January 2017

23rd January - Clear skies and sunshine  for a few days this week have made a welcome change after the dismal fog, but has also meant sub-zero temperatures at night. Areas untouched by the sun's rays became more and more heavily frosted, with a beauty of their own. The ground is well and truly frozen solid, and I am glad we had not planned to dig up any crops as it would have been well-nigh impossible. 

Apparently we had the lowest night time temperatures here for several years, plummeting to -8°C. Sadly, this spelt the demise of the dahlia tubers in the shed at the plots, and they have now been consigned to the bin. It is too soon to know if any of the ones left in the ground will survive: I can but hope. Lesson learned -- bring the tubers home in future, as soon as they have dried off.

 

There have however been some wonderful sunsets, and today I managed to take a photograph out of the bedroom window before the colours faded. Lifts the spirits to see such glory!

We may not have had any harvests this week, but the new season's sowing is now underway.  I have sat on my itchy fingers to avoid having needy seedlings growing long and thin on the windowsill while we are away gallivanting, but the time to sow the onions and leeks at last arrived this week!

I had to buy some more deep trays as the ones I used last year were unable to be found. I shall need some more anyway for flower seeds soon, so it was not a disaster, and at £1.99 each, not too painful a purchase really. I find deep cat litter trays, with holes made in the bottom, absolutely ideal, as there is enough root run for most seedlings, and the compost does not dry out too quickly either. Perfect!

  • Bleu de Solaise and Elefant are late varieties, and Jolant much earlier. I also sowed some Bulgaarse Reuzen in a five inch pot, which at not hardy, which I plan to transplant into the polytunnel for a very early crop

  • I am pinning my hopes on Bedfordshire Champion and Ailsa Craig for large onions, and in the background is the module tray of White Lisbon and Lilia Spring onions sown in generous pinches to be planted out as clumps

  • This year I bought sets in B&M after all the hoohah last years with softened bulbs from mail order suppliers: 100 each of Sturon, Stuttgarter and Red Baron for £5 seemed a bargain! I doubt we'll have space for them all!

The plan is that the seeds germinate and seedlings are just beginning to straighten by the time we get home in three weeks' time. They can then grow on in their trays, be hardened off and, with regular feeding, be ready to plant out, onions in May and leeks to follow first early potatoes a little later.

The onions sets will of course be planted out as soon as the ground allows, which tends to be around mid to late March here. A whole bed on each of the two plots has been covered ready for them, and  spare sets can be used by our grandchildren, or the local primary school's Garden Club, or perhaps both. I am sure we shall not be using all 300 of them, as well as a bed of onion seedlings too. Yes, we do eat a lot of onions!! Last year's crop is still usable and should stay sound for another few weeks: the cold weather is helping of course!

The stored potatoes are also benefitting from the cold. They were beginning to grow shoots, but the lower temperatures have halted that, thank goodness. Last year's very mild winter meant we had to discard some as they got too soft to use.

I have organised for our seed potato order for this to be delivered after our return in mid February, so that there is no danger of them being left outside by a delivery driver to suffer in icy conditions. Plenty of time for them to chit after that.

We shall also miss our closest Potato Day, so I have given my order to our daughter (Thank you!) I hope they have the ones we want, as some look very interesting indeed

Some of our chilli harvest last Autumn

We also decided which chillies we shall be growing this year, trying to consider what we shall want to do with the them eventually: fat red ones for sauces and chutneys, green ones for cooking, red ones to dry for chilli powder as well as some new varieties.

The overwintering Lemon Drop plants have no sign of growth yet, but the two year old Alberto's Locato Rococco plant has green shoots already. I have added them to the sowing list to be on the safe side

And this is the eventual list. Interesting to see which countries they all originated in:

Fleshy red ones: Alberto's Locato Rococco (Peru/ Bolivia) Razzamatazz (Mexico)

Red ones to dry: Bangalore Torpedo (India) Littel Elf & Hungarian Peach (Hungary) Joe's Long (Italy) Serrano (Mexico)

To use green: Hangjiao1 (China) Jalapeno Early(Mexico) Padron (Spain)

Others: Yukari Baken (Turkey) upright fruits; Lemon Drop (Peru) yellow fruits; Trepadeiro Werner (Brazil) white fruits turning red

Sweet peppers: Atris , Hungarian Sweet Wax,Sigaretto di Bergamo, Bull Horn

I shall be sowing these as soon as is practical after our holiday, together with the aubergines.

When we went to the plots this afternoon, the ground was solid, the sprouts were frozen, and the leeks and kale looked very sorry for themselves, but these violas, slightly sheltered on the back wall of our seating area, are blooming away as though Spring is already here. What a lovely surprise!!

This will be the last proper blog entry until 13th February as we shall be in India. If I have wifi access, I shall share our Postcards from India via my Facebook page, and also post them all in a new section on this website on our return

So until then, thank you again for reading this every week and happy sowings!

16th January - Soggy to the core! After a week in which we had snow, gales, rain and only the occasional glimmer of sun, we are left with virtually wall to wall rain and totally saturated ground. Even the snowdrops are looking drenched and mud spattered. It has been almost impossible to do any work down on the plots, and so we have been using previous harvests from stores at home, rather than anything new. We have still eaten well though: our roast lamb yesterday was accompanied by potatoes, runner beans, beetroot, carrots and tenderstem broccoli, with apple & mint jelly. Makes me glad we go to the effort of bullding up supplies for when the weather is against us.

Also really pleased that we have covered the empty beds down on the plots or they would be well and truly sodden by now. It will be interesting to see how the soil in the single bed on #146 will compare, the one we mulched with manure but left off the black plastic. We chose that bed in particular as we plan to grow courgettes there, and they will not be planted out until at least the end of May, so there will be time to allow the soil to dry out by then I hope!

There have been a few nights when temperature has been sub zero, and this can have done nothing but good. There are still a lot of insects around though...  we can see midges dancing above the pond in the late afternoons when it is not raining, and the occasional housefly buzzing around sleepily. From the look of this web, garden spiders are still active too.

Reisetomate (photo from Baker's Creek)

All the inclement weather has meant plenty of time to continue with the seed sorting. All the gifts via the Seed Circle are here, and can be included in the selection process. I have mainly focussed on tomatoes, because, as you know, there are dozens to choose from in the tins and boxes. One that looks especially interesting is a variety called Reisetomate, which looks unlike any other tomato I have seen before. It is an old German variety, whose name translates as "Travellers' Tomato", presumably because you could break off pieces to eat as you are going along. Reviews of its flavour are variable, but who could resist giving it a go?

After last year's attack of late blight, we shall attempt to grow all except for resistant varieties under cover, in the polytunnel that is not even up yet (!). This means that I have mainly chosen cordon (indeterminate) varieties which can be pruned to grow supported by stakes, rather than bush varieties, as they take up less space, are easier to keep under control and  allow me to fit in more plants.  I would also like more red salad tomatoes, than last year, more beefsteaks and a good colour mix of cherry tomatoes. I am still toying with numbers of each, which is also partly dependent on whether I am going to be growing plants for family or friends as well. 

This then, is the selection to date:

Salad varieties:

Crimson Crush (red, outdoor, blight resistant, Suttons)

Moneymaker (red, DT Brown)

Golden Sunrise (yellow, self saved)

Beefsteak varieties:

Marmande (red, semi-determinate, self saved)

Costoluto Genovese (red, Thompson & Morgan)

Summer Cider (striped orange & yellow, self saved)

Oxheart (dark pink, ferny leaf, Seed Parade)Cherry varieties:

Sungella (orange, Thompson & Morgan)

Rosella (deep pink, Seed Circle)

Chocolate Cherry (purple-red, self saved)

Yellow Pear (yellow, self saved)

Gardeners' Delight (red, self saved)

Other varieties:

Reisetomate (red, clustered cherry, Seed Circle)

100s & 1000s (red, currant, self saved)

Kibit's Ukrainian (red, plum, Seed Circle)

Usually I sow tomatoes in two batches, growing some early plants to stagger cropping, as well as some to plant out for a slightly later crop through into the Autumn, but this year, because we are away quite a lot in the next few weeks, I am going to sow them all at once in the second week of April. Although it will mean later cropping overall, it will be preferable to having a whole lot of weak spindly plants that I could not look after properly, that then need nursing on inot full health again.

Chillies and aubergines however, do need a long growing season if they are to crop well, and so I shall be sowing those in the propagator mid February. These seedlings will be up for fostering at times when we are away, but as this will be only for a week at time, hopefully they will cope ... both the seedlings and their fosterers I mean.

We really have not done much else this week! Seems odd not dusting down the propagator and sowing seeds, but things will catch up I'm sure!!

 

And finally,  thank you to everyone who has sent us good wishes on our Ruby Anniversary. They are very much appreciated indeed!

If you would like an email when updates are published here, please let me know at info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk. Your email address will remain private of course.

Long Tailed TIts are vsiting our bird feeders at home now regularly, twittering away in their family groups, but down at the plots they are still only in ones or twos.

A selection of the tomato seed stash

9th January - Seed searching time!

This week I have continued with the big seed search, emptying all the various tins, boxes and  envelopes large and small, where I have stashed saved seeds, bargain seeds, ones given to me by friends and ones that I sown half the packet and put the rest away. An amazing quantity emerged for some vegetables,especially varieties of tomato (35) and chilli (29), whereas others there are only one ie parsnip, and that is all I need. Big decisions, especially after last years' plethora of cherry tomatoes of any colour you could think of except red!!  I'll let you know next week ...

Now let's look at our harvest this week...notice that word is singular ... for Harvest Monday. Carrots, just carrots, albeit four bunches of carrots for four grandchildren, which were delicious with our dinner that evening, even more so as it was all prepared and cooked by the girls with a minimum of supervision needed: beef and mushroom casserole with juniper and star anise, mashed potato, calabrese and of course, carrots. Apple pie for afters, with Bramleys and Golden Delicious from the garage fridge and home made custard. Very, very tasty and just what was needed on a January evening! (The calabrese was from the market as our crop ... frozen ... is now finished)

The girls are really keen on growing; they have their own little beds at home and are already planning what they might like to sow this Spring. Number five, our youngest, at three years old, loves picking tomatoes and pulling up carrots from pots in her garden. I wonder what she will grow this year... I  might suggest some beetroot perhaps. All of them love coming to the plots, not only to be involved with sowing and harvesting but for mini-beast hunts too.

Pointed green cabbage last May

After the arrival of club root with some bought in kale plants last Summer, I am going to try to grow all the brassicas from seed. The rotation plan will mean avoiding the infected bed for at least four years, but even then I shall try to give plants the best start. This Spring I shall treat all areas as though they might be infected: this will involve growing plants in pots to as large a size as is practical before planting them out, raising the pH of the soil through the application of garden lime and then plant them out into pockets of compost. I have heard that Perlka is helpful in reducing the impact of club root, but am unsure if this is organic or not, probably not, but I shall look into it further.

I am aiming to try to have brassicas in one form or another to harvest for most of the coming season, right through to Spring 2018, so there has been a fair bit of planning to do, both as to which varieties to sow for a decent range of vegetables,as well as when and where to plant each at what time. If you're not careful it can make you feel a bit dizzy, especially when you remember I am trying to use seeds I have and not buy more! Not sure the red cabbage seeds will still be viable so might just add these to the microgreens mix and what will be will be.  I also have to find space for all the young plants somewhere cool and bright: cabbages do not need heat to grow and in fact if they are too warm fail to thrive. I always think of them as northern plants really.

This then, is what the sowing plan currently looks like. I am aiming for about six sprouting broccoli and brussels sprouts, with about ten or twelve each of everything else in modules, then 3ins pots, including swede

Cauliflower: All Year Round (sow Oct under cover to crop next year)

Kale: Black Tuscan, Red Ursa Russian & Dwarf Green Curled (sow April)

Calabrese: Autumn Green Calabrese (sow May)

Purple Sprouting Broccoli: Red Arrow (sow April)

Brussels Sprouts: Igor F1 (sow April)

Savoy: Piacenza (sow April)

Pointed : Greyhound (sow Feb & July)

Kailaan (sow Oct to overwinter under cover)

Raab (sow Sept)

and the Brassica family is not only cabbages and kale, it also includes:

Turnips: (direct sow) Milan White sow Mar under cloche), Purple Top MIlan (sow May) & Snowball (sow Sept)

Swede: Virtue (sow late April)

Summer Radish: (direct sow) Cherry Belle (sown under cloche & with parnsips as row marker) French Breakfast 3 & Amethyst (sow April - July)

Winter Radish: (direct sow) Mooli Mino Early (sow May-Aug) Violet de Gournay & Chinese Dragon (sow June - Aug)

If there is space, I shall put in a short row or two of khol rabi too.

As you can see, there is a lot to keep an eye on. If I miss sowing dates I shall be tempted to buy in plants and look at the trouble that caused last year. I might have to write it all on the wall calendar!!

Although the weather has been mild and damp for most of the week, every so often we wake up to a world white with frost, which tranforms leaves into works of art edged with silver.

I must just share this before I finish. While I was writing about the sowing plan, I remembered this poem,by Matsuo Basho, the most famous (I think) Japanese poet from the Edo period, which really appeals to me:

When the winter chrysanthemums go,

             there's nothing to write about but radishes.

Thank you for reading this. I shall be back next Monday!

If you would like an email when updates are published here, please let me know at info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk. Your email address will remain private of course.

 

And to see what others are harvesting around the world, have a look here:

http://fromseedtotable.blogspot.co.uk/

Happy New Year to Plot 146

and to Plot 145!!

2nd January - Here we are at the beginning of January, with all the hopes and ambitions that this always brings, so Happy New Year and all best wishes for 2017 to you all.

As you can see, the plots are in good shape. We spent two days of hard graft carting chipped wood from the communal pile to #146, to renew the surface of the paths, which made things look much better. We managed to choose teo of the coldest days in December for this job though, and had to break through the frozen surface layer to be able to dig out loose stuff and fill the buckets. Once the sun started shining on the pile, plumes of water vapour made thei way skyward, looking very atmospheric. The local robin was very appreciative of being able to dig about in the relative warmth of the chippings, and to be honest I warmed my hands up too, as sub zero temperatures their toll on my fingers.W were the only people on the site both mornings, and enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the frosted plants in absolute peace.

 

Unusually, I have sown nothing yet!! Clearing space on the kitchen windowsill for the propagator has not been possible so far, but I am making a determined effort as aubergines and chillies are loudly rattling in their packets now. They both need a long growing season, so an early sowing will give them the best chance, and as long as I don't overdo it, I should be able to give the seedlings enough light to stop them getting too leggy. At least, that's the plan! I am still thinking through which chillies to grow from the wide choices: I'd like some for drying to make chilli powder, some for freezing green, some to make fermented chilli sauce, some to add to chutneys and some for make jellies, and something new!! I have cut the overwintering plants right back, so it remains to be seen whether I have killed them or not!

We have had a few  more carrots and some herbs, but mainly have been eating from our stores this week. There is however, a little offering for Harvest Monday though... a bit of a surprise this one, as I did not expect any crop until the Springtime: Kailan Kichi. This is a sort of broccoli, Chinese I think, that grows very quickly. I planted out half a dozen seedlings in the giant cloche in September, the one with holes in the roof, and that small extra shelter has made all the difference! The stems are thick and juicy, and made a great addition to some stirfry with leeks and red peppers. (These last were not home grown) plus a dash of plum sauce. The flowers are edible too, so I just left them on. I shall have to remember to keep checking the cloche though to make sure they don't go too far over before we can eat them.

 

Last Summer's runner beans on the upside down V-shaped frame. The beans growing later in the season were very congested at the top

I have found time amongst the festive celebrations  to start on the annual stock take of the seed boxes with peas and beans being first up.  Yes, I know it should have been chillies really but these are the bulkiest seeds and needed a bit of a clear out.  The germination rate of seeds that are more that three or four years old is very erratic, and can lead to disappointing gaps, and as I often save my own seed I do not need to keep the old ones really. The older seed I plan to use is mainly from a 2015 harvest, so hopefully will germinate.

This is the plan:

Dwarf french beans in the mintunnel - Speedy (green) Orinocco (yellow) plus  5 Soldier Beans I found in a little bag at the bottom of the box. No idea how old there are, but they look good with their little red "soldier" picture on cream beans. They are drying beans really but I want them to have the best chance so I can build up a better stock. If they germinate, that is!

Climbing french beans to grow over the bean tunnel on #146 These are all open pollinated, but I did not protect any flowers, so I may get some oddities. They crop in this order too, which gives a good long season - Carminat (purple) Monte Gusto (yellow) Monte Cristto (green)

Runner beans to grow on an X shaped frame on #146- Benchmaster, Firestorm and Moonlight

Drying beans on wigwams - Cherokee Trail of Tears (black) Poletschka (dark purple) Greek Gigantes (white) Borlotto (pink mottled)  plus some older seed: Veitch's Climbing Bean (red) and Mrs Fortune's Climbing Bean (cream mottled):   4 on #145, 2 on #146

Broad Beans - plant further apart this year #146 - Wizard Field Beans

Mangetout: early in the minitunnel - Kent Bue (green) and Indian Golden (yellow) and later, out on # 146 supported on a weldmesh frame, netted against pigeons - Bijou, Carouby de Maussane and Oregon Sugar Pod (all green)

Peas : early short in minitunnel -Hatif d'Annonay (These did not grow well outside last year so am trying them under cover) Tall peas - grown on twiggy sticks tied upright in a long row, on #145, netted against pigeons - Telefono and Champion of England.  Pea shoots - Marrowfat peas from the supermarket in the greenhouse at home

I have tried to come up with a better plan to keep the pigeons off the peas and mangetout, after last years' decimation, and decided to alter the arrangement of bean sticks for the runner beans, to open up the cropping space higher up, and so maybe get fewer curly pods later in the season. PInching out the tops as I did with the drying beans might lead to later flowers lower down. The climbing french beans are going on the bean arch to try to reduce congestion too, and assuming we avoid giving a home to any rabbits this Spring, they should look very pretty with their different coloured pods hanging down. The pictures in my mind's eye look wonderful, but you never really know how things will work out ... you can only gve the plants the best chance you can at the time!

And true to form, here is is the sweetly scented Viburnum in our garden, which brightens the day with its sugar pink flowers, whether the weather be frosty or sunny (V. bodnantense "Dawn")

The first entry of this year has truned out a  little longer than I anticipated... thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed the photographs>

 

If you would like an email when updates are published here, please let me know at info@alittlebitofsunhsine.co.uk. Your email address will remain private of course.

 

And to see what others are harvesting around the world, have a look here:

http://fromseedtotable.blogspot.co.uk/