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A novice's guide to producing his own food

First sign of life!

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Squint at the photo above and you’ll see something which has lifted my spirits no end. Sprouting out of the compost are sweet pea shoots – the first signs of growth for 2013. This means we are coming out the other side of winter, and that a full-time return to the allotment, bees and greenhouse is not far away.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: sweet peas aren’t a veg, but these shoots will eventually be heading down to the allotment once they are bigger (and it is warmer). Last year I tried growing cut flowers for Sue, but they were disappointing. If memory serves, I got one small bunch. This year, I’m going to try sweet peas.  I found a packet stuck to the front of a magazine, and planted them in November. Since then they have been sitting largely ignored (until now!) in the greenhouse.

The sight of some growth got me heading down to the allotment today for the first time in a month  to see how things were getting on. I have been experimenting with growing winter crops for the first time, and most (though not all) seem to be progressing well.

The bed in which onions had been growing in the summer was the first to be cleared last year, so I thought I’d keep the ball rolling and use that space to plant some crops which will be ready to harvest in the spring. I started by planting  winter cabbage, pak choi and lamb’s lettuce seeds straight into half a bed. That quickly turned out to be a failure. As is just about always the case when I sow seeds direct, the weeds took over before the veg itself could grow, and the whole thing was just swamped within weeks.

Much more successful (so far) are the winter onions and garlic. Throwing caution to the wind regarding crop rotation, I planted three types of winter onions in the other half of the onion bed – White, Electric Red and Shenshu, and (in the bed formerly occupied by the courgettes) I planted two types of garlic (Lautrec Wight and Solent Wight). All seem to be doing well, and their delicate green shoots are popping out the ground. If all goes well, the onions and garlic should be ready by May.

Elsewhere, the biggest change has been the digging of a new rhubarb patch. This is located in the last part of the allotment which was uncultivated, and had previously been used to dump weeds and compost. It is just about big enough for six crowns — two each of Victoria, Stockbridge Arrow and Champagne. Of course, this is a long-term investment, and it’ll be 2014 before I’ll be able to harvest any.

The fruit cage has also had a makeover. I’ve ripped out 12 strawberry plants (I hardly got a crop this year), and put in six raspberry canes (Glen Moy). Again it will be two years before I get a harvest.

Next on the agenda is to finish turning over and feeding the soil. However, as it is snowing outside, I’ll need to wait for some better weather. Hopefully, it’ll not be too long….

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