Sow & Grow: April

I've been reading the Grow your own fruit and veg magazine for a while now as part of my Readly subscription, and I find it a great read. It is one of those magazines that comes out really early - for example the May magazine is already out, and I find that confusing because I never know if they mean the real month or the magazine world month. I'm hoping it's the real month or otherwise all of my veg sowing could be a little out, but I digress.

They have a feature every month on the month's crops to sow and harvest, which I find a useful checklist as to what I probably should be doing veg-wise, and so I thought I'd share where I am against this guide on a monthly basis. I'd been contemplating a new Sow & Grow series of posts so it all seems to work together. 

So let's catch up with April's advice, as I've finally got around to getting started with my seeds. My garden is north facing, and so it takes the greenhouse a while to get the sun, which is always my excuse for starting later than I plan to (every year!).

ONIONS GALORE, AND ALMOST TIME (AGAIN) FOR NEW GLOVES

ONIONS GALORE, AND ALMOST TIME (AGAIN) FOR NEW GLOVES

Sow

  • Aubergines: I'm not growing aubergines this year, and haven't for a while. I grew them many years ago with mixed success, and while they were pretty plants there weren't too many good sized aubergines on them.
  • Brussels sprouts: I'm tempted to give these a go, and am pleased I'm not too late to get them started - well I've a few days left of this month!
  • Broad beans: Yay!  Mine are sown and I'm waiting for them to do their thing. To give them a head start I soaked my bean seeds for thirty minutes or so before planting which helps break down the shell around the seed, and I like to think gives them a head start.
  • Cabbages: Goodness, I'm not sure I've picked the last ones yet, actually I should check on those red cabbages on the plot again soon.  I will grow some, but I need to find some space first.
  • Carrots: I'd love to grow some of those baby carrots, but I think it's probably worth waiting until we have improved the soil at the allotment. It's currently so full of stones that I'd be the sure winner of the funniest shaped vegetable. I do have a tyre, which I could grow some in so maybe I'll try that.
  • Celeriac: We gave these a go last year, but didn't have much success. We managed to grow a ball of roots, and I think they suffered from the soil conditions too.  Maybe I should grow a couple of these in my tyre instead?
  • Celery: Maybe one day, but not this year!
  • Chillies: Something else I planted at the weekend. I've a tray of chillies sown ranging from Chocolate Habanero, through to Aji Lemon to more normal Jalapenos, and a free packet of seeds from Seeds of Change which we picked up at Taste London in the autumn.
  • Cucumbers: I've six of these planted too in small pots. This year I've got two varieties sown, a couple of seeds left over from last year and a new mini-variety which I've not grown before, but which promises to be a prolific cropper.
  • Florence fennel:  I think I'll give these a go, I've found some old seed - I'm not sure how old, or how active they are, so I will try some of them on a damp kitchen towel to see if there's a chance they'll germinate.  
  • Herbs: I've some chervil, garlic chives, basil, coriander, vervaine and tarragon on the go and I'm hoping I'll be able to use some of these in the new herb planter I've got planned, more on that soon though.
  • Kohl rabi: No, I'm never going to grow this vegetable, I ate it once and really didn't like it. It's a no, no, no, from me.
  • Peas: Yes, I'm planning on some peas so I'd better get cracking. I like to grow a pot for pea shoots for salads too and if I'm honest usually have more success with these.
  • Potatoes:  Well they're chitting and as I said earlier in the week they appear to be taking over...
  • Salad leaves:  I haven't any planted yet, and must remember to do succession sowing. I'd love to grow lettuces in lines, but in reality I'm quite often a cut and come again kind of salad girl.
  • Shallots:  I've sixteen of these on the go too, the fancy French-type which I like a lot roasted. In fact I like these any which way, maybe I should have got some more.
  • Sprouting broccoli: Goodness, this is up there with the cabbages although I had less success with my own plants last year. I'm definitely growing this again, and will be getting this started soon. It was the first plant we planted on the allotment in our first year, and probably my favourite vegetable (or one of them anyway)
  • Sweet peppers: I had some success with bought plants previously, but these aren't on my growing list this year.
  • Tomatoes: Yes, yes, yes. The tomato farm is swinging back into action and these are by far and away my favourite plant to grow. This year instead of over-sowing I've tried to restrain myself sowing two seeds to a module. Even taking this restrained approach I've still two seed trays full and more varieties I've not sown yet. This year I'm growing a couple of my favourite varieties again for the first time since we've had the allotment, so I'm looking forward to plenty of Tigerellas and San Marzanos.
  • Turnips: I'm going to grow these again, but little and often. I had some success with these last year but failed to harvest them all so the last of them rotted in the plot. Must remember to avoid that this year. 
TURNIPS IN 2016

TURNIPS IN 2016

Plant

  • Asparagus: Erm no, I love to eat it, but I think I'll leave the growing to the professionals. I think there's something special about buying the local grown asparagus on our Norfolk visits, it really is way superior to the imported stuff.
  • Blackberries: I'd like to grow these, and now have the plastic-covered wire fence that I could grow these up on the plot, but I think it might be one for next year, when I hope we're a bit more organised on the plot.
  • Blueberries: I have a plant in my greenhouse, which has come on leaps and bounds (see the picture below), it's even flowering this year and I'm hopeful we might have a handful of berries this year.
  • Gooseberries: This is on my list and I may be inheriting a bush. I have reservations, well, because I've heard about gooseberry bushes... Seriously though it's not a fruit I buy, but I think having grown it ourselves will make all the difference. I don't think I've had gooseberries since school dinners, and surely they'd have to be better than that...
  • Onions: Tick. I've got onions on the go, although I do need to plant them out.
  • Pears: We've a pear tree in our garden, I've no plans to add to this. We've not had much success with fruits from our tree though, but I think that's because we don't prune it correctly; the squirrels though have great fun with the pears and leave them half-eaten all over the garden.
  • Raspberries: We have some raspberry canes on the allotment and for the first time I think we've got the pruning right. These were one of the highlights when we finally checked in with the allotment this year.
  • Strawberries: I've another trough-full of strawberry plants from the garden to plant out over at the allotment, so this is something to add to the growing to do list. Some of them are already in flower, which surprised me, but that's a good thing I guess.  And it may mean some funny shaped strawberries if I leave it too long before I plant them out!
WILL THIS YEAR BE THE FIRST YEAR IT FRUITS?

WILL THIS YEAR BE THE FIRST YEAR IT FRUITS?

Harvest

  • Cauliflowers: I've none left to harvest. I grew four plants last year, one got decapitated by foxes, the other failed and I picked two. So not a bad result as two were weaker seedlings. But mine have all gone.
  • Endive:  I didn't grow any, and this is on the maybe list for when the plot's established.
  • Kale: I've picked what was left of mine already - it was slightly on the miniature size and very much enjoyed on our plate.
  • Rhubarb: Something I can grow. I need to get back over to the allotment and pick some. We've a disagreement here about rhubarb, I think it's perfectly acceptable at breakfast with greek yogurt and granola, but MOH disagrees. It's ok isn't it?
  • Salad leaves: Nothing to pick here, but I wish there was...
  • Spring onions: Hmmn, another one I struggle with. They should be so easy, but somehow it never seems to be. So I've none to harvest. Again.
  • Swiss chard: We do still have some on the allotment, but it was shoved into a corner and so hasn't been treated that well. But it's a hardy plant and I'll be cutting some more, MOH isn't a big chard fan, but I'm sure I'll be able to sneak some into meals at some point.
RHUBARB - AND GRASS - ANYONE?

RHUBARB - AND GRASS - ANYONE?

It's quite a long list isn't it?  But an interesting one and one that'll help focus my efforts i think. I'll be back with May's Sow & Grow in a couple of weeks, and maybe, just maybe, I'll get somewhere close to aligning with what I'm supposed to be doing!

How did you fare against the list? 

Planning our plot

So far this year I haven't purchased any seeds. I probably should have by now I suspect. But all is not lost.

Well I don't think so anyway as this year my gardening bug is showing signs of appearing earlier than normal though, so I think it bodes well - last year it didn't start to twitch until early March.

What I have done though is sat down and started to plan where things might go. From that, I hope I'll have a concentrated seed spend. 

plans

Despite plenty of digging only part of our plot is functional; that's the large band at the bottom of my plan above - which currently is hosting the purple sprouting broccoli, some cabbages, a single cavolo nero, onions, garlic, some optimistic potatoes and some more promising broad beans.

We've already planted lavender, sage and mint (in a pot) at the far end of our plot, along with the pink flowering plant which we split into three. As they grow they'll start to form a plant border to stop the foxes running through the crops that we've planted.

The other section that's almost functional is the section just in front of the new compost bins, where we moved the small apple tree to last October. As you can see from the artichoke picture below, the grass has grown back in that section...

BROAD BEANS

BROAD BEANS

ARTICHOKES, ERM IN GRASS...

ARTICHOKES, ERM IN GRASS...

My plan

  • I'm hoping that once the onions and garlic are done I can replace them with my usual "farm" of tomatoes.
  • Where the purple sprouting broccoli is, I'm planning to plant a row of rosemary cuttings I've cultivated from the large plant I have in my garden.
  • In the middle right-hand section, as a border I plan to plant some chrysanthemums from my dad's garden, but I'll need to clear some space for those - as well as dig over the rest of that section.
  • I want to use the far side of the middle left-hand section for my beans this year. This may be a tad too optimistic as there's some large branches from who knows where there, and a grassy mound from some of our first digging attempts there. In its favour there is a metal "goal post" in place which will be ideal for the beans. And to hang some bunting from if I get my act together.
  • The plan for the bed in front of the new compost bins is for plants we won't need to move. The small apple tree is already there, so are the artichokes. I've got some more strawberries and some rhubarb to move over there once we've re-dug this whole section.

For now, I think that's enough. 

What I'll grow

This year I want to grow: tomatoes (of course!), sweetcorn, enough salad to keep us in lettuce, spring onions, pumpkins, spinach and potatoes. I want to grow some flowers too and last September at the Geffrye Museum I left with seeds for Nasturtium and Heartsease - I love their alternative name of Love-in-idleness! 

I've also got some Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) seeds which I plan to grow to attract the bees over to my plot. The flowers are supposed to look like poached eggs, but I'm guessing not so good on toast...

GEFFRYE SEEDS

GEFFRYE SEEDS

Fox-like visitors

On our last visit to the plot we checked, as we always do the state of the compost bins. The old ones hadn't got any worse and it seems the foxes hadn't been in them again. Good we thought, that was until we saw the new compost bins. 

The foxes it seems have found the new compost bins and have had great fun gnawing and ripping out the cardboard I'd stuffed down the gaps in the pallets.  So when I visit next with some time to do some work, my job will be to try to beat the wildlife again. And clear up the mess they've made, if the wind hasn't distributed the cardboard stuffing too far and wide! 

I'd thought the foxes had given up with our plot and moved elsewhere. I think they've sensed (or smelt) we've not been around much and so our plot has once again become their playground. I've made a mental note to walk around the plot more often next winter just to discourage them. I hope just being there will dissuade them...

OLD - AND BROKEN - COMPOST BINS

OLD - AND BROKEN - COMPOST BINS

WHAT THE NEW COMPOST BINS SHOULD LOOK LIKE

WHAT THE NEW COMPOST BINS SHOULD LOOK LIKE

So that's the start of my gardening bug re-awakening. I know with my north-facing garden I can have a slower start than some of you, but this year I think that'll leave some time to get ahead on the digging. 

Have you started to plan what you'll grow this year yet?

You can't beat a good book...

I think that statement is true at any time of the year, but at Christmas I think it's especially so. For me Christmas Day wouldn't be complete without some time in the afternoon with my nose in a new book. Thankfully my family know this (and don't mind!) and this Christmas I had a few books to choose from.  

So for this month's Papery Peep, I thought I'd share those.  

WhereChefsEat.jpg

1. Where Chefs Eat

First up is a guide to restaurants in and out of London and yes, its USP is that the restaurants have been recommended by chefs. It's a good reference book, but of course is subjective as while restaurants strive for the same level of service each night, at times it does differ, hopefully not too much though.

I thought I'd check to see what it said about Polpo, a favourite of ours and a relative of Polpette which we ducked into when the crowds at Lumiere London got too much.  

Polpo is recommended by Marcus Eaves, Shaun Hill and Bryn Williams, and while you may not immediately recognise any of these names (sorry boys!) they are responsible for restaurants such as Pied à Terre,  The Walnut Tree Inn and Odette's as well as appearances on Great British Chefs and Saturday Kitchen. 

FabricFlowers.jpg

Marcus says "I'm a massive fan of this place and its emphasis on simply great food in a chilled-out, stripped-back environment. Polpo opened in 2009 and it's still one of the hottest tables in London" - I definitely agree with him there. 

2. 20 Fabric Flowers in the Twenty to Make series

A change in genre for my next book 20 Fabric Flowers in the Twenty to Make series. In the past few months I've grown to love textile flowers, incorporating them on my new woolly scarf and on gift tags at Christmas.

I was looking to buy myself one to pin onto my flower-less clothes, when I realised I could probably make my own, so this book was an inspired choice. 

I've not progressed past flicking through the images yet, but the year is young!  And I suspect that once I start and find a design that I like I'll be blooming all over...

3. A colouring book!

Yes finally I've joined the colouring revolution and I'm looking forward to not going over the lines on these gorgeous animals... 

adultcolouringbook.jpg
elephant.jpg

4. A year of good eating

But the real jewel for me this Christmas was the latest Nigel Slater diary-style book. This one is the one I struggled to take my nose out of, even for a turkey sandwich and a slice of Christmas cake.

It's as good as both of his previous Kitchen Diaries and while I am a huge Nigel fan (you may have guessed) I'd recommend this book to anyone that likes food.  

I'm only up to June 8th, but it's a good year already.

I don't know about you but with these types of books I always check what's in the entry for my birthday. In this book there's Rose and almond shortbread on that day, which is most acceptable.

Well done Nigel!  

Now I wonder if he'll pop over and cook it for me...

NigelSlaterAYearofGoodEating

 

So there's a roundup of the paper in my life from the past month, what about in yours?