Growing even more this year – chaotic beginnings!

View of a drying green
Aiming to get growing all the way along the back wall this year

It has been a slow start to the gardening year….only managed to get out properly and plant something in the last couple of weekends! And it was, at best, only vaguely thought through…

My aim for the year is to expand my initial bag garden from last year around fourfold – to fill in the narrow space between the drying green and the boundary wall and its towering hedge. You may be glad to know that I am also going to diversify beyond the tatties and add more flowers to the mix. General idea is to see how much I can really grow in this space – without testing the the neighbours’ patience too much, and maybe even drawing them into growing some food themselves.

I decided that I will change the format of my posts to something more akin a simple growing diary which will hopefully make for briefer and more frequent updates! I will use lots of photos, less text and list any relevant resources at the bottom of each page.

So here is my first installment in the new format:) It covers a couple of moths so it is a bit longer than my new ideal…I just did not want you to miss out on anything;)

Soil

Garden fork and a bucket
Preparing the soil for jerusalem artichokes and marigolds – lots of broken glass in there!

Soil preparation is at the top of the to-do list at the start of the growing season and I have been obsessing about it a little this year.

While my worms are still too cold (or too lazy!) to have produced any significant amount of rich compost (there is about 1-2in at the bottom of the box which has been going since late autumn), I’ve had to get some more soil from Dundee Discovery Compost in early April (it is still cheap as chips, even with the 5p increase in price per bag). I also managed a few bags of well rotten horse poo from a horsey friend in Fife (in exchange for some home-made muffins). I imagine I will have to get some more of both as my seedlings get ready to be transplanted into the bags outside in a month or so… Luckily, it turns out that one of my neighbours has a removalist trolley which I used to cart the heavy bags around (my other half is currently out of heavy-lifting action so it probably saved my back).

I have been following the crop rotation guidelines and trying not to reuse my old soil to grow crops from the same group to help prevent the build up of pests and diseases. So last year’s tattie soil is going under salads this spring, and I will reuse the courgette bag for this year’s tatties. I can imagine keeping track of this may get tricky in the long term though…

The old soil mix should be still rich enough to support some quick salad crops, so I did not add anything to it at planting. For a leafiness boost I may water them with some high nitrogen liquid feed once they get going.

I also tried to save myself some labour by using raw Discovery compost for my tatties this time, omitting the addition of horse manure and replacing this with a small handful of organic potato fertiliser pellets. I will boost them later with an application of high potash feed to encourage tuber formation (may be a good use for my well rotten comfrey stink water).

I managed to keep the council off spraying my area with herbicides for a while now – to my horror, they seem to do this as part of the grounds maintenance along all of the walls and lawn edges as well as within the garden beds throughout the property.  It means more weeding for me (thanks Linda for the lend of a hoe:) but also a potential for growing stuff directly in the ground. So I went ahead and dug through a small corner. It was surprisingly easy as the soil is very sandy (no surprise there as I am based on the flats along the river) and the hedge roots did not seem to reach that far. I will use this bit for unfussy crops and flowers this year and leave any soil improvements for later.

Mesh suspended over the veggie patch
I take the protection of the plot from cat ‘activity’ and council herbicide sprays very seriously

Of course, the neighbourhood tommy descended on the spot as soon as I was finished with planting, marking it fragrantly as its very own outdoor toilet. Ewww! To stop the cat from visiting while the plants establish themselves, I erected a mesh barrier over the area, supported on a few sticks with glass-jar toppers, and weighed down with stones from the crumbling wall nearby.

So far, I have taken a rather cavalier approach to preparing my soil to make sure I get growing with minimum fuss and expense. I have had reasonable crops but in the long term maximising yield from a small space means really getting the soil fertility right! I am certainly hoping to pick up some tips from our next Gardening Workshop on the 15th of May which will cover one of the major plant nutrients – phosphorus – and how to keep it in our soil without breaking the planet. We will even get to test our own garden soils!!! Can’t wait:)

Salads

We loooove our greens! But it seems that carbon footprint from the shop-bought fare can be quite high due to high water and fertiliser usage when growing, and subsequent refrigeration, packaging and waste of these highly perishable goods. Out of season it becomes even higher as salad crops are either grown in heated glasshouses locally or air-freighted from remote locations. So it makes sense to try to grow our own – and try to extend the season!

Salady leafy things are relatively undemanding and quick crops – and perfect for container growing, I am told. I decided that it is best to start with things like cut-and-come again mixes, pea-shoots and radishes.

russian kale and spinach plants in a pot
Salad survivors – russian kale and spinach

Late last year I tried a couple of old salad seed mixes in pots on my balcony. To my surprise all sprouted nicely but only one really took off and kept us going for at least a month – Sutton Seeds Californian mix (the mix I planted contains Land Cress, Red Russian Kale, Red Chard, Salad Rocket and Spinach. This is different to the current composition of the Californian mix). Leaves from a couple of surviving kale and spinach plants are even now featuring in our Sunday breakfast fry-ups. This is definitely a keeper, especially for colder ends of the growing season. I used it in my first salad sowing a couple of weeks ago already and it’s coming along very nicely!

I decided that the window boxes will not be quite sufficient for larger amounts of salads we need and I have come up with a salad box growing system to use in the drying green. I picked up some free old veggie boxes from a shop in Dundee, lined them with thick plastic bags, poked a couple of holes through for drainage and filled them with old compost – and voila, I have some very shabby chic planters!

Small plastic polytunel
My mini-polytunnel protecting oca and salad plantings

I started a couple off on the balcony a month or so ago, cozy under the transparent plastic bags, but since have relocated them to a polytunnel in the drying green. (I admit I got a bit of a polytunnel envy after seeing the one at the Community Garden…Mine is just a tiny cheap one from Lidl. Apparently, it is relatively easy to rig up a DIY one or you can get a posher alternative somewhere else). The cover has certainly been very helpful in protecting the plants during the crazy weather over the last couple of weeks! I am just about to sow some more salads and radishes to make sure I have a continuous supply – they say every 2 weeks is a good rule of thumb for such successional sowings.

Sprouted seeds in jars
Sprout selection – red china raddish, mung beans and fenugreek

Over winter, we also started a mini-sprout farm on our window sill in the kitchen (I wrote about it on Greener Kirkcaldy blog here). This made for a nice (and nutritious) addition to our winter salad fare – so far my favourites are the radishes and lentils.

Tatties & co

My tattie obsession continues this year. This time I managed to make a trip to Bridgend Nursery in time to have a full choice of varieties – waaay back in February. I decided to try out six, representative of the range from first earlies to the latest of mains and including couple recommended for container growing by RHS. And a couple of funky blues!

Potatoes ready to go into potato bags
Planting my tatties in April

They were already starting to sprout so I ended up setting them out to do some chittin’ while I waited for the weather to get less wintry. I lost my patience on the 21st of April – they went out into their bags, cozily tucked in next to a wall under the hedge. And despite the weather’s best efforts they are doing splendidly so far!

Here are my little darlings at their weigh-in before getting set out to chit away:

 potato tubers Swift (First Early): 212g
potato tubers Sharpes Express (Early) RHS recommended for bags: 416g
potato tubers Lady Christl (Early) RHS recommended for bags: 459g
potato tubers Salad Blue (Second Early, blue): 489g
potato tubers Violetta (Early maincrop, blue): 416g
potato tubers Gael (Maincrop, bllight resistant): 249g

But I did not stop at tatties this year! I branched out into more exotic roots:)

A row of planted artichoke bulbs in the soil
Jerusalem artichokes – I hope the blackened growing tips do not stop them from growing

Jerusalem artichokes. I have cooked these occasionally over the last couple of years, and I think they are very yummy. It turns out that lots of Tayportians grow them very successfully – in fact so succesfully that they can’t get rid of them quick enough:) So I got some tubers early this year from Cathy and Janice. It took me ages to plant them out – normally they should be in the ground in February – but I only put them in on the 19th of April, after they started sprouting in my cupboard. They belong to sunflower family so I am hoping for a lovely floral display while they grow their tubers over summer. It will go nicely with the orange and yellow of the marigolds I have undersown them with.

Oca. This is something altogether more special. I have only heard about it this year from Mark at Vertical Veg who grew them quite successfully in his container garden down South. Described as slightly lemony small potatoes, with no known pests and diseases in the UK, it sounded immediately appealing. The only drawback seems to be its sensitivity to frost, which means a bit of extra care in late autumn, when the tubers are forming.

Oca tuber in a pot with soil
Planting my oca out

It turns out that there is a bona fide oca-obsessive community in the UK, and that Real Seeds have an extensive collection of locally selected, funky varieties. I got myself a ‘Dylan Keating’ and a ‘Scarlet With White Eyes’ and they went into 50cm pots on the 1st of May. I hope the warmth of my mini-polytunnel will get them going…Are you wWondering what it looks like? There are some already  growing in the polytunnel at the Community Garden – check it out!

 

Starting seeds

Toilet roll and egg tray seed starter pots
My DIY seedling trays – now cozily tucked away under plastic bags in the living room:)

As I have decided to expand my growing repertoire this year, there is a number of plants I needed to start off inside just now in order to get them ready for planting outside later this spring. For somebody without a garden I managed to accumulate a surprisingly large collection of seeds of late – through donations, seed swaps and impulsive purchases. So it looks I will be trying at least a couple of varieties of each vegetable. Here are the ones I planted out on the 1st of May:

Courgette: Midnight F1 hybrid, Green Bush

Runner beans: Scarlet Emperor (red flowers), Desiree (white flowers)

Dwarf beans: Canellino (French bean), Dragon tongue (bush bean)

I also donated some seeds to the Community Garden polytunnel to add a bit of Polish flavour to the mix – bush gherkin cucumbers (Dar) and raspberry tomatoes (Malinowe – Ozarowskie). They should thrive under cover there but I may also steal back a plant or two to give it a go in my garden!

Finally, I popped in a couple of Rhubarb chard seeds for good measure to get them going early. I am planning a chard patch to replace my mint collection outside -but that’s a story for the next time…

Useful links

Municipal compost for growing in pots

Carbon footprint of lettuce – and growing your own

Potatoes

Growing oca (New Zealand yam) in UK

 

 

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