After several weeks without any significant rain last night we had 21mm enough to create puddles and fill all the water tanks. The potatoes have visibly grown during the day and everything looks green and healthy.
The spring onion White Lisbon and the Radish Bacchus only sown 6 days ago are up as are the Little Gem lettuce and the Lollo Rosso. We’re looking forward already to fresh salad from the garden.
I have sown the first Parsnip Tender and True; this seems to do very well here and overwinters nicely in the ground. I shall do another row in a couple of weeks. The cabbage Hispi and Red Jewel and beetroot Boltardy seeds sowed in cells will be ready to go out in about a week, then I shall do a second sowing of them as well. The runner beans are out as they were growing very quickly, the second sowing will go out a in a few weeks to stagger the crop a little.
The spring garden is all finished and everything is growing very fast now for the summer. Bearded iris, Peony, Alliums and Perennial wallflowers are all colouring up. Soon it will be planting out for the bedding and tubs. Have bought some colourful pots today and will fill them with Garden Ready plants as I do not have enough greenhouse space to grow on small plugs. The pots are destined for decorating a wedding venue in August so I have got to get that right!
The tomato plants in the conservatory have started to produce their first flowers so it is time to move them into their growing space. I use re- useable Tomato growing bags and fill them with good quality compost mixed with some home grown compost, I like them because they give plenty of depth to plant deeply. This encourages the plants to put down extra roots which in turn makes for a stronger more productive plant. I also use collars around each plant this acts as a reservoir when you water and allows the water to seep into the bag slowly. I can fit 12 plants in the greenhouse and then have pots outside with about five more plants including my favourite bush tomato Red Alert.
The cucumbers, squash and courgettes have all germinated over the last week. I use large yoghurt pots for sowing in; this gives them plenty of depth to get a good root system going. They can stay indoors for a bit longer, until at least the end of May when we can be sure there will not be hard frost.
Having covered the potatoes last week because of the expected cold spell, they needed uncovering today, plenty of new growth so I shall be out there tomorrow ‘earthing up’. There was a little frost damage on a few of the leaves but nothing serious.
We are eating fresh asparagus almost every day, if you have the patience to wait for two years it is a very rewarding crop to grow. A little weeding feeding and mulching in the winter and it will be growing for the next 15- years.
The flower beds are looking lovely, the Perennial Wallflowers with the Forget me Nots are one of my favourite sights. Two years ago I started off a Wisteria to grow into a free standing tree. It has flowered this year for the first time and looks a picture. When it has reached a respectable size I shall transfer it to the garden, maybe near the replacement pond we are constructing but that is another story……
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
So last month we had spawnography, and this month we have tit wars! Honestly it’s like Animal Farm out there! We have two nesting boxes and a number of nesting pouches in the trees, but it seems the only Des Res worth considering is the one in the apple tree. So, the great tits, who have been nesting in it practically every year since we moved in, are now being dive bombed by the blue tits, who sit (perch?) in wait in the tree canopy, ready to mob them every time they try to roost. But my money is still on the GTs, as the BTs seem too flighty (haha get it?) to me, veering off in the direction of the bird table at a moment’s notice.
I’ve never had so many birds in the garden as this spring; David loves the ones I mentioned above, but my heart belongs to the robin. When I’m working in the garden I can see him he flittering about in the corner of my eye, singing so quietly it’s almost as if he is humming to himself. He has another more sinister side to him though; I can see why people say that robins peck the eyes out of new-born lambs. Jitterbug our Devon Rex cat, whose intensions are not good when it comes to our feathered friends, has a love hate relationship with Robin. Being separated by only the wire netting of the catatorium, they torment each other at every opportunity.
So having said in my last Blog that all the hard work was done, I can now officially eat my hat! I have always shied away from lifting and dividing if I can possibly help it but this year I have had to knuckle down to some serious hard graft. Scuttelaria, liriope, day lillies, flag irises and phormium just got completely out of hand. I had to use my First World War trenching tool just to prize them out of the ground! When it came to splitting up the clumps I had to use David’s heavy duty saw as my dainty hand saw just bent under the strain. The phormium and flag iris divided into over a dozen new plants each, and the day lilies were so heavy it took the two of us to lift them out of the border. Doc Page, esteemed Chairman (person, sorry!) of our Hort Soc – he of the immaculate hostas – donated a sackful of divisions that had to be split again just to be able to pot them up into 6” pots. The Three Cannas, still bursting out of their cut off dustbin sacks, are pushing out vigorous shoots in all directions and will have to be divided an’all. But oh, the number of plants I have propagated for our plant sales is mounting up apace. Ka-ching! Think of all that money we will raise for the NGS this summer.
This positively tropical weather has brought the garden on so fast I can’t keep up. I am not allowed to switch on the irrigation system as David is painting the summer house (Project Beach Hut is well under way, more of that next time) and the roof terrace tends to leak water down the outer walls. Nor may I have access to the hose as its mount has been removed from said walls for same reason. So it’s the watering can and moi. Now that we have stripped back most of the clematis Montana from the pergola all the pots of ferns have suddenly become exposed to direct sunlight and keep wilting pathetically. I have to say that the cats love their new sunny spots: It was especially thoughtful of me to leave the black fleece on the cannas so that Jitterbug could enjoy the afternoon sun in comfort. (Cannas not so happy, having lost all their new tips in the process).
Progress of a kind is being made in the greenhouse now that the mice have finally vacated. (Not so much as a backward glance.) So now that it’s safe to uncover the seedlings do I switch off the heated propagators and risk damping off (I know all the technical terms y’know) or leave them on and roast them to a crisp? Off, and I’ll take my chances. So far so good. I haven’t managed to kill the tomato seedlings yet, in fact they have even developed their first proper pair of leaves, and last year’s begonia tubers are sprouting nicely too. Dozens of T & M plugs have been potted up, some mini plugs doubling up per 10cm pot. Oh for those surplus containers that were tossed asunder for taking up too much space last autumn. So far Bidens Collection 15 Postiplugs are putting on the strongest growth, and this year I was ready with the slug pellets to protect Petunia ‘Romantic Mini Rosebud Peachy’, which got devoured within their first fortnight last spring.
I’ve raised four seedlings of Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ ready for the allotment next month, and the broad beans were transplanted onto the plot last weekend. (Do any women actually like broad beans? Mr B loves’em. I recon it’s a man thing). One long row of Pea ‘Terrain’ seeds were sown a couple of weeks ago, followed by a parallel row of Pea ‘Eddy’ seeds, sown by my allotment partners Rose and Ed – we’ve decided to conduct a controlled experiment, nothing to do with competitiveness or one-upmanship at all! Talking of which, last weekend it was like a holiday camp down there, never seen so many plot holders in one go; nothing at all to do with the imminent site inspection, I’m sure. Truth be told, I feel put to shame; on the one half of our small plot the soil has been turned and manured to perfection but on my side of the plot the soil surface has at best been scratched. Clearly I believe in the No Dig method. (Actually I believe in the No Work method, however I am in the minority here.) I brought home armfuls of daffs from previous years’ transplanting, and will add this year’s assortment of T&M jonquils, currently flowering their hearts out and wafting their fragrance all over the patio.
For this Spring’s trials, I have just received a new T&M potato variety, complete with Incredicompost, Incredibloom fertiliser and grow bags, as well as a couple of experimental varieties of cosmos and poppy to grow from seed. Well within my comfort zone and not too likely to embarrass me with poor results Oh well I will just have to rake my cut flower bed to a fine tilth and get down to it. Still, ever the optimist, here we go…..
And in conclusion, this month’s star performance goes to Erysimum Red Jep and Coronilla glauca Citrina. Happy gardening, love, Caroline
Being a plant breeder and having a young family doesn’t leave me a lot of time for leisure gardening, but still, as an unashamed plant geek, I can’t resist indulging in a few plants and veg. This month is all about a humble potato.
In early February I started chitting tubers of a very special potato on my windowsill: La Bonnotte. Being French you may think I am a bit biased, but of all the potato varieties I have ever had the chance of tasting, this definitely tops my gourmet list. Sautéed whole in their skin, simply with salted butter and herbes de Provence, they are truly divine, with an unforgettable sea-like, sweet, citrusy and chestnutty note. It’s important to cook them in their skins to keep the taste, but the inward eyes would make peeling almost impossible anyway. I had ordered 2kg of seed potato and when they arrived, I was very tempted to cook some straight away… This was far worse than the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but I shall wait until harvest time!
La Bonnotte is normally grown on the small island of Noirmoutier, where the light sandy soil, oceanic microclimate and the addition of seaweed all participate in developing the unique flavour. It may also have to do with the absolute TLC every plant receives: La Bonnotte is planted by hand using the old technique of lazy beds – definitely not for the lazy gardener – which are essentially wide, parallel raised beds without any wooden borders. On the mere 5 hectares where they are grown, the tubers are planted on the 2nd of February and harvested before maturity 90 days later. The backbreaking job of harvesting and severing the growing tubers from the mother plant is again all done manually; machine harvest would just ruin the soft skins and delicate aromas.
With the mechanisation of agriculture in the 60s, La Bonnotte very nearly became extinct, but it was saved in extremis by passionate Noirmoutier growers and the INRA in the 90s. By April 1996, it was ready to go back on the market to the delight of chefs and gourmets alike. The first hand-harvested crop of 5 kg was auctioned and fetched the incredible price of €2,300, making La Bonnotte the most expensive potato in the world. Nowadays the price is more like €10 a kilo for the very first ones, still a high price for a spud!
Now back to reality. I very much doubt I’ll have the time and dedication to build lazy beds and add Irish moss seaweed when my own La Bonnotte tubers are finally ready for planting. I think I’ll plant some in the ground and some in bags. I’ll also be growing some tasty Jazzy as backup and comparison. Suffolk is a tad colder than Noirmoutier so I plan on planting in early March and won’t be able to taste them until the end of May. By then I’ll know if La Bonnotte tastes just as good without the influence of the sea, even if in Noirmoutier it has been nicknamed pomme de mer.
Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.
Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser
Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice. For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.
Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked
When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.
Ph tester kit & potato growing bags
When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.
Potato sacks – paper & hessian
It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.
Plannting and lifting guide times
Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!
Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.
Innovative Egg & Chips® plant makes the finals in two of gardening’s most prestigious floral awards
Thompson & Morgan is celebrating a second time in as many weeks, following the industry success of its latest dual cropping creation, Egg & Chips®.
The innovative potato and aubergine graft has been well received by all sectors of the industry and customers alike, with strong sales in its first season on the market. Already an announced finalist in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year, the Ipswich-based seed and plant specialist has just been informed that Egg & Chips® has also been shortlisted as one of the five finalists in the prestigious Fleuroselect Fleurostar awards.
Egg & Chips®
Traditionally a bedding plant event, organisers where so impressed with the unique attributes of Egg & Chips® that it is being pitted against four new floral creations in this year’s ceremony; Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy’, Dahlia x hybrida ‘Dahlegria Red Yellow Bicolor’, Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Capitán Colón’ and Begonia hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’.
Thompson & Morgan new product development manager, Michael Perry said; “We’re really pleased to see recognition being given to this very special creation. Previous finalists of these two prestigious awards, such as Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’, have gone on to become top-sellers for the industry, so expect to see Egg & Chips® widely grown on allotments, patios and gardens across the UK. Our recent focus on dual cropping vegetable plants has opened up home growing to everyone. Both our Egg & Chips® and Tomtato® plants allow home grown crops to be produced in the smallest of spaces. As long as you have room for a large patio pot, you have the space to grow your own potatoes and aubergines or potatoes and tomatoes.”
Egg & Chips®
Michael says these quirky plants could be the answer to encouraging the next generation of gardeners too. He adds: “These plants really capture the imagination of children. Grow Egg & Chips® with your kids or grandkids this summer and see their amazement as they harvest large shiny aubergines from the top and a crop of large white potatoes from the pot below.”
Egg & Chips®
The FleuroStar Contest will be held at nine locations in The Netherlands and Germany as part of the annual Flower Trials open days. More than 30 professionals working in plant breeding, production and retail, as well as trade journalists and marketing specialists, will choose the ‘Winner with the Wow Factor’ based on the highest average score on commercial potential and point of sale attractiveness. The winner will be announced on 16th June at the Green Inspiration Event at RAI Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Egg and Chips® can be grown outside in a sunny sheltered spot and will crop right through to the first frosts of autumn – even longer if you can bring the pot indoors later in the season. So there is still time to grow Egg & Chips® this season. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com and search ‘Egg & Chips®’ to order yours.