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.




Spuds galore

This week I’ve harvested my first crop of new potatoes. The flowers have just begun to form, and yes, I know you shouldn’t dig them up until they have finished flowering, but I just couldn’t wait to see what was under the ground. I was delighted to find enough decent sized spuds to slap around our evening meal: I’m probably biased, but they were truly delicious. Now my curiosity has been satisfied, I’ll leave the rest alone for a couple of weeks.

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

We’ve also had our first crop of peas. True, there was only a small spoonful each, but they were fresh and tasty and looking at the forming pods, we will be in for a few more.

And that’s not all. Turning my attention to the rest of the plot, it all seems to have suddenly gone bonkers. I’ve got cabbage leaves coming out of my ears, so much so that I couldn’t physically make and store that amount of soup – so the chickens are receiving cabbagy treats. Which they love.

The first tiny courgettes are also beginning to form, as are the broad bean pods. I reckon we will be sampling those in just a couple more weeks. I’m also thrilled to report that some of the runner beans are now as tall as me, and look as though they may burst into flower any time now.

The greenhouse has produced the first tiny tomatoes, and I’ve been watering those and the cucumbers with comfrey tea.

To make the tea, I stuffed a load of comfrey leaves into a couple of old pop socks, tied up the tops and dangled them in the water butt to stew for a couple of weeks. I think the solution is ready to use, purely by the smell of it. Comfrey tea is funny stuff. You think that it’s pretty harmless, but once it’s out of the watering can, the stench jumps up and near on slaps you around the face. But it’s full of good stuff for the plants so I’ll have to get used to the greenhouse smelling like rush hour on the tube. Whilst on the comfrey theme, I’ve tucked a handful of leaves into the top of each grow bag hole. These should rot down gently and give the plants another vitamin hit.

All this feeding and tending is now for a purpose. I’ve had my programme for the Earl Shilton Town Show on 31 August at Age UK. There are loads of categories up for grabs including onions, beans, courgettes, cauliflowers and tomatoes –and that’s just the vegetable bit. There are sections for flower arrangements, home produce, crafts and a whole raft of things that children can enter. Programmes are available from Earl Shilton Town Council, and at only 20p per entry, watch out… I’m going for gold.

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

Sun starts action to start planting

This weekend I peeked out of the window and spotted a strange orb-like light in the sky. Hoping that North Korea hadn’t gone mardy with the rest of the world, I had another look. Happily, we didn’t seem to be on the brink of a nuclear invasion: the light in the sky was just the sun. I just didn’t recognise it for a moment.

With not a minute to lose, I shot off down the garden to crack on with some jobs. I’ve had the cloches on the soon-to-be legumes patch (peas and beans) for a week or so, to warm up the soil, so decided to plant some of these first.

Broad beans in toilet rolls Bunyard's Exhibition

Broad beans are ready to go in

My broad beans were a good old size, with a decent root structure, so two rows of these went in first, complete with their toilet roll plant pots. Next up were the Douce Provence peas that have been camping out in an old grow bag in the greenhouse all winter. I dug a hole the same dimensions as the grow bag, and managed to get them all out of the bag and into the ground, soil and all. As the weather isn’t quite tropical yet, I replaced the cloche tunnels to protect the plants from any nippy nights.

Douce Provence peas

Douce Provence peas

At this point, the other half joined me to carry on with Operation Raised Beds. In what seemed like no time at all, the last two frames were made and ready to be anchored in their final positions. I was quite prepared to just whack them down in a ‘rustic’ layout, but oh no… the Virgo in him reared its head. The path had to be moved three inches to the left, and the beds had to be in line with each other and an equal distance apart.

I do have to admit the meticulous approach paid off, and the raised beds look rather good – I can’t wait to get stuff growing in them. Wanting to get at least one of them in action, I set to work emptying the compost bins. Before long, I’d shovelled out two hefty barrows of compost, which went straight into one of the frames.

The raised beds

The raised beds

A quick trip to the garden centre, and four bags of topsoil later, and the first raised bed was complete. This year, this bed will be planted up with brassicas. I have a couple of rows of cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli that are ready to go in, but these have so far been in the greenhouse. Not wanting to shock them, I’ve put them under the cloches so they can get used to the change in temperature gradually, before I plant them up outside.

It’s still a bit cold to plant potatoes – the advice from others is that when it’s warm enough for weeds to start growing, it’s warm enough for spuds to go in. I know spring has been late arriving this year, but I do have high hopes that everything will catch up eventually.

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

Still a risk of frost

Well, well, well… who would have thought? A couple of weekends ago, we were treated to a lovely sunny spell and the promise of spring. This weekend it looked as though spring had well and truly scarpered, and we had snow!

It just goes to show how changeable the weather can be at this time of year: one warm weekend doesn’t mean a heat wave is on its way – we are in England, after all. Which is why if you do get any tender plants from the garden centre early in the year, remember they still need to be protected from frost if the temperature drops.

I am the most impatient person I know, and many a time I’ve dashed off to the nursery at the first sign of sun, returning laden with hanging basket plants and the like, only for the temperature to plummet and then lose the lot.

I was hoping to get some of my spuds planted out last weekend, but that plan was scuppered: the soil would have been too hard and cold for planting.

However, there are still a few jobs I can be getting on with this month:

Firstly I plan to have a good old tidy up and clear any leaves, early weeds and debris from the borders to make space for any spring bulbs and new growth that may be appearing. I’m also going to start my war on slugs early this year, and set beer traps near any emerging shoots that might take their fancy.

Some seeds can be sown direct in the ground during March – I may well cover the planting areas with a cloche or some polythene a week or so before planting, to warm the soil up before they go in.

Vegetables I can sow this month are beetroot, broad beans, early peas, Brussels sprouts, leeks, lettuce, radish, parsnips and early turnips.

My early peas were sown in an old grow bag and have been in the greenhouse over winter. I’m delighted to say that they have survived very well, the mice and slugs haven’t found them, and they will be transplanted to the garden in a couple of weeks’ time.

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Tomatoes, pepper

s, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers can be started off in the greenhouse or a warm windowsill.

I sowed some cauliflowers, leeks and onions a while back in the greenhouse and these are steadily popping up through the soil. I’ll space out the seedlings when they get big enough to handle, then when they are more manageable small plants they will go out into the veg patch. Anything that’s going from the greenhouse to outside will need to be hardened off. This just means I’ll acclimatise them to the outdoor temperature gradually by putting the pots outside during the day, and inside at night for a week or so before they go out.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings

Leek seedlings

Leek seedlings

I’m making the most of this ‘pottering’ time. Before long, spring will definitely have sprung and the real gardening work will begin.

The Hinckley Times – 13 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013


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!

Give peas a chance

A couple of weeks ago I planted some broad beans to grow through the winter. While I was at it, a couple of rows of first early peas (Douce Provence) went in, and these I covered with one of those portable cloche tunnels.

This weekend I dashed down to see how they were all coming along, and am delighted to report that the beans have already begun popping through the soil, and are looking healthy and strong.

Broad beans

Uncovering the peas, I was greeted with a different story. That patch was empty. On closer inspection, I discovered that the plants had, in fact, come up, but had strangely been chopped off at about an inch long. There was a row of teeny tiny shoots, but not one of them was in the ground.

Consulting my gardening friends, the most probable explanation offered was that mice were digging them up, and eating the seeds.

“Marvellous!” I thought. After whipping my plants out of the hungry mouths of slugs, birds and caterpillars all year, we now seem to be providing an ‘eat all you can’ buffet for the local mouse population. A quick search of the shed produced a couple of traps, which I baited up with ham and set under the cloche.

The next morning, I rushed off down the garden to see what I’d caught, and would you believe, there was only a blooming slug in the mouse trap! I reset the trap, and refilled the slug pubs around the garden, as we obviously had both slugs and mice sneaking into the veg plot.

My friend informed me that apart from the beer traps, another great way rid your garden of slugs was to actually go out there at night with a torch, and hand pick the little blighters. Deciding to give that one a go, I’ve been doing nightly garden patrols, creeping up on them, and chucking them into a container with some salt in it. This has been mightily effective, if a little addictive, and over the course of a week I’ve caught 45 whoppers.

Resigning myself to the fact that the pea crop may not make the winter, I’ve deployed a back up plan. I’ve chopped the top off one of the used grow bags in the greenhouse, and have planted some peas in it. I’m hoping that they can over winter in there, and be safely out of reach of both our mouse and slug population. In spring, I’ll simply transfer them to the garden. Well, that’s the plan…

The Hinckley Times 1 November 2012

After the rain

After yesterday’s rain completely stopped play for lots of gardeners and Jubilee parties, I thought I’d take a few pics this morning. Everything is bouncing along, and hopefully before long I’ll be smugly spoilt for choice at what to pick for dinner.

The spuds are doing well – I’ve run into a slight hitch with the old earthing up business. My rows were a bit haphazard, so I think I may run out of earthing up soil very shortly. Not to worry though – the ones in the tyres seem to be OK. There are three varieties in this bed – International Kidney, Cara and some random ones I found sprouting in a bag in the pantry. It will be interesting to see what I end up with…

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

The rasberries at the back of the bed seem happy enough too – must remember to dig out the netting when the fruit starts appearing. Last year I was beaten to it by the birds.

The brassica bed is romping along, and for the first time ever I have cabbages that haven’t shot off into the sky, but have stayed low, and are actually forming… wait for it… hearts!

I’ve pinched the tops off the broad beans, as I read that it helps stop the blackfly. The runner beans have their first flowers, which I’m sure the tree bees will sniff out in no time at all… We actually ate our first crop of peas yesterday. Picked, podded and steamed, they were delicious. We did have to ration them out though, as a basket of pods produced about a spoonful of peas.

Broad, runner and borlotti beans… in that order

The plants in the greenhouse are also coming along. We have one sickly cucumber who seems to be the runt of the litter, but seems to be perking up a bit now. The tomatoes have flowers, and I’ve been busily picking out the bit that grows in the ‘v’ between the stems. Apparently it’s better for them – I normally start off well then lose interest and they all go a bit mad.

‘Curly’ the runty cucumber is third from the right…

It’s all kicking off down there

After what seems like months spent gazing into seed trays willing things to grow, I had a nice surprise at the weekend. Things seem to be finally getting the message, and indeed have begun to pop their heads up.

Early peas

Peas - positively romping away

The peas are romping away, which is a stroke of good luck as the ones in the guttering shrivelled and died. I wasn’t sure if you are supposed to water them during the cold weather: whatever I did, it appears not to have been the right thing… oh well, at least I’d employed stunt doubles :). I’ve also planted another tray of snap peas that should produce slightly later. So if I manage not to kill these, we should have peas well into the summer.

And that’s not all. Yes, I know they are small, but have a look at these bad boys:

Cabbages and brussels

Cabbages and brussels

Cabbages and brussels for the end of year crop (“Hurray!” I hear my family cry) … and ….

First sign of tomatoes

The very first tomatoes! Hopefully these little chaps can spur the other trays on, as there are still aubergines, cucumbers, peppers, courgettes and parsnips, together with some assorted trays of flowers, some purple sprouting broccoli and a trough of lettuce.

Did I buy a big enough greenhouse?…

Have they ‘pea-ked’ too early?

Alright, alright, I know the books, the seed packet and the helpful people on the ‘tinterweb said to sow overwintering peas in October, but back then I was itching to get them in so I could try out my new polytunnel. Mine were planted in some old guttering in September (Douce Provence, if you’re remotely interested). The guttering theory is that when they are ready to transfer to the garden, there will be minimum disturbance to the roots… which apparently suits them just fine.

If you recall, the weather in September was really wintery and cold, so I genuinely thought that they would never rumble me – plus the fact that my own impatience won out. I’ve always had a theory that seeds don’t really know what month it is, or indeed how deep they are planted. I can’t imagine a row of planted seeds gasping, “I’ll never make it… I’m an inch too deep… go on without me, brothers!”.

So anyway, the peas went in, the polytunnel went on, and every one of them germinated. Happy times. Along came October, and with it came the real deal ‘Indian Summer’ we get promised every year. The weather warmed up, the polytunnel came off, and I swear the plants then thought they were on some sort of mini break. 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.

With the temperature yo-yo-ing by the week, the polytunnel was on and off more times than Cheryl and Ashley Cole – and the peas hadn’t a clue what season they were in. I was having serious doubts about whether I’d have any crop to speak of. I’d purposely planted loads, as last year, the meagre pickings we got never actually made it to the dinner table. They sort of disappeared en-route to the kitchen as the other half scoffed the lot straight from the pods.

Anyway, I recently nipped off down the garden to see if they needed a water, threw back the polytunnel 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.

I therefore executed a cunning backup plan. In case the plants under the polytunnel don’t make it, I planted another tray in the greenhouse. I am happy to report that these have all popped their little heads up.

If they all survive, this year we may be having shares in Birds Eye. I wonder if there will be a ‘largest collection of peas’ category in the Earl Shilton Flower and Veg show this August…

A pod. At this time of year... whatever next?


This article was featured in The Hinckley Times on 23 February 2012:

Replace your old boiler? Best not tell the other half...

Winter peas… a tad premature

Alright, alright… I know the book (and seed packet) said to sow my overwintering peas in October, but I just couldn’t wait – and the weather was very Octobery anyway.

I’ve always had a theory that seeds don’t know what month it is (or they’d be used as visual aids on calendars), or indeed how deep they are planted. Think about it – if a seed knew ‘depth’, they would have been a cheap alternative to a miner’s canary…

So anyway, the peas went in, the polytunnel went on, and every one of them germinated. Happy times. Then we had an Indian summer. The weather warmed up, the polytunnel came off, and I swear the plants now think they are on some sort of mini break.

Polytunnel: off (for now)

Now I have a dilemma. At some point I’m going to have to cover them up again (at this point the polytunnel will have been on and off more times than Cheryl and Ashley Cole) – so what season will the peas think they are in? The crop next year should be a telling one…