20 sets purely to run a trial on them. They have been planted straight into the plot at my habitual 6" spacing.
It's been a full month since my last post, but then again, not a lot has happened. The cold and rather wet weather has been a significant factor stopping me from preparing the plot for the new season and growth has proceeded much as expected in the greenhouse. However, I'm wondering whether seedlings have made as much early growth as usual, which may be due to the problems of heating a much larger greenhouse than I'm used to. Another learning curve to work on.
The first out door planting of the season has been made. 50 'Karmen' onion sets are now planted at 6" intervals between both sets and rows.
The second outdoor planting has also been made! These are garlic plants from a bulb I got from my local farm shop. You know, the ones that seed merchants say you shouldn't use because they are likely to be disease riddled. Hmmmm!
Finally, other than spinach, the last of the 2014 crops have been lifted.
It's been a rather hectic couple of weeks, hence the lack of activity. But, it's back to normal now, so here's a quick update.
With the outside temperature ranging from just above freezing point to around 4˚, what little work that I've done has been in the greenhouse. The overall view above shows shallots, leeks, onion seedlings and sets with my chillies out of sight in the propagator. All are coming on well with the addition of bottom heat and the air temperature a few degrees above freezing overnight.
Rather 'leggy' Sweet Peas in the foreground, followed by shallots and garlic.
Leeks now fitted with 9" collars to encourage shaft length.
As already mentioned, with some doubt as to whether my 'Kamal' red onions are going to perform, I bought a bag of 50 'Red Baron' sets today. They have been put into 7cm pots filled with damp MG compost and put in the greenhouse to get them away. I'm not a great fan of sets, as opposed to seed, but needs as needs must.
My largest raised bead, which measures around 18' x 6' has never really produced the quality veg I had originally envisaged. so I decided to raise it by another height of decking timber and add a big bag of pukka topsoil. I did the woodwork before Christmas and had the bag of topsoil delivered yesterday from my local nursery. It took me around an hour to barrow around ¾ ton from my drive to the bed, but well worth it. Lovely rich, dark soil and a back ache!
I was hoping to show a proper picture of the new bed, but a sprinkling of snow put paid to that plan, but I'm sure you get the basic idea.
The germination of my mid-January onion seed sowings has been mixed. 'Both Toughball' and 'Kamal' are well behind 'Centro' which you can read about below. They were all sown on the same day in the same conditions, so I think it must be a seed issue. I may have to re-sow.
As can be seen above, my sowing of 'Centro' onions have germinated well and are now at the 'crook' stage, so it's time to move them into their first pots (7cm) filled with a fine growing on compost from Sinclair. The seedlings lean to the right because they were germinated close to the window in my office
In all, I've potted up 195 little plants so far which are getting a little bottom warmth from a couple of heated mats until they're established and the weather gets just a little warmer.
The half tray in the middle contains part of my early sowing of 'Ailsa Craig' and the 3 potes contain olive tree seedlings that I grew from seed last year.
For several years I've suspected that those who insist that supermarket garlic is riddled with disease and completely unsuitable for the home grower are either professional seed bulb growers, retailers or their accomplices. Strange, isn't it, that those who ignore this 'wisdom' don't seem to have any disease problems. So, it was with this in mind that I bought the above from Mr Tesco today, split it into individual cloves and planted up pots. Why pots, you may well quite reasonably ask. With the amount of torrential rain we've had over the past week or so, the plot is absolutely drenched, to the degree I feel it prudent to start the cloves off in pots and plant out when it dries up a bit.
My main onion crop has been sown today. Varieties are Toughball, Centro and Kamal and I hope to be able to plant out around 100 of each in late Spring. They've been conventionally sown in small trays and will be picked out into individual pots in a fortnight or so. The trays currently reside in small heated propagators at around 18C
I get a kick out of the first signs of growth every year. Predictably, it's shallots (planted 1st. Jan) and onions (sown 8th. Jan). The shallots are on the bench without any heat, where they'll remain, However, the onions (var. Ailsa Craig) are in the propagator at a temperature of 17½C and will be moved to a cooler environment once fully germinated and starting to grow away, I find it best to grow onions 'hard' in frost free conditions, without too much heat. The resultant plants don't display the legginess of those grown in a warmer atmosphere.
There are 2 schools of thought as to how onions should be sown and grown. Conventional wisdom suggests that the seed should be grown in trays of compost and moved to modules at the crook stage just after germination. I can't see a great advantage in this over my habit of sowing directly into the modules and thus avoiding disturbing the very young roots. With my main sowings, which I'll do later this week, I shall compare both methods to see if there is any appreciable difference in the rate of development.
For around 15 years I've been growing enough chillies to supply us, the family and discerning friends with more than than any of us could ever eat in a year. So, it is with a heavy heart and a full freezer I am restricting my capsicum activities to just one hot variety this year. In fact, very warm would be a better description as it is only rank amateurs that can't cope with 'Inferno'.
Chilli F1 Hybrid 'Inferno' (Library photo)
Inferno differs from the generally perceived idea of what a chilli should look and taste like. Firstly, there's it's size. It's around 5"-6" long and about 1½" in diameter. Secondly, from the tip upwards for around 5" it's quite mild. However, when you get to the bit nearest the stem, the heat comes in strongly, but so much as to blow your brains out. These are fine chillies for roasting, frying or putting on the BBQ with chicken or burgers. They're not much good for curries. They freeze well and are a doddle to grow.
I've sown a little 12 module with one seed per module and placed them in the heated propagator. I would hope I'll get some germination in around 10 days to a fortnight.
Normally, I've sown 'Kelsae' seed between Christmas and New Year but as I'm not bothered about growing big onions this year, I've not bothered to sow particularly early. By way of a change, I'm trying 'Ailsa Craig' this year for no other reason than I've not done so before. I'm ignoring the 'Exhibitor's Favourite' message on the pack which is, of course, rubbish, and growing them purely to see how good they are for the kitchen.
So, I've sown 60 seeds in individual modules in Sinclair's pro module compost which is lovely and fine. I've mixed it with about 10% Vermiculite and placed said modules in the propagator to germinate, which should happen in a week or so.
As ever, John Trim has supplied superb leek plants. Height from base of stem to tip of flags is around 30cm, a size I couldn't hope to achieve by this time of year with the amateur set up I've got.
All 20 plants have been potted in Sinclair's Fine Pro Potting Medium which I get from my local proper nursery. A purest would suggest I should be using the Levington's pro range, but it isn't easy to find in these parts. Anyway, I've used the Sinclair for several years with good results. As you can see, the plants now reside in my newly acquired thermostatically controlled Vitopod propagator which I've set at 20˚C to give them a good start.
On the button, my Pendle Improved leek plants have arrived from John Trim. They are in superb condition as always and have immediately been placed in a jug of water to revive them. John suggests 2 or 3 hours in water, but as usual it'll a day before I can plant them up so they'll stay in water overnight in the kitchen, which will do no harm.
The new, much larger greenhouse will greatly widen what I'm able to grow and allow me to experiment with varieties I've steered clear of in the past. I also managed to get hold of a nearly new double height, double length Vitopod Electric Propagator on Ebay for virtually half price which, together with my assortment of more basic units and heated mats will mean I'll be able to raise seedlings much more efficiently than in previous years.
For the past 3 years I've bought my leek plants (var. Pendle Improved) from John Trim in Southampton. Raising young exhibition leek plants from 'grass', as opposed to seed, is rather too specialist for me at this stage, so I'd rather leave this specialist task to an expert. This year's plants should be with me next week. Expensive though it may be, the rewards are worth it, in my view. In my local village show, I've won Best in Show for 3 years running with them and also have enjoyed eating the surplus which, incidentally, are still holding well on the plot as I write.
Garlic 'Christo', planted October 2014
My garlic growing efforts have not been too successful for the past couple of years, but I'm not giving up on them as the bulbs should be easy to grow and we use a lot in the kitchen. For 2015 I'm growing 'Christo' which were planted in late October and are growing strongly in the relatively warm Winter we're having so far. To produce really good bulbs, garlic needs a spell of really cold conditions which we will likely get during the next month or two.
As far as seeds are concerned, I've again ensured that I'll have a very busy few months starting in a week or so with the first onion sowings. As I'm not trying to grow seriously big onions this year, I'm starting a little later than usual. Here's what I plan to grow:
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Tomatoes - var. Dometica, Golden Cherry and Big Boy
Sweet Pepper - var. Bell Boy
Chilli - var. Inferno (hoping they don't x-pollinate with the sweet peppers)
Aubergine - var. Bonica
Melon - var. Jade Lady and Edonis
Cucumber - var. Carmen
ON THE PLOT
Beetroot - var. Pablo
Red Cabbage - var. Huzaro
French Bean - var. Speedy
Carrot - var. Flyaway, Sweet Candle and Purple Haze
Celeriac - var. Prinz
Courgette - var. Tosca
Leek - var. Porbella
Lettuce - Robinson and Little Gem
Marrow - var. Table Dainty
Onion - var. Toughball, Centro, Santero, Ailsa Craig, Kamal and Cipollini
Shallot - var. Hative de Niort (from bulbs) and Ambition (from seed)
Pea - var. Boogie
Runner Bean - var. Enorma
Spinach - var. Leaf Beet
Sweet Corn - var. Zuccherino
In addition, just for the hell of it, I'll grow a few one-off bits and pieces from the European Giant Vegetable Association and a few flowers for the garden.
The majority of my seed comes from Shelley's Seeds who, although by no means the cheapest, consistently have performed well for me. I also get a few bits from T&M .
Well, it's been a couple of years since I've given this blog the attention it deserves, but all that is about to change. I've now retired and looking after my garden, and in particular my veg patch, is high on the list of priorities. If you want to get up to speed with where I was, then take a look at my posts from previous years.
So, here we go..........
My retirement present to myself was a new greenhouse. It's a 12'x12' 'Rhino' from Greenhouses Direct and is awesome! However, if I could wind back the clock, I'd have paid a little extra and got it professionally erected. Don't get me wrong, it's a great greenhouse, but the instructions that came with it are the worst I've ever encountered for any product ever, despite being authored in the UK. Professional builder friends with extensive experience of such matters were equally amazed at such poor guidance and could offer little help. Whatever, we got there eventually in early November, as you can see.
I've traditionally planted my exhibition shallot bulbs immediately after Christmas, but decided to wait until New Year's Day this year. They are my own saving from last year's crop which were originally given to me by Simon Smith, the legendary Smithyveg and retired blogger from Leicester. The original strain was developed from Hative de Niort exhibition bulbs.
The bulbs were planted up to their shoulders in MG compost and are the first occupants of the new greenhouse. However, I really struggle to store shallot bulbs of this variety as they are particularly prone to rotting over the late Autumn and early Winter, so I fear this might be my last attempt at growing show shallots, unless my luck changes.
That's it for the moment, but I'll be back very soon with a list of what I plan to grow this year.
Yup, no rain from dawn to dusk. In fact, the sun's been out all day, which is typical, as 'er in doors decreed that we were going shopping for new bedroom furniture this morning and family were dropping by this afternoon. I did manage an hour or so of pottering...........and a ½ hour in The Queens Head!
For years I was loosing around 20% of my onion crop to White Rot, that is until last year when it was suggested that I soaked my raised beads in the Autumn with diluted Armillatox. Having also been told that White Rot was virtually impossible to get rid of in the short term, I felt I had nothing to lose apart from the cost of the treatment. In 2013 I had zero White Rot, and zero botrytis. Luck? Possibly, but I reckoned it was worth trying again. So, 45 litres of the dilution have watered onto the beds today. Rain prevented me from doing the job in the Winter, but it looks were're in remission from it for a few days. In for a penny, in for a pound!
The cheapest source of Armillatox I found is Ebay.
Even as I right there's a little bit more water descending. Although, I have to say, today has been glorious, albeit chilly.
The leeks received last week from John Trim have settled in well. New growth is apparent. They're sitting on a heat mat which should give them a really sound start. Today I gave then their first supports in the hope that this will encourage them to grow nice and straight. The picture shows them next to their shallot bedfellows.
The much talked about 'crook stage' has been reached by my 'Red Baron' onions. I'm going to give them a few more days before re-planting them into 24 cell modules purely to let a few more germinate. I want to end up with around 50 plants at plant out time in April, so three modules should be fine.
Garlic is coming on just fine.
For everyday use, I'm growing 'Porbella' leeks this year by way of a change from Musselboro and Autumn Giant, for no other reason than I fancy a change. A 24-cell module has been sown with 3 seeds per station.
Finally, I've dug 8" deep trenches where I intend to plant my runner beans ans also my show leeks. I've forked in some highly pungent, well matured cow manure into the bottom of the trenches and back-filled. I would have rather have done this back in October, but never quite got round to it. Hopefully, the delay won't make too much difference.
She who must be obeyed without question has decreed that I am to grow banana shallots this year. So, with the consequences of failure too dreadful to think about, I bought 10 bulbs each of 'Longor' and 'Vigarmor' and potted them up in the cold greenhouse today. I think I'll thin them like I do with my show shallots which should give me 80 bulbs as an offering to goddess of all things domestic.
My 'Pendle Improved' leeks plants from John Trim arrived yesterday and were immediately put in a jug of water overnight. As ever, the plants are superb in every way and hopefully will prove winners for the third year in a row at the village show in September.
Today, I trimmed both the roots and top growth before planting them in 4" square pots filled with a mix of Humax Multigrade compost and vermiculite. After watering, they were placed on a heat mat in the greenhouse to settle in. With no cold weather forecast for a few days, they should be just fine. However, I'll create a micro climate for them with a polystyrene sheet enclosure at the weekend to help see them through the worst of the winter.
I've decided that, with a very busy year coming up, that I'll only grow what I know works for me, rather than planting small amounts of anything that purely takes my fancy. This way, with limited time, I should be able to cut down on the time spent on the plot doing non-productive stuff and concentrate on those varieties that are important to me. I certainly will not be growing parsnips or beetroot this year, but will increase the the crop of carrots, onions, shallots and tomatoes. Cucumbers, chillies, courgettes and marrowes will feature, but along with runner beans, will be allocated the same amount of space as in previous years. Brassicas may feature, but not to any great extent. With luck, I'll be retiring in 2015 and everything will change again. Happy days!
Other than a small batch of Kelsae onion seed that I sowed at Christmas, today was bulk sowing day of both onions and the first batch of chillies.
For the kitchen, and hopefully my local show, I've returned to 'Toughball' which I first tried in 2012 with success. I've also sown the remainder of last years 'Vento' seed which has also been successful for me in past years. Although I habitually sow my onions direct into modules, with both of these I've sown in small trays with a view to transplanting into modules when they reach the 'crook' stage, probably in about 10-14 days. They now reside in one of my heated propagators.
By way of a change, I also sowed a tray of a large, white onion, 'Tonda Musona' which I got from T&M. They're billed as, 'stunning, large, rounded, white-skinned bulbs with crisp white flesh.', and 'well suited to storing'. Should be interesting. I've sown just 2 just varieties of chilli so far as we seem to have rather a lot in the freezer just now. Some years ago, I discovered 'Serrano' which is a really tasty and quite hot variety, and I thought I'd try them again. I also sowed a batch of 'Ring of Fire' which is a good, reliable early variety which seems to produce prolifically whatever the summer weather. I may sow another variety yet, but I'm inclined to think that 4 or 5 plants of what's gone in today will likely be ample for this year.
The photo above sows my kit form growing chamber which I resurrect each year. It's very basic, but it works to a degree and suits my needs. On the right are the best 22 Kelsae seedlings that have been potted on today. If I end up with 12-15 good size bulbs I'll be happy. Ah, yes. Nearly forgot to report that my Christmas planted Hative de Niort shallots are coming along fine in the cold greenhouse and have today been joined by a measly 7 bulbs of 'Ouddorpse Bruine' from Plants of Distinction. Unfortunately, I won't be dealing with this company again unless they can persuade me that their customer service department actually exists. 3 emails has failed to produced any response and their phone is always on answerphone and messages ignored. They appear to use and separate company to deal with their ordering procedure who are equally disinterested. Bye, bye Plants of Distinction.
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.