Frostbite

The temptation at this time of year, with the greenhouse stuffed full of plants, is to get everything out into their final positions.  A word of warning though, a late frost can strike, even down here in the balmy south it can come calling up to the end of May.  It’s forecast for tonight so I’m on frost protection duty later covering any susceptible plants with fleece and newspapers – thankfully it’s only my potatoes and dahlias that I need to worry about!

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My father kindly built this potting shed for me whilst we were away on holiday last year. It comes off the north facing end of the garage and was a piece of unused land up until that point. During April and May it’s my main workstation where plants are sown, pricked out and potted on. An invaluable space that gives some protection from the weather whilst allowing me to be outside with the greenhouse door only a few feet away.

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As you can imagine the greenhouse is pretty full now. I’ve started to put the tomatoes – Alicante and Gardener’s Delight this year – into their final positions. There’ll be a couple of cucumbers at the end of the bed eventually. The tender crops – celery, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, squash – are all waiting to go out. There’s also some bedding plants to sort out as well. In a couple of weeks I’ll be left with the chillies, peppers and aubergines in pots on the staging with the tomatoes and cucumbers in the raised bed on the other side of the greenhouse. It’s amazing what you can fit into an 8′ by 6′ space.

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I have a few Savoy Cabbage that are starting to take off. Cabbage is a much maligned veg but I love them and will always eat plenty of cabbage and caulies through the year.

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You’ll remember I sowed parsnips and carrots in February. They’re starting to come on now and I’m hopeful they’ll be ready for the New Forest Show at the end of July.

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The parsnips are getting strong now.

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And finally my favourite veg for next month is broccoli and I’m looking forward to a good crop from this little lot. I plant quite close (9 inches) due to space limitations but I’ve found I still get a great crop. Cut the main head first then harvest the side shoots. Keep cutting before any of the heads flower to prevent a bitter taste developing. Can be frozen if you have too much!

That’s all for now, hope your growing season is going well with the promise of some fantastic harvests this summer.

Belated Easter update

We had some great weather during Easter week and I’ve been far to busy out in the garden to update the Two Chances blog so here’s a belated post and a quick catch up on how things are going.

Let’s start with where the season began with the prep for the long parsnips and carrots due to be entered in the New Forest Show at the end of July. How are they doing? Well they’ve germinated and are growing nicely (the pictures below are from 2/3 weeks ago).

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I protect them with small plastic cups with the ends cut off as the nights can still be quite cold. They now have two to three true leaves on each plant and should really start to grow quickly now with the warmer and longer days over the next few weeks. There’s 16 of each, the parsnips are a variety called Panorama from Medwyn Williams and the carrots are New Red Intermediate re-selected by Bob Brown, previous National Champion and the same seed I did well with last year. Fingers crossed they will come good in time.

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I’ve also been busy sowing through March. The calabrese have now been planted out as they are between 6-9 inches tall. I have 14 plants and I’ve put them in the bed in a block spaced around 9-12 inches apart. These should crop through June and July. First remove the central head when it’s fully developed and this will encourage side shoots to sprout, keep cutting making sure none flower (as this will make the heads taste bitter) and you’ll have a good harvest of broccoli over a few weeks which will be finished before the cabbage whites get going. Also broccoli tends to bolt in hot weather so I grow in late spring / early summer and then sow an Autumn cropping variety.

To go with the calabrese will be some Savoy cabbage which are in the greenhouse along with the tomatoes (Fawoyrt & Alicante), chillies (apache), aubergines (moneymaker) and peppers (Californian Wonder). The tomatoes will be planted into the greenhouse bed in the next couple of weeks. Also sown in greenhouse are half a dozen types of lettuce at various stages, broad beans (Longfellow), runner beans (stenner), beetroot (Pablo & Choggia), sweetcorn (Earlibird) courgette (Venus), squash (butternut, autumn crown, winter dumpling) and pumpkin (rouge vif d’etamps). Next will be the French Beans (Hawkesbury Wonder). I also have some celery plants (Morning Star) from Darren growing on.

Out on the plot I’ve sown parsnips and carrots (sweet candle) direct. I also have onion sets (red baron and centurion) and some toughball plants again some spares from Darren. These are in alongside the potatoes. I have ten 17L polypots each of Kestrel & Winston and various containers with Charlotte, my favourite salad spud.

So it’s been a busy few weeks and the next month is the key time when the beds will fill up and the greenhouse will really start to take off. Lets hope the recent good weather continues and we have a great growing season!!

Core Blimey!

Lovely sunny day today so, with a day off work, I decided to crack on and core out for the long carrots. It’s the same approach as the parsnips, which went in three weeks ago. The carrots occupy a second sand box which is right next to the one with the parsnips in. The box is 3 foot square and approx. 5 foot high filled with 2 tonne of grit sand. This has been allowed to settle for a few months before coring. I planned to get 16 holes done which takes about 4 hours to complete. Starting off with a 1 1/2″ pipe I take out the sand to the required depth then move on to a 2 1/2″ pipe before cleaning the hole out with the final 3″ diameter pipe and going back to the smaller pipes to hoover up any sand that doesn’t come out with the 3″ pipe. It’s quite a laborious task and I core out 4 holes at a time before filling with the mix, then moving on to the next four.

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This picture shows the first few holes cored out with the 2 1/2″ pipe in shot.

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I use a tractor diesel funnel to get the mix into the hole, tamping down with the handle end of a hoe every so often to make sure the mix is settling properly. A small piece of pipe is then placed on top of the filled hole. This serves a couple of purposes early on – to mark where the hole is and to allow additional mix to be banked up around the emerging seedling so protect it in the early stages of growth. Once well developed the piece of pipe can come off.

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I then dampened the mix, sowed four seeds in each hole and covered the boxes with fleece and polythene. I’ll keep an eye on them every 2-3 days to keep the mix moist and check for germination. The seed is a reselected strain of New Red Intermediate from former NVS National Champion Bob Brown who lives over the hill from me and is kind enough to pass on his growing knowledge and spare seed.

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I also sowed some stump carrots (Sweet Candle) last weekend in an opened ended plastic container about 2 foot deep that I sat on top of one of my raised beds on a few layers of weed membrane. I filled it with grit sand and cored out a dozen holes 12″ deep. I’m hoping this will give me a few decent specimens in time for the New Forest Show at the end of July.

Glad that’s done, the roots are one of the big early season jobs which is great to get out of the way. I’ve also sowed chillies, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in the heated propagator. Things are gathering pace now, time to draw breath for a couple of weeks before sowing cabbage at the beginning of March and then potatoes mid-March. Looking forward to milder and longer days to fit all of this in!!

Potato Prep

If you haven’t already now’s the time to buy your seed potatoes and set them out to chit. I ordered mine from JBA Potatoes – you should always buy them from a reputable seed potato merchant.

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I’m growing 3 varieties this year – Winston a first early and Kestrel & Charlotte which are second earlies. This should mean they’re lifted before any chance of blight later in the summer. The Winston and Kestrel are dual-purpose – I’ll be entering them in the New Forest Show at the end of July all being well to cover the white and coloured potato categories and they’re both tried and tested good eaters that we enjoy. Some people don’t like Winston in particular but I think they’re fine. For a white potato they are the only one to consider for the show bench. With coloured potatoes there are a few good showing varieties – Kestrel, Bonnie, Blue Belle and Amour for example all of which are good eaters. Finally Charlotte are my favourite potato, the best salad spud in my opinion.

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The seed potatoes go into cold water mixed with Milton baby sterilising fluid. The idea here is to protect the new crop against any surface diseases that may be on the seed potato. I leave them in for 48 hours before drying off and setting them out to chit.

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Find an area with plenty of natural light that is free from frost. I use our conservatory which is cold in winter but always above freezing and there’s loads of windowsill space which fills up quickly in Spring. Set them out in egg boxes or seed trays so the bottom-end (the part that was attached to the old plant) is facing downwards – the potato will sprout from the top-end. By chitting before planting you’re getting a head start under protected conditions. I will plant out in mid-March.

It’s Only Just Begun………

Well the new season has started with the long parsnips sown last weekend.  I’d cored out 16 holes the week before and sowed 4 seeds per hole before covering with bubble wrap.  They’ll take 4 weeks or so to appear.  The variety is Panorama and I’m hoping to enter a set into the New Forest Show at the end of July.

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Next weekend it’s the turn of the stump carrots – Sweet Candle – followed by the Long Carrots the week after.

I also need to get on with potting up the shallots and sowing the chillies – it’s already getting busy!!

The Lost Village of Imber

Imber, a tiny village on Salisbury Plain, is one place I’d always wanted to take a look at but had never got round to it. With access denied for most of the year due to it being in the middle of one of the largest army training areas in the country the village is only open to the public for a few days mainly over Christmas and Easter.

There has been a settlement at Imber since 967AD but the village was evacuated in 1943, to provide an area for American troops to train for European invasion during WWII, and it has been deserted ever since. Villagers were given 47 days notice to leave which must have been a huge wrench as some families had been there for generations. In recent years the village was used for urban warfare training with the army erecting a number of shell houses for training purposes. These, along with the church and one or two other buildings, is all that remains of Imber.

I also wanted to see what the roads were like for cycling as I plan to come back later in the year on the bike. The main access road is between Gore Cross (on the A360 just north of Tilshead) and Warminster and is a decent tarmac surface, no problem at all for bikes (mountain or road), cars and motorbikes. The MOD obviously spend more money on roads than the County Council as it was in a better state than our local roads.  The tracks from north (Bratton) to south (Heytesbury) have unsurfaced sections and are unsuitable for road bikes.

Warning Signs

There are plenty of warning signs as you enter the plain past the checkpoint. The roads are accessible over Christmas with today being the last day of access.

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The churchof St Giles has been restored and is kept going by work of volunteers and donations. It will be next open again at Easter.

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There are various army training houses dotted around the village.

Military debris

Tank

On the road between Imber and Warminster there were a number of tanks and vehicles along the road which have been used for target practice. We didn’t have any great views as the Plain was shrouded in mist giving it a very enclosed, eerie feel but, despite this, there were quite a few people about making the most of the last day of access.

Hopefully there will be one or two days of open access over the summer as this would be a great place to spend a few hours cycling.

Leeks & Leftovers

It’s become a tradition in our house to use up the leftover Christmas turkey in a Turkey & Leek pie which keeps us fuelled through to New Year.  I planted nearly 70 leeks in the summer and they’re standing well in the plot.  Yesterday I lifted a few to give me the 2 kilos I needed for this Jamie Oliver recipe.

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They always look a bit grotty at this time of year but once you’ve removed the first layer they are pristine white and well blanched, and sweated down into a lovely sweet filling for the pie along with the leftover turkey, streaky bacon and bits of stuffing and sausage meat.

I don’t faff around with the last part of the recipe – rolling out the pastry and folding in chestnuts and sage leaves – just an egg wash and into the oven.

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And there you have it from plot to plate in a couple of hours! A hearty belly filler, just the job at this time of year.

Not much going on at the plot, just harvesting a few parsnips and leeks, with squash, beetroot and potatoes in store. I should be sorting out my long parsnip and carrot mixes really but I’ve been busy over Christmas and prefer to be out and about rather than in the garage. Like this morning when I was out for a couple of hours on the mountain bike in fabulous winter sunshine.

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Hope you’re all having a great Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.