I have just potted on thirty six tomato seedlings of seven varieties. Mountain Magic for its blight resistance, Country Taste for those big tasty fruits, Sweet Aperitif and Sungold for the delicious little mouthfuls, Red Alert a bush tomato that fruits very early on the bench outside and San Marzano for the best tasting pasta sauce to see me through the year.
I also spent some time in the sunshine yesterday digging bean trenches and filling them with compost from the heap, it will have time to settle before putting in the canes. The chickens enjoyed that, pulling out a few worms, wireworms, ants and those tiny black slugs that only they seem to see.
More compost was laid on the flower beds around the herbaceous perennials and shrubs to help keep down the weeds and retain moisture. We do have very dry summers here in East Anglia and every drop of water is precious. Three IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks with a watering system attached are in the fruit and vegetable garden but the flowers have to fend for themselves so mulching is a great help. We channel all our surface water collected in water butts to a large underground storage tank and from there it can be pumped into the IBC’s throughout the season. How lucky am I to have a very practical husband!
The vegetable garden is looking a little sorry for itself at the moment. The last of the winter roots and leeks and brassicas are waiting to be harvested and there are a few weeds showing now. Nothing that a dry, sunny winters day cannot sort out. I have heavy clay soil so I use long planks resting on the side of the raised beds to work on to prevent compacting the soil, which has had some good productive frosts this year breaking up the clods.
The autumn planted garlic and shallots have benefited from the frosts as well and are looking good. So too are the autumn sown Aquadulce Claudia Broad beans. I always get a nice early crop which means some for us and the rest for the freezer and the ground can then be used for the spring onions, lettuces and radishes which I plant in the spaces between the old bean stalks that stay in the ground making nitrogen nodules on their roots to feed the brassicas next year.
I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my potato tubers, egg boxes are ready for chitting on the conservatory window sill, The ground for these will be dug over after the last red cabbage and sprouts have gone.
The garden has suffered with plenty of slugs over the last couple of years so I am very diligent about cleaning up leaves weeds and old plant stems where they like to hide. Any that I do find go straight into the chicken run where they are devoured with relish! Chickens are very good re-cyclers, they love all the outside leaves from the brassicas , swede tops and fallen fruit which they instantly turn into quality manure which is added to the compost along with the nest box material and newspapers I use to line their sleeping quarters. My reward lovely fresh eggs every day to share with family and friends.
Seeds for the season have arrived so I must dust off the propagator to set the peppers and tomatoes at the end of the month. How quickly it all comes round!
With spud prices set to soar for retailers and consumers, Thompson & Morgan brings down the price of seed potatoes and repeats its mantra to ‘grow your own’.
According to sources such as the Financial Times (Feb. 3 2017) and London-based data firm, Mintec (30 Jan. 2017), UK potato prices are up 30% year-on-year due to a decline in production. Their figures show a reduction in UK potato output for 2016/17 of 5%, whilst yields for the 2016/17 season are estimated to be down 8% on last year due to adverse weather conditions seen throughout the growing season. At 5.2 million tonnes, the total UK potato crop was the fourth smallest on records going back to the 1960s. (AHDB Potatoes analysis)
However, while retailers and consumers keep a keen eye on rising potato prices, horticultural mail order company, Thompson & Morgan has brought its seed potato prices DOWN for the 2017 season. As an example, the firm cites one of its most popular potato varieties, Lady Christl. Last year, a bag of 60 tubers of this favourite, creamy-fleshed, easy-to-grow variety was selling for £12.99; this year a 4kg bag containing 64-72 tubers is selling for £9.99 – that’s a per tuber drop in price of 23%!
“I really urge people – gardeners or not – to have a go at growing their own potatoes”, says Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s resident potato expert. “Not only does it look likely that potato prices will go up in the shops, but you know what you’re eating when you grow your own. There’s no need to worry about the pesticides, the food miles, the months spent piled up in storage – you just dig up tasty, wholesome spuds from your garden or allotment”.
And you don’t even need a garden or an allotment; you can easily grow potatoes on your patio or balcony. There really is nothing like the satisfaction of tipping a crop of home-grown potatoes out of a handy grow bag just in time for supper.
For Thompson & Morgan’s full range of potatoes, go to http://www.thompson-morgan.com/potatoes-inspiration and for tips on growing potatoes at home, look at T&M’s handy guides How to grow potatoes in the ground, How to grow potatoes in bags and Potato Selector Guide.
Hope you are all well. I’m writing this from the comfort of my living room as Storm Doris rages across the UK. Luckily there is no damage to the greenhouses but our rotary washing line has snapped in two.
In Welsh February is sometimes known as “Y Mis Bach” meaning little month or short month, so maybe it’s not a coincidence that February’s flower is the primrose, a short little thing that brings a lot of cheer. Our primroses aren’t flowering yet, but I do have Bergenia, Daffs, Crocuses the purple Daphne in flower. The Dutch Iris leaves are at least two feet high as are the flag irises. The Japanese Maple and weeping cherry tree has tiny buds forming. Last year’s tulips in pots are magically regrowing and are a few inches high already.
I’m afraid I’m behind in my seed planting, all because of Valentine’s Day, no I wasn’t treated to a romantic break at a luxury Parisian hotel. I spent it at hospital having my tumour removed as part of my final cancer treatment, now although I am allowed in the garden I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a cup for 4 weeks and then nothing heavier than a bag of sugar for a further 12 weeks. I’m determined my blog is not going to have to be renamed A Year Not Allowed in the Greenhouse, so again I will be recruiting Mark to do the jobs for me.
The following is a list of things to be done by the end of the month:
- Sow tomato and herb seeds.
- Plant the Gladioli bulbs that I have been delivered early.
- Send someone up the garden centre for aubergine seeds.
- Sow the seed potatoes that have chitted themselves in my food cupboard
- Plant up the Camellia my Auntie Mary gave me as a get well gift.
- Plant up my Christmas Flowering shrub collection
In the large greenhouse a clump of daffodils have shot up in one of the borders, they look very pretty but I’m not sure how the bulbs have got in there, I’m going to let them flower then when the leaves die back Mark will dig up the bulbs and plant them elsewhere in the garden. On the shelf there is a Spider plant that’s looking unhealthy I think the frosty weather got to it, however they are quite tough plants so I think if mum cuts off the dead bits it may still grow. Additionally there is an Ivy that we had for Christmas that is growing well in the basket it came in, soon it can be transplanted to our west facing wall. I love native Ivy for its scented flowers and shiny black berries, but I love it more when it’s being pollinated by bees, wasps, butterflies and hover-flies as the whole wall sounds like it’s being electrified. It’s a great place too for spiders to hunt in, and often at the base where the Ivy is at its thickest both the wren and the blackbirds dart in and out looking for tasty bugs.
In the small greenhouse I’m still waiting for my seeds to germinate, again due frosty weather and me being over keen to get things growing I may have sown them to early. The aloes are starting to respond to the longer days and do not appear to be as dark a green as they were last month. However, part of the money tree has broken off and the leaves have turned a bit yellow. We cut out all the dead bits so I’m hoping it just a phase and it will pick up again.
Soon it will be St David’s Day, (1st March) and this is usually the start of spring for me. Growing up in St David’s we would celebrate the day in the way youngsters down there still do; girls dressing in traditional Welsh Woman’s costume of a skirt, thick shawl and black bonnet, and boys with thick shorts/trousers shirts and flat caps, then with morning lessons cut short to attend a celebration day mass at the Cathedral, each child or adult would have either a fresh daffodil or piece of leek attached to their lapel. After the service we would walk the half mile back from the cold cathedral to school for a warming bowl of Cawl, (Thick root vegetables, potatoes and meat broth) bread and cheese, followed by Hot Welsh Cakes. Perfect. From then on adult conversations would change from the hardships of winter to early potatoes and lambing. I moved from St David’s in my 20s but went back to visit just before my operation I went to St Non’s healing well which is reputed to have sprung up on the day St David was born. There was a beautiful clump of snowdrops on the
path down to the well and I was so tempted to pick some I love flowers in the wild.
My nieces have informed me that they are having a potato growing competition at home. They are trying the Albert Bartlett variety, but they told me they spent ages with daddy looking at the different ones in the shops. I told them I would be growing Charlottes as they make a delicious potato salad. I will let you know what their results are, the girls are pretty competitive so I’m sure there will be a lot of stories along the way.
The final gardening thing that I have done this month is to send off for sone free tree seeds from the Woodland Trust. They recently sent an email explaining they would like volunteers to take part in growing, monitoring and reporting on five different species and I was lucky enough to be able to take part. The seeds come in their own plug of compost with detailed instructions on how to germinate them and bring the saplings on. I did think carefully about whether or not I have room for five more trees as we already have a weeping cherry, a standard cherry, a Japanese maple,a Canadian maple, plus two dwarf apples and a dwarf pear, and a yet to fruit plum tree. I also have many shrubs including the four new ones, but in the end I decided I will use them to make a new native hedge between us and next door, it will take a few years for them to reach maturity and it will be a long term project to look forward to.
Until next month,
Love Amanda xx
An odd-looking tuber vegetable is proving to be a surprise best-seller for mail order horticultural firm, Thompson & Morgan.
Oca is a knobbly root vegetable that looks a bit like an artichoke. Don’t worry though; they don’t have the same windy after effect! The tubers have a tangy lemon taste which becomes deliciously nuttier when cooked. The red-skinned variety available from T&M have a crisp pale orange or creamy-coloured flesh – fans of ‘eating raw’ can simply wash and slice their oca tubers into salads or crunch them as a tasty and wholesome snack. Oca becomes more starchy when cooked and can be enjoyed similarly to potatoes – boiled, baked, mashed and fried – whilst the shoots and the attractive shamrock-shaped leaves can be added to salads for a tasty citrusy tang.
‘We think that people are buying oca in response to more information being available about it’, commented Paul Hansord, T&M’s commercial director. ‘Oca is easy-to-grow and nutritious and, thanks to some good press recently, it seems to be increasingly appealing to health-conscious gardeners and foodies alike’.
Oca – aka New Zealand yam (it is grown commercially in New Zealand, hence its alternative moniker) – is cultivated extensively in the Andes where it is second only to the potato in terms of the most widely-grown root vegetable. T&M’s trials showed that the perennial oca plant performed well in the UK climate and did not suffer from blight or any noticeable pests. Oca is known to tolerate poor soils and different climatic conditions, which makes it ideal for any British kitchen garden. Plants are attractive too, so gardeners can also cultivate their oca in containers on the patio or decking area.
The nutritional and health-promoting benefits of oca make it well worth growing. It boasts a wide range of micro and macro nutrients including Vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, flavonoids, B vitamins and fibre. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates and phosphorus, as well as essential amino acids that promote the health and proper function of muscles, organs, nails, hair, skin and more. Oca is also notably low in calories.
Oca or New Zealand yam is available from Thompson & Morgan’s website www.thompson-morgan.com/oca . Due to the popularity of this nutritious, knobbly tuber and as T&M is only despatching oca until the end of March, customers are being offered 5 tubers for £4.50 and 10 tubers for £6.50 – half their original price. Gardeners will find full growing details for oca on the T&M website www.thompson-morgan.com//how-to-grow-oca-new-zealand-yam
Rosemary roasted oca: Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Wash and then cut any larger oca into chunks so that they’re all roughly the same size. Toss in just enough olive or sunflower oil to coat and then sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes for very small ones, 20-25 minutes or so for larger oca. They’re ready when they feel tender when pierced with a knife.
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.