Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Growing Peas – 2018 – Canoe & Ambassador, Waverex.

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. I am swishing a few more of these seeds today, 2nd August,  and hoping the weather will help us get a late crop.

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. I am swishing a few more of these seeds today, 2nd August,  and hoping the weather will help us get a late crop.

Pea Waverex – These tiny plants produce masses of pods filled with tiny sweet peas. Peas are a good source of Vitamins A, C, B1 and folic acid and also contain soluble fibre. These seeds were an afterthought, ordered from Premier Seeds Direct, they are a petit pois variety and didn’t disappoint. I swished the seeds in a jar of water and they sprouted after a few days. Rob sowed them at the allotment and this week, 11 weeks later,  we harvested them. Not one pod let us down. I shall be focusing on these peas next year as both of the other varieties were no shows. We have had weeks of sweltering weather and we thought we had no chance of getting a good harvest but every tiny pod was full to bursting of tiny sweet peas. Our only regret is not sowing more at fortnightly intervals. Note to self for next year.

 

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.

  • Plant where peas have not been grown for 2 seasons, digging in well rotted organic matter.
  • The distance between the rows should equal the expected height of the variety.
  • Avoid sowing during any cold or very wet periods
  • Protect immediately from birds. Keep weed free.
  • Provide support when 3″ high.
  • Pick regularly to maintain yields.

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. 

Spring In The Garden

“How could we tire of hope

so much is in bud”

Denise Leverton

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide
.
A. E. Housman (1859–1936)

California 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 California 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.

Cultivation

  • 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.

Adam’s Birthday Today – Miss Him

“If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realising that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page” — Mark Houlahan

Today would have been Adam’s birthday. Had he lived he would have been 44 today. My heart is heavy and my mind still trying to make sense of what has happened. He has been gone from our lives for over two years. His life, though too short, was after all, a magnificent story. He has left us all with amazing memories for which I am grateful. He was a very positive person so I try always to think, what would Adam do, when I am faced with a decision to make. Love you forever my lovely boy.

 

 

Tomato Seeds – To grow or not to grow 2018

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. I have sown a few varieties including Gardeners Delight, Ildi, Black Opal, Black Cherry and Tigerella.

 

Tomato Gardeners Delight – Cordon/Indeterminate. The true tangy flavour of tomatoes. Bite sized fruit. A greenhouse or outdoor type. High in vitamins.

Tomato Ildi – Small, sweet, yellow, pear shaped cherry tomatoes with up to 80 fruits per truss. A cordon variety that naturally stops growing at 6′. 

Tomato Black Opal F1 Hybrid –  A very juicy cherry variety with deep purple black fruit. Sweet with a touch of acid. 

Tomato Black Cherry – An Heirloom cordon variety. still quite rare they are the only truly black cherry tomato.

Tomato Tigerella – A medium sized red fruit with green and yellow stripes.

  • For greenhouse culture sow seeds late winter to early spring 1.5mm (1/16in) deep. Germination usually takes 6-14 days at 24-27C (75-80F).
  • To grow outside, sow seeds in early spring and grow as above.
  • Transplant seedlings when large enough to handle and plant out into growbags or pots when large enough.
  • Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions before planting outside.
  • Provide support and tie in regularly. Remove side shoots as they appear and restrict the plant to one main stem.

 

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. Easter Sunday 1st April and after soaking them overnight I have sown 25 more of the Spencer Mixed seeds. The original sowings are outside now and about 2′ tall. I have placed an obelisk around them. Fingers crossed for a good year for Sweet Peas.

 

How To Grow Sweet Peas

  • 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. A perennial variety is also available but although these plants are stronger the flowers are smaller. However, they do have a place in the garden as do the knee high and basket varieties. I feel the annual Sweet Pea is best for cut flowers and scent.

 

Herbs and Spices 3 – Cumin – Cuminum Cyminum

This morning the postman bought me a parcel of twelve packets of seeds, ordered from my favourite supplier of the moment, Seekay. Amongst them was a packet of Cumin seeds. Another new spice to me and one I intend to learn how to grow and cook with. This is number three of my posts about herbs and spices. I am sowing a few of these this month in moist compost and sealing in a polythene bag. Germination should take up to 14 days. These seeds went in on 24th February and today, 10th March, after 14 days, six very spindly seedling are through. I have moved them on to the window ledge but think they may need more light than nature is giving to us at the moment.

Sow the seeds in April – May where they are to flower or indoors from February. For Apr / May sowings sow the seed where they are to flower 10 mm deep. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Germination should occur within 10 -14 days. Thin out once the plants are large enough to handle. Harvest the seeds after flowering. Seekay

Number 3 – Cumin

Cumin is an aromatic spice native to eastern Mediteranean countries and Upper Egypt. This warm, flavoursome and slightly bitter spice derives from the seed of the Cumin plant and is traditionally added to curries, Mexican dishes and Moroccan lamb dishes. White cumin seeds are the most commonly available variety whilst black cumin seeds are slightly smaller and sweeter in flavour. The aromatic seeds are the part of the plant that is utilised. Cumin seeds are brown, oblong-shaped and are ground to make cumin powder. Seeds may be used both whole and ground. 

Every time spices are added to a dish they boost nutritional content without adding calories. Cumin is appreciated not only for its versatility but also because of its many health benefits. Thought to be the second most popular spice next to black pepper, cumin is harvested from an herbaceous member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, which includes parsley and fennel.

Cumin is highly valued in different cuisines. Mexicans, Indians and North Africans love using it to add color and flavor to their dishes. Cumin is also a primary component of curry powder. Cumin adds a nutty and peppery flavor. Cumin seeds strong flavor adds a warm perception on your taste buds, mainly due to the essential oils they contain. Dry frying cumin before grinding it brings out its flavour and softens its very spicy punch. Heat a frying pan, do not add oil, and add cumin seeds and toss until they expel a warm, rich aroma. Leave seeds to cool slightly, then grind and add to curry mixtures, soups and stews.

Cumin’s uses as a culinary spice have been well known ever since the ancient times but there are other uses for it too. Ancient Egyptians used cumin to mummify pharaohs, while in the Bible, it was mentioned that the spice was given to priests as tithes. Cumin even became a symbol of love and fidelity. Guests attending a wedding carried cumin in their pockets while wives sent their soldier husbands off to war with cumin bread.

The most popular use for cumin is as a seasoning or condiment adding a deep flavor to various recipes. This spice is a mainstay in curries and rice dishes. Cumin powder can be used in sauces and soups, rubbed on meats prior to grilling or roasting or for pickling. Cumin seeds are best gently toasted or roasted before adding to dishes. Grind the seeds when you’re ready to use them to keep its fragrance and flavor intact. Remember that ground cumin is spicy and peppery so don’t use excessively. If you have the seeds on hand make your own cumin powder by grinding them with a mortar and pestle.

Sowing the Seeds

Cumin doesn’t transplant well so start the seeds in 7″ deep pots. Using seed compost sow three seeds about 1/4″ deep in each pot. Place each container in a plastic bag to preserve moisture. Cumin seeds need heat to germinate. Check pots daily to aerate them and check soil moisture. Cumin can take 7-14 days to germinate.

After Germination 

The moment the seeds sprout they need light. Without enough light the seedlings can become leggy. After removing the pots from the plastic bags place them on a sunny window ledge and rotate them periodically so the seedlings grow upright and don’t have to reach for light. Alternatively suspend a daylight 40 watt bulb about 6″ above the pots. Keep the lamps on for 16 hours a day and move them up as the seedlings grow so they’re always 6 inches above the pots. Thin the seedlings to one strong seedling in each pot and continue growing the plants indoors. If you want to transplant them outside wait until after the frost when the plants are about 2″ tall and the temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant 1′ apart in a sunny area of the garden with well-drained, fertile soil. Although cumin is tolerant to drought it benefits from moderate water during dry, hot spells.

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 February, there are five healthy looking seedlings through today 25th, 8 days. Update 18th March 2018 – About twenty healthy looking seedlings through now. Its a month on and seedling are forming their second leaves.

 

 

How to Grow Aubergine From Seed – Gardeners World

  • Fill pots with seed compost and lightly firm the surface. Place up to seven seeds on the surface of the soil, spacing them evenly.
  • Cover the seeds with a fine layer of vermiculite. Place pots in a heated propagator set at a temperature of around 21°C. Water sparingly but keep the compost moist.
  • Seeds should germinate within two to three weeks. Keep plants warm and avoid letting the compost dry out.
  • Once the seed leaves have fully expanded prick out individual seedlings into 7cm diameter pots. Handle the seeds by the leaf to avoid crushing the stem. Feed with a general liquid feed such as seaweed once a week.
  • When the roots emerge from the bottom of the pot transplant the aubergine into a slightly larger pot. Repeat the process until the plant is in a 30cm pot. Use multi-purpose compost.
  • Remove the main tip of the aubergine plant once it is 30cm tall to encourage branching. Tie stems to canes. Encourage flowering by feeding weekly with a high potash tomato fertiliser
  • Encourage fruit to set by tapping the flowers to release the pollen or spraying lightly with tepid water. If plants are growing indoors, open windows to encourage bumblebees to pollinate the flowers.
  • Pick the fruits when they are still shiny. Dull fruit suggest that seeds have started to develop and the fruit is past its best.