Carrots for Christmas

A couple of weeks ago I was having a good old chat with a fellow gardener, when he leaned across conspiratively, and asked:

“Have you planted your Christmas carrots yet?”

Slightly bemused but keen to know more, my interest was well and truly piqued… surely it was way too late to be putting carrots in: mine have all just been whipped OUT of the garden!  He went on to explain that carrot seeds sown in a deep pot in the greenhouse now,  had a good chance of being ready in time for the Christmas table.

Carrot seedlings

Carrot seedlings

I’ll have a go at most things garden related, so off I went down to the greenhouse, filled my deepest pot with compost, and duly sowed a thin layer of seeds on the top. And do you know what? They’ve only gone and germinated. They’re still very tiny, but plenty have popped up already. When they’re a wee bit bigger, I’ll thin them out to give them a bit more room to grow. As our greenhouse isn’t heated, it’ll certainly be interesting to see when they are ready to eat.

Elsewhere in the greenhouse, the caterpillar damage seems to be coming to a halt, and I’m now harvesting masses of red chillies. We can’t possibly eat the amount we have, so I’m drying some out. After threading some chillies onto a length of cotton, I’ve hung them up to dry in the utility room. In about three weeks or so they should be completely dried out, at which point I’ll whiz them up in the mini chopper. This will give us a good supply of chilli flakes to use throughout the year.

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

The tomatoes are also coming in thick and fast. To help them ripen, we’ve snipped off a lot of the lower leaves so the light and air can get around the fruits. My lot aren’t actually all that keen on tomatoes, so I’ve had to be a touch creative with using them up. Lots have gone into soups, and at the weekend I even made my own pizza base topping: I added peeled, chopped tomatoes to a pan with a squeeze each of tomato puree and garlic puree, brought it all to the boil and simmered the mixture to reduce it down. Delicious.

In other news, we have exciting developments from Cluckingham Palace.
After a good six months of Maud not laying anything, she now appears to be having a mid-life crisis. She thinks she is ‘hip with the young chicks’ and is laying like a trooper. Which makes for a lot of eggs: and a lot of cakes and quiches.

We can’t complain though – after all the sweat and toil we’ve put into the plot, it’s great to have so much produce to show for it.

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 19 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 19 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 19 September 2013


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.



Even more onions… and a couple of carrots

Who’d have thought…the sunshine we had on order finally turned up! Just a short while ago the plants were learning to snorkel… now they are on a full-on package holiday in the Med.

Everything is going bonkers in the garden: the beans are romping up the canes, the peas are starting to pod, and I’m delighted to report that for the first time ever, I have cabbages that aren’t turning into leafy trees, but are actually beginning to heart up. Happy times.

We’re not harvesting much apart from lettuce at the moment (the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) has finished so that got whipped out last weekend), but I’m confident that in no time at all we’ll be spoilt for choice.

You may recall a while back that I’d slightly over done the onion order. I’d omitted to add that shortly after, 100 more arrived in the post. I was going to keep them quiet, and put them in the seed drawer in the hope they’d keep through summer, for autumn planting. No such luck – a quick check at the weekend revealed some were starting to sprout.

It was evident that they had to go in, so that was the task at the weekend. Perusing the onion bed, it was already pretty packed.  However, clearing some weeds produced a few crafty spots in amongst the existing plants.

Casting aside the lovely neat rows, 100 red onions were duly popped in, willy nilly around the bed. Hardly any are planted up together, but I reasoned that if you turn up late for a party, you can’t be too precious who you sit with.

Next job was to plant out the carrots. Of the various rows of seeds I’ve sown, a grand sum of about ten carrots have survived. A couple of weeks ago I made paper pots and sowed some seeds in them, thinking I’d be able to move them to their final positions without disturbing the roots too much – I could plant the whole caboodle: paper pot, complete with soil and plants.

However, I hadn’t banked on the paper pots actually welding themselves to the side of the plastic crate they were in, so it was a bit hit and miss which ones came complete with pot, and which ones didn’t. No matter now though, they are all in, so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. A few more rows of carrots went in around them, just to try their chances. They’ve all gone in the space created when the PSB came out. The crop rotation’s gone a bit to pot, as they’re supposed to go in the ‘roots and onions’ bed…err… I think not…

This one appeared in the Hinckley Times on 31 May 2012