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How to store home grown vegetables

Make the most of your home grown veg by storing it correctly
Image source: Shutterstock

There is plenty to harvest from the vegetable plot, and if you have a glut it might not be possible to eat them all at once. To enjoy vegetables throughout autumn and winter it’s vital to store them correctly. Here’s our simple guide to storing your home grown vegetables.

Keep vegetables fresher for longer

Separate bad veg to enjoy the ‘fresh from the garden’ taste for longer
Image source: Zaretskaya Svetlana

It’s important that no damaged or rotting vegetables are put into storage. Over time, damaged fruit or veg will infect any vegetables nearby, causing them to rot. This bears out the old adage ‘a bad apple spoils the bunch.’ There’s no need to waste damaged produce – if you have vegetables which are less than perfect, simply set them aside to use first.

Only place completely dry vegetables in storage. It’s best not to wash vegetables with water before they are stored. Instead, any excess dirt should be gently brushed off. Cut off any top growth from root vegetables before storage.

These general rules apply to all veg, but different vegetables dictate different methods of storage. For example, two of our favourite crops, onions and potatoes, are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to the best methods of storing them.

How to store potatoes

Potatoes must be kept away from light
Image source: Shutterstock

It is crucial that potatoes are stored in a dark, and ideally cool place. Light causes potatoes to produce chlorophyll, which produces solanine, a natural toxin present in green potatoes which causes an upset stomach. You mustn’t eat green potatoes.

Once the potatoes have been lifted, they should be cleaned of soil and only put into storage once dry. A good storage area for potatoes – and a number of other vegetables – is in a garage because it’s a cool, frost-free space.

Potatoes store well in hessian sacks, or if these are not to hand, a box or potato sacks can be used with layers of newspaper to exclude all light and to ensure that the tubers remain dry. An ideal storage combination would be hessian or potato sacks inside a container that excludes light, left slightly open to allow air circulation.

Like many root crops, potatoes need to be kept cool. Greenhouses and conservatories are not recommended, as they tend to be too light.

Storing alliums: leeks, onions and garlic

Plaiting garlic and onions is a practical and attractive storage method
Image source: Mattis Kaminer

Onions and garlic need to be kept dry and stored in the light. Traditionally, onions are lifted and left resting on the soil for a few days to dry, which is all very well if your harvest coincides with a dry spell. Since our weather is often capricious, it’s best to lay out onions and garlic to dry indoors or under glass. This usually takes up to a week.

Onions and garlic can be strung together or woven into decorative plaits and stored. Once the top growth has dried out it will plait easily. Start with the large onions or garlic bulbs and plait in descending size ending with the smallest. If there is not enough top growth, weave in raffia to make more to plait with.

Although onion plaits and strings look decorative in the kitchen, it’s not an ideal storage area as it can be humid. Onions and garlic are best stored in a cool, dry environment such as a porch, conservatory, or greenhouse. Onions and garlic can also be stored in string bags or nets.

Leeks, although members of the Allium family, are different again. Leeks are best left in the ground over winter and dug up as and when required. Traditional varieties such as ‘Musselburgh’ will withstand winter and can be harvested from December to March.

Parsnips are another crop which can be left in the ground until needed, and their flavour is reputed to be better after hard frost.

Not so for carrot and beetroots, which need to be lifted in autumn before the weather turns wet and cold. There are traditional methods for storing root crops in sand and compost, but it is easier to put them in hessian sacks or string nets, and store in a cool dark place.

Turnips and Swede can be left in the ground but if your plot is wet, (and also bearing in mind the difficulties of lifting vegetables from frozen ground), both crops can be lifted and stored in the same way.

Storing peas and beans

Enjoy your petit pois for longer by freezing a glut
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

In the centuries up to our modern times, large estate houses had areas of cellars and rooms dedicated for storage to feed the family and estate workers through the winter. Today, we have freezers. Freezing is the only way to store French, runner, and broad beans, and peas including varieties such as mange tout.

These vegetables need to be prepared and blanched in boiling water for two minutes. After two minutes, drain and plunge them into ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further, and bag up into the freezer. This way you can enjoy your home-grown peas or beans with Sunday lunch for weeks to come.

How to ripen green tomatoes

Ripen green tomatoes indoors if it’s getting too cold
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Tomatoes, especially when in the greenhouse, will keep ripening until late in the season depending on the autumn weather. If you have a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, there is no need to resort to green chutney. Tomatoes will ripen indoors and be perfectly edible.

Cut good sized tomatoes on the vine as soon as the temperature begins to cool and bring indoors into the warm. Make sure the fruits you put out to ripen are all without blemish and in good condition. Lay out the vines on newspaper, ideally in a conservatory or on a warm south facing windowsill. The majority will continue to ripen over October and early November.

Whatever type of crop you are storing over winter, it is a good idea to check on them from time to time. Remove any damaged vegetables to ensure they continue to store well.

Carol Bartlett, The Sunday Gardener, lives in the north of England where she has created a diverse garden including wildflowers, natural areas, herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, trees and wetland plants, along with a vegetable plot. She has been gardening, reading, researching and photographing plants for over twenty years and her website is a popular resource for gardeners young and old.

Driftwood Garden’s Geoff Stonebanks’ trip to the Palace

Geoff Stonebanks attends Macmillan Cancer Support Volunteers Reception at Buckingham Palace, Hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace on 31 January. The event recognised and thanked exceptional volunteers for their life-changing contributions to helping people living with cancer.

The reception focused on the contribution these supporters have made, and celebrated the vital role volunteers play at Macmillan. One of our long serving customer trial members from Seaford, Geoff Stonebanks, was extremely lucky to be one of those invited to attend this prestigious event. Geoff is a local gardener and active fundraiser for the charity through his Driftwood Fundraising Group.  Macmillan said that all of those who attended had gone above and beyond their volunteer role.

Geoff raises money for The Macmillan Horizon Centre, over £54000 to date, through events in his own garden, Driftwood, and by single-handedly organising an annual Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail of approximately 25 gardens each year between Brighton and Seaford.

Geoff recounts how he brought the smile to The Prince’s face by telling him of a trick he had picked up for his own garden after a visit to Highgrove a couple of years ago. The Prince has some large urns at the back of the house which were looking a little faded and tired. As Geoff watched on, a couple of gardeners came up with a tractor and trailer loaded with pots of perfectly primed tulips, just about to burst into flower! They lifted out the tired, inner container from the urn and replaced it with one of tulips. Instant impact! This principle is something that Geoff now adopts, not on such a grand scale, in his own award-winning garden each season, where he has over 200 different containers. The Prince smiled.

Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House

Geoff said:

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and so totally unexpected. Never ever did I imagine I would visit Buckingham Palace and engage in conversation on one of my favourite pastimes with The Prince of Wales, utterly magical! Thank you, Macmillan!”

Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House

The royal connection does not end there though! Geoff was dumbstruck in January to receive an invitation to The Queen’s Royal Garden Party, also at Buckingham Palace, in June, for his services to the local community in Seaford, where he lives.

You can see Geoff’s own garden and discuss with him the tips he pinched from Highgrove when it opens 8 times for various charities this Summer. You can also see and discuss the plants he will be trialling for Thompson & Morgan too!  www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Where Have All The (Wild) Flowers Gone?

This year marks the 40th anniversary, since The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was published.  Amanda Davies looks back at her life, and asks if written today would it be as charming?

cover of the book by edith holdenEdith Blackwell Holden was a romantic ecologist as well as a celebrated artist. Born on the 26th September 1871, she was one of several children belonging to Arthur and Emma Holden, of Holden and Son’s Paint Factory in Kings Norton.   After leaving school Edith trained as an artist and took the opportunity to enhance her skills by spending a year under the tutorship of the painter Joseph Donovan Adam, at the Craighill Art School in Stirling and at the farm that he owned there, sketching the natural world.

Greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement her paintings were displayed both in the Royal Birmingham Society of Arts and The Royal Academy of Arts in 1907 and 1917.   In addition she did artwork for four volumes of The Animals Friend, a publication for the 1920’s London based charity National Council for Animal Welfare; plus illustrations for “The Three Goats Gruff” storybook when it was translated into English – a considerable feat in an age when women weren’t supposed to have careers.

From 1906 to 1909 she taught Art at the Solihull School for Girls; and it was for this reason that she made her nature notes – these recordings were never meant to be published; instead they were designed to help structure the course material for her students.  In 1911 Edith married Alfred Ernest Smith, eight years her junior; the marriage was frowned upon by her family, so they moved to Chelsea, London, where they associated with Sir George Frampton, the Countess Fedora Gleichen and King Faisal of Arabia.

Edith and Alfred were married for nine years; they didn’t have any children, and it’s reputed that when she met her untimely death on the 18th March 1920 (by falling into the Thames whilst reaching across the bank with the aid of her brolly to gather Chestnut buds to draw,) Alfred never got over it.

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holden

So how did we get access to one of the world’s most popular books?  The answer is simply down to the insightfulness of her great niece Rowena Stott; who in 1977 (when she herself was an art student,) showed the family’s most treasured pages to a publisher.  Seeing the potential of the chronological recordings of the flora and fauna in Edwardian England, it was published in its facsimile form, and has been translated into thirteen different languages; it remains number four in the world’s most popular book list of the last forty years.

In 1984 a twelve-part mini-series was broadcast on television charting her life; and she is as popular today as she ever was – her illustrations are currently being used in adult colouring books, as well as inspirational designs for the home including wallpaper, napkins, and crockery.   A leading high-street store still holds the longest continually running licence certificate to produce its annual ladies diary, based on her original works, with quotes and poems and mottos.

If Edith were alive today what would she think of the countryside now?  How many of the two-hundred and fifteen plants or seventy-six bird species she documented are around to record now?

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holden

When did you last see a Bee Orchid?   According to the Woodland Trust, they are common in marshland and native to coastal regions of Wales; you can probably name several flowers in the hedgerow, but can you identify them all?   There are native plants including clover, dead nettle and thistle in our gardens; there are many pretty weeds too; what are their names?

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holdenThere are numerous reports available suggesting that adults and children don’t spend as much time in the outdoors as they should; however, there are also a number of bodies trying to redress the balance; Natural Resources England/Wales and Scotland, have a wealth of information on things to do in the countryside, as does the Woodland Trust and Citizen Scientist too.   You can also access the Government’s website that lists all of the currently endangered plant and animal species in the UK – and important advice on legislation when it comes to protecting them.

One innovative American charity, accessible to all online, entitled Children and Nature encourages youngsters to keep a year’s worth of drawings, photographs and notes on what they see in the of the natural world starting in their own backyard.   Imagine what the results might be.  Closer to home the Facebook group 30 Days Wild encourages everybody to send in a daily update of wildlife in their area.

Possibly record a journal yourself; because who knows, just like the unassuming Edith Holden, in forty years’ time, your memoires could be important too!

 

 

 

© Amanda Jane Davies 2017.  A.449davies@btinernet.com

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

September in Pembrokshire

Welcome Everyone,

As you know from previous September blogs I love this month. I love the last of the warm sunny days, before the transformation of of Autumn, with its crisp mornings, wood-smoke, and crunchy colourful leaves.

Though this September has not been the gloriously warm and sunny days it usually is here in Pembrokeshire. Instead we have had muggy, mild and wet days. Perfect blight inducing days – yet surprisingly I haven’t had blight in the greenhouses yet.

I feel so privileged to be able to be able to go out in the greenhouses this September – such a change from last year when I was fighting for my life. I genuinely believe that gardening and writing got me through one of the most stressful and scariest parts of my life.

Amanda's various seed packets - September 17

So many seeds to sow!

So what’s been happening in my greenhouses? Plenty! I don’t really know where to start. Last month I asked for suggestions for naming the greenhouses; unfortunately no one has given me any so I’ll just have to name them myself. So in “The Office” (little greenhouse) I have been busy sowing and transplanting many many seeds. I am sure my staging is more abundant with plants now than it was in the spring. It seems to me that putting the red LED string lights in there is helping the seeds to germinate quicker. They seem to react to the lights which come on at dusk. These lights were less than £3 for 50 bulbs from a high street value store. They run by solar power and on really sunny days the charge lasts until dawn.

Amanda's blog for September 17 - seedlings and cold frame

Seedlings and Hardening off

I started Calendula and Violas off at the start of the month and these have already being hardened off in the cold frame, and now planted out for my autumn and winter displays. The second lot that I did of these two varieties in the second week of September are now in the cold frame, and I’m halfway through transplanting my third batch to individual bigger pots, that I started off on in the third week of the month.As well as them, I have Calendula Snow Princess that T&M gave me to trial in the Spring. They didn’t germinate then, but have more than made up for it now when I sowed the remainder of the packet two weeks ago. There are many many plants that are hardy enough to start in September and October; and it appears that Autumn now seems to be the optimum time for greenhouse growers to get ahead of the game and prepare for their early spring beds and borders. So with this in mind I have started off the following varieties: Cornflower, Foxglove, Helenium, Kniphofia, Lavender, Larkspur, Lupin, Malva Moschata, and Nigella, As well as Radish, Turnip, Calabrese and Cabbage.

Amanda's aloes in the little greenhouse - September 17

The Aloes are taking over!

So far I have seedlings of Cornflower, Helenium, Lavender, Larkspur, Malva Moschata, Radish,Turnip and one Cabbage to transplant. I try to spend an hour a day, watering, transplanting and shelf arranging each day, though my energy levels are rubbish so sometimes they only get a water and a chat. I usually thank them for growing and brightening my day. Also in The Office, the aloes have gone all thuggy. I almost have a carpet of them in the border. I am so tempted to give them as Christmas Presents to people, along with some baked goodies, as a proper old fashioned, but more personal gift The indoor house plants that were evicted to The Office in spring are a lush dark green and look like they are about to send up flower spikes.

Finally, the White Lavender Edelweiss cuttings I accidentally rescued, when they fell off a plant I was looking at in the local garden centre on my birthday, have rooted. I told the person at the desk and I asked if I could take the broken bits home to save them. The actual plant was £8.99 for a 5cm pot so was worried I would have to pay for damages. I dropped the pot thanks to chemo nerve damage. (I didn’t have to pay.) They just looked at me like I was mad. Especially, as I had them wrapped in a bit of wet tissue. I now have a plant for me and a plant for mum for free. The actual potted plant I dropped didn’t look damaged so it was still able to be sold to someone.The tiny Christmas Cacti cutting I took in the spring from my dads plant has sprouted lots of little new leaves.So that’s all that’s happening there.

September 17 , tomatoes and aubergines

A bumper harvest!

Meanwhile at Ty Mawr (big greenhouse) there is so far an endless supply of tomatoes, and aubergines. The peppers have not been that great sadly, only five peppers off two plants. They were tasty though.I wish I had counted how many toms I had altogether. I would say to any new tomato growers, for sheer numbers of sweet cherries Sweet Aperitif does not fail. To try something more unexpected grow Yellow Stuffer, they get huge, are best eaten cooked as it brings out the flavour, and are still cropping at the end of the month.

Jewel Jade Aubergines have a fig like texture and are much sweeter than normal dark skinned ones. Although I found the skin inedible. I’m not sure if your meant to eat the skin on this one, or if I needed to let it mature for longer. They felt ripe though. The normal aubergines (Celine) have not performed as well as the greens. The chillies are making an aggressive comeback with many new flowers and fruit
.
The Garlic I planted from the fridge at the end of last month have shot up and have three leaves each. I’ve never grown garlic in the greenhouse, and have no idea if it will work or not.The amaranthus are starting to get seedy (oops that sounds a bit wrong,) and I must get to them before they droop and I end up with an amaranthus issue next year. The Nicotianas are flowering like mad under glass too. I have no idea if they will become a problem next year, but I am sure I will find out. The marigolds are still flowering and keeping the pests at bay.

Similarly, I have solar lights in Ty Mawr too. Only these are blue, and I really do feel that they contribute to the vigour and health of the plants. The green of the leaves is still succulent and rich,the flowers continue to being pollinated and the fruits still growing. I’m not sure if it helps to turn the fruits different colours, but they certainly seem to be more disease resistant and although I had blight on my tomato outside, so far the greenhouse appears to be blight free.

As it is time to start watering hyacinths for Christmas Blooms, I recently moved the bulbs to The Office, as they have more chance of staying warmer on the staging than on the shelves on their own in the other one. Also if Mark decides to tidy up the shelves of the big greenhouse when we finally pull up the summer crops, he might think it’s a pot of non existent plants and chuck it out.

So that’s what’s happening at Ty Mawr. Lastly, in the cold frame are my weaker plug plants I got from T&M last month, that have finally decided to grow, and hardening off, plus trays of calendula
and violas. I need to rescue my two baby money plants and the spider plant that are still out by the front bench and need somewhere warmer to overwinter.

That’s it from me this month. I’m off to go and collect colourful leaves – not to make leaf mould -although they will end up in the compost bin after, but to take photos as inspired by Andy
Goldsworthy. If you don’t know who he is just ask the ” tinternet,” as I call it!

Until Halloween,
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

August – What a month!

Hi Everyone,

Where to start? What a month – the weather has been just awful, heavy rain, westerly winds and foggy overcast days. The perfect way to ruin a summer garden and then just when you’ve decided to pack up the patio furniture for next year, guess what the sun comes out!

viola seedlings - August 2017

August has been really hit and miss when it comes to seed germination. I planted up some 2008 Viola seeds that have germinated perfectly, I have planted up fresh from my future Mum-in-Law’s garden, bright orange, English Marigold seeds that grew almost instantly, yet a new packet of cabbage seeds germinated and then died, same for the Stevia, Lavender and a few of the turnips.

As the grass seeds take between one and four months to germinate I’m not sure what the success rate will be. The Liatris appear to have failed entirely. Even though I have tried different composts, different sowing months, and different conditions. It’s a shame because I really liked the look of these plants.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – I have had great success with my food plants – but more about that later. First I need your help. I am a bit bored with writing the names “Big Greenhouse” and “Little Greenhouse” each month so I want to call them something different. I thought of calling the big one Ty Mawr which is Welsh for the big house, but then I would have to call the little one Ty Bach which although translates to little house, it actually refers to visiting the toilet.

In Pembrokeshire a lot of people speak Wenglish! (Welsh-English) for example, “I’m just going to  the Ty Bach” or Put it in the Popty-Ping” meaning use the microwave. Although Popty-ping is a nickname that seems to have stuck. The real word for Microwave in Welsh is Meicrodon -phonetically pronounced as Micro Don and easy to remember as it sounds like a tiny Italian Mobster. So please help me out and suggest some names.

Meanwhile…..

In the little greenhouse, I have germinating seeds, some plug plants that I had free from Thompson and Morgan, via a Gardeners World special offer and many empty pots waiting to filled when my seedlings get larger.

Seedlings - August 2017

Unfortunately, a quarter of my twelve free plants are in a bad state and will possibly fail, the box was slightly crushed when it was delivered, and the plants were very dry, which makes me wonder how long they had taken to get to me once they had been despatched. I haven’t complained as they were free to begin with. I was also disappointed that some of the plants stated in the magazine offer (Hensol Poppies) were not actually in the collection, but they were substituted for Geranium Splish Splash – which although pretty is not what I wanted. However, as I’ve never grown these before perhaps I’m in for a treat. And it clearly states on the offer that they can substitute plants at any time – so again not complaining, but I really only took up the offer because of the poppies (sad sulky face).

The other plants in the offer were Digitalis Alba, Digitalis Sugar Plum and Digitalis Candy Mountain plus Primula Denticulata. The primula looks exciting to grow so I really hope I don’t loose any more of these plants.

On the shelves I also have a Christmas Cacti cutting that has finally rooted, a sickly looking dog rose and two buckthorn alders, again in a sorry state. The reason being we put the trees in the cold frame and then I totally forgot about them.

In the border there’s the usual aloes and cacti and money tree, along with a yellow stuffer tomato plant. Its nice to have an annual plant in there again. I’m sort of missing the annual borders there, but it is really nice to have permanent evergreen plants to look at all year round. Plus it only needs a light weed and feed, so is easy to maintain.

In the cold frame I now have two baby money trees and a spider plant, as they have been evicted from the big greenhouse for the summer.

Whilst sorting out the little greenhouse a few days ago I found a flowerpot with small bulbs in it. No, compost, no, label so no idea what they are. I asked Mark if he put them there, he said: “Yes I did ages ago. I forgot about them.”

“What are they?” I asked. Meaning have you any idea what bulbs they are.

Shrugging he helpfully replied “You are the gardener not me. I don’t know what they are.”

“Where did you get them from?” I tried. Hoping he would say which border or bit in the garden he had accidentally dug them out from.

“One of your pots in the garden.” Was his reply.

As we say in Welsh “Fel Rhech Mewn Pot Jam……”*

It’s used to describe something or someone as Useless – but you may want to google the phrase for the exact translation!

*I mean his reply was not helpful not that he is useless.

And so to the big greenhouse……

tomatoes and aubergines - August 2017

I have so many Sweet Aperitif tomatoes, I can pick fresh ones every day. The lowest number per pick per day was seven, the highest is currently at sixty six. The Yellow Stuffers are a bit more reasonable, in that they produce one or two a day, which is ideal. The Bonica Aubergines are slow, but they have flowered and I can just see the fruits forming. The Patio Mix ones are awesome, they are giving me one or two fruits per week since the second week of August. But so far only dark purple ones, the green type from the mix (Jewel Jade) have fruit, but they are not ripe enough to pick.

The Marigolds and Amaranthus and Nicotianas are still keeping the pests at bay, except for a giant slug, that I quickly evicted. I left the Hunter Spider in the foliage as he can help out with pest control.

The Sweet Bonita peppers have many fruits on them, they are large but still too hard, and they are refusing to turn any other colour, they are staying a pale creamy yellow. I took a single pepper off each plant to encourage them to keep flowering. I have put said peppers on the kitchen windowsill to ripen.

The Medina chilli stopped growing for a while, but has since recovered, and thanks to the pollinators there are now more chillies growing. Mark wants us to make a sweet chilli sauce with them – I think he’s forgotten how hot they are! Regretfully, I lost my watermelon to powdery mildew last month before its fruits were big enough to recuse, and annoyingly the cantaloupe melon has done the same. The fruits would grow to no bigger than a tomato then fall to the floor. Then I noticed powdery mildew on its leaves and stalks, so I had to have Mark rip it out. So frustrating, as it was a total waste of time and money buying them from a different supplier. Thankfully T&M gave me some melon seeds to trial this year, but because they were posted to me after their recommended sow by month, I can’t trial them until next year.

The greenhouse pumpkin succumbed to mildew too. The outdoor one is fine. I wish I lived near to Ian and Stuart Paton, the champion pumpkin growers as I would love to ask them for some handy tips. I don’t think I could afford their electricity bill though to keep the pumpkins at a constant eighteen degrees both day and night, nor the gallons of water needed for the pumpkins to grow six stone a day.

The gaps left by the melons were dug over, and fresh fertiliser was added to the soil, in the form of compost and tomato feed, and we have now put in the two spare tomatoes that were in spud growing sacks in the smaller greenhouse. They have established and continue to form fruit and flowers.

Mark still has to do all the heavy watering, lifting and digging,for me, as I continue to recover from the cancer and learn my new limitations with the heart failure. But compared to this time last year, things are 100% better.

harvested fruit and veg - August 2017

Finally, there was nothing better than to see the smile on my oncologists face, when I presented him with a bag of home grown tomatoes at my last check-up. A tiny thank you from me for everything he and his team have done.

Until next month.

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Growing at home and at work!

One of my earliest memories is of helping my Mum and Dad weed the veggie plot and collecting chicken eggs from the chooks at the end of the garden. I grew up on a farm as a child and always had my own piece of land to grow and learn with, so I suppose it’s in the blood!

In my mid twenties, I re trained in Horticulture (Professional Gardening ANCH) and set up my own Gardening business working for clients in the Suffolk/Essex area. For the last thirteen years I’ve had the pleasure of working on a private twenty five acre estate tending to the grounds.

My work:

growing seedlings

This year I’ve grown everything from seed on the estate. I wanted different and above all tasty and engaging fruits and veg.

growing tomatoes

In the greenhouse this year I’ve grown Harbinger, Terenzo and Red Cherry, three different types of toms, slicing and cooking with the Harbinger and a little snacking tomato, appropriately named Cherry Red and also the Terenzo which is hanging basket variety.

Also cucumber Swing, which hasn’t stopped producing and has a great taste, two types of Aubergine, Bonica and Orlando. I tried Aubergines a few years ago, they didn’t come to anything and the Woodlice enjoyed eating them before they were ready for humans.

growing aubergines and runner beans

In the veggie plot, are Courgette – Parador and Eclipse. I wanted a break away from the regular, (boring!) courgettes, so this year, yellow and green and round. Lovely flavours too, tonight I added the yellow to a veggie Spaghetti Bolognese which we all tucked into, ending with clean plates all round, great way to get it into the kiddies!!

Runner beans are in pots this year with six canes in each, I tried two varieties, Scarlet Emperor and Desiree, thought these two were good to try with each having different coloured flowers and growing in pots means they are transportable!

At home:

growing seeds with the children

One wet spring afternoon after visiting Waitrose and enjoying our free hot beverages, the kids raided my seed box and chose seeds they fancied growing to sow in the empty cups, (a good way to recycle). They sat on my kitchen window sill to grow, the children checked every day to see who’s grew first and then we transplanted their seedlings. The Rudbeckia looks superb on the patio and will be planted into the garden in the autumn.

There is definitely something to be said for encouraging children at a young age, especially nowadays with so much focus on five a day and healthy eating and children finding out where and how their food grows.

I haven’t grown as much as I would really like to this but I did try Chilli Pepper Numex Twilight which was new for me, love chillies, great to be picking and cooking from garden to kitchen within seconds.

Once thing that never makes it into the kitchen though are our peas, we all sow them all together, watch them grow and when ready sit on the patio and eat them. A few are left now to save the seeds for next year’s annual pea sowing.

begonias and petunias

I wanted to know what all the fuss was about with Begonia Apricot Shades, to be fair I was in Monty Don’s camp with the dislike of these plants. But reluctantly I gave them a go, a few crept into the baskets and pots and they are ok, won’t say I love them just yet!

victoria plum

I am impressed with my patio Vicky Plum though, my favourite plum! Bought it last year and last week William (my eight year old son) and I shared the first one. Simply divine.

Looking ahead to next year, as I mentioned through the good and the bad, William and I are season ticket holders at our beloved ITFC, so we thought about planting and growing from seed blue plants for the garden and friends. There is a Pansy actually called ‘Singing the Blues‘, so maybe a good place to start!

Well that’s my first ever blog, hope you enjoyed a little insight into my world, until next time, over and out!!

Sue x

Sue Russell

One of my earliest memories; helping my Mum and Dad weed the veggie plot and collecting chicken eggs from the chooks at the end of the garden. I grew up on a farm as a child and always had my own piece of land to grow and learn with, so I suppose its in the blood!
In my mid twenties, I re trained in Horticulture (Professional Gardening ANCH) and set up my own Gardening business working for clients in the Suffolk/Essex area. For the last thirteen years Ive had the pleasure of working on a private twenty five acre estate tending to the grounds.
Most recently, eighteen months ago, I joined the team at Thompson and Morgan in the Customer Care department.
Also season ticket holder at Ipswich Town Football Club!!

National Allotment Week

National Allotment Week

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.

National Allotment week

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

Graham

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Home Grown Tomatoes

Introduction

One of the main reasons for the increase in gardening activity at our house was to grow our own fruit and vegetables.  As mentioned previously, we have 4 raised beds that have been neglected for a few years now and so it makes sense to restore and use them.  They are in an ideal spot in the garden where the ground is relatively level.

The first thing that I wanted to grow was tomatoes.  What could be easier right?  Furthermore the Isle of Wight is quite famous for them (http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/).  Not as much as the garlic (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk), but Island tomatoes are great.

In my head I thought that I’d dig over one of the raised beds (I’d already sprayed the existing 3 feet high weeds with Roundup), mix in some compost (not home-made, naturally), add some tomato feed, and plant the little, erm, plants.

Research

I researched some tomato varieties that seemed to be ideal for me to grow so off we went to the garden centre – I was after Gardeners Delight (they sounded perfect!).  My plan was instantly thrown out of the window as they only had one plant, and I wanted three.  Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen?  So I ended up with 3 different types of tomato plant instead, one of which is Sweet Million.  And some canes as I thought I’d need them at some point.

jack's tomatoes

Hard Ground

Back home and armed with my trusty fork, I headed off to the raised bed.  Now, this was a couple of months ago before we’d had any rain, and the soil was like concrete.  Really hard.  The soil appeared to be a bit like clay and, having been baked in the sun, it was as hard as a brick.  I could break bits up, but I didn’t think that this would be the fertile and nourishing soil that the tomato plants would want to thrive in.  A cactus might have survived…..

So, the next idea was a tomato grow bag.  Surely this was the obvious choice?  They even came with instructions which made it seem really easy.  However, having looked at the depth of the tomato bag and the height of the cane I thought that I might have a problem with the canes staying up right so I located the bag next to some fencing where I could tie the canes higher up to make them more secure.

I cut out three holes in the top of the bag with my Stanley knife and popped in the new plants – I guess they were about 3-4 inches tall.  I put the canes in and tied the plant to the cane and the cane to the aforementioned fence.  Then I watered thoroughly, as I understand that tomatoes need a lot of water.  The issue with growing in the bags though is that the water just kind of runs off and they don’t hold that much liquid.  The consequence there is that it seems to dry out pretty quickly.  I think ideally, and I’m happy to be proved wrong, the bag needs to sit in a tray of water, but it might be that this would mean that the soil would become waterlogged.  Is this a bad thing for tomatoes?  Probably I guess…..but better than drying out?

Pinching Out

The thing that I never really got was this term “pinching out”.  Something to do with pulling out shoots that are 45 degrees to the main plant stalk and means that the plant’s energy is concentrated on the main areas where the tomatoes are going to grow.  Well, I’ve given that a go but, a couple of months later, I can report that I have branches going in all directions some with fruit, and others without.  We have had about 4 ripe fruits so far, but the skin seems a bit tough and this is apparently due to the plants not having enough water.  So next year I’m going to do things a bit differently.

 

Next Year

Ideally I would grow the plants in a greenhouse, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to do that from a financial point of view, but they will definitely be grown in the ground.  What I’ll probably do is buy a couple of the tomato growing bags and mix that into some good quality topsoil so that I know the right nutrients are there.  I can also really push the canes into the ground then so that they can support the tomatoes weight without needing to be supported higher up.  This also allows me to really soak the ground without the bag overflowing so that water won’t be wasted and the ground won’t dry up.

In the meantime, we can either eat what we’ve got or make some tomato chutney from those fruits that are too tough to eat.  I am happy to report though that all 3 of the plants are now bearing fruit which is slowly ripening.  Time to pick some of my basil and have them with some mozzarella.  And some salt of course.  Please note salt police – tomatoes should only be eaten if there is salt on them as it really brings out the flavour.

One day I’d like to try growing tomatoes upside down – that looks like a good way to grow them and allows the fruit to be exposed to the sun a bit more and the weight keeps them out of the way of the shade of the leaves.  Has anyone tried this at all?

Summer in Pembrokeshire!

Hello Everyone,

What’s happened to the summer sun? Honestly it’s more like autumn in Pembrokeshire! The days are usually overcast, with a fair chance of a shower. The wind makes it impossible some days to open the greenhouse doors or windows for fear of damage, and the sawflies are out in force.

On days it is actually sunny, my poor plants get caught out as temperatures soar. The other day it was too wet and wild to open the greenhouse and we had to go out. When we got back at lunchtime the weather had brightened up and inside the greenhouse was 38 degrees. Thankfully the plants didn’t suffer too much stress. There’s an old trick to getting the temperature down quickly under the glass, which is to open all doors and windows and then damp down the path with a can of water. Then the use a mister to slightly wet the foliage. Each year I think about buying shade paint, but then promptly forget to get it, so I’ve now taken to taping split orange plastic recycling bags to the outside of the greenhouse on really hot days.

This month has been particularly busy in the garden; I’ve harvested peas, beans, strawberries, red currents, raspberries and red gooseberries. These plants are low maintenance and give so much in return every garden should have them! I’ve also grown cut flowers for a vase everyday; this is often an ecclesiastical mix of perennial and annual flowers, herbs, wildflowers and foliage. I’m dahlia mad and a currently have two favourites growing. Ice and Fire from T&M and I love Life, that I bought as a sad dried out little tuber in a local shop for £1.49. My favourite wildflower at the moment is Scarlet Pimpernel – but many would class this as a weed.

The grassy knoll is starting to take shape, but there is room for more ornamental grasses as well as some herbs. Unfortunately, the slugs ate all of my Hyssops after they were put in their final growing positions, so I’ve set off more grass seeds as well as Stevia and Lavender. There are some grasses that require a cold snap before germination, and some that just need a consistent temperature, and there are many varieties that can be grown in July. Some are just sprinkled on the surface of good compost, while others need a layer of vermiculite and then sealed in a plastic bag before they start to grow. Hopefully within one to six months I should see Pony Tail, Tail Feathers, and Rainbow Phornium seedlings appear. These seeds are in the small greenhouse along with a new batch of freshly sown Liatris, Hollyhock, Cabbage, Turnip, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Viola, and an Olive. The Turnips were eager, germinating in only forty-eight hours. Followed closely by the Stevia, Lavender and a pot of Violas. I’m looking forward to the Heartsease as it’s an old fashioned variety called Jonny Jump Up.

I’ve squeezed three extra tomato plants into the small greenhouse too. One in the border nestled between the money tree and a giant aloe. The other two are on the path in potato grow bags. I have no idea if they will be deep enough in the bags, but they seem to be flowering so fingers crossed. Another tomato is in the spent pea container outside. I’m experimenting with the theory that the Nitrogen left behind in the pea roots (which stay in the used compost) will give enough nutrients to grow a tomato plant in. It’s also only being watered by the rain. It seems to be standing without supports at the moment; I’ll let you know how it goes.

The aloes have finished flowering, the cacti has had a few babies, and the money tree is still putting on lots of new growth. The three house plants that people gave me in work are still green, but as yet there are no new flowers on them. I can’t remember what they are called, but they have strappy leaves and a flower spike comes out off the middle, similar to a flaming Katie. Hopefully the picture will help.

tomato yellow stufferThe big greenhouse is full to the rafters, literally! On the shelves we have spider plant in full flower, pretty little white things, but so pot bound we are will have to cut the pot for it to be replanted, I am wondering if it’s hardy enough to go outside in our sheltered bit, between the house, shed and maple tree, next to another houseplant ,(mother in laws tongue) the spider plant belonged to dad, so I don’t want to kill it, or give it away, but it’s too big for the house. Perhaps I will thin the aloes and stick it in the small greenhouse after all. There are also baby money trees in pots which I am looking for homes for. I have cuttings of Christmas cacti on the shelves too. In the left border, we have three highly prolific Sweet Aperitif tomatoes, these cherry ones, certainly live up to their name. It’s so hard not to eat them all walking back to the kitchen. Alternatively, they are absolutely delicious in a cheese, onion, and tomato toasty, sprinkled with turmeric, black pepper, basil and oregano. We also have two large Yellow Stuffer tomato plants growing there too. These are yet to change colour, they are about the size of an apple at the moment, and getting bigger. I’m surprised at how many there are; wrongly assumed that as they were bigger fruits there would be less of them. Under planting the tomatoes with Marigolds, and many rouge Amaranthus, (we have transferred half a dozen outside) has attracted many pollinators, which means more fruits for us, and absolutely no white or greenfly. We do seem to have an ant problem in both greenhouses though. (The sparrows usually sort this out for us by comically hanging off the guttering or doors and grabbing the ants midair. Occasionally the blackbird is in the foliage digging for the grubs.)

The back border is where my aubergine trial is taking place. The normal Celine ones are flowering profusely, and I have already had one tasty aubergine from an early plant. The Patio Mix are just starting to fruit. One is called Jewel Jade and is just starting to form green fruits. I’m still waiting to see if I have a white and purple stripy one come up. The right border contains a pumpkin, (another is in a container outside, another experiment.) as I couldn’t find anyone to take it. It seems to be behaving by not spreading too much, and putting up beautiful yellow flowers. Next to it are two Pepper Sweet Bonita plants, which have fruits that are slowly starting to ripen. There are plenty of new flowers coming too. I absolutely love this pepper as it’s very mild and juicy.

chilli medinaNext to the peppers is a Chilli Medina. I don’t like chillies but grew it for Mark. The first chilli to come off it was a dark green beast, but as I left it on the kitchen worktop for two days it turned bright red. One night making supper, Mark decided to fry some mushrooms with the chilli, I told him to try it first before adding it to the pan. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was hilarious, he went from white to red, to purple in about three seconds. He did a little jumping around on the spot before muttering something I dare not repeat! He would have drunk straight from the tap if he could have. Apparently his tongue was still burning fifteen minutes later, (even though it was de-seeded.) His lasting memory of that chilli was “an unpleasant experience, never to be repeated!). Luckily my friend Trisha’s partner is part dragon so he can easily tolerate the heat in them.

 

 

melon plantNext to the chilli, and taking up at least six feet of the greenhouse including wrapping itself around its trellis the shelf and the lead for the solar lights is the cantaloupe melon. It has at least four melons growing. I have to keep picking off the flowers, as advice from T&M and one of my mum’s friends, is to allow only a few fruits to develop, as these will be bigger and better quality. Try telling the plant that! Everyday, a new flower appears. I have to keep pinching out growing tips that are as annoying as the tomato ones. I have to untangle it from the lights, and occasionally cut off a few yellow leaves. The stems are hairy and can irritate like a tomato, but otherwise it’s easy to look after.

 

 

Oh I forgot, there’s also a purple Nicotiana between the chilli and the pepper. It’s so pretty I don’t want to dig it up and transfer it in case I accidentally kill it. Trouble is, it may decide to seed itself like the Amaranthus did, and then I will be cursing next year, when I end up with a greenhouse full of flowers instead of edibles – though surprisingly the French eat Amaranthus leaves like spinach.

Until next time.

Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

In Search of Seasonality

A first blog for Thompson & Morgan

We’ve been witnessing a bit of a quiet revolution in recent times, with more and more of us turning away from mass-produced convenience foods towards a more organic, back to nature approach, including the food we order out.  It’s reached such levels that apparently some folks are even blaming Millennials for their lack of savings on an over-fondness for artisan brunches of avocado toast (no, really).  I personally love an avocado, so I’m not judging.

Yet despite this, research suggests that children in the UK are disconnected from the environment, and the food on their plates…cue much hand-wringing and rose-tinted nostalgia for the olden days.

Well I say let’s not blame anyone young or old for not knowing the provenance of their food, or even when it is meant to be ‘in season’. Lots of us live urban, busy lives with little access to an outdoors space for growing things after all.

I don’t mind admitting that growing up in 1980’s suburban Birmingham, I had no idea food even had a ‘season’; it just came from the supermarket, right? At school, Harvest Festival hampers wouldn’t be groaning with fresh produce, but rather clanking with tinned peas and pineapple.  Canned macaroni cheese, anyone?

Nobody likes a moaner though, do they? So what can we do about it?

Get Digging – grab the kids and get outside this summer.

Got a tiny space or just pushed for time?

  • Containers are your friend. Window or balcony boxes can be filled with herbs, salad veg, or even things like kale and dwarf beans. Chuck in some seeds and eat your own produce just several weeks later. That’s practically instant gratification.
  • Oh, if the packet tells you to thin out, it’s best off doing so. Look at this from my own garden.  Tiny, crowded, unhappy beetroot (still eating it though)

Got a slightly bigger space?

  • Planting a fruit tree is such a good thing. The Victoria plum in the back garden, after several years of sluggish output, has this year excelled itself. So much so, we’re making a homemade crumble with it this weekend. What’s not to love?

Before, I’d always associated plums with being a purely autumnal fruit but it turns out they belong in summer too. That delights me, and brings us neatly back to the theme of this blog, namely learning to reconnect with our food and understand its space in the growing year.

encouraging children to grow in the garden

In these blogs I’ll be writing about what’s going on in the garden, what’s doing well and what really isn’t. As an enthusiastic novice with a standard new-build sized garden, I like to pick up tips from been-there-done-that family members, oh and the internet of course (don’t we all?) Hoping you can join me along the way.

I’m interested, though.  Do you grow your own, and if so what? Comment here and share it with the group.  See you next time!

 

Alison Hooper

I’ve lived in various places from freezing flats in Manchester with just enough room to swing a pot rubber plant, to a Leicester semi which must have held some kind of local record for most concrete used in the garden. That took some digging out.

Now living in Market Harborough with husband Matt and two young daughters. And a cat who shows up for mealtimes.

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

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