Sunday, 29 April 2012

Pricking Out and Potting On

My life has been consumed with pricking out and potting on. Every spare centimetre of space in the house has been taken over with seed trays and plant pots. Each lot of seeds sown has a small window in which they should be pricked out into their own pots before they become leggy and tangled and their growth is checked. I have been having mixed success this year. I have got to lots of things just in the nick of time but I have also lost a couple of trays in their entirety because I didn't manage to pot them on in time. Sam has been very patient and understanding of me taking over the entire house and my constant reiteration that it will all be worth it in the end when the garden looks brilliant and we have loads to eat off the veg patch in the summer.
The trouble with this time of year is that although I need lots of space, because of the winds and bad weather, I can't leave too many seedlings in either the main polytunnel or in the mini greenhouses. I have learnt my lesson after losing countless plants when gusts of wind have knocked over mini greenhouses or rocked everything off of staging in the the polytunnel.
I find pricking out quite therapeutic, there's something quite nice about a repetitive task that you don't really have to think about. I quite often spend the evening pricking out seedlings with an episode of Eastenders in the background - I know how to live it up!
My top tips for pricking out are:
  • Always hold seedlings by the leaves and not the roots
  • Keep everything well watered - it is easier to break up damp earth than hard compacted earth
  • Make sure you use clean pots and sterile seed compost, this helps prevent damping off.
  • Work out how many plants you will need, and prick out a few extras just in case you lose any.
  • Fill a few pots at a time and dib holes into the soil to get ready for the seedlings you will be transplanting.
  • Rope in some help - if you have lots of seedlings to prick out, see if you can rope someone in to help, I always get Sam to give me a hand.
Hopefully the weather starts getting a little bit better soon so I can start moving pots into the greenhouses and maybe even out onto the plot. It's certainly beginning to feel like the growing season is well and truly underway!

Egyptian Walking Onions

One of the things we use most in the kitchen is onions so I'm always looking for ways to extend my onion growing abilities without giving over my whole garden to growing them. This year I am growing white and red onions (some overwintered and some spring planted from sets), shallots, spring onions, chives and multiplier onions. I am also growing Egyptian walking onions (also known as topsetting onions or tree onions). This is a new variety to me and the thing that makes it unusual is that the bulbs set at the top of the plant rather than under the soil like normal onions. This means that it can 'travel' around the garden if you don't pick the bulbs. As the bulb cluster forms, the plant becomes top heavy and bends down so that the bulb is on the soil. The bulb roots and throws up new shoots which create more bulbs. As long as you leave a bulb growing in the ground, you should continue to get new onions so this is a perennial plant.

I bought mine on eBay for a couple of quid and I have put it in a pot for the time being because I haven't yet decided on a permanent home for it. Like all onions, these like full sun and well draining soil. They can be planted at any time of the year as long as the ground isn't frozen although the Autumn is the best time. Egyptian walking onion sets will not produce topsets (bulbs) during the first year of growth apparently. I planted mine sometime last summer so I won't expect any bulbs this season - this explains why my plant is so small.

Possibly the best thing of all about this plant is that there isn't a part of it which can't be eaten. The green leaf stems can be picked and eaten a bit like chives and both the topsetting bulbs and the bulb below the ground can be harvested and eaten.

I can't wait for my first harvest! What unusual veg are you growing in your garden?

Green Woodworking

Recently I went to a green woodworking day for the press at Shovelstrode Forest Garden. Set in secluded grounds that offer what I would refer to as "glamping" (camping but in really cosy and comfy looking yurts), I met Lisa and Charles who own the forest garden. They were friendly and enthusiastic as they showed me round the grounds which are still very much a work in progress. It was a very homely place to be as we sat drinking tea and chatting. I have never been much of a camper - guide camp when I was 13 in a smelly canvas tent made sure of that; but a close inspection of the yurts started to make me think that a few nights without electricity perhaps wouldn't be so bad.
 I know that people choose camping holidays because they are perceived as cheap but my experience of trying to organise a camping trip in August to the Isle of Wight proved that having a "stay-cation" or holidaying in the UK, isn't necessarily any cheaper than a foreign holiday. In my mind, if you're going to go camping in the UK, then you might as well do it in style and a yurt seems like the perfect solution. Despite being in the English countryside, stepping inside the yurt felt like being transported to somewhere exotic and foreign.

The rest of the day was spent getting to grips with green woodworking. I won't go into too much detail about it here because there are lots of sources online that will be able to tell you much more than I could after just one day. Essentially it involves making objects or furniture from freshly felled, rather than seasoned wood. I was amazed at some of the examples of chairs and stools, and even more amazed that I might be able to make or help make something like this myself.First things first, I learnt how to chop up logs into pieces of wood to work on to make the component parts of a chair. I then got to grips with the lathe horse and how to gradually whittle the wood down into cylindrical posts for the rungs of a chair. I was quite surprised to find how naturally this came to me, and also how peaceful it felt. I know it sounds a bit cliched but it really did feel good to be working with something so natural in a rural and peaceful atmosphere. Charles was really encouraging and soon enough, I was onto my second and then third rung.
Although in just one day I didn't get anywhere near to making a chair in its entirety, I did get a feel for the craft of green woodworking and I would definitely recommend it. With just the few basic skills I learnt, I feel that with a bit of imagination it wouldn't be long before I could make something to be proud of. With all the tree chopping down that has gone on around here since we moved in, I only wish that I'd learnt this craft sooner so that I might have been able to do something with all the wood from the garden. With just a few tools and a few lessons, it would be quite possible to make objects as gifts at home.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Gardening Club

I have recently started up a gardening club at work and it's amazing and brilliant to see people who I totally wouldn't expect to join getting really excited about the prospect of learning about gardening. One colleague in particular really struck me with how amazed she was by the whole growing process. I love being able to pass on the knowledge I have picked up and there are also plenty of more experienced gardeners who I am learning from.
Our corporate goal at work this year is all about sustainability so a gardening club fits really well with that, we are hoping to grow both flowers and edibles and our ethos is keep going until someone tells us to stop!
The club was started at the Spring Fayre and Seed Swap that I also helped to organise and then after lots of unproductive meetings to try to get some money I/we, I decided that we should just get going so last week we planted our first crop - potatoes.
We decided to go down the recycle and reuse route so members have been bringing in pots and grow bags from home to use and another member collected some compost made by the council from all the green waste they collect. We have also earmarked some office furniture no longer needed thanks to a refurb so we should have some slightly unusual methods of growing which I think makes it all the more interesting!
Following on from the 3 grow bags and one tub of potatoes that we planted last week (they were earthed up today), we are planning some carrots, lettuce and beans on the edible front.We also want to grow some pollinating insect attracting flowers that will have the added benefit of making colleagues and passers-by smile with a bit of summer colour.
Once it gets you, there is no stopping the gardening bug, not even work is safe!

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Sunny Afternoon At The Beach

Since we moved to Brighton, one of my favourite things to do on a sunny day is stroll along the seafront and sit and watch the world go by and the waves roll in. Our favourite beach is Rottingdean, it's quiet and scenic, it has an olde world charm AND best of all, if you're lucky you'll find some sand to sit on and not just pebbles. We spent Friday afternoon sitting on the sand, soaking up the rays and watching the world go by. (There was more world going by than my photos suggest!)
The beach is a great day out, our niece and nephew love it, running about, hunting for crabs and making sand castles keeps them amused for hours. I like wondering along the shoreline hunting for shells or pieces of driftwood to use in the house or garden. I have also been known to collect bag-fulls of seaweed for the garden. It makes a great addition to the compost heap, or you can use it to mulch around plants while it slowly releases nutrients back into the soil. Again, collecting seaweed is that it is totally free and great for the garden.
Best of all, a trip to the beach can feel like you've been transported to somewhere completely different and far flung, but it's completely free.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Allotment Waiting Lists

I put myself down on the allotment waiting lists in April 2011. One year on and that is exactly what I have been doing - waiting albeit not very patiently. Every time we pass an allotment site and I spot a less than perfect plot, I complain to the other half that it should be mine and that I would never let it get messy. Similarly, every time I spot a vacant piece of land I always comment that it could be used for allotment space and therefore bumping me ever closer to the top of the list.
Apparently where we are, the waiting time is around 4 years so I still have a lot more waiting to do. The person waiting at the top of the list for the site list I joined has been waiting since March 2009 so that gives us some idea of how long we are likely to be waiting.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am lucky to have a garden large enough to be able to dedicate some space to growing but not as much as the 125 square metres I will get when I finally get an allotment.
I guess allotment waiting lists go up and down in line with the general prosperity of the nation - during the second world war everyone clamoured for allotment space to aid the war effort and then as things were getting better in the 50s, interest waned and many allotment sites were lost. Since the current recession started, numbers of people requesting allotments has risen with people trying to save money by "growing their own." It doesn't appear that many local councils are doing very much to increase the amount of allotment land available, indeed my local council seems to have taken the view that it is better to keep cutting up the existing sites into smaller and smaller plots to give more people a go. I can see why this seems like a good idea but I can't help thinking that part of the reason that people want an allotment is to have the space to grow crops and enjoy their own bit of space rather than to be squashed in and limited by space as to what can be grown.
Do you have an allotment or are you waiting? I'd love to hear your allotment/waiting list stories.