Winter Wildlife – A little help goes a long way.

Winter Wildlife

winter wildlife
Bird Feed

There’s no doubt about it there’s a nip in the air, and the media are scaring us with tales that the winter could be much worse than 2010. This means only one thing, time to tuck the plot in for the winter while trying to make it a haven for our wild animals this winter. That snug feeling of being tucked up in your superman onesie in front of an open fire (chestnuts roasting ob.), can feel even more content knowing you have done your bit for winter wildlife. If your cold and hungry imaging how that little robin at the end of your garden feels.

There are many activities you can undertake from the very simplest through to some that will take time and some expense. One of the simplest and most rewarding you can do is simply put feed out for birds. Whether you keep leftover bits of fat from bacon rinds, bread crumbs or go to the expense of purchasing seeds or mealworms you will greatly help out our feathered friends when food sources are scarce. It is also important to remember this much over looked fact, birds drink water ! And when there is snow on the ground or temperatures are below zero then this is not always easily accessible to them.

winter wildlife
Bird Feeders

As the days started to gradually get colder and the growing season started to run out, we started to think about bugs and small animals. There is a great abundance of wildlife up at out allotment (with most of it living in my shed), we are blessed to have seen hares, grey squirrels, all of your common uk birds, frogs and we even arrived one day to chase a small flock of grey lag geese from our neighbours salad patch. We had planted some asian vegetables late end of summer and were unable to harvest it all. Our Choy sum had started to flower and was covered in bees and hover flies. As we weren’t going to have time to gain another crop from this space we decided that it would do the bees a world of good to have that extra source of food so we left it in the ground.

 

With little to no growing on our plot the focus has mainly turned into maintenaince and improving our structures. We gave the plot a good tidy 2 weeks ago and removed some of the rubbish that was accumulating in one of the corners. There was some offcuts of wood and various logs that were sodden and probbly no good for the fire but we didnt want to disturb them as it was probbly providing home to many wonderful beasts. It can happily sit there until next year when the weather starts to pick up and nature is back to its most energetic.

The simplest things we can do can mean the difference of survival or not for our winter wildlife.

Success Failures 2016

Autumn 2016

Our wee plot !
Growblogs Plot

You can never rely on Irish (Happy Cas ?) weather in Autumn, to be consistent from year to year. But there is one thing that you can rely on, and that is the trees will put on a fiery display of orange and brown leaves, and the wind will do its best to help them to the ground.

a6-3

One thing we missed out on last year, and a great way to reduce costs and produce an excellent, helpful product is to create leaf-mould. This essentially means to make compost from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. This process is started in Autumn, naturally when the leaves are ready to fall. We will be collecting as many fallen leaves as possible and treating them like normal compost. We will be keeping the leaf mould in a large Hessian builders sack beside our compost bins, on site for easy access, and so that we can check and turn the compost when needed. The end quality of the compost will be determined by the quality and type of leaves added to the compost. The most desirable leaves are beech or oak as they break down easily and produce a good quality compost. Conifer Needles may take up to 3 years to break down completely and pine needles should be avoided as they produce an acidic end compost.

While overall the plot is starting to look a little bare, our Autumn veg are doing well. We are consistently feeding and weeding our Autumn veg to give them the very best chance of doing well.

Autumn veg bed
Autumn veg bed

Our pointed sweethearts have recovered well after an attack from Cabbage White Caterpillars, and are forming nice large pointed heads.

I have also now thinned the beetroot out to their final growing positions, allowing enough space in between plants to grow the beets to the size I desire. I transplanted some of the stronger plants that I thinned out as a bit of an experiment to see if they would take, and also to use up some bare ground.

a16-7
Curly kale

Curly Kale, is an absolute delight to grow and one of the best tasting and versatile veg in the kitchen. Kale is often at its best from late September until February, so now is the perfect time to start harvesting and reaping the benefits of this high protein and fiber rich, super food.

a16-4
Carrots

We have never really made a proper attempt to grow conventional looking supermarket carrots. The past few years our carrots have been consistently poor. Not great tasting and terrible shapes. Once again the carrots have been an after though in fact more of a gap filler. We had space at the top of the fruit bed and transplanted about 20 carrot seedlings. As yet, they havnt been decimated by carrot fly and at the surface seem to be doing well, so we never know we might get a fluke crop for our Christmas dinner.

a16-8
Strawberries with seperate runners in pots.

Our second batch of Autumn strawberries are now starting to fruit, which will give Conor a chance to place with his new birthday present a strawberry slicer ( I know.. thats what mates are for). We have also been busy potting up strawberry runners to increase our strawberry stocks as they are certainly a plot favourite.

What are you growing this Autumn ?, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

September 2016

Septembers harvest 2016

Allotment, growing, growyourown, grow, horticulture, vegetables, food, produce, harvest, purple beans, beans, peppers, pepper, aubregine, orange pepper, yellow pepper, bell pepper, courgette, yellow courgette, beetroot, kale nreo di tosca, september
Septembers harvest 2016

Whilst September may be one of the most bountiful months, often with some of the most prized and colourful vegetables, a plenty, it also has its down side. For someone who has spent as much time, planning and preparing their growing season, there is that inevitable feeling every vegetable Gardner dreads , and that is that its time to start winding up the garden for the year.

Our maincrop peas and mange tout, which excelled for us so well throughout the summer, have provided us their last pods. With the freezer full of our pea harvest, all ready for Christmas dinner, we took down the cane supports, stored for winter and composted the plants. When we had cleared all of the peas plants away, it was clear that we weren’t the only fans of our peas, and we reckon a wee mouse or two was using our pea plants as a B&B.

sep6
Cleared raised bed

Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

When we cleared the plants away it was time to decide, do we sow green manure in preparation for next season, or do we replenish the nutrients in the ground and try and get a late crop. Ever the optimists we did a late sowing, of mixed salad leaves, lambs lettuce and pak choi, all of which are hardier and faster cropping vegetables that may well just, with a bit of help from mother nature get us a late stir fry or salad.

toms
Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

We have reduced the amount of watering in the greenhouse, to just keeping the plants moist to try and encourage the ripening of the fruits, and have stopped feeding the tomatoes and cucubrits with tomato feed completely. You would be surprised the amount of people who don’t realise that green, yellow orange and red peppers are all the same fruit just at different stages of ripening.

sep5
My One and Only Aubergine/Eggplant
sep4
Bell Peppers Ripening

Our courgettes, gherkins and Jack Be little Pumpkins were hit hard with what I believe to be a case of the powdery mildews. This is a white powdery coating that covers the leaved and suffocates the plants. It is a fungal disease that attacks the foliage and stems of the plants. As there appears to be no sprays or miracle cures for this disease on edible plants, and with it being too late to take the advice to mulch and thin out the plants, I decided to cut back all the major infected stems and leaved and dispose off away from our compost.

sep7
Pumpkins and Courgettes attacked by fungal “Powdery Mildew”

 

This should give me enough time and hopefully with the good leaves left enough time to ripen, all of the many fruits on the plants. One of the bonuses of cutting back all the foliage was uncovering a yellow courgette plant that I had forgot about, which im loving the colour for cooking with. I think it might have been the climbing variety that I never actually managed to get to climb this year. So there’s the first of my next seasons resolutions, im going to have a beautiful arch of yellow climbing courgettes.

caterpillars

Our Autumn Cabbages got attacked by Caterpillars and while we are not an organic plot, I dont like the idea of spraying food that I am going to eat, so I decided to employ gorilla tactics to combat these critters. Basically they got put in a coffee cup and driven to a warehouse somewhere never to be heard off again… ill say no more. Thankfully plants are resilient and it looks like we will be eating our pointed sweethearts after all.

sep3
Autumn Winter veg

Over the winter when the plot is going to be a bit more quiet, we plan to release many more instructional blogs, and maybe a few videos to help explain things, that we would have found useful had it been explained to us at the beginning of our growing fun. I also don’t know if its just here in Belfast, but the growing bug seems to be spreading and im being inundated from friends looking advice or help to start their own vegetable patches, and im only more than willing to help, as I know how happy our plot makes us.

sep8
Marketmore Cucumbers

Peas out ! Growfans 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Allotment 2016

Mid August and the Allotment is in a transition period, from the dull wet summer conditions to whatever Autumn has in store. The warm and moist weather has been a perfect breeding ground for diseases and we lost all of our outdoor tomatoes to blight, across the allotment. The potato plants started to show signs of blight too, so we cut the plant of and let the potatoes stay in the ground until we either harvest them or need the space.

 

We harvested our red cabbages this month “August” “Red Drumhead” a variety that we purchased from SeedParade. They were great tasting and and had nice big heavy heads, defiantly a variety I will be trying again. We are also starting to harvest some of the produce from the greenhouse. Our sweet peppers “Sweet Romano” are now at the perfect length for sloshing with some olive oil and throwing on a hot grill.

It seems that all of our peas and beans have come good at once. We tried many different variety of varied architecture and colours all producing good and tasty yields.

These purple beans are, while not only visually striking are a firm favourite in my kitchen. We have grown both Dwarf Bush Bean Purple Teepee from Thompson and Morgan, and a Purple Climbing Bean also fromTthompson and Morgan. While the dwarf plants have produced a vastly superior yield the climbing beans when mixed with other colours of climbing bean create a beautiful structure. We have also been consistently harvesting our mangetout “Pea Kennedy” and our podded peas “Pea Ambassador” which have both been problem free and heavy yielding and both produce a pleasing white flower. Freezing individual portions of peas, helps to provide fresh tasty veg in times when its not available in the garden.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to autumn, we decided to lift all the potatoes and replenish the ground with manure and nutrients (fish blood and bone and chicken manure pellets) and allow the worms to work their magic, while our autumn veg seedlings are growing strong roots. Brassicas are hardy vegetables and can handle the ever changing Autumn weather conditions, but its important to give them a strong head start. When planting brassics seedlings its well known the importance of firming the plants into the ground, Firm them in then do it 5 times more. We always put a collar around our brassicas to help deter root fly. This autumn we are growing, curly kale “westland Autumn”, cauliflowers, black kale “Nero de tosca”, Radicchio”Palla rossa Precoce,” swede “Gowrie,” Swede “Best of All,”

Turnip “Purple Top Milan”. Our broad beans took a battering in a wind storm last week so I think once I let what is left of the crop when the beans reach a good size I will lift the crop, and then haunt the gardening stores for something to fill the gap.

We received a warning letter for non cultivation of our plot from the council this month, this gave us a good laugh after the initial shock. Were pretty sure they have made a mistake for an over grown neighbouring plot as I think were way ahead of where we had planned to be at this time.

Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

 

GrowGaff MK1
GrowGaff MK1

 

The greenhouse is complete and not a minute too soon. We ordered and cut to size, the panels for the greenhouse, we used 9mm clear PVC, while not cheap, it is strong and will with stand even the hardiest of thugs, hurled stones.

Greenhouse glazing
Glazing the Greenhouse

I had been growing some tomatoes and peppers in the bay window of my flat, to get them started to move to the greenhouse, upon completion. Unfortunately due too the of the delay completing the greenhouse, they were starting to outstay their welcome. Basically they were touching the ceiling and taking up at least 1/4 of my living space. Then came moving day and we realised that they were to tall to fit in Conors van. Out came the secateurs and off with their heads. This was unfortunate as we lost alot of the few flowers that we had. When moved into the greenhouse I was sure a good spout of sun, would soon have them back to their best and well… im still waiting on that sun.

Greenhouse

 

The flowers on the peppers are doing much better, probably due too the natural pollination from the insects that they were being starved off while situated within my fat, and were lucky as there seems to be a good population of bees hanging around our plots this year. In fact just this evening as I was doing a bit of watering that I noticed the first 3 peppers, on separate plants starting to grow, so it will be important to keep well watered and fed weekly.

20160705_170610[1]
Pepper Plant Starting to Pepper
After 3 failed attempts to germinate successful sweetcorn, with just a measly 1 out of 36 successfully hitting the surface, I eventually gave in and had to buy some plug plants. Im not against this at all, but I was trying to do a whole season without. The main reason I prefer to grow from seed is simply the cost, plug plants can be dear which is why I was delighted to see this many healthy Sweet Corn “Hanna” for £1.50 on sale at Homebase. Whilst going to be a bit behind, im going to place the plugs under cloches when they have been properly hardened off and when the weather has turned in my favour.

20160703_151216[1]
King Edward Left, Maris Piper Light

We have started to harvest our potatoes, with the main crops we lifted the poorest looking plant from each variety, and while the sizes of the spuds was poor the amount and quality were good so we have decoded to leave them another week or two and hope for better weather. Our first earlies, Pentland Javeline and Aaran Pilot, while also disappointing in yield made up for in taste. This will all come in a potato summary when were finished with the main crop.

20160626_110247[1]
Pentland Javelin Left, Aaran Pilot Right
This past week ive been fortunate enough to have had some free time and we are well caught up on major tasks, which has given my brain time to wonder and start too look for improvements that were going to make to the plot. With all the good stalks,roots and discarded elements of the veg that we are consuming, starting to pile up we think its important that we set up a proper compost solution. We had to bring in a lot of compost and manure this year to improve our ground, and these are products that we can make ourselves, with a bit of hard word, and help get us on our way to self sufficiency.

Kohlrabi & Kohlrabi coleslaw recipe

Kohlrabi.

What is kohlrabi ?

Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family, and is also known as the German cabbage or the turnip cabbage. They are an annual vegetable, and are edible cooked or raw. Kohlrabi boasts many health benefits and is a rich source of vitamin C.

This year was my first year of growing Kohlrabi, in fact I hadnt even tasted it before, but last year one half of Growblogs was blessed with a beautiful baby girl called Olivia, and the other half became a proud uncle. While strolling through Mr. Fothergill’s fantastic seed catalog I noticed the Kohl Rabi Olivia F1 and knew we had to give it a go. So far this year it has definitely been our first success story, so much in fact I already have another batch started in a different bed.

 

 

Kohlrabi Seedlings
Kohlrabi Seedlings

We started off our kohlrabi seedlings indoor on a sunny ledge in a mini indoor greenhouse. The seeds were sown two at at time into individual sets, with the weaker of the two being pricked out, usually anywhere between 1 and 3 weeks after sowing, depending on conditions. When the seedlings have established a good strong root system, and making sure that if they were started off growing indoors, that they are properly hardened off and aclimatised to their future outdoor final positions.

 

It’s possible for them to be started, between February and Mar indoors and May and July outdoors. If planting directly into the ground outdoors, sow roughly 1/2” deep in rows, and when fully established, should be thinned out to roughly 6” to 8” between plants to allow for mature growth.

Like most members of the cabbage family, kohlrabi are susceptible to cabbage root fly attacking the base of the young plants. This is why we provide each of the individual plants with plastic collars and their very own pet stone, for company.

 

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi Juvenile plants

 

Olivia F1 is a fast growing, disease resistant beautiful looking plant, and has a sweet flavor and crispy flesh. Making it the perfect accompaniment to any BBQ in the form of my extra awesome Kohlrabi coleslaw.

So here goes it folks my first recipe. Im no food writer, in fact im no any writer and I think thats pretty obvious, but whilst I may not know my way around Microsoft word, one place I certainley feel at home is in the kitchen.

Food processors are coleslaw fans best friends, making a tedious task, done in seconds allowing more time to get the combos of amounts and seasonings correct, it is possible to prepare the veg with a good sharp knife or a mandolin but who is going to risk their pinky tips when the whizzer (food processor) will do it better and quicker… so heres what you need

  • 1 kohlrabi (skinned)
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • ½ cabbage either white or red (the red makes it look dead fancy)
  • cider vinegar
  • mayonnaise
  • ½ an orange
  • wholegrain musdtard
  • salt and pepper to season to taste

Remove stalks and skin of the onion,kohlrabi and cabbage,peel the carrots and plug in the food processor. Slice the kohlrabi and cabbage and grate the onion and carrots to provide different textures. Once everything is cut, put into a big bowl and give it a good mix up and add enough mayonnaise and mustard to provide a generous but not over powering amount. Mix in 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and the juice of half an orange. Add salt and pepper to taste.. et voila.

Kohlrabi Coleslaw
Kohlrabi Coleslaw

So simply and so delicious and when your getting quizzed on the ingredients it gives you a great excuse to get your phone out and show off photos of your own Kohlrabi patch.

If you have any great kohlrabi recipes please drop us a message as we would love to make the most of this great vegetable.

May 2016 Plot Update

 

May is well under way, and we are currently in the middle of a much appreciated heatwave. Temperatures today topped at 25°, with overnight lows of 9°. Whether we have seen the last frost only time will tell, as it was snowing in parts of the country not just 10 days ago. This is just a quick update as to what we have been getting up to on our plot.

The ground has warmed enough now to start sowing some hardier seeds, evident by the strength of the weeds that are starting to show. The peas and beans bed for the season, was well manured and dug over a few months ago, and then covered by a black polythene to allow the worms to do their magic. The weekend past, I treated the bed to a feed of chicken manure pellets to increase the nitrogen levels and other elements that provides strong growth.

Different variety’s of peas and beans will require different structures to allow the plants to grow tall and abundant. Dwarf or bush variety’s may not need any structural help, or simply a pea stick or net, other high yielding crops will require stronger structures. When it comes to creating these structures, there are no rules, there is no set method and I have seen some wonderful and ingenious methods of providing a suitable structure for climbing plants. Bamboo canes are a much widely used choice because of their strength, natural waterproof protection and because they are easy to cut, relatively straight and easy to work with.

2016-05-08 14.41.58

The variety’s of Peas and Beans I am growing this year include.

Pea – Pisum sativum “Terrain” – British bred maincrop.

Pea – Pisum sativum – “Ambassador” High yielding, mildew resistant maincrop.

Pea – Mangetout “Kennedy” (Snow Pea) – British bred producing high yields, mildew resistant.

Beans – Broad/Fava Beans “Aquadulce Claudia” Hardy overwintering, high yielding, frost resistant.

Beans – Broad/Fava Beans “Stereo” High yield, great tasting.

Beans – Phaseolus vulgaris “Climbing Bean Mixed” Great looking multi coloured pods

Stay glued to the podcast to follow, hopefully our success and we will keep you updated and provide our results, from all the beans and peas we have grown.

The potatoes have shown, and seem to be growing just as well in the ground as the ones I am growing in containers. Keeping the potato drills maintained and weeded, allowing the potatoes to use up all the nutrient rich soils for themselves. Today I earthed up the potatoes to maximize the underground potato baring stems, which will greatly increase the yield.

2016-05-08 14.41.36

 

Another area I have been working hard on, recently is protection from birds and pests. Building and creating ways to keep the animals and insects from my fruit and veg, but that is a blog in itself, in the meantime here’s the brassica cage I built. 2016-05-09 18.14.10

Today I cut collars for the brassicas to protect them from cabbage root flys, and removed the plastic bottle cloches I was using due to the particularly warm weather.

I also was able to erect the frame of the greenhouse, but after one particularly windy night, it took a big of a dive and has bent itself into a shape I don’t like. Its not all doom and gloom tho, its very much repairable, but its a two man job and one of the grow-bloggers has gone and taken himself of to the Costa Del Sol for the month. So I am going to call in a favor from a friend who is good with a set square.

 

Everything is go this time of year, but with the weather this glorious a few hours on your knees weeding just doesn’t seem like a chore.

Mid April Update

Mid April 2016 Updateseedlings collage

Whilst being a firm believer in “A little rain never hurt anyone” there are some jobs that are impossible or just plain, too dangerous to do in wet conditions. It has not stopped raining in Belfast for nearly 2 full weeks now, and our plot is very muddy and slippery underfoot, in some areas. Both of our water butts are full to the brim. We are planning to put some wood-chip bark down to help with this, and also to help suppress the weeds and grass between our raised beds.

I am also in the process of erecting a new greenhouse and want to build a good solid and level base for the structure. The greenhouse will be sitting on a slope, so I will dig out and drop the back end before laying a weed-proof membrane. I will then level the ground and lay flag stones on a level bed of quarry dust, and point the joints by brushing in a concrete and sand mix. I will walk you through this when I finally get a dry day to do the work, its planned for this weekend.

2016-04-05 17.13.21
Potato Drills

I finally decided that the ground has warmed enough, due to the first signs of the upcoming war every gardener starts to face this time of year, and your clean worked ground starts to fill up with countless variety’s of weeds. Having managed to get a couple of dry hours one evening after work, we dug drills for the spuds lined with some well rotted manure, and laid the potatoes out to their correct spacing’s. See our potato blog. Potato

We are also busy looking after our many variety’s of seedlings, growing in their various containers. Due to the dull, overcast days, some of the seedlings had started to get a bit leggy so I was making sure to bury them as deep as I could when I was transplanting them to larger pots. I’ve been growing my seedlings in a few different ways this year, mainly because the greenhouse is not yet ready. My main light source in my flat, is an easterly facing bay window, while not ideal, it is still able to produce strong seedlings when blessed with good weather. To give the seedlings every advantage that I could, I purchased a small mini 4 tier greenhouse that I planned to keep my seedling in. I raised the mini greenhouse to the height of the window to maximize light exposure, and place all my pots and sets in watered trays to keep the seeds well watered. On warm days you can see the condensation on the inside and the seedlings seem to be doing very well. Temperature differences to come when new thermometer arrives. I also purchased a small heated propagator, for the particularly heat loving seeds, mainly peppers and chilies. Both seedlings planted on the same date, in both the heated propagator and the mini greenhouse seem to be growing very evenly so we will see when it comes to looking at their roots.

2016-04-07 20.29.29

Fingers crossed that the weather turns soon, and we can get a couple of good full days working hard, to get the now overdue greenhouse up, and get it working for us.

Easter Holidays

Weed Control/ raised Beds

 

Now that the clocks have changed, and the days have become longer and warmer, there is no doubt that the ground has become a lot more manageable and forgiving to work with. Having already dug over most of the ground that I was working again recently, and had a rather successful potato crop, I thought the easy option would be to just rotivate the entire area. How glad I am that the suspension went on our van, and I was unable to pick up the rotivator from the hire shop, and ended up having to do it by hand.

weed control
Working the ground.

Whether it was just shoddy work on our behalf, or someone has been playing a cruel trick on us and planting stones in our ground. I say stones, some of them were small boulders and you all know the feeling when spade connects with stone and it shatters the whole way up to the elbow.

One of the main benefits of digging the plot by hand and helping weed control, and the main reason that I will continue to dig by hand, as long as my body lets me, is that the rotivator/tiller is not selective of what it rips and tears through. When working the ground by hand its much easier to keep the good dirt and get rid of the nastys that you don’t want.

In terms of gardening its important to learn fast what are the bad weeds and what are the really bad weeds ! There are library’s full of identified variety of weeds but when it comes to weed control, for us gardeners there are two types.

1) Perennial Weeds – These are the absolute worst, examples include Dandelion, thistles nettles and couch grass need to be removed from the ground by hand, taking great care to reach the very bottom of the root of the weed, or and by using weedkiller. When a rotivator blade hit a perennial weed, it will divide the weed into many parts

2) Annual Weeds – These are annoying at best and at times and left to their own devices will steal water and nutrients and sometimes light from your vegetables. They can either be pulled by hand or hoed into the soil as when the are cut from the root they will often decompose in the soil without re rooting. Examples of annual weeds include Shepard’s purse, Chickweed and Annual Nettles.

Getting dirty fingernails and hands on gives you a feeling of the ground beneath your feet. You can identify areas that are particularly sandy and will benefit from additional compost or areas that have contained a lot of stones and therefore have been free draining.

The area where we are growing our potatoes this year is particularly sandy, so we added a lot of well rotted horse manure and multi purpose compost to enrich the ground when we were turning it over and removing the stones beneath.

Another project which I finally got tackled over the Easter was the erection of the greenhouse with no instructions. It sounds like a challenge from the crypton factor and well…. it might as well have been. 7 hours later and after realizing that the discount greenhouse frame that we bought, was missing 3 pieces, I was happy in the knowledge that I would be able to fabricate the pieces myself, and once I had a solid base I could start to erect the completed frame.

Garden Structure/Greenhouse Base – How to do it yourself DIY

So my attention turned to the solid base. I’m a builder, so this is the project I had the most faith in. There were different options to me but due to the lack of power at the allotment and due to the fact that I simply did not want to throw a load of concrete beside and under where I will be growing my dinner I decided to level the ground of and made a base from 3ft x 2ft flags,laid on a base of quarry dust and pointed with a sand cement mixture. Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

Ok, so far this was written the night before I was meant to go to the builders yard to get some flag stones, only to realise that the builders yards does not open on the Tuesday after Easter in Northern Ireland (now being a builder, you would think I really would know this, but im getting older and wiser and instead of dying with a hangover, which I normally do on this day, I dug stones out of the ground lol) and I was stuck with a day dedicated to the plot and no materials to work with. Never to kick a Goodman when he is down, I went to a local DIY store and pick up a load of MPC and Horse manure and set to enriching my soil.

weed control
Bought In Goodness
weed control
Lining Up the beds, making the best of growing vegetables on a slop.

2016-03-27 15.12.37

Having spotted a rather large rat the day before, and after having spoke to a few of the other plot holders, one rather funny chap with a rather large rat chap, always complaining about the council, told me that there was a problem due to the very mild winter. I decided to turn the compost and have a root around the wood pile that I stock to use for my many projects. I came across some decent timber that I salvaged from a job, and after a few calculations I worked out I had enough to make another two raised beds, and id bought the materials to fill them. Lets just say I left the plot with a big grin on my bake that night and after getting home and having a long shower I slept like a baby.

New Raised Beds.
New Raised Beds.

Just a small tip, always have a back up plan or job to do, make a list of things that need attended or things that you are aspiring to do. Buy or salvage the materials you need, when you can, when you see them cheap, discounted or hopefully lying in a skip.

Caring for Seedlings

Its that time of year when gardeners start to get excited about the upcoming growing season. Winter is almost over and today we had a beautiful clear blue sky and I read 16° on my car dashboard. Having spent many a winters night planning, researching and ordering the seeds that I am planting this year, now’s the time when I can start to get some of these into soil and get the germination process underway.

Different seeds require different methods of germination, and its important to read and understand the instructions provided on the pack, or if your part of an allotment group or seed sharing group, then follow the instructions given to you when you receive the seeds from the previous grower. Im not going to show you how I sow seeds in this blog, as I plan on doing mini-blogs for each vegetable that I grow this year, and I will explain the sowing process for each individual vegetable. What I will do is show you how I will treat every seed, collectively, and how to care for them.

As it is still touching on freezing during the nights, I am going to begin with sowing some of the more hardier vegetables, and start them indoors in front of the window that receives the most sunlight and importantly heat. To increase the temperature around my seedlings, this year I decided to keep them in an indoor mini greenhouse. It seems to be doing well so far and I am pleased with the germination rate and non legginess of these pepper seedlings. 2016-03-08 20.54.29

When you see the first glimpse of a green sprout peeping through the soil, you cant help but get excited at the potential outcome. Over the next couple of days you see the seedling grow taller and taller with no sign of the first true leaf. Then you wake up one morning and the seedlings have bolted upright, became leggy and are starting to lean towards the light.

“True Leaf – When a seed sprouts it will form two leafs that allow it to photosynthesize and to continue growing. After a couple of days a third leaf will form, this is the true leaf and will look different to the original leafs, and will take the form of the leafs of the adult mature plant.”

True Leaf at the top.
True Leaf at the top.

Plants will always grow towards the light as they use it as fuel. When seedlings get leggy it is because the plant is reaching upwards to gain as much sunlight as possible, because it is obviously lacking. As the plants are using up all the energy they get from the scarce sunlight to grow tall, the stems are not growing wide and strong enough to support the plant. Leggy seedlings will eventually grow too tall and top heavy and will fall over and wither. One method of helping to strengthen leggy seedlings and all seedlings for that matter is to gently run your finger over the plants or gently blow on, or use a fan to create movement. The movement will trick the seedlings into believing that they are growing in windy conditions, and in return will react and release chemicals to help the plant to grow a sturdier stem.

Leggy seedlings :(
Leggy seedlings 🙁

This year I will be sowing all my seeds in Verve Sowing and Cutting Compost (Available in B&Q, as I tried a few variety’s last year and I believe that this came out on top. Its important to keep the soil moist for germination and the temperature constant for some heat loving seeds e.g. Tomatoes will only germinate above 10°C and thrive best between 17° and 20°. Seed germination rates also vary greatly from seed to seed so if you see some variety’s sprouting within a couple of days, while others lye dormant, don’t worry as they might just take a bit longer. Some lettuce seeds could sprout in as little as 3 days while Parsnip seeds may take up to 14 days plus.

The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.
The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.

Whatever seeds you are growing its important to remember, the importance of getting your seedlings enough light, heat and water to allow them to grow good strong stems and ultimately fruitful mature plants.