Marching On

Forget-me-nots are a favourite of mine – I’m not sure exactly why.  Perhaps just because they’re delicate looking yet hardy little things which bloom for a surprisingly long season.

March was a busy month, and I’d been enjoying the garden a lot, what with the heatwave.  Now that we’re back to the usual drizzly weather I thought I’d best actually note down some of what’s went on last month.

The above pictures show the ‘new bed’ for this year – really an extension of the main bed which I’ve been meaning to do for a while.   Once I knew for sure we weren’t going to move I went at it with a vengeance.  The walkway at the back is for easier access – there was no point in making it thinner or omitting it as the sun never reaches that part of the garden due to the fence.  As it is, I now have easy access and a spot for dry-shade plants if I want to try some (on the gravel edge).

This new section has almost doubled my growing area for veggies on this side of the garden.   I’ve already put in my pea teepees (the ugly white fabric was protecting the pea seeds from being eaten) and installed a ‘cold frame’ – one of the flyaway greenhouses on its side with the top removed so that I could slide the plastic cover down over the bottom.  You can see the top stuck into the ground next to it – I’ll be using it as a frame for covering various things later in the season.  I’ve also got plans for the old internal shelves – cages for possibly growing vines in/on.  Because of the changes I made to the patio I wouldn’t have had space for it upright, anyway, and now  I’ve gained a much more useful, slightly shaded coldframe.  The other greenhouse is up now, too, and firmly secured to the fence.  It’s going to be used for warmer crops as it sits in the sun all day.  I’m hoping to try some aubergines this year!

The spring bulbs have been out in force, urged on by the sunny weather.

Fritillaria meleagris

Daffodil (Pink Blend Mix) Tulip (Sherbet blend mix)
Daffodil unknown miniatureYellow hyacinth
Tulip Fosteriana Orange Emperor

I’ve sown what feels like hundreds of seeds last month.  This month is a little calmer but I’ll also be starting to sow things successionally so that I can eat my salads out of the garden all summer.  I haven’t included my lettuces, spinach, rocket or pak choi in my seed sowing lists as I tend to sow them ‘on the fly’ or as a catch crop if and when I think I have space.

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March Seed Bonanza

This year I decided to put my seeds into monthly bags to make it easier to see what I had to sow each month.  This means that every time I open the bag I know I can pick up the seeds I need and I won’t ‘miss’ any due to forgetting that I put them off for a week.  There were a couple of things, last year, which went in too late because, despite having a list, I either couldn’t find the seed packet at the right time or I was distracted by something, forgot them, and scored them off of my list.

Within each bag, the packets are sorted by week:

The unbound packets are week 1, the others are held together until I’m done with the packets and then left loose too.  Anything which might need resown is rubber banded for ease of grabbing.  It’s still not a great system but the bags are easier to store than a solid seedbox.

As you can see in the first picture March is by far my busiest month.  A lot of hardy annuals start to be able to be sown outside this month and many others indoor for planting out in a month or two.

My March planting list is here.  It tends to be a little fluid – I had my amaranthus in week one, but had to move it as I was ill at the tail end of last week and never got them in.  The aim is to give myself a guide  to what needs done vaguely in which week and to give myself a record of what was sown when so I can look back next year and decide whether that was a good time to sow or not.

Things which are resown throughout the year, such as lettuces, mustard greens etc. are in a bag of their own as moving them from pack to pack every time would have been annoying and would have meant stuffing the bags overfull – I have a lot of lettuce seeds this year due to some swaps I made during winter!

Daffodil in front of a tree stumpThe first daffodil of the year for my garden has finally poked its head up – I’m glad it’s managed to make it as both my hyacinths and eranthis (winter aconites) have been horribly munched by something – no idea what.  The aconites have had all of their petals ripped off, the hyacinths have huge holes in their buds – any ideas?

 

 

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February Round-up


It’s been a fairly wet, warm and windy February – we had a short cold snap but it didn’t really stick here in Scotland.  The bulbs I planted have all started to come up – even the tulips, which I thought I wouldn’t see for another month or so.

As per my own sowing calendar, found here, I’ve already started getting my seeds in for a large number of plants.  Balancing window space at this time of year can be a problem so I wanted to get things moving along – even if it does mean some young plants are a little spindlier than I’d like.


As well as the burgeoning pile of seeds, I also have my potatoes in the window to chit.  This year I’m growing Arran Victory and Epicure again, and trying Kestrel.  Much as I loved my Salad Blue potatoes I think Andy was a little weirded out by blue mash and gnocchi I made with them so I went for more traditionally coloured ones this year.  The Arran Victory potatoes have a lovely red skin, but they have a ‘normal’ creamy interior.  They also make amazing mash and roast potatoes!  Epicure performed well for me last year and is a great tasting first early.  I was born in Ayrshire and I grew up eating them as they are the seed used for ‘Ayrshire new potatoes’ –  so I may be a little biased ;)


This little sliver of ground between the path and wall has always looked slightly drab at this time of year.  The foxgloves have gone a ways to helping brighten it up in summer but at the moment, as you can see, they’re just fresh little rosettes.  The crocuses peeping up between them couldn’t have worked better – they contrast well with the bright, young foxgloves in a delicate way.


Some other splashes or colour are just starting to show now, too – the ‘Victorian Lace’ primrose is one I’m particularly happy to see.  I got it last year, rescued from a reduced price shelf,  just before I went into hospital.  Andy did a sterling job of watering all my plants whilst I was in for the unexpectedly long stay but this little primrose happened to have been left in the hallway for later planting – behind a door and not easily visible… and so it was forgotten.  When I got home it was a sad, wilted thing but I knew primroses were made of sterner stuff so I popped it in the ground and watered it well – it thrived, putting on a lot of leaf, and is now rewarding our neglect with it’s funky, distinctive little flowers.



 The not-quite-so-colourful last picture is also something I’m quite chuffed with – it’s open pollinated viola seed from the garden.  I’ve never grown my own from seed but decided this year that I had to give it a go – I realised I should be able to grow my own bedding a lot more cheaply (and with more variety) than if I bought it.  Even if it doesn’t work out superbly, it’s more experience with growing a wider range of plants!  I’m trying out viola, as mentioned, lobelia (both cascading and mounding types), french marigolds, coleus and aquilegia and, possibly, some poached-egg plant if I can find the space.

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African Violet Seedlings Update

First post on my hybrids can be found here.

It’s now fifteen weeks, around four months, since my AV hybrid seed was sown.  The picture below shows the first seedling which germinated.  If you look at the leaves at 2/8 o’clock you’ll see they have a distinct serrated edge as compared to the older leaves which are mostly smooth edged.  It’s nice to see this trait in some of the seedlings as I prefer serrated edges to plain by far.  About 1/2 of them show some red colouring on the back of the leaf.  I expect that to go up as they only appear to gain red pigmentation at a certain size / leaf maturity which not all have arrived at yet.

 

The plantlets are getting bigger nearly every day – as soon as they are separated from the nursery bed into their own cell they seem to take a growth spurt.   Three weeks takes a plant from this size:

to this size:

I was surprised at the rate of growth given how slow ‘leaf babies’ can come on.  As you can see, there’s a wide range in sizes even amongst similarly aged seedlings.  All of the ones in the bottom row were the same size when planted but where the leftmost have filled out their cells, the other three aren’t even close.  It’ll be interesting to see if some are just ‘weaker’ or if they are genuinely going to be smaller plants – their smaller leaf size gives me some hope for the latter.

I was interested in how many would germinate and how long it would take when I first began.  It’d been mentioned that it was worth keeping a tray of seeds for up to or over three months due to the fact AVs have a wide germination window.  Thus, I logged how many plants had germinated per day since the first one.  It’s not too onerous as it allows me to have an excuse to peek at them ;)  At the weekend I made a table of my results so far, condensing the days down to weeks.  It was definitely interesting – I’d expected a bell curve of germination given the very stable germination conditions but it’s a wee bit more complex:

1

Although the first seedling germinated within two weeks, and there was a good amount of germination for the first month or so, the peak in germination (so far) was after 9/10 weeks!  This really does make keeping your seed trays around longer a must-do if it’s a general trend (can’t rule out that it’s something to do with my growing conditions on this alone).

Even now, at four months, I’m still having a seed germinate most days…

Salad, anyone?

An update on my seedlings can be found here.

  1. n.b. I have problems with numbers, so it’s not unlikely that I’ve made a silly mistake in plotting the graph… If you notice anything let me know! =)
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February’s Heating Up…

I really wasn’t expecting to see these cheery little flowers yet – I don’t think my dwarf irises showed themselves until late April or May last year because of the horrible spring we had.  This year, however, the weather’s been suspiciously mild. I say suspiciously as I can only believe that the Scottish weather is being nice so that when the almost-inevitable blizzard hits us it’ll feel so much worse!

I took advantage of that good weather, fleeting though it may turn out to be, to do something I’d had in mind for a while.  I knew, when I bought my little plastic greenhouse, that it likely only had a 1-2 year life in it – or at least the cover did and I had begun to wonder what I could do with the frame pieces.  It’s been spending more times on its side than I’d like, lately, so I decided to go ahead and use one of the ideas that had come to mind – to turn it into a flat coldframe.

I took the top curved section off to give me a square frame, removed the shelves and internal middle struts put the cover back on, lined the base with some bubble wrap and thick plastic, with a paving slab to secure everything.  I used cable ties to secure the ends of the cover to the bottom of the frame (leaving the ‘flap’ loose where the zip is) and filled it with some sweet peas covered in fleece.  I’m going to use the top piece, covered in netting or fleece, as a brassica cage, as well as using the shelves for either the same purpose or as a ‘tomato cage’ for my ‘litchi tomatoes’ (a spiny, hardier member of the tomato family which I’m told produces small, tart-sweet fruit).

Hopefully it won’t fly-away from this position!

Other than the iris, there’s not yet much colour in the garden – though there are a tonne of buds:

I was worried that my clematis wouldn’t make it, as I’ve never grown them before, but it seems to have a lot of big, fat buds so I’m looking forward to a show in late spring (I think that’s when this variety flowers!).

Talking of buds:

It’s time for potato chitting!  I felt sorry for the postman when he brought these to the door – he mentioned he was glad to get the box out of his bag.  I don’t know if he’d have been amused if I told him he’d been hauling potatoes around, hehe.  This year’s varieties are ‘Arran Victory’, ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Epicure’ – Kestrel being the only one of the three that I’ve not tried before.  I ordered them from alanromans.com – having seen the man himself give an energetic presentation at the Dundee Food and Flower show (also, JBA, another great seed potato vendor and the one I have usually bought my stock from, didn’t happen to have ‘Arran Victory’ and I had my heart set on them!).

Alongside these potatoes in the postman’s bag was 100 2 & 1/2″ pots.  I’m planning ahead for the seedling glut – something I’ll go into in my next post.

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Watering Miniature African Violets

I’ve long suspected that something in my ‘regime’ is a little off for my smaller AVs.  Recently, after some chatting back and forth with various people,  I’ve come to suspect I wasn’t watering them enough – I was too used to my big plants, where I could go a week or even two without watering them and still expect to get good shows.  I’d also been a little worried about over-watering some of my plants as african violets are very susceptible to root rot in wet conditions.

Fortunately, I happened to have 5 plantlets of the same cultivar on hand which were all about the same age and size.  I decided to experiment to see which would grow better under different watering regimes – testing both soil density and watering. I promise the little green one is the same plant – it had mosaic leaves just before this picture was taken but I stripped them all down to ~4 mature leaves each for a more even comparison – I’m not sure if it has sported or just decided to be all green for a little while.

Plants 1 & 2 have 40:60 perlite to compost.
Plants 3 & 4  have 50:50 perlite to compost.

Plants 1 & 3 would be watered every four days (a little lower frequency than suggested as it’s still chilly here so they’re not drying out fast).
Plants 2 & 4 would be watered when I ‘felt’ they were getting dry (my ‘usual’ regime, probably about once every 8 days).

This would test whether a more or less retentive soil would do well under either condition and whether a plant watered more regularly would grow better.  I suspect the soil with less perlite will do better under the lower water conditions and the higher perlite might do better under the higher water volume – though if neither rot then it may well be the one with more compost comes out on top as both are still fairly well drained substrates.

Plant 5 is in a 50:50 mix with a wick. (I didn’t have a sixth plant to try out 40:60 on it)

I’ve had a member of one african violet community tell me that he found that his hand watered plants do better than wick watered ones so I’ll be interested to see if that ends up being true for me.

So far, they are all doing reasonably well with plant 3 (50:50, watered frequently) and plant 4 (50:50, watered less frequently) looking to have grown the most in relation to when they started but it’s only three weeks in, so far, so anything could yet happen.

Hopefully in a couple of months I’ll be able to update on these little plants and see who’s done best in the long term – especially as we’ll be moving into warmer weather and longer days – so their growth won’t be slowed by being on a slightly chilly window!

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January Jobs

Post storm, at the beginning of January, my garden looked like this – the greenhouse had been tumbled over to the other side of the garden (amazed that it didn’t end up next door, to be honest), there were still a lot of random veg and ornamentals still growing and bits of debris all over.

I decided it was time to get my garden ready for the year ahead.  I seem to be starting a little earlier each year, though this year I could say that I never stopped – I have mibuna, mustard greens, straggly pak choi and a few larger brassicas of unknown type still scattered around the garden.  There’s also some spring onions, thyme and a few ornamentals which survived what has, so far, been a mild winter.  Unfortunately the mildness of the weather has also meant that weeds are popping their heads up rather early so I’ve been taking advantage any sunny days to get out my hoe.

I’ve also been grabbing the spade (as I have, sadly, no shovel) – making a start on my efforts to double the width of my main veg bed.  I’ve been using a narrow strip since I first cultivated that part of the garden and I want to move to a much wider bed – making use of the part of the garden which, on first look, seemed too shady for much but I have since realised that it would be a great spot for some of the more heat sensitive plants during summer.   It’d also allow me to have a lot more veg in, and given my burgeoning seed collection this is probably a good thing!

 

As you can see, I’ve added a path behind the graveled area – so I can actually get into the veg from the other side – though I also plan to leave small paths horizontally  to allow for easier access to each section.  I could only get about 3/4 of the gravel up as I only had enough old compost bags to put the overflow in.  Once those have been taken for recycling, I’ll make a start on the rest and hopefully get some chicken manure down to help the soil.  If it’s anything like the rest of the soil was when first dug up it should be pretty nice.

As well as the overwintered greens, I also had some other winter-sown seeds / bulbs in.

The garlic has gotten off to a slow start, though I’m glad it came up at all as I had invested my whole (small) garlic crop last year in replanting.  The broad beans are only barely making it through – they were badly attacked by slugs when they first came up as it was such a warm, damp winter they didn’t give up until well into November!  I’m going to replant more, for a later crop, but I am hoping a few pull through for some earlier plants.

I’ve also sown the first of this year’s seed:

Three types of sweetpeas.  Unfortunately this lot actually ended up on the floor in another high-wind accident with the greenhouse, but I potted up some more afterwards of the same type ;)  I also have some aubergines and hollyhocks indoors… which germinated in two days!  I had expected them to take a good while longer.

The first of many autumn planted bulbs are beginning to show now, too.  The tulips, daffies and crocus are only leafy bundles, as yet, but this wee snowdrop was raring to go!  Hopefully it’ll be joined by others in the coming weeks.

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December Catch-Up

Like my garden, this blog always seems to go into a partial hibernation in the winter.  There are still things to do, though: I have plans to take up more gravel, there are greens under the cloche tunnel, cuttings and winter sown seeds to take care of.  I also, at some point, need to put up the new roofing felt for the shed as the bad winds we had just before Christmas tore half of it off.  As well as the outdoors work of the garden, there’s also the indoor things – planning what will go where, seed inventory and ordering, pot washing.

There’s still some green close to hand, though, as I’ve expanded my indoor jungle quite a bit this year!  I think, looking through my photo archives, that there were a few more of my violets ready to flower at this time of year.  However, most of those which did have been re-potted or restarted within the last few months or weeks and likely won’t be giving me a good display for a few more months or so.  One of my violets, ‘Rob’s Shadow Magic’ has decided to peek up and say hello, and my oddly white ‘Jolly Orchid’ is still giving its best but the rest are slumbering away.  There are a few tiny buds on some plants,  but I don’t expect to see much more from them until maybe late January or February.

On the other hand, the little seedling AVs are getting greener by the day – I’m up to 27 seedlings, now, with most of the older ones showing their typically gesneriad single-cotyledon expansion.  I can’t see any variegation for sure, yet, but I think that it will be less obvious on these ones as ‘Mum’ has a more buff variegation to my eye, with a little red, rather than a bright white like some other plants.  I’ve been peeking at them through my loupe, but it’ll be hard to tell until they mature a little.  Hopefully I’ll be reporting soon on some true leaf growth!

This year I also have a small bulb collection on the windowsill to brighten things up – though they’re also only sluggishly awakening.  One hyacinth is showing off spectacularly, with a lovely, gentle scent, and I’m expecting the ‘amaryllis’ (hippeastrum), given to me by a kind folian in promise of some AVs when the weather is warmer, to open any day now.  Lined up are, hopefully, the other hyacinth and a second amaryllis gifted to me by Andy’s mother.  I had to laugh when I opened it, as we’d just given her an almost identical bulb – great minds and all that… It’s a lovely double flowered cultivar called ‘Nymph’ and the bulb is massive.

I also took part in a European seed swap via Folia – I sent seed to Belgium and London and received some from Belgium, & Holland.  There was an interesting mix – quite a few plants I’ve never even tried before – chamomile, wallflowers, tulbaghia, and giant scabious, amongst others  as well as more varieties of amaranthus, to add to the ones I bought earlier in the year.

I also went a wee bit mad when I found out that Chiltern Seeds do gesneriad seed for sale and bought some Streptocarpus cooperi (an annual streptocarpus which produces one huge leaf and flower stalk) and some mixed Episcia hybrids.  I also grabbed some Drosera spathulata (sundew plant) to have a go at.  The sundew is currently in sphagnum in the propagator along with the african violet seedlings.  Once those are a bit bigger and ready to move on I’ll try the others!

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My First Steps in African Violet Hybridization

Meet the Parents…

 Mac’s Just Jeff (G. McDonald) Semidouble coral red pansy/variable darker fantasy. Mosaic variegated medium green, white and variable pink, plain, scalloped. Miniature .

Pixie Pink (L. Lyon) Single light pink/rose eye. Plain, ovate. Miniature trailer.

My first viable cross, the second one I attempted, was sown on 11/11/11.  African violet seed pods are said to require a maturation time of three to six months,with those ripening prior to four months having low or non-existent germination rates.   Word of mouth, though, I’ve heard that some people have had success with seed pods at around 2 months and given the very variable nature of violets it seems entirely possible that there would be outliers which produced their seed pods and seeds faster.  The plant will let you know when it has matured as the seed pod and stem will begin to shrivel and dry, so there are no real needs for guessing games – they’re ready when they’re ready.  For my particular pod this point was reached after exactly four months.  My failed attempt was removed from the plant at just over two months – it unfortunately rubbed against the marker which I’d put on it to show which plants had been crossed – and although it did have what appeared to be viable seed I could not get them to germinate.  I have a feeling that was a failing on my part, though, as I wasn’t prepared or ready for its arrival and had to cobble things together.

The first of the above pictures shows the seed pod not long after pollination – a few weeks or so, and the second shows them after around three months.  Not all AV seed pods are oblong like these – my first cross gave me a small ball-shaped seed pod (which ultimately came to an early demise!).

I dried this seed pod for ten days and it went from a mostly brown, still plump pod to completely dried and much harder.  I simply left mine in a cool spot with a piece of cotton wool over it to both reduce moisture and stop the tiny pod from falling out of the cup!  The seed pod, once ripe and dried,  can be cut open with a sharp knife or blade.  This is best done on top of a piece of white paper so that you can both see the seeds more easily and to act as a tool with which to sow the seeds.

The seeds themselves are tiny, slightly ovoid or round and a dark brown colour.  They are so small that I feared breathing on them in case I sent them flying across the table.  These seeds require a fine but loose medium in which to be sown, with fair humidity.  They need to be surface sown as they require light to germinate.

A tiny seedling, 8 days after sowing.  This little thing was around 1mm in length – from tiny radicle (seed root) to baby leaves.

 This photo shows four of the seedlings and is about twice life size to give you an idea of just how tiny these are.  They have fully formed little seed leaves on a miniature scale – much smaller than any of the plants I usually grow – even my alpine strawberries, which were minuscule, were bigger than these are.

By this morning’s count I’ve now got nine seedlings, with a few radicles peeking out here and there.  I have been keeping them in a propagator since sowing, but was worried the light was not sufficient in a windowsill for germination.  Luckily, the garden centre had a deal on one of the exact same type and my seedlings are now sitting under fluorescent lights and at a suitable temperature – I’m hoping this will help them grow more strongly and improve germination rates in our dull winters.

I’m still amazed at getting this far, if I’m honest.  Having managed to pollinate an african violet, bring it to maturity and get the seeds to germinate is a personal achievement.  I am hoping that I manage to get at least one to full size, but even if I don’t I know that, in the future I’ll be building on a stronger understanding of the process.  If all goes well, though, I’ll be able to update on good progress on here in the future!

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Update on the seedlings can be found here!

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