Archive for ‘my garden’

May 13, 2011

May

by growingpeople

After February and April comes May (we skipped March, sorry, but it’s essentially the same as the other two), and things are getting interesting in the edible garden. Perennials like lovage and echinacea are coming into growth after a winter below ground, and the leaves of the Salix alba and Akebia quinata are back. The seedlings that were sown indoors in the earlier months can now be re-potted and moved outside permanently and the seedlings sown outdoors are now growing vigorously.  You’ll probably find that as soon as you re-pot or plant out, the plants have a growth spurt, as their roots have been constricted for the past few weeks. My tomatoes need a cane to lean on now that they are over 30cm tall.

There’s much to do in May as the more tender plants including fennel, green beans and courgettes can be sown now that the danger of frost has definitely passed. These should all be sown indoors and planted out as soon as the seedlings are strong, perhaps with the exception of fennel, which could be sown out now. I’ve also just sown a purple radish, the Hilds Blue, which is slightly more tender than its common red counterpart.

carrot seedlings sown too close together

Thinning out is vital to ensure the growth of crops including radishes, carrots and lettuce. Look at seedlings and pull out any that are growing too close together – imagine the size of a fully grown carrot and remember that each seedling will need that amount of space if it’s going to reach full size. Don’t be tempted to leave in more seedlings than the space can hold, as they just won’t grow and you’ll end up with nothing at all. Runner beans can be sown now – plant in pairs and pull out the weakest plant as soon as they start to grow, and provide support for them from the very beginning. Climbing plants, including runner beans and peas will grow towards the support provided, and without any, will flop and die.

Potatoes should have masses of leaves by now, and will need to be earthed up – simply bury the lowest level of foliage by adding compost to ensure that the tubers aren’t exposed to any light as they break through the soil (this results in green potatoes that you can’t eat).

The first radishes planted back in April should be ready to eat now – keep sowing as you pick them (the same goes for lettuce) to ensure a continuous supply from now right through to the autumn. The radish leaves are edible too, and delicious sautéed in olive oil or added to soup (they are a little too tough to eat raw, although this recipe for radish leaf pesto is a great way of getting around that).

Beneficial flowers like nasturtium and calendula can still be sown this month if you haven’t done so already – I’m finding the nasturtiums particularly helpful at luring black fly away from my broad beans.

And although it sounds obvious, it’s vital to water a lot, particularly if you, like me, are growing in pots. Most plants can survive on just a little water, but need plenty more water to produce the flowers which will eventually produce fruit in the coming months. In this weather, I’m watering at least every other day, and leaving a plate under each pot to minimise the water that drains away.

Keep on top of weeds, again particularly if growing in pots, as plants already have a limited amount of space and nutrients and the weeds only add to that competition.

May is the month to enjoy watching things grow, as it will all happen in quick succession between now and June – I continue to be amazed at how suddenly the flowers have appeared on the broad beans that were nothing more than little shoots only weeks ago, and how quickly the tomatoes develop from skinny seedlings to thick, strong plants.

Finally – because this is what it’s all about, after all – here’s what’s growing in my garden this month, as well as potatoes, chard, beetroot, Anemone coronaria, spinach, calendula, foxglove, rosemary, fennel, runner beans, parsley, chives, sweet pea, radish, Schisandra grandifloraAkebia quinataSalix alba, sweet pepper, Verbena bonariensis, basil, jasmine, iris, lavender and Myosotis (forget-me-nots).

broad beans and nasturtiums

Philadelphus, raspberry, tomatoes

strawberry, borage and nasturtium seedlings

tomatoes, sunflower, carrot

Echinacea, Potentilla, lettuce

tomato, oca

lovage, thyme

borage, squash, mint

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April 4, 2011

April

by growingpeople

Spring is here. I can say that with conviction because I’ve worn sunglasses and flip flops for 3 consecutive days (granted, I’m cold blooded) and because I took the tomato seedlings outside for a sunbathe on Saturday. And Reda has started cycling to work again, which, as those who know him will vouch, can only mean one thing.

 

sunbathing tomatoes

...and Safi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So.

Technically there could still be some late frosts between now and the end of April so hold off on moving tender seedlings like peppers, aubergines and tomatoes out permanently until early May, but the vast majority of your seeds can be sown outside this month. That includes carrots, radishes, fennel, peas, beetroot, spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, turnips and spring onions.  I recommend starting kohlrabi, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli off inside and planting them out in May though, when they are roughly 8cm tall.

Potatoes and other tubers can go into the ground now if they aren’t already.

You can also sow a huge range of edible or beneficial flowers around this time, including marigolds, sweet peas, borage, nasturtiums, chamomile. Sunflowers should be sown indoors for another few weeks.

And parsley, dill, sage, chives and coriander can all be sown outdoors sometime this month, while the more tender basil should be started off indoors and planted out in May.

Hold off on beans and courgettes – these are two common vegetables which really need warmth and which you need to wait until June to sow.

Have a look at these pages for ideas on what to plant together – particularly if you’re lacking in space or using containers.

March 1, 2011

February

by growingpeople

Several of my friends have asked me recently what exactly they should be doing now in the garden to be sure they have vegetables growing or ready to eat by the summer. So here’s a guide to what I’ve been doing the last few weeks (and should be done sometime before mid-March).

Sowing seeds

Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and summer squash should be sown in February and March and kept indoors on a warm window sill until the end of April or beginning of May. Sow seeds in shallow trays of clean compost (don’t use soil from the garden, as seedlings are very susceptible to fungal infection – the first lot of tomatoes I sowed in the beginning of February were all killed by damping off, a blanket term for a range of soilborne fungal infections that affects seedlings soon after they germinate, causing them to darken, weaken and topple over at the base). Once the seedlings are 3 or 4 centimeters tall, move them on to individual pots, where they’ll live until you plant them outside in the spring. At this point you can be less fussy about the soil you plant them in as developed plants will be less susceptible to minor diseases.

healthy tomato seedlings
seedlings killed by damping off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning

Pruning trees and shrubs is made to sound so complicated by bodies such as the RHS that most people assume it’s a dark art. Plants are categorised into over 20 pruning groups depending on when, how and where they flower, and each group has its own very specific set of pruning times and methods. Just to make it even more fun, not all organisations group them the same way, so one man’s pruning group 6 may be another man’s group 17. On top of that, several plants, such as Clematis, are subdivided into their own pruning groups because the many different species of Clematis all need to be treated so differently. To learn it all (I’ve tried) completely exasperated me, until I realised that in the fruit and vegetable garden, you really just need to follow three basic rules (and always making a downwards sloping cut, just above a healthy bud). Hoorah.

1) If it flowers before June, it’s spring-flowering, flowering on the previous season’s growth, and needs to be pruned as soon as the flowering has finished. For example, Akebia quinata.

2) If it flowers after June, it’s summer-flowering, flowering on the current season’s growth, and needs to be pruned in February or March (do this now). For example, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender).

3) If it’s a fruit tree , it needs to have its branches shortened in August, and then again in the Winter (sometime between December and February) to stimulate Spring growth. Fruit is produced on two or three year old wood, so providing you don’t prune too far down, there’s no danger of losing your  fruit-producing wood.

Weeding

You’re going to need weed-free beds to start sowing seeds in very soon, so now is the time to hand-weed, dig out or smother any unwanted weed growth. Skimpy weeds like Stellaria media can be pulled out by hand or trowel, Taraxacum officinale will need deep down digging. Ideally, last winter you would have covered your beds with thick carpet or cardboard and smothered them all – if not, give it a go this winter.

Buying

From March and April, you will be sowing the bulk of your seeds so now’s the time to buy them. Also buy some mesh if you plan to grow cabbage – it’s the best way to protect it from the cabbage white butterfly, and is also great for protecting lettuces from slugs and snails.

Chitting (or not)

Before potatoes are planted in about a month’s time, they need to be chitted. Chitting is just another way of saying “leave them in a dark cupboard for a few weeks to shrivel up and start sprouting shoots”. I’m also looking forward to growing Oca this year (thanks Naomi!), so they and any other tubers you plan on planting will need to be given the same treatment.

There’s actually a big debate among gardeners at the moment on the need to chit, which Emma Cooper sums up nicely here.

chitting potatoes

chitting oca

November 12, 2010

The first of many posts about tomatoes

by growingpeople

People who know me will tell you that there is nothing I care more about in my garden than tomatoes. The first time I flicked through Real Seeds and Organic Gardening catalogues and discovered that tomatoes didn’t need to be red (they can be purple! yellow! black!), I was hooked. They’ve become a healthy obsession as far as gardening is concerned, and each year I’ve looked forward to February when I can start off my new varieties inside the bedroom window.

Last year started well enough. I chose ‘Galina’, a yellow cherry tomato from Siberia, ‘Costoluto Genovese’,  an Italian variety with distinctive ribbing, ‘Purple Ukraine’, a beautifully deep purple plum tomato, ‘Orange Banana’, which basically does what it says on the tin, and the ‘Red Cluster Pear’ centiflor tomato, whose trusses bear tomatoes like a bunch of grapes. I was particularly excited about that one.

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