Sowing this week

This week we had limited time for sowing as we finally started planting up the orchard. We did, though, tend to three timely tasks: the parsnip bed, Jerusalem artichokes, and a second potato bed. Parsnips benefit from a long growing season and sowing as early as February is sometimes recommended. However, such early sowings, when the soil is cold and wet, are not conducive to good germination, and parsnip seed is already notoriously stubborn to germinate. I prefer to wait until conditions are better and the start of April is a good time. As weather conditions improved a few weeks back, we could have sown then, but this week was our first opportunity. Parsnips, along with other root crops, such as carrots, follow on from brassicas in our crop rotation. The brassicas are one of the most greedy feeders, whilst root crops tend to fork if grown in too rich a soil. Therefore, no manure, compost, or other fertiliser was added. The bed was simply weeded and raked over until level and of good texture.

Across our four foot bed, we sowed four rows of parsnip Tender and True and five rows of Guernsey, also known as Demi Long de Guernsey or Guernsey Half Long, after its supposedly shorter roots. How apt the name may be is questionable as we have had some quite long roots from this variety, but it is perhaps my favourite parsnip. Along with the parsnips, we also sowed three rows of salsify, of some unnamed cultivar of Italian origin. These need similar conditions and a similarly long growing season. One can station sow parsnips but their germination tends to be patchy so that I find a generous row of seed is, perhaps, just as good. With fresh seed, some thinning may later be necessary. An alternative recommended by some is germinating the seed before planting out, for example, on damp kitchen paper. Those that successfully germinate can then be sown at an appropriate spacing. I have never bothered with this approach, sowing instead in the old fashioned way, but perhaps it would be worth trying one year.

Next we attended to the Jerusalem artichokes. These are often grown in the same location for some years. They are rather invasive, regrowing from even small tubers left undiscovered. However, as they do not seem to suffer from much in the way of pest and diseases, they are quite suited to the perennial bed, and ours grow alongside horseradish – a particularly invasive root – and rhubarb. At this time of year the tubers are beginning to develop new roots and shoots, so the bed needs to be dug over, removing any remaining crop carefully so as not to damage the new growth. From its initial preparation for the previous season, the soil appeared to be in good condition so no further compost was added this year, but a sprinkle of fish, blood, and bone was raked in to provide some slow release fertiliser. One would normally plant out some of the smaller tubers, but thanks perhaps to the variety, Violet de Rennes, or a good growing season, there were no small tubers. Most were impractically large for replanting, but a selection of more sensible tubers was found. Last year we had 10 tubers in total. This year we have planted back sixteen in a four by four block. Tubers were planted about six inches deep and 18 inches apart. This should give them enough space to develop good sized tubers again this year.

Jerusalem artichoke tubers with new roots and shoots
Jerusalem artichoke tubers with new roots and shoots

Finally, we planted out another bed of potatoes; this time, second earlies International Kidney and Wilja. International Kidney, a selection of which is better known as Jersery Royals when grown on the island of Jersey, is great as a new potato, as it is best known, but also serves as an early main crop. We planted some in the first potato bed which we will harvest young, so we may allow this week’s sowing to mature. Wilja crops very well for us and, if allowed to develop to full maturity, will produce good sized potatoes with excellent storage qualities, and is more like a main crop potato for us. The chitted seed potatoes were planted deep in furrows, much as described for the previous potato bed, and will be ridged up as they develop. Those planted in the first bed are just emerging now and will provide a harvest to follow on from those growing in pots in the glasshouses, which should be ready in a couple of weeks. Those in today’s bed will be left to develop, blight permitting, for use through autumn and winter. We still have some Pink Fir Apple chitting. They are always rather slow to get going, being a late season main crop, but hopefully we will be planting them out within a couple of weeks.

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