Archive for peppers and chillis

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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Chocolate peppers getting bigger

Number two chocolate pepper is bigger and its unripe brother is definitely bigger still … at this rate, from five plants we hope to have a bumper crop!chocolate pepper

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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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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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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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