Tag: chitting

Plot #59 Update: March 2016

March 2016 Plot #59 Update
Plot #59, looking good in a bit of early Spring sunshine

The weather in our neck of the woods was distinctly variable during March, although thankfully storm Katie largely passed us by. A couple of dry weeks meant I could go full steam ahead on digging and clearing the back section of the plot, for a while. We haven’t worked this bit since we took it over two years ago and so has been lying fallow for who knows how many years (previous tenants only worked small sections and those infrequently, so our plot neighbours have told us). The net result so far is three new potato trenches, two of which now contain nicely-chitted first early ‘swift’ tubers.

March 2016 Chitted first early 'swift'
Nicely chitted and ready for planting out.

I removed all but three chits from each tuber before planting them a good spade’s depth deep and then mounding up the earth above. Potato tubers form as modified stems rather than roots, so you want the tuber to sit deep and reach upwards through the soil, rather than spreading out on the surface, which leads to inedible green spuds if you don’t do a lot of mounding up. Too deep though, and the shoots might not be able to break surface and put out photosynthesising leaves before the tuber exhausts its store of starches, so it’s best not to go mad and dig them six feet under.

March 2016 spud trenches dug
Line and spade gets the job done, without my usual wild swerving.

The digging and clearing job is continuing forwards from the back of the plot, through some horribly bindweed- and buttercup-choked patches, down towards the fruit bush section in the middle. It’s slow, steady, fiddly work, especially when heavy rain stops play for a day or three, but we’re getting there.

Jo and I also spent a couple of hours weeding the over-wintered allium patch (white onions, garlic and the as-yet-uneaten leeks) before planting out the ‘sturon’ sets that had been started off in modules in the greenhouse. As you can see, after about six weeks of growth the majority of them had developed great roots and strong, healthy leaves; time to get them in the ground before they started to get pot-bound and run out of nutrients. Jo and I planted around 110, in three rows (plus filling in a few gaps in the white onion section from winter losses) and they should be ready to start harvesting round about late June or July, if the weather goes our way.

March 2016 - Onion 'sturon' ready for planting
Good roots and strong stems – these are ready to go in.

Progress has continued on the new asparagus bed, with free-draining ridges set up in the previously well-manured section. The crowns are arriving sometime next week, all being well, so I look forward to getting those planted before too long.

Another section of the plot has been sown with red and Persian clover for a green manure trial on behalf of Garden Organic. At last-look, the clover seedlings that I sowed in the middle of March were just starting to germinate. The Persian clover came up first, but so far the red clover seedlings seem to be more robust.

March 2016 Clover germination comparison
Persian clover seems to have the edge in germination speed.

Meanwhile, back at base, I’ve been sowing the first of our brassica and tomato seeds. It’s perhaps a little early for some brassicas, but so far I’ve just sown cauliflower (‘purple cape’ and ‘all year round’) and brussels sprout (‘rubine’, ‘Evesham special’ and ‘Bedford’), both of which need a longer growing season than the likes of cabbage or kale. They’re in a plastic propagation trays (seed trays with a domed lid) in the greenhouse, making the most of whatever sunshine comes their way.

I know a lot of folks will have tomato seedlings well on the way by now, but I’m planning on keeping a lot of ours outside this year, so given the state of the North Manchester weather at the moment, I didn’t see the point in starting anything off too soon. I reckon they’ll catch up once (or if…) the temperatures start to rise. I’ve sown five different varieties, two determinate (bush) or tumbling forms for containers: ‘maskotka’ and ‘principe borghese’, with indeterminate ‘red pear’, ‘tigerella’ and ‘gardener’s delight’ all likely to need a bit of support later in life. (I might sow one or two more varieties at some point as well, depending on how things go.) Again, they’re in the greenhouse in plastic propagation trays for now, as I don’t want them to grow too quickly and become leggy as a result.

In other news, I potted up the chilli seedlings (two weeks on and they’re coming along very nicely) and we took a few first steps in two new (for us) horticultural directions: carnivorous plants for greenhouse pest control and Dahlias for growing at the allotment and at home.

Exciting developments all round. Lots (and lots) more to come in April, weather allowing. Please do feel free to add any comments, questions or helpful suggestions down below, and check out the monthly updates archive for more round-ups from earlier in the year.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

It’s Chitting Time! The Seed Spuds Are Doing Their Thing

A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of this year’s seed spuds from our allotment shop. Now, I know it’s perfectly possible to grow new spud plants from supermarket spuds, or even from spud peelings, as long as there’s a decent eye, but I do prefer to stick my hand in my pocket and buy seed tubers instead.

The main reason is because seed tubers are guaranteed to be free of disease and/or viruses. Of course, I’m not saying that supermarket spuds are riddled with pathogens, but for me the added peace of mind is worth a few quid. After all, in a good year every tuber is produce a kilo or three of potatoes come harvest time, but a plant lost to early disease isn’t going to produce much of anything. It seems like a false economy to me to skimp on the seed spuds, given their relatively low cost. (Although I will also be growing some of last year’s spuds – that have been sprouting away in their sacks in the under-stairs cupboard for the past few weeks – in old compost bags in the back garden, just to see how they do.)

Feb 2016 Chitting Spuds
From the left: Swift (first early), Saxon (second early / maincrop), Pink Fir Apple (maincrop)

And yes, I do always chit my seed spuds which, again, some folks might roll their eyes at. But I think the process of chitting – placing seed potatoes in a light, dry place to encourage germination and allow small, green shoots to develop before the potatoes are planted – has a few important advantages that makes it worthwhile:

  1. It gives the developing stems a head-start, allowing them to establish a focus for ongoing growth (in botanical terms, a meristematic zone of cell development) which means they’ll be shoving their way up and out of the soil much sooner than if left to their own devices. Which is important, because the plant needs to be putting leaves up into the light, to enable it to start getting its energy from photosynthesis before the stored starches in the seed tuber run out and the plant loses vigour.
  2. It allows you to control how many growing stems are left to develop, by removing all but the strongest chits before you plant. Two or three are generally ideal, again ensuring that those growing stems have the best chance of breaking the surface and putting out leaves in good time. Too many developing stems all competing for those stored starches – which is what will happen if you leave a tuber to its own devices and every eye on the spud puts out a new shoot – could mean the plant may run out of steam before it breaks leaf above ground and is able to photosynthesise effectively.
  3. On a personal level, I find chitting provides a psychological boost at the dullest time of the year. It means you’re doing something to get the growing season under-way, and something is growing, even if it’s just a few chits for now.

It seems I’m not alone, either. I ran a quick Twitter poll last week, and although the results are by no means statistically relevant, they’re still pretty darn conclusive:

So there you go, my take on why chitting is a good idea. If you’re not chitting this year, start saving your egg-boxes for next year and give it a go, see if it makes a difference.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail