Wednesday, 28 November 2012

parsnip experiment

Anyone who has followed my blog will know that I grow my parsnips in containers rather than on the plot. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that my soil is derived from boulder clay and once you get a few inches down it's rather heavy and stony - not good for parsnips.

So, as an experiment, this year I tried the 'borehole' method as well to see if it would give me a crop. This method involves boring a hole with a pointed iron bar and, by wiggling the bar you get a nice conical shape which you fill with finely sieved compost and sow the seeds on top. My holes were 15-18 inches deep which I figured is long enough for most parsnips and I lifted a couple today just to see.
the variety is Duchess F1
Decent sized roots, I think you'll agree, and they weighed in at 637g and 465g respectively.

There is a problem with this method, though. You have to dig a crater to get the blooming things out and I did find that germination rates for the outdoor sown ones was very poor. I start off my containers in the greenhouse so the compost is relatively warm and this gives excellent germination.

So, will I do it again? probably not as I can get a decent crop without any digging but if you are fed up of forked parsnips it's a technique certainly worth giving a go.

Away from the parsnip theme we've had two days without rain so I've managed to get some tidying up done outside. After what seems like an entire year of downpours it's a blessed relief to see the sun, even if there is very little heat in it!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

November sowings

Just because it's got round to November doesn't mean you can let up on your seed sowing, especially if you can offer some protection such as a greenhouse or cold frame. This year's difficult conditions have convinced me that it's important to have a back-up plan to compensate for the lack of stored produce. Obviously, you can't be sowing tender summer plants and expect them to survive but there are plenty of things that will make it through the winter under cover. And don't expect the sort of quantities you can get from the main growing season either.

Mustard and cress on a warm windowsill are the two winter crops that first spring to mind and some people limit their 'out of season' sowing to nothing more than this.  The more adventurous will add micro-greens to the list but there are quite a few 'full-size' plants that will happily overwinter in a greenhouse or frame. I have two varieties of lettuce, carrots, chard, radishes and spring onions coming along nicely in the greenhouse.

Micro-greens are not just a handy and easy thing to grow in winter but they are a good way to use up old seed that you might not want to risk for the main sowings next year. They are simply immature plants harvested to be used as an addition to such things as salads, stir-fries, soups, casseroles, etc. Almost anything that has edible leaves can be used, including beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, celery, chard, kale, lettuce, rocket and more.
for mustard and cress I use these pot trays with a little MPC in the bottom
Today I've sown beetroot, CCA lettuce and kale in supermarket mushroom trays with a few drainage holes poked in the bottom. They'll be germinated indoors and put out into the greenhouse before they get too drawn in their search for light.
The beetroot are used for their leaves rather than letting them develop a root which would take too long anyway. As I go through my seed packet box and sort out what I no longer need I'll be sowing more over the next few weeks. All you have to lose is a little time. If seed doesn't germinate just use the compost for something else. How about peas sown close together and harvested for the shoots when they are a few inches high. When you think that micro-greens have become rather trendy in top restaurants and realize how easy they are to grow you need never associate home-grown and winter with boring.

Friday, 2 November 2012

2012 - disaster or not?

A lot of people have been saying that this year has been disastrous for gardeners and I have to say that the 2012 growing season has been difficult at times. For some crops it has been a washout but overall my quantity of food produced is roughly the same as previous years. Not as much of some veg. as I would have liked but good crops of others. Onions, beetroot, parsnips, radishes and carrots were better than average while potatoes, cucumbers and tree fruit were very disappointing. Strawberries were almost non-existent but the rasps are still producing and I still have tomatoes and peppers ripening in the greenhouse.

The plot still has enough to keep us going well into the new year but this is largely a result of my continual small sowings, made to ensure there was always something to plant when the space became available. When that eventually runs out we still have a big chest freezer packed with stuff so not really a disaster from my point of view. Tricky, demanding and sometimes downright difficult but gardeners are nothing if not resilient and optimistic.

This year’s harvest from greenhouse, plot and assorted containers is detailed below. Figures are approximate as I don’t weigh every single thing that I grow and I’ve estimated weights of what I still have in the ground. For those of you who think metric just divide by 2.2

Potatoes 170 lb
Onions/shallots/garlic 55 lb
Roots 55 lb
Peas/beans 35 lb
Brassicas 60 lb
Tomatoes 44 lb
Cucumbers/courgettes 24 lb
Peppers/aubergines 9 lb
Leeks 30 lb
Soft fruit 25 lb
Apples 60 lb

Salads: With the greenhouse I can manage an almost year-round supply of lettuce, spring onions, radishes and assorted salad leaves and micro greens. I like the idea of always having something fresh to pop into a sandwich, even if it is just a few sprouted seeds!

kale after its recovery from almost being stripped by caterpillars