So this week is National Allotment week, it brings back happy memories of my first allotment that we decided would be a wonderful idea ( myself and my partner at the time), we would be self sufficient in vegetables and it would be such fun to do!
Oh my goodness…..
We were really lucky as some local allotments out where I live in (very) rural Suffolk hadn’t been used for years and so were quickly available. In fact, we were told we could have two! So I quickly drove to see the local chap who ran the allotments and handed over my £10 for the year for both ( I know, how cheap was that!) and we were on our way.
Humming the tune to “The Good Life” we went down, armed with spades, hoes and various tools that we thought we’d need, we had seen the allotments from the footpath but never actually set foot on them until now. It turned out that a more suitable variety of tools would have been dynamite, a JCB and a flame thrower! Mare’s tail was everywhere, bindweed, fat hen towering over our heads, nettles galore and brambles that were actually deliberately trying to trip us at every opportunity. However – my partner and I were determined to make a start, and we did just that, slashing digging raking all commenced in earnest! Followed by bonfires and flasks of tea, rolls, oh, and blisters, hot baths and plasters too.
It was incredibly worth it though, after clearing the worst, we hired a huge tiller and we turned over the whole site, raked and removed root clumps, tilled again and repeated over and over for an entire weekend until we actually had a useable area.
We couldn’t wait to plant all sorts, starting with onion sets brassicas, lots of spuds and even butternut squashes, peas, beans and a pumpkin that we’d been growing in the greenhouse back at home.
I won’t say it was easy, but my goodness it was rewarding, being able to go down to the allotment after work, a flask of tea and some snacks and do some gardening was good for the soul, being able to sit and look over the river in the distance after doing a couple of hours’ weeding felt like an accomplishment and eating the fruits of our labours (literally) was the best feeling in the world. That was usually after giving away loads of fresh veg to our neighbours too! Who knew that 15 years later, I’d be lucky enough to work at Thompson & Morgan and be reminded today of those amazing days.
What were your first experiences of allotmenteering ? I’d love to hear them, feel free to share in the comments below.
All the best
A quick update from the garden after the growing season.
So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.
Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.
Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!
The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).
Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.
Growing roses from seeds is not the fastest method for propagating roses but has several advantages. Roses from seeds take a little longer but then you end up developing a new set of varieties. Professional hybridisers select a new line of easy to grow and disease resistant rose to propagate. However, for you, each seedling will be a surprise when they finally bloom. It is like opening your birthday present when you were a kid. You never really knew what to expect! That is the same feeling seeing those little seedlings opens up for the first time.
There are several processes one must follow when growing roses from seeds. For professionals, the process starts in the garden where they monitor the flowering and pollination process as they choose favorite varieties. For our case, we will start with the seed collection process.
The rose hips must be allowed to develop on the plant for at least four months for them to fully ripen. They have to be collected in autumn, cutting them off using the right garden tool. You can use cuticle scissors or tweezers to cut them off before cleaning them.
Rosehips ready for collecting
The ripened rose hip is then placed on a clean cutting board and cut in half to remove the seeds. Place the seeds in a clean container. Add some diluted bleach to kill off any bacteria and fungus spores. You can make the bleach by mixing drinking water with two teaspoons of household bleach. Stir the seeds well before rinsing them and using bottled water to remove all the bleach. To further clean and disinfect the seeds, put them in the container and add some hydrogen peroxide. The seeds can be soaked for up to 24 hours before rinsing them with clean water to clear all the hydrogen peroxide.
Collecting rose seeds
Soaking the seeds is a crucial step if your seeds will germinate properly and stay clear of any diseases. You MUST not mix the bleach with the hydrogen peroxide as this results in a chemical reaction. 3% peroxide for 24 hours is just fine. This is also a good time to perform the water float test. Remove all seeds that float as they might not be viable.
Starting the rose seeds
Before growing the roses from seed, the seeds have to undergo a period of stratification. This is a cold moist storage that gets the seeds ready for germination.
Chilling your seeds in a refrigerator for about six to ten weeks encourages them to germinate faster once planted. However, you must take care to avoid keeping them cold for long as they can germinate while still in the refrigerator. Place your seeds on a paper towel before moistening them. Use half purified water and half peroxide to prevent the growth of mould. You can then place them in a plastic zippered bag, mark the date and variety before placing in a refrigerator set at 1 to 3 degrees C. The paper towel should remain moist for the entire period. You can check occasionally to see if it needs remoistening. Make sure you don’t freeze the towel.
There are other ways to stratify the seeds like planting them in a tray of potting mix and refrigerating the entire tray for weeks. The tray is usually enclosed in a plastic bag to keep it moist.
Planting your seeds
When you think your seeds are ready for planting (6-10 weeks), remove the bag from the refrigerator if that was your stratification method. You will need shallow trays or small pots to plant your seeds. Whatever works between the trays and pots is fine as long they have good drainage. The ideal size of the trays or pots should be 3-4 inches deep.
You can use separate trays when planting seeds from different varieties of rose hips. You must follow your labeling all the way down from harvesting, treatment, and planting. The rose bush name and planting date are some of the details to indicate on your trays or pots.
Next fill your trays or pots with the potting soil. You can opt to use 50% sterile potting soil and 50% vermiculite, or half peat and half perlite. When the potting mix is ready in the trays or pots, this is the time to take off your seeds from the towel. Remember the seeds must not be removed from the plastic bag until they are ready to be planted. You lightly dust them before planting.
Place your seeds about ¼ inch into the soil and dust the surface again to prevent the damp off disease that kills seeds. Water them properly and place them outside in direct sunlight. If there is frost, it is advised you place your seeds under a tree or in a sheltered part of the patio to protect them. There is no need for grow lights.
Keep the soil pots or trays watered but not soggy. Do not let them dry up as this might affect the germination of your seeds.
Watch for germination
After about six weeks, the first two seed leaves will start to emerge before the true leaves can emerge. The seedling must have three to four true leaves before they can be ready for transplanting.
Planting your seedlings
Seedlings coming through the soil
When the seedlings are grown a few inches tall with at least three true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted. You can transplant them into a four-inch pot of your liking. You don’t have to plant all your seedlings but only the healthy ones. You can choose to monitor them on the tray and only transplant them when they have outgrown it.
You must monitor the seedlings as they grow in their new pots for colour, form, bush size, branching, and disease resistance. Roses with weak, unhealthy or unattractive flowers can be discarded. It will take your new seedlings at least three years before they reach maturity and develop into a big bush. However, the first flower can be seen after one or two years.
Rose floribunda ‘Blue For You’ & Rose ‘Easy Elegance – Yellow Brick’ Shrub Rose
Garden tools you will need to grow your rose seeds:
• Cotton buds
• Tweezers and cuticle scissors
• Clear plastic film canisters
• Labels for the paper and plastic bag
• Wax pencil or black permanent marker pen
Growing roses from seeds appears a pretty long process but one that is rewarding when you follow all the steps as indicated. If you are a great DIY fan, then this is a nice project for you to enjoy as you brighten your outdoor space with blooming roses.
Just because we have nearly reached the shortest day does not mean to say that we should only eat sprouts, cabbage and leeks between now and springtime.
With a few small pots of multi-purpose compost, a bright windowsill or cool glasshouse and as little TLC, we can all have a succession of yummy salad leaves to add to our five a day.
Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ & Leek ‘Autumn Giant 2 – Porvite
Flicking through the 2017 Thompson & Morgan catalogue, you do not have to look very far before you find Spinach ‘Perpetual,’ eaten cooked or raw, and Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ to give you a quick start. If you fancy growing your own pea shoots (they will need a few days in the dark to get them to start germinating) or spring onion seedlings to lift a posh meal to another level, why not give them a try.
If you like that wonderful peppery flavour that rocket gives, try Wasabi Rocket to spice up a boring lettuce salad. Add some colour to the salad with a few Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’ leaves. With a little more heat, up to 15° C and light you might try one or two of the fabulous basil varieties that are listed amongst the herbs. Coriander leaves can also be grown with that little extra TLC.
Lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’ & Turnip ‘Oasis’
If you like something unusual, try growing Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ and throw the leaves into a stir fry.
Check out the pages on Salad leaves for a whole collection of other salad leaves to try. If you have a cool glasshouse (10°C) with a soil bed or similar and a little more patience, why not try growing some white salad Turnip ‘Oasis,’ sown in early January. Harvest from April onwards.
Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ & Spring Onion ‘Feast’ F1 Hybrid
Remember that all most of these salads need is a bright windowsill, temperatures of between 10 and 12°C. Many are best being grown in shallow pots to avoid excessive use of compost – the plants will only be in the compost for 6 to 8 weeks and so do not need large volumes of compost.
Whichever ones you grow, enjoy your winter salads and look forward to growing more as winter turns to spring.
With the onset of the cold weather it is important to consider protecting your plants from the frost which will no doubt be on the way. Inadequate frost protection has killed too many plants, so don’t get caught out this winter, as we know the weather can change in a matter of days.
As the temperature starts to drop the cells in plants can freeze, this blocks vital fluid movement so plants no longer receive nutrients. Ice forming in cell walls will eventually dry and the plant will no doubt die. Ice can also cause sections of the plant to die back. When weather warms the thawing process damages plants. Damage is easy to see. The foliage is usually affected first, becoming discoloured, and wilting. The stem will eventually blacken and the plant turns brown and crispy.
Choosing plants wisely to begin with will always be the best method of prevention. If you live in an area that suffers from heavy frosts, extreme weather or gets water logged then buy plants that can withstand this type of environment if possible. However, if you are taken by surprise with adverse weather conditions at Thompson & Morgan we have products to aid plant protection.
Bell boy cloche & pastic tunnel cloche
Move your containers and pots with specimen plants, such as palms, to a sheltered spot in the garden. Another protection tip is to move them off the ground. Put small pieces of wood or legs underneath the pots. This will stop the roots getting cold, and the plant from becoming waterlogged. A bell boy cloche can be added on top of smaller plants.
With heavy brassicas, such as Cabbage ‘Savoy King,’ brussels sprouts, draw up soil around the base of the stem to prevent movement. If the wind does manage to rock them this can cause damage and prevent them from providing a healthy crop in the spring. Once you have drawn the soil up then add netting over them to protect them from the pigeons.
On cold nights apply horticultural fleece to hardy salad crops such as Lettuce ‘Winter Gem’ and Salad Leaves ‘Land Cress’ and Corn Salad ‘Cavallo.’ This will protect them from the harshest of the cold weather, which can blacken the leaves, or even kill them completely.
Netting & Horticultural fleece
Potted plants that can stay out over the winter can be grouped together in a sheltered spot. Put horticultural fleece, and they can be stored in a cold frame if you have one. Cold frames are usually used to protect hardy young plants such as Stenocarpus sinuatus. It is a good idea to add in any plants that are susceptible to rotting in cold, wet conditions.
If you soil is heavy clay then it could be an idea to keep some of your winter vegetables such as carrots and pak choi in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.
Cold frame & Lean-to greenhouse
Tender perennials such as Coleus ‘Kong Mixed’ or geraniums should be lifted and stored in the greenhouse and given extra protection with horticultural fleece, and in some cases, a heated greenhouse. This type of warmth will encourage good root growth through the cold months.
Straw can be used to protect plants that cannot be moved indoors. A cloche or mini tunnel will also add extra protection from freezing conditions. Fruit such as strawberries can be covered with straw and broken twigs, this stops the frost from getting at their roots.
Moving deciduous trees and shrubs, or fruit trees while dormant, avoids damage. This allows them to be settled in to their before they start to grow again. So if you are thinking of moving a tree or shrub from one part of the garden to another, now is the time to do it.
A well documented tip during winter is to try not to over water your plants. Just a small amount every so often has proved to be the best way to keep your plants happy during this time of year.
Good luck with your over wintering. If you have any good tips for our new gardeners, please let us know.