Pricking out the chilli peppers and colourful cauliflowers

Just a week after sowing, the Machu Picchu, Navona and Graffiti were ready to prick out. Unfortunately, we haven’t got round to writing this post until now though, so they’ve moved on a bit from now (see updated photos at the bottom of the post!)

The cauliflowers were pricked out into 3 inch pots which we filled with multipurpose compost, and the peppers were pricked out into cell trays (60 cells per seed tray), filled with seed and modular compost.

We use different composts depending on the size of the pot/cell tray that we are pricking out into. Multipurpose compost can sometimes be coarser than the seed and modular compost, and therefore the finer compost works better in the smaller cell trays.

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Seedlings are usually pricked out when they have grown their first two true leaves. Therefore, they are big enough to handle, but still quite small and delicate in the whole scheme of things.

We prick the seedlings out with a dibber, being careful not to disturb or break off any of the roots that the seedling has produced where possible. The dibber is dug in the compost a little way away from the seedling, and then underneath where the roots are likely to be to achieve this. The seedlings are then handled only by their leaves (not their stems) and pricked out into the pot/cell tray.

As you can see, the seedlings produce quite a root even after a week!

And this is the finished product! Always making sure to label the plants up as you go along so they don’t get muddled up.

And as we didn’t manage to write this post for a couple of weeks. This is how the cauliflowers look now…! They will stay in these pots until they’re planted out now, but we’ll keep you updated.

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2019 sowing planner

As promised, we have now put some suggested (hopeful!) dates to all the things we are looking to grow this year!

We have set this out below – so let’s see how closely we manage to stick to it!

Already sown/planted

  • Early Potatoes – Red Duke of York/Charlotte – 26/01/19
  • Chill pepper – Machu Picchu – 16/02/19
  • Romanesco – Navona – 17/02/19
  • Purple Cauliflower – Graffiti – 17/02/19

Still to come…!

  • Spring Onion – Guardsman – mid-March
  • Chard – Fantasia/Intense – mid-end March
  • Kohl Rabi – Purple Delicacy – end of March
  • Radish – Rougette (and other salad goodies!) – beginning of April
  • Sweetcorn – Earliking – mid-April
  • Maincrop potatoes – mid-April

Sowing pretty cauliflowers and planting garlic

This year we wanted to try Romanesco cauliflowers. We bought a lovely bright green variety, Navona which caught our eye, as well as Graffiti, a purple cauliflower! The seed packets recommend they are grown as autumn harvesting varieties, which would mean sowing in April/May.

However, we couldn’t wait to give them a try, so we sowed a couple of each today. All being well, we should be looking to harvest these at some point in mid-late May.

All our seeds get sown in a very similar way. The seed tray is filled with Seed and Modular compost, watered with a fine rose watering can and then gently compressed to make a smooth seedbed.

The seeds are then carefully spaced around the seed tray to make sure they are easier to handle when it comes to pricking out.

We then cover the seeds with a fine layer of vermiculite and make sure that the seeds are named so we don’t get them confused!

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As brassicas are quite hardy, their seeds don’t need bottom heat to germinate, even at this time of the year. Therefore, the finished seed tray was placed under a sheet of glass with newspaper over the top, and will be left until the seedlings start to show through. This shouldn’t take too long – probably about a week.

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In the meantime, the seed tray may be moistened with a fine spray of water if it appears to be drying out.

Next up was the garlic which we bought from the garden centre a couple of weeks ago. Although it didn’t look like it, this was starting to shoot. The variety is Cristo.

First, we peeled the dry outer skins from the garlic and separated each of the cloves, making sure they were all firm.

Next, we filled a cell tray with multipurpose compost, making sure to firm this down as we filled it. We then moistened this with water from a fine rose can.

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A garlic clove was then pushed into each cell, until it was about half submerged in the compost.

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As you can hopefully see from the photo, some of the garlic cloves have already started to sprout, but we hope that the rest will start doing the same before long!

We’ll keep you posted!

It’s finally hotting up! – Sowing the Chilli Peppers

The sowing season is now very much upon us, and this weekend we sowed our Machu Picchu Chilli Pepper seeds.
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It was a very simple process, and didn’t involve anything out of the ordinary! 

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First of all we filled the seed tray with seed and modular compost (which is much finer than regular compost, therefore ideal for sowing).

Our next step was to use a block of wood to flatten out/compress the compost…

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Then, we carefully placed the seeds on top of the compost, an equal distance apart – and pressed them down a little.
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Once they’d been pressed down, the seed tray was covered with vermiculite, as shown below…

It’ll now go onto the propagator until the seeds are showing – which will be roughly 2 weeks (hopefully!).

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In other news, we had a little check on our early new potatoes, and whilst we had to move out a little soil before we could find them – they’re certainly not far away from showing!

Planning for 2019

It’s really hard at this time of year not to wish away your life in return for the early arrival of summer and the possibility of harvesting the vegetables you have grown. But whilst we have to wait patiently for the weather to warm up (extremely patiently based on the snow that has been forecast over the past week!), it’s a great time to stay indoors and plan for the year ahead.

It’s always good to try some new things, but also to stick to some of the crops you’ve grown and loved before and can look forward to growing once again. Too much change and you set yourself an almost impossible task with failure almost destined as you try to grapple with growing some many unfamiliar vegetables all in one go!

Needless to say, despite my comments above – looking through the various seed catalogues and on their websites, our list of “want-to-grows” almost doubled, with all the eye-catching photos of the crops you can grow!

So here’s our plan for the year ahead. Fingers crossed we get round to it all!

  1. Potatoes. We’ve decided on three sowings – early new potatoes (hopefully ready for harvest in May, a second sowing ready in July and a third that will hopefully give us new potatoes for Christmas! Refer to our previous blog post for the early new potatoes, as these were planted last week. We’ve gone for Red Duke of York and Charlotte.
  2. Chard. We’ve never grown this, but like its colours – so we’re going for a pink and orange selection to get that rainbow effect. We bought some from the supermarket to try it before we committed to growing it from scratch, as we wanted to make sure we liked it! It went down well – so here we are!
  3. Sweetcorn. I’ve grown this at home before as a kid, but Chris fancied his chances with it this year. Initially we were going to grow the multicoloured cobs (you can see a theme emerging here!)… until we found out that apparently it looks a lot better than it tastes. So, standard yellow it is!
  4. Kohl rabi. We think that the end product looks like spaceships – what more reason do you need to give it a try?! There are green and purple varieties – surprise surprise, we’ve gone for purple.
  5. Romanesco cauliflowers. So we grew cauliflowers last year, which we may well do again. However, fancied a slight change and wondered whether Romanesco cauliflowers taste the same. We’ve gone for one of the green (rather than purple this time!) varieties as they are so bright! I’m kind of imagining it’s going to taste like broccoli, but we’ll have to wait and see.
  6. Dwarf beans. We found a variety that advertised “easy picking” bush plants. They sound ideal. They don’t use up much space and they’re easy to pick – so we’ve gone for those.
  7. Peppers. We’re trying two varieties (so far!), and neither are similar to the bell-style ‘Gogorez’ peppers we grew in 2018. The first, is going to be Padron – a medium-sized long pepper that makes for a great Tapas dish and is harvested before it goes red (not to say we might not leave a few of them red to see how they differ!). The second, is a chilli pepper by the name of ‘Machu Pichu’ which is by no means the hottest chilli pepper, but should give a little extra spice to a few of our favourite dinners.
  8. Garlic. We like to use garlic in cooking, so thought we’d see how easy it was to grow our own. The bulbs are purchased, and are waiting for us to plant out once the weather perks up a bit.

And some firm favourites from last year:

  1. Radishes
  2. Carrots
  3. Lettuce
  4. Spring onions
  5. Cucumber
  6. Courgettes
  7. Strawberries

I’m sure we’ve forgotten something – we’ve just got to hope we remember before sowing time! We also haven’t firmed up sowing dates etc. yet, but watch this space…!

Planting the first Potatoes of the new season.

This afternoon we got going with our first bit of vegetable growing of 2019!

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It didn’t take very long at all, but we’ve now planted 2 x ‘Red Duke of York’ and 2 x ‘Charlotte’ – which are first early new potatoes.

Step 1.

Fill the pot  with multipurpose compost by approximately one third.

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Step 2 (above right).

You don’t want to have every single shoot left on the potato, as this would result in a lot more roots taking up space in the pot, which in turn would restrict how much the plant could grow. It’ll leave you more likely to have smaller potatoes.

So, with a sharp knife, carefully take off all but a couple of shoots.

Step 3.

Sit the potatoes on the compost, with the shoots facing upwards. This may mean that the potato is placed sideways as well as longways.

 

Step 4.

Cover the potatoes with more of the same compost, filling the pot to leave a dome-shaped top.

 

Step 5. 

Put the pots containing the potatoes in a ‘frost-free’ location whilst they get going.

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We managed to find a little space in Dad’s heated lean-to, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as a conservatory.

The potatoes should be staying here until their shoots are showing through the top of the compost!

Tidying everything up

It’s that time of year where there’s not too much growing. However, it’s a great time to start getting things ready for the new season. So that’s just what we did!

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The courgettes, cucamelons, runner beans and cucumber plants are looking worse for wear (at best!) so we composted the plants and tipped out the pots for re-filling next year.

We also made a few interesting discoveries. Our runner bean roots had grown REALLY LONG.

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And this is what the cucamelon roots looked like! I’m not quite sure what we were expecting them to look like, but I don’t think it was this!

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We also gave the strawberry bed a spring clean. Here’s the before and after photos! We’re going to get some new strawberry plants for this year, as the plants were starting to get less vigorous. We’ll keep you posted!

 

We found a few creepy crawlies along the way. Lots of ladybirds had taken cover amongst the bean stalks. Unfortunately, we disrupted their hibernation momentarily, but we made sure to put them in a safe place so hopefully their sleep could resume as soon as possible.

We also found a caterpillar! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a caterpillar so bright green! And it wasn’t hanging around!

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Carrot harvest

It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we sowed our carrots, but we’ve already been able to harvest some of them within 3 months.

They require regular (daily) watering to prevent them from splitting. To put it simply, if carrots are not watered a similar amount and at a similar frequency then they become susceptible to ‘outgrowing’ their own skin and that’s how they can end up split.

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We tried our best to keep all of the carrots submerged in the soil, but as you can see this was not completely possible. This may be partly because of how many carrots we crammed in to one pot!

Not a problem though, it’s just a case of cutting off the green bits and the rest is ready to go!

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(Above) Our first carrot harvest from the pot. There’s probably between 1/3 and 1/4 of the total potful here, so not a bad haul by any means! This variety is known as Ideal Red, and everyone was quick to comment on how good they tasted – particularly compared to supermarket carrots!

The majority that we pulled up looked like carrots should, there were a few that were more comical in size and shape – but they all tasted just as good…

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Once we’d harvested the carrots we wanted, we made sure to cover the carrots back up straight away. This is important, because once the carrots have been pulled out from the soil the sweet smell quickly attracts Carrot Fly, which can obliterate a whole crop in no time at all! We covered the pot with a few layers of fleece, which seemed to do the trick…

Too many cucamelons left us in a pickle!

After a slow start and us questioning whether any would ever appear, we ended up with far too many cucamelons! Having never grown them before, we weren’t sure what to do with them – but our Instagram followers came to our rescue! Apparently pickled cucamelon is very popular both here and in the US!

And it couldn’t be easier to make…

Firstly, we mixed 300ml of white vinegar with a teaspoon of salt, stirring until it was dissolved. Then we added a tablespoon of demerara sugar, again stirring until dissolved.

We chopped some mint and dill from the herb garden and added these to the solution along with some coriander seeds, before washing the cucamelons and adding them to sterilised jars.

The pickling solution was then poured over the cucamelons and the jars were sealed tightly, ready for the cucamelons to pickle away!

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