Sunny spring evenings are the best!

Once we start to get a few warmer days, it doesn’t take things in the garden long to really get going! Here’s a quick update on where some of the seeds we sowed a couple of weeks ago have got to over the last week or so…

The herbs we sowed were ready to be pricked out earlier last week, as were the cucurbits. The herb seedlings were pricked out into 60 cell trays (as the seedlings are smaller and more delicate) and the cucurbits were pricked out into c.3 inch pots.

It’s important to pick the right size pot for your vegetable plants. A pot that is too small will stunt the plants growth, whereas a pot too large will overwhelm the tiny seedling and have an equally detrimental effect. If in doubt, always plump for a smaller pot/cell tray as this will possibly just mean one extra transplant before its final planting!

It’s also incredible how fast the beetroot grow. This is them on 11 April and then again today – they’ve pretty much trebled in size!!

The carrots we cored holes and sowed a couple of weeks ago are also well on their way now. As you can see, the seeds have all germinated, and these will be ready to thin out to one carrot per borehole shortly.

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Spuds.

On Monday, we were all helping to plant the annual crop of potatoes in the Plumb Garden. Although the Plumbs grow a lot of potatoes (as seasoned growers and exhibitors), the same methodology can be applied whether you’re planting 1 or 100!

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Instead of planting the potato tubers directly into the soil, the Plumbs plant their potatoes in a compost mix in polypot bags. This tends to give the potatoes a better skin finish (if you want to exhibit them or even if you just prefer your potatoes to look nice when you cook them!) and also makes them a lot easier to harvest – as you just lift each polypot bag and tip it out rather than having to root all around a bed of soil trying to work out how far the potatoes may have spread their roots.

We also planted our own Kestrel potato in a pot.

Sowing a Potato.

We put peat through a shredder in order to make it fine and to remove any clumps (or in other words – to aerate it).

Then, the pot is filled to a third of the way up with the aerated peat:

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Give the pot a shake to level it out, and then place the seed potato (that has been chitted*)into the middle – leaving a single sprout facing upwards (as shown below):

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*Chitting is the process by which a potato is left in a cool, light place to encourage it to produce sprouts before planting.

After that, fill the pot completely to the top and level it off:

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Give the pot a healthy dose of water (making sure to moisten the compost in the pot thoroughly), and leave somewhere sunny to let it grow 🙂

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It’s worth adding that seed potatoes will more often than not have more than one sprout once they’ve chitted – so it’s just a case of removing all but one or two of the sprouts before planting it into the pot. The idea behind this is to get a larger crop of potatoes, as less time is wasted by the tuber in producing leaves (also known as haulms) and more time is spent producing potatoes.

 

A visit to RHS Wisley

The National Vegetable Society (NVS) Southern Branch held their 2018 AGM today. This was supposed to be hosted by the Sussex DA in Ashurst a couple of weeks ago, but had to be cancelled at the last minute due to snow. Therefore, it was re-arranged for today and the venue changed to RHS Wisley Gardens.

Following the meeting, we took the opportunity to wander round the gardens. I had been many times before (mostly when I was a child and the NVS Southern Branch used to host their Southern Branch Championships there, or when the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) used to host one or more of their shows there). However, it was a first time for Chris.

My favourite part about the garden is how many different types of scenery there is all in one place – from vegetables to fruit, alpine to river bed plants, shrubs, trees and water features. We visited the glasshouse with its tropical plants, the orchard, the rock garden, the riverside walk and the model vegetable garden.

It was lovely to see how many of the plants outside were just starting to grow now the weather has warmed up a bit. It just goes to show that it doesn’t take long!

Emily

Hyde Hall is the only other garden I’ve been to (as far as I can remember), but RHS Wisley was definitely worth a visit. Walking into the hot and humid glasshouse felt like we’d stepped off a plane in the Caribbean – very nice when it was drizzling outside!

There really was something for all ages, we even stumbled across a dinosaur – although I don’t think that was meant for a 28 year old…!

Chris

 

The National Vegetable Society

On what was a miserable looking Sunday afternoon, it was perhaps best to be indoors rather than out! 

Emily and her family are members of the National Vegetable Society (NVS), and their knowledge of and passion for growing means they all play a key part in making the society what it is. I’ve also been a member for the last couple of years or so.

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The NVS is a national society to bring people who share the hobby of gardening together. Although (as you can probably guess from the name) it mainly focuses on growing vegetables – whether that’s learning from scratch (like me), or sharing your experiences with other members of what has or hasn’t worked in your garden (or allotment) – there are also other types of growing covered, such as dahlias, chrysanthemums and fruit. It’s also a society for showing/exhibiting vegetables (if you want to) – something which The Plumbs have had a lot of success with over the years!

The NVS is split into five branches (Southern, Midlands, Northern, Welsh and Scottish), each of which have a number of District Associations (DAs). These DAs are local groups which bring together members in that area, albeit you are more than welcome to attend other DA events if you are interested and willing to travel. Our local DA is the Essex DA, which holds several meetings at Hatfield Peverel Village Hall each year, usually with a speaker. Today’s speaker was Emily’s mum, Sherie! With a turnout of around 50 people, we were told about a year in the ‘Plumb’ garden – something I’ve been able to see and enjoy first-hand for some time now!

As well as the talk, the two of us had our own usual jobs – Emily was on the door meeting and greeting visitors and I was in charge of seed potatoes, as well as broad and runner bean seeds and some other bits and pieces (all related to growing, of course!)

There was also the raffle, and last but not least the tea and snacks (including my favourite – the quiche!) All of the above helps to cover the cost of the day and to keep the DA going.

The next meeting is on Sunday 13 May at the same venue, where Dave Gillam will be giving a presentation on growing dahlias for exhibition. Although NVS membership affords you free entry to the DA meetings, non-members are also very welcome at a modest £2 per head.

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Quick courgettes

Despite only being sown last Monday (2 April), the Midnight courgettes were the first to germinate and so were ready to prick out today. It’s important to get the right balance when pricking out seedlings – not too soon so you end up inadvertently damaging the tiny seedlings during transplanting but not leaving them too long so they become leggy or grow such an extensive root structure in the seed tray that again they end up getting damaged in the process.

We were pricking these out into 3 inch square pots, filled with multipurpose compost – slightly firmed down half way through filling, and then filled to the top. Before pricking out a seedling into each pot, the pots were given a light watering to moisten the compost.

A hole large enough for the seedling was made in the pot with the dibber tool. Make sure when making the hole that it is large enough to easily fit the seedling plus any roots it may have made. It can be a good idea if it is the first time that you’ve grown something to leverage one of the seedlings out of the seed tray before making the hole so you can get an idea of how big it needs to be. You don’t want to be fiddling around too much adjusting the size of your hole with a seedling waving around in your other hand!

As you can see, these courgette seedlings have made a surprising amount of root for what is still a relatively small seedling. However, not all seedlings are the same. For example, leek seedlings typically just grow a single root to begin with which is essentially an extension of the seedling itself.

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When transplanting the seedling, don’t be afraid to lower it down into the compost a little further than you may be comfortable with. Most seedlings will not be affected if you submerge the bottom part into the compost and this can encourage a stronger, stockier plant. This is also a great way to salvage seedlings which have gone a bit leggy, and grown too tall before you’ve had a chance to prick them out – just submerge them into the compost a little more than you ordinarily would.

Once transplanted, the seedlings are gently firmed into the compost to stabilise the seedling, before giving them a final light water and leaving them to grow on.

 

It doesn’t take long to see progress…

As you can see from the photo, the Boston beetroot seeds we sowed last weekend have already germinated.

Therefore, the newspaper and sheet of glass can now be removed to enable them to grow upright and benefit from the light.

As we mentioned in the last article, beetroot seeds are often pocketed with more than one seed in each casing. You can see this here where there are more often than not multiple seedlings poking out from the compost.

The seedlings will be kept in a cold greenhouse to protect them a little from the harsher weather that it is still possible that we will get at this time of year, and the compost kept moist.

The Midnight and Tuscany courgettes we sowed are also starting to germinate. As you can see, even different varieties of the same vegetable develop at different rates – here the Midnight developing at a faster pace than the Tuscany. Therefore, don’t be disheartened if one tray of seeds starts showing its head and another doesn’t for another couple of days.

It can also sometimes be down to the freshness of the seed, with older seeds taking longer to germinate than newer seeds.

Easter bank holiday weekend (March/April 2018)

With the many joys that come with a four day weekend, we found some time to spend out in the garden – when we weren’t eating copious amounts of chocolate, of course! It was a shame the rain had to be so persistent – but keeping you dry is one of the many things greenhouses are great for!

This time of year is the busiest in terms of sowing and growing on seedlings ahead of being planted outside once it hopefully, eventually warms up a bit! It is important to plan ahead to some extent at this time of year, to make sure you’ve got crops to harvest during the summer and autumn months.

Therefore, most of the things we got involved in this weekend revolved around sowing and growing on.

A good starting point when it comes to sowing seeds is that we very rarely sow anything straight into the ground. Although possible to succeed in this way, we find that it is often more rewarding (and uses far less seed) if you first sow the seeds into a cell, pot or seed tray. This gives the seeds (and later seedlings) the best chance in life you can give them – by waiting until they are strong and stable before planting out into the soil or their final growing spot.

Sowing BEETROOT and CURCURBIT seeds

Beetroot are a great vegetable to grow, especially if you are just getting to grips with growing veg. They taste great in salads or roasted, and are very easy to grow  as they need very little attention, they are ideal for those of us that don’t have as much time!

First, we filled the cell tray with some seed and potting compost, filling each cell to the top and then gently pressing down the compost to firm it into the cell tray. Each cell is then refilled to the top and levelled off before moistening the compost with water from a watering can with a fine rose. Firming the compost in the cell tray gives the seeds a more stable footing to put their tiny roots into.

A single seed was then sown in each cell and gently pushed into the compost. In this case, it is possible to sow just a single seed, as beetroot seeds are often coated with multiple seeds per “seed”.

After sowing, each seed was covered with a pinch of vermiculite* and then moistened with a little more water from the watering can. The seeds are then covered with a sheet of glass and a piece of newspaper to eliminate the light until the seeds begin to germinate.

*If you don’t have any vermiculite to hand, then a fine layer of sieved compost will do the trick

As you may know, cucurbit seeds (i.e. cucumbers, marrows, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes) are much larger than most vegetable seeds we deal with. We also sow these in a slightly different way; sowing as many seeds as you want to grow in 1/4 seed trays before pricking them out into pots to grow on before being planted out. You may want to sow a few extra as it’s best to anticipate that not all will germinate.

Other than this, the methodology is extremely similar to the beetroot above: fill the seed trays with compost – firming and moistening it before sowing, sow each seed on its side – pushing into the compost slightly, covering with vermiculite, moistening this and then covering with a sheet of glass and a piece of newspaper.

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Pricking out LEEKS

The leek seeds which had been sown a couple of weeks ago in the 1/4 seed trays (referred to above) were ready to be pricked out. In the case of leeks, we were pricking these out into small cell trays (around 1 inch diameter).

Each seedling is carefully prised from the seed tray, being careful not to break off any of its roots or to damage its seedling. The easiest way to do this is using a dibber tool, also ensuring you dig wider and deeper than you expect the roots to be. When pricking out seedlings, it is important not to touch the root if this can be avoided. This should prevent damage to the seedling and give it a better chance of survival. Instead, the seedling should be held by its leaf/leaves when transferring it from the seed tray to its new cell/pot.

Using the dibber tool, you can make a hole to place the seedling in to. It is also key to ensure that each seedling is gently firmed in to the compost after its transferred so that there are no gaps between its roots and the compost created by the hole used to make sufficient space to transfer the seedling over.

Boring and sowing SHORT CARROTS

One of the few vegetables that are sown straight into their final growing place is carrots. This is because carrots are notoriously difficult to transplant, often going to seed as a result of any such distress.

To get a better finish on our carrots, and to try and prevent forking of the roots, we sow our carrots in beds of sharp sand and bore/core holes to grow the carrots in. Once each hole is cored (to about 18 inches in length), it is filled with a multipurpose compost using a funnel.

Once each bore hole is filled, it is firmed down with the back of your hand, and a stick pushed in to the centre of the hole. The reason for this is so the centre of the hole is not lost once the holes are watered after filling but prior to sowing, otherwise it would be all but impossible to tell where to sow the seeds in order for them to actually be sown in the centre of the hole!

When you are happy that the compost in the bore holes are moist enough, the seeds can be sown. We usually sow three seeds per station, with all but the strongest being thinned out later down the line. We do this to try and ensure that at least one seed grows per station so that none are wasted.

As with all the seeds we’ve sown so far, the seeds are then sprinkled with vermiculite before being moistened one last time and covered with newspaper to exclude the light.

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Filling each bore hole with multipurpose compost
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Gently firming down the compost
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Making a hole in the centre of the bore hole
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Putting a stick in the centre of the bore hole
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Close up of the filled bore hole
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After moistening, creating a small indent in the centre of the bore hole
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Carrot seeds
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Covering the seeds with newspaper to exclude the light

Potting on SWEETCORN

The sweetcorn seedlings also needed potting up into slightly larger cells (the sweetcorn was also sown circa 2 weeks ago). With the smaller cell trays, we often find that it is harder to extract the cells intact. However, this is important so as not to damage the roots and/or seedling that have grown so far. With these particular cell trays, we find that gently squeezing the cells does not work. However, poking a pencil up from the bottom to release the cell works wonders!

After extraction, a hole is made in each previously filled cell in the larger tray and the plug pushed in and firmed down. The seedlings are then given a water with a can with a fine rose to settle the new compost around them.

So, as you can see, the weather didn’t hinder us all that much!

Our stories so far…

Growing vegetables has always been a huge part of my life. My parents started the hobby well before I was born, so I’ve never really known anything else. From wandering care-free around the garden as a toddler just taking everything in, to worrying if “I could have a go” (about literally everything) as a child, I wouldn’t have it any other way.As a child it was simply a part of weekend or school holiday life. It sometimes felt like an endless list of tasks which I just wanted to be finished rather than something that was there to be enjoyed. However as I got older, finished school, left for (and returned from) university and started my working life, I realised how much I’d learnt over all those years. 

Nowadays, I don’t always have as much time to spend in the garden as I would like, but what I do know is that I still enjoy being outdoors and eating fresh produce from the vegetable patch – where some of my fondest memories are of times spent as a family.

 ~Emily

Until I met Emily just over 3 years ago, I had no idea just how much of what you eat can be grown in your own back garden. I also had no idea that it would all taste better than it does in the supermarkets.

It didn’t take long for me to realise how passionate her family was about growing veg, and that it would only be a matter of time until I was asked to roll up my sleeves and lend a hand.

From the vegetables such as radishes and salad leaves that take a few weeks, to the slower-growers like leeks and large onions, it’s surprising how simple the whole process is. All you need is a little understanding of the basic do’s and don’ts – and of course a little (or sometimes a lot) of watering!

~ Chris

In creating this blog, we hope to be able to demonstrate that you don’t need to have decades of experience to produce good food…

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