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.




Chooks and Roots on Facebook

Chooks and Roots.

Brand new Facebook page – will be posting pics, links and blogtastic other stuff…

If you’re interested in gardening, growing your own and/or keeping chickens, come along and join us 🙂

Insulating the greenhouse

As winter is well and truly on its way now, we’ve decided to insulate the greenhouse. This should keep the place warmer, help keep the frost out, and hopefully reduce the fuel bill when the weather is cold enough to dust off our trusty heater. It should also let us grow a few things over the winter that would struggle to survive outside.

Last year I put a small plastic greenhouse inside the big one, and this was great for starting off some early crops. This year I also want to have a go at growing some winter salads and early potatoes in containers, so decided to insulate the entire greenhouse.

Searching online, I found that the best material is bubble wrap. Apparently you can get specialist stuff which is ideal for the job as it’s UV protected. I only found out this little gem of information after I’d already bought a massive roll of packaging bubble wrap. Deciding to give this a go as we already had it, myself and the other half waltzed off down to the greenhouse at the weekend, to tackle the job in hand.

The first thing to do was to have a good old tidy up, so we harvested the last of the tomatoes and removed the plants. The green tomatoes are now between sheets of newspaper in the conservatory to ripen up. Next up we sorted out the pots and temporarily moved the plants on the staging outside, to give ourselves a clear area to work in.

After a fair bit of ‘to me’ ‘to you-ing’ we’d soon lined the inside of the greenhouse with bubble wrap. As ours is wooden, it fixed onto the frame easily with drawing pins (bubbles towards the glass). If yours is aluminium, special plastic fixings are available from most garden centres.

Now the insulation is up, and especially when we’re using our paraffin heater, the greenhouse will naturally produce more condensation. This could potentially be a problem as too much humidity can be a breeding ground for fungal infections. To get around this, we’ll open the door on clear, sunny days to ventilate the place, and keep the pots and plants inside on the dry side.

The last task of the day was to cut off the tops of the now empty grow bags. I planted a crop of winter peas in one a couple of weeks ago, and these are merrily pushing through the soil as we speak. Into the others went some mixed salad leaves, some spring onion seeds and some radish. With any luck we’ll be harvesting salad well into the winter.

The Hinckley Times 8 November 2012

The Hinckley Times 8 November 2012

We’re off to the Edible Garden Show!

I happened across the Edible Garden Show today, and am chuffed to be able to say that my friend and I are off there for a little trip out this weekend.

No strangers to garden shows, we’ve been to quite a few over the years. We prided ourselves at one time of being Geoff Hamilton’s own personal groupies, and it wasn’t unknown for us to visit the Gardener’s World Show at the NEC just to catch a glimpse of the legend himself. At some points I think we even convinced ourselves that we actually knew him, as we would chat gardening chat with wise words such as, “well, you know, Geoff said the best way to grow carrots was to….” blah blah blah.

On one occasion, we were avidly watching Gay Search doing a piece for telly, and I’m almost ashamed to say that throughout the entire performance, my friend and I were watching through the back of the garden display, with our heads poking through the trellis. We searched the recording of the next Gardener’s World show frame by frame, and, result! There we were, grinning stupidly in the background – how we laughed.

So this weekend should be fun. My friend doesn’t actually grow much veg, but she’s mad keen on all the other stuff, and knows the right way to prune shrubs etc, rather than my haphazard approach of ‘grab the shears and give it a good haircut!’ Oh, yes, I can see it now. She’ll have to bow to my wisdom when I start going on about borlotti beans vs runner beans, and early and late peas, and wondering sagely if indeed those parsnips are ‘Hollow Crowns’.

I’ll have to slightly overlook the point when her eyes glaze over and she impails herself on a garden fork….

January… not the best month for growing

According to form, the most depressing day of the year falls at the end of January. I can vouch for that. As far as gardening news goes, not an awful lot happened.

As I had a new greenhouse to play with, I was determined to get on out there and start growing things as early as I possibly could. Everything was going to get off to the best possible start, and by the summer, I’d be powering a small shop with my veggie delights. I catalogued all my seeds at the end of last year, so I know what I have, what bed it goes in, who to plant it with, and most importantly, when. January arrived, and I have to say, I was itching to get going. So, I looked at the trusty list, and discovered I could plant aubergines, tomatoes, peas and early carrots in the greenhouse. In they all went, and I did a rare thing indeed – I even labelled the trays. I put the small plastic greenhouse inside the big greenhouse, figuring it would provide a nice frost free area for them to thrive.

Then we had a cold snap, and it became blatantly obvious that it wouldn’t be warm enough in there. So, off I went to town and happened upon a half price paraffin heater in our local hardware store. Too good to miss, and the last in the shop, I whipped it off the shelf and scurried to the checkout, before they changed their mind. Feeling rather smug with my bargain, I was almost praying for a frost that night, so I could go and play with my new toy. My wish was granted, and the heater worked a treat. However, from that moment on, the rest of the month was spent running up and down the garden, tending to the seed trays.

At night when it was cold: heater on. First thing in the morning: heater off. Bit of sunshine: seed trays out on the bench. First sign of cold: seed trays back in the small greenhouse. Last thing at night: heater back on, and door zipped up. At some points I’ve seriously wondered if I took as much care over my children when they were young… And that’s not all. Cold weather equals frozen chicken water, so I’ve also had to run up and down replacing that. With all this extra activity during what’s supposed to be the ‘quietest gardening month of the year’, I fully expect to have lost the muffin top I picked up over Christmas. And after all this running around and extra effort, what am I rewarded with? A tray of pea shoots, and not much else.

Taking the pea…

I planted my overwintering peas (Douce Provence) in guttering, under cover in September. I know I was early, but if you recall, September was a really wintery, cold month, and I just thought that they would never rumble me. – plus the fact that I’m too impatient for my own good and want results NOW!

Along came October and it was the real deal ‘Indian Summer’ we get promised every year. I, for one, was actually on Skeg Vegas beach in my cozzie on the 1st October, but let’s not dwell too much on that thought.

Yesterday, I trotted off down the garden to see if the peas needed a water, threw back the cloche with a flourish, and I have to say, I could not believe my eyes.  There is only a blooming pea pod on there – what’s that all about? Now I have a tense winter of tending to said peas, which for all I know, may have ‘pea’-ked too early.

Have these pea-ked too early?

A backup plan swiftly came into play. I’ve sown a tray of peas in the greenhouse. If they all take, we’ll be having shares in Bird’s Eye!


To heat, or not to heat? That is the question

So, here I am debating whether to heat the greenhouse through the winter, or if the cost of heating it would seriously throw the price of my veg even higher than that of my eggs. (And they are on par with the ones from the Golden Goose at the moment).

The plastic greenhouse that used to be on the patio, but used to blow over about once a week is now covered in bubble wrap, and inside the big greenhouse.  The orchid collection is currently camping out in there, but will they survive the winter, or will they need additional heating? It’s all a big mystery.

Paraffin heaters are cheap, but apparently they create moisture, so all your plants potentially go mouldy. Not ideal – I have enough of a challenge getting the stuff to grow as it is, without putting some other potential plant killer into the mix.

I’ve Googled to try to find out what the pros and cons of heating the greenhouse would be, but can only seem to find answers from the depths of the USA, where they’ve had 10 feet of snow. We don’t tend to get that much.

So, for a greenhouse in the Midlands, UK, is it worth the bother or expense of heating it, or should the greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse arrangement be fine?

Answers on a postcard please…

Sprout and potato soup: 5p a portion

In the spirit of growing your own and trying to be a bit more self-sufficient, I’m always on the lookout for ways to make nutritious meals out of next to nothing.

Yesterday I dug up my first sprout stick. All summer it looked like it was going to be the King of the Sprout patch, as it grew thick and strong, and quite frankly, made the other specimens pale into relative insignificance. I’d wander past, giving it a sage little nod, thinking ‘You’re Christmas Dinner!’

However, as time went on, it turned out to be  all leaf and no action – the sprouts growing on it were not tight and nutty, so we ended slapping them around a pie – actually quite tasty albeit odd shaped.

I then decided that there was loads more foliage on the plant that might be useful, so hunting around, I came across this recipe: Anthony Worrall Thompson’s sprout and potato soup.  As the recipe called for the sprouts to be shredded and then blended, I reasoned that it really wouldn’t matter what shape or size they were at the start. Add the fact that I’d just picked up a bag of potatoes for 15p at the late night Tesco, and everyone’s a winner.

So I popped all the ingredients into my soup maker last night, and hey presto: half an hour later I had enough soup  for my lunch for the next few day. For about 5p per portion. I’m just hoping there are no nasty… ahem… side effects of so much sprout concentrate…

Sprout and potato soup

Something this colour has to be either extremely good for you, or extremely bad!

They say that ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, but I think I’ve nearly cracked that one!

G Day is finally here

After all the hard work landscaping the garden (alright, not by me, personally – I had help!), and all the saving up pennies throughout the summer, my new greenhouse arrived today – complete with automatic openers and finials. Yes, you heard right… finials!

Two friendly chaps from ‘oop north’ arrived at 8.30 prompt this morning and after I made them a brew, they quickly set to work.

Just over an hour later, ta-da! there it was. The eaves are higher than normal, and even higher in mine as it’s on top of sleepers, and one chap asked if I had a very tall husband (he could plainly see that there were no ‘long ‘n’ lanky genes’ in my makeup!). I replied, “no, but I hope to grow a very tall cucumber next year.”

I thought I would share the story ‘From bombsite to lovelyness’ in pictures…

The bombsite at the start

The wasteland. The chicken coop used to be here until we made them a mansion at the bottom of the garden. The shrubs were tired, so we decided to whip them all out. One look at the stubborn dogwood though, and we decided we needed help!

The area is cleared

One day later, our ‘man what can’ had worked like a trooper…

Greenhouse base and raised bed in place

New fence panel in, raised bed in place and greenhouse base down. Oh, and concrete edgers ready for the gravel.

All ready for the greenhouse!

Gravel path – check… greenhouse ordered – check… credit card groaned – check!

Finally - the greenhouse... note the finials!

I now need to have good look through my seeds and ‘Greenhouse Expert’ book to see what I can do in there between now and spring… Exciting times indeedy!

Greenhouse base is down

The garden is really coming along now, and with any luck it will be ‘fait accomplis’ by the end of the week.

Our man’s coming back tomorrow, but so far he’s got the greenhouse base down, edging stones in and raised bed constructed.

He was hoping for some help from the other half with getting the new gravel board and fence panel in, but as he was out at work, we had to resort to the real muscle… me!

After much ‘to me, to you-ing’, and me grunting at the top of the slightly wobbly ladder, they slid in with relative ease. I had a manly war wound in the shape of a bruise on my wrist, but apart from that, all is good 🙂

Progress so far – from this:

to this:

He’s back tomorrow, and I just have a row of cabbages to rehome….