An update on the colourful cauliflowers

 

The weekend before last, our Romanesco and purple cauliflowers were ready to be planted out. We had five plants in total, as unfortunately we’d lost one of the purple cauliflowers between pricking out and planting out. It’s stem had rotted off for some reason, so we’d had to throw that one away.

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We dug a hole to plant each one in with a hand trowel and then gently eased the plant out of the pot, making sure to keep the plant and its roots in tact. The best way to do this is usually to hold the plant upside down, supporting its stem and roots between two fingers and gently squeezing opposite sides of the pot until it loosens and comes free.

Each plant was placed into the hold we’d dug, and the soil brought back around the plant, making sure to firm this in around the newly planted brassica. It’s important to firm the soil back around the plants to ensure there aren’t any air gaps around its roots where you dug the hole to place it in – as that wouldn’t do it any good at all!

When digging each hole, the aim should be to plant each brassica up to its bottom set of leaves. If you leave too much stalk above the ground, the young plants can easily get broken off in the wind before they get a chance to get established.

After we’d planted them all out, we gave them a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone. This is a general organic fertiliser and should help them get going!

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Finally, we gave them a good soaking in with a watering can to settle the soil around each plant, a sprinkling of slug pellets to stop our slimy “friends” devouring them immediately and covered with bird netting to stop our feathered friends doing the same.

We’re hoping to be able to start harvesting these in early July – but that all depends on the weather!

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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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!

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…!

Weeding out the brassicas

We planted out our cauliflowers and broccoli plants a few weeks back now, but the plants require a little maintenance throughout their growing period. A couple of weeks ago, some weeds had started growing around the base of the plants, so we carefully removed these with an onion hoe. However, this isn’t the best method of weeding (as you don’t remove the weed and, more importantly its roots, from the soil). Therefore, the weeds still come back quite quickly). Nevertheless, it does tidy the bed for a short while.

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When we checked on the plants today, they were almost being overtaken with weeds again. So we set about tidying them back up!

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It didn’t take long – about 20 minutes, and the plants looked so much nicer afterwards. They’ll also be able to enjoy much more of the water we give them now they don’t have to share it with chick weed!

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We also had a lovely surprise – we spied a broccoli head forming! The cauliflowers are still a little way off, but they’re coming along nicely so we hope to give you an update before long!

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Planting out the brassicas

The brassicas we sowed and pricked out a few weeks ago are now ready to plant out. We had a few cauliflowers and one broccoli plant to plant out.

Dad gave us a bit of his vegetable patch to plant them out in as they need a fair bit of space to grow properly. We have tried them in 30 litre pots before (with some success), but they are definitely better if they can get their roots in the soil.

First things first, we had to dig over the soil which had already been used once this year!

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Then, before planting out, we soaked each plant in a solution of maxicrop seaweed. We find that this gives them a little bit of a boost as they start to get established in the soil.

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We then planted the plants out, around a foot apart. Making sure to firm the plants in so that their roots can get away into the soil as quickly as possible.

The plants were then watered in thoroughly to settle the soil around the plants.

Unfortunately, some of the wildlife in the garden is not as beneficial as you’d like it to be. Therefore, we always have to cover the brassicas to protect them from pigeons and rabbits! We therefore built a corral out of pieces of wood and then covered the plants with some netting.

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A quick July update

Now the weather is warm and the days are long, everything grows surprisingly quickly. Here are a few photos of how our various crops are getting on.

The second sowing of radishes are starting to swell, so it won’t be long before we’re eating these! The beetroot are also getting almost big enough to eat – we can’t wait!

The cucamelons have already grown beyond the short canes we gave them in order to reach the main climbing trellis. I love their tendrils which keep them attached so securely to it! The courgettes are also producing lots of fruits now. I would say on average, one courgette every 2-3 days.

The cucumber plant is also growing steadily and was tied up to its batten for the first time at the weekend. You can see that the compost is not kept too wet around the cucumbers, as we find that their stems can often rot off where this is the case.

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The brassicas are also growing on nicely after we pricked them out last weekend. These will remain in the same pots until they’re planted out, so just need to be watered until then and monitored to make sure not pests decide to land!

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Next steps with the brassicas

The cauliflower and broccoli seeds we planted last week are now ready to be pricked out. We prick brassica plants out into 3″ square pots where they will stay until they are planted out in the garden in a few weeks’ time.

The 3″ pots are filled with multipurpose compost, firming this down gently before watering to moisten the compost before transplanting.

The seedlings should be carefully extracted from the 1/4 seed tray by their leaves. It is important not to touch the stems of the seedlings, as this can damage the plant and stunt growth (if not worse!) The compost in the 1/4 seed tray should gently be eased to ensure the whole of the seedling’s root remains intact.

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The seedling should then be placed in a pre-made hole in the 3″ pot made with your finger or a dipper and then firmed in to ensure there are no air gaps in the compost around the seedling’s roots.

This process is repeated until all the seedlings are pricked out.

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Once pricked out, the seedlings should be watered again to settle the compost and then kept in a protected place to enable them to grow and harden off before planting out.

Some growing top tips

Everyone prefers a cauliflower with a white curd. However, this means that you need to shelter the curd from sunlight, to prevent it going yellow. One way of achieving this is to tie the cauliflower leaves together at the top once you see a cauliflower starting to form.

 

Like us, our plants need food and water. However, there are ways you can help them to take up the food and water more easily and efficiently. The nodules which grow out of the stems of cucumber plants are roots waiting to hit soil! Although you have to be careful not to dampen the delicate cucumber stem too much and cause it to rot off, heaping a small amount of compost up around the stem gradually to enable these roots to form will only assist you with growing a stronger plant.

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Don’t sow anything directly into the soil – there are too many things out there to try and scupper your chances. Whether this be pests digging up and eating/scattering your seeds, the weather washing them out or being too cold to enable germination or pests eating off the new shoots once the seedlings germinate, we always find it’s best to sow seeds into cell trays or seed trays first, potentially pot on and then plant out when you have a more established plant.

These are another sowing of beetroot sown in cell trays. These will be planted out in the garden directly from these.

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Leeks are better the longer the blanch (the white bit) you can get on them. However, there are ways you can get the leeks to self blanch themselves, such as the below.

Dibber a hole about 9 inches deep and plop your leek seedling into the hole. Gently fill the hole with water and this will slightly back fill the hole you’ve made to cover the leek plants bare roots to enable it to grow. As the leek grows, the hole (providing it does not get completely backfilled) acts as a natural light blocker and therefore blanches the leek.

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