Friday, 30 March 2012

tatties all in...

That's it, I've got all of this years spuds planted so now all I can do is wait and pray for decent weather. I'm a couple of weeks earlier than usual but I couldn't let all that sunshine go to waste. With 118 planted in an assortment of containers in the greenhouse and dotted all over the garden my major task is going to be keeping them supplied with water if we get any long dry spells. Methinks I need a couple of extra water butts.

greenhouse potatoes

Those in the greenhouse are really storming away and have been 'earthed up' already. Even the first of the outdoor ones have got their heads well up which means I'll need to keep a watchful eye for any threat of frost.

outdoor potatoes

And it's not just the potatoes that have responded well to the recent warm weather. My first sowing of tomatoes has been potted on and the young plants are looking very healthy and almost ready for their final positions. Trouble is that space is currently occupied by the spuds...oh, what's a poor boy to do?

Because my soil is stony I've grown my parsnips in deep containers for the last few years. I'm putting some back out in the open ground this year by using the hole-boring technique. By ramming a long pointed steel bar into the soil and waggling it slightly you can get a lightly tapered hole which is then filled with a mix of fine compost and sharp sand. Two seeds are sown for each hole and these are thinned to leave the strongest seedling if all germinate. My holes are about 15 inches (37.5cm) deep.
parsnip holes
This technique takes up more space than the containers but if I get bigger, better snips I'll be quite happy.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Because I grow so much stuff in containers I have to mix a lot of compost to fill them. Obviously I have to get the raw materials from somewhere so I have two 'dalek' compost bins, one large open heap, two leaf mould cages and sundry plastic sacks filled with decomposing garden waste.

if it's organic it goes into the mix!!
The basic potting mix I'm using this year consists of two parts home-made compost, one part leaf mould and one part sieved soil. The unit of measurement is a 12 litre plastic bucket so I'm mixing around 48 litres at a time and to each lot I add one cupful of BFB and one cupful of Seer rock dust. The last ingredient is just a trial to see if it lives up to the claims of the manufacturer.

I can modify this basic mix to suit whatever crop I'm growing. Potatoes get the addition of a high potash slow release granular fertilizer, brassicas get chicken manure pellets and carrots and parsnips have it finely sieved and mixed with sharp sand and no extra fertilizer.

carrot compost: no lumps, no stones so straight carrots, hopefully

As with just about everything I do in the garden it's all a bit experimental but eventually I'll get everything just the way I want it....probably the day I get too old and infirm to actually do any gardening!!

But let's not be gloomy. Today is the first day of spring and everything is looking good so far. Early potatoes in the greenhouse are ready for their first 'earthing up', peas and broad beans are romping away and peppers, aubergines and tomatoes are all looking healthy. No sign of any cucumber plants yet.
Apart from spring onions I've never before grown onions from seed but today I pricked out twenty Bedfordshire Champion seedlings into individual cells. I was probably a bit late sowing them to get big bulbs but I'm looking forward to comparing them to the sets I normally grow from.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

not quite spring....

but we're nearly there. A couple of gorgeous sunny days have really brought things on so we must now all hope that we don't get any sharp frosts.

The greenhouse potatoes are romping away. These are three Lady Christl in a grow sack and should give us our first picking in about 6 weeks. I'm using a technique learned from Iain at JBA which involves giving the seed a good watering at planting time and not a drop more until the shoots are well up like this. The idea is to encourage a good root system into the compost as the plant goes in search of water which in turn will allow it to absorb the maximum nutrients to ensure a good crop.

All the soft fruit bushes now have healthy leaf growth showing.
blackcurrants coming into leaf.

I still have jam from two years ago as well as last years so I'm looking for ideas to use up the inevitable glut of fruit. I thought about making smoothies and freezing them in plastic milk cartons. Not sure if it would work but if you don't try....

Had to go through to the caravan today to fix a burst pipe before we can use it for this season so didn't get any gardening done. It was such a lovely day that I hung around and just took photos.

This is the view from the Brough to Middleton-in-Teesdale road. In the distance you can just make out Inglebrough on the left and Whernside on the right. These are two of the 'Three Peaks' and are roughly 40km from where I was standing. It's not always grim up north!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

all systems grow

The recent mild weather has really brought things along. So much so that I'm running out of space in the greenhouse. Tubs and containers of peas, beans, beetroot, potatoes and more. Then there's all the seed trays and....I'll stop complaining and just be thankful that the weather is being kind to gardeners for a change.

AYR lettuce which was sown last autumn is now storming away. I don't let them heart up and just pull leaves as and when I need them.

A single broad bean shoot emerging and young pea plants (Kelvedon Wonder). I get early crops by starting things off in tubs in the greenhouse then putting them outside when the weather picks up. The main sowings of peas and beans go directly in the ground from April onwards.

Beetroot in the greenhouse for an early crop of baby beets.
Outside things are also doing well. The recently planted onion sets are now showing green shoots and there is fresh new growth on the strawberry plants. With the mild weather set to continue for at least the next week there's a temptation to go for a mad frenzy of sowing and planting but I'm resisting. It would be a disaster if I filled up the plot and then we got some hard frosts. Patience is the most important thing a gardener needs to cultivate.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

tattie planting

I've got the first lot of containers ready on the plot for this years potatoes. Now, I know some will say why not just put them straight into the soil but there's method in my madness. At least I hope there is otherwise I'm just mad.

The reasons for using containers are as follows.
1. You can get more spuds in a given area than with conventional spacings
2. No matter what the soil you have control of the growing medium
3. Easy to harvest...just tip out the bucket and you get no 'volunteers' left behind to sprout next year
4. Less damage from slugs and other pests and the spuds come out much cleaner

Today I risked putting out some seed potatoes, five each of Charlotte, Lady Christl and Nicola. We have no frosts forecast for the next week or so but if the weather does turn I've got plenty of fleece handy. I'm a couple of weeks earlier than the last few years but this winter has been much milder so I'm prepared to risk it. With the greenhouse crop I now have forty spuds planted and the first shoots have just appeared on the first lot that went in. The main planting will wait till the end of the month to be more sure of the weather.
potato shoots emerging

And talking of shoots the beetroot that I sowed in the greenhouse are now popping up.

All in all things are starting to shape up nicely. Wouldn't it be a great bonus if we could have a decent summer.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

winter returns

A cold wind today with snow forecast for the fells tonight but pleasantly warm in the greenhouse.

I sowed the first  lot of parsnips (Palace) in the flower bucket that will be their home for the next eight or nine months. Germination is usually pretty good and I aim to thin to leave about a dozen or so plants per bucket which should give a couple of pounds (1kg) of roots.

parsnip seeds

Sweet peppers and aubergine seeds have gone into the heated propagator, along with three cucumbers. Early March sowings of cukes last year all died on me but I didn’t have the propagator and they were on a window sill which got quite cold at night. Fingers crossed!

The first tomato sowings are up and away in my home-made paper pots. I must say this was the most useful present I got last Christmas. Turned from solid oak it should certainly outlast me if I don’t lose it and it's quite therapeutic making the pots as well.

tomato seedlings in paper pots. Three varieties, hence different germination

These AYR cauliflower seedlings will soon be going into individual pots to develop a strong root system before planting out on the plot. This enables them to get established much quicker and does seem to help in the fight against club root. Good strong plants seem much more able to cope with pests and diseases. 

I managed to squeeze another bag with three Lady Christl potatoes into the greenhouse. That’s now twenty-five first earlies in and the first plantings are just poking shoots through the compost. If the weather behaves itself we'll be eating new potatoes by the end of April/early May.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

has spring sprung?

Well, it's the first of March today and there are quite a few signs of activity around the garden. Trouble is, much of it is floral.

Not that I have anything against flowers I'm just itching to get picking and eating. Even the veg I can pick have names like flowers! These are China Rose radish that I pulled from a tub I'd forgotten about.

Decent flavour but a little bit woody in the centre. Not surprising really as they've stood outside all winter with no protection.

I close planted some onion sets in a container for picking as salad onions, a tip I learned from one of the forums.  You can buy loose onion sets so cheaply that it seems almost pointless sowing seeds of white lisbon....but I probably will.

Another lot of peas has been sown into a container in the greenhouse. Not sure what I'll do when the time comes to put all the containers outside to make way for the 'proper' greenhouse crops like tomatoes. I wonder what a tub of peas would look like either side of the front door!!