13 Jun 2019

How to use fresh calendula to make a soothing oil


Yellow and gold calendula flowerheads with a jar of calendula oil


Let me say right now that I've only just made this for the first time because it sounded so lovely. Calendula (pot marigold) has so many uses; not only is it a cheerful, pretty flower with edible petals, it's also a good companion plant in the garden deterring hornworm (the caterpillar that may eat/destroy tomato plants) and it's known to be beneficial for skin complaints.  Combine it with the moisturising and antioxidant qualities of olive oil (or sweet almond oil) and you have an effective natural remedy for cuts, grazes, sunburn or for soothing dry skin.

6 Jun 2019

Ranunculus: A buttercup by any name

Pink and white Ranunculus flowers edging a gravel path


I'm a real sucker for those bags of bulbs that drop into the shops in autumn. When there's daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and anemones to look forward to in spring, the winter months almost dwindle away.  It's the promise of all that colour after the monochrome of winter.

26 May 2019

Beginner's guide to: potting on tomato seedlings

I was deliberately late in sowing tomato seeds this year (hellooo urban flat, shady interiors, minimal windowsill space). A good decision as it turns out because all seeds germinated leaving me with 63 tomato seedlings to find room for. (Now 58 as I culled a few.)

So I had 5 or 6 seedlings in each small 9cm pot that needed to be potted on into individual pots. Doing this gives each plant more root room to grow and should be done when the seedling has its first true leaves. (Plants that aren't potted on quickly enough will adapt to the smaller environment and never reach their full potential.)

19 May 2019

I love the smell of elderflowers in the morning

... particularly when that smell indicates elderflower cordial being made for summer!

It's easy to lose track of how quickly the seasons advance at this time of year.  May has been typically unsettled weather-wise so I was delighted to see elderflowers starting to open as I walked home a fortnight ago.  Luckily, I walked that route again last Thursday and saw that there are now enough blooms to make elderflower cordial.

I've written about making elderflower cordial before - and how to correctly identify the right tree to pick from - so this post is by way of a reminder for anyone who wants to make delicious cordial before the blooms fade ... unless you have your heart set on elderberries for wine!



It was a stroke of luck seeing those elderflowers as I usually walk far and wide over Hampstead Heath in search of them.  My favoured patch was felled during repairs to the Heath ponds a couple of years ago and then last year I recall being concerned about the amount of sugar needed for the recipe so didn't make any.

It was a decision I came to regret during the extreme heat of the summer - a glass of iced water sweetened with a slug of citrus infused cordial hits the spot nicely on a hot day. So this weekend I bought sugar, dug out my recipe and went out this morning with my trusty secateurs to collect the bounty.


I've included my recipe below as I think it's an easy one and got very confused when I first tried to make elderflower cordial. Mine is an adaptation of several that I've used and tweaked year on year. (I now never use lime.) But first, a few tips.

Tip one:  Most recipes will include citric acid as a preservative - I don't bother.  As I found it hard to get hold of at first, I now keep one bottle of cordial in the fridge and freeze the rest in small plastic bottles saved from the smoothies I buy when out. I think that the addition of citric acid may alter the flavour and the cordial might not taste as nice.

Tip Two: Look carefully for aphids before you pick the flowers.  I found some stems covered in the sort of black aphids usually found on broad beans and left those blooms well alone.  Even so, when I got home, I made sure to gently shake the blooms over the sink to dislodge any other critters.  (A few black aphids, greenfly and a couple of small spiders, thanks.)  Having done that, I then held the blooms over a white tea towel for a second look; it was needed.

Tip Three:  There may be some tempting plate sized blooms below knee level just begging to be picked. Don't.  Wherever you live, there will be creatures that wee. In my case, dogs and foxes.  (I hope that's all but let's not go there.)  My advice is to pick the blooms that you have to stretch up high for, just to be on the safe side.

My simple but trusted recipe for Elderflower Cordial



3 unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 oranges
1 kg (2.2 lbs) granulated sugar
15-20 medium to large elderflower heads
1.5 litres tap water (50 US fluid ounces)

First stage:
  1. In a large pot on the stove, make a sugar syrup by slowly dissolving the sugar in the water over a gently heat.  Stir occasionally and once dissolved (no more sugar grains to be seen), bring the syrup to the boil for about 5 minutes.
  2. While that's doing, peel or finely grate the oranges and lemons. The white pith is bitter so try to leave that on the fruit.  (I have a julienne peeler which does the job perfectly. Link here to show what it is, I'm not an Amazon affiliate.)  Save the juice to add to the cordial at the end, if desired. (That's this year's tweak that I found in a River Cottage recipe. Am trying it for the first time.)
  3. Cut the big stems off the cleaned/shaken elderflowers and put the flowers in a large pot or saucepan with the citrus peel.
  4. Pour the hot syrup over when it's ready.  Put a lid on the pan and leave to infuse for 24 - 36 hours.
Next day/stage:
  1. Sterilise bottles or jars ready to decant the mixture into. Giving plastic bottles a good hot wash will suffice if they're going into the freezer. Glass bottles can be washed and then dried on a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes.  As a time saver before now, I've washed and then microwaved glass jars to sterilise (but not the metal lids - please!)  Lids should be boiled in a pan of water for a few minutes.
  2. Sieve the infused cordial through a muslin cloth or tea towel, placed in a sieve over a bowl or large jug. I now use a jelly bag held securely in it's frame, so much easier! (Here, for info.)
  3. Add the saved fruit juice (step 2 above) if wanted.  Pour the cordial into the bottles, and store as appropriate.  
... Or drink straightaway!



I've currently got a pot of citrus rinds and elderflowers in warm sugar syrup, which I'll leave to infuse for the next 24 hours - timing which suits me perfectly as I'm at the Chelsea Flower Show all day tomorrow (or today, by the time you read this!).  I'll be reporting back from the show over the next few days but after that I'm keen to show off my new herb garden! See you on the other side!


30 Apr 2019

It's all about the tiny tomatoes this year

One of the great joys of having a balcony - even a tiny one - is having just enough space for a few planters and pots for salad leaves, herbs and now ... tomatoes. (And maybe just a few flowers, especially if they're edible!)

Summer 2018 - Balcony bush tomato


Last summer, as usual, I used the balcony to sow, grow and pot on my tomato plants into 10 litre pots (15 litres might have been better) with the intention of moving them down to the veg patch after hardening off.  As they grew, and I appreciated the ease of watering them in last summer's heatwave, I could see how well they responded to the warmth and attention they got by being close to hand.  There was no problem with weekly feeding (#feedonfriday) as I had everything I needed nearby.  And, once they started fruiting, I loved that I could pop outside and pick a few cherry tomatoes to add to a salad - or to eat as a quick snack - without interrupting my work for long.

Even in those 10 litre pots I had a selection of tomatoes to pick from all summer long.  One bush cherry tomato plant gave up its last fruit in mid November, although that was probably a fluke given the hot summer and extended warm autumn we had here in the UK.

So now I'm hooked. There will be balcony tomatoes again this year - some small, some tall - but they're all suitable for growing in pots, containers or 'a windowsill garden' which I think sounds rather charming. I'll fit as many as I can on the balcony and, if they all germinate, pop a few next to the veg patch and hopefully have some to give away.


Sowing and growing with peat free Dalefoot compost


I've only just sown the seeds, putting up to 6 seeds of each variety in a 9cm pot filled with Dalefoot Wool Compost for Seeds. When they've got their first set of true leaves, the tomato babies can be pricked out into individual 9cm pots of Dalefoot Wool Compost for Veg and Salads.  Once the roots fill those pots, I'll pot them on into a size bigger pot and then into the final plant pot when first flowers appear.

Bag of Dalefoot Wool Compost for Tomatoes - new for this year!

I'm really quite excited to reach that final planting out stage as I've been gifted a bag of Dalefoot's new Wool Compost for Tomatoes. The nutrient rich compost has been formulated so that there is 'No Need to Feed' (awesome) through the entire season, plus with 50% less watering thanks to the wool content, there are time and ecological savings there too. Hot summer or not, using less water is a positive step for the planet's dwindling resources.

I've been impressed with Dalefoot products in the past so I'm confident that this latest addition to the Dalefoot canon will deliver on its promises. They're now fully accredited by the Soil Association for their organic peat free composts; not only that but the company are actively involved in work to restore peat bogs. What I hadn't fully understood was the extent to which removing peat from the land contributes to climate change and, by leaving peat in place, water quality is maintained and natural flood prevention prevails. Sounds to me like a compelling reason to use peat free compost. But I digress ...

My tiny tomato choices for 2019


There's plenty of time (until the end of May) to sow tomatoes, bearing in mind that freshly picked will always taste better than shop bought, plus you get that lovely smell from the (slightly poisonous) leaves.  (No? Just me, then.)

These are the plants that I'm growing.
  • Cherry Falls, Mr Fothergill's - 'perfect for outside baskets and tubs'
  • Balconi Red,  Thompson & Morgan - 'plant height 12", very sweet, for indoor and outdoor cropping'
  • Minibel from Johnsons - 'very compact, outdoor plants ideal for patio pots' 
  • Lizzano F1, Marshalls - 'Prolific cropping hanging basket variety' - perfectly shaped to fill and spill.
  • Rainbow Blend, T&M, as above - 'early ripening, good crop throughout the summer'. But here's an anomaly I didn't spot before: the pack says plant height 8" but the website tells me the plant grows to 200cm or 78.7 inches. Curious. Also, 5 seeds for £3.69? I must have had my head in the clouds on that day but at 74p a seed, they'd better all germinate!
  • Red Currant, Dobies Rob Smith Heritage Veg range - 'very disease resistant tiny tomatoes. Good tolerance to cooler temperatures'. Hardly changed since found growing wild on a Peruvian beach in 1707 but, oh dear, another cordon that I missed. Will grow to 1.5 or 2 metres. But still okay in a pot. That's alright then.
And these, all from Marshalls, in a press pack from the Garden Press Event:
  • Patio Plum - a baby plum with 'bite' and 'sharp acidic flesh that gives a real kick'
  • Summerlast F1 - one for the patio or window-garden, late blight resistance. Harvest by the punnet!
  • Arielle F1 - 'Grow your own sun dried tomatoes'. Fruits will dry on the vine if not harvested, and start to look like raisins.  Or sun-dried tomatoes. Also a cordon, grows to 4ft.


For clarity: Apart from the Thompson & Morgan seeds which I bought when drifting through the shop at Kew Gardens, all the other packets were given to me to trial after chatting to the companies at the Garden Press Event.
I'm not affiliated to any of the companies so when I review the plants at the end of the year, my opinions will be entirely impartial.


14 Apr 2019

A Sunday stroll around the Veg Patch

A quick blog post from me this chilly but sunny Sunday morning as I have strawberries to plant and a herb garden to sort out.

Huge sage in a pot at the southern end of the veg patch this morning

We've certainly had some weather this week - warm sunshine, chill winds, blue skies, grey skies, rain and even hail, all in the last few days. There may have been thunder at one point. I keep humming that Disney song about April Showers and hoping for another warm summer like last year.

I woke early to a chill, blue-ish sky sort of day and, given recent unpredictable weather, thought I'd start with a stroll around the veg patch with my camera. A lot can happen in a week and I've not spent much time there as I've been planting up the new layout of the other garden I look after, the Car Park Garden, a space that I can actually look out onto.

So what's happened while my eyes were averted? The veg patch is looking lovely having positively burst into blossom. Chive and wild garlic buds are shooting up, peony stems are now about 12 inches high, sweet cicely herb is in flower, and lovage and comfrey are growing with a vengeance. I say vengeance because both really need to be kept in check. 

There was a lot of colour from spring flowers (although the tulips have mostly come up blind this year and the daffs are pretty much finished), a few bees and ladybirds, and a surprise in the form of my first asparagus spears popping their heads up.  It won't be long before I'm enjoying fresh purple spears with a poached egg for breakfast - yum! It seems early for asparagus but it's only a week ahead of last year, when we'd already had a couple of weeks of very warm weather to tempt the spears into action.

Purple broccoli has now finished. I was buzzed by several bees as I dug them up - they'd been enjoying the flowers but I need to clear the space for this year's crops. And I've left a kale plant to flower for them. I'll collect the kale seeds to grow some micro greens later on.



As expected, the Morello cherry trees are now smothered in white blossom, as are the pear and quince trees. Some calm weather to encourage pollinators to linger would be good but with a ground level nectar bar from forget me nots, honeywort, honesty, achillea and erysimum flowers to feed on, would they notice the clouds of blossom above?

I spotted the Honesty (Lunaria annua) seedlings last summer and gave them room to grow.  Lunaria was introduced to the garden a few years ago because I love the papery seed pods at the end of the year and bees love the flowers. And as they're a biennial, the plants flower much earlier than annuals - one way to have a succession of flowers in the garden!

A little bit of Honesty ... 

I'm very behind with seed sowing but now that warmer weather is promised (at least for the next couple of weeks), I'll be opening up the seed box this week and possibly also planting out my overwintered sweet peas.  It's supposed to be 19°C/69°F by next weekend - I don't want to tempt fate but I think I'll leave my sunhat within easy reach.

11 Apr 2019

Gardening is one way to a brain-healthy lifestyle - who knew?

I'm currently reading a book called '100 days to a Younger Brain'. So what's that got to do with growing veg, you may ask?  On many levels, gardening is good for you but I hadn't realised that this pastime was helping to keep my brain in tip top shape.

Forget Me Not flowers pink and blue
Forget-me-Nots ... an appropriate flower for this post?


After skimming through the salient chapters in the book,  (I will go back and read it properly but first wanted to get straight to the nitty gritty), it seems that if we want to slow or reverse cognitive decline in our dotage, we need to adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, optimal amounts of sleep and stress, social engagement, mental stimulation, and a moderately healthy diet. I simplify, of course, but it reminds me of how my lifestyle has changed through gardening and engaging with the gardening community. I've learnt so much and have a better diet and more positive outlook as a result.

It's not the first time the wisdom of this sort of healthy lifestyle has been touted around but I hadn't realised to what extent this, or lack of it, affects our brains as we age.  A classic case of not seeing the obvious until it's pointed out - but I do love some solid advice wrapped up in a bit of neuro-scientific nerdery.

Having lost both parents to age-related illness and dementia, I'm increasingly aware of the moments when instant recall fails me, such as having a plant's botanical name on the tip of my tongue or remembering a person's face but not their name. (Awkward.) It's beyond frustrating and sometimes just a tad worrying.  Reading this book has also made me question the extent of my parents' diagnosis and whether a few changes might have made a small difference to their last years. It's also given me a boot up the bum to improve a couple of areas in my own lifestyle - move more, walk more, drink more. (As tempting as that sounds, I mean water not gin.)

The author, a research psychologist, offers practical advice to slow, halt or reverse signs of deteriorating brain health and how to build resilience against disease through healthy lifestyle choices. Scarily, our brains have already started to atrophy at age 30 (who knew?) but that decline accelerates once we reach 60 by which time we've potentially lost up to a third of our brains anyway.  Crikey. The good news is that even if our brains have shrunk to the size of a small coconut, physical exercise and stimulating environments will help to increase the brain's abilities to learn, remember and function, thereby potentially counteracting diseases such as dementia.

And that's where gardening comes into play - for me, at least.

Being outside gives me social contact with my neighbours; lugging compost and plant pots strengthens my bones; weeding, sowing and hoeing keeps me supple; proximity to nature and the seasons promotes mindfulness and calm. Even writing this blog is keeping my brain active!

So far, so reassuring. Now I just have to work on taking regular breaks from screen time (a quick walk round the garden or run up and down the three flights of stairs to my front door?) and to drink more water.  Sometimes I literally forget to drink. This week though I've had a jug of water on my desk and manage a litre a day plus tea and coffee! As a result I'm feeling less tired in the evenings and sleeping soundly. Result.

The best though is that during regular breaks, I wander onto the balcony to think about the garden, or stroll down to the veg patch to see what's occurring - often coming back with some herbs or veg for lunch. Communing with nature, exercise and a healthy lunch? Three more boxes ticked!



I learnt of this book through a blog I subscribe to, The Age Well Project and then, intrigued, I bought it.  This is the link to the relevant post, 'Can laughter help you live longer?'

30 Mar 2019

March in the veg patch garden

White blossom in springtime
Regular as clockwork - blossom on the plum tree. 

Tonight the clocks go forward in the UK, heralding the start of British Summer Time. Tomorrow I'll wake as usual at 7am and change the hands on all the clocks to 8am and feel that the day has stolen a march on me.  It's all very unsettling but, despite my curmudgeonly attitude, at least I'll feel one step closer to summer!

The first quince blossom this year

Now that April is only a day or two away, the garden is really coming alive.  Mostly with flowers, to be fair, but when those flowers are sparkling on the pear and plum trees, you know you can start to get excited. There's even one small blossom bud on the quince tree planted at the northern end of the veg patch; the other quince (a patio variety in a pot) has never flowered and I'll be pleasantly surprised if I see any blooms this year.  I'm not sure why it's never flowered but no flowers means no fruit.  More feeding is needed I guess.

And so to rhubarb. Choosing the best cultivar is key; I've already indulged in some delicious stewed rhubarb a few weeks ago thanks to a friend who grows a large patch of Timperley Early and, serendipitously for me, doesn't like rhubarb!  Regular readers may remember that I got rid of my Glaskins Perpetual clump last year. It was too big and too green - but fantastic if you want stems for most of the year.  I like a nice red stem (a must for fruit fools or stewed fruit) so pinned my hopes on a new Siruparber plant from Lubera in Switzerland as well as the two Red Champagne plants struggling to survive under the apple trees.

Red Champagne rhubarb - and a matching tulip

In the past few weeks I'd convinced myself that the Siruparber was a goner as there was nothing to indicate where it had been last year, but this week I've spotted a couple of tiny leaves poking up and quickly put a wire basket over the top for protection against fox cubs.  The Champagne plants have produced a towering flower stem in the past, (not a good thing for rhubarb), clearly demonstrating that they are Not Happy.  And this is where you learn by doing - I'd read that rhubarb could be grown in light shade ... or apparently not in this case. I have two Champagne crowns so one will be carefully dug up and moved into the light - or as much as it can get with a four storey block of flats in close proximity on either side of the veg patch. (The patch gets around 6 hours of sun on a good day, which is fine for most veg and annuals.)


Spring flowers - Honeywort, Bleeding Heart plant, Starflower
Cerinthe / Honeywort
Lamprocapnos / Bleeding Heart
Borage / Starflower

I do think colour is so lush in spring - I have primulas, cowslips, daffodils, forget-me-nots, tulips and muscari (grape hyacinths) to keep bees happy. I've only seen a couple so far but they'll buzz over once they know the nectar bar is open. This year self-seeded Cerinthe (honeywort) and Borage are blooming under the fruit trees - perfectly placed for pollinators - and one or two calendula plants have over-wintered. I don't even mind that the purple sprouting broccoli has finished and started to flower.  It's possibly the prettiest time in the veg patch and all part of the circle of life.

Last year's tulips return. Did I put those colours together?



16 Mar 2019

Lessons learned from last year and what you can do in March

Having resolved not to be overly hasty in seed sowing, I sat outside on a bench on Thursday with my eyes closed, my face lifted to the warm sun and pondered the big question at this time of year, 'Is it warm enough to start sowing?'.

Sometimes I think it could be but, on the other hand, I had my hot water bottle out two nights ago and this morning the wind is battering my windows. Typically for March, the weather is completely unpredictable and makes me long for a sturdy greenhouse where I could raise hardy seedlings. (And shelter from the weather!)

Realistically, I know it's best to keep to my plan to sow direct next month but I've been re-reading Charles Dowding's 'Veg Journal' - the man is such an inspiration - in which he suggests sowing spinach indoors, 2 or 3 seeds to a module or small pot, and then planting out in 5 weeks time, ie mid-April when the weather will hopefully be less turbulent. Ditto for beetroot and leeks, which is a good reminder for me as I always forget to sow leeks in time and then worry as their skinny little stems look so fragile if the weather gets too hot ... or cold ... or windy.

But, before this season of veg growing starts in earnest ...

What have I learned from last year?


Baby Boo squash: A lovely creamy white on the vine but have yellowed over the winter months indoors. 

Every year is different and there's always something new to learn. What works one year may not work the next so it's good to look back and take stock before starting off again on your gardening journey.
  • Write it down! I always start off well, recording seed sowing dates in a notebook or cheap diary but often forget to record transplanting or harvest dates. This year I'm inspired by The Green Conspiracy's garden planner where each vegetable is recorded on it's own page so its progress can be easily tracked. The planner is being produced in Germany after a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the first printing and looks to be amazing for new growers. A printed planner is too expensive for me at around £30 (it needs to be replaced every year) so I'm buying the cheaper (£6) pdf version to see what it's all about.
  • Last year I was super excited to grow Baby Boo squashes - seven of the cutest 4 inch wide white pumpkins from one plant. They were beautiful for natural autumn decorations but I was disappointed to find there was very little flesh inside. Last summer's heat (and lack of water) may be to blame but I'd rather play it safe with a different squash this year. (Possibly spaghetti squash which is delicious with butter.)
  • What did work well was letting Baby Boo ramble through sweetcorn - a very symbiotic planting and worth repeating again this year. The squash leaves minimised moisture loss around the sweetcorn roots while the corn stalks gave the squash something to grab onto as the vines grew. Two sisters, rather than three. (This would also work with courgettes.)
  • Will I bother with peas this year? No. Nor mange tout. I've thought long and hard about this but, if I'm honest, I'm happy with frozen peas and the mange tout weren't plentiful enough to bother with in my small space patch. But I will be keeping my eyes open for varieties that claim to produce prolific crops and might grow a few in large pots.  When you've not much space, it pays to be practical as well as considering alternatives like container growing to expand on available space.
  • Always grow kale.  In 2017, I let a Cavolo Nero plant go to seed (the bees love the flowers); one tiny seed dropped and grew through the 2017/18 winter and produced leaves from early summer onwards. It's now taller than me and still growing (just starting to flower but the flower stalks are edible) - must have saved me a fortune in the shops!
  • Always grow Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB). Not only is it expensive to buy but gathering home grown vegetables from the garden in the depths of winter (even a mild one) feels like a real treat. The same is true of kale, leeks, parsnips and sprouts. And I get to feel very smug that I have fresh psb growing and looking so much perkier than the ageing produce in the shops.
  • I experimented with turning my metre square asparagus bed into a square foot planter - I divided the space into a grid of nine square foot spaces and put one plant in each of the squares not already occupied with an asparagus crown. I planted tomatoes in between the asparagus fronds as they make good companions; it nearly worked except that a neighbouring redcurrant bush partly shaded the tomatoes. The small plum tomatoes did well, the beefsteak toms were still trying to ripen at the first frosts! A stupid mistake on my part. This year I'll put the tomatoes next to a sunny wall and plant calendula and spinach around the asparagus.
  • Don't forget the verticals.  Every year I regret the lack of a sturdy arch. My cheap metal arches lasted two seasons before toppling in gusting winds but oh how I loved seeing beans climbing up and over the top. This year I want to try again with growing luffas and Malabar climbing spinach. The search for how to build a sturdy structure is on.
  • Say yes to salad onions. I used a lot in cooking last year and they take up very little room. I'm thinking of lining a section of the veg patch path with them. I'll also sow some around the edge of my carrots as I find this helps to keep carrot root fly away. Or maybe I just don't get carrot root fly. Works for me, anyway.
  • Don't panic if you haven't mulched. Recent research suggests that if a thick mulch (minimum 5cm) is applied one year, it can be skipped the next. The same research also advised mixing the mulch 50:50 with garden soil or compost as too rich a soil can make plants sappy and weak. Personally, I never have enough mulch for a thick layer so tickle a thin layer into the top layer of soil in the veg beds and put a thicker layer around perennials (like rhubarb and raspberries) and fruit trees.

Here’s what you can do in March: 


There are no hard and fast rules for when to sow - what matters is warmth and light. Waking early yesterday, I noticed that in south-east UK we're now getting a good twelve hours of daylight but the weather is still chilly at night and wet/windy during the day. In his book, Charles Dowding suggests that vegetable seeds fall into three categories - cool, medium and warm temperature veg. Cool-type seeds can be sown outside once temperatures are consistently above 5°C/41°F (roughly now in the UK) but will rot if the weather turns wet and cold before they successfully germinate. Anything sown direct in the last couple of days here would have got washed away. The warm seed category (tomatoes, chillies, etc) need to be germinated and raised with heat above 64°F/18°C so tend to be raised under cover.

Outdoors: 
  • Plant garlic cloves, onion sets, and potatoes. I'll also be replanting some oca saved from last year's harvest. 
  • Sow broad beans, radish, spinach, sorrel, peas for shoots, parsnips, brassicas (broccoli, calabrese, cauliflower).  
  • Edible flowers - try sowing nasturtiums and calendula now. Self seeded borage is about to flower in my veg patch which tells me that the soil is warm enough to grow things. And I have so many violets in flower that I might try moving a small clump.
  • If the daytime weather forecast for my area comes true (58°F/15°C), a first sowing of medium temp veg seeds might be possible - carrots, spring onions, winter lettuce - but would need fleecing against wind and lower nighttime temps. Probably best to wait a while longer. 
  • Weeds - take them out while they're tiny otherwise they'll be soon be hogging light, water and nutrients intended for the plants you do want. 
Indoors/under glass: 

I haven't sown anything yet but will get going over the next few weeks with germinating the following on warm windowsills in seed trays.
  • chillies, 
  • tomatoes, 
  • peppers 
  • aubergines 
I'll be sowing pea shoots and micro leaves indoors and beetroot can also be sown into modules - I use this lovely paper pot maker * as I can plant the whole module when the time is right with less root disturbance.

And while I wait for the right time to start sowing, I'm going to be enjoying all the gorgeous spring flowers in the garden.


* Disclosure - the paper pot maker was gifted to me last year by Burgon and Ball but I genuinely love it, finding it easy to use, efficient, and perfectly suited to my as-plastic-free-as-possible lifestyle.







4 Mar 2019

Come into the garden! Spring thoughts about an urban veg patch

Hello again, I'm back. Did you miss me? Well I've only been outside in the garden. I've had a winter break from blogging to sort out both the veg patch and the second garden under my window - and read, amongst other things. It was a wonderfully relaxing time but now, with the weather getting warmer, it's time to get back to business.

Early purple sprouting broccoli shoots

Coming up in future posts are new products seen at last week's Garden Press Event (it was a good one!), my thoughts on how and why to spark joy in your garden, what to grow in containers, and a couple of book reviews. Busy, busy.

But, to welcome readers back into this space, let's see what's been happening here.  Spring is definitely underway, even if temperatures plummet to a March norm from now on (lashing rain and cold winds as I write); in the garden rhubarb stalks are appearing, purple sprouting broccoli is regularly on the menu, first pickings of chives and wild garlic are almost ready, quince major has its first spring leaves, rosemary is blooming, and flowerbeds are filled with colour from the usual spring fare of crocuses, hellebores, daffodils, primroses, violets, and honeywort. Okay, maybe that last one isn't usual but it shows how mild our winter has been.

You'd think that February's warm sunshine would have prompted some early sowing but, no, not for me. I read Allan Jenkins' book 'Plot 29, A Memoir' over Christmas; he sows all seeds direct into well mulched soil and believes that his plants are stronger for it (unless slugs get them first). That's how the first seeds were sown in the early Veg Patch years, and it's how I'm gardening this year, at the appropriate time, leaving my windowsills clear for tomato seedlings and micro leaves.

What will be growing in the balcony garden this year?

  • Bush tomatoes and chillies
  • Salad leaves 
  • Herbs - curly and flat leaf parsley, coriander, mint, chives, maybe some thyme
  • Spring onions (scallions)
  • Scented pelargoniums
Bush tomatoes container grown
~ Last summer, on the balcony ~

I'm lucky to have the use of a larger growing space as well as my balcony but, even though my balcony is tiny, I still make the most of that small space. I love that certain plants are to hand - tomatoes, salad leaves, herbs - so, as usual, I'll continue to grow as much of those as I can fit onto the balcony in planters and pots.  

Balcony growing is not without it's challenges; my balcony is closed off on the south side so is shaded in the morning and very windy but I've found that parsley, chives and mint all do well. Cross winds can damage plants and wick moisture away from the soil so regular watering and feeding is important; last summer I watered every day, sometimes twice a day, (but always checking first to see what was needed) and was reminded to feed the plants with the hashtag #feedonfriday. 

But the absolute best thing last year was having several cherry tomato plants in pots on my balcony to pick at from July through to December. Seeds were sown later than usual in April, due to an extreme winter, and I also bought a couple of small plants from the garden centre (just to make sure I didn't go without!). It worked so well that I'm going to do the same this year.

What will be growing in the veg garden this year?

  • Sweet corn and squash
  • Asparagus and spinach (possibly Malabar, a climbing spinach-like alternative)
  • Carrots and garlic
  • French climbing beans and leeks
  • Courgette and kales
  • Broad beans, PSB and Brussels sprouts
  • Strawberries, raspberries
  • Redcurrants and sweet red gooseberries
  • Sweet Peas
  • ... and there will be flowers!

Growing wild garlic in the garden
~ Wild Garlic at the end of February this year ~

All those seed catalogues are so tempting, aren't they? The descriptions conjure up visions of such deliciousness and beauty that my seed list can double after dipping into their pages. So far I've resisted the seed catalogues, preferring to think first about growing what I really enjoy - and only then dipping in to see which varieties I need to replace after checking my seed box.

I've made a list of the veg that makes home grown worthwhile for me: sweetcorn and asparagus that are at their finest freshly picked, carrots because they're fun, rocket because I never need a whole bagful, ditto spinach, garlic because last year's harvest has seen me through the winter, purple sprouting broccoli because seeing those purple sprouts make me happy that winter is nearly over, French beans and one courgette because I didn't grow any last year, tomatoes and chillies - the essence of summer! - and kale, the workhorse of the veg garden.  And perhaps some bulb fennel if there's space.

Having sorted that out, I found that I already had most of the seeds I need without any unnecessary additional spending, although I'm going to replace all of the strawberry plants this year as the old plants were unreliable and tasteless. I've read that renowned chef Raymond Blanc recommends Marshmello strawberries for flavour so I've put an order in to Marshall's who supply both bare root and plug plants.

Being sensible and seasonal!

Instagram is currently awash with images of seedlings growing fast on windowsills and greenhouse shelves, especially during the last few weeks of unseasonably warm sunshine. I can totally relate to the urge to start sowing seeds at the very first sign of warmer weather but would advise caution!  

The weather from February through to the end of April can be very unreliable, warm one day and snowing the next (I jest not), so early sowing is a gamble. Seedlings grow weak and leggy without good light and, if planted out too soon, may just become slug fodder. Better to have strong plants that have a greater chance of survival. Plus, it's not a race - do what feels right for your growing environment.

My post tomorrow is about what you can and should be doing in March. Tune in?

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