Calabresy

I’ve mentioned a few times that calabrese is my favourite early summer crop.

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There’s 14 plants in a 6 foot by 4 foot area – I plant 9 inches apart and this will produce main heads that are 1/2 kilo in weight when cut. So they can be packed in and still yield a really good crop. And as it’s early summer they’re relatively pest free so just a quick rinse under the tap and they’re ready for the steamer or stir fry. Even when planted at the same time there is a natural spread in the timing the plants are ready although you have to like your broccoli as once they are ready the cropping is thick and fast! Fortunately we love it as we will be eating every day now for a few weeks!

The plant on the right of the picture has been cut with the one on the left developing. It’s just a case of keeping a close eye on them and judging when they have reached their full size. They must be cut before they start to flower so it’s best to cut a little early if you’re unsure as there’ll be plenty of size shoots to follow. Keep cutting until the new shoots become too small to be any use. They need plenty of water in this dry weather we’ve been having but will reward with a huge harvest. The main heads I’ve been cutting have been much bigger than anything in the supermarket and can be cut every 1-2 days over a 3 week period with side shoots to follow.

I normally record one or two gardening programmes during the week and flick through to the bits of interest. Yesterday’s Beechgrove Garden did illustrate the huge difference between growing in Southern England and Scotland. Whilst I’ve been harvesting the calabrese for a couple of weeks now theirs had just been set out and looked similar to my post at Easter.  Even though I do complain about the cold nights that have affected the last few weeks the relatively mild southern weather means we’re fortunate to be harvesting a number of veg already.

Another highlight of the last couple of weeks have been the gooseberries.  From one – very neglected – bush I harvested 4 lbs of fruit last week leaving the rest to swell and I should get a similar harvest from the rest over the next week.  The blackcurrants are almost ready too, time to dig the jam pan out of the back of the cupboard!

Half way point

June is the half way point of my growing season between sowing the long parsnips & carrots back in February to harvesting the last of the chillies & peppers from the greenhouse in October.

Unlike last year it’s not been a great spring, relatively cool until recently and with high pressure currently there’s still chilly nights to contend with. This has meant the veg for the New Forest Show at the end of July is behind, particularly the long roots – disappointing as I had great carrots this time last year but was on holiday at the time of the show. Ah well you can’t predict the weather, and that’s one of the pleasures of growing your own you never know from one year to the next which keeps it interesting. Still there’s plenty on the plot that is growing well and loads of jobs to keep up with.

celery

I’m currently putting collars round my celery (Morning Star). This is thin corrugated cardboard 15 inches high which will make the celery draw up and also blanch the sticks. Not that popular these days but I do eat quite a bit during the summer and any left over will be chopped up and frozen to use in the base for stocks and stews over the winter.

broad beans

The broad beans (Longfellow) are doing well, I now need to wipe off the blackfly and pinch out the tops to encourage the pods to form. Next to them you can just see the dwarf french beans (Hawkesbury Wonder) which hit a set back after planting out affected by the cold nights they dropped some leaves but are starting to come back now. One of our favourite veg and great for freezing also. As it grows I’ll support with split canes and string to keep the pods off the ground.

potatoes

The potatoes are finally starting to get going. Next job here is to put up some canes and heavy duty string to keep the haulms upright. Lots of water and feed over the next few weeks.

calabrese

Another favourite of ours is calabrese and the plants are full size now with the heads between golf and cricket ball size. When they’re the right size the main head is cut encouraging side shoots to form. Then it’s just a matter of keeping up with the cutting not allowing any of the heads to flower as this gives them a bitter taste.

carrots etc

I also need to thin the parnsips (Panarama) and carrots (Sweet Candle) and then cover them to protect against carrot fly. Environmesh will do the job and I also spray with Garlic Wonder to put them off the scent. Behind the carrots is two types of beetroot, Pablo and Choggia with Savoy Cabbage at the back.

carrots

The long carrots look healthy but not as far along as I would like. The foliage is supported by onion clips and split canes. Watering from the top only at this stage, as they grow I will put a pipe into the middle of the sand box and then start watering through this. Other tasks is making sure none of the tops are exposed to sunlight and checking for sideshoots which need to removed.

parnsips

The parsnips are looking good as well but behind schedule like the carrots.

lettuce

Alongside the greenhouse I have a narrow bed with lettuce and mizuno growing. I grow various lettuce dotted around the plot wherever there is a gap. Here it’s Lollo Rosso, elsewhere is Salad Bowl and Little Gem.

tomatoes

Inside the greenhouse the biggest tomatoes are four foot tall. I’m growing Alicante and Gardener’s Delight this year. There’s also a couple of all-female cucumbers at the end of the bed.

apache

Regular readers will know chillies are a favourite of mine. This variety is Apache.

chillies

I’m growing quote a few chillies and peppers this year. The chillies are Apache, Cayenne, Jalapeno, Hungarian Wax, Hot Thai & But Jolokia. Peppers are Californian Wonder and Corno di Torro Rosso. Hopefully we’ll have a nice, warm summer to get a good crop from all these plants. There’s also a couple of Aubergines (Money Maker) which hopefully will produce a few fruits.

Hope you’re all having a good season so far. The plot is now full up and I’m just sowing some lettuce now and then to keep a supply going. Other than that it’s just a matter of watering, feeding, weeding, supporting/training where necessary and harvesting. Looking forward to a great summer!

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!!