Archive for the 'Advice' Category


My Six Favourite Lettuce


Every year I like to try at least one new Lettuce variety (sometimes two, or three). This year I’ll be trying this one, it’s a romaine crispy type called Garnet Rose. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a romaine this red before so I’m quite excited about it.


For me, trying new stuff is what gardening is all about. There is little point in me growing the same thing year after year – I think I would die of boredom. That said, I do have a little tribe of Lettuces that I trust and love. And these I do grow every year, albeit in different formations and numbers.

They are pictured above. Left to right (early to late):

1. Lettuce Leaf – Red Sails (great for hearting or picking one leaf at a time)
2. Lettuce Butterhead – Tom Thumb (a very small, one-person salad kind of Lettuce)
3. Lettuce – Super Jericho – (nice shape, good flavour)
4. Lettuce – Merveille de Quatre Saisons (my all-round favourite, simply melts in the mouth)
5. Lettuce Cos – Parris Island (occasionally tricky to germinate but so worth the wait)
6. Lettuce Romaine – Rouge D’Hiver (love the colour on this one and tasty too)

Even if you sowed all of these lettuces at exactly the same time then you would still get a lovely steady stream of successional salad greens because they all mature at different rates. The first one, Red Sails grows very quickly (45 days I think) while the last one Rouge D’Hiver takes a full 68 days to mature. And the new one Garnet Rose would come at the bottom of the pile at a humungous 74 days! Sheesh it had better be good.

This is a great selection for me because it almost ensures that I don’t have a glut of too many salad leaves at one time. In the early days I was drowning in Lettuce as this post, entitled “79 Lettuce” demonstrates.


I don’t know about you but I’m starting to think about preparing for seed planting, in my greenhouse at least. Honestly, I can’t wait to get started but it’s a little early yet so all I can do is clean stuff. I’ve been sweeping out the dust, bushing pots, cleaning seed trays and, after seeing Monty do it on Gardeners’ World, scrubbing my plant tags.

It was very tedious. And yes there is not much else to do right now but I’d rather spend my time reading gardening books than this. I got halfway through scrubbing and gave up. Then, I wondered if bleach would work. So I put them into a bowl with some water and poured in some bleach. I left it overnight and, guess what happened… No more scrubbing for me.

I think it worked because the tags were written with Sharpie and the bleach just ripped right through it. I made sure to wash them thoroughly to make sure all the bleach was gone. Now my tags are pearly bright. Just waiting for the season to begin!


Feature: How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a pure delight to grow. Watching your own plants swell to produce sweet, aromatic fruits is one of the true pleasures in life and one that many people repeat year after year. The Tomato is one of the only vegetables that you can grow in a diverse range of shapes, colours and sizes. With around 7500 varieties to choose from you can grow virtually any kind from bulging Beefsteak Tomatoes, to a cascade of sweet cherry Tomatoes or pear-shaped yellow ones to, this year’s fashion, teeny-tiny, pea-sized ones.

Choosing the colour and shape of your home-grown Tomatoes is all well and good but what’s really important is the taste. Nothing beats the intense flavour of a Tomato that tastes like a Tomato. And nothing can really match that Tomatoey aroma that you only get from a vine. Twist a fully-ripe, sun-warmed fruit off the vine and bite into it. You’ll be overcome by the rich and sweet, juiciness of it. It tastes amazing.

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When to Plant Out Tomatoes

I learned something today. I always thought that as soon as you had hardened your Tomatoes off then they should go straight in the ground – assuming there’s no risk of frost, that is. But apparently there is another factor at work, that of overnight temperature.

Apparently, you’re looking for a consistent temperature of not less than 55F (12C) at night. If the temperature is lower than this then the plants may not set fruit and it might actually set the whole plant back.

I find Metcheck to be pretty good for in-depth weather reporting (in the UK at least). It seems that the temperature is still fluctuating to lows of 44F ish or even 38F here in the sunshine state of Bath. But that next week is showing a consistent night temperature over 55F.

So home-sown Tomatoes will stay tucked up under fleece for now. But next week, who knows, they might find themselves in the ground.

How are your Tomatoes doing? Any tips on other factors that affect when to plant out?


How to Build a Brick Coldframe

My coldframe is finished and ready for some Winter action. Only five months late but hey one can’t have everything. I had hoped to be growing Melon in there this year but it just wasn’t done in time. Firstly, the brick base wasn’t built so Under Gardener took care of that. Then there was no frame on it, so we asked our builder to do that. And then it wasn’t angle-ground into a nice slopey-slope, so the same builder took care of that. And then it wasn’t weatherproofed, and so I took care of that. But now, well now it’s finished. Hmmm…now what can I put in there?

Here’s the work in progress shots:

Step One:

I based the design on the coldframes I saw at The Lost Gardens of Heligan. First, choose some nice bricks and start building. We had some handmade bricks left over from our garden redesign. Use a string line and a spirit level like proper builders do otherwise it will be wonky. We used ready-made motar. It was fine.

Make the back of your coldframe higher than the front. Not too steep, just one or two bricks higher. This is to let in as much light as possible.

Start making the frame for the top. It’s basically three window panes stuck together. We watched the builder do this. Pretty skilled work actually. I think it would be a good idea to get the pros in for this bit – like we did.

Then the frame is fixed to a baton that runs across the back wall of the coldframe. This acts as the lid and can be opened and closed. He also used an angle-grinder to make the brick sides of the coldframe completely flush. Don’t try this at home kids – eye protection at the ready!

The frame was then glazed – in our case with perspex since we’ve got a little un’. And maybe you can see in the photo the glazing ‘runs’ off the edge to let the water run off and avoid rotting the frame. All very neat.

So there you have it. How to build a Victorian-esque coldframe! All I have in there at the moment are some Strawberry plants and an ailing Chilli.


Red Spring Onions

This year I tried a new variety of Spring Onion – red ones. I’ve been harvesting them for a few weeks now. I find that Spring Onions are a great crop if you have patience. If you’re in a hurry to eat salad they’re a little frustrating. Why? They seem to germinate quite quickly and push up those promising, spindly, grass-like shoots but then they take an age to thicken up enough to be actually worth harvesting. And if you don’t sow enough of the then they’re picked and eaten before you can say Potato Salad.

I’m not complaining. After four years of growing veg I worked out that you really have to sow the whole packet over a period of weeks to get the volume of Spring Onion required in high summer. So roll on the Spring Onion. I’m ready and waiting for ya!


What I’ve learned about Peas


As you can see, the Peas are in full swing. I have learned some useful things about peas this year that I want to share with you. Firstly, I grew two varieties, Kelvedon Wonder (my usual) and Rondo (a new variety for me). Early on in the year I sowed both seed separately in lengths of guttering in the coldframe. Then once it got a bit warmer I put the guttering peas out and started to sow peas directly into the ground. I alternated between Kelvedon and Rondo so that I would have a successional crop of both varieties.

This sounds nice and neat on paper but in reality it didn’t work out so well. This was for several reasons. The first was that the two varieties germinated and grew at different rates. So even though I sowed them at different times, the Rondo seeds seemed to catch up on the Kelvedon pretty quick. Secondly, Kelvedon is a very short, squat variety that produces short(ish) pods with big fat peas inside. Rondo is a tall variety (1.5 metres at least) that produces larger pods with the peas spaced out inside. However, the pea sticks that I put in were really not designed to support a pea that tall and eventually the Rondo peas started to flop over – putting them at risk of slug attack and also they started to shade my carrots (which incidentally I planted way too close to my peas).

So now both varieties are pumping out at the same time and I have more peas than I can eat. So I’m busy harvesting peas everyday and freezing them until I can use the. I’m also stuffing as many into my mouth on a daily basis too – don’t want to miss out on that fresh, green taste.

So what I’ve learned is that if I grow two varieties then they should be grown in separate beds with appropriate support. And maybe choose some more distinct early and late varieties.


Radish Came up Blind


Ack! Some of my Radish came up blind (didn’t bulb up properly). It’s my own fault – I forgot to thin the row so they ended up overcrowded, which Radishes hate. It makes sense. They don’t have enough room to grow sideways so they grow up instead. So, make sure to thin your Radish to at least 2-3 cm apart, and keep them watered. They are easy to grow but that doesn’t mean you can sow them and forget about them like I did. Otherwise all you get is a nice row of lush green leaves, but no Radishes!


Creating a Plan for Your Patch

veg garden plan

mtp has done a short slot on ‘How to Create a Plan for Your Patch’ on the latest Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast also available on Podcast Pickle. On a separate note, I’ve actually met the Podcast Pickle (oh yes, he’s completely real) – it’s my little claim to fame.


Blanching Endive

If your Endive is nearly ready, like mine, then it’s time to blanch some of the leaves so that they don’t taste too bitter. There are various ways to do this. Some people advocate using a plate. This is where you place a place on top of the Endive to block out the light. This works if you’re growing in your own garden however it might not be very helpful for allotment owners – if the wind doesn’t whip away your Vera Wangs then someone will. I’ve opted for the ‘tie it up nice and tight with a bit of old string’ approach. This works fine. You should have some sweet, blanched leaves in around a week. However, remember that Endive is not the type of leaf that you would make a whole salad out of – mix it with something that tastes a little milder.

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