It’s been a while………

It’s been 3 months since my last post due to being busy on the work front; a combination of the office I’m currently working at closing and needing to find a new job.  A rainy day at home looking after the kids has given me time to take stock and see where I am compared with previous years.

This year I have done nowhere near as much veg growing as my gardening time’s been taken up with sorting out the rest of the garden particularly planting up an 8 x 2m border along the back garden fence – now the weather has warmed up, together with a fair amount of rainfall, these plants are now taking off and may be subject of a post later in the year when the border’s fully established.

However there has been some work done on the plot.

Back Garden

You’ll remember last Autumn I revamped the beds in the back garden using new timber and breaking them down into much smaller beds with a gravel path around.  I still need to finish off the edge between the gravel paths and the lawn but I’ve started planting up the beds.  The one on the far right has new strawberry plants behind which is a thin bed with rhubarb and the sand boxes for the long carrots and parsnips.  At the back there’s some mangetout growing up netting, a few onions and space for broccoli.  Under the mesh tunnel next to the greenhouse there’s parsnips and carrots.  The front two middle beds have beetroot and stump carrots with the carrots protected by a mesh tunnel.  I may use the bed on the front left for leeks.

In the greenhouse I’ve just planted out 6 tomato plants into their final positions and have lettuce, leeks and squash growing on in pots.  This year I’m having a go at Sweet Potato which arrived as slips a couple of weeks ago.  I then soaked them for a few days and once roots started to form I’ve planted them up into pots.  You have only the leaf at the end of the stem showing so I’ve used old clematis pots to give them a deep pot to get the roots really established before planting out in early June.

Stumps (1)

The stump carrots are looking strong under the mesh tunnel.  I’m hoping they’ll be ready for the New Forest Show at the end of July despite the cold spring.  The variety is Sweet Candle which is a lovely tasting carrot and pretty much the only one to ever appear on the show bench.  I’ve never grown a really good set of short carrots so fingers crossed for this year!

Long carrots

The long carrots are starting to grow on now.  It always looks to me like they’re never going to be big enough with just over 2 months to go but it’s amazing how quickly they will grow from now on with the milder weather.  I won my first NVS red card at last year’s show and maybe I’ll have another good set this year……….time will tell.  This year there’s added interest for me as it’s my own re-selected seed from a set I won with at the NVS South-West DA show in 2014.

Parsnips

The long parsnips are looking strong now and will hopefully be ready in time.

Front Garden

I turned the road-end of our front garden into extra veg growing space a couple of years ago.  The beds are starting to be planted up now – potatoes at the rear – 4 varieties Kestrel, Winston, Amour and Sherine.  On the left is a row of peas (Show Perfection) and dwarf French beans (Hawksbury Wonder) which are looking quite sorry for themselves and most of them have dropped their leaves.  Like last year they’ll pull through and become good, strong plants in time.

The bed on the right will be filled with sweet potato and squash in due course.

So still plenty of work to do and I’m hoping with warmer weather over the next few weeks things will really start to get going now.

Hope your garden or allotment’s going well this year and we have a great summer to look forward to!

All systems go!

With milder weather forecast for the next few days I decided to get started and sow my long and stump carrots. Earlier than I would sow normally as they’re for the New Forest Show at the end of July.

And there’s added interest this year as the long carrots are my own re-selected seed strain from a set of 3 carrots I put to seed two years ago.

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The seeds in the photo are just from the central seed head of one the carrots.  There’s 100s, enough to keep me going for years.

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I followed the same approach as last year coring out 16 holes in the sand box, filling with the compost mix and sowing 5 seeds in each one.

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Then covered with fleece and clear polythene to keep them all wrapped up until the seeds germinate.  The other box is for parsnips sown 3 weeks ago which should be coming through soon hopefully.  They normally germinate in 3-4 weeks taking much longer than the carrots.

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The stump carrots were sown in one of the new beds I put together last Autumn.  It’s a 6 foot by 2 foot bed filled with grit sand – half way along the bed I’ve run some threaded bar across to stop them bowing with the weight of the sand.  In this sized bed I can get 27 stations in.  Each one is cored out to 16 inches deep and the variety I’m sowing is Sweet Candle.  I’ve struggled to get decent short carrots before and I’m hoping this approach will prove successful.  As with the longs the bed is covered with fleece and polythene.  I have a small mesh tunnel to put over the bed once the polythene comes off to keep the carrot fly at bay.

So it’s all systems go on the plot and hopefully a few days of milder weather will see the carrots germinate in the next couple of weeks.  From now on it starts to get busy with sowing starting with tomatoes / chillies etc.  The potatoes are chitting indoors on south facing windowsills and will be started off towards the end of March.  Lots to do!!

 

February jobs

Hoping the weather will dry up a bit so I can get some of these jobs done!  So far the competition parsnips have been sown and the mixes for my long and stump carrots have been prepared.  I’m hoping to sow the carrots in the next couple of weeks………

February is a time of preparation in the garden with an expectation of things to come. Early spring bulbs are coming through but, as we saw last year, the weather can bite hard and put back any of our best laid plans……….

So the list of February jobs is dependant on weather conditions and if your soil is workable. If you have use of a heated greenhouse or space on indoor windowsills then sowing can be started. But even if you just do some tidying up in the garden it’s time well spent before Spring starts.

Under Cover

• Sow Autumn leeks thinly in a tray of compost and cover lightly and keep moist.

•If you didn’t start sweet peas in Autumn sow in toilet roll inners now.  You can use the same method for broad beans if weather is too harsh to sow direct on the plot.

• For early potatoes start off varieties such as ‘Swift’ in large tubs of compost in a heated greenhouse.

• Start sowing early brassicas such as cauliflower and summer cabbage.

• Towards the end of the month sow tomatoes, chillies and peppers.  These need a long growing season to fully ripen so need to be started early in a heated space.

• Sow peas.  A good method is to sow in a length of guttering that can be easily transferred to the veg plot later to avoid handling the young plants.

• Plant garlic cloves in pots if not already done.

• Sow hardier herbs such as Parsley.  Rocket and certain varieties of lettuce can be sown towards the end of the month.

• Sow slower growing half-hardy annuals and perrenials such as Pelargonium and Begonia.

• Chit seed potatoes.  Stand in egg trays.

On the Plot

• Continue to tidy and dig the plot if soil is workable.  Well rotted manure and compost can be added if not already done.

• Hand weed around any Autumn sown crops such as Japanese Onion sets and Broad Beans.

• Jerusalem Artichoke tubers can be planted out.  If harvesting and re-planting be careful to dig out every bit of tuber.

• Keep filling runner bean trench with kitchen waste.

• Use cloches to warm the soil ahead of spring sowing.

• Prune fruit trees and canes.  Sprinkle a handful of potash fertiliser around fruit trees.  If you have bought any bare-root  trees get them in now.  Cut stems of Autumn-fruiting raspberries to soil level.

• Force established Rhubarb crowns by covering with a forcing pot or bucket.

• Draw up a plan of your plot so you know where each group of vegetables will go and have a record for future years to ensure good rotation.

• Clean the greenhouse, any frames, pots and trays.  Jeyes fluid is good for the inside of your greenhouse killing off anything nasty that is lurking to attack your spring plants.  Warm soapy water is a good start for pots and trays.

In the Garden

• Plant new Rose bushes.  But don’t prune existing ones until next month as harsh frosts can burn new cuts.

• Prune grapevines, Wisteria, summer-flowering Clematis, and Buddleia.  Deadhead Hydrangea flowers.

• Mulch around emerging spring bulbs.  Bring pots of spring bulbs into the greenhouse as required.

• Divide herbaceous perrenials that have become congested.

• Cut back last year’s dead material from perrenials as close to the base as possible before new growth starts.

• Clear weeds as they emerge.

• Scarify and spike lawn if required.  Clear any remaining leaves.

• Clear leaves from pond and check and clean pump.

Help Wildlife

• Put as much waste material from the garden on the compost heap as possible (rather than burning) to allow sheltering insects to escape as the weather warms.

• Continue to feed garden birds and provide a water source.

• Put up nesting boxes for birds.

Buy

• Check through stocks of compost, fertilisers, pots etc and buy whatever is needed for spring sowing ahead of time.  If you’re looking for a peat-free compost the brand ‘New Horizon’ has been recommended in recent Which magazine trials.

Harvest

Winter vegetables such as Leeks, Brussel Sprouts, Kale and Parsnips can continue to be harvested when the ground is not frozen.  If harsh weather threatens root vegetables can be stored and kept fresh in a box of damp sand.

If you have any suggestions for February jobs please add them to the comments on this post.

Seed & Plant Orders

Now is the best time to order your seeds, plants and sundry items for the coming growing season.  I try to take advantage of whatever discounts are on offer and it’s worth checking what seed company your local gardening club / Horticultural Society is affiliated to as they tend to receive large discounts.

For example my local village club is linked to Dobies and with our online code I received just over 50% off my seed order (also 10% off plants/sundries) which is a great saving.  I’m also a member of the National Vegetable Society which is linked to Marshalls who offer a straight 10% off orders over £30.

I had plenty of seeds left over from last season which are still viable so only needed to stock up on a few such as leeks and squash.  I’ve bought some strawberry plants and a few extra raspberry canes – Marshalls added 5 free strawberry plants as I had just over £20 of soft fruit and with a few sundry items I received the 10% discount for an over £30 spend.  I know these offers are there to tempt you in but if you were going to buy the items anyway it’s worth shopping around.

One final recommendation at this time of year is to visit a local potato day if you can.  They are a great place to buy cheap seed potatoes – all of which can be bought as singles or in packs so you can try out different varieties very cheaply.  Plus they have lots of veg growing related stalls – my local Potato Day is the Hampshire one based at Whitchurch, well worth a visit.

Happy gardening!

 

 

Monthly jobs – January

Despite the often freezing conditions there’s still plenty of jobs to be getting on with on the plot and in the garden this month………….

Under Cover
• Start to chit seed potatoes in trays making sure they are frost free.  The speed of chitting depends on the temperature so keep an eye on them as you’re aiming for a healthy chit of a few mm by the time you plant them out in March.
• Clean greenhouse panes thoroughly – Jeyes Fluid is ideal for this. Disinfect and light a sulphur candle to deal with any pests and diseases.
• Insulate greenhouse with bubble-wrap to retain heat if you are starting plants early.
• Pot on winter lettuces.
• Move strawberry pots into a warm greenhouse to bring them on early.
• Check stored fruit, veg and any tubers to ensure rot has not started.

On the Plot
• Keep removing yellowing leaves from brassicas.
• Firm any loosened shallots and onions. Plant sets if you haven’t already.
• Dig a trench for runner beans and fill with green kitchen waste.
• Plant garlic, sow broad beans if the ground is not frozen.
• Put forcing jar, or similar, on top of emerging rhubarb to force crop of tender stems early. Also a good time to lift and divide crowded rhubarb.
• Cover bare soil with fleece or cloches to warm up for sowing.
• If soil is workable continue to dig over and add manure if not already done so.
• Test soil to gauge its requirements for the coming season.

In the Garden
• Tidy up borders, cut back grasses before new growth emerges, and mulch.
• Good time to move shrubs if they are in the wrong position.
• Take hardwood cuttings.
• Plant new Roses. Prune existing plants.
• Avoid walking on lawns in frosty weather and remove fallen leaves regularly. If conditions are suitable it’s a good time to tidy-up lawn edges.
• Service lawn mower and check over garden tools.

Help Wildlife
• Continue to top up bird tables and feeders, and unfreeze bird bath.
• Great time to build a nest box to encourage more birds into your garden, they’ll return the summer eating pests in summer.

Buy
• Summer flowering bulbs for spring planting.
• Order veg and summer bedding seeds if you haven’t already.

Harvest – if you’re fortunate enough to still have any veg left on the plot……..
Leek, Parsnip, Swede, Kale, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Carrot, Celeriac, Brussel Sprouts, Purple Sprouting, Jerusalem Artichokes.

If you have any other January jobs please share them by adding a comment to this post. Whatever you decide to do this month enjoy your garden!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted after finishing the re-vamped veg beds in the back garden in October.  It’s been a busy couple of months since then but not much happening on the Two Chances Plot to report.

Today saw the traditional “Christmas leek lift” to go along with the leftover turkey in this lovely pie that we make every year.

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The leeks were planted quite late so weren’t huge but they’ll taste great all the same.  They’re the only veg left on the plot with just potatoes, beetroot and a couple of pumpkins in store now – and some bags of French and Broad Beans in the freezer along with a few hundred chillies!

It’s been another fantastic year on the plot with loads of superb veg for the family.  My most successful show year as well taking my first top-level NVS red cards at the Southern Branch Championship staged at the New Forest Show back in July.  I finished off with Best in Show at my local NVS DA show in September.

Away from the plot I’ve also enjoyed some hill walking, long cycle rides and charity fund raising for Southampton General Hospital’s Friends of PICU.

What will 2016 bring?  More of the same on the veg plot – I’m looking forward to using the new raised beds and finishing off the back garden.  I’m sure I’ll be at a couple of shows again.  We’ll continue our Ridgeway walk and I’ll be fundraising again possibly with a run & bike challenge in July.  And lastly I’ll be looking for a new job sometime in 2016 after 17 years with my current employer so another challenge to add to my list!

Whatever you decide to do next year I hope it’s a fruitful one for you!

 

 

Re-vamped raised beds

It’s been 8 years since I put up the original raised beds in the back garden and started growing veg and it was long overdue for an overhaul. I used gravel boards which have done well considering they were a cheap material and quite thin but I now wanted something that looked better and would last for a long time.

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Originally there were two beds – one of 18ftx6ft and one of 12ftx6ft.

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These were replaced by six new beds of various sizes with shingle paths all round.

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The timber is much thicker and should last for 15 years. I’m looking forward to planting these up next spring.