Thursday, 28 February 2008

Seed planning

The other day I was reading Soilman's blog (well worth a read if you haven't been there before), and saw that he has already sowed, and germinated, his celeraic seeds. Having purchased celeraic seeds, along with many others, and they carefully stored them in the shed with no plan as to when, or where, things would be planted I was suddenly overcome with that missed sowing moment panic.

After hot footing it to the shed and rummaging through the seed box I realised that thankfully I didn't seem to be running too late, most packets said to sow in March. Instead I had an entirely different problem; most of my seeds are purchased from Alan Romans who cuts the cost by not printing pretty pictures or instructions on the seed packets, instead all the information is on his website. So I realised I am actually the proud owner of 13 packets of seed which I have no idea when to sow, when to plant out, or even when to harvest! luckily it is still February - just, so really I am not running late, I have over a day until March...

Some time later I now have a planting plan of sorts, I basically just matched the months with seeds that need sowing, planting out and harvesting. Hopefully in time I will turn this into a lovely to do list on here but until then you will just have to make do with me telling you that in March I will be sowing Kale 'Starbur', Tomato 'Sungold', Tomato 'Gardener's delight', Celeriac 'Monach' and Pepper 'Canape' inside and Pea 'Ambassador', Spinach 'Tornado', Spinach 'Spinnaker', Carrots 'Early Nantes 2', Cos lettuce and Radish 'Cherry belle' outside. If I was really organised I would even know where these things were going to be planted but I think that might have to be another planning session...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The kindness of strangers

I was off work today, and thought I would pop down to the allotment to take a few pictures since it was actually sunny for once. As I wandered around my plot someone came over from his plot, this is very rare, so preparing myself for the usual questions about what you're growing etc etc I was staggered to be told there was a rotavator in the abandoned shed on one of the empty plots.

I of course had noticed this but assumed that of course it must belong to someone because it was stored in a locked shed but apparently not, it turns out that the rotavator had been left on my plot some time ago and this kind man had locked it in the shed so it didn't get stolen. He then gave me the key to the shed, so now I have some more tools including a rake and fork, lots of canes and useful bits of wood and a rotavator!

He doesn't know if it works or not, and I am assuming it needs petrol to run? I also have no idea how you actually work a rotavator, anyone got any tips? I didn't want to start jumping up and down or anything so next time I go I will get it out and see if there is a make or model and then hopefully find out if it works. It probably won't be that helpful this year because of the scary number of nettles all over the place and I am really trying to be organic which of course means pulling roots out by hand but I guess I could give the rough dug beds a once over and then next year it will be a doddle to clear the plot woohoo!

Oh and I now need a shed, one that is actually on my plot...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Kale - winter's favourite vegetable

Kale. Quite simply kale must be one of the most amazing vegetables, obviously no one really says they like kale, in fact I had never even heard of it until this time last year when it arrived in my organic veg box, but much to my amazement OH who is no great vegetable fan announced it his favourite vegetable and so we started eating it, and buying it. And then because I needed to make OH see what a great idea it would be to turn part of our garden into a vegetable patch, growing it.

Like all winter brassicas, kale is planted in April and then forgotten about until January when it suddenly looks like you might have something to eat through the cold months. This being my first year of vegetable growing I was ignorant to the joys of cabbage white butterflies, oh look a pretty butterfly thought me until suddenly the kale was more lace curtain than lush green and OH was mighty upset. So some frantic net arranging later the butterflies were reduced (the barrier wasn't exactly perfect) and I suddenly found a regular pastime in caterpillar picking to save the remaining few uneaten leaves.

December and January saw the kale mostly ignored and then last weekend it occurred to me that after all the effort we should actually eat some of this kale, in some ways a very scary prospect after nurturing it through most of last year. Today I made the first chop and now have a wonderful looking kale head for tonights stir fry. In a bid to convince OH that my seed purchasing obsession is healthy I have purchased some more kale seeds so this year I will be finishing off the packet of Curly Kale from last year as well as trying out Starbur F1. Hopefully next year will see fewer caterpillars.


Last year I grew some Thai basil, somehow the small pot of seeds turned into a fully fledged basil plant which is still alive today...just...the stems are more wooden sticks and most of the leaves are brown and crispy. So about 3 weeks ago I decided to sow a new fresh pot of Thai basil with the intention of actually eating all of it and replacing it will fresh sowings throughout the year - we will see. For those of you who don't know Thai basil it is like basil but with pointed leaves instead of round ones, purple flowers and stems and a wonderful anise flavour which is used in loads of Thai dishes. I add it to Thai green curry but it is also great with fish and other meats.

However, although Thai basil is fantastic for Thai cooking it doesn't quite work in Spanish dishes so this year I have been super organised and bought some Mediterranean basil as well, this is the more common round leaved basil which has a sweet taste perfect for pasta, pesto and of course Spanish omelettes.

The photo at the top shows the seeds as they are today, I sowed them about 3 weeks ago in those pots and placed them on a windowsill over a radiator with a clear plastic bag over the top until the germinated. Once they were growing well the bag was removed and the pots turned to stop them going wonky, today both pots have graduated to the unheated kitchen windowsill where they will now stay until they are big enough to eat. If all goes to plan I will be making a repeat sowing in a couple of weeks to hopefully give a continuous crop throughout the year.

Saturday, 16 February 2008


All the recent sun has caused my remaining parsnips to start to re-sprout so I decided that today was the day to dig them all up and finally clear the carrot and parsnip bed ready for the year. Half an hour later and I had unearthed a wopping 26 parsnips!

I had no idea there were so many remaining, almost half of them were well over a foot long so I was suddenly in possession of a serious amount of parsnip. The variety that I grew was 'Gladiator' and considering that all I did was drop the seeds into the soil, thin after a few months and then wait it is quite brilliant to have such a good harvest, parsnips are certainly top of the growing list for this year.

40 minutes of washing and drying later and I was ready to start the cooking, 3 of the particularly large ones went into a fantastic spicy parsnip soup, 5 more are destined for roasting and all the others have been par-boiled, cooled and then frozen for later.

The soup was quite amazingly good, thick, creamy and just the right amount of spice, of course I couldn't say all this without sharing the recipe so here it is:

Spicy Parsnip soup

Serves 3-4

50g unsalted butter
600g parsnips (or turnips, swede, potatoes, or a mixture of all), washed, peeled and cubed
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
1 large onion, peeled and sliced finely
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 teaspoons garam masala
Optional - 150 ml live bio-yoghurt

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat, then add the onion and heat gently for 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables and stir to coat with the butter, then remove from the heat and drizzle in the honey, stir well to coat evenly.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil

Simmer until the vegetables are tender, should be about 20 minutes, then cool slightly before liquidizing in the food processor or blender.

Return to the heat and stir through the garam masala and the yoghurt, if using.

Monday, 4 February 2008

More digging...

Back in October I ordered 10 asparagus crowns from Ken Muir which are due for delivery in March. Now that we are in February it has been more and more obvious that I needed to sort out the asparagus bed before their arrival. Apparently asparagus can be productive for 20 years and it is very important that the crowns don't dry out before planting, so after OH's amazing efforts shifting soil this weekend I headed off to the plot to dig a trench.

For 10 crowns I needed a well dug area about 3 foot by 10 foot, or thereabouts, I selected the area last year based on the sole criteria that this is probably the least windy area on my plot. Yesterday I dug over the area, nicely weed free thanks to the covering of carpet and then spread some bags of manure over the top for the worms to deal with. Hopefully by March the manure will be mixed and the soil broken down.

Friday, 1 February 2008

More seeds

This week we finally got around to ordering the huge bags of soil to complete the flower beds in the garden. I arrived home yesterday to find them sitting outside the front of the house, which means no allotment activity this weekend as I need to shift all of the soil around to the back of the house...

To make up for this denial I spent this morning ordering the last of my seeds, over the past few weeks I have been reading all my seed catalogues and finally chose to grow 'Starbor' kale, 'Monach' celeriac, 'Ambassador' peas, 'baby bear' pumpkins and 'Detroit 2' beetroot, all of which were available from Fothergills.

The bigger challenge was choosing my potatoes, I have never grown potatoes before but have come to understand that there are many considerations, variety which is dependent on what you plan to use it for, how long you want to wait for the potato to grow and finally how disease resistant it needs to be. I have no idea what pests and diseases my potatoes will need to withstand so decided not to worry about this too much (maybe next year I will be more concerned!) but am very clear that I want Charlotte potatoes because they taste fantastic, and something else which will be good for baking and mashing.

Sadly all the seed websites I visited had grouped their potatoes only into type which didn't help but I did manage to find a fantastic website which listed varieties based on their uses. Eventually I settled on 'Arran Victory', a late maincrop, which has a purple skin, white flesh and is meant to be good at weed suppressing; with all those nettles it had better be very good!