Saving seeds

Part of the pleasure of growing your own has to be the smug feeling when you saunter off down the garden or allotment and busily harvest free produce. But what if you went one step further, and actually produced your own seeds… for FREE?

Saving seeds to plant next year is fairly straightforward, but there are just a couple of things to bear in mind before you start. First off, the type of plant you collect seeds from will determine the end product of what actually grows.

For example, if you collected seeds from a ‘heritage’ variety of plant, the odds are you’ll grow something the same or very close as the original plant. Heritage varieties haven’t been genetically modified or mucked about with in any way, so on the plus side they retain their original features. On the minus they may be less hardy to certain pests and diseases.

If the original plant was an F1 (hybrid) variety, this is a man-made species that’s been created from a number of different varieties to incorporate the best from each. So the plant you grow could be very different to the one you harvested the seed from: it could take on the characteristics of any of the plants in the mix.

Simple seeds to begin with include:

Parsnips and carrots – these will flower the year after they have produced the root and greenery. Just leave one or two in the ground for the next season, and they should throw up a flower spike. Simply leave this alone:  after the flowers fade, bunches of seeds begin to form. Once these have started to turn brown, cut off the flower head and place upside down in a paper bag or envelope. Leave in a cool, dry place and the seeds will all dry out and drop off.

Garlic – when you’ve harvested your garlic bulbs for the year and dried them out, set a couple aside for seed.  In late autumn/early winter, simply divide the bulbs and plant each clove about 6 inches apart and just deep enough so the top is showing.

Beans and peas – leave a couple of pods on the plant. At the end of the growing season these will mature and then begin to dry out. Once dry, remove the beans and peas and dry completely on some kitchen towel. Store in a cool, dry place ready for next year.

Salad crops – lettuce and radish can easily ‘bolt’ during the summer, and throw up a flower spike. Just leave it alone until the seed pods begin to form, cut them off and dry upside down in a paper bag or envelope.

Tomatoes – Remove the fleshy insides of tomatoes and wash the pulp off through a sieve. Dry the seeds on sheets of kitchen paper, and once dry, store as above.

So there you have it – with just a little time and effort, it’s possible to grow next year’s crops… for nothing.

Parsnip flower head

Parsnip flower head

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 15 August 2013.




My first complaint

Following on from last week’s article, I recieved, via The Hinckley Times letters page, my very first letter of complaint.

The fact I’d put my runner beans in a tad early and the frost got them annoyed Mr Taylor sufficiently to write in about it. Apparently I’m a bit ‘gung ho’ with an ‘Oh dear, never mind’ attitude.

Gardening column was a little gung ho

Gardening column was a little gung ho

I’ll not hang my head in shame. Mr Taylor is completely right… I get excited about putting stuff in, and sometimes – yes – I am impatient, and things don’t quite work to plan. But isn’t that part of the fun of gardening? Mistakes are made, and you learn from them. Then you suck it up, and try another way of doing things.

Mr Taylor also calls for more good, sound knowledge. I thought there were a couple of good, sound messages in there…

  1. Don’t be fooled by a few warm days in thinking that summer’s here – there can still be a danger of a late frost
  2. Don’t do as I did and put stuff out too early – look at it – it died
  3. If you have put things out too early, and a frost is forecast, get out there and cover the plants up at night

The article may have actually saved people their hard earned money – one look at my beans and it would have put them off planting for a good couple of weeks…

I was also quite chuffed to have sparked a reaction – it meant that someone out there actually reads my ramblings and had a strong enough opinion to put pen to paper. I’m calling this one a landmark 😉

Signs of spring

Wandering around the garden this week, I’m amazed at the change in just a week. Everything’s bursting into life, and here are a couple of pictures…





Plum blossom

Plum blossom





However, it’s not all good news… I put my beans out a tad early, and the frost seems to have zapped them. Note to self: it may be sunny but it ‘aint all that warm at night.

Onto Plan B I think…

Runner beans - frost damage

Runner beans – frost damage




Slugs and spawn

Hear ye, hear ye… I have an announcement to make. But I will say it in hushed tones: “I think spring may finally be here.”

I don’t make this claim lightly – I’ve been gathering evidence. Out in the garden there are a number of things that suggest that we may finally have shrugged off the winter coats, and will soon be skipping around in our next season.

1.    I’ve found the first slugs
Whipping the cloche off the broad beans, I noticed tiny holes in some of the leaves. A good old rummage around at the base of the plants revealed slugs. No bigger than a fingernail, but they are there nonetheless. I’m hoping if I catch them early enough, they won’t mature into stonking great specimens, so I’m trying a couple of cunning plans this year. As well as setting beer traps for them, I’m sprinkling roughly crushed eggshells around the stems of any small plants. I’ve read that slugs find it hard to glide over the rough surface. We’ll see.

2.    We have frogspawn
The pond is alive with froggy love at the moment. Wherever I look, they are … ahem… ‘at it’. Coupled with that, there’s a massive clump of frogspawn in one corner. Now, going back to Point 1 above:  I thought that having frogs in your garden cut down your slug population. I’d heard that the frogs go out at night in search of tasty sluggy snacks. Our frogs evidently had other things on their mind this week. I will say no more…

A live sex show, courtesy of Mr and Mr Frog...

Froggy loving in the pond

3.    The greenhouse is going bonkers
Seeds that I planted months ago are finally popping up. I’ve got five kinds of tomatoes (one of them a mystery as the packet got wet and unreadable), courgettes, celery, cucumbers, runner beans, borlotti beans, chillies and aubergines. All very tiny at the moment, but they are there; they are healthy, and hopefully I can keep them all alive for the season.  Exciting times indeed.

tomato seedlings

Five varietes of tomatoes – including a mystery one

With all that extra growth going on in I’ve also been making sure that things don’t get overcrowded. I’ve split up my celery, onion and leek plants and replanted them in trays to give them a bit more elbow room. Some of the onion plants were a fair old size, so out they went into the garden. And they are not alone! The first of the raised beds is now full and complete, so into that have gone a row of purple sprouting broccoli, and two rows of cabbages. I’ve left room for some broccoli and cauliflowers that are in the greenhouse but are not quite big enough to go out yet.

Brassica raised bed

Brassica raised bed

The other two raised beds are now filled with a layer of rotted horse manure and yet more compost, and are now ready for some potato planting. I’ve been holding off doing this as the ground was simply too cold, but this week I’m going to bite the bullet. The spuds are going in.

Raised beds

Raised beds

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 18 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 18 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 18 April 2013


With the intermittent weather  and the gardening jobs in short supply, I turned my hand to recycling. The handle on our teapot was looking decidedly flaky, and it would only be a matter of time before it fell off completely. We drilled two holes in the bottom for drainage, and voila… it has a new lease of life as a plant pot.

Teapot planter

Teapot planter

I’m already using some old tyres to grow potatoes in. The theory is that each time the green shoots appear, you cover them with soil, and add a tyre. You should end up with a handy container full of spuds. This ensemble is right next to the same variety growing in the soil, so It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any difference in the crops.

Potatoes in tyres

Potatoes in tyres


A handful of people I know are using their old yellow cardboard recycling bags as potato planters – same theory – just cut a couple of holes in the bottom so any excess water can drain away, and Bob’s your proverbial uncle.

I’ve also started off my broad beans in empty toilet roll tubes this year. I should be able to plant them out complete, and therefore not disturb the roots. The tubes will rot down and the beans should hopefully get off to the best possible start.

Beans in toilet roll tubes

Beans in toilet roll tubes

Other household items easily recycled for the garden are:

Tin cans – spray them up to use as planters, or convert them into garden tea light holders. Just fill them with water and freeze. Once frozen, knock holes in the tin to your own design with a hammer and nail. The ice will stop the tin from folding in on itself.

Jam jars – sink in the ground with beer in, to act as a slug trap. Alternatively, make a handle out of wire, decorate them with glass paints and use as hanging tea light holders.

Aluminium drink cans – make great plant labels. Cut off the top and bottom, divide the rectangle you have into strips about 2cm wide, and file the sharp edges. Punch a hole at one end for string and write on them with a ballpoint pen.

Plastic pop bottles – cut off the bottom, and use as cloches in early spring, to protect small plants from slugs and cold.

Plastic milk bottles – cut them up to use as plant labels, or cut off the bottom at an angle to transform into a handy scoop for chicken pellets.

Wooden stepladder – painted up and propped in the corner of a patio makes a cracking place to display pots of herbs.

Right, back to the scissors and the sticky back plastic…




Just nipped down to the greenhouse, and it’s 29 degrees in there today… woo hoo… spring is on its way!

In addition, the following is happening…

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden


Leeks popping through

Leeks popping through

Broad beans are up!

Broad beans are up!


So, imagine the scene. There I am, minding my own business, having a wander around our local garden centre, when the sign slapped me around the face like a wet fish.


My head knew perfectly well that there must be nigh on 100 packets of seeds in the shed, plus the ones I’m drying out, and there is no way on earth I have enough soil to put them all in.

My heart said, “Don’t listen to him… Just have a little look”.

So over I trotted with all good intentions of doing just that, and began scanning the packets. Mentally I was ticking them off my imaginary list and I was happy that indeed, I did already own a selection of veg vast enough to stock a small shop – providing they grew.

Then I spotted them. Like an oasis in the desert my beady eyes feasted upon a packet of Thompson and Morgan heritage seeds. These were different, I reasoned. I knew I definitely didn’t have any of these.  A quick rummage produced two more packets and without further ado I was now the proud owner of some Dreadnought broad beans, some Selma Zebra climbing beans and some Rouge Long de Florence onions. I allowed myself a moment of nostalgia, imagining a hazy image of me in my grandmother’s day, picking beans and onions to my heart’s content.

I have no idea what they grow or taste like, but everyone says that old fashioned veg tastes fantastic. Watch this space… I’ll let you know…


After a lovely couple of weeks swanning around in southern Italy, I was itching to see how the veg plot had progressed in my absence. I meandered off down the garden to have a quick poke about down there this morning. Meandered… did you hear that?  The holiday must have done me good: I’ve learnt another speed other than ‘bombing around’.

First port of call was the greenhouse, and I have to say, that everything is going swimmingly in there. We are going to be inundated with tomatoes any time soon, have four decent sized aubergines growing, and the chilli and pepper plants are festooned with flowers and fruits.

Oh, and we have a melon that’s now about the size of a fist, and four or five cucumbers coming along. Our holiday garden-sitters have done us proud!

Peering outside, I noted that the courgette plants were also romping along. I planted them in the side of the raised strawberry bed, in the hope that they would trail over the sides. Not so – they are happily covering all the strawberries, so I think I’ll give them a patch of their own next year.

A wander over to the veg plot told rather a different story.  The wettest summer my garden can remember has done the runner beans no favours. There are a few paltry beans dangling on puny plants, but no flowers to speak of.  I even planted stunt doubles before I went away, in the hope that if we got a late summer, there would still be beans-a-plenty. Not one of them has popped up, so it looks like all the time and effort digging the bean trench, making the wigwams and planting the beans has been in vain. They are now officially ‘has-beans’.

I whipped them all out and weeded and dug the area. A quick check of the crop rotation plan tells me that brassicas are next up in that bed. The family will be pleased. There is nothing in the world they like better than a nice cabbage 🙂

The wet weather hasn’t done the onion bed any favours either.  The weed fairy had obviously paid us a visit whilst we were away, and the onions were difficult to spot in amongst them. If they haven’t rotted away, the leaves have started to go brown and wilt over, which tells me that they’ve done growing and need to come out. These were soon whipped out too, and I weeded and dug over the patch ready for next year’s crop of potatoes. Some of them came out not much bigger than when they went in, and I have to admit I’ve probably had bigger ones on a salad, but nonetheless I’m sure we will find a use for them. They’re currently drying out on the edge of the decking and will be winging their way towards a French Onion Soup very shortly…

Our first complete meal

Being on clay, our garden is having a slight issue with drainage. It’s actually reached saturation point now, and the vegetable plot is struggling slightly. Slightly may actually be an understatement… parts of the patch are now constantly under water. I’ve resigned myself to kissing some of the onions goodbye, but thought I’d have a cheeky look at the garlic I planted at the end of last year. The shoots above ground looked healthy enough, but it would only be a matter of time before the water took its toll and they rotted away.

Pulling on one of them, it slipped out of the ground with a satisfying slurp, and I was amazed to find quite a large garlic bulb at the end of it. With no time to lose, they were all up and out of the ground, and they are currently in the greenhouse drying out before I store them. According to the book you can lay them on the grass to dry, but looking at my lawn bog, I think not.

On a roll now, I decided to check on the spuds. I know of people who’ve had their first crop of early potatoes: mine were second earlies (International Kidney) and main crops (Cara) so there was every chance that some might be ready. Sticking my fork underneath one of the early plants, I gently eased one out of the ground, and am delighted to report there were actually decent-sized spuds in there. Fishing them all out and into my bucket, I soon had enough for dinner, and happily took them up to the house to wash them. Whilst doing this, I noticed that some had tiny holes in them, obviously caused by some grub or other. Making the executive decision to dig up the rest of the plants in the row before they all got chomped underground, I shot off back down the garden, wielding my trusty fork.

In no time at all, my bucket was full of lovely new potatoes, and I was feeling rather pleased with my haul. I topped it up with the broad beans that were ready, and plopped a cabbage on the top for good measure.

Swinging my bucket jauntily back to the house, I allowed myself a smug smile, as the day had finally arrived where we had enough produce from the garden to make an entire meal: we have hardly been ‘living off the land’ to date.

The other half and I then set about shelling the beans. As we weren’t due to eat them for another couple of hours, I wondered out loud if we had jumped the gun and they would lose their flavour at all between removing the pods and eating.

“Will they be alright in some water?” I asked.

The other half gave me a sidelong look and replied, “They’ve been in water all summer. I think they’ll feel quite at home…”

Our first complete meal

How’s everyone else doing with their growing? Any bumper crops to report?



Broad beaning my horizon

I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly eaten a broad bean.

I seem to remember eating some slimy things that came out of a can that made me gag in the distant past, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t broad beans. Anyway, I decided to have a bash at them this year as a) people seem to rave about them, b)  you can sow them in the winter when not much else is happening, and c) the seeds were cheap in a half price sale.

So, in October last year, I poked a few rows in, and amazingly for how cold it was, they all seemed to pop up. They’ve needed hardly any looking after as well, which suits me just fine – all I’ve had to do is put a cane at each corner of the bed and wrap string around, so they don’t get bashed about and fall over.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed black ants running up and down the stalks. Either they were in training for the ant-equivalent of the Three Peaks Challenge, or something was afoot. A rootle around on the t’interweb (it’s a marvellous place!) told me that if you have ants on your beans, it’s pretty certain that black fly are on their way.

The next bit is quite amazing… evidently black fly feed on the sap inside the plant, and in doing this secrete a sugary substance called honeydew that ants love. The ants then herd the flies up to the top of the plant, as they’ve worked out that the honeydew produced when the flies feed there is even sweeter. Clever stuff indeed.

However, black flies are the last thing I want, as they suck the life out of the plants and once you have them, they are hard to get rid of. I try to avoid spraying the veg plot as I don’t fancy eating pesticide and I don’t want to accidentally kill something that’s good for the garden – like ladybirds. And that’s another thing. Earlier in the year, I found ladybirds all over the place… now there are none. I was banking on them keeping my black fly population down.

In any case, the advice was to pinch out the tender green shoots at the very top of the plant. The black fly and the ants would then lose interest, and all would be well again. This I did: the ants disappeared, the flies never arrived, and the beans look healthy and well.

We had the first batch for Sunday lunch. They were a bit small and there was about enough for a spoonful each, but I steamed them with some summer cabbage and sautéed the whole lot with a finely chopped onion before serving. Delish!