The diary of two novice gardeners and allotmenteers

Chris and Steve's Weblog – City Chickens

An account of our work and progress on the allotment at Bobs Coppice

Over Wintering Spring Cabbage

It’s time to sow seeds of overwintering cabbages. They are my favourite cabbages and should be ready from early Spring onwards. Sow: mid-July to August ¼” deep in a seed bed or in trays of seed compost. Keep moist. Transplant to their final positions when plants can be easily handled in about 5-6 weeks. Allow 18” between plants. Plant firmly and water well until established. Harvest: April-May for good firm hearts. The four varieties that I am sowing today, 22nd July,  are, Spring Hero, Durham Early, Offenham 2 Flower of Spring and Cabbage First Early Market. The  last one is new to me this year but the others are tried and tested favourites. Today, 29th July, all the seedlings are through except for the Durham Early, which haven’t shown at all. Seven days is quite good though so I will give the no showers another week.

Swiss Chard

We went to the allotment today and did a bit more tidying up. I was pleased to see three good roots of Swiss Chard just waiting to be picked for dinner. We also brought home a couple of leeks just to check on the quality really as they had been growing over the winter. They were brilliant and are now cut up and in the freezer and we are planning to harvest the rest of the crop and clear the bed for new planting. I came home a bit more optimistic about keeping the allotment plot. I had a load of wood chip dropped and Rob has tidied a few beds and covered them with manure and woodchip giving the whole place a visual lift. We have also  cleared the site of bits of plastic and empty bags that had been blown about after storm Doris. Back at home we put a bag of manure on the side garden plus two bags of wood chip. It is almost built up to the right level now another five bags should do it. Laura came home with a wooden raised bed knocked together by a friend of Bryans at his allotment site. We have painted it with green preservative and put it ready to be filled with soil and planted up.

Germinating Parsnip Seed – Pastinaca sativa


I found this method of germinating parsnip seed online on the Gardeners World site and decided to have a go. Not with all my seed but just twenty as a test. I bought the seed from Seekay in a bag of 250 seeds. They are a variety called Guernsey. Complete disaster. No sign of seeds or seedlings.

Mixing the parsnip seed in the bag of seed compost

Part-fill a plastic bag with moist seed compost and empty your seed packet onto the surface. There is no point in successional sowing as you don’t need to harvest them all in one go. What’s more, parsnip seed stays viable for only one year, so saving seed could lead to wasting it. Mix the seed and compost together so the seed is evenly distributed in the bag. Tie the top of the bag together and place in a dark, warm spot such as your airing cupboard. Leave for around four days. After around four days, remove the bag from the airing cupboard and check on your seeds. They should have germinated, and small seedlings will be poking out of the compost.Make a shallow trench in well-prepared soil with stones removed. Remove the seedlings from the bag and place them 10cm apart in the trench. Cover with a thin layer of soil and water with a watering can with a fine rose attached. The seedlings should continue to grow in their new growing positions.

Parsnips are ancient vegetables that have been cultivated in Europe for over 500 years with the French recording named varieties as far back as 1393.  Guernsey dates back to pre 1826 and, even though the name suggests otherwise originated in France. It has been cultivated in Guernsey for generations where it is considered by farmers to be the most nutritious root known, superior even to the carrot and the potato. 
The roots of this heritage variety are shorter than many of today’s long hybrids, they are often called Guernsey Half Long because of this. The stumpy roots have broad shoulders and attractive smooth white skin and even without the vigour of an F1 hybrid the flavour doubly compensates. They are easy to grow once germinated they need little maintenance and can be left in the soil until ready to use. Plant in early spring, and harvest from autumn to the following spring. The parsnip tops are large and need a good 30cm room in each direction. The more room you give them the larger they will grow. Guernsey is a firm favourite with many. it is considered to be one of the very best roasting varieties, this reliable, sweet root vegetable is making a come back, with crop numbers  increasing all over the country. Info Seedaholic.com.

Well that’s twenty of my new Parsnip seeds completely wasted as there is no sign of anything in the bag. I am so glad I didn’t put them all in. Attempt two was the damp kitchen towel in a plastic box method. Two weeks on and no sign of chitting. Looks like no parsnips this year. Either my methods are rubbish or the seeds are. Either way it is getting too late to sow now.

Sweetcorn Wagtail and Incredible

I bought seeds of Sweetcorn Wagtail from Seekay at 32 seeds for 99p. Today I have put 24 in a modular propagation tray. They should germinate in 7 days. I had pre-soaked them. All of these seeds germinated, grew to about two inches high, then keeled over and died. I have no idea what happened but today, 5th May, I have sown 25 seeds of Sweetcorn Incredible. A main season variety that produces medium sized sugar enhanced cobs. 12th May and the corn is looking good. I am confident of having 25 good plants to go out in June.

Sweetcorn Wagtail F1 performs well producing cobs of sweetcorn that are super sweet. This is a late season variety that produces a high yield of cobs per plant.  When growing Sweetcorn it is considered best to not grow more than one variety to avoid any cross pollination which can harm yields and the quality of the crop. On larger sites it is possible to grow more than one variety.  Sweetcorn should be grown in blocks to help pollination.

Courgette – Nano Verde, Tuscany, Black Beauty, Di Nizza, Zephyr, All Green Bush.

This years courgette seeds have all been chitted using the damp kitchen towel method. The Tuscany were virtually climbing out of the box so I have popped them in a bit of compost to stretch out. The rest are behaving normally so I expect them to germinate in a few days. I have decided on two of each and am crossing my fingers that they don’t get drowned by exceptionally heavy rain like last years. If they all thrive that will be twelve plants which is too many even though the varieties vary quite a lot with one being a yellow variety and another a round type. I will face that dilemma when I come to it. The two Tuscany are already potted on into 7″ pots and the Zephyr will be ready tomorrow. The rest, however, are yet to show any sign of life. I have taken them out of the chitting box and put them into compost but I may have to try new seeds.

Courgettes are easy to grow with two plants producing plenty enough for most families. Best picked small for best flavour, these plants are also very prolific. Courgettes are not frost hardy which means plant them out in June when the risk of frosts has passed. You can sow Courgettes either inside or outside depending on the weather where you live. I think it’s safer to sow indoors and plant out later. I prefer to chit seeds and then, when they have germinated well pop them into a pot of moist seed compost. Courgettes will also be fine in an unheated greenhouse or poly tunnel but you must protect them from frost.

3 week old courgette seedling plantAfter about 3 weeks courgette seedlings will have used up most of the nutrients in the small pot of seed compost but it will still be too cold to plant out. Pot the plants on into a larger pot with fresh compost.

 

Pumpkin – Mammoth, Jack o’Lantern and Snowman

Laura’s pumpkin seeds are already chitted and put into a module tray to grow on. I have put my seeds in between damp kitchen towels and in a plastic box to chit. Four Pumpkin Snowman – A beautiful snow white ornamental pumpkin that will hopefully grow to the size of a football if several fruit are left on one plant. Grow in  rich soil. Full sun, ample moisture and insect control should bring good results from this vigorous variety. Seeds and information from Seekay. Six Pumpkin Mammoth – This is a more traditional large orange fruit. Six Pumpkin Jack-o’-lantern – This is thought to be the best pumpkin for carving. Good for Halloween carving or cooking. Fruits have a round to elongated shape and taste good as well. Pumpkins are hungry feeders so a weekly dose of tomato food will help them to reach their full potential. Harvest in Autumn.

Seven of Laura’s pumpkin seedlings have gone with her friend Bryan to live with him and eventually grow in his allotment. Her other seven have been potted on and are taking over my room. My own seeds have still to germinate.

Onion Snowball- Amaryllidaceae Allium cepa

We bought a bag of Snowball onion sets from Lidl. I have placed them into damp compost in two flats to hopefully swell out a bit and produce some root growth. They are destined for the allotment, The flat that I kept indoors, all the smaller ones, have produced roots and green shoots but the bigger ones outside don’t seem to have moved.2nd April and 60 of these onions are now in place at the allotment with another tray still waiting to be planted. They had all made a very strong root system so I feel for 89p were a very good buy. We covered the bed over with protective cage to keep the pigeons off.

Snowball is a medium sized onion and stores well. A Reliable variety with flattened bulbs and a mild flavour. Slow to bolt, each bulb can weigh more than one pound. White papery skin and a slightly sharp, clean, flavour. Amaryllidaceae Allium cepa,

Leek Musselburgh and Porbella

4th March – I have sown seeds of Leek Musselburgh and Porbella in a pot of damp compost and placed the pot into a polythene bag. I shall keep the pot inside in the warm until germination which could be 14-21 days. The plants are intended to be put at the allotment. We have had mixed success with Leeks over the years and I am using up old seed. I still have some seeds left but I think when I use them up next year I may give this veg a miss in future. We do like to cook with leeks but they are quite cheap to buy and a bit hit and miss to grow successfully.

Borage – Borago officinalis – Star Flower

I have grown this interesting plant before when we first took on the allotment. I sowed Borage seeds directly into the end of the bean trench and it grew and grew and grew. Personally I liked it so I have bought new seeds from Higgledy. Rob didn’t like it as it tried to take over the allotment. It is a big plant that attracts bees and other pollinators which is why I think it should have a place in both the garden and the allotment. It does need managing though. Direct sow into the ground in mid April and through May. You can also sow in August for flowers the next spring. It’s 26th April and I am sowing some Borage seed in the side garden today.

Borage, also known as a starflower, is an annual herb in the flowering plant family Boraginaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds. Starflower Oil is taken from the Borage officinalis seeds,

 

 

Butternut Squash – Cucurbita Moschata

To date I have fifteen Butternut Squash seedlings potted up. These seeds were saved from a shop bought squash, left to dry out and then chitted between damp kitchen towel kept moist in a plastic food box. They germinated really quickly and by the time I potted them up they were already showing secondary root hairs and searching for nutrients. I may pot a couple of these up at home but the majority are destined to go to the allotment. Sown another fifteen germinated seeds today 15th Feb. I can’t see them all reaching maturity but there are still many chitted seeds left. I wish I knew  someone who needed some.

Butternut squash also known as gramma is a winter squash that grows on a vine. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin.  It has tan-yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp with a compartment of seeds in the bottom. When ripe, it turns increasingly deep orange, and becomes sweeter and richer. It is a good source of fibre, magnesium and potassium. It is also a source of vitamins C, A & E.