Sunday, 24 February 2008

The grass is growing ! 24.02.08

Welcome back to "Reads Retreat", and my weekly guide to growing your own veg in raised beds.

As you can clearly see, the grass is starting to put on some new growth - probably the best indicator there is that the ground is starting to warm up, and the garden is getting ready to grow!
Not that I'm going to rush out with the mower you understand, not for a good few weeks yet, but just that if the grass is growing, then most other plants will be doing the same. This also signals the start of weedgrowth - no matter how hard you prepare, they still seem to flourish, and its now that their progress must be halted. Thats a job that is now high on my list.

There's some flashes of colour too! These daffs are just starting to show, and together with the tulips in the pot, will brighten up this otherwise "green" corner of the patio.
Incidentally, the Rosemary seems to be flourishing, despite the cold, wind and rain that has been bestowed upon us.
I've been told that 7 years is a good life span for this herb, so I've a good few years left from it. When out shopping tomorrow, I'll get some Olive Oil, and add some sprigs of rosemary to it , along with some garlic, before putting the jar to the back of the cupboard for use later in the year. Seems a bit pointless to buy ready made when you can have a go yourself for just a couple of quid! Yummy with roast lamb mmmmmm.

My recent purchase of seed potato's have been laid out now for chitting, for just a couple of weeks, and already you can see new shoots emerging all over their skins.
To encourage the growth of the shoots at the "crown" of the seed, the shoots lower down have been scraped away with a finger nail. On the larger seeds, I've left more shoots than the smaller seeds - these can if need be, be split in half at time of planting, to give me more crop. This should be done with a sharp knife, and within a few minutes of planting, otherwise the seed may "turn" giving rise to infection on the cut and thus simply rotting in the soil .

My planting of Garlic (v. Fokyhama ) that were sown late November are really growing on well. After a few months of nothing visibly happening they are now all between 4 - 6" tall. During the last few months, they will hopefully have sent down good strong tap roots to soak up the moisture, whilst the frost will have encouraged the hidden bulbs to swell / multiply. Now its a case of making sure that they receive regular watering ( 2-3 times a week ) regardless of the current weather.

The Broad Beans (v. Bunyard Exhibition) are also showing good early spring growth. Time I think for a few slug pellets around the plot, and I'll also be using wood ash this year in an attempt to halt the blighters progress. I've been told to use the ash sparingly, as it may be slightly acidic and I dont want to damage the plants.

Last years Parsnips (v. Hollow Crown) have over wintered well, and with the flourish of new growth, it seems almost a shame to contemplate pulling them from the ground, although I know if i leave them too long, they will just become woody and un-usable.
This year I'm going to try growing them in cardboard tubes - left over from kitchen roll ! More on this soon !

Meanwhile, in the comfortable surroundings of the conservatory, my early seed sowings seem to be in full growth. I'm amazed at the peppers in particular, as all the seeds have germinated and are all growing well. In the next week or so, they will be planted on into larger pots, where hopefully this will stay and until they start to fruit! Lets hope we get a bumper crop from this little lot. I'll also be sowing a few more of each over the next couple of weeks, to provide some successional crops, and hopefully avoid a glut in harvesting .

And then there's the other seed tray that was planted early ! All the seeds are once again germinated.
The tomato(v. Moneymaker) are just starting to produce their second pairs of leaves and thus can be potted on.
The Basil (v. Dark Opal) are also flourishing and will be potted on into 3" pots, before going into the beds in a few weeks time.
And once the main frosts have passed, the onions and leeks will also be transplanted to their final growing positions.

So, it seems , a busy week ahead! It wont be long now until we can get into the garden proper, and get the main plantings underway.
A little tip for you, to keep you ahead of the competition: Keep a bag or 2 of general purpose compost INDOORS ! This will keep it's temperature up and assist with the germination of your seedlings. This will save you a considerable amount of time, as germination times will be speeded up. Thats about it for this week, except to congratulate the England Rugby Team on their emphatic win over France yesterday, and also to congratulate Southend United on a fine win, away at Yeovil Town, cementing their place nearer the top of the table ready for the promotion play offs. Well done all.

Take care all and see you soon. Enjoy your gardens,


Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sunny days & Freezing nights 17.02.08

Welcome back to Reads Retreat - my blog guide to Growing Your Own Veg in Raised beds.

What a week of weather we've had, gloriously sunny spring days, and arctic-like freezing nights. Last night we dropped down to an earth freezing -4Celsius, which seemingly was just a precursor to tonight's forecast of -6Celsius. Check out my Met Office link to get an up to date forecast for where you are ?

Progress has been made despite the best efforts of the weather:
My seeds planted recently are all springing into life in my propogator, with this one hosting Onions, Leeks, Tomato's, and Basil.
I am quite astonished that the toms are doing so well, after all my conservatory is unheated.
I tend to uncover the seedlings during the day and then replace the clear lid when its dark, thus maximising the amount of light that gets to the young plants. If you don't do this, you find that the seedlings become "leggy", and tend not to pot on very well.
I could do with some advice on the onions, as I've not grown them from seed before ? Any ideas folks ? Drop me a line to:

This second tray is home to my chilli's and sweet peppers.
The latter started to show just this morning, whereas I expected the "Hot" chilli's to take longer to germinate. Its quite exciting to see such good growth, as last year I had only one chilli plant germinate; which although still growing well, is only just producing it's second fruit!
Maybe I'll be able to line these up and get a better crop? It would also be nice to give Chilli plants as presents, as various members of the family are quite partial to their hot flavour.

Seeds potato's are all now lined up for chitting - a process that enables to grow strong starter shoots prior to planting.
Monty Don of BBC Gardeners world fame conducted trials last year on the benefits of chitting spuds, and with the RHS concluded that there was no real benefit in doing this. I found this hard to believe, and having done the same last year and got fantastic results, I'm now doing the same again.
The real advantage to me is that you can remove the spindly shoots, so that the strong remain. You must take care when planting though, ensuring none of the shoots get damaged.

Once again, I've started my loo roll tube collection. These make for fantastic seed pots, that when required, can be planted straight into their growing position without damaging the tender young roots growing inside. I used these very successfully last year, specifically with Runner Beans, Parsnips, Broad Beans etc, and the beauty is not only are they free, but they will also rot down naturally in the soil over a period of time. I am always trying to recycle on the plot, and this is a great example and a success too. You will see me using these throughout the growing season, wonder how many I'll use ?

Still coming to terms with how CHEAP this is !
Thought I'd share the pic to remind you all! I will use a lot of this over the next few months. Generally I rake it into the topsoil, as I have adopted the no dig approach on the plot.

My latest acquisition, a couple of small bags of onion sets. I'm growing these as well as onion from seed. I'm guessing that the sets will provide a better yield, but I guess I have to try growing from seed, Or I'll never know !
I got these from my favourite shop "Ebay" for just a couple of quid including the postage. I generated the funds to buy them by selling my spare runner bean seeds!
Tom & Barbara would have been pleased !!!

My final pic this week is of my empty plot !
Well, its almost empty. The Broad Beans planted before christmas are going great, and now I'm chomping at the bit to get going.
Yeah I know, good things come to those who wait. It would be a waste of time planting too soon, as weak plants will result leading to poor crops. Better to spend the time indoors raising plants from seed, and generally getting ready to grow.
All in all, its been a good week, and I really cant wait for this frosty spell to pass. I hope your preperations are coming along well, and thank you to all my readers, both regulars and newcomers, your traffic to my site now has me ranked at Number 29 in the Top 100 Gardening Sites.
Not only that, but Southend United notched up another win yesterday, putting us 8th in the league, well done Shrimpers, keep up the good work.

Take care all and have a good week. I look forward to seeing you all next week !


Sunday, 10 February 2008

A Busy Week 10.02.08

Just a very quick update today I'm afraid, as off to work in an hour !

It's nice to welcome you back to my blog.

We were on a short holiday in Hunstanton this week, and while i was there managed to pick up a couple of bargains :

Seed Potato's :
I've been trying recently to source some Rocket & Nicola seeds, but my local GC stopped selling these, and despite contacting the supplier company ( Taylors Bulbs in Spalding ) I have not been able to get any.
Oh well, as I was in Norfolk for the week, thought I might be able to pick some up there. The problem I have is that I have a very limited growing space, so the normal sized packs you see for sale everywhere are far too big for what i wanted.
I struck GOLD at a small family run nursery in South Wootton, near Kings Lynn, as follows:
  1. First Earlies (v. Aaron Pilot ), 1kg for £0.75 - 14 seeds!
  2. Second Earlies (v. Kestrel ), 600g for £0.47 - 8 seeds!
This is more than enough for my growing space, and am now a lot happier! They are now laid out for chitting, and I cant wait to get planting.

Over the last few years i have been buying this, the price seems to have soared. Last year i paid £3 for 5kg from B&Q and thought i had struck lucky. This year I bought the same NPK rated stuff from Woolworths - 3kg for £1.27 ! I think that is a very good deal don't you ? Unfortunately, the same high street store has some other good deals on at the moment so i may have to return !

Other news:
Seeds planted last weekend are doing pretty well considering they are in my unheated conservatory! The Onions, Leeks, Tomato's, and Basil have all germinated, putting on approx 1/4" of growth. Pretty pleased with that i must say.
The peppers are not germinated yet, but didn't expect them too, as their germination period is usually about 2 weeks.
My Rhubarb (v. Timperley Early ) crown was starting to show, so I gave it a fresh covering of compost and placed an old upturned bucket over it, to try and force some nice early shoots. We only had a minor crop from this crown last year, but hope this year to harvest a lot more, as the crown should by now be well established.

I hit position 39 in the top 100 Gardening sites today - thats all thanks to you - my readers !

Thats about it for today, sorry there's no pictures _ i'll post some soon !
Hope you all enjoy your gardens, watch out for some sharp frosts in the coming week !


Saturday, 2 February 2008

Website of the week 03.02.08

I'm always surfing the net so to speak, and have decided to share with you all my best garden related website find, on a weekly basis.
Crikey! there's so many to choose from, but my first accolade has to go to my current fave site:

This site is well worth a look, some inspirational recipes and some sound gardening advice - and it's all in one place.

That's it for now - catch you next week


Under starters orders ! 03.02.08

And they're off !

Welcome back to Reads Retreat - A guide to growing your own veg in Raised Beds.

It's time to get growing again - Yippee !

Most of the groundwork is now in place, nearly all the pre-season buying is done and finally it's time to get my hands dirty.
The first seeds to land in the propagator this year are those pictured on the left which are :
1. Chilli (v.De Cayenne)
2. Basil (v.Dark Opal)
3. Onion (v.Bedfordshire Champion)
4. Tomato (v. Moneymaker)
5. Sweet Pepper (v. Worldbeater)
8. Leek (v.Musselburgh).
All these have been planted in seed trays with propagator lids, and placed in an unheated conservatory, where they should get plenty of light and a fairly consistent temperature. All seeds are planted in growbag compost, which was sieved before use to remove any lumps / foreign particles. The seeds were then covered with approx. 1/2" more sieved compost. Water was added to the drip trays, as opposed to the top surface. This helps the plants establish feeder roots as they germinate, the idea being they grow as stronger seedlings. I planted the 2 pepper varieties in one seed tray, with two Chilli seeds per module ( so that the weaker seedling can be removed ) and one seed per module for the Sweet peppers, which tend to germinate much better than their hotter namesakes. I know that may all seem a bit long winded, but I work to the old addage "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail !". The second seed tray ( 4 x 10 modules) were planted up the same way - doubling up on the onion and leek seeds, with single seed planting of the Basil and Tomato.
The seeds pictured here are from my latest shopping spree - which didn't involve me leaving the house ! Good old ebay for this little lot. It's hard to believe I know, but I paid just 3 quid for this lot, including post and packaging . It's true, you don't get owt for nowt ! But a bit of careful shopping and you can easily bag a bargain or six !
The seeds were all unopened packs, and appear to be last seasons, but the "Plant by" date for all of them is June 2008.
Like most people ( I'm guessing ) seed packs will remain in use for many years, due in part to the number of seeds some packs contain. As long as the seed packs are stored in an airtight container, they will last me many seasons.

My new raised bed has finally received it's new top dressing of Garden Centre General Purpose compost.
2 x 75 Litre bags of Tunstall branded compost were use ( 3 for a tenner in most places ) , providing a good 2 - 3 inch layer across the bed. The bed has now been covered with mulch material / and the empty bags , which will allow the contents to settle and the temperature to warm up a bit. The secondary reason for the mulch layer is to prevent light reaching the soil which in turn should halt the progress of any weeds. This bed will be home to my Runner and French beans in a couple of months time, and I'm hopeful of a good crop this year, followed by spuds next year.

This little pic is to showcase the new growth of my Garlic (v.Fokyhama) bulbs, that were planted at the end of November last year. I covered the open soil with some netting and also planted some Pea Sticks to stop the cats from digging them up. Seems to have worked. Last year I hung compact discs on string from various places around the garden - as they spin in the wind, they cast reflections all over the plot , which seems to keep the moggies away !
Much to my future father in laws disgust, I have found that " Country & Western" CD's seem to work the best !
Oh, he loved that one !

This is the remains of my Parsnip (v.Hollow Crown) crop from last season. Where the top growth had all died back over the last few months, there is now new top growth reminding me of the treasures that await. As I've no real urgency to pull these up, I will leave them be for a good while yet.
At least all the time in the soil their flavour will improve, and may even put on a bit more growth ?
Ive had one last season that was in excess of 24" long, which really surprised me.

In an earlier post, I was telling you all about using cat litter trays as drip trays to save some cash. Well, now we can take that a step further. How many of you fork out cash each year for small pots, peat pots etc ? Over the last couple of weeks I've started saving the cardboard rolls that normally get discarded when the loo roll is finished. I have found that these make great planters for seeds, and can be dug straight into their final position without disturbing the roots. Also, if you water your loo pots at the base, the cardboard acts like a capillary , drawing the moisture up to the seed. As mentioned earlier, this will give you long healthy roots for sturdy plants. Go on, try it - you'll be amazed.

As you all know, as the season progresses, the number of propagators in use will grow and grow, until virtually every flat surface is used up. And they're not cheap either. Or are they?
The ones I'm using are from that well known gardening shop: Asda !
Yup, you get 2 of these complete units for less than 2 quid, and they are sturdy enough to be re-used year after year.
I'm a great believer in shopping around, but I am yet to find a better deal than this. Please let me know though, if you know of a keener price !
I'm always trying to save a few quid ! More money to spend on my better half !

As you can see, its been a busy week. I'm hoping that I will be able to continue these updates to keep you all informed, and maybe pass on a few tips or save you a few quid along the way?

Thats it for now. I hope you continue to enjoy your gardens, and keep popping back here for my updates. As you will have seen, the blog is now a regular in the "Top 50" of the Top 100 gardening websites - that cheers me up. A lot of the competition in this register is from commercial sites, so I must be doing something right. And finally, come on Southend United!!!

Take care all.