Thursday, 21 March 2019

First harvest of PSB

It was my birthday on Monday, and one of my ways of celebrating was to pick the first of the season's Purple Sprouting Broccoli to have with our dinner. It was only a few spears, but since this is one of my favourite vegetables, it certainly did qualify as a special treat! This first batch was from my "Rudolph" plant.

While picking the spears I was very conscious that not only do different varieties of PSB mature at different times, but they also produce spears of very different colours. "Rudolph" is very blue:


At the other end of the scale is "Early Purple Sprouting", which as almost red:

"Early Purple Sprouting"

And "Red Spear" is somewhere in the middle:

"Red Spear"

To be honest, I don't think the different varieties have noticeably different flavours though. To me they all seem equally good! In the past I have grown White Sprouting Broccoli ("White Eye") and I found it to be a lot stronger in flavour than its purple cousins - it had a very "brassica-ey" taste, if you know what I mean, more along the lines of Brussels Sprouts, and I know that doesn't appeal to everyone.

"White Eye" - photo from 2011

I'm hoping that with my 3 plants being of 3 different varieties I will be able to pick batches of spears for much longer than would be the case if they were all of the same type. With a bit of luck my harvest period will last until about the end of April, or possibly later, by which time I'll need to start thinking about sowing next year's crop!

Monday, 18 March 2019

Broad Beans nearly ready for planting

I sowed my first Broad Beans seeds of 2019 on 17th February. A month later, the first ones are nearly ready for planting out.

I normally grow about 20 Broad Bean plants. It's a quantity that fits neatly into one of my raised beds. However, I always sow more than 20 seeds, because one or two may fail to germinate and one or two may get damaged while still young. This year I have sowed 32 seeds. As you can see from the next photo I sowed them in 5-inch pots, in batches of 8.

The two trays furthest from the camera in that photo are "Witkiem Manita". They were kept in the garage until germination, protected from mice by clear plastic covers. Because of the extra warmth, these were the first to germinate (after 11 days), though one is so far still a "No Show".

"Witkiem Manita"

On the same day I sowed 8 " De Monica" in a tray that went into my big wooden coldframe. They germinated a few days later.

"De Monica"

Finally, the fourth tray was sown with what I think are "Imperial Green Longpod". They were seeds from the mixed bag I bought last year at the Whitchurch Potato Day, so I'm not 100% sure. The first one or two of these are only just breaking the surface of their soil.

"Imperial Green Longpod"?

For the time being, I am holding off planting out any of these beans because it is still mighty chilly, especially at night-time, and we are experiencing some very violent winds. During the day I put the trays outside on my garden table, gradually accustoming them to an outdoor existence, but putting them back in the coldframe overnight. Maybe next week...?

Friday, 15 March 2019

Scarlet Elfcups

Many people think that fungi only appear in late Summer / early Autumn, but having now been seriously interested in fungi for over four years, I can tell you that this is definitely not the case. There are fungi to be seen in every month of the year - just different ones. Right now Scarlet Elfcups (Sarcoscypha coccinea and austriaca) are definitely in season.

In a local woodland area that I know well, there is a patch of these. Fortunately (for me) they are in a fairly well-hidden location where not many people go. To be fair, these fungi are not big and you do have to look quite carefully to see them, but once you know what you're looking for there are quite a lot of them.

The patch I have been observing this year is about 25 or 30 metres away from where I saw similar fungi this time last year, but curiously this year there are none at all in in that place.

Scarlet Elfcups grow on old (often mossy) twigs and branches in amongst the leaf-litter of the woodland floor. Damp conditions are preferred.

Scarlet Elfcup growing on a twig - showing the characteristic goblet shape

This year I first spotted Scarlet Elfcups at the end of January, at which time they were mostly very small, like these:

Now, several weeks later, they have grown much bigger. Here my little plastic soldier "Woody" (35mm tall) helps me demonstrate their size:

This type of fungus is reportedly edible, though by all accounts pretty tasteless and rubbery, so I think "non-poisonous" might be a better description. Some people use them (raw) to decorate salads - often ones comprised mainly of foraged wild ingredients - but I'm not tempted to try them. I'm always wary of eating any fungi raw, because in so many cases they are toxic unless well cooked. I would also advise careful cleaning / washing before consumption. My next photo (enlarged) shows a colony of aphids inhabiting the rim of a Scarlet Elfcup:

Still, I think they are very attractive to look at, so for the time being I shall just continue to admire them!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Product review: Growseed chilli-growing kit

It's not very often that I review products on my blog, because all too often the suppliers are only interested in 100% positive reviews (even if they are not justified) but in this case I think you'll understand why I am making an exception - this is a chilli-growing kit. How could I resist?

Gerry from Growseed has kindly sent me a free sample of one of their new range of products, featuring simple kits with everything you need to get started on growing one of three types of vegetable - chillis, sweet peppers and tomatoes. I think this type of product will be most suitable for less-experienced gardeners, and children with adult supervision.

As seen in the photo above, the kit comes inside a black plastic seed-tray and is held together with a sleeve identifying the product. Unpacked, it looks like this...

There is an 18 x 23 cm seed tray with a clear plastic propagator-style lid; two small bags of soil enriched with blood fish and bone fertiliser; three different packs of seed (several variants are available, but mine were Jalapeno, Demon Red and Cayenne Long Slim), and three plastic labels. Due to difficulties with printers, the Review products do not have this, but the general-release item will also include a card with instructions for use.

The seeds themselves are sealed in foil packs, so should keep fresh for quite a while if unopened. The packs do not have any growing instructions on them, but I'm sure that will be covered in the instruction leaflet mentioned above. It's already a month past the time when I usually sow my chilli seeds, but I'm going to sow some of these ones straight away to see how they do.

Actually, one of the things I like least about the kit is the labels. I think white ones would be better, so that what you write on them would be more visible!

The lidded seed-tray / mini-propagator is quite flimsy, but I think well-suited to a Starter kit like this. The more experienced gardener would probably choose something more durable.

I have four grandchildren, and I reckon that at least three of them (excluding the youngest, who is only 3) would be very pleased to receive a kit like this as a gift from a gardening grandparent - though probably they would prefer the Tomato kit to the Chilli one.

Of course it needs to be emphasised that these kits only cover the initial stages of growing a chilli or a tomato. The pricking-out, potting-up, staking etc come later on, and the kits don't cover those. A child or novice gardener might not be aware of this!

These products, with full descriptions and instructions for their use are available via Growseed's website HERE . The price is £2.99 plus £1.00 postage on orders less than £10.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

It's PSB time again!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB) is one of my favourite vegetables. I grow some every year.

This is not a crop that will appeal to impatient gardeners who want "instant gratification"! It takes approximately 10 months to grow (depending on the variety). I usually sow mine in May or June and harvest it the following March / April. I always say that it's worth the wait though, because it is a vegetable that deteriorates rapidly after picking, and shop-bought PSB is usually a disappointment.

Last year we had a bit of a glut of PSB, so this time I have been a bit more restrained and only grown three plants - one each of three different varieties, in order to extend the cropping season.

The one that is going to be ready first is "Rudolph".

The spears are still a little on the small side, so I plan to leave them another week or ten days before harvesting any.

Coming along after that is "Red Arrow".

And finally there is "Early Purple Sprouting". It's ironic that one with a name like that should be the last to mature! This variety has a big central main head. You can see it in this next photo, although it is still greenish-yellow and hasn't yet turned purple.

These days you can get varieties of PSB that mature in Summer or early Autumn, but I don't go for these. The real reason is lack of space. There are so many vegetables that I want to grow in the warmer months that it doesn't seem justifiable for me to plant Summer PSB, since the more traditional over-Wintering types can make use of space which otherwise might be unused, at a time when there are fewer options to choose from.

Having said that PSB takes a long time to grow, which might sound like a criticism, I feel that in its defence I should add that once established it needs very little care, which many will see as a big advantage. I always tie mine to wooden stakes to support them against Winter gales, helping them to avoid root-rock, but with only three plants to worry about that's a 5-minute job. As Winter draws to a close and cropping-time approaches, I give my PSB plants a top-dressing of general-purpose fertiliser (Growmore, in fact), which gives them a boost at the most vital point of their lives. Not long to wait now...

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The importance of labelling

As I mentioned the other day, I recently sowed two trays of onion seeds. They were of two different types. One was "Ailsa Craig", a brown type, and the other was "Long Red Florence" (a red type, obviously!). Unfortunately I made a real rookie error: I forgot to label them. Actually, to be honest, I didn't forget, I just didn't bother. I thought it didn't really matter, because they would both be treated in the same way, and once they got to the transplanting stage it would be obvious which was which. However...

One lot has germinated very well:

I sowed a "pinch" of seed (about 5 or 6) in each module, and they seem to have all come up.

This is the other tray:

One solitary seed, in one of the 15 modules has germinated (dare I say " far"?)

I suppose they may still appear, since it is only ten days since I sowed them, but I'm not very optimistic. The really annoying thing is that if I knew which variety was which, I could get a second batch sown before it's too late. I rather suspect that the No Shows are the Long Red Florence, because they were seeds from 2017, whereas the Ailsa Craig ones were from 2018. This would be a big shame, because I am very fond of the long red ones, which make a really great salad ingredient.

And all because of the absence of one of these...

Seriously, labels like this cost only pennies (mine were 50 for £1 in Wilkinson's) but they can save a lot of heartache. I know you may say "But they're plastic, and plastic is bad", but my response is that plastic labels are very durable and can be made to last for many years. I clean mine with White Spirit and an old Brillo pad, and reuse them several times, so I consider their use to be justified.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Nurturing my Chilli babies!

Everyone who follows Mark's Veg Plot knows that I love my chillis! Every year I grow lots of them. Usually I start with good intentions - you know, "This time I'll only have 6 or 7 plants" - but I seldom manage to limit myself to less than 20. This year I have sowed 22 pots, each with 2 seeds in. Some of my favourites (Aji Limon, Aji Benito, Hungarian Hot Wax) are duplicated so that I can be fairly sure of having at least one of those, but I'm conscious that germination rates for chillis can be quite low, and since some of my seeds are a few years old, I'm unlikely to achieve a 100% result. Perhaps I should also mention that I have six over-wintering plants too, some of which may survive.

I try to improve the chances of germination by keeping the pots inside plastic propagators, which serve to maintain a high level of humidity. And since my propagators are unheated, they live temporarily in the airing-cupboard which is always warmer than anywhere else in the house.

Propagators in the airing-cupboard.

I check at least twice a day (usually more often) to see if any of the seeds have germinated, and if they have, I move the pot(s) in question into the light of my trusty Garland "Growlight House".

With chillis it is hard to predict how long germination will take. This year my first ones popped up on the fifth day after sowing, and now after two weeks have elapsed at least one seed has germinated in 10 of the 22 pots. Some varieties of chilli can take a long time to germinate, and I never give up hope before at least a month has passed.

Newly-germinated chillis are very delicate and need to be protected from extreme conditions. They particularly dislike big fluctuations of temperature. They are also very likely to become etiolated (aka "leggy") if they don't get enough light. The oft-recommended sunny windowsill is seldom enough. This is where my Growlight House comes in. It's not designed to provide heat, but chillis seem happy enough with the ambient temperature in my house which is usually about 20C, and its main purpose is to reliably provide suitable levels of light. You might like to see this little trick that I use to maximise the light.

It's a piece of double-sided shiny insulation/packaging material, draped over the Growlight House so that it reflects the light from the strip lights in the roof section. The lights do also give off some heat, and this material helps to retain that too.

I use a simple timer device to keep the lights on for 14 hours a day.

Every day I check the levels of moisture in the little pots, and add water if necessary. I also use the spray bottle seen above to spray the plants and pots with warm water in order to increase humidity.

As you can see, in some cases both seeds in a pot will germinate. In theory, I pinch-out the weaker of the two seedlings, leaving the stronger one to grow on without disturbance, but in practice I often keep both and transplant them to new (individual) pots when they are big enough to survive this. The first of mine won't be ready for this to happen for perhaps another week. Still, everything seems to be going according to plan so far. Let's hope there are no major delays, because in about three or four weeks time I will be needing the Growlight House for the same procedure, but involving Tomatoes instead of Chillis.