Monday, 9 November 2009

Onions & Garlic

Onions & garlic - the stalwarts of 'over-wintering' planting. Overwintered veg go in now - about 4 months early, to give them a head start in the new year. Given that it's not going to get your onions ripe 4 months earlier than a spring planting (possibly only a few weeks) it's maybe not the most space efficient return on your investment of space - but then, hey the planters aren't exactly overflowing at this time of year!Plus garlic is one of the plants that actively benefits from the cold - giving you bigger bulbs - so it's certainly not a waste to get that in now.

Garlic likes:
1. lots of organic matter - rotted straw, leaf mould, sand   
2. not being waterlogged (so good drainage essential)  and
3. a sunny position.

I bought 2 bulbs as 'seed' garlic  - Thermidrome; early and high yielding and Iberian Wight; large fat cloves(!)

This year thought I'd also try my luck with half a bulb of field garlic I'd got left in the kitchen that came from the local market, as you can see below its already started sprouting so may get knocked back by winter frost, we shall see - a garlic competition with 2 pedigrees versus the underdog!

I split the bulbs up, made little holes with my fern trowel about 10cm apart and twice the height of the clove then just dropped the cloves in, covered with compost and labelled them up.

Onion likes:
1. a firm soil (stand on it if you're growing in a planter)
2. a sunny position

I bought 2 varieties of onion set  - Yellow Senshu and Radar, both good over wintering performers. You can grow onions from seed or sets (baby onions harvested earlier in the year and 'frozen' in time) - sets are much more reliable than seed and frankly there are only so many challenges a working girl needs so sets it was! Be sure to pick out the biggest and strongest of the onions and then, heartlessly, discard the rest.

Again I planted them about 10cm apart but this time only just under the surface of the soil - in fact some of the papery trails were still visible, looking like wispery little plant markers . Hope they don't signpost a potential meal for the garden wildlife.....

Monday, 26 October 2009

Winter Salads

Can it really be possible? Salad leaves all winter through? Well it has to be worth a try.

A quick scan of the seed company catalogues will give you more choices than you can shake a stick at. I decided to plump for mostly 'cut & come again' leaves with one heart forming lettuce - the king of winter lettuces - Lettuce Valdor (seeds shown above).

I filled four Home Allotment Willow Planters with John Innes no 3 and topped off with a couple of inches of no. 2. The John Innes compost system is a long standing favorite of gardeners - they are soil based composts which unlike peat ones (or peat substitute) are much easier to 'wet' again if you have (shock horror) let them dry out. There's a different 'number' for each stage of growing - I picked no.2 to help the seedlings get off to a good start and layered it on top of No. 3 which the established roots will grow down into.

The no. 2 was sieved through a potting riddle to get rid of any big bits - imagine a tiny seedling trying to push one of these boulders out of the way.

At last the sowing - I broadcast the seeds, sprinkling them all over the surface of the Planters, rather than planting in lines as you might in a traditional veg patch.

A firm growing platform is best for seeds - I used a tamper to gently compact and level the surface of the soil before covering the seeds with a thin layer of riddled compost.

Labelling (variety and date) - almost the last thing on the list - and so important for tracking which varieties do well and how long they take till you can start eating them.

Finally, watered my new crop-to-be and with a bit of luck, Bob'll be my uncle.

For the record, this is what went in the planters:

Herb Burnett: Will grow to 30cm and has a fresh cucumber taste. Leaves can also be used as a tonic tea, said to be good for the skin.

Lettuce Valdor: Actively loves the cold. A butterhead variety said to be the King of winter lettuces - should be ready for harvest by early spring.

Land Cress: I've never even heard of this before - apparently tastes very much like watercress but with a smaller leaf. Likes cool, moist conditions and should be ready to eat in 8 weeks!

Golden Purslane: Green leaves on beautiful red stems. Use as a salad leaf when young (8-10cm high) or allow to grow bigger and use the stems in stir fries.

Corn Salad: A lamb's lettuce that should grow prolifically over the winter. Pick a few leaves at a time from each plant.

Texsel Greens: A fast growing leaf developed from Ethiopian mustard. Tastes a bit like spinach - actually can be cooked like spinach if you let the leaves mature a little.

The Great Burgon & Ball Staff Marrow Growing Competition

to grow the heaviest marrow

Kit bag provided to all staff:
1 x Home Allotment Planting bag
seedling labels
marrow seeds
simple instructions

Friday 4th September 2009

1st £75
2nd £50
3rd £25

After much rivallry between the 2 Burgon & Ball offices with the Sheffield entrants moaning and groaning that the sunny south would have an unfair advantage, it turned out that the rainy north stole the day - winning 1st and 2nd places.

1st Place: John Osowski, Shear Bender, 3.6kg

2nd Place: Mac MacFarlane, Shear Grinder, 3.15kg
3rd Place: Peter Jackson, Chairman, 2.72kg

and the best of the rest.....

Julie Short, Engineer
Tim Vine, Company Secretary

Carol Hartley, Accounts
Stuart Turner, Foreman

Maria Bevis, Sales Administrator
Barbara Oates, Purchasing

 Nicola Reed, Design