Archive for greenhouse growing

Seedlings, storage ideas and this Sunday’s allotment harvest

I would like to be sharing some exciting news with you about some readings I’m going to be doing … but nothing is finalised yet, so I have to bite my tongue and wait until it is! Meantime:

winter density lettuce seedlings

The winter density lettuce seedlings are through!

radish seedlings

And the radish seedlings are even further along.

clever greenhouse storage solution

Winter is the time to work on storage solutions: like greenhouse flowerpot stockings!

allotment harvest leeks and rhubarb

Today’s allotment harvest: muddy leeks and early rhubarb.

nasty rhubarb

All of which leads to smugness when I see the price of supermarket crops that are of inferior quality to my home-grown ones!

My first workshop of 2014 will be on 29 March and I’ll be teaching people how to propagate perennials and grow their own exotic crops in a cold greenhouse. £5 per student, an extra 50 pence if you want to take home a starter pot of fresh lemongrass. Contact me through comments if you want more information!


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Grow and Tell allotment workshops 2014

It’s been too wet to do anything at the plot, so I haven’t been posting. But I have been writing courses!

allotment harvest29 March – propagating cropping plants (for an extra 50 pence take home a ready-rooted lemongrass plant for your cold greenhouse or conservatory

19 April – planning a productive plot (or replanning one that doesn’t seem to be working, with a focus on avoiding weed notices and other problems

31 May – Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli: how to plant brassicas and cover your seedlings, pest protection and summer-long maintenance tips to get the best from these long-growing winter crop

allotment squashes21 June – growing winter squash – how to have a harvest that will feed you through the winter

27 July – watering and mulching – practical ways to cut down on watering, conserve moisture and keep your crops alive through the summer

20 September – composting and green manures – this is the month to start adding nourishment back into your soil: tips on choosing green manures, building compost bins and making good compost

6 December – special class on training and pruning fruit trees in winter.

Limited to 8 participants to allow for maximum practical experience and problem solving. Meet at 11:00 at Weald Avenue Allotment Gate – indoor space available in bad weather – workshops finish at 13:00. Each session includes hands-on experience, comes with notes on the plants and techniques covered, and finishes at the WAG shop so people can buy seeds and supplies if they wish.

While the site is largely wheelchair accessible, those with limited mobility are advised to arrange a site visit first, to ensure they are comfortable with the location. £5.00 per person (please note some classes have an optional extra charge for plants to take home, there is no charge for crops harvested on the day!) All money goes to Weald Allotment Gardeners (WAG) for upkeep of Weald Site.

Prior booking is essential. Please email to reserve a place on a session or book through the WAG shop.

Also, I have some very exciting news about some fun things I’ll be doing this spring with some very nice people, maybe in a shop near you … but as nothing is finalised yet, I shall just have to be a bit of a tease!

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Squash harvest and crop disappointments

giant butternut ripeningOur squash harvest has been pretty good this year: despite the pollination rate being very low (even with hand pollination) we’ve got some good sized Turks Turban and Crown Prince and the butternut squashes are magnificent.

We’ve had eleven butternuts, plus this monster which is still curing … never seen a butternut this size before!

giant courgetteMy former allotment neighbour, Maisie, used to have a lot of sayings, some of them garbled, but ‘never get between a man and his marrow’ was one of them that I’ve always taken to heart. There’s something about allotment men which is a bit … obsessive. OH has always been that way inclined, whether it’s the Best Kept Allotment or the biggest onion, tallest sunflower or whatever. This year it was his decision to see how big this marrow would get. Except it’s not a marrow – it’s a courgette that was missed in the harvesting and is now taking over the entire plot. The glove is there to gove some sense of scale … roll on the first frost is what I say!

I’ve been tying up the asparagus now that the weather is getting windier, pruning the tayberry, picking apples and kale and getting beds ready for the overwintering onions and garlic – general preparation for the winter, made rather unseasonable by the sudden hot weather. All my peppers have ripened and so the greenhouse is almost empty except for the lemongrass which is doing well, and a couple of Royal Black Chilli plants which will soon come home to be overwintered in a heated house. They don’t tend to survive in an unheated greenhouse.

flowering psbA couple of things have really disappointed me this year: the first is the purple sprouting broccoli, which had me running up to the plot every day in February to see if it had sprouted yet. Admittedly this is an earlier variety but it shouldn’t be flowering now! I’ve had to cut off every one of the flower-heads that had actually flowered on two of the plants and can only cross my fingers and hope that the others don’t burst into flower too. I suppose I’m going to have to run to the plot every day from now on, but for entirely the opposite reason.

powdery mildew on raspberriesAnd my gorgeous Autumn Gold raspberries have got a little powdery mildew – just one plant, and I’ve cut it all off and removed the mildewed material from the plot, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen mildew on yellow raspberries so I hope it’s a one-off rather than an indicator of things to come.

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Onions and garlic and how to store them

onions beforeIf you’ve grown summer onions, they will be juicy and sweet and they really won’t keep for long. If you’ve grown onions to keep over the winter, then they’ll have less juice and they will keep through the winter, if you give them proper treatment. Garlic is like storing onions, only more so!

onions dryingFirst – let them cure. If you harvest as the tops bend over, they need between two and four weeks to cure (the necks become dry and thin, the outer layers become paper thin, the roots desiccate completely) in an airy place – not too hot and definitely not in direct sun which steals the subtler flavours. Airy is vital: moisture is the enemy of onion and garlic while it’s curing.

garlic beforeSecond – only when the roots are completely desiccated, and the skins have become papery, do you clear away the outer layers, particularly if they are muddy or damaged, until you reach a complete, dry layer. Then trim back the roots with so they are as short as possible and finally brush the roots with a soft brush – a soft old toothbrush is ideal, to remove any lurking grit, mud or other nasties that could harbour bacteria that will lead to rot.

You might string your onions – there’s a great description here. We don’t, we store them in wooden trays.

For garlic, if you want to, you can string them too. Repeat the process as for onions and if the necks are still soft and you don’t have evidence of rust, plait the garlic together. We’ve got rust this year and I prefer not to plait as my experience is that there’s a higher change of garlic getting rot if it’s plaited with rust on the necks. Instead I shorten the necks back and make a hole about two inches down with a large darning needle carrying a thick cotton thread. Then I knot the thread by the neck, move on a couple of inches and thread on another garlic. You end up with something more like a horticultural garland but as the heads don’t touch and have excellent air circulation, they seem to keep better.

onions and garlicYou can just cut cured (no longer soft/moist or bendy) necks off completely and store your garlic in a cotton bag, a wooden drawer etc. It’s a choice – some like one thing, some another. While storage methods are personal, cleaning your cured onions and garlic is vital to keep them in good condition for as long as possible – and it’s very satisfying!

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Plastic bottle propagators and how to pot on from them

bottle propagators

This is how the propagators looked on 15 May

bottle propagators

And how they looked on 22 May

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

seedling root formation

Root formation is usually substantial, and it’s fun to be able to see the roots through the clear plastic but if you let the seedlings get too big, you’ll have to tease out the cotton wick from the roots, which can be faffy.

seedling roots

Even if the roots aren’t tangled with the string, it’s good to ease them out of the shape of the bottle top.

squash in flowerpot

Replant nice and deeply, in multipurpose compost and allow to sit in water so that the roots immediately start to reach out – don’t top water.

squashes in pots

And there they are, four Turks Turban and four Crown Prince in their new homes!

P.S. Instructions for making week-away propagators can be found in The Allotment Diaries!

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Greenhouse growing update

greenhouse plant

Greenhouse plants like this Royal Black chilli often need hand pollinating

I use a small paintbrush to move the ripe pollen from one flower to another

I use a small paintbrush to move the ripe pollen from one flower to another

While the mature chilli gets pollinated, seedling royal black chillies are growing vigorously

While the mature chilli gets pollinated, seedling Royal Black chillies are growing vigorously

Update on the leggy celeriac - they're growing strongly but still need to be in the greenhouse at night

Update on the leggy celeriac – they’re growing strongly but still need to be in the greenhouse at night

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How plot #103 looks today

allotment long view
Very mellow in the afternoon sunshine.

Two back-aching allotment holders trudged home with a trug ful of purple sprouting broccoli and another of rhubarb, after planting three rows of broad beean seedlings, a row and a half of second early potatoes and a row of Little Gem lettuce seedlings … plus watering, weeding and general tidying up!

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