Friday, 8 April 2011

Seedlings, planning and planting

March passed in a whirl. The leeks fattened a bit and some came to the open meeting.  Now the seedlings are growing and becoming big enough to plant out in the warm weather.
However, before planting there needs to be a plan for spring and summer. I’ve taken the plan from January 2010 and added the summer, winter 2010 and spring 2011 to show a rotation. No strict rotation, just trying not to grow the same family of vegetables in the same place for at least a year.
In the photo above there are mixed salad leaves (free from the National Trust last summer) in the foreground. Then mid right are some celery seedlings. Back left in red pots are sugar snap peas with red broad beans (Thanks June) beside them. Right at the back, hardly showing yet, are leeks in two green trays.
For information all these seeds were planted in Horizon Peat free Organic compost.  This has the ‘Which?’, Best Peat Free Compost award.
Square foot garden plans: January 2010(top) to Spring 2011 (bottom)
    North                                                                                           East

Broad Beans 1/10

S Snap Peas  3/11

Runner Beans
Winter lettuce

Perpetual Rocket



French Beans


Broad Beans

Broad Beans



Onion sets





Mixed leaves

   West                                                                                           South

So today I’ve planted mixed leaves in the southern corner.  Just to be safe I’ve given them mini-greenhouses and surrounded them with small gravel to deter the slugs. The broad beans are looking a bit nibbled so I might cover them. I’ll plant the peas and celery when they’ve grown a bit more and hardened off (and after I’ve harvested the last of the leeks). Below, the SFG as it was today after planting the salad.

Another Transition St Albans, Grow your Own Food Group venture started a few weeks ago.  Given that Green Drinks takes place at a pub with its own Micro Brewery, The Framer’s Boy, (to recognise the low ‘beer miles’) I thought it might be fun to try to grow some hops to add to a brew. The Brewer, Kevin, got really excited suggesting that when we harvested the flowers (may take two years) he would add them to a brew to give it a special ‘Transition’ flavour, and introduce the beer at a St Albans Beer Festival.
All we needed were some hop plants and a few folk with space to grow these rampant vines.  A chance comment to Amanda in the Education group resulted in her digging up some roots on her allotment which have now been planted on three other member’s allotments and at the Farmer’s Boy.
Mine have only been in a few weeks but they’ve already grown about a foot (300mm) as seen below in front of the folder.
Bye for now, lots to do in the garden!  Enjoy the warm weather, Peter.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I thought a quick update on how the seeds were progressing might help or inspire some more planting.

Most of the seeds planted just two weeks ago have germinated in their modules in the spare bedroom. However, they are getting a
bit ‘leggy’ and you’ll also notice that they are bending toward the window so will need some attention.

Those above are mainly tomatoes with a tray of onions (front right).
In the first instance I’ve put the seed trays in a cold porch, just during the day initially, for one or two days, to ‘harden them off’ (get used to the cold!); then I left them there all day and night whilst they continue to grow and get acclimatised.

Below are the broad beans which have been in the porch for about 5 days and whose leaves are just about to open, and then some climbing French beans which have become quite ‘leggy’. The latter are surrounded by sweet peas and behind are potatoes ‘ chitting’ in egg boxes.

A close up of the potatoes show how the ‘earlies’ (Swift and Rocket) are developing good sprouts whilst the maincrop (Desiree – reds) have yet to start.

The beans can continue to ‘grow on’ in their modules for a while but I’ll soon need to put the tomatoes into flower pots, and keep them in the porch (or greenhouse / polytunnel if you have one) so that they establish strong roots. I’ll say more about that next time.
Now that there is more room in my propagating box I’ll sow some mixed lettuce (salad leaves), rocket and peas. Outside keep the weeds down and prepare soil. Refer back to the blogs from February 2010 for more information.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Happy New Growing Year!

Here we go again!  Really sorry I haven’t posted anything since October, so a brief update.

Last time I wrote I set up a new winter plan. Lots has changed.

I did visit the Square Foot Garden over the winter. I picked rocket until the snows came, scraped the snow away in December to harvest the remaining carrots from the corner square, watched the lettuce slowly wither away...

However the plot looks good.

The leeks need harvesting as they are a good size. The garlic, onions and broad beans are all growing well and the chard has survived the cold.

You will notice that I have surrounded the whole plot with wood chippings, to help suppress weeks and to see if they deter the slugs when they come out of hibernation.

A kind neighbour gave me a few roots of perennial rocket.

The tap roots were about 25cm long, and nothing much to show on the surface. As an experiment I’ve planted one root in the square vacated by the lettuce.

As for future plans: I thought I might plant a tomato in the northern square or the eastern corner square, with some climbing French beans in the other. Any other suggestions?

Now is the time to plan what you are going to grow and buy your seeds. I’ve started ‘chitting’ my first early potatoes and planted a few seeds. I do this in modules, in an organic compost and set them in an enclosed plastic propagation box.

This is then put in a sunny spare bedroom! When the seeds germinate, they need to be moved to a cooler porch or greenhouse, but still protected from any frosts by fleece or similar, otherwise they’ll get ‘leggy’. When established, and frosts are over, they can be planted out, again covered until the weather is warmer.

Happy planning!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Mixed weather had its effect but there is good news too!

We’ve had mixed weather since I wrote in September and this has had its effect on the SFG.

The picture above shows the SFG just before Green Drinks on 12th October. Bottom left the Pink Fir Apple potatoes have died back and need harvesting, and the runner beans are flowering and maturing.

The picture below shows a close-up of the beans, some of which I can report were tender and full of flavour.

The following image shows the harvest of Pink Fir Apple potatoes which, together with some rocket were donated to the “Veg swap” at Green Drinks in the Farmers Boy (shown next).

Over the last few nights we’ve had our first frosts and this has turned the remaining beans into frozen food and when thawed they lose their flavour and texture. I’ve cut the bean vines off just above the ground and stored the bean sticks in the shed. The roots of the beans bring nitrogen up from deeper in the soil, ‘fixing it’ as nodules and making it available for other crops.

The photo below shows the bean stalks left in the soil and the effect of Leek Moth on the leeks – shredded leaves and in one case, a completely destroyed plant.

However there is good news also!

In the photo above, you can see the final harvest of the beetroot and some more carrots; and there are still more to come and no sign of carrot fly infection in the roots, so maybe covering with fleece worked. In addition, the rocket continues to crop really well and the chard is growing well too.

This leaves a few squares vacant which I have dressed with some blood, fish and bone organic fertilizer.

Above you may just see that I’m planting some overwintering onions where the potatoes were and I’ve put some garlic between the carrots and leeks.

To plant, making sure the onion or garlic is the right way up, I simply push them just below the loosened soil surface. I am not putting the onions and garlic where they were before; this is crop rotation.

In the square vacated by the beans I’ll try a few more winter lettuce, and I’ll plant some broad bean seeds in the central square. Not ideal as they’ll cast shadow on the squares to their west and north but as I’m rotating crops I don’t have any other options.

Now the SFG can be put to bed for the winter. I’ll protect with fleece and harvest as crops mature otherwise there’s little more I can do. Below is a ‘winter plan’.

In case you read this but have not kept abreast of other Grow Your Own Food happenings, I’m attaching ‘before and after’ pics of our demonstration garden at the Courtyard Cafe, next to the museum in Hatfield Road.

The idea is one step up from the SFG and shows what might be grown in an area about 3m x 4m. The owner kindly lets us use this plot; and he plans to use the produce in the cafe!

One other, much bigger growing food event, was the first planting of the Woodland Trust, Heartwood Forest Orchard, on Apple Day 21st October, yesterday.

Below you see me planting one of the first of 600 fruit trees which will be planted here, just outside Sandridge.

Keep warm and watch this space near Christmas.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

After our holidays...

We’ve been away for our hols and returned to a mixed SFG. The picture below shows the overall scene.

The leeks and rocket (back left) are good and the runner beans have taken off. Hard to see but the chard is also doing well. The next photo shows this more clearly (rocket to the left).

However a closer look at the first photo also shows that the lettuce, which were between the leeks and the carrots, has been eaten, and in the front centre square only a few of the last batch of carrots have survived.

But, the rocket is good and no attacks from the flea beetle this time and the carrots have benefited from a thinning back in August. The photo below gives an idea of what I can still harvest. Note that the carrot on the right came from a row in another place on the allotment, which did have a good thinning much earlier in the season. Spot the difference!

Whilst the runner beans are now climbing, and getting some watering and blood-fish-bone treatment, it is unlikely that they will produce many beans unless we have a long Indian Summer and the bees return to pollinate. Wait and see.

During the next week or so I’ll dig the pink fir potatoes and lift the remaining beetroot, and keep ‘thinning‘the carrots. That will leave 4 vacant squares. Would anyone like to suggest vegetables I can plant in them at this time of the year for overwintering?