Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Gertrude Franck bed

So it goes...Gert reigns supreme yet again.

Same photos as the other blog but for slightly different reasons

Gert's bed is there, with the green framed netted portion over it. I know it's hard to see in amongst the flooding but it's there. And it's been the most successful bed in a really cruddy growing year. And I pulled some parsnips from it today, plus an onion [yes, an onion. Just the one. Because in every other year they have all had white rot in that bed. So something is going right somewhere]. I left all the other onions, as they were Long Red Florences and they are just starting to regrow and I want to save the seed from them. So although it pained me greatly - I left them there.

So here, back home, once the wet clay has been asked off - are the spoils of today. I also got some leeks from Mark's Leek bed...grown from my own saved seed [Bleu De Solaise] from the perennial leek bed. 

So, I have also decided to have a new layout of the lottie if I can find the time this year to do it - now it has flooded I think it's time to change things a little.

Anyway - here's to a better 2013 for us veg growers. I can't wait to put 2012 to bed. A soggy, flooded, wet, claggy, sluggy, sodden bed. Bleurgh.

*P.s...the good thing about the flooding was the sheer number of drowned slugs one sees whilst walking in wellies to the shed. Ha!

Some good news!

 No, it's not that the plot flooded. Which it did. 2 days before Christmas. Which meant no veg could be harvested for any of our festive meals. Which was annoying. Also, I have been collecting various fruit plants for Christmas pressies and they were totally sodden so I couldn't give them away either. But...

The actual good news is that we went down today and the waters had subsided. I had worn my wellies so could traipse through the 2 inch deep with water paths - whereas Mark could only stand by...whilst I pulled some leeks [Bleu De Solaise, from my own saved seeds from the perennial Leek bed] and 1 Stamme Onions [hazaah!!!] and some Avon Resistor Parsnips. Which needed a spade to dig them out - although it was more the suction keeping them in than the usual frozen soil issue.

So - 2 more successes from the Seed Circle. I will be getting more of these parsnips as they were absolutely delightful roasted, buttery and smooth. Nicest ever I'd say. So 3 will be left to go to seed in 2013. Roll on the new year! And the new A4A Seed Circle seeds, which will be coming hopefully in the near future.

Happy 2013 one and all!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Sowing onions

To get large onions, you need to sow early. I don't grow for champion sizes, but do like a large onions so I get started as soon as the Winter Solstice is here. Which is today. So I've sown my first batches of onions. 7 Varieties. Morada De Amposta - Rossa Savonese - Simane - Tropea Rossa Lunga - Long Red Florence - Rossa Savonese. 

Sown into little pots - about 100 seeds per pot - covered with grit - watered and stuck into the prop [again, not heated, just with the lid on].

The Random Approach Day 1 Week 1

 So, the sowing starts. The random approach where I put lots of different seeds into weekly packets, and will just sow each one, each week, transplant whatever comes up, and the whole lot in it's randomness will be grown on Mark's bit of the lottie with overflow around the garden. 

 First pack, a nice line is drawn. 

Looks like onions and lettuces to me. I could check but I'm not going to. 

In they go. 

Grit to cover. 

Today's date. And I've watered that line, and it is in the heated prop [which hasn't been turned on yet - it's just for protection].

And happy winter solstice to everyone.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Random Approach to GYO

I've decided to try a different approach to sowing seed this year. 

I'm going to pack up a range of seeds to sow each week, so every Sunday all we have to do is to sprinkle the contents onto a half seed tray and water in. 

Then prick out, grow on and plant in their own bed at the allotment. 

If they look like they are going to climb - we'll pop a cane in to let them. 

Mark has agreed to put them all in his bed at the plot. 

So I have printed out one seed pack per week from Jan 1st to 8 Oct 2013. 

Later today I will go through my seed stash and put pinches of appropriate seeds into each week's packet. 


I've been through my non-tomatoes, non-peppers, non-HSL or seed saving, and non-needs to be sown in situ stash - and have hand picked seeds for each week between 18th December 2012 and 8th October 2013.

Some, like a huge bag of mixed lettuce, I've put in a pinch every single week.

The others, I've looked at the months they can be sown, and either sown at the start of the season, or split down into 2 or more sowings.

I've noted them all down in my book so I can reference them if needs be.

Let the sowing 9 days time.

Friday, 7 December 2012


I'm not really a festive type, but do enjoy making stuff, and I know my students love to as well. They also love indoor working during the winter and foraging. So...we foraged loads of sticks this week and all the next week's sessions will be spent making decorations. 

I've just made this one in about 10 mins. Yes it's lopsided but it will show the students that they need to cut or drill dead centre. 

And another - easier with thinner twigs I suspect.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


And the benefits of knowing people around the world who swap seeds.

So 2 days ago my Heritage Seed Library 2013 Catalogue came through the door, and today whilst I am sat here working at home devising workshops...I get a swap from Germany...

I can choose 6 packs from the HSL catalogue, and Nellie has sent me 4 varieties from Germany - one jet black broad bean [wow], Schwarzsamige; a Climbing French Bean Berner Landfrauen, and two tomatoes, Ultra Early from Moscow and Pendulina a yellow hanging basket variety.

Is there a better way to start December? I think not.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Good news - Turmeric

The summer of 2012 is two shoots of turmeric.

I got these from a chum who got them from another chum who got them from Morrison's in South Wales. A traditional hubbub of exotic-ness don't you know.

Anyway - they were put into these pots probably around April time. Nothing happened - they were even in a heated prop and I lost interest around I'd reckon May at the latest. The heated prop went off and I just left them there. No watering - not even opening the lid. The soil as you can see is shriveled up and bone dry. 

And yesterday - I thought I spotted a shoot. Thinking it was probably just a weed seed I didn't look. it was late, it was dark and I was tired.

But this morning after a coffee [natch] I decided to take a peek and lo and behold - two shoots!!!

And on Samhain as well. 

The end of the harvest season - beginning of winter. 

Let the new growth emerge.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dwarf Mr Snow's Tomato


After all the rubbish year, looking after these flippin tomatoes and only having a few that of the most successful was Dwarf Mr Snow's - which I was expecting to be yellow and beefy - is beefy alright but has a black shoulder and has ripened to red.

Can I cry now?

I give up.

See you in 2013!

Thursday, 18 October 2012


A little plug for one of my projects

I've been working with the SEND project in Nottingham to get therapy gardening up and running with 14-19 yr old teenagers and have been helping with prepping not just finding a suitable site [it took a year] but also once we found one, clearing it to use it.

Their new website is below.

So a shameless plug really - if anyone is interested in volunteering to help out on any environmental stuff [organic gardening, sustainability, making clay ovens or rocket stoves etc] then please feel free to get in touch with them.

And as we like photos - remember when you are clearing your gardens this autumn...the more you chop up your foliage and twigs and compost-able material - the quicker you will have useable compost. So chop, chop and chop some more.  This is a wheelbarrow of prunings in the middle of being chopped by one of my students.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Bean a while since I posted

Gosh, what a busy month.

I've been working on getting a new garden prepared and cleared in readiness for more teaching action - this one is in Nottingham so nearer home but it's been hard work to say the least.

A month doing one work day a week, and a few extra days at weekends. Phew.

So meanwhile, I have been busy just sorting out my saved seed, just finished the beans that I grew at the allotment last year. A mix of a few, to be sorted out later this week. Still ploughing through the beetroot seed mountain - it takes a while to dry and a while longer to clean each stalk. So in the meantime, a photo of my beans.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Seed saving - and food for free

Yes, it's that time of year again when every horizontal surface is covered with trays to collect and contain my seeds.

Now, this year as most in the UK will tell you - it's been a rubbish year. Thankfully, I DO save from biennials so I have Beetroot, Parsnip, and Scorzonera seeds. And now, the tomatoes are starting to come - Early Tanana, Maskotka, Rambling Gold, Latah and Aranyalma and French Black so far...Unfortunately the ones at one of my 'stable' places to grow veg have got blight so I pulled half up last week, bagged the green toms and any that don't show signs of blight will get eaten, but not saved from.

I have also spent today with my chillis and peppers - dipping the unopened flowers in PVA glue and tying twine or red cotton around them to identify them. This method stops the flowers from cross pollinating and results in pure seed.

You can see the wet PVA and the tie on this Numex Twilight.

Here's some I did earlier in the year - as you can see, the pepper is just the same as the ones that weren't PVA-ed

These are potatoes that were dug up from the compost heap - Amorosa, Kestrel and [yay] Mr Little's Yeltolm Gypsy. From last year's tubers.  Result.

And the last of the parsnip seed, just before it is removed and the last bit of drying done before packing up. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Japanese wineberries

These were looking fantastic at Ryton yesterday. We have now got some at home but they aren't at this stage yet.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


I've finally got it. Blight that is. The toms from the circle at the lottie finally succomed.

Surprised it wasn't earlier but it's still disappointing.

I've taken all the reasonably sized ones off and will try to let them mature but in 2 days, some have gone from green to black on the plant - even with only a few signs of black or yellow leaves. Must be mutating again.

So - I haven't got time to dispose of the lot tonight as I'm doing a day's course tomorrow, I was just popping down the plot to get the gooseberries I'd propagated earlier in the spring for the teachers to pot up tomorrow. But ended up having to pull up several plants otherwise those that are looking ok might just survive a few more weeks and I do want to give them a fighting chance.

Anyway - glum glum glum.

Roll on 2013. I'll be going back to making sure they are all under plastic next year.

Some from the circle are in the greenhouse or courtyard and they are still ok so far. Fingers crossed I may get a few seeds to share.

No photo - it's too depressing.

So I'm including a photo of my friends band's first CD. Keep it quiet but they first recorded most of it about 18 years ago and released it on vinyl but it only came out as a 'long player' the other week. Available on itunes or in hard copy from local independent record shops or from, of course, the fabulous Sister Ray in London Village.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A big Hint and Tip for newbies

And I mean those capital letters.

I don't grow very many F1 hybrid veg. In fact, unless it was free seed I think I grow only 1 and that's Goldrush F1 Courgette. I grow this because I love love love yellow courgettes and if I have enough I make a huge soupy stew [usually Nigella\s Happiness Soup but I'm not eating carbs so it would be slightly adapted but I digress]...And this year, what with losing so many cucurbit plants - I was chuffed that 2 Goldrush F1 plants made it and started producing flowers and there seemed to be little slug damage.

That is - until the courgettes themselves were not yellow when they started growing. Not in the slightest.

And because so many other courgettes are now no longer even alive I can't even rip these out as we need all the courgettes we can get our hands on this year!


So the Hint and TIp is - don't throw away all your old seed packets [I get through so many I rarely save them as most are handmade and the packs get reused or composted; and any plastic bags get reused anyway - but when you have paid GOOD MONEY for F1 HYBRIDS because you just want YELLOW COURGETTES and then find they are not yellow and you threw away your old packets, you can't even send the pack back to the supplier and DEMAND YOUR MONEY BACK.

When I first started, I would stick every pack I grew into a scrapbook for future reference - these days I'd probably take a photo of the packet so I think I shall be doing that in future with ALL purchased packets. Not many turn out completely wrong but at the prices they charge they should at least be the right chuffing veg.

Tender and True Parsnip seed saving

The one thing I would advise all seed savers is to collect and process your seed as soon as you can. This doesn't mean before it is ready but when it is, do it pronto. Otherwise you end up finding a bucket of old seed in the back of the shed with a dead mouse in it. Not good.

So today it is parsnip seed collection day. It's coming off by the seed and going straight into a used tissue box, with some silica gel packs, until totally dry. Then it will be packed into small bags and shared out amongst seed circles.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Good old Mrs Hutchinson and her potato onions

Watch out - it's another Heritage Veg Review.

This is why going to a HSL seed swap trounces everyone else. I got these in January at Garden Organic's Potato Day. I popped them into my Hugelkultur bed around March time, having popped them into a pot of compost as soon as I got them. Harvested this last weekend and I am very pleased with them. These are the 'eaters' - you can see they are a decent size. The others have been strung up to dry and they'll go back in as growers for next year.

A note of caution. Eat the big ones and use the small ones for next year as the small ones grow into a smaller number of larger onions and the large ones grow into a larger number of small of you want to eat larger ones, sow the small ones. And if you can get any of the large ones to flower - for goodness sakes save that seed!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Seed Saving and stuff...

I wouldn't normally mix blogs, it can get confusing - but I am also blogging the 'seeds sown from a seed circle 2012' and the link is here

If you don't know what a seed circle is - Real Seeds invented it - info here

If you do want to participate in one, we have a few on the Grapevine on this board here. Beware - that general seed swapping rules DO apply [and we will remove any posts that don't] however the circles are for anyone to participate in as the seeds are sent to a central person first.

This is a pic of some Dobbie's Purple Beetroot - which I am saving from for me, for friends, for circles and the rest will go to the Heritage Seed Library. The tops of those are about 6 ft tall, and you can see how big the beets themselves are!

We will start a new set of circles next January on the Grapevine - this year's haven't been so good for obvious reasons, all the more reason to plan to save your seeds so that in the event of failures, other people may have seeds that you want that you can swap with - plus the seeds evolve as our ever changing climate does.

My main aim is to save from the best 10% of any open pollinated crop - whilst selecting for the things that I want.

So in leeks, the LAST 10% to bolt - in tomatoes, the first 10% to crop.

If you want a link to some decent seed saving guidelines - well, you could do worse than one written for schools, which I helped write and take photos for. Linkie is here. Enjoy!

August update

So far, with this year being so rubbish, I am just going to be Statto - rather than too emotional about these seeds. So here goes...successes so far in yellow font.
Achocha Lady’s Slipper (cyclanthera pedata)
I sowed these at one of my schools, and nada. They way well have come up and been slugged but I got nothing. 
Babington Leek (allium ampeloprasum babingtonii)
These were on my hugelkultur bed but due to a problem with one of the paths, may have got trampled on when we were redoing the path - but they are tough little things so might well grow back again.
Stamme onions
These are growing under the Gertrude Franck bed
Egyptian Walking onion Catawissa allium cepa proliferum
A success, they have walked already on my Hugelkultur bed. 
Broad Beans
Unknown Variety
Will be sown for an overwinter crop in about Sept
French Beans
Major Cooke 
Bonne Bouche
Cherokee Trail of Tears
Madeira Maroon
Swedish One Dot
I sowed the dwarfs in the GF bed, but of course, they got slugged but some recovered so perhaps we might get some beans from some of them. The climbers I've cancelled for 2012 due to the fact that 99% of the ones I put out were slugged and I just didn't want to chance any more failures. Will save the rest for 2013.
Runner beans
Mrs Connell’s Black 
Mark is growing these and - although they looked pitiful for ages, have now got flowers and small beans growing. At last!
Painted Mountain
As far as I know, still growing strong at school.
Quillquiña = Bolivian Coriander
Turkish Rocket (Bunias orientalis).
Flat Leaved Parsley
I sowed some of these in the GF bed and some have come up whereas others haven't. What a rubbish year to try this little experiment!
Sorrel Belleville
These seeds are growing happily
Siberian Kale
Nero di Toscana aka Black Kale 
Not sown yet. 
Grandpa Admire’s
Pommee Brune d’Hiver
Sown a fair amount and am having lovely salads from them. Success!
Avon Resistor 
Sown in GF bed and growing well.  As seen on this photo next to some Long Red Florence onions. 

Peas and Mangetout
Golden Sweet mangetout 
King Tut/Pran’s Pea 
Magnum Bonum
Salmon-Flowered Pea 
Skånsk Märgärt
Stephen’s Pea 
Suttons Purple Podded 
Golden Sweet, King Tut's, Purple Podded and Magnum Bonum all sown, grown and being eaten if not already all harvested. The rest, either a late crop, an overwinter one or next spring.
Pepper, Chilli
Alberto’s Locoto, a Rocoto pepper
Chilli de Cayenne 
Small Unnamed Chilli 
Anaheim Chilli
Pepper, Sweet
Napier Pointy Red 
All sown, and growing well. Some may end up at Garden Organic's Chilli Day as they were grown at one of my schools and are being 'sold' [free but a donation to the fund would be good] to support that school's seed purchase for next year.
Hungarian Zucchini
Georgia Candy Rooster Squash 
Waltham - butter nut squash
Zapallito Squash 
Hmm.....I am rather tender about squashes at the moment as nearly each one was mullered as soon as it was out by the slugs. I've lost about 100 plants. And where the plants have grown, I have pathetic specimens or the fruits have been mullered. As shown by the trails of slime in the photos. I'm this close to ripping the lot out as seeing this each day is more than a little deflating. 

Alpatieva 905A
Beijing Yellow
Dwarf Mr Snow  
Early Tanana
Green Bell Pepper
He-man rootstock,
Korol Rannikh  
Michael Pollan
Monkeys Ass
Plumpton King
Prairie Fire 
Yellow Out Red In
Red Pear
Slovienian Black
Tasmanian Chocolate Dwarf
T.C. Jones 
Vova Yellow 
All sown and grown. I have hopefully got one of each myself, and when I went to the plot yesterday - even though the potatoes has blight a week ago, none of the toms have so I'll keep calm, carry on and harvest what I can. Harvests so far, a few Koraliks and one Nova/Vova yellow. I must check out it's real name! No Monkey's Ass yet - but I have high hopes. All the others are here, there, everywhere and are being grown by schools, chums and swappers. I took a fair few to the Nottingham Organic Gardener's Plant Swap and given loads to my contacts all around.
True Potato Seed
Blue Belle TPS      
Not sown this year as I have a large tray of TSP from our own Potato Breeding Project in my greenhouse. Thank goodness I kept it there as my 2 lottie neighbours have lost all theirs due to [yes] blight. 
Spring Cabbage Durham Early
Nope, can't remember if I sowed these or not. Doylem!  I'm thinking not if I have no recollection.
Tzimbalo Solanum Caripense
Sown and grown, I have one at the plot that has flowered. It's not very big but it's been a rubbish year so I can't blame it. I gave one to a chum and she has it in her new polytunnel so you never know, she might get a decent crop.
Sweet Peas [mainly pink]
I thought I HAD sown these, and put them in a different place to my Cupanis but they have come out looking exactly like the Cupanis -  so somewhere along the line...someone has mucked up. Probably me of course!
Helianthus Sungold
I didn't sow these as - by the spring - I had hundreds of sunflowers all germinating in the soil direct. But come the slug onslaught, I have only 2 growing. So maybe I should have sown these - who knows? Next year. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

So, when I got back from my holiday...

In no particular order:

The inside of the Gertrude Franck bed - under the enviromesh things are cooking well, 

 Up - beetroot with some weeds which will be removed this weekend - just slipped the camera under for a quick shot. Down - Some parsnips amongst Long Red Florence onions. Wahoo!

From outside the mesh - looking good in there

 Some potato onions - all looking ready to harvest. I have 3 varieties and this is just 3 of the bunches. Looks like a fun packed potato onion weekend ahead. These are in a Hugelkultur bed and have a spot of Allium Leaf Miner so I might remove them all and once checked over, grow under netting next year.

 This is pretty much what I found on most cucurbits - bad slug damage including trails just to set me off on one. Little ****ers.

And the Hugelkultur bed; looking exceptionally healthy, those are 2 tomato plants in the nearside area - just left to their own devices once planted out. Next year, it will be just self sown toms only - sort of...I'm just going to sprinkle seeds over the bed and leave them to germinate when they are good and ready. They usually catch up ok. 

And to the Beetroot - this is Dobbie's Purple from a packet I got from the HSL people, which was due to be chucked as it was in the 'old stash' - so more than 10 years old. It grew well, so well that I decided to save from it and my lottie neighbour cadged one off me and is also saving it. I'll strip it with enough for me and several seed circles and give the rest back to the HSL. The tops of those stalks are over 6ft. So you can see how big the beets actually get. HOOGE!

And the Chokeberry - Aronia. Bought from a little nursery in between Oxford and Banbury for a knock down price, mine finally turned red this week. Haven't tried it yet.

Without photos - I have harvested some tomatoes, beetroot, more rasps and even though the potatoes got blight last week, the Heritage tomatoes haven't. Some are looking a little 'worse for wear' in the 'water and food' stakes but as I've seen any dodgy looking leaves, they have been quietly and calmly removed and disposed of without a fuss. So if we keep schtum then they may never know. You haven't seen me, blight?

Monday, 30 July 2012


Just for reference. If anyone knows where walnuts are growing in east mids uk, I know a lady who would want to know. Unfortunately this one, in France, is a little too far to go.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


I am prepping for a summer school day for some of my teachers. They will all get a tray of Wintry salads to take away. I'm hoping these dry before the neighbours see and think I've lost it

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Gertrude Franck Bed - first harvests.

Don't get too excited!

Picture is of the crimson clover in the GF bed, it's such a beautiful flower I can't resist!

However - my two harvests are....

One full sized frilly Lollo Rossa lettuce - and one decent sized beetroot.


And the peas and beans sown last week are through - so if the sun does indeed decide to poke it's fussy little head up then they should kick on fairly rapidly.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Shaving your leeks

To grow your own leek bulbils

Let your leek set seed

When the pointy cap falls off and the leek flower is out, take a pair of secateurs and give it a haircut

Steps shown in picture form

What happens is that the leek will throw out little bulbils which you can use the same way that we use onion sets for leeks next spring

Hat nearly off 

Hat off and flowers set free

Start shaving those flowers off 

Scalped. The bulbils will grow from the bottom of the flower stems and the remaining stems will die back. Pics of the bulbils to follow...