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Archive for December, 2012

Cos freckles lettuce 2

Just before Christmas, Mark from Vertical Veg  sent out a questionnaire for growing in 2013. It contained a few simple and very pertinent questions and ones which got me thinking about the many positive aspects of growing your own fruit and vegetables. Question one: why do you grow your own food?

For me, I find it joyful and incredibly rewarding to be able to pick fresh veg from our doorstep. And it’s not just picking any old veg. It’s being able to choose and grow the things that you really love to eat and that will flourish in the growing conditions that you have in your garden. In a less than sunny part of the front garden, my lettuces thrived throughout the dampest of summers and supplied delicious sweet fresh leaves, unsprayed by supermarkets (and with zero food miles) for months on end. Pea shoots came a close second, supplying a succulent alternative to lettuces and being very quick to grow (about 3 weeks from sowing to harvesting from May onwards). I also love growing food that is sometimes difficult (or impossible) to buy in the shops and I’m going to really concentrate on the less run-of-the-mill herbs next year such as Lovage, Sorrel and Sweet Cicely.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Next question. What’s your biggest challenge? Time (and space-could do with an extra half an acre at home!). Allotments are great, but they do take a feat of organisation to fit in with our busy lives. Whatever I grow on the allotment (leeks , raspberries, jerusalem artichokes….), I still love the fact that I can harvest salad leaves, strawberries and rhubarb only minutes before cooking them if I can grow them in the front or back garden (or in a pot on a windowsill or balcony). Jono from Real Men Sow has written an excellent piece on giving up his allotment and his move to growing everything (including some ornamentals) in his new garden at home.

Space in our urban environment is another constant challenge; trying to squeeze in everything I’d love to grow, but then planning becomes the key to getting the most out of our growing space.

Asparagus tips

In 2013 I’m planning for more effective successional growing, so that as soon as one spot becomes available, I’ll have the right seeds or small plants to pop right in there, and for sowing at the right time of year to provide crops throughout the seasons. Next year I’ll be attempting to fine tune my seed sowing for autumn and winter lettuces (I reckon August is the key month) and trying not to forget (in all the spring excitement) to sow seeds for some purple sprouting broccoli, as I always regret the absence of this fine vegetable come the following year. I’m planning to grow more perennial fruit, vegetables and herbs such as Rhubarb, Blackberries, Asparagus and Marjoram that will happily look after themselves (apart from the odd bit of mulching and training) and hopefully this will leave me with a bit more time for some more ‘no dig’ trials and to sow some new crops that I’ve only dreamed about so far.

During this wettest of Christmas holidays, it’s been great to have time to reflect and imagine my ideal plot, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, and one full of exciting growing experiments and successes throughout 2013, whatever or wherever your veg plot is.

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Japanese Wineberry in need of some attention

All this rain has provided plenty of excuses for curling up with some great gardening books, but on a rare dry day this week, I got on with tackling a job I’ve been itching to do for months. One of my Japanese Wineberry plants is looking a tad on the unkempt side and is rather overdue for a prune. Old stems need to be cut back to make space for new growth come spring and to make the plant easier to train (and more aesthetically pleasing).

New and old Japanese Wineberry stems

Before seizing the secateurs, note that only about half of the stems need to be pruned! You need to leave the newer, more lush, pink stems and only cut away (from the base of the plant) the old brown woodier stems on which the fruit was borne this summer. As Japanese Wineberries fruit on one year old stems, the fresher pink stems will bear the fruit next summer, and new stems that grow during next year will fruit the summer after that.

Japanese Wineberry after pruning landscape

Once all the old wood has gone, you can see how many stems you’ll have to provide fruit for next year. You can leave the plant to its own devices, in which case you’ll need a good 2m x 2m space,

Japanese wineberry at the allotment

or train it to form any number of shapes that you want to experiment with. (If you have too many stems to train, cut away the weaker spindlier stems from the base of your plant.)

Blackberries

Old stems can be cut back anytime after the plant has finished fruiting (about September onwards), and if you haven’t tackled them already, other fruit, such as blackberries and summer fruiting raspberries can be pruned now, again, removing only the older woody stems (about half the bush) and keeping this year’s fresher looking growth to provide fruit for next year.

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Solent Wight Garlic Bulbs

I love roasted fresh garlic and this seems like reason enough to plant a row or two whilst the ground is not frozen at my allotment. My mate Colin says, “Plant on the shortest day (well only 4 days to go!) and harvest on the longest”. I’m yearning for summer already! You can plant cloves anytime between November and March and I’ve plumped for Solent Wight from the Garlic Farm as it has a great taste, grows happily in our climate and stores well. Prepare your soil well, adding plenty of compost and give your bulbs the sunniest space possible for best results. Be careful as you divide the cloves as any damage may lead to rotting and plant an inch and a half (3-4cms) deep, root down and pointy end up, about 6 inches apart. I’ll feed with Potassium sulphate in February, water well come March, then pray for a bit of sunshine to help it flourish. Here’s hoping……

P.s. Garlic can be grown in pots as well as in the  ground, although bulbs probably won’t grow to such a large size. You’ll  need a pot at least six inches wide and deep, but the bigger the pot, the more bulbs you can grow (and the less watering you’ll have to do!).  Planting bulbs three to four inches (7-10cm) apart, you can fit 3 bulbs into a 6inch (15cm) pot, 6 into an 8inch (20cm) pot and 9 into a 10inch (25cm) pot.

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