Tag: mixed salad

Plot #59 Update: May 2016

Plot #59 Update May 2016
Starting to look a lot like a hard-working allotment again…

May was a manic month down on Plot #59, and no mistake. My plate is particularly full at the moment with revision for my RHS Level 2 exams in mid June, so please do excuse me if I whizz through this month’s update.

Projects / Maintenance

As well as sorting out an old compost bed Jo and I started on some of this year’s structural work: a pair of sweet pea obelisks and a pea harp.

Sowing

Not a lot happened this month on the sowing front, just five varieties of cabbage in a multi-module in the greenhouse. They all germinated with at least 90% success, so after thinning I should have around 100 cabbages to pot up in due course. I had a small selection of other seeds that I wanted to sow this month, but time hasn’t been on my side. I’ll have to get them in soon though, or they’ll run out of growing season.

Planting

The courgette patch that I started planting out a couple of weeks ago is now full:

May 2016 courgette patch
12 courgette plants, plus companion Swiss chard and Tagetes.

Four varieties of courgette there: ‘Tondo di Piacenza’, ‘Soleil F1’, ‘Midnight F1’ and ‘Zucchini’. The companion plants are four Swiss chard and three Tagetes, for a splash of colour amidst the eventual sea of green foliage.

Next door to the courgettes, I’ve set up and planted out the first two climbing bean A-frames:

May 2016 runner beans planted
‘Prizewinner’ and ‘Blackpod’ good to go.

They’re both runner beans: ‘Prizewinner’ and ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library variety, and the only one of three varieties I had from them this year that’s actually germinated, alas). I’ve got three more A-frames and a few wigwams still to go for the rest of this year’s beans.

Swiss Chard and Peas went in to populate the pea harp and the latter are scrambling away nicely.

Meanwhile, Jo has planted out her sunflowers around two edges of the three sisters section, set sweet peas to scramble up their black bamboo obelisks and provided a tray or two of nasturtiums to accompany the climbing beans, broad beans and peas. All for the good of pollinators, who are always welcome on our plot.

All good so far. A lot more to be planted out in June.

Harvesting

Rhubarb! We’ve got so much rhubarb from our eight crowns this year.

May 2016 rhubarb patch
Romping away and clearly enjoying the warm, wet weather earlier in the month.

We’re stuffed to the gills with stewed rhubarb (and sometimes custard) and are rapidly running out of freezer room. We’re giving away as much of it as we can, but it just keeps growing. Send help… and jam recipes!

May 2016 - first rhubarb harvest
This was our first harvest. The stalks have only gotten longer and stronger since…

Also, lots of lovely fresh salad leaves and pea shoots from the trays in the greenhouse.

General Progress

The asparagus bed seems to be coming along nicely. All but one of the crowns have sent up one or two thin, spindly shoots. As it’s just year one, we’ve left them to do their thing; which seems to be branching, setting flower buds and (rather unfortunately) blowing over in the wind. Ah well, as long as the root system is developing under the surface they should be a lot stronger next year.

The raised carrot and root beds are showing strong signs of life, albeit in a slightly irregular pattern in the carrot section:

May 2016 carrot bed
I think this raised bed might have a bit of a slope on it…

There was a lot of annual weed in the soil I used for the beds as well, so I’ve been in and hand-cleared between and among the rows a couple of times.

I posted a few shots of our fruit bushes in flower and I’m glad to say that they’ve been visited by the bees and pushing on to set fruit:

May 2016 redcurrants
Nowhere near ripe just yet, but a good redcurrant crop in prospect.
May 2016 strawberries
Looks like we might actually get a strawberry harvest this year..!
May 2016 gooseberries
Goosegogs far from ripe and rock hard at the moment.

There are signs of fruit-set on the blackcurrants, whitecurrants and the mystery fruit trees at the front of the plot as well.

Elsewhere, the broad beans are in flower, the onions seems to be bulbing up nicely, the garlic is producing scapes (very tasty) and the dahlias are just starting to hint at one or two flower buds opening. And the potatoes are doing well; I think just about all of the seed spuds I planted have sprouted, with maybe one or two exceptions. I’ve earthed them up once, but with not much risk of a frost now, I’m going to leave them to do their thing and hope for the best.

It’s all hugely exciting. Can’t wait to see what June brings (endless hours of revision aside…)

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How To: Grow Your Own Fancy Salad Leaves

Equipment Needed: 2x plastic troughs, with trays. Compost. Watering can. Mixed salad seeds.
Care Requirements: Minimal.
Difficulty Level: Ridonkulously easy.

In our house, salad season officially starts when: a) the first batch of salad leaves are ready in the greenhouse, and b) it’s too damn warm to eat soup for lunch any more.

Both conditions have been met round about now, and as luck would have it – thanks to a bit of forward-planning – we’ve got a great big crop of lovely, fresh, healthy salad leaves ready to go at just as the temperature reaches the top-teens:

May 2016 salad leaves
Rocket and lettuce and mizuna and all sorts of tasty things… yum!

You too can grow your own fresh salads – and avoid having to splash the cash at the supermarket for those tiny bags of premium-priced leaves – all summer long.

Here’s how:

Firstly, buy yourself a few packets of mixed salad seed – there are plenty of varieties available, with flavours ranging from hot and spicy to mild and succulent – along with two deep, rectangular plastic troughs – around 15-20cm deep and 50-60 cm long would be ideal – along with trays to stand them on (quite important), and a bag of compost. Multi-purpose is fine, no need for seed compost, unless you have some spare.

Fill the first tray (not the second one, not yet) to around the 4/5 mark with compost. You can use seed compost for the final half inch or so, if you have some handy, but don’t worry if not, your leaves will grow just fine without. Water the compost well – give it a good drenching – and allow excess water to run through.

Sow (scatter / sprinkle) your mixed salad seed on the surface of the compost (I use an old Schwarz herb pot to help them scatter and spread out). Not too thickly, feel free to nudge them about a bit if they’re clumping together, but don’t worry about spacing them out exactly; the idea is to let your leaves grow wild and free.

Lightly cover the seed with another cm or so of compost. You probably won’t need to water the surface compost; the seeds should be able to soak up enough moisture from the main compost layer to germinate, but if in doubt, water with a very fine rose watering can, taking care not to disturb the seed.

Finally, stand the trough on its tray and leave it on a light, sunny window-sill or on a shelf in the greenhouse, then wait for the seeds to germinate.

April 2016 salad trays
Salad trays in full swing.

A couple of things to watch out for: sometimes the surface of the compost can dry out and form a crust, which the emerging seedlings can have difficulty breaking through. If that happens, gently dampen the compost with a fine-rose watering can and it should fall back into place around the seedlings.

Also, keep the compost reasonably moist, but not too wet – remember that even though the surface appears dry, the compost underneath can still be damp. The seedlings’ roots need both water and air to thrive, so keeping the compost too wet will actually be quite bad for them. As the plants get larger they’ll need more water, so keep an eye on the compost and top them up as needed; a good soaking every couple of days is better than a sprinkling here and there. If you’re going to be away for a while, give them an extra-good soak before you go, fill the tray that they’re sitting in with as much water as you can fit in it and hope for the best.

Once your leaves are well-established – with individual plants growing well, showing plenty of true leaves and basically looking like they’re just about ready to harvest – start off your second tray in exactly the same manner as the first. That way, by the time you’ve finished picking or cutting the leaves from the first tray the second trough-load should be ready to start harvesting.

April 2016 second salad tray
Tray #2 is coming along nicely, and I’ll need to re-sow pea shoots at some point too.

You should get three or four harvests from each tray – at least 60 or more portions – before the plants are exhausted; you’ll know when they’ve gone over, as the stems will be much tougher, or flowers will begin developing as the plants desperately try to reproduce. At this point you can empty the first tray – dump everything into the compost bin – then start that first trough off again with fresh compost and seed. With a bit of careful management and good timing you’ll be eating home-grown salad leaves all through the summer and into the Autumn.

Enjoy!

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Doing the Seedling Shuffle

Almost the first thing we did when we moved into our new house last Summer (apart from put he kettle on) was to invest in the biggest greenhouse that we could sensibly fit into our new back garden. We hoped that the 8’x10′ we opted for would offer more than enough working and storage space to meet our needs. It really should have done, but thanks to these cold snaps that the weather keeps throwing at us, we’re rapoidly running out of room.

We’ve currently got about as much heavy duty plastic shelving crammed into the place as we can sensibly fit and pretty much every shelf is taken up with plants in various stages of development. They range from newly-sown seeds – I put in some peas at the weekend; sweetcorn, gherkins, squash and kale in the last couple of weeks, and Jo has been working hard on her flower selection – through to good-sized plants – the broad beans for instance, and the dahlia tubers – which are pretty much ready to go out onto the allotment. That is, they would be if it wasn’t too darn cold to risk trying to harden them off in the cold frame, and there wasn’t a very real danger of frost and snow showers damaging the tender young shoots if we did.

Here’s a small selection of what we’re currently juggling:

April 2016 broad beans
I reckon most of these Vicia faba (broad beans) are ready to be planted out.
April 2016 - Chilli plants
The Capsicum annuum / chinense (chillis) are coming along nicely – further updates in another blog post soon.
April 2016 - Swiss chard seedlings
Beta vulgaris Swiss chard ‘five colours’… 100% yellow in our case.
April 2016 cucurbit seedlings
Recently-sown and newly-germinating members of the Cucurbitae family (squash and gherkins).
April 2016 - Dahlias sprouting
The dahlia tubers we invested in seem to be doing rather nicely.
April 2016 sunflowers
Jo’s sunflowers are growing well – some will need to be potted on again soon.
April 2016 - sweetcorn shoots
This year’s Zea mays (sweetcorn) crop is just starting out.
April 2016 electric daisy seedlings
Electric daisies pricked out and getting ready to rock (and shock…)
April 2016 pricked out brassica seedlings
A selection of potted-on brassicas (cauliflower and Brussels sprout) coming along nicely.
April 2016 more brassica seedlings
The next batch of brassicas (kale and cauliflower) aren’t too far behind.
April 2016 - salad trays
Lovely, fresh mixed salad leaves and pea shoots.

The forecast for the weekend is a bit more promising. If there’s no frost on the longer-range radar then we’ll start moving a few things out into the newly re-stained cold frame to begin hardening off, and all being well we can take them down to Plot #59 in a couple of weeks’ time.

Fingers crossed!

(And please do feel free to sing the title of this post to the tune of the E-Street Band classic, chorus line, if you feel the urge…)

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