Snooping around allotments in February

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The weekend was rather sunny and at my parents’ allotments things were starting to stir.

I was staying with my parents last weekend and I took the opportunity to have a good old snoop around their allotments yet again! I last visited their plot properly in November and established that being a nosey gardener is in my nature.

There was a lot of activity, people barrowing compost and wood chippings, constructing paths and building structures. Jobs like that are very popular at this time of year with allotmenters and gardeners alike because there’s so many bare areas that you can tend to, unlike in the summer where they could be overgrown with foliage, flowers and weeds.

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There was still an abundance of kale and it’s looking like the stuff at RHS Harlow Carr with the pickings gone from the bottom leaving young leaves at the top of long stalks. It is still my No.1 favourite veg that I have never grown!! Can’t wait to start sowing it soon.
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A rare sighting of me, still obsessed with kale!

I also made a beeline for last year’s allotment winner, lots of neat bare beds but I was impressed by the quality of the veg she’s still got growing and looking so healthy.

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The cabbage man has eaten the majority of his giant crop but a few remain, still looking impressive.

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I also noticed a huge net box! Plus, one that is still covering carrots from last year and I spied some seedlings in a greenhouse – could they be monster leeks and onions!

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It was nice to spend time at my folks allotments and I sensed a really good vibe among the allotmenteers. I’m looking forward to visiting again and seeing what happens over the next few months.

This weekend has been grey and slightly snowy so far and I’ve had to dig the indoors today! I’ve finally been able to catch up Monty Don’s French Gardens series that Wellywoman reminded me of in her recent post. The Gourmet Garden episode was of particular interest to me because it covers the topic of my latest challenge, which is to more carefully buy food products that I can trace the source of.

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend and have had better weather than me. Have you been spending more time outside in your gardens lately?

How do your products grow?

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During my trip to Amsterdam last year I visited the Botanical Gardens and took some photos of a display in their main greenhouse. It was probably created for children and I didn’t think too much about it at the time, other than how cool the plants looked in the colourful packaging. Now though, I’m really beginning to think more and more about the food I eat and I feel it’s not what I eat that’s important, it’s about where my food comes from.

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During the summer (and for as long as I can make my growing season last) I love the fact that I’m eating my own veg. However, I don’t think I’ve fully understood why I love it so much, until now.

Is it the satisfaction I feel from the actual growing act itself, is it the superior flavour, is it the money saving, is it the convenience of having food to hand and not needing to go to the shop, is it the environmental benefits such as providing a haven for bees and other wildlife, or is it all of these things?

It’s definitely all of these things but the biggest thing for me right now is that I know the origin of that food.

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I can’t grow everything I eat though and I’m becoming more and more into the idea of changing my buying habits and choosing food and products that I can trace back to a source that I feel happy about. This will mean cutting down on trips to the supermarket in favour of local producers. It will also affect where I choose to eat out, so cafés and restaurants will have to be carefully selected. This will be a big shift for me as eating out is one of my favourite pastimes and I don’t have a local high street with small retailers.

I’m excited about changing my buying habits but this is going to be a massive challenge.

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Don’t get me wrong, I do try to consciously buy good food from local sellers and markets already but I wouldn’t say that accounts for even 30% of my weekly shopping in the months that I don’t have a big harvest of my own. So, I’m busy googling local farm shops and researching like mad in the hope that I’ll be able to change and support the people who grow food for the same reasons that I do. I’m also working out how I can have a lot more crops available all year round.

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This weekend whilst walking in North Yorkshire I noticed a pub in Malham offering ‘money off vouchers’ in exchange for any surplus home grown produce. I don’t think there’s a shortage of veg and flowers in this area so I can only assume that being able to tell customers that their products have been locally sourced is a big plus point.

Do you choose to buy food from local producers because you want to know where it originates from? Do you ‘grow your own’ for any of these reasons?

Quick DIY for the garden – the net box

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If you’re a bit of a handy man, handy girl or you’re living with one then I highly recommend having a go at making something Adam made for me a couple of years ago. The net box! It’s got so many uses all year round. I’ve got a couple of these in different sizes for different plants.

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I often throw netting over my crops and stake it in place with canes but I find having ready made boxes really useful, for example, covering pots of bulbs that aren’t through yet to protect them from pesky squirrels. They’re also brilliant  for warming up sections of soil ready for planting and for protecting any newly planted crops. Later in the year I’ll use them to protect crops from birds and to provide toasty micro climates. I also find it puts cats off from using freshly raked beds and beds with small seedlings, as litter trays.

Garden centres do sell a range of netting, fleece and plastic cloches which are also useful around the garden and now is good time of year to get these things in place, warming up the soil for spring. I have a couple of those too but don’t find them quite as handy as these boxes. A colleague was telling me about his neighbour who’s made a massive version that covers a much bigger area (around the size of two of my biggest raised beds) and it’s head height so he can get inside! Now that’s some serious veggie protection!

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Adam made the boxes by screwing together 12 lengths of 2×1 batons and he stapled on the netting with a staple gun. Other allotment folk make some brilliant curved ones by using plumbing piping. One important tip, don’t double the netting up and create any gaps, bees can easily get trapped in between so it’s best to just use one layer. Adam used scaffolding netting which is available in 2m wide lengths, most garden centres sell something similar.

Do you have any net-boxes or cloches? What kind of things do you make for your garden?

Month by month – gardening in February

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I always remember back to a job I had years ago when I used to drive up the motorway home every night. I benchmarked February 10th as being light when I hit the slip road. It doesn’t always happen on that date though but in February I basically live in hope of the light! At the end of this month I’ve usually managed to get up to my allotment after work and I start airing and cleaning the BBQ ready for March, when cooking and eating my evening meal up there becomes normal. This month could bring more snow and bad weather though, so we’re not out of the woods yet…

  1. Buy your seed potatoes and start ‘chitting‘ them by standing them up in trays (egg boxes are perfect) on your windowsill or anywhere light so they start sprouting.
  2. Start warming up the ground where you’ll be planting this year. Cover in polythene, mini poly tunnels or net boxes.
  3. Keep protecting pots of bulbs that haven’t come up yet from squirrels and water-logging. Keep them in your greenhouse, cold frame or a sheltered spot.
  4. Divide up any big clumps of bulbs after they have passed their best – snowdrops are the ideal candidates followed by clumps of grape hyacinths and daffodils next month.
  5. Start sowing chilies, peppers and early tomato varieties indoors or in a greenhouse that you can heat if temperatures plummet.
  6. Once they’ve finished flowering, prune winter flowering shrubs.
  7. Carefully prune fruit trees and certain types of clematis – don’t hard prune anything that flowers in spring.
  8. If your ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged you can plant garlic.
  9. As above, sow broad beans and/or plant out any well-established young broad bean plants that you’ve previously sown under cover.
  10. Go shopping for onion and shallot sets ready for next month, if your ground looks good though you could plant shallots in February. I tend to wait. You can also start sowing onion seeds now, although I prefer planting sets.

If it snows, clear it off tree branches and shrubs (Adam finds this hilarious but just shake the shrubs and use a brush if need be to clear it from tree branches) and if all else fails stay inside and do some sowing! My seed sowing list this month is:

  • Chilies – Anaheim, Jalapeno, Cayenne and ‘Hot Thai Culinary’ from World Kitchen
  • Peppers – Californian Wonder and Ingrid sweet pepper varieties
  • Lobelia – String of Pearls
  • Tomato – Black Russian from Seed Parade
  • Cucumber – Beth Alpha
  • Broad beans – I’ll be sowing straight into the ground outside and planting out the ones I started off in December

The important thing to remember about planting out is that the ground must not be frozen or waterlogged. Don’t do any pruning or planting out just before a period of very cold weather – check the weather forecast for the week ahead first.

The most comprehensive guide I’ve seen this month is on Woolly Green. There’s a video on pruning wisteria if you’ve not done that already and some advice about lawns. I know that some bloggers pruned their wisteria before Christmas. Not Just Green Fingers also has a great guide for the kitchen gardener.

Talking of bloggers, Sue from Green Lane Allotments has listed what she’s sown so far and also done a great post about her new seed delivery. Jo from the Good Life has sown her pepper seeds and onion seeds. My complete seed list for the year is here

Please feel free to add your own February tips and advice. What will you be doing this month?

Ideas and inspiration from garden visits

harlow_carr_alpine_greenhouse_viewWhen I renewed my RHS membership last year I made a vow to visit Harlow Carr at least once a month. This isn’t just so I can have a nice wander and a treat from Betty’s but it means that I can pay far more attention to what they’re doing each month and come away with some good ideas.

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I find Harlow Carr really inspirational and contrary to popular belief I do feel you can get ideas to take back to your own gardens and veggie patches. For example, their alpine greenhouse has always inspired me to keep my own little alpine area and get more involved with alpine plants. I also joined the Alpine Garden Society last year as a result of a growing interest that stemmed from Harlow Carr.

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The neatness of their veg planting is something I also aspire to achieving and with my new row markers that I got for Christmas I have no excuse!

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During my visit last weekend I saw them creating new pathways. Marking them out with sticks and laying black anti weed membrane down first. Another really neat job but definitely something anyone could do. They’ll no doubt weave willow between the sticks to create nice borders.

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It also gives me yet another opportunity to plug the wonder plant Kale, still looking pristine even though 2 days earlier we had the biggest snow dump of the month. Their planters of pak choi, which I first saw in November, have lasted perfectly. I’d have never thought about growing pak choi if I hadn’t seen theirs.

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I was delighted to see their pots of garlic in cold frames. Last year I struggled to get my garlic planted due to water-logging so to solve the problem I planted some in pots as a bit of an experiment, but I see they’ve done the exact same thing!

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It’s great seeing how they work and I think visiting gardens, big or small, professional or amateur is a must for any keen or budding gardener. If they can do it, so can you!

harlow_carr_strawberryOk, so I don’t know how they have a strawberry in January?

Have you ever tried doing new things as a result of a garden visit? Have you got any good tips that you picked up from a garden visit?

Forced Hyacinths – an accidental surprise

blanched_hyacinthsUntil today I had no idea that you could ‘force’ hyacinths. I know all about forcing rhubarb since I live in close proximity to the ‘Rhubarb Triangle‘ in Yorkshire, but hyacinths?

Yesterday Adam ventured into the cellar and returned with two pots of them, looking anemic and almost plastic like. What a spectacle! They were much paler yesterday than this photo above and looked totally bizarre and alien but a lack of time and battery power meant I couldn’t photograph them in all their weirdness. They’re looking a lot greener now and apparently in just a few days of being in a cool but light spot in the house they should start producing more flower buds.

It was only when I started to think about this oddity that I discovered that forcing hyacinths is actually a real practice. Keeping them in the dark to bring them on early is apparently wide known. Adam said he’d put them in the cellar for this very reason but forgot all about them and was meant to retrieve them when the tips started to show. It would seem that I’ve been in the dark about this as much as the bulbs have.

second_lot_of_vases_out_of_the_cellar_5-12-2011_thImage from http://www.hyacinthvases.org.uk/

I found a whole blog dedicated to this practice and looking at their amazing collection of antique vessels I can see why someone would want to create a display of these bulbs as soon as they could. I’ve also found tons of information online about forcing all sorts of bulbs. Here’s Monty with his little yellow trug – apparently the episode that inspired Adam to stash the bulbs in the first place. There’s even loads of people on Pinterest who are keen on collecting the lovely glass vases as well as growing the hyacinths. I’ve quickly become obsessed and even created my own board.

I love interesting plant containers and planted some bulbs in teapots a few months back. I really think these hyacinths look cool in the colourful vases. I’m inspired to create my own collection. My only problem is space! I sometimes feel like plants are taking over my life!

Have you started growing hyacinths in the dark before? Do you have any ideas about interesting ways to display bulbs?

Back from the snow and into the snow…

Well it snow surprise that we suddenly get a massive dump of the fluffy white stuff just when everyone was starting to enjoy the unusually mild winter! I’ve had a wonderful holiday in Andorra, hitting the ski slopes, where there was a slight lack of snow (but enough to ski and snowboard) and I must say that coming back was a REAL downer. Wow! If January blues aren’t hard enough add a dose of post holiday blues on top and that was me all last week. I’m finally coming out of it though and just as I thought I had nothing to write my fingers have started tapping. I thought I was going to have to change my blog to ‘dig the inside’ since all I found myself doing was vegetating in front of the TV – a very unusual activity for me.  andorra
The good news is that my seedlings have survived without me. The sweet peas are looking a little leggy though and this is when I wish I had a conservatory to put them in to give them as much light as possible. The ones I sowed in the greenhouse in November are only just coming through and are still tiny.

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The garden is looking delightful and I’m really glad I left my pots of bulbs in the greenhouse and in the cold frame. The ones planted outside are doing very well and the snow seems to enliven them unlike the violas which look a little droopy. I have no doubt that they will spring back though and I’m carefully deadheading them to give them as much growing energy as possible.

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This is a short but double whammy post because along with my updates I’ve also published the first of my ‘month by month‘ series. I’m absolutely no expert but people keep asking me what they should/could be doing in their gardens. I direct them to plenty of websites, but still they ask. So to accompany what I’m doing I’ll also post a monthly list. Please feel free to help me with this and add links to your posts.

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As well as getting back into writing I’m looking forward to catching up on reading all my favourite blogs too. I plan to make some changes to my website this month, including a list of the blogs I read and I also plan to do lots of sketching with my new kit that I won from casual casual easy thing!

I hope you’re all doing well this January and you haven’t succumbed to the blues. What plans do you have for the rest of the month?

Month by month – gardening in January

berries_in_snowMy friends and colleagues are always asking me what they should/could be doing each month and January has been no exception. I feel slightly uncomfortable starting this new series since there’s a ton of books out there that give wonderful month by month guides to gardening and there’s some great websites too, including Gardeners World and the RHS and of course plenty of other blogs written by passionate gardeners who have brilliant advice. Please feel free to add your own tips, ideas and advice and hopefully all our friends and colleagues will benefit!

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1. When it’s cold outside and you want to be indoors check out seed catalogues and read books! Now is a good time to start thinking about what you will grow, going through your seed collection and starting to plan your garden. I’ve organised my seeds in zip lock bags, sorted by each month.

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2. Sow indoors. Not everyone has a greenhouse and not everyone can heat their greenhouse so start sowing on your windowsill. January can be really poor for light so if you really don’t have a bright or sunny spot then you don’t have to do this, most folk start in March. I’m a massive fan of starting my seeds indoors though and some things you can try are:

  • Early tomatoes such as Mr. Fothergills Red Cherry. If you have a heated propagator set them off in there now and when they start coming through we should have better light conditions. Be warned, they can be leggy if sown now though but tomatoes are very robust. If you are raring to go, then try it, better still wait until February or March. I will be sowing some end of Jan/start of Feb because I want some early varieties.
  • Autumn Leeks like the Mammoth Variety I’m growing right now.
  • Broadbeans – again, start them indoors and you will have some really strong and healthy plants to plant out in March. They will start to grow big though so be prepared to pot them on. If you haven’t got the time or space then wait and sow them direct in March.
  • You can also check out what I’ve got ‘growing on‘.

3. You can plant garlic outside but only when the ground is frost free and not waterlogged. Digging frozen or wet ground can damage your soil structure. With this current cold snap it’s probably best to wait now until March unless you’re in a blessed part of the country or the world where mildness prevails!

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4. Potter and clean things. On a crisp but frosty day take your flask of coffee (or if you’re like me your flask of Baileys Hot Chocolate or a nice tea) and potter around. Any bulbs you have in pots should be in cold frames or sheltered from bad weather, including rain, some bulbs don’t like to be waterlogged. Clean your greenhouse with hot soapy water – that’ll warm your hands! Fungus can grow in your greenhouse so it’s important to ventilate it in this weather too. Shake snow off branches and when everything is bare in the garden it’s a great time to tidy around and visualise where you will plant things and what changes you might make over the coming months.

5. Certain bits of pruning can be done now. I only know about Apples and Pairs but I never do them when it’s frosty, snowing or completely frozen like now as that can be harmful to them. So wait for the next mild spell and that would be a good time. I expect that rule applies to other trees and woody shrubs. Best to check that one!

6. Plant trees, hedging and roses. Never plant a rose where another one once was. It can lead to disease. Dogwood seems to be flavour of the month this year and it does look utterly brilliant. Again, avoid digging barerooted plants in when it’s really very cold weather. Wait for it to thaw out somewhat first. This is to protect the soil and give the plant a good start for it’s roots.

7. Feed the birds. They will be very grateful.

8. Plan your crop rotation. This is what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks.

9. Order your seed potatoes for chitting next month.

10. If all else fails and snow continues to fall, then go for a nice walk and take photos :)

rotten_snowy_cabbagesThis is why I don’t grow much over winter, rotten cabbages don’t look great even when covered in snow

Can you think of anything else? Please feel free to link up to your posts if you have any winter / January advice. Happy gardening!

Seed list 2013 – my year of experimental growing

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In my last blog post I wrote about the seedlings that I’ve got growing/germinating/thinking about (hopefully) germinating in January. I’ve also been right through my seed collection and grouped everything into zip lock bags, an idea I saw someone post on twitter – last year I had a disaster with an automatic watering system so waterproofing is required! Instead of ordering the seeds by type, I’ve ordered them by month in the hope that I’ll be a bit more organised and I won’t forget to sow things, like the cucumbers I forgot last year.

I’ve totally discovered that I have far too many though! Some seeds simply won’t get sown, so I’ll prioritise new unopened packets and the seeds that I’ve gathered myself over any open ones that I’ve carried over, as they could be a bit dodgy.

Here’s the list!

Broad beans – Karmazyn and Aquadulce Claudia
Leeks – Mammoth Blanch and Musselburgh
Sweet Peas – various varieties
Tomatoes – Every year I grow a variety that my mum also grows, Sugar Plum. They’re the best! I saved the seeds from my crop. The sugar plums are late developers so I’ll be experimenting with some other varieties and sowing them in Jan & Feb then the sugar plum in March.
Lobelia – String of Pearls
Sprouts – Evesham Special
Sweet Pepper – Californian Wonder & Ingrid
Chilli – Cayenne (I saved from my crop last year), Anaheim and Jalapeno
Celery- Golden Self Blanching
Cabbage- January King (I think these are the big beastie ones!)
Cornflowers – mixed
Peas – Purple Podded & Douce Provence
Chives
Wildflowers – mixed packets that were given to me for the Bees
Beetroot – Boltardy
Radish – French Breakfast 3
Sunflowers – Velvet Queen
Asters – Mixed variety that I bought in Amsterdam
Carrots – Nantes Early, Resistafly F1, Amsterdam 2, Cortina & Purple Haze
Nasturtiums – Mixed Whirlybird
Dwarf French Beans – Amethyst
Runner beans – ‘Selby Beans‘ saved over from my crop
Stocks – Mixed
Cucumber – femspot F1 & Crystal Lemon (the round ones!)
Courgette- Atena Polka
Cauliflower – Purple Cape
Squash – Summer Satellite, Winter Uchiki Kuri & Cornell’s
Swiss Chard – Rainbow Mix
Black & White Kidney Beans
Turnips – Golden Balls! Oddly, while I was sorting, Mark’s Veg Plot posted this about his golden balls.
Spring Onions – Summer and White Lisbon Winter Hardy
Mustard – for green manure
Various Herbs and Salads – you name it, I grow them in pots everywhere, mixed in with my flowers.

Things I’m missing and need to buy:
Broccoli – Organic Green Sprouting
Pumpkins
Curly Kale!!!

I’ve been banging on about these and would you believe it, I don’t have any yet!

The other things I grow are Rocket potatoes and Turbo & Red onions from sets. I usually get the onions from Wilkinsons and they’ve never let me down. My mum traditionally buys me the Rockets from their local market and starts chitting them for me. I think this tradition is rather cute so I’ll carry on this year. I need to confirm where she got last year’s from though because they were poor. However, that could have been due to the weather.

I also grow fruit but I don’t think I’ll be adding to what I already have. You can guarantee that every time I visit a garden centre I will come out with something though and I’ll be given lots of plants and vegetables. Adam will no doubt want to sow a load of flowers too. Good job I love gardening!

I’m on holiday in Andorra next week and if I get any spare time I’ll be thinking about my crop rotation and I’ll share some plans at a later date. Have I missed anything from my list?! What have you got planned for 2013? Do you have any tips you can share?

Gardening in January – what’s growing on?

This month I’ll mostly be…

Did you ever see the Fast Show? If not, the line above will mean nothing but if you did then you might have visions of a funny old man emerging from his shed saying, “this week I’ave mostly been…” This month that’s me, except I’m a short ‘youngish’ girl and at some point this year I will have a new shed!

So, this month I’ll be sorting through all the seeds I’ve collected and been given and I’ll be compiling a list for 2013, which I will post in due course.

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I’ve also already got some seedlings on the go in various places around the house. I’ve got broad beans germinating on the top windowsill (Karmazyn and Aquadulce Claudia). I’ve sown them in modules this year. You can start sowing these from November onwards although it’s usual to take a break after November and start again in February but this is only really if you’re sowing directly into the ground. If you have space to sow them indoors you can do this anytime.

I’ve covered mine with polythene bags to get them going. These are the ideal candidates for sowing in the cardboard tubes you find in the middle of toilet rolls or homemade newspaper pots and planting directly out in those at a later date. Once these get too big for my windowsill I’ll transfer them to my cold frame and assess the weather situation then. If it remains mild into February I might plant them out and cover in fleece if we get some cold snaps.
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As planned for January 1st I’ve also sown my giant leeks! I’ve used a blanch variety called Mammoth from Seed Parade. I’ve put these in my heated propagator to give them the best possible start. I’m growing them for a competition so I’ll post updates as I go along. I’ve never grown leeks like this before and really I’ve got no idea what I’m doing to be honest! I’m also going away on holiday next week and I’ll have to turn the propagator off then so they could be a bit of a flop. Watch this space!
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I’ve also got some sweet peas germinating. Four different varieties, again from Seed Parade, there is a theory that getting them going earlier can lead to better plants so as 2013 is my year for experimentation I’m going to try this and sow some in spring too so I can compare.

I continuously sow salads and have a new experimental batch growing. Four varieties again from Seed Parade, Mixed Baby Leaf, Organic Lettuce Bowl, Arctic king and All Year Around. Even though I grow a lot of salads I am unsure what will happen with these. I sow all year round but have never done a fresh start like this before in December. They are looking a bit leggy and would benefit from having the top windowsill spot really but that’s been claimed.

Other than that I think I’ll save sowing anything else until February, or at least until after I get back from my holiday. I did a bit of pottering at the allotment on New Year’s Day, just tidying things up and making the place look at bit more presentable. While I was there I had a bit of a snoop and spotted a giant cabbage on one of the plots! I don’t think my photo really highlights just how big it is, quite beastly.
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What have you got growing on?

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