Making a Start

The first seeds of the year are in!  Actually, they were in a couple of weeks ago but I suck at updating here.  Oh well ;)  My first seeds this year were a ‘last minute’ broad bean planting.  I’m glad I didn’t try to winter-sow them as even some of the hardier outdoor plants didn’t cope well with the horrific weather we had this winter (the purple sprouting broccoli, for example) and I’m not sure even tough little bean seedlings would have made it through.   So, a last ditch attempt for an early crop by sowing now – I’ll try some later as well to give me a longer season, since I rather like beans.  Some beans, anyway.  I’m a bit fussy.

The sweet peas I had in the cold frame were killed off, too, so they got a second sowing on Tuesday as did some onions, purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), pak choi, tomatoes, chilli and a couple of varieties of lettuce.  I’m hoping with the onions that I’ll actually get a crop this year.  Last year mine came to… pretty much nothing.  They ended up looking like onion sets.  I only learned a lot later that onions apparently stop growing when something shades them – I had mine growing in between my PSB so I’m not surprised they ended up going nowhere!  This year, I’ve allocated them a more sunny spot alongside the garlic.

The chillis and tomatoes are early, but I plan to grow them on a bit before putting them outside in the hope of getting a decent crop.  Scotland has a reasonable growing season, but tomatoes and chillis want a longer one than we can truly give them so the earlier the better.  The problem, really, is in stopping them getting too leggy before they get to go outside!   Even inside it’s pretty cold, so I have them in the propagator to germinate.  Here’s hoping.

I’ve only sown a few PSB – they take up a lot of space and I just want a couple of them for summer picking.  I’ll be trying the rest as my first attempt at a winter crop.  Unfortunately if next year it’ll be unlikely to work.

The lettuces and pak choi are something I’m looking forward to – they were the first edibles from the garden for me last year!  The pak choi did really well, too, until the heat began to make it sprout.

Today, I also set my potatoes to chitting – the process of making them sprout so that they grow faster when they’re planted.  It also stops those that will sprout on their own from forming bit, long, thin sprouts which are liable to break.  What you want is a nice, thick, sturdy sprout.  This year I have three varieties.  All of them were bought from JBA seed potatoes –  a good quality,  local seller.  I got three varieties – a first early, second early and maincrop; epicure, salad blue and yetholm gypsy respectively.

(Stolen from my folia ‘journal’ on the same subject:)

Epicure is the variety that is used for ‘Ayrshire new potatoes’ a first early, super-tasty potato which apparently gets its particular flavour from the west coast of Scotland by being layered with seaweed when it’s being earthed up! These were a local potato for me – the town I came from was colloquially know as ‘tattie toon’ as the majority of it was farmland and most of the agricultural land was used for potato growing of these and other varieties. I’m hoping I can find a source of seaweed – preferably not just ‘seaweed fertiliser’ to have a go at growing them the ‘old way’.

The second one I picked was Salad Blue. Yep, I picked it because I wanted a blue potato =) It’s apparently a very nice one, floury (which I like), likely a scottish-born variety, and a second early so will fit nicely between my epicures and…

Yetholm Gypsy : – a name I found kept cropping up when I was trying to decide on my varieties. The grower I’m buying from claims they’ve tested it and found it to be very genetically close to a king edward but with purple skin (and sometimes blue and white skin, all in the same potato!). Either way, it’s a good all-rounder for eating and my main crop potato this year.

I’m not sure what made me decide on so many potatoes – last year was fraught with worry as I dithered over my late main-crop Arran Victory. Did it have blight? Didn’t it? Should I dig it up now or was I being too rash? Eventually I did ‘howk’ them out and got a small amount of tasty potatoes but nothing near as good as what I should have. I am hoping that with a first and second early I can get some potatoes in before I even have to worry about blight and then if the last lot don’t work I’ve at least had some potatoes to be proud of!

The biggest problem with buying potatoes, though, is that no-one wants to sell you one to three seed potatoes. Minimum is at least five, usually ten! In my wee garden five plants in a planter takes up a good bit of room so three varieties = 15 potato plant worth of room. I’m going to give it a shot if no-one wants some (I have a medium-large patio) but we might not be having barbecues until my second earlies are harvested!

The funniest thing for me is that the size of the seed potatoes is almost the opposite of what you might expect  – with the first earlies being the biggest and the main-crop the smallest by far.  Oddly, even these are quite pretty – especially the purple-tips of the Salad Blue sprouts:

Next week it’ll be the marigolds turn – I’m aiming for super-huge ones again this year =)

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Double Bed

A couple of weeks ago I got out a piece of paper.  This paper was to be ‘the plan’ – that is, the plan for where I hoped to put all of the bazillion seeds or resultant seedlings when it was time for them to be placed permanently. I decided I’d probably be best actually measuring the beds instead of, you know, randomly guessing.  Outside I went, thus, measuring tape in hand, and proceeded to do the horrible ‘number stuff’.  Once back inside, I drew up a scale drawing (I think it ended up at 1/8th scale?  Who knows.  Numbers, blaaah) and realised that the bed which I’d dug at the end of last year was smaller than I’d thought.  Tiny, in fact.  The length wasn’t far off the other bed, only 20cm difference,  but the width was considerably less than it had ‘looked’.  The new bed was under half the width of my original bed and that bed hadn’t been exactly swimming in space to begin with.  Given I wanted to plant peas and beans at the back (so I can put supports on the fence) and other plants in front I was beginning to doubt I had room.  So I put on my puppy eyes and asked Andy if I could dig up more of our lawn towards the greater good.  I think he just sighed as soon as he saw the gleam in my eye!

So, since that moment I’d been waiting for a clear day.  A clear warm day.  Preferably even a few in a row.  I know in Scotland and in January this was asking a lot but finally the weather took pity on me and left me with workable ground and I didn’t even have to dig in the drizzle to do it!  After the hard time I’d had doing the first part of the bed I decided I was going to try lifting the turf off (instead of just turning it).  This worked well as I had just had a large pile of compost-manure delivered which I wanted to dress my new bed with – something to get it going and hopefully start the grassy soil off with a decent feed.  I also figured that this time I’d actually mark where I was going to cut since last time I ended up a bit skee wiff.  I still had to contend with only having a normal spade (not flat edged), but at least I’d be closer to a straight bed.

It was still bloody hard work, all told, but a lot easier than the last go.  I also bought some edging, this time, to make the whole thing a bit neater and, hopefully, discourage the grass from trying to re-invade too much.  This new extension to the new bed gives me double the growing area it had previously – perhaps a bit generous given I’ll now need to place some stepping stones to get to the back!  I’m looking forward to having so much space.  Last year I could only grow a couple of most plants as I knew I wouldn’t have room for bigger blocks.  Now I can grow a few more things and more of the things I liked or that worked well (maybe more baby sweetcorn, yum).

The compost mix was from a local company, Dow’s Garden Supplies – very friendly people and prompt to reply to questions =)  I got some manure from them and decided to get some of their mixed manure / compost, too, as I wasn’t keen on putting pure manure down on a fresh bed – I wanted something with a wider mix of nutrients.  The manure will be used to top up the fertility of the old bed and as a conditioner before some of the brassicas and other feed-heavy plants go in – it’s had a layer of home-made compost as a mulch since the end of last year which has really begun to break down now that it’s getting warmer again but I can’t produce enough at home to give it as thick a layer as I’d like.

Now I just need to get past February so I can start planting stuff to put in it!

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