Good Looks Aren’t Everything

Despite the routine calendar of a gardener; when to sow carrots, when to earth up first early potatoes and when to turn your compost heap, no two growing years are the same. This year, several crops I’ve been growing seem to be weeks ahead to where they were this time last year. I  grow my chillies, peppers and aubergines on the kitchen windowsill and tend not to plant them into their final growing position until the second week in May. However, both my chilli and pepper plants have grown so big, they’re blocking out the natural light into the kitchen and have already got flowers on them. Pepper Collage

In the polytunnel my Cosmos bipinnatus (Rubenza) are already producing flowers, but out on the plot, there’s still no sign of my carrots! Not that I’m worried, it just adds a little more variety to the growing season and keeps me on my toes.

It’s an exciting time of year, the squash seeds have germinated, the different bean varieties are breaking through the soil and I seem to be growing more varieties of sunflowers than I know what to do with. But they’re all welcome, and I will find a final home for them all. Cosmos Collage

There have been a few crops I’ve grown on the polytunnel which normally, by now, I would have planted out. This is a changeable time of year, where one minute the shorts are out as we bask in the warmth of the sun, and the next we’re donning fleeces and thermals as we wipe the icicles from our noses in sub-zero temperatures. Therefore, a few extra weeks in the warmth of the polytunnel will hopefully give them an extra spurt of growth.

However, this was the weekend to plant out my brassicas.

I had two beds cultivated and ready for them. They’re nearly identical, the only difference is that one bed was enriched with green manure last autumn. So having split my cauliflowers (Mayflower), cabbages (Duncan) and broccoli (Calabrese) equally, I’ve planted them in the beds – keen to see if the green manure has any effect on this year’s crops.1brass

When growing brassicas, I always plant them a bit deeper to the soil line they’ve been previously growing in. As these crops grow large heads, all that weight rocking throughout the season can cause the roots to be pulled up and kill the crop. It’s then a question of watering, mulching and placing brassica collars round them. And the final act of security is to net them. Despite the good looks of a Cabbage White Butterfly, their offspring can devastate a brassica crop. So I’m taking no chances.

Although we may dream of having that Chelsea Garden Show garden/allotment, where everything looks perfect, crops are uniform, soil is of the finest crumb and there isn’t a beastie in sight, in the real world, pests and diseases are part of a gardener’s life. I try not to use chemicals, so it’s going to be netting to deter the worst of the seasonal invaders, hopefully, striking a healthy balance on my plot. Afterall, these pests were here before me.2shed

My allotment may not win a Gold for its good looks, but it’s all about the taste and making sensible choices not to pollute the land with toxins. AdeSignature

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Eat, Think and Be Healthy

We’re a week into the new year and already resolutions have been quietly forgotten, abandoned Christmas trees lay strewn across grey city streets like an apocalyptic scene from The Walking Dead, and we’re eagerly wishing away the winter and longing for spring’s gentle touch. street trees

For now, it’s all about wrapping up warm, eating comfort food and drawing up plans and seed lists for the upcoming months.  I often have visions at this time of year of gardeners heading down to their sheds which have been converted into military map rooms.  After entering a top secret code into the shed door’s security panel, and passing through voice recognition and retina scans, they step inside to be greeted by half a dozen gardeners in wellies.  Some use hoes to push around model vegetables on a large allotment blueprint, whilst others are barking orders or tuning into the two-way radio awaiting further instruction.

At the moment, we have regular excursions to our sleeping giant, plot 23d, where it lays undisturbed under its thick blanket of manure, enjoying its rest and growing strong and fertile for spring.  The days are slowly getting longer and soon we’ll all be moaning about slugs as we do every year.

But it’s also been a week of celebration for three reasons.  Firstly, keen to keep busy on the plot, I built myself a compost bay.  And if I do say so myself, it’s not too bad.  Not only will it hold the compost, I’m also hoping to grow a few squash plants in it later in the year (a tip I picked up from Gardeners’ World!).compost

Secondly, we harvested and ate our bijou Brussels sprouts!  And although they were nearly lost on our dinner plates (they looked like peas!)  they still tasted fantastic.

And thirdly, I’VE ALREADY SOWN THE FIRST CROPS OF THE YEAR! That’s right, last weekend I sowed both the chilli seeds (F1 Gusto Purple) and pepper seeds (F1 Gypsy Hybrid) into their propagators and placed them on the windowsill.  And like an over-fussy mother I’m checking them regularly, ensuring they’re happy and convincing myself I can already see shoots. Chilli CollegeA few years ago we began growing peppers but always found they never really got going until late summer, so it was always a race against time to get any fruit. However, in one of those special father and son moments when my dad saw me staring enviously at his bumper collection of maturing peppers a couple of years ago, he let me into his little secret: ‘Son, I always sow them just after Christmas’.  Early sowing is key. Finally, the apprentice becomes the master!  Since then I’ve never looked back.

Winter might be biting, but inside I can already feel the warming glow of spring. AdeSignature