Saturday, 27 February 2010

Potting on

The leek seeds have sprouted and have been potted on.  This is earlier than last year, so we may be taking a chance on the weather warming up, but we can easily sow some more seeds if things go wrong.  There are now 105 leeks in pots filling window sills and shelves.  When they have settled down they will go up to the greenhouse for their slow, growth to the thickness of a pencil ready for planting out.  The broad beans are now in the greenhouse to settle down before planting out. Parsnips will not be long before they go into the greenhouse too.

We marked out the plot with plastic markers according to our plan.  The land was very, very wet and claggy and unworkable.  We spoke to Jim who is arranging for some well-rotted manure to be delivered, probably about ten tonnes. He's looking for people to chip in for delivery. Ten tonnes sounds a lot but it won't go that far if many people want it.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


We took a walk up to the site this morning.  It was a misty morning but not quite as cold. All of the snow from the last few days had melted, revealing the weeds slowly taking hold.  These will all be removed when we dig the soil over but that will have to wait until the ground is drier, which will not be this week. 

Something else that appeared when the snow melted was a series of little holes outside of the fence surrounding the plot.  I think they are from mice.  The fence is not buried very deeply so I expect they have tunnelled under it into the plot. We plan to plant peas and beans which mice will happily eat as seeds before they sprout, but our tactic of growing seeds into small plants before planting them out should help.

At home the broad beans are opening out; we will take them to the greenhouse soon.  The leeks too are sprouting nicely.  They will be ready for potting on in a week or two. 

The parsnips are interesting.  The general view is that parsnips are hard to germinate.  This year almost all of the first batch of parsnip seeds we chitted have sprouted.  They have been planted in compost in cardboard tubes and the first leaves are emerging from the compost.  If all of these grow away we won't need to sow any more.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The beginning and end of leeks

The last leeks are in from last year's planting.  This year's leeks are on their way, though there will be a gap of about six or seven months before we can eat them. The land is still too soggy to dig it and too cold to plant anything, so I'm hoping that over the next couple of weeks it warms up and dries out a bit.

Just by the hedge between the site and the road a new sign has been put up.  It is a fancy affair in relief and is hard to miss. It must have cost a few quid, and there is at least one more on another road into the village.

I think they are a bit naff.  I know the village is called Swanland, but there's not much evidence that the name has much to do with swans. The picture is also a bit out-of-proportion; the swan is a bit dumpy and not as elegant as the real thing. I'm sure many people will like it, and I'm probably being grumpy, but I'd sooner the money had been saved or given to charity.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

And we're off ...

The broad beans are shoving their heads through the soil, a few leeks have sprouted and the parsnips have started to push their roots out of their shells.

The broad beans are in pots and will stay there until they go in the ground, but we will take the pots up to the cool greenhouse as soon as proper leaves show so they don't run away. The leeks need transplanting into pots as soon as they are big enough to handle and they too will go up to the greenhouse soon after. The parsnips that have roots showing (chitted) have been transplanted into cardboard tubes.  When they have a couple of proper leaves they will be planted, tubes and all, so the root doesn't get disturbed. The tubes rot away leaving the parsnip free to swell.

Red cabbages, a few carrots and some spinach are in the queue for sowing next.

Monday, 8 February 2010

It has started

The sowing of seeds has started.  Broad beans are in pots, leek seeds are in a tray of seed compost and parsnip seeds are sitting on wet paper to chit them. I like this process, even though every available surface in the kitchen and spare bedroom gradually become covered with trays and pots.  In a couple of weeks there will, hopefully, be fresh young plants shooting up. 

I just hope the allotment will be ready for them. There was a little bit of snow today, with cold and maybe snowy days forecast for this week and into next.  We haven't begun to dig the ground yet, it's much too wet and claggy.  The ground will also be too cold to plant into.  The greenhouse will be fine for the hardy plants and should remain free of frost, but things can get a bit queued up if the cold lasts too long.  On the other hand some things can't be delayed too long either.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

When is spinach not spinach

When it's perpetual apparently. We have grown varieties of spinach over the past few seasons and I really enjoyed some of the fresh young leaves.

Part of the reason for my misunderstanding lies in the way we grow things. Our main route for starting plants is to sow seeds in trays or pots and transplant them to the soil when the young plants can be handled, but that doesn't seem to work well for spinach (or, for that matter, carrots). We did have success with perpetual spinach and when we took a few leaves the plant just throws more out. It was easy to grow but I wasn't convinced about the flavour. The few spinach (non perpetual) plants that did grow didn't like having a few leaves taken, so they bolted, but those leaves tasted great.

The main part of my confusion is that a leaf beet is called perpetual spinach which I thought was a variety of spinach, well you would - wouldn't you?  Even the gardening magazines list perpetual spinach as though it is a spinach.  I finally realised my error because a seed catalogue pointed out the difference.

This all makes sense now. Perpetual spinach is not spinach, its a leaf beet. It can be sown in a pot and transplanted. It is tolerant of having leaves taken. It doesn't taste like spinach.

Real spinach doesn't like being transplanted. It is not tolerant of having some leaves taken so to keep a steady supply it needs to be sown at regular intervals, probably directly in the ground. It does taste like spinach.

I understand now, so I can buy some spinach seeds.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Leeks are great

The leeks that remain are smaller ones that were in-fills.  They are very good, possibly better than the bigger ones.  After the ones Jean took today there's still enough for two more harvests.  We might sow this year's leeks before the last ones are gathered.

Kenilworth Avenue

We popped out to the Kenilworth Avenue Allotment Society and joined for the year.  The fees have doubled to a whole pound.  We saw some White Gem parsnip seeds and they had some Sturon onion sets, so we bought both.  We already had some onion sets, but I thought it was worth buying some more.

The weather forecast is cold for next week, so we'll be cautious about sowing seeds, even though I want to see them on their way.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Seeds are home

The next batch of seeds and sets are home.  The first batch were freebies from a gardening magazine, but these were carefully chosen to match the list of varieties we want. When a specific variety was not there we chose to wait and get it elsewhere, whereas last year we just chose another one. 

The list so far:
Onion setsSturon
CourgettesAll Green Bush
CarrotsKingston F1
Sweet peasold Fashioned Mixed
Mange toutReutzensuiker
PeasKelvedon Wonder
TomatoesGardeners' Delight
Spring onionsWhite Lisbon
LettuceMixed Salad Leaves
SweetcornApplause F1
Red cabbageRed Fuego F1

Most of the choices were long considered, but the red cabbage was a rapid choice - I just fancy growing some. We haven't yet bought parsnip or spinach seeds - we didn't find the varieties we want.  All of this is in addition to our existing seeds, either gathered, free or left over:

PotatoesPentland Javelin
CarrotsNantes Frubund
BeetrootChoggia Pink
Broad beansNorman's Beauties
TomatoesAilsa Craig
BroccoliEarly Purple Sprouting

Let the sowing begin

Monday, 1 February 2010

Time for seeds

I drew up a plan for this year as we were beginning to tidy up last year.  I don't stick to these plans rigidly, but it helps to get straight what you need to do.  I knew where to add the horse manure and where not to (some things don't like manured ground). In the event we didn't get as much manure as we wanted so this year I'll get it early before the riding school has spread it on the surrounding fields. The plan still looks a good place to start.

I've been going through the list of seeds we need for the new season.  It's not just the plant, it's the variety.  I think the variety is a very important part of getting the best tasting vegetables, but we are still working out what is best for our soil, the local climate and what we prefer.

Last year we grew White Gem parsnips and I think they were better than the Patriot variety we grew the year before.  They tasted a bit better, they grew bigger and there was less rot and canker.  Last year we grew two sorts of courgettes, with the Green Bush being by far the best cropper and a wonderful flavour and texture.  We have grown Musselburgh leeks now for two years and they are superb, big, crisp, tasty, not woody and resistant to bolting. Sturon white onions were dependable, not too strong-tasting and kept well.  The red onions have been a disappointment for two years so we will not grow them. Runner beans have also not passed the taste test. They are easy to grow, but a bit bland, so we will try peas instead. Our own broad beans from saved seeds will be there too. Last year we grew mange-touts for the first time Sugar Bon (snap).  They were tasty, but not strong growing so we might try something else for experience.

In addition we will grow early potatoes (Pentland Javelin), broccoli (Early Purple), sweetcorn and peas for the first time.  There will be some wall flowers that were surplus to the garden pots and some sweet peas for a bit of colour and we might even plant a few marigolds to divert the pests. There are the fruit bushes and the asparagus too. We have to see what the harvest turns out like this year.