My vegetables have been affected by the frosts!

Whatever happened to global warming?  The pundits have been telling us that we will not be able to grow certain plants because it will be to warm and dry and here we are in the middle of May and the temperature overnight is as cold as you would expect in January.

It really is most annoying not to mention disheartening. I decided last Sunday that we were probably not going to get any more heavy frosts so it would be safe to plant out Climbing Beans, bush beans and Sweet corn. They looked great and I was looking forward to good crops.

I missed the weather forecast on Monday and got up on Tuesfay morning to find that they had all been frosted. My potatoes have suffered as well. Also a pot of Morning Glory. The sunflowers which I planted a fortnight ago are O.K.

The potatoes will probably survive, although they will mature later, and possibly not give as large a crop as they would otherwise have done. However, the beans, sweet corn and Morning Glory will not. I have sown another load of seeds in pots in my greenhouse and will plant out as soon as they are ready. Hopefully by then the frosts will be finished.

It has been so cold that I have been covering the tender plants in my cold greenhouse with horticultural fleece and newspaper. This works very well for a degree or two of frost but if the temperature gets much lower than that, it is unlikely to work. So far the plants under cover have survived well.

In fact, not only have they survived, the Melon and Cucumber seed which I sowed last week actually geminated last night. What sense is there in that!

Ihave planted a couple of hanging basked with Fuchsias, Osteospermum and Geraniums (Pelargoniums, actually). These are frost tender and normally, I would not worry about a slight ground frost, as they are hanging well above ground level, under those conditions, they would be alright. However with outside temperatures at -3 degrees, I have been taking them into the greenhouse and covering them up.

The weather today is stunning, it is really warm and sunny and I have been working on my vegetable patch, planting out cabbages, Brussels sprouts and celeriac. These are all hardy so even if the frosts do continue (and they are forecast for tonight), they should grow normally.

Supporting Pea Plants

Traditionally, Good Friday is the day when you sow peas in your garden. I don’t know for sure why this is but I imagine it is so that the soil is warm enough for the peas to germinate and the full Moon is an optimum time for sowing seeds. Indeed, many people make a point of sowing all their seeds (and harvesting their crop) according to the Moon. Some even go as far as sowing at nighttime to be under the Moon!

Anyway, back to peas. When you sow your peas, you should also be considering supporting the plants. There are a few varieties which are advertised as self-supporting. These still only work up to a point. They get very messy. So, generally, peas need support.

The way gardeners always supported pea plants was by using ‘pea sticks ‘which were twiggy cuttings, traditionally from hazel, although any wood would do. Nowadays, not all of us have this sort of material available and we have to use more manufactured supports.

Bamboo canes work very well, either on every group of plants or at the end of rows with netting hang between them so that the pea plants grow up the netting. However, for a really desorative look which is also very practical, Harold Horticulture produce Pea and Bean Hoops and Cross Supports.

These are the sturdiest supports you can buy. They are made of heavy duty galvanised steel and will last for many seasons, so although the investment may seem heavy initially, over the years you will actually save money by not having to replace your supoports.

You will still need to use pea and bean netting with your supports and this is also available through Harold Horticulture although you can buy netting at almost any garden shop. The frame stands 1 m (3 ft) high and there is 30 cm between the legs of each hoop, so it is just right for two rows of peas. You can get it in three lengths, so you buy the one to suit you.

Usually, I plant my pea plants over Easter, but with the weather being as cold as it has been, my seeds were planted late, so they are not even germinated yet, let alone ready to go out. However, to follow tradition, I shall sow a row of peas outside on Good Friday (assuming the weather is clement!).

Forcing Rhubarb

What a difference a couple of days sunshine and warmer nights makes. My rhubarb has now poked its head out of the ground and it is time to force it.

Forcing rhubarb is a very old way of making it grow faster so that you get an earlier crop. It means the sticks are thinner and more tender. You can use almost anything to cover the rhubarb crowns as long as it excludes the light, a bucket does very well. However, I feel that if you are doing this, you may as well make it attractive.

To this end, I would recommend rhubarb forcers which look like those the Victorians used.

traditional rhubarb forcer

They are bell shaped and traditionally made of terrcotta. However, you can now get some made of plastic.

rhubarb forcer

The plastic rhubarb forcers are much lighter and therefore easier to move around but it also means that they are more prone to be blown about should you have heavy winds.

People often think that rhubarb is a very limited fruit. Well, actually it is a vegetable. This is because you eat the stem, not the fruit. It is easy to grow and can be harvested and although it is most useful as a dessert, It can be used as an accompaniment to a number of meat dishes. I like mine coked with a little ginger, this seems to take some of the sharpness away and you need to add less sugar. However you eat it, its delicious and a very good provider of fibre as well as vitamins.

Sowing cabbages and calabrese

Brassica is the family name for cabbages. It also includes a number of other vegetables, most of which are easily identifiable as belonging to the same family- Brussel sprouts, cabbages (of all types) calabrese, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Chinese cabbages. It also includes swedes, turnips, radishes and kohlrabi.  If you know which family or genus a vegetable belongs to, then you will know what it’s nutrient requirements are and where to plant them in your crop rotation.

Anyway, today I started to sow my seed for cabbages and calabrese. I am not overly fond of cabbage, although, oddly enough , I like Brussel sprouts. So I only grow a few cabbages and then only of certain types. The varieties of cabbage I sowed today are

Cabbage Red Jewel

cabbage red jewel

and cabbage brigadier

cabbage brigadier

They are both F1 Hybrids. I sowed both these 3 or 4 seeds in 3″ pots. When they have germinated and developed a bit, I will prick them out into separate 3 inch pots after which I will plant in my vegetables patch. The frosts should, by then, be passed. Most cabbages will stand up to bad weather, but germination is much better when you have some warmth and you will get earlier cabbages by sowing indoors.

Red Jewel, as the name suggests is a red cabbage. It has good storage properties and pickles very well. I like to cook it with apples, although it equally good cooked alone.

Brigadier is one which will give  you a giant cabbage with heads up to 14lb (6.5kg). It is very tasty eaten raw or cooked. It has a high sugar and vitamin C content. It is Fusarium resistant. All round a good cabbage to grow and eat.

I also sowed some calabrese seed. The variety is Calabrese Aquiles.

calabrese aquiles

The seed catalogue cannot make up its mind whether it is Broccoli or Calabrese. The seed catalogue says broccoli and the seed packet says calabrese. Anyway, they are the same plant. The only difference is whether it matures in summer (calabrese) or winter (broccoli). This seed was sowed much the same way as I sowed my cabbage.

As I have said before, I enjoy the process of sowing and pricking out. If you do not or if you do not have the time (or patience),all these seeds can be sown in rows 2 ft (60cm) apart. When they have grown and look crowded, they should be thinned out until they are 6ins (15cm) apart. Then just let them grow and harvest when ready.

Sowing Peas

Today, I sowed Peas. Unfortunately I do not yet have this year’s vegetable seed order, so my pea seed is old. (Sow before 2006). This is quite old and may well not be viable. If it does not germinate, I shall sow again with new seed. However, it’s worth a try.

This year I have sowed three varieties – Endeavour and Balmoral both of which I have grown in the past with good results and Canoe which I have not grown before. If it germinates, it will be interesting to see the results.

I sowed all the peas in 3 inch pots, 3 seeds per pot. I would usually sow them 2 seeds to the pot but as I expect the germination to be lowered, I have added 1 seed per pot. When they are large enough, I will plant them out in rows 1 foot apart. I will plant them so that the pots touch each other. This will give the right spacing.

I also sowed Lettuce, Ultimate mixed seed in a 3inch pot. This is a mixture of red lettuces which I like because they add colour to a salad plate. They also taste delicious.

Morning Glory was the last seeds I sowed today. This was a mixture of colours and are a useful climber. The seeds germinate better if they are soaked overnight in warm water. This softens the hard outer shell. I then sowed them 2 seeds in 3 inch pots.

Sunflower and other seed sowing

Today the main focus of my seed sowing is Sunflowers, although I have sown some vegetables as well. I have not yet received my vegetable seed order this year so I am using old seed. I don’t know whether it will still be viable but the only way to tell is to sow it. I will let you know results when I know.

The first seeds I sowed today was Sunflower Bees Knees. This is an F1 Hybrid variety. They are pollen free so suitable for cut flowers for those with allergy problems. They are only 4-5 ft tall, so should stand up well to windy weather. I sowed them 2 seeds per pot in 3inch pots.

Continuing the sunflower theme, I sowed sunflower Russian Giant. This is the tall variety that children grow for competition. I am not overly fond of them as they have huge heads (12 inches in diameter) which are really too heavy for them to support themselves so they always end up hanging their heads as though in disgrace.These were once again sowed 2 seeds in 3 inch pots.

Next I sowed Vanidium Jaffa Ice. Although these are not sunflowers, they look very like them. However, they are only 2 ft tall and have purple to black centres. They also have silver green foliage. I sowed these in a seed tray.

I have sown Delosperma Floribunda Stardust. This is a half hardy perennial which attracts butterflies. It is only 4 – 6 inches tall and is ideal for rockeries and hot dry places in your garden. The flowers look like Michaelmas daisy flowers, so it should look attractive. I shall keep some in pots and dig some up after they have flowered and protect them against frost. I will also leave some in the garden to see it they will survive. I sowed these on the surface of a seed tray of compost and covered the seed with vermiculite.

The last of my flower seed sowing today is Nemesia Tapestry mixed. I love Nemesia flowers. They are so different. I have grown the variety KLM in the past and the blue and white flowers really are spectacular even though the plant is so small. Nemesia is only 10 inches tall so they are ideal for the front of borders, for pots or in the rockery. The variety Tapestry has large flowers in a range of colours. They are quite bright.

I have sown two varieties of lettuce: Webbs Wonderful and Triumph.  The Webbs wonderful variety is one most people know and buy from their local shop. The seed is at least 5 years old so it will be interesting to see if it germinates. If it doesn’t I will buy a fresh packet of seed and re-sow. The Variety Triumph is an Iceberg type of lettuce. It has some root aphid reistsance which could be useful. However, the seed should have been sown by 2006. We shall see.I sowed a pinch of each seed in seperate 3 inch pots and will prick out when they are large enough to handle.

Celeriac is one of the new vegetables I grew last year. I cooked it in Cider and it was delicious. It was easy to gropw and since I have part of a packet of seed left, I have sown it in 2inch cells. It is last years seed so hopefully will still be viable.

Cauliflower All Year Round is a good variety as you can sow and harvest it at any time of the year. The seed should have been sown by September 2006. So it may well not germinate

All my seeds are carefully stored in a plastic container which is kept cool and moisture free, so often they will remain viable.Some seed, however has a very limited period in which it will germinate. Parsnip is one of these, so it is no good keeping part packets of that seed.

Planting Seed Potatoes

The weather is good today again. It feels like spring has finally arrived. I know it hasn’t – its forecast to get cold again tomorrow. However, whilst the weather is clement, I have planted my seed potatoes.

I am growing two varieties this year: Pentland Javelin which is an early potato

potato pentland javelin

and Romano which is a main crop.

potato romano

You actually treat them the same until it is time to harvest them. Early potatoes are harvested as soon as they start to flower and should be eaten immediately. Main Crop Potatoes are left until after they have finished flowering and then they can be stored for use during the winter.

I put my seed potatoes to ‘chit’ six weeks ago. That means to produce shoots. They were actually ready to plant a week ago – the weather wasn’t ready for them. Potatoes should be planted in rows 2 ft apart with 18 ins between the tubers. This gives room to ‘mound them up’ when necessary. It also gives room for the seed potatoes to grow a good network of roots and new tubers.If you do not have enough room to plant your potatoes 2 ft apart, they can be grown a bit closer, but your crop will be reduced. In this case, plant your tubers deep – 9 ins .

The one thing you don’t want is for your tubers to come to the surface. This is one of the reasons for ‘mounding up’ – that simply means making a mound of soil over your row of potato shoots. If your tubers do come to the surface, the sun will make them turn green. Green potatoes are unpalatable and also slightly poisonous. Not what you want! The other reasons for mounding up your potatoes is so that the frost does not get to the young shots and also it gives a larger area of soil exposed to the sun so it warms up quicker. As a useful side bar, it keeps the weeds down.

Seeds to sow in February.

If, like me, you can’t wait to get back to gardening, or if you want an early crop of vegetables, then there are a number of vegetable seeds which can be sown in February.

Some of these can be sown straight in the ground, such as Broad Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Calabrese, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Leeks, Radish, Beetroot and Lettuce. Some need gentle heat – Greenhouse Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers (Capsicums) Aubergine, Cucumber and sprouting seeds among them.

When you are buying your seeds to sow at this time of year(Or any time, come to that) look carefully at the variety and make sure that it is suited to the purpose. For example, there is no use sowing an Autumn Cauliflower at this time of year, it simply won’t germinate.

The seeds which need heat can be germinated on the kitchen window sill if you want. Just make sure you are going to be able to plant them out before they get too ‘leggy’. All plants grow towards the light and if you sow seeds indoors, they will reach for the sky. If they are left indoors for too long, they will get tall and weak – this is called ‘leggy’.

I sow most of my vegetables (except root vegetables) in pots in my greenhouse. This is because I live in open country and know I have a number of pests in my garden which would love me to sow them a ready meal. It also means I can check that cauliflowers are not ‘blind’ before planting them out.

If you are germinating your seeds on a window sill, even if it is warm during the day, the night temperature will drop at this time of year. To ensure good germination and growth, the best thing to do is to use an electric propogator. Propogators are basically plastic boxes with electric heaters in the base. T & M sell a propogator especially designed to go on your windowsill. It has a 15 watt element, so is quite inexpensive to run and has 7 seperate mini trays with lids, so you can raise more than one types of seed in it.

Electric Propogatoes are very useful in a cold greenhouse at this time of year, both for seed germination and for raising cuttings. A propogators will ensure the soil stays at an even temperature which promotes growth. Alternately, Thompson and Morgan sell a heated propgation mat which you lay oin your staging. It has a thermostat sensor so will never get to hot, or cold and is inexpensive to run.

If want to raise very early crops inside your cold greenhouse, you may want to consider heating it for the three months from January to March. You should begin by double lining your greenhouse walls with pplastic, to give better insulation. If you have a large greenhouse, you may want to do this with part of it, to save heating bills. THen you put a heater in. YOu can use any type of heater you like, although gas heaters are not recommended because they are ubnsafe and also because they give off a great deal of water vapour. Thompson and Morgan sell an Electric Fan Heaterwhich is 1.2KW. This is particularly useful since you can use it in summer to keep the air circulating in your greenhouse and keep it cool. It also has a ‘frost watch’ setting so that it only works during the winter to keep your greenhouse frost free. This is useful if you are extending the season during late autumn and early winter.

Parsnips can be quite tricky to germinate. They will only germinate from fresh seed – no good trying to sow last years excess seed. They also need heat and damp. You can germinate them at this time of year by putting them on damp blotting paper (or kitchen roll). Put them in a plastic bag and then put them in the airing cupboard. Don’t forget them, though – they will go mouldy. When they have germinated, sow them normally.

It’s no good sowing any seed into ground that is frozen. This year has been unreasonably cold and at the moment, my ground is frozen solid However, you can expect a thaw anytime soon and when it comes – go for it. If you are concerned, sow half your seed and keep half back for a later sowing, that way should you have trouble with germination, you can always try again.

Sowing under cover will also help your germination. When you have sown your seed, cover the ground with horticultural fleece. This will help keep the warmth in, keep the predators (such as birds) off and allow the rain through.

Growing Potatoes in Bags or Bins.

If your garden is small, or even if you have no garden, you can still grow potatoes. In fact if you grow them under cover you can harvest your first potatoes up to a month early (or even at Christmas).

You start off either with a bin (an old dustbin is great) or a large bag (I find the bags compost come in is great- turn them inside out so they are just black and look nice.) If you are using a bin, put crocks in the bottom for drainage. A hole or two wouldn’t go amiss. If you are using bags, make a few holes at the bottom for drainage.

Place 3 -4 ins of soil or compost in the bottom of your container. Spread out you seed potatoes on top of the soil. (5-6 is more then enough in both a dustbin or  compost bag. This will not give you huge potatoes but will give you a decent harvest of medium sized potatoes. Next put 3-4 ins of soil or compost on top of you seed potatoes.

When you see green shoots from your seeds, then cover then with another 6ins of soil or compost. Repeat this process 4 or 5 times or until the bag or bin is three quarters full. Always leave the top of the bag open to the elements.

If you are growing the potatoes under cover, then you will need to water them regularly. Otherwise only water in dry weather.Be careful not to overwater – your potatoes will rot and smell nasty.

Your potatoes will grow normally as though you are growing them in your garden. Just leave them to do their thing. For early potatoes, you harvest when the flowers form and use the potatoes immediately. This will be in June to July for first early potatoes and in July – September for Second Earlies. For Maincrop Potatoes You leave them until after the flowering period is finished. Then harvest. This will be in September to October. Really, though, this method is best used for Early Potatoes.

To Harvest your potatoes, you simply empty your bin or bag. It is as easy as that. You get good potatoes with very little problem from any pests or diseases.

How to grow potatoes in your garden

Potatoes take a little bit of work to grow in your garden but are worth it for the taste. If you have a small garden, then it is hardly worth growing maincrop varieties since they are so cheap to buy and they do take up a lot of room. There are really only four processes which you need to go through to grow potatoes successfully and once you know these, it becomes easy.

There are a large number of varieties of potatoes, each one performing different functions. If you use most of your potatoes for boiling, then you may want a different variety than if you use them mainly for chips. Some varieties perform a number of functions. So before buying seed potatoes, look caregfully at what they are best for. In addition to their uses, some seed potatoes are better at repelling pests and diseases than others. If you are growing potatoes for the first time, you will not know what pests and diseases are in your garden (if any) so err on the safe side. Although you can grow potatoes by planting any potato in your garden. It is always better to use seed potatoes because these have been specially treated and are guaranteed to be free from disease.

Apart from the various varieties, there are also also diferent types of potatoes which indicate when they are planted – and harvested. The packs will indicate this very clearly. Early varieties are dug and eaten straight away whilst Maincrop varieties are harvested in autumn and can be stored for winter use.. Early varieties are also divided into first early and second early types. Further indicating the time for planting.

The first thing you need to do after buying your seed opotatoes is to ‘chit’ them. This means you lay them  out in a frost free place to sprout. Eggs boxes are adeal for this. However, you can use any container for this (I often use seed trays if I don’t have egg boxes available. You only want a few sprouts on each potato so if you have more than two, rub the smaller ones out. This avoids to much competition and a large number of smaller, inferior tubers. The sprouts should be green and strong. Keep the potatoes in a cool, light place. Never put them in the airing cupboard or other warm dark places. The sprouts will become light coloured and long and weak.

Once you have your sprouted potatoes, it is time to plant them. Potatoes like water-retentive soil with planty of organic matter for best results. If you do not have enough well rotted compost or manure for your whole plot, then dig the planting furrows deep and put a layer of compost in the bottom. Do not lime your potatoe plot as potatoes prefer an acid soil.

Planting time for potatoes depends upon where you live and the method you are using. The earliest crops can be grown under black polythene in late winter. This is an ideal deep bed method. Plant the early varieties in early to mid spring. You plant these in rows 2 ft apart with the tubers 12 ins aprt and about 6 ins deep.  Maincrop potatoes are planted at the same time but the rows are spaced 2ft 6ins apart and the tubers are 15ins apart.

If the shoots appear before the frosts are over, cover them with soil to protect them from frosts. When the shoots are 6- 8ins tall spread a handful of blood, fish and bonemeal along each row and earth up by putting the earth between the rows over the shots, leaving a fraction of an inch showing. You can repeat this process once of twice more. This is very god for controlling weeds and it also ensures the tubers do not push up into the light. If tubers do push up, then cover them with soil. If tubers see light they turn green and become poisonous.

Early potatoes are harvested when they flower. Take only what you need immediately, leaving the rest to grow on. Maincrop varieities are harvested in mid autumn. Cut the foliage back and put it on the compost. However, if there is any sign od disease in the foliage, burn it.

Potatoes are afected by eelworms, wireworms, potato blight, scab and a number of other diseases. These are all either avoidable by buying the right tubers or are curable.