We had our local National Vegetable Society meeting last night at the chairman’s house. Well his garden actually. John Carver is a keen show grower and his garden is geared towards this with polytunnels, greenhouses to die for and orderly raised beds with paved paths between.
His main greenhouse is a dwarf walled, double glazed construction with thermostatically controlled heating provided from a mains gas boiler and overhead grow lights. He grows large show onions and these were all neatly in pots, labelled up and at different stages from just a few inches high to leaves over a foot high, supported by rings to keep the foliage from drooping.
In the polytunnel, which is huge, he’s got his leek beds waiting and the frameworks on which he supports their foliage. At the back, sitting on a raised plinth, are tall blue barrels filled with his compost and sand mix for the carrots and parsnips. I must admit this is not the sort of growing I want to do. I’m looking at growing for the table and although it’s nice to have a decent looking crop, the taste is the first item on our list.
Last year John gave me some of his onions to grow on and I ended up with the largest onions I’ve ever grown. Unfortunately they were quite watery and didn’t store well. They also failed our taste test. So this year I’ll stick with my own smaller ones with a bit more bite.
He’s got a row of peas going in one of his raised beds already and showed us his method. He sows 9 peas into a half sized seed tray and then plants out the entire contents of the tray into the row, one after the other. A variant on the gutter method if you don’t have a length of guttering.
Useful Garden Gadgets
When John Carver showed us how he sowed his peas, he half filled the tray with compost and then tamped it down with a board just the right size for the tray with a little handle fixed to it. I’ve seen tamping boards before and they’re a useful tool in the potting shed but this was a bit special. He’s drilled holes in the board, 9 of them equidistant, and drops a pea into each hole. Remove the board and cover with compost, job done.
When the peas pop up they’re like a row of soldiers, perfectly spaced. I thought that was a really clever idea if a bit limited in scope. He generously gave us all one when we retired to his workshop by the greenhouse. Centrally heated and immaculate, of course!
I ‘built’ a gadget for the potting shed myself. Usually we use a pot to scoop compost out of bags onto the potting bench but I figured that I could convert a 2 litre milk bottle into a scoop that would do the job better. Took an empty milk bottle, washed it out and carved off the base to make the scoop with a Stanley knfe. It only took a minute to make. Unfortunately the plastic they use is too thin and it tends to bend rather than dig into the compost. Good in theory, shame it didn’t work in practice.
We dropped into Stapeley Water Gardens and they had a little plastic seed sowing hypodermic gadget. There’s a video running and at £2.99 it’s not expensive but I wasn’t convinced it would work with small seeds like onions and cabbages so I resisted. I think most gardeners have a few gadgets that looked great in theory but didn’t quite work in practice. I’ll continue using a pencil to dib little holes and distribute small seeds, even if licking the end of the pencil to make it sticky isn’t the most hygienic thing to do.
The storms of the last few days don’t seem to have hit us as hard as feared (touch wood) but it’s been pretty grim in some areas by all accounts. I just hope this year we have a proper summer and that March obeys the rule of coming in like a lion and leaving as a lamb.
One final note on planting potatoes. Traditionally potatoes were planted at Easter. The reason being this was roughly the right time and many workers had a holiday at Easter and the chance to get them in. Potatoes being an important staple crop, the farm workers of old would ensure this survival crop was planted in quantity.
Easter is a moveable feast, based on the Passover, and consequently Easter Day is the first Sunday after (not on) the full moon which happens on or after the vernal equinox (21 March).
It varies between the 22nd March and 25th April, usually falling within the first two weeks of April. This year it’s really early on March 23rd so don’t worry if you miss the traditional time, you’ve a few extra weeks in reality.
Vegetable Growing Month by Month
I had an email from the publishers that the copies have arrived from the printer and are on the way to me. Exciting stuff indeed, for me. I can hardly wait, it seems so long since I started writing it back in last year.