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!

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?

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!

Things to do in the garden now

January

There are quite a few things that you can do in January, weather permitting of course. It may seem cold, and drab, and lifeless, but this is the time to start laying the foundations for the year ahead. I love the cold but sunny days on the rare occasion we get them.

Wildlife

One thing that is really important is to feed the birds. I love watching the birds at the feeder, knowing they have had a decent feed today. It’s tough out there, give them a hand. You’ll reap the rewards in the summer, and they will pick off pesky insects that you don’t need in the garden.

Plants and bulbs

It’s not too late to plant some spring bulbs. Tulips will be happy being planted now. Daffodils may be a bit more reluctant to flower this year, but still worth giving it a go. Bulbs don’t like being out of the ground for too long so my advice is to get them in by the end of the month at the very latest. A few pots of spring flowers will brighten any space, no matter how small.

For instant impact, invest in some hardy pansies or violas, they flower through winter. They also have cheerful little faces. I like to have a couple of pots with these in, near the house. They cheer me up no end, and make the garden feel alive.

Vegetables

If you have some space to grow vegetables, and have never done it before, I highly recommend giving it a go. Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, onions and lettuce. You can give peas an early start by covering the area where you want to plant them with some horticultural fleece, or even black bin liners, to warm the soil. Do this for a couple of weeks and then you can sow the seeds directly where they will grow. They may be slow to start but they are vigorous!

You could even grow them in pots, for example a pot that you see at the supermarket that flowers are displayed in. These are often just thrown away. Just ask if you can have some for free, you never know. Punch some holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with multipurpose compost and leave in a sunny spot in the garden, covered with fleece a bin bag. After a couple of weeks sow in the pot for a nice early crop. You will never believe just how good fresh picked peas taste!

It’s also a good time to start buying seed for anything else you want to grow. This is by far the cheapest way to grow your own, and I recommend only growing what you like to eat, starting with some easy vegetables like those mentioned before. There are plenty more easy vegetables but the ones I mentioned are probably the best ones for a novice.

What else am I doing in January?

I am keeping an eye on the weather. This year it has been very mild, and if we do have a very cold snap I may give the onions and garlic a little protection.

I planted these in a raised bed in October, to give me a nice early crop. I can then use the space for a second crop of fast growing vegetables like peas, or beans. Although they are hardy, I wouldn’t want to lose them if we have a “Beast from the East” again.

I will be topping up my remaining three raised beds and covering them to warm the soil a little. February to April are generally the busiest months for sowing, so I want to be ready.

I will also resist looking at any more seed catalogues, I have more than 100 packets, and think that is plenty for now!

What will you be doing in January in the garden, tell me!

Potatoes, potatoes

I grow potatoes, I have done for about three years now. This time of year is perfect for deciding which ones to grow. I just love potatoes fresh out of the earth!

There are many varieties out there, and it can be confusing to say the least. It doesn’t have to be, with just a little knowledge.

What do I need?

Having said that, potatoes are really, really easy to grow. If you are short on space you can grow them in a bucket, or an empty compost bag. As long as your chosen container has drainage holes, they will grow.

All you need apart from the container is fresh multipurpose compost. Then you need a fertiliser such as fish, blood and bone or chicken manure pellets. And water, and of course time.

What variety to buy?

There are a couple of things to bear in mind. First of all decide whether you want to grow salad, otherwise known as early potatoes. Some examples are Charlotte, or Swift. Alternatively try main crop, which are the ones you would buy for perfect roast potatoes. Popular varieties are Rooster, King Edward, Desiree, etc. etc.

Early potatoes are waxy and good for boiling and salads, as a general rule. Main crop are floury and are best for roasting and baking.

However there are varying degrees of each and some start waxy and become floury if left to grow on for example.

There are many reputable companies selling seed potatoes. Here are some I have used myself:

https://www.jbaseedpotatoes.co.uk/

https://www.thompson-morgan.com/vegetables/potatoes

https://www.vanmeuwen.com/fruit-and-vegetables/vegetables/potatoes

https://www.suttons.co.uk/Gardening/Potatoes+Onions+Garlic/Seed+Potatoes/

What next?

Browse the potatoes and see what will work for you. Try to choose varieties with good overall disease resistance. I am sure that you want to enjoy the growing process, rather than worry about constantly protecting your crop.

After that, wait for the next instalment. I will cover what to do with your potatoes when you receive them.

Here is my very small but perfectly formed first harvest!

Small potatoes!

Are you new to growing potatoes? What questions do you have?

Garden update Monday 14 January

A knock on the door rudely awoke me early this morning. It was a delivery, I was confused. I had no idea what it could be, had I been sleep shopping?

Luckily, sleep shopping it was not. It turned out to be a bulk delivery of bird food. I had bought 25 kilos of sunflower hearts, 150 net free fat balls and 3 kilos of meal worm flavour suet pellets, yum!

Later in the morning, the delivery was taken down to my little shed, where all my bird food supplies are kept. Then, I realised just how pleasant it was outside today, a balmy 9 Centigrade (48 Fahrenheit in old money).

When suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a little glint of orange in the pale winter sun. What on earth could be so bright at this time of the year? Well, it was this:

A beautiful, perfect calendula, in January! What a delight nature is sometimes.

And so to the jobs

Back to the real reason for the post, a garden update. Not a lot to report, however the onions and garlic are still growing well. Slow growth would be the norm, but they are well on their way. The mild winter, so far, has helped. I am growing white onions and soft neck garlic, autumn plantings for both.

rhdr

I’ve had to put a piece of old fencing over the raised bed to stop the local cats and other wildlife using the bed for a toilet/digging patch. I used just a few clothes pegs and sticks to keep it in place.

It was so nice, just for a few minutes, to feel the sun on my face. I also tidied up some pots, removing all the dead foliage. It is amazing how doing just a few minutes on a small project can made you feel better.

How do you find little lifts in your day?

Happy New Year! Happy New Blog!

Happy New Year

So, having thought about this for rather more time that I will admit to, I decided to finally put fingers to keyboard. It all started, just a couple of years ago. I found that gardening was more than just bunging a few bedding plants in pots. A bit more than watering them when I remembered. I realised that it actually helped me in so, so many ways. For example, from growing some potatoes in pots as an experiment, to designing and building a fully fledged mini garden allotment. Also, and very importantly, to giving time for my poor overworked brain to rest and recuperate after a series of highly stressful life events.

You can imagine that this came as a bit of a shock to me, and my family. Having been pretty much a lifetime snubber of anything remotely green and leafy, it was a real about turn. And it came at the right time, really really at the right time. Just when I needed something else, to calm the stressed mind. To focus on something different, to nurture, and to reap the rewards of my efforts.

So, I’d like to share the journey with you, both what has gone before and what is to come. Gentle gardening and a little crafting, for the body and mind!

Glad to have you as company 🙂