Monthly Archives: February 2014

Seed list 2014 – part 3 – brassicas

This third article in the series on our seed list looks at brassicas, a family that I am generally not quite so keen on, which is a little unfortunate as this family offers a wide range of vegetables that are very nutritious and often available in late winter and early spring when little else is cropping. I do not really like swede, and grow them mainly for the Finnish Christmas dish of kålrotslåda, although other members of family like them. Turnips find some limited use in our kitchen, and we prefer them raw to cooked. I do not really like broccoli, but grow it for CT because she really enjoys it. I sometimes grow some sprouts for the same reason. I quite enjoy raw cauliflower, but do not like it cooked at all. CT enjoys it though, so I usually grow a few. Radish are also brassicas, but in this case CT does not like them much, whilst I quite enjoy their crisp texture and peppery flavour. So all of these I grow in limited quantities. I find much more use for kale and cabbages, and especially like braised red cabbage and coleslaw, which I most often make in the continental style with vinegar and oil rather than mayonnaise. Continue reading

Sowing continues

This weekend we avoided the gloomy weather and made more under cover sowings. Down the centre of our polytunnel is a four foot wide bed, which we use for general planting of crops including beans, peas, sweetcorn, saladings, and so on. At this time of year, it is warm enough, especially under cover, to make some early sowings of root crops, provided suitable varieties are selected. The bed was prepared by a little weeding and a light forking, followed by the application of a couple of handfuls of fish, blood and bone, which was lightly raked in. No manure was added, as root crops respond to too rich a rich soil by forking. Four foot drills were made across the bed. These were watered thoroughly before sowing. This bed had not been watered for some time, and it is amazing how much water is required to properly penetrate the soil. Continue reading

Time to tickle the peaches

The first blossom of peach Early Rivers

The peach blossom has just started to emerge, so it is time to start hand pollinating to try and ensure a crop for the summer. We currently have three peaches: Early Rivers and Bellegarde being fan trained in one of the glasshouses and a Pêche de Vigne being grown as a small bush in the polytunnel. The first couple of flowers have just opened on the Early Rivers and quite a few now on the Pêche de Vigne. As the peach blossom tends to come at a time when there are few pollinating insects about, a helping hand really is needed to have a good chance of some fruit developing. Even though we keep bees, one cannot be sure they will be flying at this time of year – cold and poor conditions will keep them tucked up in their hives more often than not. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 2 – alliums

This second article looking at the varieties we plan to sow in the coming year covers alliums: onions, shallots, garlic, and leeks. I make several sowings of onions, shallots and garlic. The first sowing, from sets, is at the end of the season, late autumn or early winter, to overwinter in the polytunnel. I have found the results to be far better than overwintering outdoors. I then make a spring sowing outdoors, again from sets, as soon as the soil has dried out sufficiently from the winter rains – something of a problem this year. Whilst fine for the onions and shallots, this puts the outdoor garlic a little later than ideal, as it benefits from a period of cold in order to develop good cloves, but seems to work better for us overall than sowing earlier and suffering the rigours of the winter weather. The damp is more of a problem than the cold, even with the generally good drainage provided by the somewhat sandy soil of our slightly raised beds. The undercover crop is larger and better, but the outdoor crop is usually still useful. I then sow various small onions from seed a little later; these do not need so long to develop and are culinary treats rather than main crop. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 1 – root crops

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like a kid in sweet shop when it comes to browsing seed catalogues and preparing sowing plans for the coming year. Long before we even broke ground here I drew up a ‘shortlist’ of seeds that I thought would make a good starting point. This shortlist was, admittedly, not at all short and I have spent the last few years trying to refine it based on our experiences, trying new sorts and removing others depending on how they perform for us. Despite my best efforts, there are still a great many varieties on my list. I must also confess that I have completely ignored my scientific training and made these choices on rather whimsical grounds, and perhaps I ought to conduct more rigorous trials before making such decisions. Perhaps one day, but in the mean time, preparing this year’s seed list was long overdue. Continue reading

The nuttery and truffière

This is the final article in the series looking at our selection of varieties for our mixed orchard. Along with the various fruits, we are also planting a few nut trees. We began this last winter by planting a sweet chestnut, Marron de Lyon, and walnut, Broadview, and this year are adding almond and hazel trees. Along with the nuts, we are also experimenting with a small truffière. As hazel is one of the trees commonly used for the cultivation of various truffles, we can combine the nut harvest with the possibility of finding, in some years’ time, a few precious truffles. Continue reading

First sowings of the year: peppers, chillies, and aubergines

Whilst the main plot is too cold and too wet for planting, and the polytunnel is not much better, it is nonetheless time for the first sowings of the year. Peppers, chillies, and aubergines hail from warmer climes, and benefit from a long growing season so need to be started early in the year. Chillies are, in my experience, the easiest of these crops, and we never fail to produce a good quantity of ripe fruits. It does vary, though, according to variety. The Habanero, for example, needs a much longer season than many others. The peppers and aubergines really do need to get a good start as it is a challenge to ripen the fruits at the end of the season, especially the peppers, and neither CT nor I are particular fans of dark green peppers. Continue reading

Vitopod propagator: first impressions

Early February is an ideal time to sow chillies, peppers, and aubergines, which typically take a few weeks to germinate and benefit from a long growing season to ripen their fruit. Towards the end of February or through March, the tomatoes can be sown, followed by the cucurbits: summer and winter squash, cucumbers and melons. These are all tender crops that will not germinate at low temperatures, will be harmed by frost, and will have growth retarded by cold conditions. Seedlings do not always recover fully from an early check in growth brought on by low temperatures. With low temperatures, poor light levels, and the danger of frosts until the end of April, here in the south, and even later further north, it is rather challenging to raise these seedlings at home, and with something in the order of 180 pots to deal with this becomes quite a chore. Propagators are a fairly vital piece of equipment in this process. Continue reading

Planting early potatoes

The usual time for planting the first early potatoes is perhaps mid March to April, with a first harvest around mid summer. One can, though, try to produce a small crop earlier in the year provided the shoots are protected from frost damage. Since installing the two large glasshouses against their south facing wall, we have exploited the protection they offer to plant early potatoes in large pots. Today we planted this year’s first batch. Continue reading