Monday, January 31

New toy

From what I have read on other blogs we are all raring to go with seed sowing! Garden programmes advocate sowing seeds and leaving them on windowsills. Which may work up to a point but we have never found this really successful for bringing on seedlings. The seeds have germinated but then because the seedlings have had to hang around inside the house until temperatures in the greenhouse (especially at night) warm up they have grown weak and leggy. Quite a few years ago we bought a daylight bulb which helped for a while but the bulb lit up the whole spare bedroom with quite a bright light so when it eventually gave up we never replaced it.

Martyn was browsing garden websites recently to decide on a present that he would like for his birthday and he became fixed on an Indoor Grow Light Garden so we ordered one and it is now unpacked in a spare bedroom almost ready for action!
It isn't really set up properly yet but you'll get the general idea. The hood houses a couple of fluorescent light tubes and is coated to reflect light back downwards into the tray to maximise the effect.

The hood is adjustable so that it can be used for seed trays or taller plants meaning that plants can grow on under the tray until they can be moved into a cold frame or greenhouse to harden off. The kit came with four small plant troughs which can be used for larger plants but you can also place seed trays or pots inside the tray.

We also bought the optional extra self watering tray. This sits on the base of the unit and has a water reservoir into which is dipped capillary matting. The matting draws water up to the base on which the plants sit as it is needed. I guess this could also be used for watering house plants when you go on holiday.

We have tried to start seeds such as tomato and peppers, which benefit from an early start, in the past with little success so have wasted the seed and had to resow later - as mentioned above they have germinated but then struggled to grow into strong seedlings. These seeds will be ideal candidates for starting off using this kit. We will also maybe start off some early salad leaves and may even manage to grow some salad leaves through winter. I'll keep you up to date with how we get on.

Robin at Garden of Eden built her own germination table in her basement - if you click on the link you can see how she did this. We don't have the space to copy Robin - or the basement so had to go for a more compact version. If you want to read more information about the kit, we bought it from here. The website has some photos of it in action. I hope that we will have some similar photos to share shortly.

I know some of you have had more success than us using your windowsill as a garden space. Tanya at Allotments 4 You wrote a recent post about growing sprouting seeds - so what do you grow on your windowsill and how do you get over the problem of lack of light?

Saturday, January 29

It could end in tears ...

You may have guessed that this post will be about onions and you would be right although more correctly the allium family.

You may also have thought that the title refers to the attack on your tear glands as onions fight for their lives when you prepare them for the pot. Apparently enzymes escape from the cut onion to produce a volatile sulphur that reacts with the water in your eyes to create sulphuric acid. It's hardly surprising that this makes our eyes water. Sounds scary doesn’t it sulphuric acid in the eyes?

Actually what the title refers to is far more scary if you grow your own. Our onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, chives and even ornamental alliums could soon be under attack from a pest that was first spotted in Wolverhampton in 2003 – the allium leaf miner, (some of you may already be suffering its presence). Since that time it has gradually been spreading to other parts of the country. It seems that if this pest is prevalent in your area that the only answer is to grow under fleece or enviromesh as we do our carrots. We haven’t seen any signs yet but I guess it is only a matter of time! You can read more information here.

Until such a time that the dreaded allium leaf miner strikes we will carry on regardless. At the end of September we planted our autumn onions Autumn Champion and Senshyu Yellow (can’t provide any links for Autumn Giant as they are unavailable at this time of the year but they came from Dobies). They never grow much through winter but still look OK and on target to provide onions from about June. We start to harvest as soon as they look big enough to use as they don’t keep well but certainly fill a gap.

We planted garlic in October from one of the bulbs that we grew last year – I’m not sure whether it was Solent Wight or Purple Wight as the garlic was mixed up and neither looked particularly purple. We planted four bulbs last year and had enough garlic to render all the vampires in the universe helpless. The cloves were planted in pots in our cold greenhouse where they will remain until around the end of March/beginning of April. It’s a case of really waiting until the ground is ready as the cold won’t hurt them – in fact they need a period of cold to form cloves.

This year we are adding Elephant garlic to our list which is not really a garlic at all but belongs to the leek family. It’s supposed to be milder than garlic and can be used raw in salads.

For a few years now we have planted heat treated onion sets. They are a bit more expensive than the standard sets but we think they are worth it as the onions are far less likely to bolt and set seed. They are planted a little later (March last year) as the sets have to be heat treated for 20 weeks before they are sent out. This is suppose to destroy the flower bud which is developing inside the set. We will be growing four varieties of onion this year, Fen Early – an early variety, Hyred (red) which we grew last year, Hytech which is claimed to be the best heated treated onion and stores really well, We are also growing Stuttgarter Stanfield which isn't heat treated so it will be interesting to compare them to the others. Most are new for this year. This isn’t because there was anything wrong with last year’s choices but each year different varieties are bundled together as a collection by the seed companies.

Shallot sets ordered for this year are Pikant which performed the best of the two varieties we planted last year and new for this year Picasso. We are also going to have a go at growing some shallot seeds – Ambition. We haven’t tried growing shallots from seed before so this will be a learning experience. This year if the weather hasn’t improved by the time the shallots arrive we may consider getting them off to a good start in pots.

At the beginning of last year our spring onions were very slow to germinate and even once they had germinated were very slow to grow. I read somewhere (as you do) that ones described as bunching onions are more reliable and so we bought a couple of packets White Bunching Onion and Performer which certainly peformed better. This year so far we have bought a packet of Crimson Forest that produce red onions. We thought we had some of last year’s seeds left but if they don't turn up we will buy some other varieties later.
Weather conditions meant that we were a bit late planting our leeks last year and so they are fairly small. Next year we will have to try and get them in earler. The trouble is it can depend on the weather and soil conditions. This year we have ordered Giant Winter which we grew last year. It didn’t live up to the giant part of its name but I don’t think it was its fault and so it is being given another chance. A new variety for this year is Blue (or Bleu) Solaise both are praised for their hardiness which if we have a repeat of this winter will be a bonus.

We have lots and lots of chives which have seeded themselves prolifically so far from planting more I think this year they will benefit from a severe tidy. They are really pretty when on flower though and the bees love them. Maybe I can use some to edge some of the other vegetable beds.

Just hope that the dreaded allium leaf miner keeps its distance and that none of you are affected by it!

Thursday, January 27

And now for something different.

Our interest was pricked when watching a TV gardening programme a while ago. Someone mentioned that they had grown a Japanese Wineberry and had commented on how delicious the berries were and how prolific the plant was. We quite like growing fruits that are a bit different and so we decided to look out for one and recently found one on the Victoriana Nursery Gardens website.

Regular visitors to this blog will also know that last year our early excitement when our kiwis produced flowers turned to disappointment when we didn't get a single fruit. We think the problem was that only the male or the female plant flowered (not sure which is which) so the flowers weren't pollinated. Anyway there sitting in the same section as the wineberry was a self fertile kiwi plant called Issai. This is supposed to bear a large crop of small smooth skinned kiwis so that was added to our list. Unfortunately it won't pollinate our other kiwis so the only hope for fruit from those is if the male and female plants get their act together!

Martyn noticed that Victoriana also sold nut trees and so fancied trying a cobnut as well and who am I to say no so a Webbs Prize Cobnut tree was added to the list. We already have a couple of hazel bushes on the plot but they only produce nuts fit for the squirrels. They originally were contorted hazels that have lost their contortions and so were produced for decorative rather than productive purposes. Must admit I never really found the tangle of stems to be attractive which is why the bushes ended up on the plot. The RHS also reckon that cobnuts are a good source of nectar for bees so we will be doing a bit to help them too.

This week the plants arrived but will be potted up and left in our cold greenhouse until the conditions improve - this has worked well with fruit trees and bushes in the past. The photo album shows how the plants arrived - they were well packaged and the plants looked in good condition so I guess it is now up to us to look after them. I'll keep you posted.

Victoriana Nurseries are offering a 10% discount to anyone ordering from them using any of their links on any of our blogs or websites.

I also have to admit that I acted completely out of character when I visited the supermarket this week. Out of character as I don't usually impulse but - well not from a supermarket anyway! There sitting flaunting its flowers was a hellebore niger. It looked beuatiful and as I had considered buying one before i didn't consider it to be a total impulse. I know it is maybe further on than it naturally would be but if I keep it in the cold greenhouse for a while I hope it will be fairly happy until I can plant it out. I'm not sure whether it will go in the new bed at the front of the house (I've already ordered a batch of plants for there which I'll write about later) or for the shady area under the crab apple (I've ordered some plants for there too but no sign of finding a statue yet). I'm leaning towards the shady area at the moment - what do you think?

Wednesday, January 26

So will you be growing marrettes or courgows this year?

I wonder whether this year we will resist the urge to plant too many courgettes. We weren’t as inundated with fruits last year as in previous years but I think this was maybe down to the weather rather than anything else. We still harvested some as marrettes or courgows. We staggered the sowing times so that some plants matured later than others which seemed to work. Last year we tried to grow just two varieties Zucchini and Jemmer but then a magazine gave away a free packet of another variety which we just had to plant. This years starting point will be Zucchini and Jemmer again which will give us a green and a yellow variety.

We are sticking with our favourite squash Crown Prince as over the years we have found that this is a really good keeper. A new variety that we are going to try is Autumn Crown. According to the description it has been bred specially for the UK climate. It is said to have the flavour of melon and be a good keeper – we will see.
We had our best success yet with melons last year. This was still a limited success as we only managed three small melons – one of which was eaten by slugs before we noticed it. However, this was three melons more than we have managed in the past. To be honest we didn’t give the plants the attention they deserved as we pessimistically didn’t really expect them to produce anything. Anyway we are giving the same variety Noir des Carmes another try this year and promise that we will try to look after it better.

For several years now we have grown Burpless Tasty Green cucumbers successfully both in the greenhouse and outdoors. The plants growing outside were actually more prolific than those growing in the greenhouse. Not exactly an inspiring name but the variety has kept us supplied with cucumbers and so is on our list again. Maybe this year we’ll be a bit more efficient in getting it to climb rather than leaving it to trail on the ground but often best intentions are over-ruled by something that needs more urgent attention. I could be tempted by the mini cucumbers but the seed is really expensive and I wonder whether they are worth it?

Monday, January 24

Growing Underground

All our seed potatoes have now arrived after being only ordered from Alan Romans a week ago. It’s always tricky as Mal at Mal’s Allotment said seed potatoes always seem to arrive too early. The trouble is that if you delay an order then often the best varieties have sold out. The seeds will spend a little time in the garage before being set out to chit – no need to worry about whether to chit or not - there isn’t really an option when seed potatoes arrive in January.

Our underground crops have fared well during the freezing cold conditions that seem to have put paid to any thought of harvesting lots of above ground crops.

We had a meal out this week and were served carrots and this emphasised (not that it needed to) why we grow so many carrots each year. Our carrot taste of – well carrot – bought ones seem to taste of nothing at all.

This year we will be growing four varieties that did really well last year, Autumn King 2, Flakee, Yellowstone and Early Nantes 2. Besides the packets of seeds that we bought we have a free packet of Early Nantes (from a magazine) and Yellowstone (sent by Plants of Distinction along with our order - they sent us a packet of annual chrysanthemum seeds too) so that gives us plenty of seed to sow on the plot and in troughs which will start off in our greenhouse to produce an early crop. As we like growing vegetables in a variety of colours we will add Rainbow Mixed to our 2011 list. This is supposed to include yellow, white, purple, scarlet and orange carrots.

It’s just a shame that the carrots have to be covered with enviromesh to protect them from carrot fly as the ferny fronds look lovely.
We are growing the same beetroot as last year namely Sunset Mixed which includes four different coloured varieties of beetroot, Chioggia (has red and white rings when cut), Blankoma (white), Boltardy (red) and Burpees Golden (yellow). We really must find more ways of using our beetroot - have you any favourite recipes other than for chutneys and borsch?
The parsnip varieties that we have chosen are Gladiator which always seems to do well for us and White King a variety which is new to. Our method of growing parsnips has served us well for several years now and is explained here if you are interested.

We didn't grow any swede last year but this season will grow Marian a variety that has done well in previous years.

Seeing as radish are the little cousins of the swede I’m including them here. We have ordered a mixed packet from Kings which includes French Breakfast, Scarlet Globe and Sparkler. The trick with radish is remembering to pick them so we’ll probably have a tub of them in the garden – just in case!

Saturday, January 22

Just what you could do without.

I had a call this morning from one of our allotment neighbours to tell me that most of the sheds on our site had been broken into sometime overnight or this morning!

When we arrived we found that the main lock to our shed had been cut off.
Having destroyed the main lock the criminals found that the door still wouldn't open as the standard key lock was still operating and so they left without going any further. I suppose we should be grateful that the swines didn't jemmy the door and cause further damage. If they had just looked through our shed window they could have saved themselves the trouble of breaking the lock as it is obvious that there is nothing inside to steal!

Other plotters had the same problem locks broken but nothing missing. I suppose one answer is to leave sheds unlocked but in the past we have suspected that sheds on empty plots have had night visitors! Not sure what the night visitors were up to but whatever it was we don't fancy it happening in our shed!

No doubt whatever was stolen will end up at some car-boot sale. Must admit I wonder the ease of disposing of stolen goods encourages break-ins such as this.

Anyway the police have been informed and I have my crime number - surprisingly the person I spoke to wanted lots of detail which seemed to imply that they did care about this sort of thing.

Time to talk … of cabbages and Kings

Regular visitors may be aware that we have had problems with Brussels sprouts for the past couple of years. In the 2009 season we thought the sprouts were pathetic but at least we did manage to harvest something.

As sprouts are hungry feeders we thought that maybe the land was a bit lacking in nutrients. Maybe we hadn’t watered and fed the plants enough, so last year – 2010 - we tried harder. We did all the things that you are supposed to do to grow sprouts successfully. We added lime, we added plenty of fertiliser, we firmed the ground, during the growing season we fed and watered! The plants started to grow well, then they just seemed to give up and  suddenly go backwards to reward our efforts by failing to produce a single sprout!
It’s strange as in the past we have grown both green and red varieties but suddenly the production of sprouts seems to be beyond us. The whitefly don’t help but other people manage to have both whitefly AND sprouts. We are now wondering whether club-root may be an issue so this year we are going to try a club root resistant variety called Crispus to see whether that grows any better.
Most agree (except for one US president) that broccoli deserves a place on any plot – we have seed left of Early Purple Sprouting, Summer Purple and White Sprouting. We also have seed left for Calabrese Green Magic and Marathon.
We will be planting cauliflower – Kaleidoscope again. This mixture produces purple, green, yellowish orange and creamy white curds which seem to be quicker to produce curds that also hang on better than the white varieties. The purple heads turn a bit blue when cooked which takes a bit of getting used to! We are also going to try a club root resistant variety Clapton.
We grow a range of cabbages for most we have seed left from last year. Our chosen varieties are Kilaton (autumn), Huzaro (red cabbage), Primo (summer), Tundra (winter), January King (winter) and Flowers of Spring which will be new to us. We don’t really enjoy Savoy cabbages and so this type is absent from our list.

Finishing off our ‘greens’ list is Borecole Curly Kale Afros.

As we do have signs of club root on our plot we always start our brassica seeds (including turnips and swede) in pots or modules and grow them into small plants before planting them out so they have a better start if club root does affect them. Our method is explained here.

So why cabbages and KINGS - well a group of us on our allotment site are members of the NSALG and get about a 50% discount on seeds from Kings Seeds so we buy lots of our seeds from them. Their website catalogue isn't the fanciest but the company sell good seeds and offer a reliable service.

And just for those who wonder where they have heard this title before try here.

Thursday, January 20

Red, yellow, huge and small - well that's the idea!

We used to grow quite a lot of tomatoes outdoors on the allotment but for the past three years or so these have been devastated by blight. It seems to have become more of a problem in both tomatoes and potatoes since our site has become fully occupied. When we were surrounded by plots that were overgrown with weeds it was never a problem. Either blight has got worse or it now has a superhighway to travel from one plot to the next. A couple of years ago it even managed to devastate the tomatoes growing in our plot greenhouse.

Now we have totally abandoned the idea of growing tomatoes outdoors and just grow in our two greenhouses – one in the garden and the other on the plot.

Last year we decided to use a ring culture system. For the garden greenhouse we invested in the ‘real’ kit which worked really well
We thought we would try a do-it-yourself system for the plot greenhouse but this wasn’t as successful. We’re not sure whether the compost used in the do-it-yourself system was to blame but have decided to go for the grow-bag and proper kit on the plot too this year as it was sad to see much of the effort of growing good plants go to waste.We thought we would try a do-it-yourself system for the plot greenhouse but this wasn’t as successful. We’re not sure whether the compost used in the do-it-yourself system was to blame (we were a bit suspicious of the quality of compost last year) but have decided to go for the grow-bag and proper kit on the plot too this year as it was sad to see much of the effort of growing good plants go to waste.
As with potatoes we like to grow a variety of tomatoes.
This year we have ordered Moneymaker a banker variety which has been reliable in the past.
Another banker is Gardeners’ Delight a cherry variety which we haven’t ordered as it is due to be free in one of next month’s magazines.

We have also had a free packet of a tomato called Red Cherry which isn’t even in the seed catalogue so maybe some strange mixture.

Our favourite variety last year was Amish Gold which produced some really tasty tomatoes so this will reappear on the list for this year. We have seeds left over for Yellow Perfection and so will be growing that again too.
We grew Tumbling Tom Red is pots in the greenhouse last year and also in some tubs in the garden. (About three plants were planted in the tub in the photograph). These provided us with an abundance of cherry sized tomatoes for relatively little effort – once planted they were fed/watered and left to get on with it. This year we will be adding Tumbling Tom Yellow to the list and hope that it does as well.
Other new varieties for this year will be Blondkopfchen which as the name suggests is another yellow tomato which supposedly doesn’t split and bear masses of fruit, German Red Strawberry which is described as an ox-heart tomato with a shape similar to a large strawberry and Marizol Gold which is described as a red-gold bi-coloured variety that produces huge fruits.

Only time will tell whether these varieties will live up to their reputations. So what tomatoes are everyone else planning on growing?

[By the way following Mark's lead over at Mark's Veg Plot I've widened the blog a little so I can use bigger photos. Hope you like it if you do thank Mark if not well you could always blame Mark I suppose. Sorry Mark!]


Tuesday, January 18

Survivors and casualties

Yesterday afternoon was dry and sunny so inspired the first trip of 2011 to the allotment. The visit wasn't without some trepidation - would the scene be one of devastation. As it turned out there was good and bad news. Generally speaking above ground bad - below ground good! Hopefully the photo album below provides a summary of the state of play. Martyn has posted more about our carrot harvest on his blog here.

Click on the play arrow to start the slideshow

I have also started my 2011 diary on my website here

Talking of survivors this is my 800 post for this blog - almost an encyclopaedia!

Sunday, January 16

Gardens plans for 2011 (or maybe beyond)

Fer at My Little Garden in Japan is holding another blog carnival. His challenge this time is to write a post about what you plan on doing in your garden this next year. He suggested that a renovation plan will do so I’m going to limit myself to explaining plans for our garden although we have plans for the plot too which will no doubt feature in our blog posts at an appropriate time.

We all have areas of our garden that are not as we would like them to be – some areas are out of sight out of mind, some areas are just reaching the end of their use-by date, some are in need of replanting and for others we just haven’t yet come across that ideal solution. Although our garden isn’t particularly large compared to those of other fellow bloggers we have areas that fit into all of these categories.

1. We just haven’t come across the ideal solution for:

a) The filter system into our pond: the pond itself has been a source of enjoyment and during its lifetime has undergone several transformations but its latest transformation is incomplete due to us not being able to decide how we would like the water to flow from the filter back into the pond. We tried running the outlet pipe through a large bamboo tube but this wasn’t really successful. At the moment the water just flows out of a black plastic pipe which although functional has only really looked somewhat attractive and interesting during the big freeze when it housed an ice sculpture. So far we haven’t come up with an idea that we like maybe this year we will.

b)  A dark space in the middle of one of our borders: this space is shaded from all sides by bamboo, a large crab apple tree and a large camellia. We look straight onto it from two of our house windows and so need some sort of focal point – something that won’t be dominated by plants growing around it. Any type of plant would struggle to compete so we thought maybe some sort of garden ornament or statue. It needs to be a light colour to stand out but something subtle too – any ideas? So far we haven’t seen anything we really like maybe this year we will.
These photos show views from upstairs in spring  and downstairs in winter respectively with the ovals indicating the space to be filled.

2. In need of replanting:

The bed in front of the house: for reasons best kept to ourselves the bed in front of our house had to be cleared completely and is now ready to be replanted. As mentioned in a previous blog post this will be planted with perennials and bulbs to try and give some interest for most of the year. A definite ‘will do’ plan for this year. Any advice on good varieties of hardy geraniums?

4. Passed its use-by date:
a) The patio: the paving slabs are uneven and wobble when we stand on them so the whole patio area needs to be re-laid and in the process we intend to redesign it. The patio although quite small is on three levels which isn’t as practical as we would like so the three will become two to hopefully provide a better sized sitting area. This rates as a ‘hope to do’ plan for next year.

b)  The arbour beside the pond: the arbour was erected to divide up the garden but also to hide the filtration tanks to the pond. Filters have become much smaller over the years and so this area needs a redesign so we can make better use of the area that no longer is needed for filtration tanks. This is probably a long shot for this year!


5. Out of sight out of mind:
The area behind the greenhouse: this houses our cold frame and anything we want to dump. The intention is to use the paving slabs from the patio here and buy some new ones for the patio. Then we want to create a tidier, more attractive area but are not too sure what this will be like yet. It will still house the cold frame and is a useful area for hardening off plants and will hopefully evolve as we fiddle about with it! As this is tied up with the patio renovation it also is a ‘hope to do’ plan for next year.

I wonder how much we will actually manage to achieve - to find out you'll just have to keep popping by to visit our blog!
So having shared the worst parts of our garden just to balance the picture we did renovate several areas of our garden last year as shown below to prove it's not all a disaster area. 

new year gardening resolutionsApologies for the length of this post - blame Fer! He shouldn't have started me off.

Visit New Year Gardening Resolutions Blog Carnival at my little garden in Japan 

Saturday, January 15

So many varieties to choose from

It's hard enough choosing which variety of potato to grow from those available in garden centres and nurseries but when you start to browse a specialist grower like Alan Romans where there are over 130 varieties to choose from the task becomes just that but more difficult. There is a bit of help on hand on the site as a description of each variety is given most with a photo. Alan Roman's prices are competitive too.

It's always a bit of a lottery choosing potato varieties as some do well one year and not another if the conditions change. What grows well in a wet year may be a flop if it is very dry. Flavour can also depend on soil, fertliser etc.

We will grow a few potatoes in potato bags to try and get some early as this was fairly successful last year when we had our first new potatoes in June.
The rest will be grown on the plot using our lazy method - involving a trowel rather than a spade -which has served us well now for several years. For more information click here

This year we have ordered International Kidney which would be called Jersey Royals if we were growing them on Jersey. We grew these last year for the first time and liked them. We'll also be growing Lady Christl again.

We bought some Maris Bard quite late from a garden centre last year after we had decided that we were going to try out growing potatoes in bags. To be honest the only reason we bought it was because the bag of seed potatoes was less wrinkled and not sprouting as the other varieties were. We liked the flavour so we will be growing it again this year but from better quality tubers (we hope). We will be growing Red Duke of York again. These have really attractive early foliage too - its very purple. 

We like to try something new each year and this year the new variety for us will be Winston.

All the ones already mentioned are classed as first earlies. We've grown Charlotte which is a second early for several years now and it has always done well so that is also back on the list as is another second early Nadine.

We will also be growing Nicola as a early maincrop and International Kidney can be grown as an early maincrop too.

We have dropped three varieties from last year's list one is Ulster Chieftain which didn't produce a good crop - in fact it was pathetic compared to other varieties - it isn't on Alan Roman's list this year so maybe it just didn't do well generally. We also found it disintegrated when boiling or steaming.

Juliette has been dropped too, although it is a good variety it is also absent from Alan Roman's list. We have also dropped Sarpo Mira  which we have grown as a banker against blight for the past couple of years but to be honest this year it is still in the ground as we hadn't got round to digging it up when the weather turned against us. That just goes to show that it isn't over impressive in the flavour stakes.

We don't grow any second maincrop as we like the potatoes to have matured before blight strikes and we also find that salad varieties seem to be less likely to be devastated by slugs.

By the way the flowers are attracive too if you take the time to get up closely and notice them.

One little tip that could come in useful - a while ago someone on our site suspected that his seed potatoes had been affected by herbicide poisoning - we tried to follow this up but couldn't progress as he hadn't kept the reference and batch numbers that are supposed to be on all certified seed potatoes. Who does? This is the only means of identifying where potatoes have come from and so it may be worth making a note just in case!

By the way if you are a visitor to Martyn's blog you will know that some of our stored potatoes are turning black after being hit hard by the frost. Let's hope enough survive to keep us going 'til the new potatoes arrive.

Thursday, January 13

Peas - must do better!

Last year we didn't do too well for peas so I'm hoping that this year will be better. We seem to have years when peas do really well like in 2009 and then years which are a waste of time like last year when I don't think the conditions on our plot suited. The early sown ones didn't do too badly but the later ones were a bit of a disaster. When the peas needed plenty of moisture it was really dry! It seems to be all or nothing with us! The shoots that did manage to come through were nibbled away by something before they managed to grow maybe slugs or mice. I don't think birds were the culprits as I popped some net over the seed bed. I kept resowing but to no avail! It was really disappointing as we love fresh garden peas and like to have plenty to freeze.

We have grown peas in pots which gets over the problem of something eating the young emerging seedlings but the plants seem to suffer a setback when they are planted out and never seem to do as well as seeds that have been directly sown. Maybe we need to grow some each way this year to edge our bets,

We also tried the gutter method and got into a real mess trying to slide the seedlings out of the pipe and into a trench.

We've chosen our pea varieties for this year and will be growing Kelvedon Wonder and Onward again. These usually produce a reasonable crop. Instead of Progress No 9 we will be growing Feltham First

Although the flowers are not as varied as those of beans they are quite pretty.

We like to grow some Mangetout peas and last year we grew Dwarf Sugar (but they were more 'ne mange rien' than mange tout) this year I quite fancied the sound of Carouby de Maussane. The catalogue description says it is a tall growing mangetout variety with attractive purple flowers. I'm looking forward to seeing if this variety is as attractive as it.

We did grow some purple podded peas once which also have a purple flower. We had seen some growing in an ornamental kitchen garden. It is a very tall growing variety that not only has purple flowers but purple pea pods too which made them easy to spot when picking (the peas inside are green). It was pretty but we haven't grown them again as we didn't think the pea produced were as tender and sweet as we like.
By the way if you are interested in breeding your own variety of pea check out Vegetable Heavens blog

Tuesday, January 11

Beans in the flower patch?

I always think that bean plants would get away with calling themselves ornamental.

Broad beans have flowers that remind me of bees and until we grew them I never realised just how perfumed the flowers were. We have grown both the white and red flowered varieties. The red flowered varieties still produce green beans and the flowers can be really variable ranging from pale (almost white) to deep pink.
This year we will be growing three white flowered varieties Bunyards Exhibition, Witkiem Manita and Masterpiece Green Longpod. We’ve grown all of these before so we know what to expect. We don’t sow our broad beans in autumn and so we grow Witkiem Manita as it is an early cropper.
We grew three varieties of French beans last year which gave us three different flower and bean colours. Royalty produced purple beans (although these turn green after cooking), Sungold yellow beans and Delinel green beans. This year we are just changing Delinel for Tendergreen. Just for a change really - I hope the flowers are as pretty though. 
All of then have pencil shaped beans which we prefer. Last year we grew them successionally which proved very successful.
We also grow a mix of runner bean varieties. This year we will grow Desiree which has white flowers, Lady Di and Enorma with red flowers and Painted Lady with red and white flowers. In the past we have also grown Celebration which has salmon pink flowers.
All the beans will be sown in pots in the cold greenhouse before planting out as small plants.
We grow lots of beans as they freeze really well and usually provide us with plenty of home grown vegetables throughout winter especially when conditions are bad and we can't get to the plot to harvest anything freshly.