Archive for ‘urban planting’

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.

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March 31, 2011

Growing by numbers

by growingpeople

The British (or at least the writers at the Evening Standard) are fond of attributing monetary worth to the most unquantifiable of events, informing us for example that the magical London snow day in February 2009 in which every Londoner woke up happy and strangers said hello to each other in the street cost the economy £3 billion. It’s not surprising of course that in our society the media insists on this kind of “expert” analysis (or at least less surprising than the fact that the Royal Wedding will cost the British economy £5 billion), but I think there’s something inherently sad at the heart of it – as though nothing can ever simply just be, without having to be worth something in order to have a purpose (or lack of).

So for once I was pleased to read the article in this month’s Jellied Eel about the Tufnell Park resident Mark Ridsdill Smith who has calculated that he has grown £812 worth of fruit and vegetables on his balcony, measuring less than 3 square meters (that’s £270 a meter). Among the runner beans, courgettes, carrots and potatoes,  Smith grew the equivalent of 100 bags of salad, 92 supermarket punnets of tomatoes and 120 packets of herbs.

you won't find these in Sainsbury's

Gardening is certainly not something I started to do for the money, but in the great British tradition, I’ve succumbed to the fact that as well as reaping ecological and health benefits, it can provide you with massive  savings on your food bill. Or at the very least, a couple quid’s worth of parsley.

Smith details how and what he grew, with minimal space and an abundance of creativity as well as the “worth” of each of his harvests in his fantastic blog, Vertical Veg.

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

December 10, 2010

Winter gardening

by growingpeople

Granted December probably isn’t the most exciting time to be thinking about vegetable gardening. The soil is more or less frozen solid, tender plants have finally succumbed to the frost (the nasturtiums are headed for the compost bin today) and everything else is looking a little sad. Not to mention the unappealing prospect of cold hands. Apart from a few hardy rosemary bushes, there will be nothing to eat in my garden for the rest of the winter.

But there are a few practical things you could be doing to get a head start on next year’s growing season.

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November 28, 2010

Planting for urban bees

by growingpeople

This week I’ve been planning out a bee and butterfly garden to plant out in the spring with one of the school groups I teach in West London.  The school has a large space (already home to several happy chickens) which will be used to plant lots of vegetables, but the students are keen to put all the odds in their favour by attracting as many friendly pollinators to the site as possible.

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November 19, 2010

Edible Estates

by growingpeople

This summer, Capital Growth (the food-growing initiative for London fronted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and London Food Link) launched Edible Estates, a competition open to residents of London’s housing estates, encouraging them to develop food-growing spaces on the land around their homes. 40 communities took part from Greenwich to Haringey and Lambeth to Tower Hamlets, and last month, the winners were announced at a special conference.

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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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November 12, 2010

Starters

by growingpeople

I recently heard about a project going on in Todmorden in West Yorkshire, where the residents have been using every possible bit of the town’s vacant public spaces to grow food.

Incredible Edible Todmorden is an inspiring example of what can happen when a community comes together and proves that not having a garden doesn’t have to stop you from setting up a patch (or several!). Residents have been growing food on the sides of roads, at the train station, under the railway bridge, in a supermarket car park (but don’t tell the Lidl bosses), outside the police station, at a housing estate and even in the town’s graveyard! They’ve put together this interactive map which shows the full scale of their planting. And what scale! 500 (count them) fruit trees from apples and plums to morello cherries in a town of just 10,000 people.

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