• Sunday, January 29th, 2012
This is the start of a new gardening year for me as I rummage through the 2012 garden seed catalogues and plan my sowings for the year ahead. Today I went to my local garden centre and I bought some first early potato seeds, which are a variety called Swift, as well as a salad potato variey called Ratte which is highly appreciated in France. I have never grown the Swift potato variety before and I hope to get better result with this type of early crop which is supposed to be good for boiling as well as new potato.
Ratte New Potatoes
Last year I gave the International Kidney variety a try – they are the equivalent of the Jersey Royal new potatoes. Unfortunately the yield was not so good last year and this could be due to the dry weather which was not so favourable to a healthy growth of the tubers.
Last Spring I also grew a first early potato variety called Epicure, which is a typical Ayrshire potato but again the crop was not particularly outstanding.
On the other hand the main crop variety which I grew last year was Kind Edward, and the yield was good except that they did not store so well in the shed compared to previous years. The reason for this could have been the exceptionally warm autumn and winter which we experienced and this goes to show that no two years are the same with gardening. Certain crops will perform differently given certain conditions.
For now I have stored my potato seeds in a cool dark place ready for chitting in a few weeks time.
By then I will need to have finished digging the vegetable plot in time for planting my seeds in March. Speaking to fellow gardeners in East Anglia it seems that many of us are not yet done with the digging which makes me feel better.
Half way there with my muddy wellington boots and my fork I paused to contemplate the barren soil in anticipation for an abundant forthcoming harvest season.
• Monday, March 01st, 2010
The Winter weather in the UK has been so cold and wet that even the Daffodils don’t seem to have turned up for St David’s Day. Now I may not have seen any single single Daffodil in bloom but I still need to get ready for spring.
Has Spring been delayed?
So today I have sown a few red Geranium seeds in a pot which I shall keep indoors on a window sill to compensate for last year’s plants which I sheltered in the greenhouse but died due to the cold. I have also sown some Nemesia seeds which are really tiny and not so easy to grow since it’s difficult to see where the seed lands on the compost. Nemesias are small plants with delicate flowers which I find particularly useful for the front of the flower border.
My Chilli seeds were also ready to go in a little terracota pot by my south facing spare bedroom window. The window sills are not all yet filled with pots so there is still more space for this morning’s sowing of Marigolds and Gallardias. Every year I grow Marigolds which I like to plant along the garden path leading to my vegetable patch. They circle the path nicely with their bright yellow compact blooms.
In March I feel like a new life cycle is about to start with so many new plants to sow in time for Spring.
• Sunday, January 31st, 2010
Planning my sowings for spring is one of my favourite activities in the winter time. It’s been too cold to dig my vegetable plot, and the new seed catalogues have arrived full of new ideas for growing flowers and vegetables. One newcomer in the 2010 seed catalogues is the sweet potato, which is available as cuttings or slips. Last year sweet potatoes were very much in fashion with gardening tv presenters like Joe Swift keen to give them a try on his new allotment plant.
Unfortunately it strikes me that the sweet potato cuttings are rather expensive so I shall wait until next year when they have become a more widely grown crop.
I’ve been scouring through my seed boxes and I still have a wide selection of flowers and vegetables which I shall use again this year.
I intend to start sowing later in the year. Chilli seeds can already been sown in February but since we still have negative temperatures in the garden I fear that my window sills are too cold for germination.
I have also pencilled in broad beans, peas, and sweet peas in the coming months, to be followed by tomato seeds which I will start off indoors. I may also sow a few passion flower seeds which develop into an exotic climber. And garlic is also next on the agenda. There is still plenty of time to consider all the other seeds that I would like to grow during the month of February.
Early spring is calling already with the first few lesser celandines starting to sprout from the snow (I have spotted a few growing in at the back of the university colleges in Cambridge). For now I am enjoying the yellow hyacinths which I forced back in autumn and which are signaling the gardening joy of the months to come.
• Monday, October 19th, 2009
The month of October is an ideal time to sow green manure seeds, which will improve the structural quality of your soil. Green manures include mustard seeds, rye grass, etc. This month I am giving a go at sowing Mustard seeds which I have never grown before. Already after just a couple of days the mustard seeds have started to sprout in profusion, covering the area with a green carpet of leaves.
My neighbour reckons that I should be able to use some of the mustard plants to spice up my salads which I shall try. I bought my mustard seeds from a local small garden shop in Ely which supplies loose seeds sold by weight. But I think that I over-estimated the quantity as it seems that I have enough seeds to cover the whole of my vegetable plot!
Spring Onion is another crop which can be sown this month, or at least some varieties are suitable to Autumn sowings.
Hollyhocks in the garden
And there’s also still some time to sow lettuces such as Mizuma and Lamb’s Lettuce. I have also sown a few winter lettuces in my cold frame, which has a removable glass panel that was taken off in the hot summer months. When the first frosts arrive I shall put the panel back on to protect the lettuces from the worst of the cold weather. Hopefully this should enable me to make the most of the crop well into winter.
October is also a good month for sowing hollyhocks, and in fact I have noticed that the flowers heads in my garden are full of seeds ready to self propogate. I have already collected these before the arrival of the frost. Hollyhocks are really easy to grow but they will normally only start flowering the following year.
Another flower which can be sown and kept in a frost free place is Sweet peas. The advantage of sowing sweetpeas right now is that they will flower earlier next year. I will however need to take care of them and make sure that they make it through the winter.
Finally I may look into sowing some broad beans although my last year’s sowing suffered from the heavy snow and cold which we endured at the beginning of this year and resulted in a relatively poor crop.
As we step into the colder month of November the sowing activity will start slowing down but there will still be so much to do in the garden whilst I take stock of the new season to come.
• Friday, June 05th, 2009
I just came across a nice chilli growing kit on the web and thought that it would be a great gift idea for Father’s day.
Home Grown Chilli
Many gardeners will be delighted with a practical gift whatever the occasion. And it doesn’t have to be expensive either: plants, accessories or seeds can make great gift ideas
Father’s Day is only 2 weeks away on 21st June in the UK so it’s worth a look.
This chilli growing kit in a gift box contains everything that is needed to grow chillies including pots and a selection of chilli seeds. And one advantage of this kit is that it is presented in a box, making it handy to give as a present.
Sometimes dads don’t need anything in particular, just a little love and attention.
• Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
Radishes are so easy-to grow and now is a good time to start sowing the seeds in the garden. I sowed a line of radishes 3 weeks ago and they are already out so I shall sow a few more today to make sure that I get a continuous crop of radishes.
My preferred variety of radishes is called French breakfast which has a long shape and a nice crunchy taste and which you can see on the picture below. You can grow radishes too since they do not take much space: you just need to make a drill in the soil and sow your seeds at a depth of 1.5 cm and cover the seeds with soil. If you grow a different variety the depth may differ so it is best to check the instruction on the packet.
Radishes need a fair bit of water to grow well and remain crunchy so I usually tend to grow them only in spring time.
My top tip: did you know that you can make a nice soup with radish leaves?
My mum used to make a nice green soup with the radish leaves which actually taste like spinach. All you need is freshly cleaned radish leaves, butter, onion, potatoes, seasoning and some crème fraiche. Fry the radish leaves lightly with the chopped onion and add a couple of boiled potatoes and liquid to make the soup. Then once you have liquidized all the ingredients, just add a good spoonful of crème fraiche or double cream to make it unctuous.
In the old days people in France used to also add a boiled egg cut in chunks in the soup. Which reminds me of the old recipe for making fish pie when people in the UK used to include a boiled egg too.
• Friday, March 27th, 2009
Outdoor sowings can really get started in April and I have already started to sow the following flower seeds in my garden which are annuals:
Clarkia: this elegant cottage flower is one of my favourite annuals. It reminds me of my childhood in the garden when I was as tall as the flowers and enjoyed walking through the flower border.
Otherwise hardy annuals like nasturtium, lavatera, and calendula can also be sown in April. In fact, I noticed this morning that calendulas from last year had self seeded and started to grow near my greenhouse!
I shall probably wait until the next sunny week end to sow more annual flowers. Unfortunately it’s been raining here and it is now cold but soon I shall sow these flowers: Phlox; and Californian Poppies – these are so easy to grow and self seed so you usually benefit from free flowers the following year.
Vegetable seeds to sow outdoors:
Potatoes: now is a good time to start planting your potato tubers. I have already sown some of my potatoes as you can see in my last growing potatoes update but I haven’t sown the Desiree maincrop variety yet.
I have also just sown some carrots (Amsterdam forcing variety), parsnips and Kale (black Tuscany variety) in my raised bed.
• Wednesday, March 04th, 2009
This was probably the discovery of the year 2008: curly kale. I had never cooked it or grown it before and the idea came about when I watched a television cooking programme.
Curly Kale Seeds
Also, I like to try new vegetable seeds every year and since the purple curly kale seeds were on offer with Thompson & Morgan I thought I did not have much to lose (69p).
It has always been a bit of a challenge for me to grow vegetables from the brassica family (i.e. any cabbage related plant) since wild rabbits regularly devour them. And my cabbages have also suffered greatly from the white butterfly caterpillar.
I seem to remember that it was Jamie Oliver who suggested cooking curly kale in a very simple way by blanching it and then frying it in olive oil with garlic and chilies. Now the taste is absolutely superb, it has a fresh mineral flavour and it accompanies any other vegetable such as potatoes really well. It’s really worth growing!
Since then, I have bought curly kale from supermarket but the taste is not as good as the home-grown one.
This year I plan to try the Tavola Nero kale since other chefs have recommended its great taste too.
If you have any tips that you would like to share for growing cabbages successfully I would love to hear from you.
• Saturday, February 28th, 2009
March is the month when the sowing activity really picks up for me. Already I feel like spring is just around the corner since I have noticed this morning that the crocuses are out; although my daffodils don’t look like they will be ready for St David’s day which is tomorrow.
Now is the time when a lot of seeds can be sown indoors on a warm and light windowsill ready to be potted next month and then transferred to the garden once we have had our last frost.
I have already started to sow a few seeds over the last two weeks however the majority of the flowers and some of the vegetables that I grow will be sown in March.
I have purchased most of my seeds online and selected carefully the following seeds which I will sow in this month:
– Marigolds : my old favourite, easy-to-grow seeds, perfect for the front of the border, and useful companion planting for tomato plants
– Tomatoes: I sow various varieties but I particularly like to grow cherry tomatoes because they ripen quicker in our variable British climate
– Cosmos: charming tall flowers which remind me of my childhood in the garden
– Sweet peas: easy to grow and right now there is still time to sow a few of these lovely climbers. You may want to soak the seeds in water beforehand prior to sowing them in a pot as it helps with germination.
Also, I have already started to sow some pea seeds in modules in my greenhouse. I tried sowing peas that way last year and it worked well for me. Since the modules are sheltered in the greenhouse, the peas tend to grow quicker than in the cold ground and suffer less from the bad weather. You can do the same with beans.
My top tip: if like me you grow peas, beans or sweet corn in modules/pots in your greenhouse, make sure that you protect the seeds by covering them with a protective plastic lid otherwise the mice will make a meal of it!
• Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
This morning I have started to pot my chili plants which are now enjoying the winter sunshine on the windowsill. Chillies are fairly easy-to-grow and right now all they need is warmth, a lot of sun and a bit of water.
This month I have also started to sow flower seeds, in particular this selection of flowers which are suited to drier conditions or rockeries:
- Erigerons (Profusion): I first noticed these dainty little flowers growing on the banks of a stream in Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds.
- Chamomile (lawn) which is supposed to be delightfully fragrant and may be suitable to both my English and French gardens. Hopefully I may also be able to use it as herbal tea!
- Livingstone Daisy (Micropterum schlecteri) : also known as mesembryanthemum is a succulent annual which looks like a daisy.
Now, I have never grown these flower seeds before but I have noticed that the seeds are really tiny, which in my opinion makes them more challenging to grow. And judging by the instructions on the packets, the seeds will take longer to germinate.
My top tip: if the flower seeds are tiny, i.e. the size of a crystal of salt or smaller, I strongly recommend using special compost for sowings.
You can work out how small the seeds are by shaking the packet and comparing it with other seeds that you know.
Was it tip-top for you? Please leave a comment – thank you!