I've been asked this month about growing. Growing veg from seed is a fantastic experience - there is nothing like seeing your tiny seeds grow into seedlings within a matter of days in some cases. Last month I wrote about starting off your seeds in propagators which is a great way to start your seedlings off, and the only effective method for some seeds that require a constant temperature for germination.
The key is to do your research - read seed packets, maybe some online research - I have a couple of trusty veg growing books I use just to check a few things here and there. The research is all part of the fun and a little plan of what you're going to grow where, and crucially, when things need to be started off, moved into your growing space and when they'll vacate the space to be used for something else can really help things along.
You'll need to think about crop rotation - not growing the same family of vegetables on the same plot in consecutive growing seasons, too and here again a little research and planning can really help.
So why not invest in a little notepad and pencil, and maybe a simple veg growing book alongside your seed packets, trowel and gloves and get growing!
Instead of purchasing bio degradable pots for this growing season, start saving your cardboard toilet roll tubes!
They are a great substitute for seedling plant pots and work especially well with long rooted plants, like runner beans or sweet peas.
Treat it like a normal pot and sow your seeds. When the plant is ready to be transferred outside, simply plant it straight into the ground. It’s as easy as that! The best part is the tube will naturally disintegrate into the soil.
-- Gemma Dray
People this month have been asking me what I'll be growing this year and when I'll be starting. Well the short answer to that is that I'll be growing pretty much a little of everything as per other years and that I'm starting now! True it might be wet and cold outside - but that's where propagators come into their own.
Essentially trays with plastic lids featuring handy vents, I have about a dozen propagators I use to get seeds started off indoors. Placed on windowsills and in light spaces in the house they're ideal to raise seedlings until the weather gets a little better and the soil outside has warmed up.
They key thing to remember is that all seedlings raised this way will need gradually hardening off. Which means once they've had a few weeks (depending on the seed growing time of the particular crop) or so in the propagator with the lid on, then take the lid off. After that I have another stage for my seedlings - putting them in the outdoor coldframes - sealed up first and then opening the doors. Only after all of those transitions does the seedling make it into the soil outdoors! It's important to check the seed packets and reference books especially when it comes to frost hardiness or otherwise.
And it's fun! Sowing indoors means you get a little feeling of the veg growing delights to come as Spring arrives!
I really should take notice of this piece of advice myself, rather than making plans to grow enough food to feed a small country. But every January/February brings the sound of seed catalogues dropping on the mat and me grabbing them with excitement, drooling over all the pictures of beautiful healthy vegetables that I obviously need to grow!
So I plan all my raised beds (I have six of them, so am very lucky), making sure that I follow the principle of rotating them so that I don’t grow the same thing in the same one each year. I then place my seed order and look forward to the moment they arrive, hoping the weather improves and I can get into the greenhouse and plant them all!
And that’s where it all goes a bit wrong. It is all down to time, you see, or rather lack of it. I am sure that my plans would all come to fruition if I were able to spend every waking moment in my garden, tending the seedlings, planting out and nurturing them but unfortunately I don’t have every waking moment to spend in the garden due to work commitments, children, dog, chickens, etc....
So I come back to my piece of advice and the title of this blog - don’t bite off more than you can chew. This year I am planning to utilise only a couple of the raised beds and nurture these rather than failing miserably by doing too much. Let’s face it, you don’t need 10 courgette plants or 15 tomato plants and if you feel the need to plant lots of seeds so that you can pick the best ones to plant out, then sell the extra ones outside your house or give them away to friends and relatives.
This way you can make sure everything grows healthily and you will not have to try and keep up with the harvesting - usually of one type of vegetable at a time. So choose wisely and enjoy each crop as it comes along without getting stressed!
-- Jane Dubinski
Whilst it certainly doesn’t feel like it is January, I typically use this month to plan out this year's vegetable plot. Reflecting on last years growing season will help you to decide what worked and what didn’t.
Decide what you would like to grow this year. Are there certain vegetables that your family use often in cooking? Would you like to try something new or unusual like purple carrots? You could even think as far ahead as to what vegetables you’d like to grow to make homemade chutney as gifts next Christmas!
Reputable online seed companies usually have some great deals during January and February so it’s worth ordering them sooner rather than later. Asking family and friends if they would like to split the cost for half the seeds is a great way to keep prices down!
I also use this month to plan where I am going to plant each vegetable. I had a glut of green tomatoes last year so they could really do with being in a sunnier spot. Rotating your crops from last year will help soil fertility and will also help to control insects and pests.
-- Gemma Dray
So this month people have been asking me if I'll be eating anything from the garden over Christmas. And the answer is yes! If you've been canny like me you'll still have some spuds left. Potatoes need digging up before first frosts, so ours are long out of the ground. But if you grow good keeping varieties and keep them in a cool dry place, you can definitely be eating homegrown on Christmas day.
So what of the other Christmas dinner veg possibilities? Well sprouts of course. They have a long growing season so need starting off in the Spring and covering with netting like all brassicas, to keep butterflies from laying eggs which equals caterpillars which equals distinct lack of edible greens! Sprouts are of course perfectly ready for picking at this time of year - infact we've been enjoying ours for a month or so in readiness for the Christmas feast.
If you cover your carrots with fleece or a cloche you could still have some in the ground for your Christmas enjoyment. I have to admit though, after over sowing last year, this year I was probably a little too cautious and we've already polished all our root veg off of this year. However, we do still have kale and cabbage - again started off in Spring and Summer and protected with netting, so these will be joining our potatoes and sprouts on Christmas day.
So enjoy your feasts and happy Christmas!
So what have people been asking me this month? Well, a key question has been, “Why is my veg not growing?” or words to that effect. Pretty easy to tell why these poor specimens are suffering when I can see from a couple of paces off the poor things aren’t getting any water. Yes, newsflash folks – when it is dry your fruit and veg need watering!
This sounds obvious I know, but do keep an eye on your veg in dry weather. Stick a finger into the ground and see if the roots of your crops are getting any moisture – if not give them a good drink. A good drink when they need it is better than a little sprinkling more often. Of course it has been very wet these last few days so you can probably relax a little depending whereabouts in the country you are!
Fruit and veg in pots need inspecting regularly – pots can dry out very quickly. If you have seeds in the ground you may need to water them every day in dry spells. Don’t forget your fruit and veg also needs feeding – so you can combine the two jobs nicely.
I try and take a little time out in dry spells - time to potter and have a little think as I’m filling up my watering cans from the water butts and watering and nourishing my crops – it can be very therapeutic!
Now I have been so busy with work over the past few weeks that I have slightly neglected the garden - thankfully we now have some rain in East Anglia so all my veggies have been growing away happily on their own! I have remembered to water the tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse though and am now being rewarded with lots of flowers and the beginnings of fruit.
The Tenderstem Broccoli is also coming along well, although I have had to cover it with mesh netting to stop the slugs and cabbage butterflies and I have already started to harvest small carrots and my fabulous new potatoes, grown in bags this year. One of the reasons for “growing you own” is because the vegetables taste so much better and this is particularly true of these two crops - there is nothing better than digging up your spuds, cooking them straight away and then covering them in butter and a spring of mint before serving! The carrots are so tasty they don’t even make it as far as the pot.
Salads are also a great idea at this time of year and if you choose the cut and come again varieties you can have salad leaves on tap whenever you require them. Once other crops have been harvested, salads can easily be sown in the space as they germinate quickly in these sunny/showery conditions and grow quickly - some take as little as three weeks before you can start to eat them.
I always grow sweetcorn - again because it is far superior to that which you can buy in the supermarket and this year is no exception -my plants are coming along and will hopefully be ready next month. The same goes for my runner beans - a ‘dead cert’ with my two boys who will eat their own body weight in beans! Have to wait for next month before harvesting though, but it’s nice to know that things are growing and nearly ready to eat.
Now is a great time to enjoy the garden as well as work in it, so make sure that you put down your hoe and take some time to relax and enjoy all the hard work you put in months ago by sitting out (when the sunshine prevails) with a cuppa or glass of wine!
-- Jane Dubinski
It's that lovely time of year when the fruit plants and bushes start to produce some fruit, so todays post is about strawberries.
We grow a few patches of them every year as the girls LOVE them, especially in jelly. Homegrown ones taste amazing compared to the shop bought forced-grown strawberries. I usually start them off on the windowsill early in the year from seed, but this year the plants from last year came back with a vengeance and are currently growing some monsterous strawberries!
If you have a busy patch like mine you may not be able to recognise your strawberry plants..The leaves look like this when they are still small and are not ready to produce fruit.
The leaves grow to an enormous size...
...and you wont be able to miss them!
This plant has produced a lovely bunch of strawberries that are just starting to go red, but with the heavy rain we keep getting I'm worried they will rot as they are lay on the soil. Here's a quick tip for all you strawberry growers- pop a little mound of sawdust- or straw!- underneath the fruit to protect them from the soil, dampness and pests. They will be happy and will continue to thrive.
I'm looking forward to trying ours this year.. I hope you are too!
-- Liz Longworth