13th February - Allotments back on the radar!! Hello again. We are back after three weeks in India and the snow flurries and subzero temperatures were certainly a shock to the system alright. We had a wonderful holiday, planned as a celebration of our forty years of marriage and it was wonderful... "Postcards from India" will be added as a separate page very soon, so you can share some of the sights if you'd like to.
We saw so many different crops growing during our long journey, including lots of spices: I'd never seen a cardamom plant and to see huge plantations was just amazing, although I don't think I could keep even one plant alive here in England!!
First thing Saturday morning I was off down to the greenhouse, to be greeted by bright green leek and onion seedlings unfurling their little elbows in the trays of compost... a lovely beginning to the new growing season. These were sown on 21st January and our son gave them the occasional watering during our absence (Thank you!) The modules of Spring Onions are looking promising too (Lilia & White Lisbon)
The leeks were fairly thickly sown and might need a little thinning, but I have found that the clumps are easy enough to separate out before they are planted into their final places, when I would usually trim their roots anyway. (Jolant, Bleu de Solaise & Elefant, with Bulgaarse Reuzen in a separate pot as these are a very early variety and I don't want to disturb the soil in the tray to plant these out)
Hard to believe , I know, but I am hoping these onions grow to a decent size! I shall thin them down to make sure each has enough space, and rig up a means of supporting their leaves up off the soil when they get a bit larger. It'll be interesting to compare the two varieties as they grow (Bedfordshire Champion & Ailsa Craig)
The Yacon tubers planted back in mid December are showing some growth above soil level. It is hard to believe these should be going to grow so huge, but at least they are visible now! I am trying to keep them on the dryish side because I don't want them to rot. The temperature in the greenhouse at nights falls to about 5°C and I just hope that suits them. I am still keen on the idea of making syrup from the tubers eventually, so watch this space!
I had a vision of that sticky, gooey session making green figs in rose syrup last year .... hmmmm, note to self: Keep hot syrup off the cooker top as it sets solid and is horrible to clear up!
Yesterday, despite the bitter cold, we went off down to the plots to see how they had fared in our absence: not too bad really. There is some tidying up needed around the brassicas to remove fallen leaves, but there is a decent picking of Brussel Sprouts to come, and the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is growing nicely... no purple shoots yet as it is a bit early still. The remaining red cabbages looked a bit the worse for wear and i am not sure what they might be like inside. I'll take them up soon in case they are useable. Hope so, but if not, they will be consigned to the compost bin.
The slight protection given by the giant cloche (despite the holey nature of the lid now) has certainly paid off though, and the Spring Cabbages, Perpetual Spinach and Kailaan are looking healthy, despite a few slug holes and some sun scorch. Once the dead leaves are removed they will look more promising! They will need a decent feed soon, so checked on supplies of Blood Fish & Bone: OK for now. The plan is to eat alternate cabbage plants and then allow the others to grow a little larger. By the time the space is needed for this to act as a cold frame, the cabbages and Kailaan should be finished, which will give the spinach plenty of space, and the trays of plants being hardened off can stand on any empty ground. Said quickly, it seems a good plan, but who knows how it might go!
The garlic is still growing away and I was really pleased to see that 20 out of 21 Elephant garlics have their heads above ground now too. I was beginning to wonder what was going on down there to be honest!
Autumn sown onion sets are in suspended animation still, with the same few green shoots as before, but the shallots have put on some growth. The tips of the leaves are burnt with cold but it'll do no lasting damage
It was gratifying to see the Saffron Crocus plants though. The chicken manure pellet feed they had a month back obviously did them good, as just look at those healthy leaves, completely unscathed by cold or wet! We had five flowering corms last Autumn, and it looks as though we could at least double that this year, all being well. They were all tiny baby corms in Spring last year when they were planted, so very happy with their progress.
The propagator was dusted off yesterday and installed on the windowsill, where it will live for the next four months. First customers are the Aubergines and Chillies, sown in a three part mix of perlite, coir and seed compost. This gives a nice light medium that also retains sufficient water. There are few nutrients, but they seedlings will be transplanted when small to ensure they can keep growing healthily.
As you can see, I use a cheap additional propagator tray with five, four-hole modules covered with a transparent plastic lid. (Cost £1.99 from B&M) These modules can hold up to eight seedlings easily, giving enough space for their roots in the first stages of growth, and can be removed from the heated tray once the seeds ahve germinated so they can be grown on in cooler conditions with further modules pressed into use for the next sowings. I have made a reflector to stand in front to increase availabel light too. Cheap but effective: foil covered cardboard. Not a very hi-tec system but it seems to work!! Oh and short labels fit under the lid better than those long ones I've found.
These are the Aubergines we are attempting to grow this year. No grafted plants as they get huge, and they swamped the tomatoes last year, plus I fancied something different alongside the regular fat purple ones, ideally in the new (not yet erected) polytunnel)
Black Beauty (standard fat purple)
Listada de Gandia (purple & white)
Long Purple 3 (seeds on the edge of viability so sowed some extra ... fruits as name)
Bapatla Brinjal (white and green .. from Seed Circle)
Last month I listed the chillies we are aiming to grow this year, and these are now duly sown and in the covered heated propagator. They should germinate with the next two weeks, and will be pricked out into individual pots as soon as they are showing a true leaf, rather than only the two seedling cotyledon first leaves.
As I started with a banana flower, I thought you might like to see the end product on the way to market in Madurai. Bananas are grown in people's gardens and small farms, as well as in huge plantations. It was a real treat to eat bananas that had ripened before being picked, much sweeter and more 'banana-ey' somehow.
The ones in this photo are mainly a green plantain-like banana used in cooking, with a few of a red variety. Just image the weight on this man's bicycle!!
And that is where I shall end this week's blog entry. Thank you for reading it! Next week I shall be moving on to Broad Beans and some flowers that benefit from being sown early. There is some milder weather forecast so maybe I can do some clearing up at the plot and harvest something too.