May is a pretty mad month in the greenhouse as the seedling shuffle continues apace. Last month’s sown seeds are shooting like crazy. More new seedlings need to be pricked out and potted up daily. And larger plantlets are outgrowing their starter pots and being potted on at a rate of knots. I’m loving every minute of it.
In lieu of time to describe everything in detail, here’s a quick photo gallery to convey the general impression:
What’s giving you particular joy in the greenhouse at the moment? Let me know via the comments…
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:
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.
(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…)
A few weeks ago I placed an order for a few packets of seeds from Suttons and ticked the box on the order form to receive two plug plants of Squash (Cucurbita pepo) ‘tromboncino’ (which, according to one online translator app means “spigot-type grenade launcher”… the mind boggles).
It was partly because I’m a sucker for free plants (who isn’t?) and partly because I fancied entering the inaugural Suttons Cup Competition to see who can grow the longest tromboncino fruit. Or at least, see how close I could get to something worth entering in the competition. It’s just a bit of fun, after all.
The plug plants arrived on Tuesday, neatly packaged up:
They both had good (only slightly nitrogen-deficient) leaves and a healthy (if slightly module-bound) root system. I’m assuming they’ve been grown in hothouse conditions to bring them on to this size in so small an amount of growing medium:
The first job was to tease out those roots and then plant the plugs in small pots with some fresh multi-purpose compost. A good watering with a liquid feed late, and they were onto a greenhouse shelf to recover from their postal ordeal and re-establish themselves.
In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll pot them on again into an intermediary container before working out where I’ll be keeping them in the long-term. Squash ‘tromboncino’ is a vigorous climber, so I’ll need to provide sturdy support. And given my relatively poor track record with squashes to-date, I’ll need to read up on suggested optimal growing conditions and general care / feeding instructions as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know, I know, it’s a potentially dangerous path to follow. One that could lead to obsession or even addiction, uncontrollable impulse-purchasing and gigabytes of digital photography… but Jo and I have decided to start growing Dahlias.
We’ve both always liked them and Jo’s Dad (“Gardening Guru Glyn”, as far as I’m concerned) grows them on his plot down in Shropshire, and very handsome his are, too. This year we decided to take the plunge, make a start on our own small Dahlia selection, and see where it takes us. So when we saw a posted on our allotment shop notice board, advertising a talk by champion Dahlia-grower Jack Gott of J. R. G. Dahlias (also @gott_jack on Twitter), we thought we should go along and see what it was all about.
Thus it was that one Wednesday evening a couple of weeks ago found us in a darkened pub lounge in Bolton, watching with rapt attention as Jack ran a slideshow of his best blooms – with the occasional trophy and prize certificate thrown in for good measure – and talked us through the finer points of his 30+ years of Dahlia growing experience. I scribbled notes furiously as he talked, Jo and I both ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed and jotted down the names of the varieties we liked the best, and at the end of the session we hot-footed it over to the table of tubers to buy a few of our favourites.
The one we really wanted – named ‘JRG’ in honour of the man himself; a rather lovely dark-leaved single variety – wasn’t available, alas (but we’ve asked Jo’s folks to keep an eye out for it at the Malvern Spring show). But we came away with five good-sized tubers to start us off: Don Hill (dark red collerette), Christmas Carol (red/white collerette), Topmix Reddy (red single), Topmix Purple (purple single) and Topmix Mama (red, dark leaf single). All open-faced, pollinator-friendly varieties, as per our general rule of flowering plants number one: thou shalt feed the bees. For that reason we’re steering clear of the pompom, ball, cactus, anenome and water-lilly types, all of which are a bit too closed-up and inaccessible for our liking.
We brought them home and stored them in a polystyrene box for a couple of weeks, but when I noticed that they’d started sprouting already, I realised I should pot them up, which I did at the weekend. After a quick check-in with Guru Glyn for his take on potting procedure, I put them into containers just big enough to take the tubers, with well-moistened general purpose compost above and below:
A few days in the greenhouse later and they’re already sprouting well, especially the Christmas Carol which seems the most vigorous so far. Hopefully that means I haven’t made any novice blunders just yet. On the night of the talk, Jack mentioned that once the smaller tubers are sprouting strongly, I can split them up and create a few new plants to help spread them out a bit. I’ll be giving that a go, seeing as I’ve promised a few cuttings to Guru Glyn, and besides it will be nice to develop a number of mature plants over the next few years, to provide plenty of colour down at the allotment bee-buffet and in our new cottage garden as well.
If you’re a Dahlia grower yourself and have any top tips, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Otherwise, wish us luck, and we’ll report back on the plants as we plant them out and watch them grow over the course of the season.
Last weekend I decided the time had come to pot on this year’s successfully germinated Chilli seeds. it being around six weeks since I sowed them. Not all had germinated but I wasn’t expecting a 100% hit rate, so I wasn’t at all disappointed by the tally of 17 viable seedlings.
I’d already half-filled a sufficient number of 7cm(ish) pots with general purpose compost, soaked it and left it to warm in the greenhouse. The next job was to get the chilli seedlings from their trays to the pots. My tool of choice for that job is an old dessert spoon, which allows a good scoop of compost around the base of the seedling to be lifted in one piece. This helps to minimise damage to the incredibly delicate roots – and the even more fragile, microscopic root hairs – that are so essential to the health of the plant.
Once all 17 (7x Cayenne, 5x Prairie Fire, 3x Pot Black and 2x Habanero / Scotch Bonnet) were safely potted up, topped up with compost and watered in, they went back into the Vitopod propagator – set to a balmy 20°C to bring them within the optimal temperature range for photosynthesis – to grow on. They’ll be moved to the greenhouse in another couple of weeks (some maybe a little sooner if we need the space to germinate more seeds) but it’s a little too chilly in there overnight just yet.
They seem to be doing quite nicely back in the Vitopod: a few of them have started putting out a second pair of true leaves. When they’re big and strong enough – around 12 to 15cm tall, with five or six good leaf pairs – they’ll be re-potted again into 15cm pots. The best three (hopefully of the more interesting varieties) will then be put in the Chilligrow containers.
It’s going to be a bumper year for Capsicum, with any luck. Anyone know a good recipe for chilli dipping sauce?