Friday, 27 March 2015

Sowing Tomato seeds

Most of my chilli seedlings are doing OK, and growing rapidly under the lights. I reckon they will be strong enough to move out onto the windowsills within the next few days, so it is time to sow the Tomatoes, who will be next into the Growlight House.

[Actually, the Tomato seeds were sown on Sunday 22 March, but I wrote this post for later publication via Blogger's Scheduler facility, since I was going away on business for a few days.]

Just like with the chilli seeds, I was spoilt for choice. I have loads of tomato seeds; some that I have bought and some that I have been given by friends. There are certain types that I like to grow every year, but I always like to try some new ones too - particularly ones that have been supplied and recommended by friends. Shown in the photo below are the ones I initially selected to grow. I say "initially" because things didn't go exactly according to plan. More on that later.


My plan was to grow 18 tomato plants. Most of you will know that I am perennially short of space so I grow my tomatoes in containers.

This was my starting list:
Bought
Ferline (2)
Orkado (2)
Maskotka (2)
Ananas

From Eddy Ceyssens in Belgium
Larisa
Giant Syrian

From Enrico Ferrario in Italy
Chocolate Stripes
Possena del Vesuvio

From Stephen Shirley of Victoriana Nursery Gardens in Kent
Caspian Pink
Vintage Wine
Giant Delicious
Black from Tula
Clou
Primavera
Primabella

My normal technique is to sow two seeds in every container, aiming to pinch out the weaker seedling if they both germinate. The containers are old Elmlea (low-fat cream substitute) pots, which are a good shape - tall and narrow. Being tall allows the seedlings to achieve a decent depth of root before needing to be transplanted, and being narrow means I can fit lots of them in a seed-tray!


I fill each container about two-thirds of the way up with general-purpose compost, from which I have picked out any big lumps. I do this the day before sowing, and keep the containers indoors overnight to warm up the compost.

The seeds are then put in position manually and pushed down just under the surface of the compost. I use a plastic plant-label for this. Of course it is also vital to label the containers so that you will know which ones are which. Then the containers are gently watered with warm water. The final stage is to slide them into large clear plastic bags, pegged shut, which will help to keep the humidity high. Unlike the chilli seeds, I am not giving the tomatoes any additional heat. The trays of containers will sit on a windowsill for now, benefitting from the heat of the radiator below during the day. The room in which they will live is equipped with an electric heater set to come on if the temperature falls below 15C, as it may well do at night-time.

The unexpected change of plan I hinted at earlier came about when I opened the packs of "Orkado" and "Ferline", which were remainders from last year. I realised that there were only 3 seeds of each type left. These (along with "Maskotka") are Must Have ones which I grow every year now. Obviously my "two seeds in each container" thing was not going to work, so I put one seed of each type into three containers.


If they all germinate I will therefore have a spare one of each, which is never a bad thing. I know that if I have too many tomato plants I will easily be able to find homes for them. (Rosemary, are you reading this??)

Then I changed my plan again. I suddenly began to think "What happens if NONE of my favourites germinate? I'll be left really short of "standard" tomatoes". Furthermore, I realised that if was going to sow more than 15 pots, I might as well fill two complete seed-trays - in other words 30 containers.


Because of this, a few more tomato seeds just made it onto the 2015 grow-list. Three of "Harbinger", and one each of "Cherokee Purple", "Gardeners Delight" and "Ace 55". The latter is a variety that I inherited from a contact on Twitter, who was having a clear-out. One way or another, I should have a fairly varied selection of tomato plants to choose from!

Before I finish today, I want to make particular mention of the varieties "Clou", "Primavera" and "Primabella".


These are all products of a German breeding-programme aimed at developing blight-resistant tomatoes. Blight is a devastating disease and strikes most gardens in our country most years, so plant varieties that can resist it would be hugely welcome. These three are new types that I have never encountered before, so I will be very interested to see how they do. If you want to get some for yourself, they are available in the UK from Victoriana Nursery Gardens, to whose proprietor Stephen I am indebted for these trial seeds.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Container gardening

I'm sure most readers know full well that the majority of my crops are produced in raised beds. However, since space is tight I often resort to growing things in containers too. Growing veg in containers is also a good plan if you need to adjust the soil in any way: what would be impractical for a big plot becomes possible in a container. For instance, I have grown Rhubarb for many years now, and it has never done very well because the soil in my garden is very light and sandy, so completely unsuitable for Rhubarb. Last Autumn I decided on Plan 'B'. I moved it to a big container:


When I dug them up the Rhubarb crowns were looking very sorry for themselves. The soil in which they were growing had become full of roots from my neighbour's huge Leylandii tree, which were evidently monopolising the nutrients. In fact some of the crowns had faded away entirely. I have planted six crowns at various times but I could only find two decent ones and one very tiny one.

The container I have used for the Rhubarb is actually just a ring - it is the upper part of an old water-butt, without a bottom to it. I dug down quite a long way - deeper than most of the offending tree roots (which were coming into my garden laterally), before installing the ring, and then filled it with composted stable-manure previously used for growing potatoes, and a fair bit of home-made compost. When the Rhubarb crowns were in I covered them with another good layer of compost and then with a big plastic cloche to protect them from the worst of the Winter weather.


Now that the temperatures are rising, the Rhubarb has begun to grow again, and is looking much happier:


I think I will try to resist harvesting any of it this year, and let it recover its strength. Next year I will take a small crop.

Elsewhere in the garden I have this:


It is the plastic crate in which is growing my Leaf Celery, started last year.


The Leaf Celery seems to have survived the Winter OK. I have removed all the big tatty leaves, many of them yellow, to allow more light to reach the growing-points of the plants (there are 9 in that container). In order to replenish the nutrients in the compost I have added a handful of Growmore general-purpose fertiliser. Leaf Celery is officially a biennial, producing flowers (and then seeds) in its second year, but it looks as if there will be more useful leaves to come still so I'm not discarding this lot just yet!


Here is another example of how I grow veg in containers. These two are planted with potatoes (First Early "Vale's Emerald" in this case). Since they wouldn't fit in the plastic greenhouse (right), I have covered the containers with cloches to protect them from frost, but of course the cloches will be removed then the danger of frost has passed - by which time the plants will have grown too big for them anyway.


It's not only vegetables that I grow in pots. Look at this little lot:-


Apart from the obvious Spring bulbs you can see flowering, most of these are herbaceous perennials, just springing into new growth. I have got the pots up near the house at present, for protection from the wind, but in due course they will be distributed around the garden.

In fact, wherever you look in my garden you see containers!


Most of them look pretty bare at present, but just you wait till Summer...

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

PSB update

This year the Purple Sprouting Broccoli has been very good. The quality has been good, and the timing has been good. Much as I like PSB, I don't want it all to come on at the same time. It doesn't freeze well, and is best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting.

This is a "Red Spear" plant moments before cutting - at its best.


This, on the other hand is a "Rudolph" plant putting up another flush of little spears three weeks after the main head was cut. They are not as big or as succulent as the first lot, but acceptable nonetheless.


Meanwhile, this is "Red Arrow", biding its time. It has a tight cluster of nascent spears snuggled down under the leaves, just waiting for the right moment to spring into action.


This year my four different varieties of PSB have all developed at different times, which is just what I wanted. It spreads the harvesting time over a period of about two months. The crop has been coming on at a rate with which we can keep pace. Enough for us, but also some to give away, because our daughter Emma and her husband Dave like it as much as we do and it is nice to be able to give them some sometimes.


For the record, the order of maturity has been: Rudolph (Feb), Red Spear (March), Red Arrow (soon - probably early April) and Early Purple Sprouting (Despite its name, looks like being ready last - late April I would say).  They were all sown at the same time, in the first week of May 2014.


Having grown PSB for many years, I think the key to success is to get the plants to grow as big as possible during the Summer and Early Autumn, because after that they hardly grow at all. This means that you need to sow the seeds promptly. Anything after the end of May would be too late, in my opinion. Last year I also went to great lengths to protect my PSB from butterflies / caterpillars. If you don't keep on top of this they can damage your plants a lot and weaken them. This year I will try the same approach, using my Build-a-Ball kits and netting.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Planting, more planting and some sowing...

Last Thursday I planted out my Broad Bean seedlings.


You may recall that I had sown them in pairs in little pots. Now I just tipped them out of the pots and popped them into holes made with my trowel. Look at the healthy roots they have!


I have left the plants together in their pairs, and given each a 5-foot bamboo cane for support.


One of the "pairs" is still a singleton - the second seed never germinated - but I think I will probably have enough anyway.


Just to be on the safe side I have also sown some seeds for some "Stereo" Broad Beans. Whether I will need them, or even have space to grow them, is a moot point, but at least I will have the option.

I have also planted some more potatoes. They are Second Earlies "Charlotte", and I have put them in some of the new big black plastic pots. As you can see, they are now in the second of my new "Seedling Greenhouses":


The pots are (intentionally) a lot bigger than their predecessors, and only four will fit into the greenhouse.


The design of the new greenhouses is quite different to the one I had before. I won't be able to keep plants in them as long as previously because the lid will obstruct them. This is a pity. In the previous version the openable lid was the full width of the greenhouse. I hadn't known about the changed design before making my purchase, and it might have influenced my decision if I had.

This pair of pots contains tubers of First Early "Vale's Emerald". Notice my cunning plan for protecting them from frost!


Here is a tray of Lettuce that has recently germinated:


The tray is sown with half each of "Cervanek" and "Devin", the two varieties sent to me by blogging friend Dominika in the Czech Republic. They both did really well last year, so I'm hoping for a repeat performance this year.

And these are my Leeks, looking good so far...


So as you can see, there is already lots happening in my garden. April is probably the busiest month in the gardening year here in the UK, so expect more stuff like the above!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Harvest Monday - 23 March 2015

This week I am putting PSB is second place on my post, because it has been very prominent in my Harvest Monday posts for the last couple of weeks. Instead I am putting at the top of the list Lettuce:


I picked the last of the over-Wintered Lettuces (there are 5 Lettuces in that bowl). They were planted out very late last year, but grown under cloches throughout the last few months.

Lettuce "Marvel of 4 Seasons"

They are not big, nor are they choice specimens, but they are available well before any new-season Lettuce could be. I sowed some Lettuce seeds about 2 weeks ago, but they are not going to mature for at least a couple of months, so this does make the over-Wintered ones seem attractive.

Lettuce "Valdor"
Anyway, those Lettuces, when put together with some Landcress, made enough salad for two meals for the two of us.

And here is the PSB... No further explanation required, I feel.

PSB "Red Spear"




To go with the Lettuce seen above, I also harvested the one lone Radicchio that was left:


This one was supposedly "Variegato di Castelfranco", but it is not like the ones I have had before. Usually that variety produces more rounded leaves which are a creamy white / yellow, with dark splotches. I think this one is not what it was claimed to be. Have a look at this: Variegato di Castelfranco


**********************************************************************************

This is my entry for "Harvest Monday", hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. I hope you will go across and see Daphne's garden emerging at long last from the snow!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

More on Hellebores

Although I only have a total of 9 Hellebore plants (and two of those are very tiny), I am really happy with their performance this Spring.


Just look at the number of blooms on this plant!


I am currently very enthused with Hellebores, and one of the reasons for this is the sheer variety of different types available. This one is called "White Spotted Oriental Hybrid". From above / the outside, the flowers are definitely pink.


When you look at them from underneath / inside though, they are much paler (verging on white) and definitely spotted:




This one (on the same plant) is almost green.




My next photo shows two blooms on another plant, one seen from above and one seen from below, which illustrates again the colour difference.


Most of my photos of Hellebore flowers have a finger in them, because I have had to hold the flower in such a way that you can see its inside.


One of the reasons I have been pleased with the Hellebores is that they have provided a splash of colour in the garden when little else is out. Many of the flowers appeared before the Spring bulbs began to appear, and it looks as if they will still be flowering when the bulbs have finished.

This lovely dark one was recently given to me by my blogging friend Alice, who runs Lock Cottage Flowers. Being a single one it relies on colour rather than shape for its dramatic effect.




In the next few photos you can see something of how the seeds develop.








I have heard that Hellebores self-seed easily, so I hope mine do. It would be nice if I had a whole bed of them!