Tag Archives: vermiculite

Embrace the Dark Side

In previous years I’ve just grown veg, now I’m embracing the dark side and having a go at growing flowers. It’s a pretty miserable day here and I’ve been left alone to look after the girls. Rach is off at a local NCT sale helping out and trying to make some spending money for our holiday.

So in between nursery rhymes, painting, stories etc I thought I’d sow some flower seeds. I moved the operation indoors and the dining table became a temporary sowing area. I’ve recently received some seeds from Maureen which was amazing and a very kind offer. She has collected them from her garden, something which I need to learn to do this year! And put a little note on each packet to help me. There’s a whole host of them, some I’ve never heard of, so it’s exciting to learn more about them and to see their progress. Here’s the list:

Mixed Sweet Peas
Marigolds
Red Orach – hardy vegetable like spinach and deep red leaves mean it can be used as an ornamental border plant.
Mixed Dahlia’s
Sweet William – to be sown direct outside
Cenrinthe Major pururascens
Nasturtium tom thumb mixed
California Poppy ‘Golden Values’
Pumpkin Rouge Vif d’Etamps
Tomato Gardener’s Delight

I’ve sown all but the Poppies and Sweet William in a mixture of trays and pots filled 3/4 full with moist multi-purpose and topped with seed compost. After sowing I’ve covered the larger seeds with a thin layer of seed compost and the smaller ones with just a sprinkling of vermiculite. Then into the sink to soak up some water and then onto the windowsill. Job done!

Most of the seeds sown so far are up and well away with the first true leaves on the cauliflower, calabrese, onions, sunflowers and lettuce. I have some peppers and chilli seedlings coming on and waiting for the courgette and squash to germinate. I’m really pleased that all 3 cucumber seeds I’ve sown have come up as the seed I use, Dobies Carmen F1, is quite expensive at £3.75 for 6-8 seeds (although I do get 50% discount on that price ordering through my local Horticultural Society). If they survive the pack of seeds has latest me two seasons and I will manage to give one plant away each year as I only need two plants in the greenhouse to be self-sufficient in cucumbers from May-October (and we eat a lot of cucumber!). So all in all good value.

A week to go to our local Spring Show and my daffs are nearly there.

I’ve never entered, or even been to, the Spring Show before so have no idea what I’m doing other than what’s on the schedule. I was hoping to enter some of the flowers I planted as bulbs back in the Autumn. There’s a dozen daffodil classes of various sizes and types, a couple of tulip classes (no chance for me as mine are only 3″ out of the ground), flowering shrub, primula and a few other classes such as collection of spring bulb, mixed vase of cut spring flowers etc. Then there are handicraft, homecraft, photography, art, flower arranging and junior sections. We’ll see how it goes, I need to get my entry form in a couple of days beforehand so I will wait and see what I’ve got in the middle of next week.

Here’s the Plot Defender aka “Polo”, my dog, a rescue Staffie cross. He hasn’t featured on this blog before. He likes sticks and proving how destructible so called indestructible toys are (I used to have a Staffie as a kid, Grip, full pedigree name, Grip ‘The Dandy’ III – he used to chew up a car tyre in a few weeks!). Polo’s dislikes are cats and pigeons so he makes a great defender of my patch of earth.

Whilst I’ve been typing Chloe has been busy practising being the next Jackson Pollack!

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I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium

Forgive the film quote but I couldn’t resist for the title of this post. Like many people I have had no real success in growing standard carrots in my first couple of years. There were a few last year which got me 2nd prize in the local summer show but the fact that the judge couldn’t bring himself to award a first prize tells its’ own story. People round my way struggle with carrots!

I am a Finance Manager by trade; not anything to do with banking I hasten to add, and although I am not one of those that talks in ‘management speak’ one thing that has sunk in is that “if you don’t change something you will continue to get the same result”. So this year it’s all change on the carrot-front. So following my usual ‘run before you can walk’ approach I’m having a crack at growing exhibition standard long carrots! Why not I can’t do much worse than I have already.

The seeds have arrived, they are ‘Javelot’, a long carrot from Exhibition Seeds. If they get anywhere near those in the photo I’ll be well chuffed.

I’m growing the majority in a raised bed but the main effort will go into two sand-filled dustbins. These have been ‘settling’ for a couple of weeks.

An Internet trawl led me to Ted Bailey’s “Grow and show guidelines” and a recipe for the growing medium as follows: to 25 litres of John Innes number 3 compost add 16 ounces of silver sand, 8 ounces of medium vermiculite, 8 ounces of calcified seaweed and finally 4 ounces of lime. I bought the John Innes and lime from Scats, the Silver sand from Homebase and the vermiculite and seaweed from eBay. I mixed the ingredients in a wheelbarrow and then seived the lot throwing any lumps onto the plot.

First I watered each dustbin to get the sand nice and moist. Then using a long thin iron bar I made a 3″ diameter tapered hole in the sand near the outer edge of the dustbin. I then filled with the growing medium, I did this carefully by hand tamping down with my fingers to get rid of any air pockets. I then packed in as many as I could (Ted recommends 6 inches apart, mine where a bit closer together than that). I managed to get 12 holes into the first dustbin and 15 into the second as I got a bit better at it.

I then carefully watered each of the filled holes and sowed 4 or 5 seeds in each. They will be thinned to leave the strongest one and the foliage supported in some way eventually to prevent any damage. I covered in fleece to speed up germination a bit.

That’s it, all in all it took me a couple of hours to do and hopefully it’s just a case of keeping an eye on their progress and I should have some exhibition standard carrots. We’ll see!

It was a lovely afternoon, and as I wandered around the garden I found some more signs of spring.

And my one and only rhubarb crown is growing for the 2nd year.

I picked any dying leaves of the overwintered lettuce (winter density) and was pleased to see some signs of growth. I wish I’d put the plastic bottle cloches on earlier, like before the snow, as they may have been bigger by now. Still they’ve survived.

Finally I made up the two plastic cold frames I bought cheap from B&Q last year. I set them up on one of the raised beds and sowed some salad veg in them. Lettuce (Salad Bowl and Red Deer’s Tongue), Spring Onions (White Lisbon and Lilia), Radish (Mixed, Saxa and Albena) and some Wild Rocket.

All in all a satisfying afternoon. Off to the coast tomorrow for a well earned family day out.

Veg tips!

Here are some tips that I have learnt recently. Some I’ve tried and others I haven’t got round to yet. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these.

Marigolds – great companion plants but it’s the dead flowers you want. I only found this out last year after diligently de-heading them like a good gardener!

When sowing carrots sprinkle in some vermiculite to ward off the dreaded carrot fly.

Grow a white flowering variety of runner beans, they’re self-pollinating so you’re not reliant on the insects. Don’t use a wig-wam for runners, only climbing french beans.

Tomatoes – when the first truss forms tap every day to self-pollinate.

To boost your greenhouse production you need to up your CO2 – fill a pot with manure, clingfilm over the top with 6 pencil holes in, this should be enough from October to May. Not sure how PC this one is??

Rotting onions or parsnip canker? Try using a small amount of vermiculite mixed with flowers of sulphur in the seed drill or when planting onions.

Clean tools with tomato sauce – apply with a coarse brush and leave on the tool for 2 hours then wash off and dry thoroughly.

Use the cress test for manure from a new source that may have been contaminated with herbicides – also use for testing your water butt quality.

5-6% full fat milk in water is now used to control many pests and diseases.

That’s all for now……………