Archive for the Category ◊ Growing Vegetables ◊

• Sunday, May 03rd, 2009

Before the rain returns I have managed to plant the rest of my potato tubers which I had chitted last month. These are for a maincrop variety called Desiree, which is one of my favourite potatoes. And as you can see on the picture below I usually tend to include my grass cuttings as well as newspaper sheets when I plant my tubers. I personally find that it helps keep the moisture in and it’s a good way of recycling some of my organic matter.

Planting Potatoes

Planting Potatoes

My early variety potatoes are already in and they have started to sprout shoots so I will need soon to start earthing up the shoots in order to get a bigger crop of potatoes. This also allows me to do some weeding along the way.

I should have a continuous supply of my home grown potatoes for at least 7 months of the year by planting early and maincrop varieties of potatoes. The two varieties allow me to have early new potatoes in July and then a later maincrop in September.

So it’s not bad going for all my digging efforts!

• Friday, May 01st, 2009

If you haven’t sown any chilli plants yet, there’s still time to do so for FREE! This evening I was watching the One Show on BBC1 and you can actually get some free chili pepper seeds from the One Show website.

This free chilli offer is part of the Dig-in campaign which the BBC are currently promoting.

I cannot stress enough about how easy and rewarding it is to grow chillies – that is if you like it spicy!

• Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Many flowers and vegetables can be sown safely outdoors in May as the risk of frost is diminishing. Last month I made a lot of indoor sowings of plants which I currently have sheltered in my greenhouse and should be going out gradually by mid May. This includes tomatoes, chilies as well as a wide range of flowers such as cleomes and geraniums.

Below is a list of plants which are easy-to-grow and I shall start sowing most of them outdoors in May if the weather allows it.



Sowing flowers:

Outdoor sunflowers: bring a bit of sunshine in your garden with tall sunflowers. May is a better month to grow them outdoors. I did sow some sunflowers seeds in my greenhouse in April but they did not germinate and it looks like a slug ate the tender shoots.
Love-in-a-mist: easy to grow annuals usually available in shades of blue and pink.
Sweet peas can be planted outside and trained to climb on a bamboo wigwam for example. Mine are already out.

• Sunday, April 26th, 2009

The garden has evolved so quickly recently with the warm weather which we have enjoyed that it has proved difficult to keep track of all my gardening activities. However this is my update of what’s growing in the garden right now including the flower borders, vegetable and fruit areas.



My tulips are all out including the bulbs which I planted back in autumn in containers along with pansies grown from seeds. In turn, I have also spotted a few butterflies including the lovely red peacock butterfly.

The rose bushes are growing new leaves following the spring pruning which I carried out earlier in the year (I must remember to give them a good feed!).

• 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.

Picking Radishes

Picking 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.

Top TipMy 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.

• Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Following from my Garlic trial 2009 article I recently traveled South to check how the garden had evolved since I last visited back in January.

Garlic Trial in France

Garlic Trial in France

As you can see below the garlic grown in my southern French garden is doing well and has grown bigger shoots than the same varieties grown in my East Anglian plot (UK).

Back in November 2008, it rained a lot in Languedoc Roussillon with near floods (5cm of water covered my garden area). Then the first half of 2009 was also a cold winter for the region including some snow.

I also tried to do a newspaper mulch around some of my garlic plants, which was effective in so far as it prevented to some extent the growth of the horsetail weeds. However there were a few annual weeds growing on the soil on top of it. I am really looking forward to the forthcoming period of growth and the result of my garlic trial.

• Friday, April 03rd, 2009

Growing your own tomatoes couldn’t be more satisfying. They are fairly easy to grow and nothing beats the taste of organically home-grown tomatoes.

Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is that you get a wide choice of varieties of tomatoes to grow from seeds. The choice is much wider than the tomatoes which you can find in supermarkets and the varieties are also adapted for growing in the UK.

How to get started

At this time of year you have a few options: you can either purchase a plug plant from a garden centre or order your plants online. Make sure that the plant is watered sufficiently and do not plant the tomato outdoors until all risk of frost has finished.

Potting tomato plants

Potting tomato plants

Alternatively you could try growing tomatoes from seeds, which is my preferred option. All you need is a pot or tray of fine compost where you will place a few tomato seeds that need to be covered with a little compost. Place the tray on a sunny window sill and keep the soil moist (you may want to cover the tray with a plastic bag to keep the moisture in until the seeds have germinated). Within 2 weeks you should start to see some seedlings emerging from the compost.

Once the seedlings are big enough to handle i.e. once they have at least an additional pair of leaves to their original leaves (called true leaf) you can transplant them in their own individual pots to grow on in a sunny area. Once all risk of frost has passed and the weather is warmer you will be able to plant your tomatoes outside. If like me you have a greenhouse, you can move the plants earlier in the greenhouse and either grow them in big pots or grow bags. Grow bags are handy because they take little space and can be disposed of easily at the end of the season. I simply put 3 plants per grow bag of either tomatoes or peppers.

My favourite tomato varieties

I recommend Gardeners Delight which is easy to grow and ripens quickly. Also another favourite of mine is Tigeretta – a middle sized tomato with little yellow stripes, which is tasty and proved to be very disease resistant when we had the really wet summer two years ago and blight and rot was killing most plants.

I tend to use the Roma variety to make tomato sauce or for cooking. I have also grown Alicante tomatoes which are bigger than the above mentioned varieties and therefore take longer to ripen in my personal experience. I normally prefer to grow cherry tomatoes because they ripen quicker than big tomato varieties and produce vigourous bushes full of fruits. Additionally for cherry tomatoes I recommend Sun gold and Black Cherry (although some people find that the colour is a bit off- putting).

You can get some varieties which are specifically adapted to baskets so they are worth giving a go too. This year I will also try the Marmande variety (my friend has given me a few plants that he grew from seeds) which usually produces big beefsteak tomatoes.

Caring for your tomatoes

You will need to feed your tomato plants as soon as they have flowers. I recommend using an organic tomato feed which you can find easily online or even in DIY shops. This will ensure that you get a bounty of juicy and tasty tomatoes.

Some tomato plants need to have their side shoots removed for plentiful crops; it’s best to follow the instructions on your packet of seeds. As the plants grow, they will also need staking to alleviate the plant from the weight of the fruits and branches. I personally use bamboo canes and some garden twine. Also, I have always been advised by my peers that you should avoid getting the tomato leaves wet as tomato plants don’t like the damp and can get diseases.

Don’t worry if you get it wrong, you should still get some tomatoes as long as you give them a little care every so often. And harvesting couldn’t be more fun!

Top TipMy top tip: marigolds are a perfect companion plant to tomatoes, i.e. they repel the pests which are likely to damage your tomato plant. I always grow marigold every year and I plant them along the path which is near the tomatoes so it does not only looks good but it’s beneficial to my vegetables too.

• Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Today I had a look at the garlic which I have grown in modules (as per Alys Fowler’s tip in my previous garlic article) and compared it with the garlic directly planted directly in the ground back in winter time.

Garlic in modules

Garlic in modules

As you can see on the picture, the growth of the garlic in modules already looks stronger than the shoots in the ground, and it is now ready to be planted out. Admittedly we did have some cold weather this winter and a lot of rain. I think that the rain and the heavy clay soil were the main factors which constricted the garlic clove and prevented it from growing as well as the module grown garlic.

However, this is just the start. I will need to check out progress over the next months, including in my French garden.
So do watch out for more news on garlic!

Category: Growing Vegetables  | Tags:  | 2 Comments
• Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

This morning I noticed that the lettuce seeds which I had scattered haphazardly in my cold frame only 2 weeks ago have started to germinate. Cold frames are handy if you want to protect small plants from the cold. I also like to use mine to grow early seeds of lettuce or any other crop which needs protection (from rabbits as well as the cold). I usually try to sow lettuce seeds such as the Little Gem variety or mixed salad leaves (Red Salad Bowl) in a row, but since I found an old packet of seeds which I did not expect to germinate I freely sprinkled the seeds and put a little bit of compost on top.

Cold Frame

Cold Frame

I recommend the use of a cold frame as an alternative to a greenhouse if you do not have enough space for a big greenhouse. Each year I replace the soil in my cold frame by adding some compost and some sand to lighten the structure of my clay soil. I can recommend 2 varieties of lettuces for their taste, crunchiness and easiness to grow: Counter (mentioned by skilled gardener Pippa Greenwood) and Batavia Rouge de Grenoble.

Top TipMy top tip: this may sound obvious but you need to remember to water your seeds regularly when they are covered in the cold frame as it can get quite dry. And in summer it’s warm enough to be able to remove the glass frame completely and just use the cold frame as a raised bed.

You can get a ready-to-be-assembled cold frame which is lighter than mine (made of polycarbonate glazing and aluminium frame) and can be delivered to your doorsteps in good time.

• Friday, March 20th, 2009

Beetroot is an easy-to-grow vegetable which I started to grow on my vegetable plot about two years ago. I got some free seeds which were for a variety called Boltardy, which is one of the most used and recommended variety for beetroots. As its name indicates this beetroot variety is resistant to bolting which can happen if we get a hot summer. I have also tried a variety called Cylindra but the results were not so good with smaller size beetroots.

The plants are sensitive to cold weather so it is best waiting until the weather gets warmer in April. Alternatively you can try sowing them into modules and provide shelter if needed (with a cloche for example) – my neighbour tried this successfully last year and I intend to do the same this year.

Otherwise you can sow them directly in the ground, just draw a line in the ground with a stick at a depth of 2 cm (0.75in) and drop a seed every 10 cm. My personal experience is that they tend to prefer soil which is not too compact to get the seeds going; but otherwise beetroots are fairly low maintenance.

It’s best to pick the roots when they are young and, as with all the vegetables that I cook from the garden, I try to pick them just before cooking to keep them fresh and benefit from all the nutrients within.

Beetroots are normally harvested in June/July. I am not so keen on pickled beetroot but I enjoy them roasted in the oven as I find that the mineral sweet taste is enhanced during cooking.

Packed with goodness, beetroots are said to help reduce blood pressure, and are also used as a natural die in a wide range of food. So it’s well worth giving it a try.

Top TipMy top tip: try them roasted, it’s so easy and tastes great with your Sunday roast.