Chirpy Chard

Our chard was ready to plant out last weekend.

We found a little spot down the garden that we could squeeze it, so levelled the soil out and got ready to plant.

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Before we planted the chard out, we gave them the “seaweed treatment”. This involves mixing up some Maxicrop Triple seaweed with water in a bucket and then submerging each plant for a minute or so until the plant has taken up some of the seaweed mixture.

When you first submerge the plant, air bubbles will come up from the pot, so you know that there’s room for some more seaweed to be taken up. When these bubbles start to slow down or stop, you’re done!

We then planted each chard about 6 inches apart. We’ve been reading up on it, and you can plant chard up to 1 foot apart. But we are going to settle with “mini leaves” to see how we get on.

We only had space for 10 out of the 11 plants, so the final one has been planted out into a 10 litre pot. We’ll see how this one does in comparison.

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Super sweetcorn

We also wanted to try growing sweetcorn this year. Firstly, we wanted to grow the coloured sweetcorn, but turned out this is only ornamental, and we’re all about things we can eat, so traditional yellow sweetcorn it was!

We decided on a variety called Earliking, which was supposed to be a really sweet variety. So we thought we’d give them a try. We sowed one seed in cell trays that were about 1″ x 2″. Sweetcorn seeds are an interesting one. They are one of the biggest seeds we’ve probably seen, and also are exactly like the dried up corns we know and love.

We sowed these on the Easter weekend, and they were ready to plant out today.

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We planted them 6-8″ apart in a square. We added our few plants to the square Dad had already started to give them the best chance.

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It’s important to plant sweetcorn in a square to try and ensure you get sweetcorns! This is because in order to produce the sweetcorn cobs, the plants need to be pollinated. This is achieved when the “tassels” appear, which need to sway in the wind and pollinate one another. Without this, no sweetcorn cobs will be produced. As you can’t guarantee which way the wind will blow when the pollination needs to happen, planting out in a square block is the safest.

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After planting, we watered the plants in to settle the soil around them.

Lettuce (let us) chill

Lettuces can be a funny one to try and germinate, albeit one of the easiest to grow once you’ve got them beyond this point. Therefore, we thought we’d given a step-by-step guide to how we sow our lettuces to get them germinated.

Most seeds require stratification before they will germinate. This is a process which imitates the natural process required for the seed to germinate. In the case of lettuces, this requires the seed to be chilled before it is left to germinate (hence the title of this blog post!)

To achieve this, we leave our lettuce seed in the fridge all the time. That means that they’re chilled whenever we want to sow them!

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When we’re ready, we prepare a quarter seed tray. I know we’ve been through this before, but in case you’re a new reader (or just as a reminder!) that means filling the tray loosely with Seed and Modular compost, gently compressing this and then lightly watering with a fine rose watering can.

Then we scatter as many lettuce seeds as we want to grow in a quarter seed tray and cover with vermiculite. This time round, it was Little Gem.

We then place the seed trays under the bench and cover with a piece of glass and a couple of sheets of newspaper. This is to stop the light getting to the seeds whilst they’re trying to germinate.

These were sown last Monday, and by today they were ready to prick out! This is the seedlings after they’ve been pricked out into cell trays. They will stay in these cells until they’re ready to be planted out, which will probably be in a couple of weeks.

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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!

Strawberries: it’s fruit too, not just vegetables!

We’ve grown strawberries for the last couple of years, but we felt like they needed a bit of a refresh this year for a couple of reasons:

  1. The plants we had been growing were becoming less prolific and the runners we’d taken weren’t looking too great
  2. The plants we had been growing were given to us and the varieties were unknown. But what we found were that some tasted much better (or worse!) than others and so we wanted to try afresh with varieties that we hoped would all be tasty!

It turns out planting out strawberries is quite an operation! And who knew they were going to look like this when they arrived?!

We chose two varieties, Cambridge Favourite and Sonata. The former is an old favourite with very good reviews and the latter was described on Ken Muir’s as “sweet, large fruits with a very good flavour…” – how could we resist?!?!

First, we had to turnover the bed that we’d previously used to grow the strawberries. We started this with a rake, but to no avail. So then Dad lent us his Mantis tiller which did a fantastic job at breaking up the sticky clay soil. It was hard work though!

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We still had to rake it to level out the grow though. Although I think this may have been to Before we created two ridges to plant the strawberries on top of. The idea of this is to ensure that the strawberries (once they’ve grown) are not left laying in water as they ripen which may cause them to rot off.

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We then covered the ridges with weed suppressant. This is something else to help us both now and when the strawberries come along. Now, to stop the weeds taking over as the strawberries take hold, and later for the strawberries to rest on as they grow and ripen without them having to sit on the soil itself.

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After securing the weed suppressant, we planted one strawberry plant per hole in the seed suppressant and then watered these in well to settle the soil around each one. The left hand photo is the strawberry plants when we just planted them out, and the right hand plant is them two weeks later once they’ve started getting established.

Somewhere over the…Rainbow Chard

We sowed our Fantasia and Intense rainbow chard on 24 March. One is orange, and one is red, so we’re hoping to grow a nice colourful crop with these!

We sowed one seed per cell in Seed and Modular compost, pushing each seed gently into the compost. We then covered these with vermiculite, a sheet of glass and some newspaper until they germinated.

After a couple of weeks, they had mostly germinated and were large enough to transplant. We potted them up into 3″ pots in multipurpose compost.

And now, another couple of weeks on – they look like this!

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These will be ready to plant out soon. So we’ll keep you updated on progress!

Potting on a peck of Machu Picchu peppers

The Machu Picchu peppers had already gotten too big for their initial pots, so a week or so ago we moved them on!

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Carefully holding only the leaf, we gently lifted them out of their trays – keeping all of the roots in tact.

Using a dibber we made enough of a hole in the new pots and gently pushed them into position, pressing them down a little. Then it’s just a case of covering the compost up around them up again so that only the leaves were showing.

They immediately looked a lot happier!

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However, the above photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, and they’re doing really well now. Here’s a photo of how two of the plants look about 10 days later: –

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Although we know from last year that any pepper plants are going to take a long time until they’re ready to harvest, so there’s a good few months to go yet!

Charisma carrots

As we’ve mentioned before, we are members of the National Vegetable Society (“NVS”). Being a member of the NVS has lots of benefits, including:

  • Quarterly magazine which includes lots of growing hints and tips
  • An online forum where members can pose questions and share their growing experiences
  • Access to local District Association meetings where you can meet liked minded people and share your experiences
  • Access to NVS shows where you can exhibit vegetables (if that takes your fancy!)
  • A few free packets of seeds each year

And all for just £20 a year (for an individual membership!)

The NVS has a number of affiliations with gardening organisations, one of these being Marshall’s Seeds. This year, Marshall’s are sponsoring a class at the NVS branch and National shows  a dish of three Charisma carrots. These are supposed to be a super-sturdy late maincrop Chantenay carrot. I’m not sure whether we’ll get any on to the show bench, but we wanted to give them a go anyway!

We wanted to give the carrots as much space as possible to grow down, so we decided to sow them in these recycled paint buckets that were lying around! They’re about 2 foot tall. The buckets were filled with multipurpose compost and then lightly watered to moisten the compost and settle it where the seeds were to be sown.

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We then made seven small holes in the top of the compost and placed 3 seeds in each hole.

You may think it’s a bit of a waste of seed to put three in each hole when you only intend to grow one carrot on to maturity in each, but when you may be looking to exhibit them, you don’t want any “misses”, i.e. when none of the three seeds in the hole grow so you’ve wasted that one. It also means that once they germinated and started growing, you can thin them down to one, leaving the strongest seedling to grow on to maturity.

When sowing, the seeds are placed around the hole away from one another. This means that in the event that all three seeds germinate, when you come to thin them down to one, you don’t disturb the roots of the others. Like we said before, carrots can be a bit fussy if they feel like they’ve been disturbed, and the last thing you want is a wonky carrot to put on the show bench!

After sowing, we covered the seeds with some fine Seed and Modular compost, firming this gently so there were no air pockets left in the hole.

Carrots take a couple of weeks to germinate, so we’ll update you shortly! In the meantime, we will keep the compost damp so that the seeds don’t dry out as they germinate.

And two weeks on, they’ve started to germinate! It looks like most of them are coming!

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