I’m going back to my roots….yeah

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Beetroot is such a hotly contested little root. Don’t be fooled by the vinegary pots of lurid purple slices to be found on the supermarket shelves. Beetroot has had a makeover recently and is now a vegetable in it’s own right; sometimes even the star of a dish rather than something to pop in a sandwich or on the side. It’s definitely worth growing your own beetroot because you can harvest it as a young little orb and you can also eat it’s baby leaves. Where can you buy fresh baby beetroot leaves for a salad? I don’t think you can. If you’re still not convinced perhaps I can temp you with a beetroot brownie recipe!

This is successional sowing post #2 and I’ll focus on beetroot and hopefully give you some Top Tips. It’s always best to sow beetroot in situ; that goes for all root vegetables. They don’t like disturbance and who can blame them since all the action is going on in the root. So, once your soil starts to warm up you can sow beetroot outside. If it’s still a bit cold start a box/bucket in the green house. You can really pack them in. As they mature you can harvest the tiny beets and leaves for salads which effectively thins your crop without wasting a single one. The beets left behind will have more room to expand and you can go back for them later.

The beetroot seed is a tough old nut. It actually has a naturally protective coating which can hinder germination. It’s advisable to soak your beetroot seed in water to dissolve this coating and hopefully improve germination rates. It doesn’t take a minute. Pop them in a bowl of water and by the time you’ve made your drills and popped some compost in you’re ready to rock.

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I sowed my beetroot a little too early so germination has been poor. If you close an eye and squint you might be able to see the 3 or 4 seedlings that have bravely soldiered on. I’ve added a few more seeds and fingers crossed the soil has warmed up a few degrees and I’ll be on my way to harvesting.

I know you are probably desperate to know how my Successional sowing Spreadsheet is working out. It’s working out really well!

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The back row are the second sowing that I made today.

There’s something about filling in the spreadsheet cells with sowing dates then germination dates and in a few weeks time harvest dates that appeals to the geek in me. It also makes me focus on other factors like which peas are easiest to germinate (Pea Blue Shelling and Snow Pea Goliath without a doubt)

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… and which ones are a struggle (Pea Alderman unfortunately as this came highly recommended to me).

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I was also unable to fill in the Eggplant and Sugar Snap Pea germination cells (shock horror!) because (wait for it….)  No Germination Occurred…….

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……not a sausage let alone a pea of an eggplant. Very disappointing. Golly Roll On Spring or this blog is in danger of becoming scarily Dull!! Photos of soil and little else do not a good blog make :-)

I’m even able to see what kind of germination percentage I’m getting (I’m not recording this but I could if I wanted to!). Anyway, care, patience, meticulous – they’re my new watch words…..

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Radish, broccolli, spinach, lettuce are all merrily germinating

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Here’s what I’m sowing in the second half of August

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red (I didn’t actually sow this in the first half so I’m sowing it now)
Peppermint
Oregano

Let’s see how this second sowing goes. I’m hoping it’s going to be a warm Spring so that I can plant my hardier seedlings outside because at this rate I’m going to run out of greenhouse space!

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Mind your Peas and Qs

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Self sufficiency post #1 and it’s all about the Peas really. I’ve always been quite successful with peas in the Spring. I start with the rush of enthusiasm experienced by many gardeners and sow trays and trays of peas. By the time these peas appear I remember to sow some more but then summer shimmies along and I get caught up with other tender greens seeking my attention and no more peas. So what’s the change for this year?

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This year, I’m sowing every two weeks from August till I get sick of peas (!) and I’m growing both dwarf and climbing varieties. I have Alderman Tall climbing, Snow Pea Goliath, Sugar Snap Dwarf and Blue Shelling.

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The reason for trying out the climbing varieties is that, unlike the dwarf varieties, the climbers will fruit, then grow a bit, then fruit, then grow a bit and finally give you a third lot of peas. Whereas the dwarf varieties give you one lot of peas and then shut up shop. The dwarfs really put the pressure on for successional sowing but the climbing peas allow a little room for error! I’ll try them both and see what happens.

Peas

You may have read about sowing peas in old bits of guttering? It does sound like a good idea. I tried it once. It wasn’t a good idea for me. You really need to be an octopus to pull this one off. Two hands to hold the guttering and two hands to gently slide the peas and soil into the ground. As I cautiously manoeuvred the guttering from the greenhouse to the pea bed I managed to knock down a willow obelisk, trip over the dog and lose a third of the peas that I’d painstakingly grown. Perhaps I’m just clumsy. Perhaps you don’t really need guttering to grow peas. I sow 6-8 peas in little plastic trays (2 trays per variety) with good seed compost. If there’s one thing that peas don’t like it’s over watering.

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You’ll know when you’ve done this because the pea seeds go mouldy.  You can see in the photo above some mouldy Alderman Tall Peas looking a bit worse for wear. It happens. Don’t be disheartened just grow a few extra peas to allow for casualties.

Sugar Snap peas

Here’s what I’m sowing in the first half of August.

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red

So when can I expect some food from this sowing session? Well, I’ll have some radish next month in September followed by spinach, baby beetroot and lettuce and of course peas in October! Eggplant will be a lovely surprise in February and rhubarb won’t be ready for 15 long months. It doesn’t seem much does it but if I continue sowing little and often through the year the menu will increase!

Self Sufficiency in the Vege Garden

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Before embarking on vege gardening 5 years ago I have to admit I had quite a rosy tinted view of how it would all pan out. I imagined that everything I sowed would not only grow but would grow abundantly and voraciously. Sometimes that happened but sometimes not. I thought that I’d be able to bypass the vege shop and grow everything I needed (apart from bananas and other exotic fruit) but I didn’t really think about successional sowing until the spinach ran out. I also found myself leaving crops in the ground. Why? Well, I’m not sure but a mixture of not wanting to be without the veg (I didnt have a successional crop following on) and not actually liking that particular veg! Perhaps I am alone here but I suspect not. Vegetable gardening is a very real, and very enlightening learning curve. Now that I’m in the quiet time of the vege calendar I thought I’d reflect on Lessons I’ve Learned (sounds serious but not at all!) which will hopefully be helpful to experienced and new gardeners alike. Also, it’s the start of a challenge for myself to be as self sufficient in my vege garden as I can. How much veg do I need to actually buy to supplement my vege growing?

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What vegetables do you really like to eat? This sounds so obvious but I have been lured more than once by the glossy photos of an unusual veg that I Simply Must Try To Grow! Sometimes experiments work like the lovely heirloom spinach strawberry. Not only do I like the quirky little spinach tasting strawberries but I also found the leaves a real bonus for adding to salads. However, borlotti beans (while really very pretty with their red and white stripy coats) were left on the vine as I didn’t know what to do with them…. Only grow what you know you will eat.

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Having said that you might also want to consider other factors about the veg you eat including how much space you have. I probably peel and chop an onion every day but my vege garden doesn’t really have the space for this crop because it takes months to mature so would use up one whole bed for a long time. I do however grow garlic which also takes it’s own sweet time to grow and uses up a whole bed. However, I justify this because I really do think that homegrown garlic is superior to bought and hasn’t been fumigated to within an inch of it’s life.

Beetroot  Strawbs

Which leads me onto my next point quite neatly. Some vegetables are seriously treated with pesticides. This is an issue that sways my growing preferences. Lettuce is my number one bug bear. In most supermarkets these days the lettuce on offer is in little plastic bags or the hearting lettuces are wrapped in a plastic coat. There is nothing good about this. We know that the actual lettuce has been sprayed to keep away the pests. I’ve also read that that the bagged lettuce is washed in chlorine to make sure no little beasties are found crawling around your plate. You can understand the need for hygiene but lettuce is my one Must Grow. I can also grow a variety of leaves and mix them up for some really classy salads. I prefer the Cut and come again variety because they are easy to keep on top of and with a little but of successional sowing you can have salad leaves all year round. Some types of Micro green can be harvested 10 days after sowing – talk about Fast Food! Other heavily sprayed veg includes celery, capsicums (peppers), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and lettuce. Berries are also highly sprayed but can easily be incorporated in a vege garden plan. Don’t think you have to grow all this from seed. I planted some celery from my local health shop (they sell organic seedlings) and I love the way I can just take a stem or two for cooking and there’s no waste.

Snow Peas

To even begin to try and be self sufficient in veges you need to know about successional sowing. It’s not difficult but you need to be disciplined. I’m not even going to try and pretend that I have salad leaves all year round (because I don’t) but this season that is my aim. If I sow various varieties of salad leaves every two weeks from August I should achieve my goal. Successional sowing doesn’t just stop at lettuce though. You can successionally sow a variety of veg including beetroot, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, beans, peas, rocket, radish and herbs. I normally think that I’ll remember. I never do. So this year it’s all going on a spreadsheet with dates and everything……eek!

King of the Blues54

Do I save money growing my own veg? I think I save money on salad greens, spinach, beans, peas, chillis, garlic as these can be quite pricey at certain times of the year out here. I also save money on all the fruit that I grow; plums, greengages, pears, lemons and limes. However, my ultimate motivation for growing veg is to keep the nutrient content up (lots of comfrey tea and animal manure rather than man made fertilisers) and to keep the pesticides down (non-existent I hope).

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Little extras that you might want to know – when thinning out your beetroot and carrot seedlings keep the tiny little babies that you eek out of the soil, wash them and pop them in a salad. Add beetroot leaves to salad. Learn about Autumn sowing. It makes a HUGE difference to the “hungry gaps” in your garden when there’s nothing really ready to harvest. Sowng veg in late autumn to “over winter” means that they will be ready to fire up as the weather warms up so you’ll be enjoying peas, beans, beetroot, carrot, radishes really early in the growing season. Grow comfrey and make comfrey tea for your veges. I can’t emphasise how amazing comfrey tea is and it’s so easy and cheap to make. Use it on all your growing veges. Lay some leaves out on concrete in the sun to wilt them and lay around your fruit trees.

Close up Calendular

Plant calendular amongst your veges for natural pest protection – they look so cheerful too and flower throughout the winter. Don’t stop at calendular either. Grow sunflowers, dahlias and nasturtians with your veg. They’ll encourage the beneficial insects and make you smile.

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Grow herbs. Lots of herbs. I feel very Rich knowing that I can go and gather a huge handful of herbs throughout the year (herbs I pretty much can grow year round apart from the tender ones like basil). No dilly dallying with tiny little pots of herbs from the supermarket but straight in there with a huge bunch – nothing like it. The flavour of home grown herbs is also so superior you may find yourself never going back. You can also grow all kinds of herbs that you can’t buy.

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Final words of wisdom. I’ve gardened enough to know that not everything grows to plan. I may have my spreadsheet but I’m sure a whole host of incidents will happen and that seedlings will suffer damping off, fruit will be eaten by unwelcome pests and the weather will add it’s own set of obstacles but in five years I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for growing veg. The miracle of planting a seed and seeing it produce edibles is still a joy for me. I still have a lot to learn but I’m really looking forward to my quest this season as I attempt to be as self sufficient in fruit and veg as possible in my climate!

Twiggy

Garden Share Collective – July

Time to see what’s been happening in the garden for the Garden Share Collective hosted by Lizzie from Strayed from the Table. It’s been lovely and warm this month so I’ve been enjoying some leisurely gardening and pottering about with the green and the edible recently. I’ve been quite surprised about how much produce is in my winter vege garden.

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Kale and spinach are looking healthy. I recently read an article about dehydrating kale and blitzing it into a powder. This powder can then be added to anything; soups, stews, smoothies for an extra kick of powerful green-ness. I also want to try Kale chips.

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Lettuce is bulking up and can now be used; a leaf here a leaf there.

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Celery is doing well and I love to pick a couple of stems for dinner which means no wastage. The other thing I love about growing celery is that I know it’s spray free. Apparently celery is one of the most highly sprayed veges on the market with capsicums coming a close second.

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My capsicums seem to do well in winter; small but very tasty. Chilies are sending out their chilli vibes to turn them onto chilli jam – must get onto that as I’ve used up my last pot.

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I was given some raspberry plants this month by a friend who is also a garden enthusiast. We had a merry old time snooping round each others gardens; a cutting here, a few spare seeds there, a whole plant in some cases! I also got some French Sorrel (pictured above) which has a very zingy taste and some tarragon. Anyway, it pushed me into starting up the Berry Patch which is located with the fig orchard. This way I’ll be able to keep them netted from the birds. I’ll also move my 6 pots of blueberries which are safely ensconced in acid rich soil and also some strawberries that have self seeded around the place.

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A strawberry flower with promises of summer and this little creeping plant is an Orange berry. Looking forward to seeing how this little fella tastes.

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One more new fruit to the collection is this Mexican Guava. It fruits in autumn so something to look forward to.

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Herbs are growing nicely; chamomile, fennel, dill, parsley, mint, tarragon to name a few.

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Woah! Someone’s having a Bad Hair Day! Must give Mr Lemon Balm a haircut :-)

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The only disappointment has been the peas. I really thought I was ahead of myself planting them in autumn to over winter but they’ve been nibbled by critters that go bump in the night and the remaining ones have black spots so on the compost heap they’ll go.

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Here are my latest pea sowings; Pea Alderman Tall climbing. I normally go for dwarf varieties but this tall variety should give me more peas. It’s supposed to grow, flower then grow again and flower and once more. Look forward to seeing what happens here as I find peas have been quite disappointing when I’ve grown them in the past – never enough!

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I also decided to pop a row of Beetroot Bull’s Blood in and Beetroot Colour Blend and a row of Carrots Paris Market to get a head start on Spring. I planted my garlic on the Shortest day (just!).

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These aren’t edible but I’m pleased with their progress. The tray of soil with a few blobs of green are Violet Queen Charlotte. I’m really keen to get these growing so I can make violet syrup. Might take a while but I’m very patient! The rose is one of many cuttings I took in March/April. I’m particularly pleased that this one is a success because it’s Mother plant is not looking so healthy. Not sure of it’s real name but it’s a beautiful cream rose with swirly raspberry markings and the scent is just gorgeous.

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Some beautiful Ranunculus are cheering up the veranda.

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This little bee spent the night inside my anemone. I think he might be drunk on the nectar?!

Lots of jobs to do
More weeding
Prune roses in vege garden and beyond
Prune honeysuckle arch
More sowing of peas and beans
Transplant strawberries to their new home
Add compost to greenhouse and tidy up
Sit down with a cup of tea and choose seeds for vege garden

Enjoy your garden this month and pop over to Lizzie’s blog Strayed from the Table.  to see what other gardeners are up to around the World.

 

Planting Lilies

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Now is the perfect time to plant out lilies. It’s a quiet time in the garden right now so it’s nice to be able to take my time choosing which ones to buy. I have to admit that lilies aren’t my favourite flower; I really don’t like the ones that are so highly perfumed they give me a headache! However, after browsing a catalogue (one of my ultimate favourite past times!) I came to realise that there is more then one type of lily! It just goes to prove why I’m creating my cutting garden. Florists and supermarkets are very limited in the types of flowers they can offer. They rely on sturdy specimens that will survive transportation and being left in a box for 24 hours and most importantly they choose varieties that are guaranteed to sell. I’m looking forward to picking flowers that can’t be found in the florist, flowers that may only last a few days and flowers that might be a bit scruffy round the edge but have a charm all of their own. I’m also hoping for some really stunning perfect flowers you understand but you get my drift! In a world that only looks for the perfect, red tomato, the straightest, orange carrot and the perfect, blemish free rose I think we’re missing out on a multitude of  other things like taste, scent and old fashioned charm.

So, what lilies did I choose?  I started with the Double Oriental lily Soft Music. Double Oriental Lilies are just like Oriental lilies but without the pollen. Soft Music has palest pink frilled petals with green freckles and fragrance. I love pink and green together. While this variety is easy to grow lilies do take a couple of years to mature fully. I also chose Oriental Lily The Edge for a more subtle flower. It’s white with a pink border around the edge of the petals. Another type of lily is the Asiatic Lily. They are very hardy and easy to grow and require little staking. I chose the variety Double Elodie for it’s beautiful pink double flowers and it’s very light scent. It doesn’t have anthers or pollen so makes very little mess once cut. It also has a long vase life. Apparently this lily may well bloom as a single in it’s first year and then double in subsequent years. My fourth choice was a classic white LA Hybrid Lily with little black freckles. Now these lilies sound as if they are grown in LA in America (well that’s what I thought when I first saw them) but in fact they are a cross between the asiatic lily and the Longiflorum lily; as a result they have stronger stems, larger flower heads and longer vase life. Ticks a lot of boxes and just imagine it teamed with zingy lime green Bells of Ireland, Zinnia Green Envy and Ammi Majus with perhaps a pop of orange….. I’m getting ahead of myself a bit…. Finally I went a bit crazy and chose a Lilium Speciosum Tiger Lily. This unusual lily has bright orange-red petals with purple freckles that fold back on themselves. It’s very vigorous and grows to 1.5m with more than a dozen blooms per plant.

Top Tips for planting and cutting lilies

Plant your lily bulbs straight away otherwise they may well dry out. Plant them quite deep in good friable soil without any manure. You can use bulb food to give them a good start. Plant the stake with the bulbs to avoid disturbing or damaging roots late on. Just leave them in peace and they will gather strength and bloom year after year.

Feed your lily every three months by side dressing with bulb food to encourage bud development.

Once flowering has finished leave the flower on the plant. All energy will then be directed straight into the bulb for beautiful strong flowers next year. Only cut the flower off at ground level once it’s turned completely brown. It doesn’t pay to be too tidy when gardening!

Pick lilies just as the buds are beginning to open. Always leave at least 1/3 of the stem behind so that the bulbs will be nourished for next year. Once the flower has opened snip the stamens to remove the pollen. Pollen can stain clothes and furniture permanently. Some lilies have more pollen than others.

Here are some of my lilies getting put to bed in anticipation spectacular things next season!

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The bulbs are very like garlic with their separate cloves or bulblets.

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I’m getting into my tape measuring stride and planted them about 6 cm apart in a triangle. It’s recommended to plant lilies in groups of 3 or 5 for best effect.

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Cover them with a good 10cm of soil and water in.

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I’m using brightly painted stakes for all my bulbs in the cutting garden so I know where they are when they’ve died down and I’m also planning on painting a chair to match so I can put my feet up and enjoy next summer – it’s all in the forward planning you see !