I’m more of a savoury man than a sweet one, and therefore I love a plate full of vegetables. My parents have always grown vegetables, and some of my earliest memories of gardening are of helping them by picking tons of homegrown peas, or watching my dad grow tend his beds of a what seemed like a bazillion potatoes. They’re so nutrient rich and delicious, that I can’t have a garden without hiding a few vegetables in there – usually Courgettes, with a few French Beans and Lettuces.
With Spring in full force, it’s time to get the courgette and squash seeds sown.
The weather has been much more spring-like these last few days, with a few days of sunshine, and nature is bounding ahead with lush green foliage. I’m even potentially going to need to cut my lawn again.
Apparently there’s a ‘heat wave’ (by UK standards) next week. Although it’s chilly today, I headed to the shed with some more seeds, to get a few more sown.
First up was my Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ – I grew this for the first time last year, and whilst it completely invaded my garden – grabbing every plant, twig, and blade of grass in the garden as it spread 20 feet, it gave me about a dozen big yellow squashes to eat. In fact, I’ve still got two in storage, and they seem fine.
My initial sowing last year saw me grow two, but after one being snapped by wind within hours of putting it out, and a second one being re-sown, it was really only the one surviving original plant that I needed – and it took over.
This year, I’ve sown just one seed on its edge (apparently helping to avoid it rotting off when being watered from above) in some multipurpose compost. I expect this to germinate in just a couple of days.
This is joined by 3 Courgette ‘Zucchini F1 Hybrid’ seeds. This is the first time I have grown this variety, as I’d always stuck to growing the ‘Black Beauty’ type, but let’s see how this one gets on.
Whilst I’d like some courgettes, I don’t think i’ve eaten a single one since the end of last year!
I like nasturtiums, but have had trouble growing them in the past. Their bright yellows, oranges, and red flowers, with their greeny-blue waxy leaves attract a lot of useful insects into the garden – namely the hoverflies – which can then help address any aphid issues.
I’ve found an older packet of Nasturtium ‘Whirlybird Mix’ seeds, so I’ve planted a dozen of these, hoping that at least a few will make it up out of the compost and eventually into the garden where they can climb and flower, bringing in those important hoverflies, without getting gobbled up too quickly by caterpillars.
Thanks again for reading, and I hope that you’ve had a happy weekend of gardening.
It’s time to be ‘pricking out’ my Sweet Sultant flowers and the brightly coloured Swiss Chard seedlings, and get them ready for their next stage of growing.
Yes, the garden is driving on towards summer, and there’s not much you can do to stop it.
My windowsills are full of trays of seedlings, and so I have been busily pricking out and potting them into pots/plugs in preparation for their final planting out from late May.
What is ‘pricking out’?
‘Pricking out’ or ‘to prick out’ is a term used to describe taking an individual seedling from the tray or pot it germinated in, and then carefully planting it in its own pot or plug so that it can continue growing without having to compete with other seedlings.
The ‘pricking’ part refers to the precision needed to separate seedlings, and usually requires a small hand device, a bit like a needle, but usually (in my case) an old pencil.
The Sweet Sultan
Last year was the first time that I had ever grown Sweet Sultan flowers, after family friend (and keen gardener) Anne, gave me a bundle of seed packets that she’d had from the front of her magazine subscriptions. I’d picked out a few bee-friendly looking plants and sown them.
Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ were amongst these and they were fantastic, and they looked lovely alongside my Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ plants.
I sowed these flower seeds at the same time as my Swiss Chard, and so they are ready to ‘prick out’.
With the seedlings all pricked out, they will now be able to continue growing on to their next stage. I managed to grow 22 seedlings in that pot, and so i added two more seeds to fill my 24-plug tray. That will be plenty.
The Swiss Chard
My Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ have been a delight to grow. This is my first year growing them, and I have undoubtedly sown far too many and will probably become sick of Swiss Chard by the time I’ve got to about July.
However, their brightly multi-coloured stems (almost Rhubarb-like) make them a fun addition to the garden. They’re far from ready to go out yet (they’re too small and tender), but they had to be carefully pricked out so that they could grow on.
I think these can often be sown direct, but I didn’t have my raised beds built until I’d been able to get outside to demolish the old shed (that provided the wood, and the ground space for the raised beds) first.
Armed with my trusty HB pencil, I dibbered out the seedlings one-by-one, and put them into a plug tray where they can grow into individual plug plants.
Once these plants get outside, they’ll soon straighten up, as they’ll grow upwards aiming for the sunshine. Right now, they’ve grown a lean like most seedlings, as they chase the light on a windowsill.
My parents have just moved house into a bare garden, and like me it has an unbroken lawn. Their plan is to have a load of raised beds and containers… so I know exactly where to smuggle some brightly coloured spare Chard plants in to 😉
I’ve already pricked out a load of Cleome ‘Colour Fountain’ seedlings, and the Parsley ‘Laura’ seedlings are now potted on too. It’s a productive time, and it’s so important to keep on top of growing as we head through April, otherwise they’ll get behind, or too leggy to be any good.
As ever, thanks for reading, and I hope you have a happy gardening week ahead (despite the rain).
We’ve just had a mild week here in the East of England, and so the garden has woken up to throw lush green leaves skywards. It’s been the perfect time to get out there.
The sunshine arrived this week, and it’s been gently warming the soil and luring some of the spring plants out of winter hibernation, and for some, this has been the signal to open their flowers.
I even cut the back lawn for the first time since about September.
Now that my shed is pretty much in order, I can begin using it as a space to sow and harden off (that means, getting them used to cooler temperatures) plants. My Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ plants have already been through this process and are doing well in their new raised bed outside.
Having saved the cardboard toilet roll middles over the last few months, I have collected these up, filled them with a multipurpose compost and sown a French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ seed into each one.
French Beans (like Peas and Sweet Peas) like to send their roots down deep, and therefore these cardboard tubes are perfect for them to grow in over the next few weeks. They won’t go out until late May, but this should give them a perfect start, and the cardboard tube will rot down when it gets planted out with them.
Meanwhile, the Crocuses and Tulips are out, helping to provide the early-emerging bees with food. I’ve seen a few bees around so far, so hopefully the bulb flowers are going to help sustain them long enough for more flowers to open.
This tulip is one of a trough of Tulip ‘Mixed Garden’ bulbs that I planted up last year. It’s the first in the trough to open, but the others (which are bigger) should be along soon.
I also found a (what i think is the last of the) Erin seed kits that I was given back in about 2011. This time, the kit is for Rocket, so I have once again opened the kit up and sown the seeds that should be sown ‘by 2012’. Let’s see how this goes!
Last time I sowed an old Erin seed kit, a forest grew, that gave me lettuces throughout the summer, despite being 5 years beyond their ‘sow by’ date. Sometimes nature deserves a chance, as it has other plans!
I think some wetter weather is now on its way, but I hope that you’ve been able to do something in your garden. I know that I shall be busy pricking out seedlings over the next few days.
As ever, thank you for reading, and happy gardening!
It’s a busy Saturday in the garden as Winter eases off. There’s sowing, pricking out, and shed sorting to do!
Finally! A weekend day where it isn’t raining, snowing, or icy cold with the remnants of freezing temperatures and winds that chill you to the bone.
I was very pleased to be up and outside in the garden with RubyCat by 9am AND without a coat. I had loads of jobs to get done.
I was pleased to finally find a Daffodil that hadn’t been flattened by wind, rain, or snow. A cheery lone fanfare of Spring’s arrival.
First up, was to finish putting up some more shelves in my shed. When i moved in, this shed was shelf-free, and I brought some cheap pine shelving with me, but with the demolition of the rickety old shed, this has given me enough planks to turn into shelving. The most significant shelf being the full length one that runs under the shed window.
To make this, I bought some inexpensive brackets from my local DIY store, and then took the old shed door and cut it down the length – thankfully it was 6 planks wide – so it made the perfect 3 plank wide shelves. I put those up with my new drill/screwdriver, and was then able to start pricking out some seedlings.
I planted some Cleome ‘Colour Fountain’ seeds a few days ago, and they have shot up, so I took the opportunity to use this new-found workspace to start potting them into individual plugs.
I also took the four surviving Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ seedlings (RubyCat had been pulling them out of the pot and spitting them on the carpet until I moved them out of reach!!). I potted these on, and sowed some more as they were so pretty last summer.
I found a little pot of Honesty seeds that I must have collected from my parents garden a few years back. I added these to a pot of compost – not expecting much – but they had been stored carefully in a sealed container. You never know! Once you’ve got Honesty, you tend to have it forever seeding itself all over the place.
I also sowed some Lettuce ‘Red Salad Bowl’ seeds. I think that these were the variety that grew from that old out-of-date Erin seed kit. I’m growing these again because the slugs and snails did not touch them.
Ten days ago I also sowed some Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ – my first ever time growing these – having been completely inspired to by the blog and videos by Katie at Lavender & Leeks (thanks, Katie!) and it turns out they’re packed with nutrients.
These seedlings were up within a couple of days and now I’m staring at the pot thinking that I might have too many! 😀
In addition to my first-time Chard, my first-time Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ seeds have been growing on a cool windowsill in my spare room.
Whilst I’m only growing half a dozen, I’ve done two sowings and gotten 5 plants! The first 3 plants shot up, and the next 2 did too. Are Broad Beans usually temperamental?
The plants are now in the shed to begin a hardening-off process, and they joined the Lupin ‘Band Of Nobles Mixed’ (remember them?) which I sowed a year ago in 2017. These plants take a while to mature, and somehow they’ve survived a year on windowsills, despite the recurring threats of central heating. Hopefully the slugs and snails won’t eat them in the first evening.
My windowsills are now covered in trays, propagators, and seedlings. It finally feels like spring has arrived and the garden of 2018 is coming.
What jobs did you get done in the garden this weekend?
As ever, thank you for reading. Go-on, share this blog post somewhere, and have a happy gardening weekend!
So, what better way to beat the February chills or driving myself crazy with wanting to sow every seed, than to look back at my five favourite vegetable successes that grew in my new garden.
Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’
Having never grown a squash before, and rarely tasted them in anything other than soups, I decided to grow 2 Squash Spaghetti Stripetti seeds.
I greatly underestimated what these plants could do, although the wind sorted one of them out in just a few hours of planting it out into my new raised bed. I sowed a replacement, but really didn’t need to.
Within only 6-8 weeks of sowing the first one, I was already expectantly watching the first of the squashes form under a mass of leaves and tangled stems.
I ended up with the original plant meandering and clinging to all other plants (including the lawn), with a radius of about 20 feet.
By the time that the plant had peaked, it had given me about 15 edible big plump squashes. I swiftly learnt how to roast them up and have enjoyed eating their soft, spaghetti-ish, kind-of sweet yellow flesh. I still have three of these in my kitchen – they store really well.
Courgette ‘Black Beauty’
The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’, just like the namesake horse, galloped along and took over my diet for about 3 months, allowing me to legitimately infiltrate the courgetti fad crowd with my tricky-to-clean spiralizer gadget.
I’d tried growing these over the years with intermittent success. In this new garden though, for some reason I thought 6 plants would be ok. This gave me heaps of courgettes resulting in a great soup recipe, and new-found friends at work (gardening really is sociable!).
Considering that the seed ‘should have’ been discarded about 8 years previously, they did very well. After drowning in courgettes, and the plants experiencing mildew that eventually suffocated the courgettes and the marauding squash plant, I pulled up both after a long and happy harvest.
I kept a tally, but gave up at the end of Week 7’s harvest. At that point, i counted a total of 45 courgettes, weighing a cumulative 15.5 kilos (that’s 15,500 grams – the equivalent of just less than 1 London Bus).
French Climbing Bean ‘Blue Lake’
This was probably my best harvest yet, and these French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ beans soon took to the wigwam and cropped. They were the second plants to be planted out into my new garden, as the seedlings had spent most of April crawling around my old house’s windowsills desperate to be planted out whilst solicitors did their job.
Heavy assaults from snails were seen off with some magic sweets, enabling me to have many harvests right up to the frost. I’ll definitely continue growing these, as the beans are so tasty, and I love to pop a few in a stir fry.
Mixed Salad Leaves
These did really well, considering that they were supposed to have been sowed ‘before 2012’. They were desperate to be planted out when they were filling up the windowsill of my old house, so they were the first plants in – just a few days after getting my new house keys.
I grew a mixed range, and I soon realised that one of the red leaf varieties did not appeal to slugs and snails. I think I’ve identified the variety as Lettuce ‘Red Salad Bowl’ (ingenious name, right?), and will be growing it again in 2018.
They germinated fast, but the woodpigeons and slugs were fast too. I managed to pop some wire over them but they’d already taken heavy slug damage. I managed a harvest though – a handful of pods – and well, a mouthful of fresh peas. They were delicious, but brief.
I hope to improve this in 2018, and be two steps ahead of my pea-nibbling foes.
So, those are my vegetable highlights of 2017 – all of these grew from seed, and were planted out in my new garden.
What did you grow in 2017?
Did you have any vegetable growing successes in 2017? What are you planning to grow in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.
As ever, happy gardening (or simultaneous seed catalogue browsing and dreaming). I’ll post the garden review of my favourite flowers in a few days, but for now – thanks for reading.
The propagator is fired up, and the sow-athon begins with Broad Beans, Sweet Peas, and Salvia.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been chomping at the bit to get gardening again. February can be one of the most bitterly cold months in the UK, and so when you get a little bit of sunshine, or a day without rain, snow, wind, or freezing conditions, it is so tempting to get out there and make a start.
In my last post I shared my seed planner, and I’ve found that really helpful in reminding me what I’m going to grow and how I can pace myself a bit. I’ve already added more seeds to the schedule!
So, with four days of February under our belts, I’ve decided to start sowing some seeds, and set up my little propagator again on a windowsill.
First in today were my Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ seeds – only 6 seeds so far, but I can go back and add more seed in a few weeks if they don’t germinate well, or add more a few weeks later just to stagger my crop.
As a child, broad beans were like nasty little warts and they tasted disgusting, yet, as an adult I simply cannot get enough of them. I’m frustrated by the lack of them in my local supermarket – and can’t even get them frozen, so I thought that I would sow some myself. I’m worried about the blackfly though, as they took great delight in attacking my tomatoes last year, but I’ve been watching several videos on how to deal with these on Broad Beans. I’m also looking forward to the benefits that they will give my garden by pumping nitrogen back into the soil. The courgettes and squash will love that!
In addition to these, I also sowed a dozen each of Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’. I grew both varieties last year, and whilst they flowered well over a long season, they didn’t climb. I think this was due to the garden twine ‘web’ that I put up for them, so I will swap that to wire before I plant these out. Past experience shows that these will germinate quickly, but last year the Royal Mixed variety were up first.
Finally, I’ve sown some more of my Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ seeds. I sowed some of these (same packet) last year, but only one germinated – although it did become a large striking plant in my new garden.
Hopefully, they will be more successful this year, and help fill my new border with its beautiful deep blue spires that looked great, and were popular with the bees. This early sowing does at least allow me time to perhaps get some new seed if the germination is poor.
These Salvia seeds actually join my Cineraria ‘Maritima Silverdust’ that I sowed last week. Those will add an intricate snowy-leafed set of foliage to my garden.
They worked really well in my previous garden where it was sheltered and shady, and they lived on for about 4 years! They contrast well with most other plants.
As I finish typing this post, the sun is blazing, the birds are feasting on my feeders, and I can hear a blackbird singing. It feels like Spring is here, but I’m not fooled by February – which won’t flinch about bringing deadly snow and ice.
Have you started your 2018 sowing season yet? Let me know in the comments below.
As ever, thank you for reading, and happy gardening!
Always acknowledge when it is time to give up. And give up.
I’ve always wanted to grow Aubergines (US readers: that’s an ‘egg plant’), but I just can’t get them to a harvestable level.
I’ve been trying to grow Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ since 2011, pretty much every year but only got close that year, and again in 2017 (when I switched to Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2‘), but they just don’t give me any fruit bigger than a radish on a cold day.
The plants are always healthy and their silvery green leaves are quite elegant, but years into trying, I’m going to stop.
Even 2017’s raised bed saw them grow well, but in the end they seemed to run out of steam. It’s not that I’m not sowing them early enough – I’m following the packet. I just don’t have a greenhouse, and have no plans to.
It’s important to know when to stop and move on.
What about the Tomatoes?
In 2017, after gales, baking sunshine, and waves of blackfly, I did get a bumper crop of Tomato ‘Minibel’ but I threw most of them away as they were turning faster than I could eat them.
I only eat them in salads, and whilst their small red plump fruits were delicious and fresh, I just wasn’t able to keep up (not least because of the Courgette glutz).
I’ve decided that I probably won’t bother growing them in 2018, or if I do, it’ll just be a couple of plants.
Instead, I’ll try out some new produce instead – Turnips and Broad Bean are top of my ‘must grow, must eat’ list for the new year.
Filled with dreams of Spring 2018, I’ve found myself browsing and buying next year’s seed.
I’m feeling impatient.
Snow is on the ground, the garden is brown and sleeping, and I’m thumbing the Sutton’s 2018 seed catalogue impatiently. Sometimes my eyes glaze over and I catch myself drifting off forward in thoughts of filling seed trays, potting up, and bright spring sunshine.
I’m lacking in the TARDIS department, so I return to the cold winter window view of 2017, knowing that at least my planning will be good.
Over the last year I’ve been tuning in to videos by Vivi, who has been allotmenting for years, but in 2017 she put herself out of work and aimed to become self sufficient. Her videos have kept me inspired to keep gardening, to keep trying when it doesn’t quite go to plan, and also to try growing new things (as well as making soups!). She inspired me to grow squashes after watching her harvest a wheelbarrow load off her allotment, so in 2018 I shall be growing some new things… well, new to my gardens anyway.
In 2018 I shall try growing:
Carrot ‘Flyaway F1 Hybrid‘
Carrot ‘Sweet Imperator Mix F1‘
I bet i’ve tried growing carrots before – i mean, who hasn’t? But the harvest can’t have been successful as I’d have remembered what happened. The latter of the three firsts are those ‘vintage’ kinds of carrots – the yellow, purple, red and orange kinds. So these will be fun to grow. The ‘Flyaway F1 Hybrid’ carrots should, as their name suggest, be ‘fly-away’ for the carrot fly larvae.
Turnips are completely new to me, and I don’t remember them growing on my parents garden either. I’m really into roasting veg, so I shall be roasting these snowy white turnips. I think I can also eat the tops too.
I’ll also be growing a range of Peppers, because I’ve realised that I use quite a lot of these in my cooking – far more than tomatoes, so I shall swap to growing those instead. And what I’m sure will be a mixture of disbelief and amusement of my mother, I’ll also grow some Broad Beans in 2018.
From what were bland-tasting, smelly warts as a child, after 30+yrs, I finally realised that they’re actually quite tasty, healthy, and filling. I know that you can get varieties that can be sown in Autumn, but having missed that boat, I’ve got my eyes on some Spring varieties like Crimson Flowered or Listra instead. Thankfully, you can get away with sowing these as early as February.
But I’ve got to wait to sow the rest of these seeds. Months.
Instead of Christmas shopping (it’s December after all), I ended up on the “1 present for you, 2 presents for me” routine at a local garden centre. Oops. I came home with two packets of seed and a propagator.
Other garden tasks for 2018
Once it’s dry enough, I am going to demolish an old little shed in the back corner of my garden. There’s a much bigger and newer shed opposite it, and I don’t have enough junk to fill both. How this little shed has survived the gales of 2017, it’s anyone’s guess. It has no felt, the door regularly swings open, and I think i could push it over with one generous poke from my index finger… yet still it stands.
My plan is to carefully remove the pane of glass (I think it’s glass anyway), and then deconstruct it so that I end up with a pile of planks. I then want to recycle it into raised beds, as my one from last year really worked well.
The end of April 2018 will signal the end of my first year in this house, and hopefully by then, I’ll have worked out how areas of my garden perform, and will be able to plant appropriately.
For now though, I shall continue watching the winter garden, feeding the birds, and dreaming of warmer, greener months ahead.
I enjoyed watching the squash plant shoot across my garden, clasping on to so many plants – including the lawn and the Fennel. Every so often a big yellow flower would open followed by a swelling fruit. By the end of the season I counted 12 squashes (there would have been a couple more if i hadn’t have snapped a stem, or the mildew hadn’t choked the leaves). Still, for one plant, that’s a tremendous good job and I’d certainly recommend them to anyone to try.
Next year, I’d like to grow them upwards though, as they were a bit of a space hog, and I’ve seen that you can persuade them up an arch or trellis.
Cooking Squash Spaghetti Stripetti
Once I’d got these impressive orangey squashes, I then thought I should learn how best to cook them.
Once you’ve finally managed to cut them in half (which is by far the hardest bit), use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Then, put a little olive oil spread around the insides of each half, and season with some salt and pepper, and then turn them face down on a baking tray and put them in the oven at about 180C for 35 mins.
Flip them over and let them cool. These spaghetti types are great for roasting and then using a fork to strip them out. They collapse into a delicate spaghetti shape with little effort. They’re pretty sweet and buttery as they are, but really quite versatile.
I’ll definitely be growing another one in 2018, once I’ve got an arch or trellis up.
I’m drowning in Courgettes, and I’m spiralizing them as fast as I can go…. but I fear this is only the start!
You might remember that I planted 6 Courgette ‘Black Beauty‘ plants earlier this year, and when I moved into my new house at the end of April, I swiftly built a raised bed and planted 4 of them in it, and 2 of them nearby.
Well, having since had weeks of hot weather and sporadic heavy rainfall, I’m now in the midst of a Courgette-valanche, a Zuchinni-overload, I’m drowing in them. Plus, i somewhat foolishly gave them all liquid fertilizer at the weekend! :S
Today I went out and picked 8 courgettes.
Introducing the Courgettometer
Because I love a good bar chart, I’ve decided to keep a tally of how many courgettes i’m picking per week, and how much they weigh. I’ll probably do the same for the French Beans, although the Courgettes will win on weight easily.
Here’s the Courgettometer’s cumulative courgette weight chart so far:
I knew I’d get more than I needed (I’m the only one here to eat them), but in just the 4th week of harvest, they show no sign of giving up. Thankfully I traded in my wrist-achingly manual spiralizer for a Morphy Richards electric spiralizer a few weeks ago, and after a few very disappointing and messy squishy attempts, I’ve pretty much mastered it and now I’m eating a courgette most days via the magic of courgette spaghetti – or ‘courgetti’ as I like to call it. I don’t eat pasta or noodles, so turning a courgette into a noodle form gives me a lovely bulky meal that’s also far healthier (and less uncomfortable) for me to eat. It also means I can eat them alongside a load of other vegetables without realising I’m eating a whole courgette.
A bit of a squeeze
The Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ are likely to give the courgettes a run for the title of heaviest veg harvest this year, with the one surviving plant in the raised bed having gone potty (I almost wrote ‘bananas’ there) in the last few weeks. It has probably reached a good 15 feet in spread, swamping and strangling anything in its path, and there’s loads of squashes littered around the garden under its leaves.
I originally planted two squashes in this raised bed, but sadly (and probably fortunately), the wind snapped one of them in half. Stupidly, I sowed a replacement, which is now sitting impatiently on my kitchen windowsill as I wonder whether the hell I can let it grow.
As for the courgette overload, I’ll keep eating them, but at some point I’m probably going to have to start giving them away to neighbours and friends. That’s one of the great things about being a vegetable gardener – if you produce too much food, you can be sure that you can give it away. Veg gardening can be a very sociable past time.
That’s it for now – but let me know whether you’re drowning in a pile of fruit/veg yet? I’d love to hear of more recipe ideas too – I’m thinking about Courgette muffins, courgette cake, and wondering whether they convert to soup very well.