Sunday, 26 April 2015

Tomato progress report

I have been growing tomatoes for many years now, and I follow a well-established routine. For the last three years I have sown them in late March, and after germination have kept them in my Growlight House for a few weeks before potting them on into 5" pots.

Here are some of them, spending the night indoors...

Recently we have had a lot of bright sunny weather, so the tomato plants have spent several hours each day outside in order to get as much natural light as possible. However, despite the sunshine, the temperatures have not been high - typically a maximum of 12 or 13C in the middle of the day. It has also been windy on many days. Because of this, some of the plants are not looking very happy. Many of them are pale and rather sickly-looking.

This looks like wind damage, but also lack of nutrients.

I'm not sure whether this is due to the weather, or to do with lack of nutrients in their compost. I think it may be a combination of both. After last year's fiasco with the weedkiller-contaminated compost, I am always suspicious. This year I am using Westland's "Jack's Magic", which looks nice and has a fine crumbly texture, but who knows what nutrients / contaminants it does or does not contain??

They are not all bad though. This "Primavera" one looks OK, doesn't it?

I have already given the plants a dose of "Tomorite" tomato-food, which I wouldn't normally do before they had their first flowers, but I thought they were in dire need of nutrition!

My plants will remain in these 5" pots for another two to three weeks, and will then be transplanted to their final containers, mostly the big self-watering "balconnieres". I don't want to do this until the risk of frost is past, so mid-May is the target date.

Then comes the big decision: which ones will I keep and which ones will I discard? I currently have 30 plants, but I think I must limit myself to growing no more than 20, so some will have to go to new homes. At the moment it looks as if a big factor in the selection process will be the plant's state of health.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Perfect for Pots

Last Autumn Jane won in a competition a pack (15 bulbs) of Sarah Raven's "Perfect for Pots" Tulips. It fell to me (of course) to grow them! They are just beginning to flower now, so here are some photos of them.

This is "Ronaldo", a really deep Burgundy red colour.

This is "Jan Reus", a much redder one - a Merlot, perhaps?

The third variety is yet to show its true colours. It is "Flaming Spring Green", which is mostly white, with streaks of green and red. In my photo you can just see the red streaks beginning to show...

Four days later...

These are lovely flowers, but I have some reservations about the selection. I think the "Ronaldo" and "Jan Reus" ones are too similar. In my opinion, it would have been better to select completely different colours. Likewise, although these bulbs are supposed to flower in succession over an extended period, they have all come at more-or-less the same time, which is strange, and disappointing.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Getting some salads started

Every year, one of my raised beds is always devoted to salad-production. Salads are good crops to grow if space is limited, because if you choose the right plants you can pick a few leaves here and there over a long period - a very different proposition to cutting, say, a single cabbage, which is a one-off opportunity.

First into the Salads bed this year were some Radishes. Seen here are 3 x 1.2 metre rows of Sparkler, Saxa and Cherry Belle. There are three more rows next to them, but they haven't germinated yet. This is part of my "successional sowing" plan, aiming to spread the harvest over a significant period of time.

At the far end of the bed I have put in 9 Lettuce seedlings, 3 each of 3 different varieties, in the hope that they will mature at different times. They are "Cervanek", "Devin" and an unknown red one from a mixed pack.

I have spaced them about 8 inches apart (8-ish, that is), which is a bit on the close side. If you want big Lettuces, you should plant them further apart.

I have lots more Lettuces coming on, because I aim to have a steady succession of them throughout the Summer. Well, that's the plan, anyway.

In one part of the bed I have sown seeds for a patch of "cutting salad". By this I mean a mix of lettuces, endives, cress etc, which I will cut as Baby Leaf Salad. I threw in some "Ishikura" Spring Onions just for good measure.

My mix included part of this pack of Provençale Salad Mix, which was amongst  the selection of trial seeds kindly supplied to me by Marshalls. It is a blend of "assorted species" (details not given), which are said to be "...winter hardy, with a longer cropping period. A delicious mix which will crop into the winter especially given a little protection." Recommended sowing dates are from March to October. Judging by the picture on the pack and the shape of the seeds, I think the mix includes Rocket, Mustard and perhaps Pak Choi. Not really "Provençale" in my humble opinion!

Notice also the "Misticanza di Lattughe", which has been one of the best packs of seeds I have ever bought. I got it from Seeds of Italy. The pack had literally hundreds of seeds in it, and I have used it again and again. The Use By date on the pack is 12/2011, but the seeds are definitely still viable.

I have identified the area for the Baby Leaf Salad with a rectangle of metal rods, which you can see (left side) in the photo below. I will remove the rods once the seeds germinate. They are only markers.

As you can also see in that photo, I have covered the whole bed with a net suspended on a cage made from aluminium rods and "Build-a-ball" balls. This is to deter animals who might be tempted to dig up my precious plants. By the way, the two green clumps in the foreground are Parsley, grown from seeds sown last September, kept in a pot in the coldframe over the Winter, and transplanted a few days ago.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Chilli progress report

My chillis are not doing very well this year. I have had massive problems with aphids. I have tried everything to defeat them - proprietary bug-sprays, home-made garlic-water, brushing the insects off with a small paintbrush, etc, etc. Nothing seems to work! At best I have reduced the problem. Only one of the plants looks as good as I would like - the "Brazilian Starfish", which is shaping up to be enormous.

The other plants seem to be just surviving, and growing painfully slowly.

Last week I thought that a couple of the plants had died, because they suddenly lost most of their leaves. This is probably the result of a chemical build-up caused by the repeated spraying. This one is "Calico":

It's a really sorry sight, isn't it? I don't think the plant is dead, because there are some little shoots growing out of the leaf-axils, so it may still recover. Fortunately, I have another "Calico" plant, which seems to be OK.

These plants would benefit a lot from some time spent outdoors in full sunshine, and a bit of fresh air. Unfortunately it is has been so windy that I have not dared take them outside. This is a pity, because it has been bright and sunny most days for the last couple of weeks.

Do you remember that last year I had problems with compost contaminated with weedkiller? Well, I think I may have the same issue again - though as yet not a severe case. Look at this. It is a "Cayenne" plant, looking a bit sorry for itself.

Now look closer. See that puckered leaf in the centre of the photo? That could be a sign of weedkiller contamination.

What about this -- "Bolivian Rainbow". Look at the leaves.

Do you see how several of the leaves are rolled inwards?

Now maybe I'm over-reacting. It could just be the results of the aphids' sap-sucking antics, but it could also be a compost-contamination symptom.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that if the damage is aphid-related, then aphids are not so keen on the very hot chillis. This one is "Orange Habanero" (very hot), which looks unaffected.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Good germination rates

This year I have had good germination rates with most of my seeds. In the case of the tomatoes (which are easy to keep track of) it was 100%. Likewise, all but one of my Broad Bean seeds germinated - and both of its replacements! It's not so easy to judge the germination rate of smaller seeds sown in bigger quantities, but I'm very satisfied with these:

Those are Calendulas, from seeds given to me last year by Mike Rogers (aka Flighty), who writes the blog "Flighty's Plot". Mike sent me a very generous quantity of seeds, and I didn't sow them all last year. These ones are therefore about two years old, yet they are still obviously very vigorous.

These Chives are the ones from the cheap pack I bought at Wilkinson's. No germination problems here either!

Likewise plenty of Thyme seedlings have come up.

When sowing seeds I always sow a lot more than I really need, so a less-than-100% germination rate is seldom an issue. The exception is when I'm sowing F1 seeds, because packets of those normally contain only a very small number, and cost a lot of money. I generally sow F1 seeds individually, and monitor them very carefully.

I wonder what your opinion is of using "old" seeds? I think seed-merchants try to maximise their sales by trying to persuade us that seeds have a short shelf-life, but (with certain exceptions) I remain unconvinced. I regularly use seeds from packets opened two or three years previously, and sometimes much older than that. I'm still using some Chicories from a pack with a 2009 expiry date! The seeds with the shortest viability are supposed to be Parsnips. Most people think you should use fresh Parsnip seeds each year. I would normally not have much hesitation in using the previous year's seeds, but I would probably not use Parsnip seeds from two years previously.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Bursting into life!

The recent warm sunny weather really kick-started my garden.

The Rhubarb evidently loves its new home in the deep pot.

However, even though this will require considerable restraint, I don't think I'm going to pick any leaves this year, because I want it to build up its strength

There are some flowers on my little "Bramley" apple tree, planted last year. I'll be surprised if they set any fruit though.

Maybe I'll get one or two pears...

This is (was)  my first spear of Asparagus of the year - although there are actually lots coming up now.

I think I had better remove the chicken-wire that I put over it to stop the Blackbirds kicking-off all the compost...

All around my little micro-pond the Lily of the Valley is shooting up rapidly.

The young shoots look a little bit like asparagus, don't they?

I have been busy pricking-out the Leeks and the "De Ciccio" Broccoli.

Broccoli "De Ciccio"

The broccoli still seems quite frail. Nowhere near as robust as the Brussels Sprouts I sowed at the same time.

Broccoli "De Ciccio"

Although I would like to get some things planted out, at present I am keeping all my brassica seedlings inside the mini-greenhouses in order to protect them. As I write this the wind is blowing at nearly gale force, and I think it could do some serious damage to delicate little seedlings.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Harvest Monday - 20th April 2015

Hooray! My Harvest Monday post has something in it other than PSB. (Blink, and you'll miss it though...). These are the first of this year's Asparagus.

Yes, so far just three spears. There are several more visible already, but they won't be ready for a few days yet.

So for the time being we have to make do with more PSB. I expect everyone will be mightily relieved when my garden stops producing PSB...

PSB "Red Arrow"
These spears are mostly from one of the two "Early Purple Sprouting" plants - ironically the last of my four varieties to mature!

I am particularly proud of this head of "Red Arrow" broccoli. It is huge!

This is the main growing-point of the plant. When disassembled it will produce about a dozen decent spears.

Other than the above, the only produce to come out of my garden this week has been a load of Parsley and some Chives. The Parsley is particularly fine at present, so we have been using a lot of it. We have so much of it that at the weekend I gave a big bag of it to my daughter Emma. Preserving surplus Parsley is not easy. When dried it is utterly tasteless, and when frozen it goes mushy.We do actually have a big bag of it in the freezer ("for emergencies"), but we seldom use any of it - especially if we have any fresh.

Linking up with Harvest Monday, hosted on Daphne's Dandelions....