Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Potato Chitting

The Charlotte potatoes that I ordered arrived just before Christmas, a little earlier than I would have expected.  The first thing I did was to take them out of their delivery box and stand them upright in a tray, with the sprouting end upwards.  Egg cartons are a good  container for chitting potatoes, but I didn't have any to hand, but this tray will do just as well.  Some people cut the potatoes wherever there is an eye (this is where the sprouts form) , this way you can get possibly three times as many plants from just one potato.  Also if you cover the chitting potatoes with a little compost, roots will begin to form , making the plants stronger before they are planted out.

Chitting is a way of encouraging the potato to sprout before planting - they produce small dark sprouts.  It is said that chitted potatoes grow faster and you benefit from an earlier crop.  Start chitting your potatoes 4-6 weeks before you need them, probably the beginning of February as the soil begins to warm up - and keep them in a light, frost-free place till they are ready for planting out.

This year I am going to try a different method of planting, with a bulb planter, rather than digging a trench out, in line with my new policy of not disturbing the soil too much.  As the plants grow, instead of earthing them up I intend covering them with straw, grass clippings etc. to keep the light out.  This is purely an experiment to see if it is possible to get a good crop this way.  If not, I will go back to the old method.

I have noticed that when there has been a potato left in the ground after harvesting I have had a really good crop from it.  Possibly because it had grown deeper and that was why I didn't find it the first time round.  These odd potatoes seem to do very well on their own without me fussing over them.  So when my potatoes are ready this year I will try not to be as thorough as I would normally be in trying to find every one, then it should turn into a perennial crop, without my having to buy seed potatoes every year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

End of the Year Review

Plums - Victoria, Damsons and Greengages
As the year is coming to an end, I thought I would look back and refresh my memory as to what has been successful this year.  2011, for me, should be called 'The Year of the Soft Fruits'.
Redcurrant bush




  Without exception, this year has been the best ever, for all the soft fruits - everything performed very well  and I had more fruit than I knew what to do with - I think the previous hard winter helped, and although most of the year was very dry, it doesn't seem to have affected the output of the plants.

James Grieve

The eating apple trees were overladen with fruit, most of which were undersized, they ripened before they had a chance to mature into a decent size, but there were hundreds of them, and the plum trees were dripping, to the point of breaking the branches.

On the vegetable side, my two disappointments were the potatoes and squashes, yields were low, due in part to the low rainfall and colder temperatures than we would normally have.   But the carrots and onions made up for the shortfall.

In the greenhouse I had successes and failures too.  The tomatoes romped away, ripened quickly and kept on coming right through to October.

But the cucumbers and peppers were dismal.  So my summary of the year  - on the whole crops didn't do too bad considering the weather conditions. 

It has been great looking back at the photographs throughout the year and has me fired up ready to begin all over again next year.  I have my tomato seed at the ready to sow in January and I can't wait to get cracking.

As this will be my last post for the year on A Woman of the Soil - I will take this opportunity of thanking everyone who has visited and commented and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Successful Gardening New Year.

Three grumpy Christmas dogs via Pinterest

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Liebster Award

I have just received a Liebster Award from  Jo at The Good Life and would like to thank her, it has boosted my morale no end.  In the spirit of the award you have to pass it on to five of your favourite blogs.  I have quite a few favourites (not just gardening blogs) and it has been hard to choose.  The ones I have chosen are just as much for liking the people as well as the blogs.

Colin @ The Recycled Gardener  who describes himself as a creaky old veg grower, and produces amazing amounts of veg under difficult weather conditions in Cumbria, he writes with wit and a dry sense of humour.
David @ The Anxious Gardener who is a gardener of six acres at The Priory on the Sussex Weald.  He has a great sense of humour and never fails to make me chuckle with his quirky blog.
Janet @ Plantaliscious  is passionate about plants, both ornamental and edible, and bread, her brilliant blogging narrative draws you into her gardening world.
Janet @ Planticru Notes - the same goes for this Janet too, she has a lovely garden in Montrose and includes some beautiful photography.
Last but not least Mike (or Flighty as we all know him) @ Flighty's Plot -  for his plot adventures and wide knowledge of birds and wildlife which he writes about in such an engaging way.

Once more, thanks to Jo for enabling me to highlight some wonderful blogs and bloggers.

Just copy and paste the award on to your own blog and let your five choices know by leaving a comment on their blog.  It should be given to bloggers with less than 200 followers.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Veggie Garden in December

Except for the empty pumpkin patch at the bottom of the allotment garden the rest is still pretty much full of produce.  I have started harvesting sprouts even though they are still small, I doubt they are going to get any bigger now, let's just call them sweet bites, mini sprouts, if you like.

I also harvested another handful of tenderstems from the Calabrese on Sunday, shown with the sprouts, these plants just keep on giving - I expect they will eventually exhaust themselves, but when?
The January King cabbages are hearting up nicely, and will probably be ready to eat, in January!

But, in the bottom left hand corner of the allotment, all is not well.  This is my soft fruit area - raspberries underplanted with strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb and redcurrants.

The pictures aren't very good as I took them this morning at 7.30 and it was only just getting light, but it will give you an idea of the area.  Everything needs pruning back and all the bushes are starting to intermingle and overcrowd one another.  Plus, right in the middle of the blackcurrant, an elder has decided to seed itself.

The bottom right picture shows a self-seeded perpetual spinach plant that has gone to seed and takes up a huge area.  This part of the garden has gone a little wild with nettles, long grass and mint that has escaped and now grows in profusion.  It looks a little unsightly, but I don't mind too much as my philosophy is that, as long as there is a some control so that it doesn't get too out of hand, a wild area can be beneficial to the rest of the garden.  I think the abundance of this area is because it was once my compost heap.  Along the fence at the back of the garden is a mound where I threw my weeds, which have now rotted down, so I will make use of this next year for planting a courgette and squash.  I intend laying a big branch along the top for the squash plant to grow along, giving the tendrils something to attach too, and hopefully keep the fruit off the soil.  That is the plan anyway.

Finally, the above pictures show the making of cherry chocolate, these cherries are the end result of the cherry vodka that was started earlier in the year.  The beloved decided to use the vodka-soaked cherries instead of throwing them away.  Once it had set, we both has a taste - I quite liked it but he didn't, so I have a feeling it is going to sit in the fridge until we find some willing victim to take it off our hands. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Stormy Weather

The weather has been horrendous over the last couple of days.   Strong winds have reeked havoc in the garden  and I haven't been able to go out and rectify the damage as the rain has lashed down.

My small plastic greenhouse is laying on its side - luckily there was nothing in it.  The purple sprouting broc plants at the top of the garden have felt the full force of the wind and are laying flat, despite the fact, that they were staked.

My metal archway was hit by an acrylic cloche, that came away from its moorings, and bent it so that it snapped and lay drunkenly  across the raised bed.

There is no point trying to fix anything until the wind stops, so the garden looks like a disaster zone.
On the positive side I was able to dig up some parsnips for lunch on Sunday and a good sized Savoy cabbage. 
These are the last five courgettes that I had stored since early October, and although the skins will be tough, I should be able to convert them into a winter-warming soup which can be frozen. 

In the greenhouse the pickling onions in a container are now sprouting well, although one or two look a little mildewed.  The shallots that I put individually into pots are showing no signs of life as yet, maybe it is a little early to see any shoots on them but they have rooted - I was going to plant them out, but they will just have to wait now until the weather clears up a bit.

I have had to dispose of a few lettuce plants from the greenhouse as well, as they had also succumbed to mildew, but there are still plenty of salad leaves which are still growing healthily.  The chillis have finished as have the sweet pepper plants.  So, what is left - well I have three containers of carrots that seem to have stopped growing , but they may be okay to use as baby carrots, I'll pull a few out to check a bit later.   I do have some carrots in store though plus a few parsnips.

 Eating something from the veggie plot every day, is still going to plan, and I still have several cabbages and leeks left  - whether they will see us right through the winter, is another thing, but I feel I have made a pretty good stab at it this year.  The garden isn't large enough  for me to be completely self-sufficient, but I've enjoyed trying.

I can't post any photos at the moment as the fitting that goes into the camera seems to have gone a bit wonky so I will have to do a catch-up if we manage to fix it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Seed Order for Next Year

I have been giving some serious thought as to what I will be planting in the veg garden next year.  I like to experiment with new varieties as well as growing those that I know do well for me.  So, seed catalogue in front of me, I drool over all the different variations that you can now grow.
Pink Broad Beans - Karmazyn

Turks Turban Squash
Italian Romanesco type cauliflowers

Spaghetti Squash
I am considering planting a couple more small fruit trees as part of my Edible Forest Garden experiment - maybe a Quince
and a Kentish Cobnut

There are so many different types I want to try but doubt if I will have room for them all - it does get a little boring keeping to the ones you have always grown - so next year I am definitely going to be a bit more adventurous.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Veggie Garden in November

As you can see from the picture there is still plenty going on in the allotment garden including the flowers in the cutting patch.  I have been completing some jobs whilst the weather is still fine, like strawing down the paths inbetween the veg to make it cleaner to walk on when harvesting cabbage, kale etc.
In the foreground you can see the Calabrese that I have been harvesting since early summer.  After the initial crop I chopped the plants down to about 6in. high and left them to it.  They threw up new shoots and I am still collecting tenderstems once a week.  How long will this go on - I have no idea, but it surely is an added bonus that I wish I had tried years ago.
 As we have still not had a frost the Mint is still green and flourishing (although I have brought some in to the greenhouse just in case) and the green manure on the left of the picture is just coming into flower.
A few of the companion plants, Marigolds and Nasturtiums, are starting to get a bit mildewy, but on the whole they have lasted well - and, as you well know, once you have them you have them always.
The Scarlet Kale has recovered from the caterpillar attacks earlier in the year and looks very impressive and a beautiful scarlet colour when the sun hits it.  Hopefully this should stand the winter well for regular pickings.
Things are not so good in the greenhouse - what with the damp weather - I have had a few things go mouldy on me, even though I keep it ventilated during the day.  The salad leaves are doing okay but I have lost the pea shoots.

I had some picklings onions that I never got round to pickling, so I planted them in a container and can use the onion greens as they shoot.
The sweet peppers are on their last legs with one or two left to ripen , but I shall just leave them on the plant till I need them before getting disposing of the plants altogether. 

One of the books that has inspired me most this year is 'How to Grow Winter Vegetables' by Charles Dowding - it has given me lots of ideas on how to improve and increase veggie production
with very little extra work.  There are still plenty of  different methods, that I have read about that I want to experiment with, and I can't wait to get cracking on these next year.  Meanwhile I am continuing with my winter preparations of mulching, covering and cloching against a hard winter, that is if it ever comes!

For those of you who are interested in sustainable living, there are one or two good articles at this month.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Boris Parsnip and Boring Brussels

Did you know that the Russian word for Parsnip is pasternak. - no neither did I - it wouldn't sound the same if Dr. Zhivago was written by Boris Parsnip  rather than Boris Pasternak, would it?  I dug up a few Parsnips last week and have stored them in a container in dried earth.  I thought it would be handy to have a few available, just in case we had a hard frost and I wouldn't be able to dig any out.  It turns out we haven't had a single frost yet - perhaps I am tempting fate - anyway parsnips store well overwinter, and we are bound to have a frost eventually.

I have never been very successful with growing Brussels Sprouts.  No matter what I try, be it liming the ground first, or firming the soil - they still wont firm up into decent sized sprouts.  So I gave up and for the last few years I just haven't bothered.  This year I decided to have one more go.  This is what they should look like:-

and this is what mine look like:-
by now the sprouts should have filled the stem, but no, they are small and a little bit blowsy.  I have no idea why they won't grow properly for me - heaven knows I have tried.  They will still be edible of course, but it doesn't make up for the fact that I am a failure as far as they are concerned.

Whereas, my Purple Sprouting Broc, of which I am very proud, is doing marvellously.  Mark Willis at said yesterday that his PSB was already forming a head, which was unusual for this time of year.  So I went to investigate my own - and 'lo and behold:-

one of the plants has already formed a head.  They don't normally do this till the following year, it must be the mild weather that has encouraged it to flower ahead of time.  So it looks like we'll be having supplies sooner than expected.
The mild weather is also helping in the cutting patch where the Zinnia are still flowering with plenty of buds to come, as are:-

the Cosmos, although they are beginning to look a little worse for wear. 
But the Rudbeckia have just about had it - they have had a wonderfully long season, and I have had many bunches of flowers from them - but it is time to cut them back now and hope the plants survive the winter to do just as well next year.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Let the Soup Season Begin

A bowl of soup with a hunk of crusty wholemeal bread is almost a meal in itself, and once you have become 'soup-minded' you will find that no usable leftovers are wasted (pea pods, turnip tops and even weeds can be used).  So long as you have some vegetables and herbs - you can rustle up a light, nourishing meal.
Elizabeth West

Now, is the time to start using up all the veg that has been frozen.  Yes - it is Soup Season.  I turn practically anything into soup  in a variety of different ways.

I have started already - taking the cubed courgettes out of the freezer for Courgette soup, last week I made Lentil soup with grated carrot, onion and potato.  Today I made Curried Lentil and Carrot soup which was nice and spicy, and I intend to try all sorts of different recipes

Roasted Tomato

Pumpkin with grilled cheese croutons

Sweetcorn and potato chowder

My personal favourite Leek and Potato

The list is endless

and this one Riboletta
where I can use up some of my Cavolo Nero

As you can guess, I am a bit of a soup fanatic - I can think of nothing better in winter than a warming bowl of soup and some lovely fresh bread for dipping.
If anyone can recommend a soup which is their favourite I will gladly give it a go

For research purposes you understand!

Photo source:  Pinterest

I have also installed some beautiful music
for you to listen to
whilst you read this post
(just click on any picture in the video bar)
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