Potatoes in

The recent warmer, dry weather has come at just the right time and has made the annual potato planting a very pleasant task.

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I grow all of my potatoes in bags or containers now for a number of reasons. Mainly as it’s cleaner for showing certain varieties, doesn’t take any room up in the beds and I can fill in with the bags wherever I can, and lastly it saves my back when it comes to harvesting! The bags are 17 litre polypots from LBS garden warehouse with a couple of extra holes cut into the bottom of each one. This will allow the roots to grow out of the bag into the soil.

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The bags are then filled with the compost mix and potato fertiliser and watered so the whole bag is damp but not wet through. The chitted seed potato is then plunged to almost the bottom of the bag and covered over. I’ll top up to completely fill the bags once they’ve come through.

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The bags are then placed with a couple of inches between them on top of the soil – I usually scrape a shallow trench for them to sit in with a sprinkling of organic slug pellets and blood, fish and bone underneath each bag.

The varieties I’m growing this year are Winston & Sherine for the white potato classes, Kestrel, Amour & Bonnie for the coloured potato classes. I also have Pentland Javelin and Charlotte to go in – I’ll use potato planters and various old compost bags for these. There’ll be around 50 bags by the time I’m finished.

Once the haulms are up I’ll support them and then it’s just about the watering and feeding until the tubers mature. Once they’re ready I’ll cut off the haulms and move the bags under cover and leave for a couple of weeks to let the skins harden. Then they can be removed and checked over for showing keeping them in moist compost until the Show comes round. We eat all the potatoes even Winston which I quite like but many people say is not a great eating spud although it tends to win everytime in the white potato class.

Shallots out and Fruit tree plans

I attended the NVS Hampshire DA Seminar last Sunday afternoon which was an excellent event with two top speakers from the fruit and veg world.

Gerry Edwards is one of the countries top experts on fruit growing and his talk on apple and pear trees has really inspired me to plant some in my own garden. Gerry is on the RHS Fruit Committee amongst other things and what he doesn’t know about fruit probably isn’t worth knowing.

There were a few points from his talk that are key for anyone thinking about starting out growing fruit.  Choose the right rootstock – either M26 or MM106 – and buy from a reputable fruit nursery.  Blackmoor fruit nursery in Hampshire is one, out of a total of four in the country, he recommended.  You can get cheap fruit trees in supermarkets – I saw a few in Lidl’s this morning – however these will be the lowest quality trees that the commercial growers and nurseries have passed on and the supermarkets have hoovered up cheaply – you don’t always know what rootstock they’re grafted on either.  Best to spend a bit more and buy quality, after all it will be productive for 20 years if looked after correctly. You can also grow fruit trees in a small garden, particularly as cordons, which Gerry grows 18 inches apart. Finally you need to know the pollination group (1-7 for apples) and buy trees from the same pollination group or one either side. It would be no use having trees from group 2 and group 5 for example as they would flower at the different times and pollination would not take place.

We’ve just had a new south-facing back garden fence put up and it will be the the perfect spot for some trained fruit trees.

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I’d like a couple of espalier trained fruit trees like this one. Blackmoor sell Fiesta and Discovery espalier apple trees which would look great against the new fence.

Also this weekend the shallots were planted out in between the showers. I’ve put in 24 plants for exhibition shallots – one they divide I’ll thin to 3 per plant. They’re planted 9 inches apart following Dave Thornton’s direction (top NVS shallot grower). And there’s 14 plants for pickling shallots which I’ll just leave to grow naturally. Growing shallots for show is quite tricky as they can easily grow to far where each bulb starts to divide again and become “pregnant” and not perfectly round. They can continue to grow after they’ve been harvested so it’s all about timing when to lift.

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Other news to report – the long and stump carrots have germinated and I’ve planted out a few first early potatoes – Pentland Javelin – just in time for the first frost we’ve had in a while which is forecast for tonight! Ah well fingers crossed it’s mild enough for most veg to get started.

Winter Greens

The lettuce planted in the greenhouse have done really well over winter and keep us supplied with plenty of leaves for sandwiches. There’s a couple of land cress plants also which are easy to grow and give a bit of variety at this time of year.

Winter lettuce

With the warmer weather I decided to sow some parsnips (Gladiator), carrots (Sweet Candle, Match, Flyaway, Purple Haze) and some broad beans (Longfellow) direct in the beds. And I also finally got round to planting out a few spring cabbages I had in pots.

Spring Cabbage

The shallots are coming on well – now thinking of keeping them in pots to save space in the beds.

Shallots

On various windowsills indoors there’s chillies, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes chitting. I’ve just sown another batch of tomatoes and some cabbages.

All in all quite a productive day and long may this warmer weather continue!!

Long Carrots Sown

In the previous post I mentioned I’d soaked the carrot box a few times to try and ensure the sand was as compact as possible. At the weekend I had time to core out and fill the holes. This was the first time I’d used this method and fortunately had Darren on hand to give me some pointers and he also did a fair amount of the work as well which meant I was just about finished in time at 6 p.m. on Sunday when darkness fell. Without his help I would have needed another weekend to get the job done! For anyone who has not done this before there’s definitely a knack to it and quite a bit of hard work involved!

Carrot box

I had marked out a grid to get 25 holes in but on reflection this was too many to fit in so I ended up with 20 holes leaving a reasonable amount of space in the centre. Hopefully this will allow enough air circulation around the carrots and allow each one to grow successfully to full size.

Each hole is 3 inches in diameter and 4 foot deep. Gradually the sand is removed using 3 different pipe diameters with the final one being the 3 inch pipe. Then each hole is filled with a mix of Levington’s F2S and calcified seaweed. The filling takes the longest to complete – using a funnel the mix is slowly added ensuring that no sand is knocked into the hole. The mix is “tamped down” after every funnel full using a broom handle that is carefully lowered down the centre, again making sure no sand is knocked down the hole. Finally the mix reaches the top and is tamped down again until it is slightly raised above the level of sand. Once all the holes are filled 4 carrots seeds are sown into each one and then a layer of fleece on top and polythene to keep the rain off. Then it’s over to nature to take its’ course over the next couple of weeks.

There’s a lot of work that goes into this when you consider the F2S is shredded and bagged up initially then mixed with the calcified seaweed added. Then it’s a days work to core out and fill the holes – I just hope it works after all that!!

Soaked!

February is a busy time of year if you’re planning to show root veg in one of the summer/autumn shows as long parsnips and carrots have a long growing season and there’s lots of preparation needed before you sow. Parsnips are the earliest sowings I do outside and I grow a few long parsnips in 6″ pipes. The mix is part peat, soil, silver sand with added bonemeal, dolomite lime, superphosphate, sulphate of potash and calcified seaweed. I then filled 10 pipes and sowed six seeds of Gladiator in each one.

parsnip seeds

I like to sow the seeds in a star shape around the centre of the pipe with the seeds side on to prevent rotting in the damp compost. I’m hoping to enter a set of 3 in the NVS South West DA show that I entered at the end of August last year.

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I then covered them with fleece and polythene. Parsnips take quite a while to germinate so these’ll be all tucked up until, hopefully, I see plenty of healthy seedlings coming through.

The next job was to soak the box I made for the long carrots. It’s important to make sure the sand is well compacted so it can be cored out cleanly and the level of the sand does not sink after you’ve sowed the carrots. I’ll soak the box three or four times before the weekend when I’m hoping to core out and fill each hole with a mix of Levington’s F2S and calcified seaweed. Hopefully I will fit 25 carrots in; that’s the plan anyway!

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So another busy weekend to come following which I’ll be preparing a small box for the stump carrots to go in by which time it’ll be mid-March and the general sowing gets going with a vengeance. Then it won’t be long until the potatoes go in and the season really takes off!!

Potato Day

Today was the 16th Hampshire Potato Day as I mentioned in a previous postDarren and I were up bright and early with his Landrover loaded and off to Whitchurch which is about 40 minutes from us.

The large school hall was packed – about half was taken by the potatoes, around 300 different varieties to choose from in either packs or individual tubers.  The standard well known varities but also plenty of unusual ones to try out with expert advice on hand to guide you through the bewildering number of them!

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The rest of the hall was individual stalls like ours – the NVS Hamsphire DA stand – which we use to spread the word about the NVS, “a growing society” and to fund raise by selling various plants, seeds and sundry items.  We were also promoting our veg growing Seminar in March – more of that in the next post.  It was an extremely busy day, the first hour after the doors opened at 10am was very busy and then it thinned out to a good crowd who could actually move around freely at that point!

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We did well with lots of interest in our stand and what we had to say which was great to see.  We were joined by our Chairman Ted Perren a well known grower in the Hants/Wilts area and we managed to keep up with the flow of enquiries.  Many familiar faces stopped by and we were visited by fellow blogger Mark and his wife.

If you’re thinking of going there’s still a chance tomorrow between 10am and 3pm.

I bought a few varieties – Pentland Javelin, Winston, Kestrel, Bonnie, Charlotte and a new variety recommended by the owner called Carolus (supposedly fully blight resistant) which I took 5 tubers of to try out.

A very good day and it was great to see so many people there!

Getting Organised

A welcome change this morning with a crisp, sunny start and a lovely walk with the dog in Bentley Wood.  Saw some deer and plenty of birds, the walk really blew away the cobwebs and I wanted to spend some time when I got home getting organised on the veg plot.

Getting organised - potting shed

You may remember from an earlier post that my father built this handy potting shed for me  whilst we were away in France last summer.  There’s plenty of space to store compost and hang tools with a sturdy bench to work from.

My main job was to get the shallots started.  I grow Hative de Niort and want to enter both the pickling and exhibition classes in various shows this year – these are mainly my own saved shallots from last season with a few I won in the Hampshire DA raffle.  The exhibition shallots were planted out in 3″ pots of Levington’s M2 compost with the picklling shallots in the standard multi-purpose.  I had 32 exhbition and 16 pickling.  I’ve heard people say that pickling shallots are Hative grown badly – I guess there’s an element of truth in this as whilst you are looking for good shape and uniformity you need to restrict the growth to keep the size fairly small.  Hopefully they will put on some strong root growth in the cold greenhouse before I transfer them to their final postions in March.

Shallots in the greenhouse

Also in the greenhouse are some spring cabbage (Pixie), spring bulbs starting to come through and winter lettuce and land cress in the bed.

January tends to be a month when everyone organises themselves after the holiday and I’m back on the diet to shed the Christmas excess.  Last year I lost 3 1/2 stone cooking recipes from the Hairy Dieters cook books and sticking to roughly 1200 calories a day whilst on the diet.  This worked really well  and, whilst I was only eating half of the recommended daily calorie intake, I was having tasty meals which got me through the lean times.

Mince & Vegetable Pie with Tumbled Spuds

This is one of their recipes – Mince & Vegetable Pie with Tumbled Spuds – which was only 292 calories per portion.   I’d recommend the books to anyone who wants to cook great recipes with less calories.

The next job on the veg plot is to get the chillies started.  Have a good weekend everyone!