Garden update Monday 22nd April – Easter Special

What a glorious Easter is has been, weather wise at least. In the garden there has been a lot of progress, projects beginning and others taking shape. We’ve had almost no rain this month and everything is bone dry. But I do so love these warm sunny days. I hope you have all had a lovely long weekend too.

In the greenhouse

Seeds are still being sown, seedlings are being potted on, and some being moved out altogether. Space is now a premium with all shelves and a lot of the floor being covered with trays.

Some of the seedlings in the greenhouse.
Just some of the seedlings in the greenhouse

It may seem odd, being early spring, but I am thinking about winter and what crops I can grow that can be harvested or overwintered. I have sown kale (var. Emerald Ice) and leeks (var. Lyon) and have some tiny lambs lettuce seedlings already growing. I do like cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but the yield on my small plot would not make it worth the space they need. Kale on the other hand will just keep growing as I keep picking so will be much more productive for the space it needs. Leeks do not take up much space and can be harvested as needed. I will also grow carrots, in particular a variety called “Autumn King” which can also be harvested as needed and will keep perfectly in the ground all winter.

Planting out

Ok, so I have digressed a little speaking about winter. Back to the now! I decided to take the fleece off the broad beans, which were sowed in January. Concerned that the local cats would see this bed of soft earth as a lovely bathroom, I filled the rest with my little pak choi seedlings. I’ve had to half cover it again as I almost had a casualty when I caught a cat digging in it. One pak choi seedling was dug up, however I replanted and watered it and it seems to have survived the onslaught. The broad beans are in full flower now, I can’t wait for that first harvest of little green pods of loveliness!

Broad beans (var. The Sutton - dwarf variety) in flower
Broad beans (var. The Sutton – dwarf variety) in flower

Potato update

The Vivaldi potatoes that I posted abouthave been planted! These are a second early variety, meaning the second earliest to mature, and should be ready to harvest in as little as 12 weeks from now. Once these have been harvested I will put another crop straight in, possibly french beans. I have some early and maincrop potatoes to plant still, these will go in pots. I didn’t want to put these varieties in the raised bed as they were not as good a quality as the Vivaldi’s. So to compensate I will boost the compost they are in with some extra fertiliser and see how they get on.

I am now happy to say that following a little burst of planting today that all four raised beds have now been fully planted! Some peas, two varieties of lettuce, spinach and pak choi went in the final bed. The peas (var. Kelvedon Wonder) are a dwarf variety that wont need support, but should give some shade to the leafy crops behind them. These should provide me with salad leaves for a couple of months before I need to plant a second crop.

Peas on the left, leafy salad crops on the right
Peas on the left, leafy salad crops on the right

Carrot update

Surprisingly, the carrots that I sowed on 8 April are already up! They poked their little heads up on 18 April, 10 days after sowing. My method involves sieving compost to get the lumps out firstly. The helps to stop your carrots from “forking”. I added a little vermiculite to open up the structure and retain water. You can also add a little sand to help drainage. I filled a pot to within half an inch of the top and placed the grid in the photo on top of the compost.

With my seeds ready in a small container, I used a dibber (moistened with water) to pick up individual seeds and place one seed in every other square. This gives you an even spread of carrots, therefore no need to thin them out. Carrot root fly can smell carrots up to a mile away so the less we touch them, or thin them, the less risk of this pest there is ruining your crop.

Cover the seeds with another layer of compost, one quarter of an inch deep, and keep it moist. I placed my pot in the greenhouse which may have helped the quick germination. Nonetheless I am pleased with the germination rate. There are still a couple of empty spaces but I will give it a little longer before I sow more seed. To deter cats, I have left the grid on the pot for the time being.

Carrot seedlings
Carrot seedlings

Water butts everywhere

There are two slimline water butts in my garden. One by the back door of the house and one by the greenhouse. However, I saw that our garage roof with its corrugated panels, was a great source of water to capture. Therefore I enlisted my partner to help me and put up guttering and install water butt number 3, to the left of my plot. I now have 300 litres of water to call on should we have any dry spells. We also moved a small storage shed from near the house and placed it next to the water butt, so my tools and spare pots are much closer to where they are needed.

New guttering and water butt.
New guttering and water butt

More projects

I have an old pallet that I have wanted to do something with for ages. By chance, I came across some discarded guttering in a refuse pile at the bottom of my brothers garden. This is now a work in progress and will be unveiled shortly! What do you think I will be making with these two items?

We have also decided to start a long thought about project on our garden pond. The pond liner is some sort of fibre glass and has been deteriorating for some time, so will be replaced. I bought some here quite inexpensively and it included the underlay . Behind the pond, looking from the house, is an extremely overgrown rockery. It doesn’t give me any pleasure at all and it somewhat of an eyesore. There is a St. Johns Wort growing out of control which really needs to go as it is invasive. It also does not flower like it used to. Each year in May we used to have two or three weeks of it carpeted in yellow flowers. Now there is the odd flower here and there at random times. So I think its had its day.

We’ve made a start on pulling the growth out. Having tried and failed to use a fork to remove it, we are having to clear it by hand. The rockery only serves to impede the fork.

I intend to enlarge the pond a little and replace the liner, flatten the rockery and rebuild it in a circular fashion. This is what has been cleared so far. A long way to go but it will be worth it.

What projects have you planned, or started this Spring? Tell me!

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!

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?