Tuesday 29 March 2011

First Time Growers

In the past couple of weeks a few people, who would like to start growing vegetables, have asked me which are the easiest to grow, so I thought I would write a post with some tips for first time growers. But before I do, I should point out that I have only been growing my own since I started writing this blog. I have picked up a lot of tips along the way from family, friends, neighbours, other gardeners and other bloggers and I have learned a lot through trial and error. However, I have a lot more to learn and I am by no means an expert - much more a novice with a few tips you might find useful.

1) Only grow what you enjoy eating. You will put more time and effort into a crop that you actually want to eat.

2) Speak to your neighbours. They will have the same soil type as you and if they have grown vegetables before they will be able to advise you on varieties that have done well in their garden. Not only is our neighbour a good source of advice, but having discovered that we both like growing vegetables, we have on a number of occasions shared our surplus seedlings.

3) Be realistic about how much time you will have to spend in your garden. Last year in spring, pregnant with Garden Lass, I happily sowed hundreds of seeds and filled our garden with a multitude of vegetables, only to neglect them when Garden Lass made an appearance. We didn't pot things on in time, we forgot to harden plants off before moving them outside, we went days without watering the poor things and we left the pests pretty much to make themselves at home. As a result there were many times when growing our own felt like a chore rather than a hobby.

4) Choose varieties that suit the size of your plot. For a lot of vegetables their are varieties that will do well in pots or dwarf varieties that suit smaller spaces. Collect some seed catalogues and look at how big the plant will grow and how much space you will need to leave between each plant before deciding if you want to grow it.

5) If you want to get your children involved sow some quick growers so they will really get to see the results. Lettuce and cress grow quickly and even if these are not your favoured crops it is worth sowing a a couple of pots to keep the children interested. Also with children choose vegetables they will get excited about such as growing their own pumpkin to carve at halloween and their own Brussells Sprouts to eat at Christmas.

6) Herbs are expensive to buy fresh and once you have grown a pot full you can harvest them on a cut and come again basis eg basil, coriander. Perennial herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, mint and chives are very easy so grow. You can buy small plants quite cheaply and they will quickly grow, providing you with fresh herbs year in year out with very little effort and attention.

7) Don't spend a fortune buying plant pots - you can sow seeds in toilet rolls, or punch a few holes in the bottom of yoghurt pots. Most garden centres also let people leave their used plant pots outside for other people to take away so you can always pick up a few extra pots this way.

8) Do remove pests as soon as you spot them - slugs and snails should just be removed and black fly should be sprayed with soapy water. 

9) In general courgettes and squash are easy to grow and crop well. Runner Beans are also very good croppers and require little attention. Beetroot, Curly Kale, spring onions and Brussells Sprouts have always been successful in our garden. If you are growing potatoes you will get a better crop in the ground, but harvesting is far easier in a bag so if you want things that take little time grow them in a bag.

10) Have fun and if something doesn't grow well don't assume you did something wrong - there are many factors affecting how well something will grow; temperature, soil type, the weather, what is growing near by, pests, the seed variety, the quality of the seed etc. Take it as a challenge and enjoy trying to beat the problem the following year!

And as always, if you have any tips yourself, let me know!

Monday 21 March 2011

A Mushroom

Last year we bought some mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and really wanted to have a go at growing them, so when they arrived we followed all the instructions, shocking them in cold water, then leaving them in a shady, damp part of the garden. But we got no mushrooms.

After months of waiting I re-read the instructions to check that we had done everything right and we had but I also noticed the small print which said that mushrooms were unpredictable and when the mushrooms would grow could not be guaranteed but that they would indeed grow...

... at some point.

And that point has finally arrived. The yo-yoing very cold frosts interspersed with milder, wetter weather must have re-shocked the mushrooms into finally growing and we now have our first mushroom. A triumph if only because we have waited so long for it. I hope it is one of many but I am happy to see at least one growing and it is mine... all mine. I will not let our Little Garden Helpers steal this one from me if I can help it. I will fry it in a little bit of of garlic butter then savour every mouthful!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Keeping a Clean Garden

Grandma and Grandad South visited on today. As well as a delicious cake and flan, they brought soil with them; good quality top soil, to fill in the gaps created when we were raising the lawn and building the final couple of raised beds. We still need a bit more in a couple of the beds but the lawn area is now fully prepared and ready for the grass seed we had intended to sow weeks ago and never quite got around to doing. Although it was probably for the best given that we have had a few frosts since then. Grandad South has even raked it over for us so if I can keep our Little Garden Helpers away from it we should be able to sow the seeds in a couple of weeks. It has been frosty the last few mornings so it is probably better to leave it a little while longer.

With the ground prepared for lawn seed, Grandad South, (with a little bit of help from Garden Dad), added some wood to our kitchen chairs so our Little Garden Helpers can reach the table without kneeling up. Although Garden Girl has been waiting a long time for us to do this she was less than happy when she saw the work in progress. 'Oi! You are making a mess of my garden. Stop that!'  I am pretty certain there was a stamped foot and a scowl to accompany her demand but it is pleasing to know she cares enough about her garden to make sure people treat it well - and sawdust scattered eveywhere will just not do!

I have to admit that, with the extra hands, Garden Girl immediately took on the role of site supervisor and kept everyone in check. She certainly cracked the whip with Grandma South who has done a brilliant job of pulling up newly rooted sycamore trees, once again threatening to grow a forest in our back garden. She was certainly determined to make sure the roots and not just the leaves were removed and made sure Grandma South kept at the task. As a result, a large portion of the raised beds are sycamore and weed free and ready for sowing seeds. I am very very grateful to have been saved some of the weeding.

Garden Boy, started the day off playing at the water table, filling buckets with water and soil to make 'worm concrete'. I am not entirely certain about the uses of worm concrete but he poured bucket loads over the patio so perhaps he was filling in the cracks. He was then thrilled to be able to help sow tomato seeds. He has been excited about sowing tomatoes ever since we started talking about this years planting. He helped me fill the pots with compost, carefully placed each seed and gently covered them with soil and then drowned them in water. To be fair, I think his watering can is a little but too 'fast flow' and mine has a broken rose, so we were relying on the childrens watering cans. I think there will have to be another trip to the garden centre this week.

By the end of the day Garden Boy and myself had sowed 4 types of tomato (Mirabelle Bianche, Tumbling Tom, Gardeners Delight and Tigerella), Telegraph Cucumbers, Curly and Flat-leaved Parsley, Basil, All Year Round Lettuce, Stir-fry Lettuce leaves, Noisette Brussells Sprouts, Hispi Cabbage and Dwarf French Beans. I was then ready to sow some Broad Beans directly into the raised beds before I realised it was five o clock and time to make dinner. Time really does fly when you are having fun. So the Broad Beans will have to wait until tomorrow when we will hopefully also sow some squash and turnip seeds. Then it will be back to weeding for a little while, but at least it does not seem quite as daunting now that someone else has made a start.

Friday 18 March 2011

Onions and Shallots; The Monty Don Way

When Gardeners World appears on our TV screens it is a sure sign that Spring has arrived and work should be taking place in the garden in earnest. I sat down to watch the first episode with a little bit of fear because we hadn't sown a single seed and I felt for sure I would come away from the show feeling I was well behind but Monty Don didn't seem to be too far ahead of us and I came away with a list of useful tips rather than a masssive 'Should Have Already Done' List. And the first tip I have put into action is to plant our onion and shallot sets into trays.

We have always planted these straight into their growing position outside but our onions and shallots have never been very successful so I was eager to try something new and perhaps getting a warmer start in the greenhouse is just the thing they need. So in Monday morning Garden Boy, Garden Lass and myself headed off to the Garden centre and bought some Onion Stuttgarter Giant and some Shallot Vigarmor. These are different varieties to ones we have tried before but both are apparently good growers and favoured varieties.

Then when Garden Girl was home from school we headed outside and gave Garden Lass her first lesson in sowing vegetables. While Garden Girl counted out twenty four onion sets, removing a couple of mouldy ones along the way, Garden Lass helped Garden Boy fill a seed tray with compost. She managed to get some of the compost into the tray but large handfuls were also going straight into her mouth. I remember Garden Boy enjoyed the taste of compost but not to quite this extent so in the end I had to distract her with her walker and she happily practiced her walking while Garden Boy finished the job. Then Garden Girl and Garden Boy then pushed the onions and shallots into the compost and I lifted them into the greenhouse where they now sit as a proud indication that we have made a start.

I even managed to pull up some weeds from our patio while our Little Garden Helpers were getting on with the onions and shallots so hopefully I have caught them early enough to prevent the usual forest from appearing out there and I have been left feeling very optimistic for the coming season.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Fences and Steps

At the weekend while the rest of us were cleaning the greenhouse, Garden Dad finished the steps leading to the raised beds and made a gate using a spare fence panel. For the last few weekends, with the help of Garden Girl and Garden Boy, he has worked really hard to get this finished and I am really pleased with the finished fence and steps. Garden Girl and Garden Boy were absolutely thrilled that Garden Dad let them help him drill and saw pieces of wood. They were doing real DIY and can honestly say they properly helped with the work. Garden Girl was also very good at helping Garden Dad measure the correct lengths of wood.

Garden Dad used decking wood to make the steps and placed bricks underneath the weed fabric to give them a solid base. It took some careful measuring and time to make the steps even and the correct size but it was worth it, as the finished steps look really good and very solid and safe. He made the gate open towards the steps so it would also act as something for the children to hold onto as they walk down the steps, something which we had been concerned about when we had originally been planning to put them in. And the children absolutely love the gate. They have already started 'charging' us for the rights to go through the gate. Yesterday Garden Girl demanded twenty pounds toll money for the use of the gate and that was for five minutes stay in the area. Luckily she accepted pretend money!

It will now be much easier for me to take the children outside in the week as I will no longer have to worry about Garden Lass falling off the edge of the lawn and with the dryer, sunnier weather we have been having it has been much more pleasant for Garden Lass to crawl around. In fact, she absolutely loves being outdoors so I am now looking forward to a happy spring spent in the garden.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Spring Clean

Having been out of action in the garden for quite a while with a bad cold it was brilliant to be back outdoors this weekend to see all the progress Garden Dad had made with the fence and steps and to get stuck in myself. And the first task was to get out the bucket and sponges and clean the greenhouse. Last year I was heavily pregnant with Garden Lass so we didn't actually give the greenhouse its annual clean. The build up of what can only be described as 'gooey green gunk' was, as a result, much worse this year. I had to use an old toothbrush to scrape away the worst of it and in addition to this there were quite a number of spiders nests. There were however far fewer weeds than expected on the ground inside the greenhouse, probably because we had been storing chairs, large flower pots and childrens toys in there all winter, acting as ground cover and stopping the weeds from growing.

While I had been weeding and removing 'gunk' from between the windows and the frame, my three little garden helpers were cleaning all their gardening tools and toys. They did a superb job and Garden Lass took great delight in splashing her older brother and sister and picking up all the clean tools to 'inspect' the work and frequently drop them back in the bucket (with a nice big splash) for a further wash. Just around the time this was getting a bit frustrating for Garden Girl and Garden Boy I was ready for them to come and clean the greenhouse and they worked really hard. Garden Lass looked in from the outside, giggling as Garden Girl cleaned the windows in front of her and trying to catch the bubbles dripping down the inside pane, not really understanding why she couldn't get at them.

Everyone was soaking wet when the task was complete and I have to admit it took me far longer to clean up our Little Garden Helpers afterwards than it it took us to clean the greenhouse but we had fun and we now have a clean, empty greenhouse ready for sowing seeds. Its time to get started!

Wednesday 2 March 2011

A First Walk in the Garden

Garden Lass finally made it outdoors for her first walk in the garden this weekend and she didn't waste any time getting stuck in. She practised walking with her push along walker for a little while. I'm a proud Mum so have included a little video here but you will need to turn your head on one side to watch it because I forgot video's couldn't be rotated.

With walking practice over however she soon became intrigued with what everyone else was doing and joined me pulling at weeds. I was pulling them out of the ground and she was pulling them out of the bucket - but the interest was at least there.

 Having observed me tugging at the weeds, she eventually realised I was pulling them out of the soil and standing at the herb bed she copied me and grabbed handfuls of her own. She even managed to get the roots - its just a shame it was the thyme she chose to grab!

All in all though I think she has the makings of an enthusiastic and strong gardener. Lets just hope we get some more dry and sunny days so she can can continue to enjoy herself outdoors.