Brassicas

Today saw the sowing of the various summer, autumn and winter brassicas. This year we’re going to try and lessen the load on the chest freezer, as we tend to sow everything at once, and harvest it all at once. I don’t think Suz has still forgiven me for the weekend I visited my parents, leaving a barrow of cauliflowers at the back door as they’d all flowered during the week. All needed washing, cutting into florets and freezing.

This year we’ve sown, outside in trays or raised seed beds:

All Year around Cauliflower – one lot for an autumn harvest, and we’ll sow another lot later for over-wintering.

Cavolfiore Romanesco Precoce – a natty pointy cauliflower, one to harvest in late summer/autumn. If memory recalls it has a rather creamy texture, and a slightly nutty flavour.

Beaumont F1 (autumn) Broccoli – we’ve gone for Broccoli as opposed to Calabrese, as Broccoli is happier to be transplanted when raised in a seed bed. Also, with Broccoli, as you pick the side shoots, more will grow. The more you pick, the more you get. Calabrese tend to have one main head and smaller side shoots once that’s picked.

Evesham Special Brussels Sprout – a sprout that you can harvest from September to December, so Christmas dinner will be dressed entirely properly (it’s practically naked without sprouts, in my very humble opinion).

Golden Acre (Primo II) Cabbage – cabbages are where we generally fall down, growing too many of one type. This round headed cabbage will, in theory, provide us with bulky green goodness from July to October.

January King 3 (Savoy) Cabbage – our winter cabbage, I love these, will take over from the round headed cabbage, harvesting it from November through to March, when spring cabbage will take over from it.

We’re missing red cabbage from above – the fact we use so few, mainly for pickling, it will be cheaper and easier to buy three or four plugs from the local nursery.

Spring cabbages will be sown in August, ready for harvesting next February through to March – I need to be careful that they aren’t sitting anywhere we need to plant stuff – onions follow brassicas and they quite like an early start. If we plant from sets then we have no problem with the other brassicas, and if we plant leeks where the spring cabbages have been grown then the cabbages will be fine where they are until quite late, as we don’t transplant leeks until May/June.

Raised Bed

With the incredible weather continuing, another day saw the raised bed filled with various salads – Sparkler 3 radish, Apollo F1 spinach, Webbs Wonderful lettuce, Misticanza di Lattughe mixed lettuce (from the great Italian Franchi seed range) and Wild rocket. As rain has been scarce for almost a week, the newly planted fruit trees have also had a good watering, to keep them happy. The blossom is out on many of the fruit trees, at this rate it should be a good crop this year! Even more dandelions were pulled, and the numbers are dropping now, which feels good. I also placed cloches where we’re to plant out the various squash later in the year, to help warm the ground in readiness.

Root Crops

Another scribbled mental note – these are so useful for the following year, to get a feel for the plants that do well here. The day began with the usual dandelion beheading – another barrow full, then watering the new fruit trees in as it’s been a dry week so far. The strawberries and raspberries had some of the lovely manure donated by Ken spread around their bases, as did the rhubarb and gooseberries. The geese had their full clean out – fresh straw in the houses, ponds emptied and refilled.

Then on to the root crops. This plot hasn’t been manured, but the squash stations will have plenty added just before they go in later in the year. For now the stations will have cloches dropped where the plants will go, to help warm the ground up. The seed that went in today were one 9′ row of Flyaway F1 carrot, three rows of Boltardy beetroot and three rows of Hollow Crown parsnip.

All root crops were netted against the dreaded pigeon, sparrows and rabbits. Or row of peas were also netted, but we need to rethink the layout of the peas and beans to make netting easier. Whatever the case, we need more netting!

The final job of the day was to water in all the seeds sown over the last two days – that was over an hour’s job as the onion patch was also beginning to look a bit parched. As were the strawberries, rhubarb, gooseberries and currant bushes. A quick check on the chicks, who have now taken up residency in the garage as the fluff and dust produced by week two was just too much to keep them in the house, and 10 o’clock saw me finally stumbling in, to a warm fire and mahoosive mug of sweet tea. Perfectamundo 🙂

The First Sowing Outside!

It had to start sometime, so those old stalwarts of the frost, carrots, were the first in. The new and improved raised bed is put to action with two 10′ rows of Royal Chantenay 3 carrots sown – nice baby carrots. And it’s also the first time I get to use my one of my Christmas presents from Suz – local pebbles with the names of the veg written on it, and then varnished. Best pressie ever!2014 Carrots 2014 Carrots Pebble Marker

Finally, the year begins!

The day was empty, Suz was out to her regular ballet show, leaving Jay, Smiler and myself to while away some time. The sun was truly out, clear skies, no wind – perfect weather! We started out with sowing seeds -for greenhouse raising in the short term we sowed:

  • All the Year Round cauliflowers – 33 plugs
  • Coriander, 2 x 10″ pots (seeds saved from Smiler’s plants from last year)
  • Mammoth Leeks – 1 x 10″ pot

And propagators, to be sat on a windowsill inside, we sowed:

  • Shirley F1 tomatoes – 10 of those in a propagator
  • Improved Telegraph cucumbers – 12 in one propagator.

Then it was down the patch to sow a couple of raised beds with Lobjoit cos lettuce and Chantenay Red Core 2 carrots – last year the raised beds were free of carrot fly, so we’ll sow a couple of raised beds of these this year.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, it’ll be potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic that will go in. It’s a late start, but hopefully not too late!

April Update

By this time last year we have usually sown a fair but in the patch around the middle of March. This year absolutely nothing has gone in – the extreme cold has prevented us from doing anything outside – the grass isn’t growing, the ground is quite hard, and I have managed to dig only one veggie bed over. It is so cold we are still picking sprouts from the plants from last year and they taste great! The hedges and trees are still dormant, but at least the trees have had a good rest ready for this year’s fruit.

On the plus side we have a Light Sussex (Rosie) sat on a very small clutch. It seems like an age, over three weeks, but I candled one yesterday and it was solid, so hopefully something is going to happen very soon. We are stock-piling the eggs from our other Light Sussex (Daisy) ready for when she turns broody – but hopefully she’ll wait for more inclement weather before doing so.

The Pilgrim geese are laying like troopers, at least an egg a day from the two of them, sometimes two a day. We are very much egg-sufficient at the moment!

The jobs on the list are to sow tomato, sprout and cucumber seed as soon as possible – at least we can keep them indoors to start them off, with the stove burning away for warmth. Ridiculous!

Shallots

Another glorious day and a box of 150 Picasso Red shallots meant a quick hour down the patch after work. Two 30′ rows later and we still have a few left over, can it ever be possible to have too many shallots? I suspect not.

Preparing Seed Beds

That time of year comes around so quickly, it seems like only last year that we were preparing the veggie beds for last year’s harvest…

I’ve spent around 4 days recently hand weeding the four quarters, rather than spraying. The vegetable quarter seemed to be the most weed-free, and was the only quarter mowed by hand regularly. I assume this had something to do with it, but the quarter with sheep in last year seems to be picking up this year already – it was the worst in terms of grass coverage.

The Saturday just gone saw the whole family preparing the veggie beds. The weather was amazing – 19 degrees celsius, not a cloud to be seen, so hoeing the weeds seemed to make sense. Suz and I carried on with the weeding on Sunday, and I’ve managed another two days 3 out of 5 beds are now ready for sowing with broad beans, early potatoes, onions and shallots this weekend. We’ve also finally shifted the 8 tractor buckets of top soil we had down the patch that was left over from digging the paths out at the house. This area has now been levelled off and grass seeded, so should look decent, eventually.

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This year we’ll mostly be planting…

With a backlog of leftover seed approaching the size of the European grain pile, I decided that this year was a year of ‘make do’ when it came to buying seed. I have this dilemma, buy seed from an organic source but which is miles away, or buy ‘normal’ seed from a local business and put money into the local economy? With the amount of seed we need to use up I decided to pop down to the local nursery (a proper nursery mind you, not the sort of garden centre that stocks Starbucks coffee and the attendants wouldn’t know a dibber from an onion hoe, despite having sat on one) and purchase any seed we need to make up a full complement from there.

The layout this year is as below. As usual, each fifth of the plot has moved one to the left, with the roots moving over to the far right. The only major change is the removal of the jerusalem artichokes, not because we dislike them, or even for the windy effect they have – mainly because they seem hellbent on plot domination, growing a foot into the grass surrounding the patch in a year! I’m a bit of a control freak, and think veg should know their place, more importantly they should stay in their place! This year’s cash crops are the peas and beans. The locals shall, in theory, be feasting on broad beans, french beans and peas if all goes well 🙂

Starting from the left, potato-wise we have just bought , Arran Pilot and Red Duke of York first earlies, Nadine second earlies, and King Edward, Maris Piper and Valour as main crop. The main crop gave the most headache as many make naff boilers, but the Valour should see to that, the Maris Piper are great storers and King Edwards make stonking roast potatoes. The asparagus bed remains, and hopefully we’ll have our first crop this year!

On to the onion bed. We have Cipolla Barletta onions from seed, which will hopefully make a nice silver skin pickled onion. There are also Tris di Cipolle seed left over from last year which grew amazingly well, giving a lovely three colour mix of red, white and brown onions, although storage wasn’t great. They’ll make up our summer/autumn crop, and the main crop will be Bedfordshire Champion from seed, great flavour and great storers for over winter. We also have two rows of shallots, which I’m hoping will be Picasso, as they’ll be the staple ingredient for our red onions in spiced balsamic vinegar – a pickled onion that seems to be rapidly becoming a favourite in our house, and a few others! Lastly, we have Malabar leek, a disease resistant variety that weathers the winter well, Solant White garlic (good for the UK climate), and Di Firenze fennel.

On to the peas and beans – nice and simple this one – Kelvedon Wonder peas, some from left-over packets, some saved from last year and dried, and also Hurst Greenshaft. The dwarf french beans are Ferrari and Tendergreen, though I’ve made a mistake on the planting distances above and there will only be 5 rows as opposed to 7. Snap peas (mangetout) will be Reuzensuiker and Sugar Bon, a really cylindrical variety. Then we get our cash crop, 130 broad bean plants. Early broad beans are my personal favourite – on buttered toast with finely chopped fried bacon…scrummy! To try and prolong the picking season we’ve got the early cropping white seeded Monica, the high yielding green seeded Masterpiece Green Longpod, and finally the late cropping white seeded Scorpio.

The brassicas – we already have some spring cabbage in, and this year I’ll try and start our own spring cabbage and cauliflowers from seed, now that we have our greenhouses. The two varieties will be Offenham 2 spring cabbage, and All the Year Round Cauliflower – wonder why they call it that… The broccoli, savoy cabbage, round cabbage and red cabbage will all come from the local Sharpes growers in Kings Newton, if they have any spare 🙂

Then we have the roots and other oddments. Some carrots, Chantenay Red, we’ll try in raised beds that I’ve started putting together, but the ground variety will be Resistafly F1, in the possibly vain hope that they will live up to their name. The parsnips will be from our saved Hollow Crown seed, they produced gargantuan parsnips and hopefully they’ll do so again. Courgette-wise we’ve got Tondo di Piacenza, swedes are Helanor and the ever-useful beetroot is Boltardy, which has lived up to its name in the past. A couple of funky squash from the Franchi seed company are Butternut Rugosa, and the gorgeous looking orange and green striped Tonda Padana – a winter storing squash. Sweet corn will be 4×7 planted Incredible F1.

Salad veg, which will also go into raised beds this year, will be:

Spring onion – White Lisbon
Radish – Prinz Robin, Ravanello & Scarlet Globe
Lettuce – Lobjoits Green Cos & mixed salad leaves

Pumpkin, also in a raised bed, will be Racer F1.

And lastly, in the greenhouses we’ll have:

Aubergine – Violetta Lunga 2
Sweet Chilli – Dolce di Bargano
Tomatoes – undecided, but probably Shirley and one other
Cucumber – Cetriolo Melone (globe shaped) and Beth Alpha (gherkins)

That’s about it I think – we’ve got herbs to put in as well, but that’s Suz’s area 🙂 We’ve also planted another black currant and white currant bush, but I really do need to make a map of the varieties we have in there. With the snow having started to fall this afternoon, and already at 3″, I imagine tomorrow might well be a sledging day rather than a patch day, and glad of it in this weather!

Winter Onions & Garlic

A quickie to note that today Smiler and I planted winter onions sets – Electric (red) and Senshyu Yellow (yellow, suprisingly). We also planted Marco garlic, something I tend to forget to do at this time of year as sometimes I’ve had success with spring planting. After this year, when one variety decided to stay dormant all summer and I discovered the bulbs still alive this autumn, I’ve figured it’s best getting them in early. Whilst we should probably have had them in by now, it’s been so mild recently (16 Celsius today) that we seem to have a window to get some late sowing done. Here’s hoping the cold weather kicks in soon!