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Archive for the ‘Propagation’ Category

Great Dixter long border in October

As well as starting to peruse catalogues and websites for next year’s seed order, I’m also starting to think about gardening courses that I’d like to attend. My choice of course is normally prompted by my lack of knowledge in a certain area or a horticultural idea/obsession that I want to explore further, and I always come away with gaps of ignorance filled and new ideas aplenty to put into practice.

Kemal Mehdi at Great Dixter

I’ve heard that Great Dixter (top pic) have a series of new monthly talks given by Kemal Mehdi (above), who has taught at Hadlow College for over 20 years. I’m thinking of the May course (at the end of April) as I’ve never seen Great Dixter during Tulip season and I’d love to see more plant combinations involving one of my favourite bulbs.

Head Gardener Fergus Garrett will also be leading study days throughout the year and there are propagation day courses and week-long practical symposium courses dotted throughout 2013. I’ve hugely enjoyed courses at Great Dixter before, always leaving with my head buzzing, full of wonderful new planting ideas, and am really looking forward to my next visit in April.

Chili pepper seedlings. Seeds bought from Sea Spring Seeds

Years ago, to increase my somewhat basic horticultural understanding, I signed up for the RHS level 1 at Regents Park and haven’t looked back since. It was an evening course, held over 18 months and I loved every minute. I see that Capel Manor have a one day a week (Tuesday) level 1 one course starting in January in Regents Park and finishing in July which includes some practical  hands-on learning. They also have Level 2 courses -starting in 2013 for both daytime and evening study and more courses in horticulture and garden design at all levels in other corners of London, including Enfield (their headquarters), Crystal Palace and Gunnersbury Park.

For those not in London, The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) offers level 1-3 courses throughout England and one-off shorter courses on specific horticultural areas such as pruning, planting for wildlife or propagation at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire,  Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in N. Devon and Wisely in Surrey. Spoilt for choice!

A Verrier fruit tree at West Dean, Feb 2012

Earlier this year, I enjoyed an amazing day out in West Dean College in Chichester, learning about training fruit trees, and their list of courses this year looks very tempting indeed. Many areas are covered, including ‘Planting in the shade garden’, a one day course for creating your own blog and ‘Successional planting in the vegetable garden’ with Charles Dowding. I’m looking at courses during summer, so that I also get to visit their much heralded walled kitchen garden at the same time.

Charles Dowding in Polytunnel

And Charles Dowding is offering ‘no dig’ courses from January at his new farm in Somerset. Really worth the trip as I discovered earlier this year.

Judith Hann amongst the Lovage 3

On a herby theme, Judith Hann is offering courses in May and June in Oxfordshire and Jekka’s Herb Farm will soon be posting dates for next year’s workshops in Alveston, near Bristol.

Dahlia Summer Night in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter, August 2011

And Sarah Raven is offering both flower and veg growing courses in both her Perch Hill gardens in East Sussex and further afield.

Aya volunteering at 'Food from the sky'

Back in (North) London, and the wonderful ‘Food from the Sky’ (above Budgens supermarket in Crouch End) is starting its ‘seed2seed’ foundation in urban food growing in March and positively encourages volunteering on their roof top on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Miles Irving giving foraging talk

And over the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed some great urban foraging talks at the fantastic community garden in King Henry’s Walk and look forward to more in 2013.

As ever, I’m slightly ovderwhelmed by the amount of goodies on offer, but I know whatever course I attend, I’ll end up the richer for it. And if you know of other courses for 2013 in your area, do share a link in the comments below, wherever you are!

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Just read a fab post by Michelle at Veg plotting about leaves that can take all this damp weather we’ve been having and one of her images was of this beauty Cos ‘Freckles’. I  noticed this variety in Sarah Raven’s catalogue last year as it needed ‘plenty of water, but not too much sun’. I couldn’t have predicted the weather (or hose pipe ban!), but I hoped it might do well on a bit of ground that only gets 3 or 4 hours of sun in the morning. I merrily sowed seeds in modules at the end of February, planted them out about 6 weeks later in our community front garden and have been happily picking and eating them for the last month or so, and sharing the bounty with a few other neighbours too. Following Charles Dowding’s advice, we pick the outer healthy leaves, leaving the small inner leaves to carry on growing, enabling us to harvest over a longer period.

Although not completely devoid of slug damage, they’ve held up really well compared to other crops grown in the same garden, but I’ve also planted them bang slap in the centre of the plot, leaving other veg nearer walls to fight off (not always very successfully) armies of slugs and snails.

I love the look of this Cos lettuce, where some plants ‘freckle up’ more than others, and it has a great texture, slightly crunchy at the base, but with plenty of softness in the rest of the leaf too. Just about to sow another batch as it can be planted up to the beginning of September for autumn (and possibly winter?) leaves. Most definitely on next year’s list already.

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I’ve been looking forward for ages to this course and Mr. Dowding and his ‘no dig’ farm did not disappoint. Growing in just under an acre, Charles Dowding makes £30,000 a year selling salad leaves to local customers within a 4 mile radius of his farm. Very impressive!

All organically grown, successional crops of salad leaves, pea shoots and herbs can be picked all year round. With thoughtful planning, some beds will be able to produce three crops within one year. Seeds, such as endives, ‘Grenoble Red’  lettuce,

‘Red Frills’ and ‘Green in Snow’ mustard leaves are sown in September, planted out in polytunnels in October and are still cropping in April. Only outer leaves are picked, allowing the rest of the plant to continue to grow.

Charles Dowding uses no liquid or indeed pelleted feeds, but believes adding well-rotted manure or compost to the soil in between crops is enough to keep the soil in good health. By adding organic matter on top of the nutrient rich clay soil, the undug soil below retains its structure and vigilant weeding in the beds and paths provides immaculate conditions for veg to grow in.

I and fellow course attendees were encouraged to tread o the firm soil, safe in the knowledge that we would not be compacting this precious structure beneath.

As we were introduced to different production areas on the farm, I was amazed at how this small greenhouse provided enough space to start off most plants for the outside beds and two large polytunnels.  Seeds are pricked out when very small into multi modular trays and kept on a heated bench for a month in February and March to produce small but strong and healthy seedlings.

Charles Dowding says he can have up to 1,500 tiny seedlings growing in his greenhouse at one time! Having a heated propagator or two at home is great, but after a couple of weeks, light levels by windows just aren’t high enough and seedlings will become leggy. Unfortunately, unless you too have a greenhouse, this type of production becomes impossible to achieve.

Having said that, these tiny modules are a revelation, and no longer will I be pricking out/potting on to such space greedy 3 inch pots.

Now every grower seems to have a bete noir in the vegetable world, and mine is beetroot.  Others seem to find this the easiest of veg to grow, but for some reason I always struggle to get a decent crop. I was therefore relieved to hear that Mr. Dowding doesn’t have much success with sowing into the ground either and always starts his beetroot seeds in modules. Off to do the same as soon as this post is written!

In the outdoor beds, newly planted out leaves and other veg are all covered in horticultural fleece, not only to protect from the cold nights and wind, but also to keep pests such as rabbits, badgers and rats at bay. My urban pests, foxes and cats, are equally destructive and this duel purpose covering seems a great practice to adopt to get your veg off to a flying start.

Charles was very generous in sharing results of his many experimental practices throughout the day. On a grassy area in between apple trees, cardboard was used to cover and weaken  grass for a few months. Potatoes were planted directly on top on the yellowing grass, NO DIGGING, and then well-rotted manure heaped on top.  The result was plenty of potatoes! As long a 5 or 6 inches layer of soil/compost or well-rotten manure is placed on top of grass, Charles explains that planting directly on top of grass should be not be a problem, even experimenting this year with a recently constructed 6 inch raised bed for ‘Early Nantes’ carrots on top of grass. Curious to know what will happen there!

Charles Dowding is now well-known for practising and writing about the no dig gardening system and has perfected this art as well as his veg growing knowledge over many years to develop a very successful salad growing business. I picked up many growing tips during the day and will try to put some of these ideas into practise during the rest of the year. Sowing mustard leaves and hardy lettuces in August and September for winter leaves is definitely on my list, and although not a possessor of a polytunnel, I’ll be eager to see if these leaves survive outdoors in our urban climate. If I’ve learnt one thing from Mr. Dowding, it’s that it’s always worth experimenting!

Courses run on his Somerset farm throughout the summer. Well worth making the trip!

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