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Showing posts from January, 2013

Tippety Top Daffy Down Dillys

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Regular Veg Plotting readers know I'm rather partial to a bunch of Cornish daffodils at this time of the year. I find January and February really hard going, so they're one of the ways I ensure there's some sunshine around no matter what the weather's doing outside.

I've been uneasy about the daffodils for sale nowadays as they're displayed in boxes rather than the vases of water they'd been in previously. The shops concerned have tried to reassure me everything's OK, but I've had my doubts a) because the flowers don't seem to last as long in the vase as they used to and b) the flowers on sale quite often are showing a touch of yellow, rather than remaining tightly in bud.

One of the great things that's happened since the flower farmer day 2 weeks ago, is they're having a regular forum on Monday evenings between 8 and 9pm on Twitter. I'll miss most of these as I'm at choir, but this week I was able to join in:
Question for #br…

Seed Tin Giveaway 2013

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I've been having a bit of a sort through my seed tin and have plenty of in date packets of seeds which I know I won't be able to use this year. So, I'm having a giveaway here on Veg Plotting to find some good homes for them - always a popular move :)

All you need to do is look at the lists below and tell me if any of them take your fancy. Please restrict your choices to a maximum of 5 packets, so plenty of readers have a chance of bagging something they'd like. Let me know in the Comments below what you have your eye on - this will give everyone an early warning of what's been grabbed already.

Then, email me at vegplotting at gmail dot com with your name, address and choices. Note: when I have your email I'll allocate your seeds to you and not before. I've had seeds reserved via the Comments in previous years by people who've then not proved contactable and I'd like these packets to go to those who really want them. Sorry, this is only open to UK r…

Book Review: The Wild Things

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Last Monday saw the start of a new plant-related series on Channel 4 called Wild Things. I haven't yet caught up with my recording of it, but in the meantime I've been thoroughly enjoying the accompanying book tie-in :)

The programme and book are looking at the changes found between 2 major botanical surveys of the British Isles conducted in 1962 and 2002 respectively. The 1962 survey resulted in the first ever Atlas of the British Flora, a collection of plant distribution maps which meticulously documented over 7,000 plant species and where they were found. As a result of these maps, a modern version of the research discipline biogeography was born.

The second survey, using the same methodology* has enabled botanists to see how our plant populations have changed in the last 40-50 years. Naturally, there are winners and losers and its the colourful stories about some of these which Wild Things brings to life.

For instance, many of us are aware of the threat to our native blue…

Salad Days 2013: Propagated Peas

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Last year I grew pea shoots for the first time. Lots of them. I found a small tray of thickly sown peas (either sourced from shop bought or the remains of a seed packet) were sufficient to form the 'base layer' with added sprouted seeds and microgreens to make a hearty salad for two.

I see from last year's notes it can take up to 6 weeks for the pea shoots to crop during the darkest months. Later sown crops steadily grow just that little bit faster week by week, until growing them takes around four weeks in March. I was therefore keen to explore if growth time could be speeded up in some way.

We spotted during last year's 52 Week Salad Challengethat a sharper cold spell could check indoor growth almost completely for a while. Temperatures can still fall quite sharply at night behind the curtains, even when the windows are double glazed.

I had a bit of a 'light bulb' moment over the Christmas holidays and decided to press my new propagator into service to see…

Wordless Wednesday: Peek-a-boo

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Of Beetroot, Experiments and Damping Off

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This post is for Bren, to reassure her that I haven't forgotten my promise to her to write about my experiments with growing beetroot for leaves during the winter...

...I speculated last year that seeing my autumn-sown leaves were doing so well - despite the frost - that maybe winter-sown ones might perform in a similar way to the previous successes I've had with pea shoots. Alys Fowler thought they wouldn't - when I asked her here - but I resolved to try a little experimentation for myself anyway.

Armed with a fresh packet of 'Bull's Blood' seeds and a sparkling new propagator, I set to on 3rd January and made a thick sowing onto some seed compost. I covered them, then watered sparingly with a mist sprayer, added the propagator lid and left them on our bedroom windowsill to go about their business. As you can see, germination went well and I soon had lots of bright stems and leaves at the microgreen stage.

However, it's been a different story the past few…

Product Review: Everyday Bird Seed

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This is the second (and final) post in the run up to this year's RSPB Garden Birdwatch (26-27th January) where I'm reviewing relevant products which you may find useful.

The birds are going mad on the feeders at the moment. It's not surprising after Friday's snow! So it's a 'thumbs up' (so to speak) from them for the Everyday bird food I'm trialling from Nottcutts. As you can see from the above picture, it's pretty similar to other bird feed mixes available on the market.

The main ingredient is wheat, followed by the black sunflower seeds, then kibbled maize, red dari (the commercial name for sorghum apparently) and white millet (reminds me of feeding my pet budgie when I was little). Vegetable oil's been added to get the calorific value up to 404 per 100g.

To be honest the birds are going for the peanut or sunflower seed only feeders first, then turning their attention to the mixed seed ones. At particularly busy times then everything on offer…

Silent Saturday :)

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Everything in the Garden is Lovely

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There's often a debate raging on whether 'gardens are art'. With the latest exhibition at Pound Arts in Corsham we now have 'art as gardens'.

The photographs I took on Monday night don't really do this exhibition justice. Judging by the excited reaction from my fellow choir members, I'd say it's a must see. Catch it if you can from now until February 23rd.

There'll be more from the bees in the next Muse Day :)

Update: Here's the promised closer look at those Subversive Bees :)

A Quiet Revolution - With Flowers

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According to the biodynamic calendar, Monday was a 'flower' day *. It also happened to be the chosen date for the first ever gathering of flower farmers, so it was an apt, definitely auspicious choice.

I'm not a flower farmer, but having followed Georgie on Twitter, read her blog and happily sported a corsage or three of hers, I was keen to find out more about this side of the horticultural trade. It seems to me we've been having a quiet revolution over the past year or two, where many people have spotted the threat of imported flowers can actually be turned into an opportunity**.

The UK's flower industry is worth a whopping 2 billion pounds a year. It isn't all petrol forecourt and supermarket flowers either***. How about some scented, floral confetti for your wedding? It's a memorable way to get around the ban many churches have imposed on the paper version. Or how about some Pick Your Own flowers alongside those strawberries? I was struck by the many in…

GBBD: Orchids

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One of my unexpected challenges for 2013 is looking after some orchids. This one - a Cymbidium - arrived just before Christmas and is brightening up our lounge. You may remember I also received an unexpected gift of a moth orchid on leap day last year :)

The main challenge for me will be how to make them flower again. According to the RHS's cultivation notes,  the Cymbidium's flowering is initiated during the summer months and is helped by having a distinct difference in day and night time temperatures. It also says the temperature should be kept below 590F, which could be tricky even in our climate. However, I'm up for giving it a go and will start by cutting the pictured flowering spike down to its base when the flowers have faded in a few weeks time.

The moth orchid requires slightly different treatment. When the flowers faded last year, I cut the flowering stalk back to just above the second node (joint) beneath the spent flowers. Mine hasn't developed the expect…

VPGGB: Sarah Raven Discount Coupon

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It's time for leafing through gardening catalogues, dreaming of how the garden or plot will look this year, and then placing orders for lots of seeds, bulbs and plants.

So I'm pleased to announce Sarah Raven is offering Veg Plotting readers a 10% discount off the spanking new catalogue from now until the end of January :)

Go to the website, place your order and then add the magic VP10JAN code to the Apply Coupon area shown on your Shopping Basket's page. You'll find this below your selection of goodies, to the left of the Proceed to Checkout button.

NB This offer is only available for online orders.

VPGGB = VP's Guide to Gardening Bargains :)

Update 18th Jan - it seems code isn't working. I've reported it and will let you know when it's fixed. Update - it's fixed - in less than 15 mins :)

Book Review: Birdsong

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It's the annual RSPB Garden Birdwatch at the end of the month (26-27th January 2013), so in the run up to that time, I'm reviewing a couple of relevant products I've received which may help you with your efforts this year.

First up is Birdsong, a lavish coffee table sized book, which features 150 British and Irish birds. Its USP is the incorporation of a speaker, so that the reader can also hear the bird they're looking at. This means the guide can be used for identification on two levels. I quite often hear many more birds in my garden (such as a very talkative yellowhammer) than those on view, so I was intrigued to see how well this book would help with my identification skills (NB not that this would help with the RSPB birdwatch itself as you only record birds which are seen and not necessarily heard).

The contents are mainly divided into bird groupings as you'd usually expect e.g. wildfowl, waders, owls etc. These are prefaced with a brief introduction to bird…

OOTS: Streets Poised To Go Edible

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It looks like many more of our streets will be displaying some Travellers' Salad this year courtesy of the RHS's 'Edible Britain' scheme :)

As part of this year's Britain in Bloom programme, ‘Edible Britain' will see community gardening groups creating 2,000 herb and vegetable patches in public spaces around Britain from 8th to 14th April.

RHS registered community gardening groups (currently around 3,000 of them), can apply for free edible-plant seed packets, provided by the RHS. These include chives, dill, parsley, carrots, coriander, spring onions and red frills mustard, as well as edible flowers such as nasturtiums and marigolds. I think it's a grand idea, but sadly the seeds will only be distributed to around two thirds of the gardening groups - wouldn't it be great if all of them got something?

Anybody can set up or join their nearest group by typing in their postcode into this online map on the RHS website.

In other edible news, I was delighted to…

Wordless Wednesday: Tenacity Required

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Seasonal Recipe: Pea and Ham Soup

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A ham at Christmas is part of the traditional fare in both NAH's and my family, so it's become part of our tradition too. For some reason NAH decided to come home with a smoked gammon joint which weighed nearly 3 kilos. For just the two of us!  So now seemed the appropriate time to make pea and ham soup using the stock obtained when I boiled the ham for our Sunday dinner.

The key to usable stock is to soak the ham for 24 hours with plenty of changes of water along the way (to reduce the salt - this won't affect the flavour of the cooked ham) and to not use cola (as advocated by Nigella I believe) instead of water for the final change of liquid and cooking. If you're still worried about salt levels, you could always use chicken or turkey stock or a low-sodium stock cube instead.

I've used a mixture of half and half split peas to frozen peas for the pea portion of the soup to keep costs down and to help give the final result the green colour my mental image of it d…

Product Review: Fair Trade Coir Compost

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I've been trialling some Fair Trade coir compost lately to see how it performs. As you can see it's different to most other growing media because it comes in a block and needs to be added to water before it can be used. This is quite easy buts needs some thought beforehand.

The block is a bit larger than a house brick and looks a little like a large chocolate brownie when it comes out of its wrapper. This has clear instructions, though if you lose it you'll need to go onto the sales website if you've forgotten what needs to be done.

According to the website the block weighs around 650g - mine was just over 800g. About 6 litres of water is needed to reconstitute the coir to yield approximately 9 litres of compost. The instructions say this can take up to 24 hours, but I found by using tepid water and vigorous stirring from time to time, it can be done in around an hour. The key is to ensure the compost is evenly wetted through before using.

I used the coir as it is to po…

Your Year in Salads

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Quite a few of you have said you'd like to join in with the 52 Week Salad Challenge this year, so I've put together a guide today to help you get started and keep growing based on what we learnt during 2012. You may also like to look at last year's kick-off post. You'll see the Challenge is about growing salad leaves, what else accompanies them is up to you.

This post is designed to help get you started no matter what time of year or season it is where you are. Just find the relevant place in Step 3 and keep going!

Step 1: Define Your Boundaries

Decide what the Challenge means to you. It could simply be to grow something for every week this year, just  like I did. Or it could be to increase your crops (production and/or variety), or to try some new flavours or techniques. It's entirely up to you.Identify where you're going to grow your salad through the year. We've proven salads can be grown year-round in the smallest of spaces, so anyone can join in. Settin…

GBMD: Janus

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Image of beauty, when I gaze on thee,
Trembling I waken to a mystery,
How through one door we go to life or death
By spirit kindled or the sensual breath.

Image of beauty, when my way I go;
No single joy or sorrow do I know:
Elate for freedom leaps the starry power,
The life which passes mourns its wasted hour.

And, ah, to think how thin the veil that lies
Between the pain of hell and paradise!
Where the cool grass my aching head embowers
God sings the lovely carol of the flowers.

Janus by George William Russell (1867-1935)

Janus, the Roman god whose name gives us the month of January, presided over beginnings, transitions and doorways and is pictured as a two-faced god, always looking backwards and forwards.

It's traditional at this time of the year to reflect on the previous one and make resolutions for the future, which fits in well with Janus. I've been complying with this tradition over the past few days but after waking to this morning's optimistic sunshine and blue washed …