I’m potting on, yes it’s that time of year here. I sowed some Cabbage (Parel) and some Kale (Red Russian) a few weeks ago and they are already at the two true leaf stage. So I started to pot them on.
I always find that there is an explosion of small pots in the greenhouse at this time of year and I simply don’t have enough tags to label them all. So I put them in rows and label the top pot, everything underneath is assumed to be the same plant. I have to trust myself later in Spring when I can’t tell the difference between a Cabbage and a Broccoli plant!
I had a little helper too. My sweet 6 year old (how? why? when?) played ‘potting factory’ and filled the pots so they could go down the ‘production line’ and be filled with plants. Bless him, he’s actually quite interested in gardening. No forcing required.
Recently while researching an article on patterned kitchen gardens I came across a book in a secondhand bookshop called ‘The Art of the Kitchen Garden, by Jan and Michael Gertley.’ A quick leaf through the pages told me that I had to buy it. The designs in it use vegetables and small annual flowers to create designs that are quite amazing.
The book was written in 1999, and I think it’s out of print now. Although you can still buy second hand copies on Amazon. The patterns in the book are taken from quit designs and are, I think, a little out of date. Some of them are a bit twee and I could imagine them in my grandma’s garden.
But… from a growing perspective what the authors have done with vegetables is very impressive.
The designs tend to use Cabbage and Kale and different coloured and textured Lettuce. And the patterns themselves are kept ‘crisp’ by defining pathways in bright orange pebbles and using annual flowers like white Alyssum, purple Lobelia and Pansies to edge the beds. All of these can be easily raised from seed in great numbers.
I’ve always been interested in using patterns in the kitchen garden. I devoured Joy Larkom’s book on using vegetables to create aesthetic gardens. And with inspiration from this book I’m already working on some new designs of my own. Straight rows are lovely for hoeing between but I think I want more from my kitchen garden.
This doesn’t look like much but believe it or not it’s my whole orchard! The fruit trees that I ordered back in December arrived last week when the snow was deep and the temperatures were well below zero. I kept them cold and moist in the basement until today when the snow began to melt and the soil was workable again. We planted all nine fruit trees and the three little white and blackcurrants too.
Each one has two wooden stakes pushed into the sides of the planting hole. I also put a couple of Mycorrhiza packs in each hole. Read more about Mycorrhiza here. And the last thing to do will be to label them.
It looks a bit odd to be planting trees in the snow but it’s important to get dormant trees in the ground as soon as possible. And the temperatures predicted for the next week are positively mild for this time of year.
So there you have it. The beginnings of my orchard. I feel like I need to pop the bubbly!
We’ve had constant snow storms here for about three days. It really has been beautiful to watch. Snuggling under blankets and watching the snow swirl round, and the city grind to a halt. This is what my kitchen garden looks like. You can see how deep the snow is because the box bushes are almost covered. Everything is frozen. Even the flag on the kids’ pirate ship is frozen! The schools are closed and the severe weather warnings tell us not to go out unless absolutely necessary. There are people on skis! Really. I cut some herbs today and they had about 1/4 inch of ice covering them. I’m worried about my Camellias. They look beyond repair.
With the Daffodils poking through last week I thought the Winter was over, but apparently it’s not.
It’s been gently snowing here all day. Nothing is sticking but it’s freezing cold and the fountain is rock solid again. The heater in the greenhouse is clicking on and off in an attempt to keep the chill off some perennial flowers that I sowed. And the Calvolo Nero seeds that I sowed last week are popping through regardless. They don’t care about the snow.
And this? This is my sign of Springtime that will keep me going throughout the next month.
There’s meagre pickings outside in the garden here. We’re working on the last of the Leeks and Beets but once they’re gone it will be a blank canvas. Not so in the greenhouse. We’re thankful for the greens that are happily growing in the greenhouse. Above is some Bok Choi that is not yet fully grown but can be used leaf by leaf.
Here is the Rocket (Arugula) bed. We’ve already been picking from this and as you know it just keeps coming and coming.
And here is the Radish bed. The Radish are not quite ready yet too but over the next few weeks we’ll soon be eating them.
We’ve already eaten the Winter Density Lettuce that I sowed and thought was killed by the frost but managed to bounce back. And yesterday I re-sowed some more Radish and cut and come again Lettuce.
The greenhouse is not heated. I have a heater set on its lowest setting just to keep the frost at bay. That’s all.
It’s time to trim my Heather plants back so that they don’t make leggy plants next year but some of them still have some flowers on them. So I collected what was left and put it in a tealight holder on my desk. I just love the colours.
I don’t normally grow Brussels Sprouts. Why? Because the majority of people in my family profess to not liking them. But this year I had the room, and the seeds and well… one thing led to another.
The upshot was that I ended up with a row of Brussels Sprouts in my Winter garden. They looked happy and were growing strong until about a month ago when the ‘buds’ started to appear. I went away for a week and when I came back I found this. Not tight little round balls ready for harvest but mini-cabbages glued to the side of the stalk.
This is called ‘blowing out’. Instead of staying compacted the sprouts open up like, well like ermm.. Cabbages. This is not what I expected to see. So why did this happen? Is my soil not right? Did I plant them too close together? Should I have fertilised them? What?
There could be a few reasons.
Soil too Loose
I suspect the main reason is that I didn’t firm them in hard enough. Brussels, like Cauliflowers like to be snug so the soil needs to be firmed before planting and pushed in (with your foot) all around the plant. I confess I didn’t do that. Brussels Sprouts get quite tall and when they rock in the wind their roots can snap resulting in ‘blowing out’.
Soil Too Acidic
Brussels Sprouts (like many Brassicas) will fail if the soil is too acidic. We’re aiming for a pH of 6.5-7.5 so lime the soil to correct it. When I tested my soil at the beginning of the season it was around 6.5 but my soil has acidic tendencies and I suspect if I tested it now it would be more on the acidic side.
It’s unlikely that it is the variety I chose. It was Long Island Improved, an heirloom variety. While some F1 hybrids claim resistance to blowing out they would probably succumb given the wrong growing environment too.
So… you live and you learn. That’s what I love about vegetable growing. And, armed with this kind of knowledge, there’s always next year!
In the bleak mid winter. It’s certainly bleak in my garden. I’m still clearing and I’m still cleaning. I read a good tip the other day for gardening in general. Take a picture of your garden in winter so you can see where you need to put some ‘winter interest’ plants. That’s something I need to do. I’d like something pretty with berries just underneath my window so I can watch the birds. Stay warm!
I made the decision to start selling my vegetable photos. I’ve been taking photos of vegetables and fruit for about eight years now and in the process have built up something of a small photo library. Up to now it has been mostly a personal library. I use the photos to illustrate blog posts and I also use them to accompany magazine features that I write. I get quite a few request to use my photos for free too.
Recently, my oldest boy started school and I find myself with ‘more time’ to think about what I want to do with myself. I used to be a journalist in the technology sector but I really don’t want to go back to working in an office – mainly because I still want to be there at school pick up time!
What I’d love to do is to make this blog my career. So with this in mind I’ve decided to make my photos available to buy.
So… if you know anyone who needs photos of vegetables, flowers, fruit then let them know. I have hundreds and hundreds of them. This is just a small selection of my favourite ones. And I will be adding to the collection monthly.