Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Growing from seed

Peas – 2018 – Canoe & Ambassador

These two varieties of pea are seeds left from last year and need using up this year. I shall sow the Canoe now and the Ambassador a little later in the year. I intend to grow some peas at home in containers this year as well as at the allotment as quite a few were lost last year when Rob couldn’t get down to harvest.

Pea Ambassador – Pea  Ambassador is a Maincrop variety of pea which is ideally suited for sowing later in the season.  It is a robust growing, short-vined pea with good resistance to downy mildew.  A high yielding variety producing masses of large, blunt-ended pods containing up to nine sweet and tender peas of great quality. Ambassador is one of the only Peas that can be sown in July for an October crop and is ideal for successional sowing.

Pea Canoe – A well named and highly productive variety producing long slightly curved pods with pointed tips that each contain up 12 peas. With such full pods, Pea Canoe is set to become an ideal variety for exhibition. The heavy crops are carried on semi leafless stems for easy picking and plants become virtually self supporting if grown in a block. Surplus crops of this wrinkle seeded pea freeze particularly well. Useful for Spring and Autumn sowing.

Peas are a cool season crop well suited to the UK climate. Peas can be direct sown outdoors from March to June once the soil has warmed up. Using cloches will help the earliest crops to germinate. In milder areas some hardy early maturing cultivars can be sown in late autumn for overwintering and producing particularly early crops. For a continuous crop it’s a good idea to sow a new batch of peas every 10-14 days. Alternatively, try growing different early and Maincrop varieties that will mature at different times throughout the growing season. Water regularly once pea plants start to flower to encourage good pod development. You can reduce water loss by applying a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost to lock moisture into the soil. Don’t feed peas with nitrogen rich fertilisers as this can create leafy growth instead of producing pea pods. In most cases peas won’t require any extra feed.

Peas should be harvested regularly to encourage more pods to be produced. The pods at the bottom of each plant will mature first so begin harvesting from low down and work your way up as the pods mature. Peas can be frozen but they are sweetest and tastiest when eaten freshly picked from the garden. Early varieties can be harvested 11-12 weeks from sowing while Maincrop varieties need 13 -15 weeks to mature.

Peas are legumes which take in nitrogen from the air and store it in small nodules along their roots. When growing garden peas don’t be tempted to pull the plants up from the roots at the end of the season. The leaves and stems can be cut off at ground level and added to the compost heap before digging the roots into the ground. As the roots break down they release nitrogen into the soil. 

Californian Poppy – Escholtzia Californica 2018

I had no flowers from these seeds last year at all but I have persevered and scattered more seeds into the garden this year. I have sown both white and orange and am hoping for more success this time. 

Escholtzia californica was named after Dr Johann Friedrich Eschscholz, a Russian physician who was one of a party that discovered and described the plant in 1815 while exploring the Pacific coastline of what is now California. It would have been hard to miss, as great sheets of yellow and gold clothed the rocky hillsides. Technically a perennial but often grown as an annual, owing to its ability to go from seed to flower in a matter of weeks. A single plant can flower profusely over a long period before eventually setting seed and producing new flowering plants in the same season. These Poppies thrive in dry, gravely, well drained soil. Once established it will seed itself around. The most successful and cost effective way to grow the Californian poppy is by sowing directly into prepared gravelly ground during spring. Work your topsoil into a reasonably fine tilth before applying a 2″ thick layer of gritty sharp sand or pea gravel. The seed can be broadcast directly on to this free draining layer before being watered in. A succession of sowings from early April to May should result in a succession of plants over the Summer.


Vinca Mediterranean XP Mix – Madagascar Periwinkle

I ordered these seeds from Seekay not realising that there would only be ten in the packet. Not much room for grower error. This variety of Vinca is said to be ideal for container growing. The plants grow 10 – 15 cm in height with a spreading, trailing habit. Mediterranean mix has a good range of colours from red to pure white. The plants should flower from late spring to late summer. Having read the instruction I have decided to plant the seeds singly into 3″ pots rather than a tray so cutting out the need to move them. These ten seeds have gone in today, 9th March 2018. I have used 3″ pressed card pots so that I can put the whole thing directly into the garden soil when they are big enough.


  • Sow the seeds in March – April.
  • The seeds should be sown on the surface of a good quality moistened seed compost
  • Cover the seeds lightly with Vermiculite and maintain a temp of 24 – 27 deg C. (this is best done in a propagator as temps are very important)
  • Keep compost moist but not waterlogged.
  • Germination will occur in 1 – 2 weeks
  • Once large enough to handle pot on into 3″ pots prior to planting out in to their final position.



Scabious – Scabiosa Atropurpurea Beaujolais Bonnets T&M

Last year we went on a visit to Ashwood Nurseries and Laura couldn’t resist buying a packet of T&M Scabious seeds, Beaujolais Bonnets. We had discovered a blue version of this lovely herbaceous perennial amongst some wild flowers grown from a mixed packet she received free from RSPB. We repotted it into a large pot and it is showing signs of regrowth even now in the snow. Our plan is to top up the compost in last years pot and sow the new seeds in there.

Scabiosa Butterfly Blue is a Lovely, lavender blue, pincushion like flower blooming from July to September, held on delicate stems above clumps of lance shaped, grey green leaves this long flowering blue scabious is ideal for a sunny, well drained rock garden or container planting. As its name suggests, the charming pincushion like flowers are highly attractive to butterflies and they make very pretty additions to fresh and dried flower arrangements.



Found by chance in a Suffolk garden, this showy Scabious produces large, burgundy pincushion flowers surrounded by an outer collar of raspberry pink petals. Scabiosa Atropurpurea Beaujolais Bonnets is a variety with tall stems that stand above other perennials. The nectar rich blooms are loved by pollinating insects. A first class perennial for cottage garden borders that will also provide you with some fabulous cut flowers.



Scabiosa Caucasica was introduced into Britain in 1803 after seed collected from the Caucasus was sent to the Hackney nurseryman George Loddiges. In the wild it is found in cool meadows and in the garden this plant seems to peak once the heat of summer starts to wane. Clive Greaves is a selected seedling originally grown by market gardener James House, who ran a successful nursery near Bristol. The House family had previously named a white form Miss Willmott in honour of Ellen Willmott who gardened at Warley Place in Essex. They also developed their own seed strain, usually known as House’s hybrids, which are still available from Thompson & Morgan as young plants and seeds. The first scabious ever introduced was the small flowered Scabioisa Atropurpurea in 1591. This species comes from warmer areas of southern Europe. Often sultry and dark, it was given the common name Mournful Widow.

All scabious prefer well-drained soil and a sunny position. They dislike cold, wet winters. A top dressing of grit in October will aid surface drainage. However they also hate hot, humid weather and do best in temperate conditions. Dead head regularly to promote further flowering. Scabiosa are easy to care for and require little maintenance. Rainfall is normally all the water they need however they will require supplementary water during prolonged dry periods. They require no fertiliser as the addition of compost will suffice. It is recommended that you deadhead spent flowers to encourage further blooming whilst providing a vital tidy up. Divide and replant in fresh soil every 2-3 years to maintain vigour. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Hardy perennial.

Tomato Seeds – To grow or not to grow

I have twelve different varieties in my tomato seed box. They are all old seeds. I have just read my post from last year and my message to myself was don’t grow any tomatoes next year. However, I have sown a selection of last years seeds to test germination. They are sitting on the computer box for a little bottom heat. The photographs are of previous success for inspiration.


How to sow seeds

  • Fill a 3″ pot with moist compost
  • Sow seeds thinly and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite
  • Enclose the pot in a polythene bag
  • Germination should be within two weeks and plant should be large enough to move into separate pots in about eight weeks

Potting On

  • When the roots start appearing through the drainage holes pot on into next size pot making sure to bury the stem as roots will grow out from the stem
  • Continue to pot on until in the final pot, growbag or directly in the ground

Growing tips

  • If  the aim is to create a single stemmed plant remove side shoots from between leaf joints.
  • When four sets of flowering trusses have formed pinch out the growing tip
  • Water plants daily and once flowers have started to appear feed with tomato fertiliser every week


Sweet Pea – Lathyrus – 2018

Last years Sweet Peas were very disappointing with very few flowers. I have put all the seeds left from last year, Mammoth Mix,  into a deep pot of moist compost and my plan is to buy some fresh seeds too for another go this Summer. The Fresh seed is on order and should arrive tomorrow, weather permitting.

The old seeds are showing signs of germination with five green shoots trying to emerge at 6 days. I found a few more Mammoth mixed today, Monday  5th March, and have put them into a deep pot. I want to start a really good amount this year using all my old seeds and some new. New seeds arrived this afternoon so I sowed about twenty of the Spencer Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill is a slightly scented Spencer type that has the most beautiful deep crimson. well ruffled petals. Update 17th March – Both the old and new seeds are up and the first pot have been pinched out above the second leaves. The Spencer variety germinated very quickly and I am already thinking that I may stick to these in future. 


Growing sweet peas is supposed to be easy. Sow into compost in autumn and overwinter or wait until spring and sow in pots or sow into the ground. Before I sow them I soak the seeds in tepid water to rehydrate them. It helps them get off to a quicker start but it isn’t essential as they will still germinate well in moist compost. I usually soak overnight, use a good quality compost and sow several seeds about half an inch deep to a pot. Place in a bright position. As the seedlings grow they tend to become tall and leggy. Encourage them to produce side shoots by pinching out the tips. Simply nip off the top of the stem just above a set of leaves. This will make each plant much bushier and more robust. And the more shoots there are the more flowers will be produced. Sweet peas climb by twining their tendrils around whatever they touch so help them to cling to the support you have  provided.

Throughout the season you will need to keep them well watered as dry soil will make them go to seed quicker, also deadhead regularly. Towards the end of the season leave the seed pods to mature for collection towards next years flowers.

The Sweet Pea is a flowering plant in the genus Lathyrus in the family Fabaceae and is native to Sicily, Cyprus, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands. It is an annual climbing plant growing to a height of 1–2 metres where suitable support is available.


Aubergine – Mohican and Black Beauty

Today I have sown all of the Aubergine seeds left in my collection. Aubergine Mohican and Aubergine Black Beauty.  The Mohican is a dwarf white variety while the Black Beauty produces a standard sized dark purple fruit. This is another experiment in grow them or throw them using up old seeds. Aubergine have a five month growing season and require full sun and as much heat as possible as they originate in hot countries. I have grown these vegetables successfully before but they are difficult and when I harvested them I didn’t know what to do with them. After sowing on the 17th there are five healthy looking seedlings through today 25th, 8 days.


Saved Pepper Seeds – Capsicum

I hate to be negative but last  year I raised loads of pepper plants but didn’t harvest any edible fruits. I saved lots of seeds from bought peppers over the year and having had successful germination with saved seeds before I am once again sowing seeds of green and red bell peppers. I am obviously doing something wrong when it comes to producing edible peppers so its back to researching the internet for growing tips for me. I have had good germination, potted on some good strong plants but sadly rarely got to eat the fruits of my labour. Below is a list of points that I gathered from my research. Update on 17th February – One 7″ pot of moist compost sown with about 30 seeds. Wrapped up in a plastic food bag and put on the computer box for a little bottom heat. Fingers crossed.


  •  Pepper plants are slow growing and need plenty of time to produce fruit before frost.
  • They are an ideal plant for container growing.
  • They need rich well draining soil with added calcium and regular watering.


  • Germination is 10 to 15 days
  • Harvest should  be 65 to 100 days
  • Require full sun.
  • Regular and frequent watering.
  • Rich soil with added calcium.
  • Ideal for containers.


  • To promote growth place a mat of tinfoil around the base of the plants to help the plant benefit from direct and reflective heat and light.
  • Sweet bell peppers are known for their high vitamin C, A and B6 content.
  • Plants should not be outside until the soil is warm, so start your seeds indoors in order to get a harvest before winter.
  • Find your expected last frost date and sow pepper seeds eight weeks before.

Bell peppers are some of the most versatile vegetables in the kitchen. They can be sautéed  with onions, sliced or diced in salads, soups, and casseroles. They can be stuffed, grilled, used on sandwiches, or simply sliced for a fresh, flavorful, and crunchy snack. These colourful vegetables  have a high vitamin and mineral content. Regular consumption of green peppers, which contain more than twice the vitamin C of an orange, helps protect against disease, boosts the immune system, lowers inflammation in the arteries that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol build up. Other nutritional benefits of bell peppers include thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium and copper. 

Herbs and Spices 2 – Garlic – Allium Sativum

Number Two – Garlic

Technically Garlic is neither a herb nor a spice but is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran and has long been a common seasoning worldwide with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was used by ancient Egyptians and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine.

There are many varieties and they differ in size, pungency and colour. The most widely used European variety has a white/grey papery skin and pinkish-grey cloves and is grown in southern France. The bulbs found on sale are actually dried though we tend to consider them fresh. Garlic is one of the world’s most valued ingredients, synonymous with so many cuisines that most kitchens would be bare without it. Not only does is have an irresistible flavour, it also has amazing healing powers. Consuming just one clove a day will not only top up your body’s supplies of vital vitamins and minerals, but also help maintain a healthy heart and help the body fight off infection. Well, I’m sold on this popular ingredient and intend to grow and cook with it much more in future. I have found an excellent book called  ‘The Goodness Of Garlic’ by Natasha Edwards so I am looking forward to learning more. Natasha Edwards grew up surrounded by garlic on the world renowned garlic farm on the Isle of Wight run by her father, Colin Boswell, and she draws on her own knowledge and experience of cooking, eating and using garlic as a remedy. She is the co-author of The Garlic Farm Cookbook and author of Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.


Some varieties of garlic are best planted as sets in autumn to be harvested in early to mid-summer the following year. It’s a crop easy to grow from sets and rising in popularity all the time to use in the kitchen and to grow in vegetable plots. Garlic is propagated by planting cloves or using bulbils. Save some of your crop for planting next season. Propagating garlic using bulbils can be much more effective than planting cloves. There are many more bulbils than cloves, making it easier to build up your planting stock. And since bulbils don’t touch the ground, you have a lower incidence of soil-borne diseases. Plant them just like you would plant cloves

Although the ideal planting time is November you can plant as late as April and at this warmer time of year you could try planting up any spare cloves left over from supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and plant the largest and healthiest. The wild ancestors of modern day garlic would have originated from the mountainous regions of Asia and are programmed to search deeply for water. Fill a deep pot with seed compost. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position no more than 1½ ” below the soil surface. Water well and place outside in a sunny position out of the way of cold winds. From early June onwards begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks. The garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August and September depending on weather and variety.Once dried these bulbs should keep in good condition for 3-4 months.

Garlic has many culinary uses. The cloves are separated, peeled and then used whole, chopped or crushed. The easiest way to crush garlic is to place a clove on a board and, using the flat side of a small knife, press down firmly until you have squashed it to a pulp. Sprinkle a little salt on the clove to help the knife grip. Garlic crushers are fine but some say that crushing the garlic this way gives it a bitter taste. The more finely the garlic is crushed the stronger it will taste in the dish but slow oven baking tends to mellow the flavour. By baking the garlic it softens the sharpness of the flavour and brings out it’s sweetness.

You can’t beat the simple flavour of garlic, thyme and salt and pepper on a good quality rib of beef. The juices make a fantastic gravy. Garlic bread is another popular way to use this versatile food.


Cucumber Long White T&M – Cucumis Sativus

I bought the seeds of this Cucumber, Long White, from T&M way back and have had several attempts to grow them without any success. They were £1.99 for 25 seeds and there were ten left in the foil packet so I have put them all into some damp compost, enclosed the pot in a polythene bag and sat it on my computer box for a little bottom heat.  This is my first sowing of the year. I have not been enthusiastic this year about seeds and sowing but I have nothing to lose with this as the seeds are here and its either sow them or throw them. I think it will be the same story with most of my seeds as I have only bought parsnip seeds for the allotment this year as these are well known for not staying viable over time. The allotment is now Robs domain any way as I will probably concentrate on the house, the garden and the chickens. Update 18th February – One seedling through at 8 days.