Garden update Monday 18th February

A little late this week, sometime life is just life isn’t it! However, this month is for sowing seeds and pruning.

The weather seems to be settling down a bit now, with more sunshine and less storms. This is great and means more garden time. It is still quite breezy but that is what sheds are for. I love potting away, sheltered from the elements in here.

Inside little violets' shed.
Inside the shed

I have sown the first seeds, including the sweet peas I soaked in the last post. Also, some pak choi (var. green revolution) and shallots (var. zebrune). The propagator in the spare room has been cleaned up and switched on to warm up. The tomato and chilli seeds are going in there imminently.

Sweet peas, pak choi and shallots
Sweet peas, pak choi and shallots

Elsewhere in the garden I checked on the fruit bushes. I have gooseberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blueberries and kiwi. All of these were new last year and all planted in containers. Many soft fruits do well in containers, including this selection. I bought all my soft fruit here.

Sadly the kiwi didn’t make it for some reason. I suspect it dried out when we were on holiday for two weeks last year, and never recovered. The gooseberry I am crossing my fingers and hoping. It was defoliated twice last summer due to caterpillar infestation. They munched through it in a matter of hours. I pruned a twig or two to see if there was any green wood inside, and there was. So there may be hope yet.

A little light pruning

The redcurrant and blackcurrant needed light pruning only as they are young bushes. I removed any dead or diseased looking wood, and any crossing branches. This helps with airflow around the bushes and reduces the chance of disease.

The blueberries still have some leaves and looked fine, so I will only top up their container with some fresh compost. Blueberries do not like ordinary compost, they like the soil to be ericaceous. This means that it is slightly alkaline. This type of compost is easily available.

Lastly, the raspberries were pruned to the ground. I have an autumn fruiting variety that fruits on the same years growth (primocane). Pruning right back will stimulate new growth. The other type of raspberry, summer fruiting, will produce fruit on last years growth (floricane). This type should be pruned in autumn, taking out only the canes that fruited that year. They will look brown. Any green canes should be left as they will fruit the following year.

What else is going on?

The spring bulbs are doing well. The primroses/primulas continue to flower well, tulips and puschkinia are making an appearance while the alliums continue to sprout.

I noticed that my small bee and bug hotel has been occupied all winter. The residents must be tucked up safe an warm in there. It took a little while for it to be noticed, but it got noticed!

Bee and bug hotel
Bee and bug hotel

It is getting near the busy time for us gardeners, what have you been up to so far this month?

Garden update Monday 11th February

So, the weather has been typically changeable and unpredictable and mostly very, very windy! Storm Erik tried to wreak havoc, but it didn’t do more than a little tomfoolery in eastern England. (Like blowing off a chimney cover!)

Nonetheless a few things did manage to happen this week. I decided what tomatoes to grow!

I narrowed it down to these four choices.

Tomato seeds
Tomato seeds

From left to right:

Gardeners delight – an old favourite of many gardeners, reliable large cherry tomatoes with a good flavour.

Yellow delight – this is a new variety to me, yellow, pear shaped fruits. Taste – we will have to wait for the verdict on these but I am looking forward to them.

Gigantomo – I bought these as a bit of fun really, to see if I could grow a whopper! The taste, again, unknown.

Orange Paruche – these are by far my all time favourite tomato. Very sweet cherry tomato, not acidic at all, and early ripening. They also germinate very well.

The heated propagator is warming up slowly, and the seeds will be placed in there until they germinate. Then they can be grown in cooler conditions, like a sunny windowsill.

Fragrant thoughts

I’ve never had a lot of luck with sweet peas. That may be because until last summer I did not have a greenhouse, and I don’t have any south facing windows in my house. Any seedlings that I had would go leggy and weak and were not worthy of planting out.

So, this year I hope to be more successful with a greenhouse. I am also soaking my seeds to help them germinate.

Soaking sweet pea seeds
Soaking sweet pea seeds

The reason for this is that the seed shell is hard, and soaking them for 24 hours or so softens that shell and makes germination easier.

Just 12 hour later they have swelled up nicely.

Swollen sweet pea seeds
Swollen sweet pea seeds

The process is easy, soak a square or two of kitchen towel in water and place in some kind of tub. I used a small plastic food saver tub. Place some seeds on the paper (try to stop them from touching), cover, and leave somewhere warm for 24 hours. If your tub doesn’t have a lid, cover the seeds with another damp piece of kitchen towel, or place the whole thing in a small plastic bag.

You can then sow the seeds. I am going to try some in toilet roll tubes, and some in root trainers. Sweet peas like to put down deep roots and toilet roll tubes are great if you don’t have deep pots or root trainers. I am trying both as a little experiment. I will use ordinary multi purpose compost mixed with a little perlite to open up the compost structure. Seeds generally don’t like to site in wet soil so the perlite will help with drainage. Toilet roll tubes are also degradeable, and you can plant them straight in the ground without disturbing the young roots.

Is there another way?

There are other ways to help sweet peas germinate. One is to “nick” one end with a sharp knife. The other is to file one end of the seed until you just break the shell. I am not convinced I have a steady enough hand or the patience for these methods, why make like any more difficult?

Is spring on the way?

Who knows, the tabloid press would have us believe another “Beast from the East” is coming next week.

But for now, there are a few little signs in the garden.

Crocus in the lawn
Crocus in the lawn

Some pretty little naturalised crocus opened up to say hello. This is amazing considering how windy it has been.

What have you done this week? Remember any progress no matter how small, is still progress.

Garden update Monday 4th February

Here on the border of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire we avoided the worst of the weather last week. This was to the delight of some and disappointment of others.

It did, however, allow me some bonus time in the garden. I was very happy about this as I was expecting to get very little done due to the impending weather crisis. I needed inspiration this week. Spending a couple of hours in the winter sun does give me a real lift.

A little disappointment

Firstly, I had to plant some spring bulbs. I had forgotten about a bag of mixed bulbs. I discarded some of the bulbs. sadly. They had gone mouldy. This was my fault as I left them in a padded envelope with no ventilation.

Fortunately, I salvaged most of the bulbs, and I have a few more pots which will hopefully bring some glorious spring colour.

There are Puschkinia (Russian snowdrops), Daffodils (Tete a Tete), Ipheion (mixed), and Fritillaria (Uva-Vulpa) in various combinations.

Pots with spring bulbs
Pots with spring bulbs

Then, off to the local garden centre I went, as I felt an urge for instant gratification. The garden seemed drab. I needed colour, and I needed it now. As I had a voucher for £4 off a £20 spend, what more justification did I need?

So, voucher in hand, I added these beautiful primroses to my basket. In addition followed some daffodils, irises, tulips and snowdrops in the green. This means that they have already started to grow.

Primroses
Primroses

Admittedly, I felt a little naughty for buying them. However should the worst happen and my own bulbs fail to grow, I will have some colour in the garden this spring.

One thing I do like is to have choices and back up plans. Putting all your eggs in one basket runs the risk of disappointment.

Getting on with it

I have a lot of seeds. These are just the vegetable seeds. I need to trim this down a bit!

Many seeds
Many seeds

I simply don’t have the physical space to grow everything here, so I will narrow this down to maybe one third. There are a few duplicates in there and some I may will never grow. These are often freebies bundled with other things that I did want to keep. There are a handful of vegetables that I
really dislike. For example squash, celery and aubergine will never feature on my plot.

Once I have decided what to grow, the seeds need to be sorted into sowing months. I sort my seeds by the first month given to sow. The beauty of nature is that if you forget, have a failed batch or simply don’t have time or space, another later sowing will catch up.

Fortunately, many seeds can be sown over a period of months. This is great for things like peas and carrots where you want to stagger your harvests. There are only so many peas you can eat at once. And they don’t usually feature for breakfast!

Don’t panic!

There is still plenty of time to buy seeds and decide what to sow. Many garden centres are having a clear out and you can pick up packets of seed for 50p or less. Often they will have a year or more left to sow them. I would advise to buy only the freshest seeds for parsnips however. They are notoriously bad for germination and old seeds are almost certainly going to fail.

Nonetheless, I find it exciting to make plans for the year ahead and think about the delicious results to come.

What are your seed plans?

Seedy thoughts

Preparing for the growing year means you have to make a few decisions. I have to make a fair amount of decisions! I spread out all the seeds I have onto the kitchen table, and I was more than mildly surprised.

Vegetable seed collection
Many seeds

There are more seeds than I can grow by far. My evening will now consist of agonising over which ones to grow and which ones will remain in the box. Maybe. I do think plans have to be flexible, as you never know.

For example I bought some sweet pepper seeds, from a reputable source. All but one failed to germinate. The one plant that grew produced a single solitary pepper! This was my first attempt at sweet peppers and I had no other seeds to try. Feeling despondent, I did not bother buying any more pepper seeds that season. The following year I invested in some more, hoping it was simply a bad batch. I was right, the new seeds germinated much better and I grew five healthy plants.

There are many reasons why seeds don’t germinate, and it isn’t always anything to do with you. Some seasons are just better than others. Some seeds have to be fresher than others. Sometimes the conditions are just not quite right.

Now, I prefer to have a selection of varieties so I have a back up plan. Or if I change my mind. Or if I simply cannot resist the feeling you get when you see the little green shoots pop their heads up above the soil for the first time.

Little packages of loveliness

Some seeds are small, uninteresting and nothing to get excited about. Other seeds are fiddly and a pain in the rear to handle. Others, are just delightful to look at!

Runner bean seeds
Runner bean seeds

These are just common old runner beans (or pole beans). I don’t know the variety, but they have the standard bright red flower and long beans. I have saved the seeds every year and these must be the fourth generation of seeds I have saved to grow the next year. They are just gorgeous!

It still amazes me that something so small contains everything to grow a brand new plant, flowers, and the edible results . It’s also a very frugal way of gardening and brings great satisfaction knowing that you raised the plant, and will continue with its “offspring” year after year.

So, I will try and reduce the number of seeds that I plan to grow. I will let you know what I decide on. Watch this space!

Garden update Monday 28 January

The weather has been a bit tempestuous over the last week. We have had sun, howling winds, snow, rain, and lots of dull, dull cloud. It’s enough to make anyone want to hibernate!

The garden, however, does want to get going. I can see there are small signs of life out there. A single aubretia flower, a couple of windswept crocus, small buds forming on the currant bushes for example.

I am so desperate for spring arrive, but I must remind myself that I have made progress. I have planted spring bulbs, well, some of them! Onions and garlic are quietly green, broad beans are snug in the raised beds.

The greenhouse has other ideas, it is tropical in there! Of course, as soon as the sun sinks it will be cold. I wonder if the strawberries I have in there will mind?

Greenhouse heatwave
Greenhouse heatwave

You little chits

Chitting potatoes
Small sprouts

I am happy! I have sprouts (chits) on my seed potatoes, tiny little ones, but they will grow. They arrived just a few days ago, see my post here.

In all honesty, I need to get organised. Spring isn’t really that far away, a little more than a month. The days are noticeably longer now, and soon we will be able to sow seeds in the greenhouse, and direct sow. But first some planning. I have four raised beds and lots of pots. And a very small fruit garden.

With snow forecast this week I may not get many opportunities to get in the garden. What I can do, however, sort out my seeds into order of month to be sown. Planning what to put in my remaining two empty beds for an early crop, and planning what to put in all four as a later crop are also a must.

What plans have you made?

You’re chitting me!

It’s time for all the chit jokes!

Let me explain. OK, simply speaking, chitting is the gardening term for sprouting potatoes. It gives them a little head start for when you do plant them.

Seed potato is also a bit of a misnomer as it is not a seed, it is just a potato. And to further complicate matters, potatoes do actually produce seeds! The berries, following flowering, look like small unripe tomatoes, however THEY ARE POISONOUS – DO NOT EAT THEM.

Back to the seed potatoes. In reality, they are only potatoes which have been saved from last years crop. They are kept in controlled conditions so they remain dormant. Then, they can be planted the following year for a new crop.

Mine arrived this morning, it’s very exciting!

Seed potato var. Vivaldi (second early)
Potato var. Vivaldi (second early)

These are a variety called Vivaldi, you might have seen them hailed as a low carbers dream potato due to their lower carbohydrate content than other varieties. They are classed as “second early”. They can be planted at the same time as any other potato, but they are the second earliest to mature, in about 12-14 weeks after planting. First earlies can mature as early as 10 weeks after planting.

If you have read my earlier post about choosing potatoes, you might have received them already. Don’t worry if you have not chosen, you have plenty of time yet. Here is where I purchased mine. Once you receive them, remove them from the packaging immediately and move on to the next step below.

Let’s talk chit

Sorry, another chit joke!

This is really simple. All you need is something like old egg cartons or a tray lined with newspaper. Place your potatoes “eyes up” like this:

Chitting potatoes
Chitting potatoes

The eyes are the little bumps where the sprouts will grow from. Place the potatoes somewhere bright at cool, I have mine in a spare bedroom. A windowsill or cool porch are ideal. Give the potatoes a quick check over and make sure they all look healthy.

Don’t forget to label them with the variety and date received!

Vivaldi potatoes
Vivaldi potatoes

The sprouts will start to emerge slowly, and healthy ones will be about 1/2 to 1 inch long (1.25 to 2.5cm) long and be a deep purple and green.

Potatoes chitting
Potatoes in position

For reasons I may explain another time, I have no windowsills in my house. Therefore, I have placed the potatoes on top of a propagator (for now) as near to the window as I can.

I check on mine every few days or so and then to make sure that they are ok. I like to ensure that none show signs of going bad, and to turn the box round occasionally so they get even sunlight. Any which start to smell bad, or look like they have rotted must be thrown away, they will only spread disease.

I’ve done the chit, what next?

The next question is, when can we plant them? Some people follow a tradition where they are planted on Good Friday. There is a problem with this, Good Friday can be anywhere from late March to late April.

Some, like me, will plant them about 4 weeks before the last predicted frost date. This great website can tell you when this is in your area (UK and USA only).

I will guide you through the next step when we get closer to planting time. In the meantime, get choosing, buying and chitting!

Yoga – an introduction

Like many, I thought yoga was just a load of silly poses.

I did not know how wrong I was until I tried it. Last year I attended my very first yoga class. Previously, I had bought a second hand DVD from eBay. However after a couple of weeks the novelty wore off and so did the motivation. The DVD sat gathering dust and ended up being donated to charity.

I’m not really sure what made me go to a class, but I will say this. I felt absolutely AMAZING afterwards.

For me, paying for a class is far more motivating than staying at home and finding a reason not to do it. Some of you may not be able to stretch to paid classes, or prefer the privacy of home. You can find many instructional videos on YouTube like this one which I really liked.

What’s yoga got to do with it?

You may ask, what has this got to do with gardening? Well, you would be right, there isn’t a direct correlation. However, I found this, along with gardening, to play a major part of improving my overall well being. It has so many benefits, it will warrant another post about it soon.

As a sufferer of anxiety, part of my own self help was to try things and see if they worked for me. I can say that for me, yoga was an unexpected find. I don’t feel like I am exercising (and I hate exercising), and I feel so relaxed yet energised afterwards.

My teacher is brilliant, never pushes you to do more than your own limits. She always gives you options depending on your ability, flexibility, or if you have any illnesses or injury. I found this most refreshing, and actually makes we want to try those difficult poses even more.

So, have you found something that helps to alleviate stress, anxiety or depression? Has yoga done this for you?

Take care of yourself. Namaste.

Garden update Monday 21st January

Despite threats of freezing weather, it was pleasant enough to get out in the garden today. Lovely and sunny, 6 degrees centigrade and there was no breeze. Almost perfect!

So, I got to work planting tulip bulbs in some fresh multipurpose compost with a few handfuls of horticultural grit to aid drainage. Tulips don’t like wet feet!

Tulip var. Lambada

Firstly I put a layer of the compost/grit mix about 3 inches (7.5cm) deep in the bottom of the pot. I used a fairly big pot, about 12 inches (30cm) deep. Next, I placed the bulbs, pointy side up, on this layer. Can you can see they are raring to go, with little shoots poking out of them already.

Lambada bulbs in pot

Then, cover them gently until you fill the pot up to about one inch (2.5cm) from the top. Tap the pot gently to remove any air pockets, and tamp down the surface lightly. Water well and place in a sunny spot. Don’t forget to label them! I use lolly sticks for plant labels, as they can be composted.

Plant labels

I repeated this with another gorgeous variety, Purple Flag.

Tulip var. Purple Flag

Lastly I fed the birds. The nights have been quite cold, down to -4 degrees centigrade. Its really important that we supplement their food, and keep doing it. Birds do come to rely on food we put out. If we stop then the birds may have wasted a lot of energy to find nothing to eat. Put just enough out for a few days so the food is always fresh. In my garden it never lasts more than a day!

What bulbs are you going to plant for spring?

Feeling meh….

It’s inevitable, the good spirits wear off. Usually when the weather is overcast, dark and miserable, like today.

When I feel less than great, I try and remember to do three things:

-something I need to do

-something I have to do

-something I want to do

Feeling meh

Need

Things you need to do are things that, when not done, have negative consequences. Such as not paying a bill for instance. Today, my “need to do” was sending my proof of no claims bonus to my new car insurance company. The consequences of not doing this would be an increased premium. None of us want to pay more for insurance than we should!

I felt a bit better having done that, knowing it is off my “to-do” list, and one less worry on my mind.

Have

Have to do things are the daily chores of life. For example doing the laundry, or washing up. Or maybe even making tomorrows lunches. The sort of things that keep life running a bit more smoothly. My “have to do” today was to put away some clean clothes and put another load of washing in the machine. I know now that there wont be a backlog of clean clothes followed by a backlog of dirty ones! And the bedroom looks tidier, that’s a bonus!

Want

I think this is fairly self-explanatory. Do something every day that you enjoy, you want to do. Watching a film or your favourite TV programme, an hour in the garden, weather permitting, are some examples. Whatever makes you feel good, lifts your spirits, it is all good.

From personal experience, I know how hard it can be to lift yourself out of the fog and into the light. So even on the darkest days both mentally and meteorologically, just three things can made the difference.

My “want to do” today is watching the snooker on the TV, while painting around the fireplace. I find painting quite therapeutic and love snooker, so that works well for me.

What three things can you do today?

Cool beans

Today I wanted to spend an hour in the garden. It was sunny and mild, and we get precious few days like that in winter.

So, my target was to tidy up one of my raised beds and plant some seeds. I chose to plant some dwarf broad beans, var. The Sutton.

Apparently, it is a little early or a little late to plant them, January being the only month they say not to on the packet. However with the weather mild, and cold weather forecast, I had a window and I wanted to use it.

Dwarf broad beans var. "The Sutton" from Mr Fothergills

I set to work and cleared the bed, and topped it up with a bag of fresh compost. Next I sowed these little beauties 2 inches deep. To stop them rotting in the soil, plant them on their thin side. If the soil is dry, water before planting. My soil was already moist so it did not need watering.

Then I covered them over with soil. Most importantly, I covered the bed with some horticultural fleece. This has two benefits. Firstly it helps to keep the soil warm. Secondly it helps to keep the wildlife off. Well that’s the plan!

rhdr

I bought four of these raised beds last year. They are brilliant, easy to assemble, won’t rot, and can be assembled in a variety of ways.

Sadly, they don’t seem to be available any more. However, if you want to try and find them they are by an Australian brand called Birdies. You can see the raised bed on the other side with the onions and garlic.

It felt great to spend some time in the garden again, only an hour, but I accomplished something. It’s really important to remind yourself sometimes that achieving something every day, no matter how small, is so beneficial for your well being.

And you get to eat the result, what could be better!