Archive for Peas and beans

Root-trainers and broad beans

broad bean planting

I started by digging out holes for the broad beans

broad beans root-trainers

The beans looked sturdy enough, but what would the root development be like?

broad bean root development

Once opened the root-trainers revealed strong root development

broad bean cloches

The only problem? The first set of cloches were too small to cover all the broad beans!

broad bean seedlings being planted

Larger cloches were the answer. Of 36 bean seeds sown, only two failed to germinate

broad beans in cloche

The broad beans covered with fleece for a week to allow them to fully harden off.

This is the first year we’ve used root-trainers rather than biodegradable pots and I’m impressed with the results so far. After ten days of leaving the beans out during the day and putting them in the shed overnight to avoid potential frosts, I was ready to plant them out…

Today’s harvest was red kale for dinner and some rhubarb which I’m experimenting with – I have a new Paleo rhubarb custard recipe to cook, and if it’s any good the Grow and Tell workshop attendees will get to try it on 29 March.

If you live around Brighton and Hove you’d like to learn to grow your own food (whether you have an allotment or just containers) and particularly if you’re interested in growing your own food to eat Paleo, why not come along to this year’s workshops? On 29 March we’ll be looking at propagating perennial crops like rhubarb and growing exotics like lemongrass. £5.00 per session. Email to reserve a place.


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June allotment recipe

soldier bean flower saladIf you grew drying beans last year, this is the month to use them up, so that you can enjoy fresh beans in salads and other dishes. Home-dried beans are at their best if eaten before they reach a year of storage, so this is a good time to try out some hearty summer salads, as the hungry gap still has a big grip on most allotments and there isn’t too much fresh produce to be harvested yet.

We grow soldier beans for salads and because they are bush beans that only need a single stake to support them, and borlotti beans for baking and pasta, but in previous years we’ve grown Cherokee Trail of Tears, navy beans, and limas. It’s a great way to have protein-rich winter store cupboard food. Remember that allotment grown beans may cook quicker than shop-bought dried ones as they probably haven’t been stored for as long or desiccated so much.


200 grams dried beans
Large handful of spinach, washed and torn
Large handful of rocket, washed and torn
Optional: celery leaves, lovage leaves, fennel fronds or seeds (all of which are said to reduce the flatulence caused by eating beans!)

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or home-made tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Pinch salt
Pinch pepper
Fresh thyme, minced


• Cook your beans gently until tender (usually 25-35 minutes for soldier, navy, lima and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, longer for Borlotti beans) and refresh under cold running water.
• In a large bowl, combine the two kinds of greens. In a smaller bowl, mix the beans and any chosen flatulence-reducing herb.
• Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Chill if not eating immediately.

In the photo I’ve added rosemary and rocket flowers to the salad, along with some oriental leaves and a couple of sliced radishes – we throw in whatever we have around!

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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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Two ways to raise and plant seedling peas

650 peas, to be precise. And this is how we plant them, having raised an industrial quantity of pea plants since January in biodegradable paper pots

planting peas

First you need a pea planting kit – a flexible bucket to remove soil and a trowel

pea seedling planting

And, very importantly, something to sit on while you work

The roots are very strong and developed if you take the seedlings out of the pot, which we don't bother to do as it rots away within 6 weeks

The roots are very strong and developed if you take the seedlings out of the pot, which we don’t bother to do as it rots away within 6 weeks

And they've grown tall and strong, with each pot supporting the next

And they’ve grown tall and strong, with each pot supporting the next

By contrast the gutter peas are smaller and look less established. It's the first time we've used the gutter sowing method.

By contrast the gutter peas are smaller and look less established. It’s the first time we’ve used the gutter sowing method.

The roots look quite congested too.

The roots look quite congested too.

They are much easier to slide into the ground than hand sinking every paper pot though. And yes, by this point we'd got more peas to plant than we'd put up pea sticks for!

They are much easier to slide into the ground than hand sinking ever paper pot though. And yes, by this point we’d got more peas to plant than we’d put up pea sticks for!

And there you are - 650 pea plants, all planted!

And there you are – 650 pea plants, all planted!


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Less allotment, more snow – what to do in bad weather!

103 pea mass productionThere’s really not a lot that it’s sensible to do when the weather’s like this – if you have clay soil, as we do, it’s too cold to plant out anything that might not survive, no matter how much time you’ve spent hardening it off.

If you have rich loamy soil, like the Fenlanders, you might be doing okay in soil terms, but the Siberian gales that are blowing across the region are likely to deal with any top growth that’s exposed, so I reckon the east coast might get away with planting chitted potatoes but not much else.

The west coast, usually so clement, has some flooding going on! That suggests it’s not a great time to be planting over there – because even if you’re not actually in a flooded area, there’s good chance of high water table levels of icy water, which is an unlikely basis on which to get good root growth even from hardy plants like spring-sown broad beans or early peas and is a really high risk enterprise for the more tender crops such as potato tubers.

Up north there’s snow – and nothing gets planted in snow!

So what can you be doing now?

Well, if you have crops to harden off and the temperature is above zero, then you can keep putting your seedlings out in the day, but make sure you take them in if the temperature dips to the zero point.

chocolate peppers

An update on the chocolate pepper seeds

You can be sowing stuff: in the greenhouse (if it’s going to remain above freezing); on kitchen windowsills; or in whatever nooks and crannies and corners you can spare. You’ll probably have some failures if you don’t have a dedicated growing area where you can maintain temperature, light and humidity, but ‘some failures’ are better than ‘no successes’! It’s probably not worth planting any really high-maintenance crops such as aubergines, peppers or chillies unless you are confident that you can keep them warm enough, with good enough light, and without draughts, as they continue to grow past seedling size – we’ve just taken our first batch of edible dahlias to the heated greenhouse, but they had to live indoors for at least three weeks after being potted on the first time, before they were sturdy enough to cope with that move, and they are nowhere near ready to begin the hardening off process. So, what can you get started in an unheated greenhouse?

• Rocket
• Spinach
• Cauliflowers
• Brussels sprouts
• Most native flower seeds
• Northern lettuce (not Mediterranean lettuces, which may need more warmth)
• Parsley
• Broad beans, runner beans, northern bush beans etc (if you didn’t overwinter your broad beans)
• Peas

If you’ve got a good amount of seeds started, you’ll be doing a lot of potting on now, especially if crops you’d normally be planting out (peas, beans etc) are being held back from open ground by this appalling weather. Our newspaper pot pea seedling system comes into its own now, as we can fill in the gaps between all the paper pots with compost – the deep trays in which we set the pots allow root development to continue as the seeds thrust their roots through the base of the pots and into the soil we’ve sprinkled between them. This means we get at least another 14 days of good growth before we have to even consider planting out.

103 asparagus 18 mar 13And this is a high class problem to have! The asparagus crowns (Guelph Millennium) that I ordered from the Sunday Times have already started to produce spears, whilst shoved in an old washing up tub, in the heated greenhouse! They really need to be planted out but the weather conditions just aren’t right, so they’ll remain in their washtub prison for at least another week and I’ll simply admire their growth each time I go out to check on the sweet peas, stock, kale and cauliflower seedlings.

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Allotments and snow

103 mini allotment snow mar 13Once again the weather has been uncooperative. I’m really glad that we insulated the fruit trees against cold weather but I’m getting worried about whether they will survive this cold spell, or series of cold spells. The problem isn’t really the cold, but dehydration.

Even the mini-allotment has struggled with the snow!

Bare root trees planted in winter need a reasonable amount of water to establish a good strong root system. If the roots have been allowed to dry out in transit or storage, the tree’s chances of survival are not high. Once you plant they need a good deep drenching. Of course, if you are planting in winter, there’s a risk that the watering you give them may become an ice bath, which is one of the things that makes bare-root tree planting a bit of a gamble.

Even so, in my experience, bare-root trees cope better, grow stronger and establish a good fruiting regime faster than container grown trees. So the recent snow could be classed as ‘automatic watering’ and I’m hoping that the alternation we’re currently having between hot sunny days, freezing nights, strong winds and heavy rain will somehow prove bracing rather than life-threatening for my Jupiter apple and my Guinevere plum trees.

103 snow on pea support 13 mar 13The area where OH has started to set up the supports for our pea seedlings was still under snow two days after the first snowfall, despite the sunshine. The purple sprouting is holding up well but I didn’t want on anything but the paths, because compacting soil under snow is a sure fire way to destroy all the hard work you’ve done in adding soil improvers, aerating and breaking up clods.

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Greenhouse tasks for early March

103 pea seedlings 6 mar 13We’ve had a couple of warm days, but the cold weather is heading back to us again. As a result, the greenhouse plants that have been spending time outside, to acclimatise (like the polyanthus I divided earlier in the week) are heading back indoors for a while. In addition to those plants, we’ve got pea seedlings that are definitely more like pea plants now! The great thing about growing them in biodegradable pots is that we don’t have to rely on the weather getting good to plant them out. The roots are already through the base of these pots, but that’s okay, we just sprinkle some multi-purpose compost between the pots, the roots spread out and down, and the plants keep growing strongly.

103 rocket 6 mar 13The rocket is also doing amazingly well – this crop comes from the tail end an old packet of seeds (use by 2011) which I found in the bottom of a drawer in the shed. I simply poured the seeds out and watered them – rocket is easier to grow than to not grow, in my experience, and I reckon we’ve got 100% germination of this supposedly ‘past sell by’ date packet. We’ll start to harvest in about a week or so: as they are very crowded, I’ll begin by thinning out the growth, taking around half the baby plants to use in a salad. From I will give it a week, thin them again, and then it will be cut and come again until these plants start to bolt.

103 chocolate pepper seed sowingOur cauliflower seeds are germinating well too – we have great success with cauliflowers (almost none with celery – just to make clear that I’m not boasting here, I’m just lucky with caulis, I think) and we’ve marked out on the plot where the cloches will go to protect the seedlings from birds, cabbage whites and the remorseless attentions of our local fox which does nothing to curb the rodent population but does like to take a dump on newly planted crops! The last task today was to sow some chocolate peper seeds. These are the only peppers we grow now, as we prefer their sweet flavour to all others, and I sow them in a pot, covering half the seed and leaving about half not so much covered as ‘obscured’ by just enough potting medium to hide them from view – for some reason chocolate peppers seem to germinate better with the lightest possible covering of soil. We can only grow four plants, given our space limitations, and I expect to get seven or eight seedlings from this pot, so we will swap the other seedlings, probably for tomato plants from other growers.

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