Monthly Archives: February 2015

the sun has got its hat on…..

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Finally, a bit of blue sky and sun – yes!  I grabbed the secateurs, loppers and pruning saw and headed to the soft fruit.

First up – the raspberries.

At the tail of end of autumn I decided to give up on summer raspberries.  We now only have primocane varieties, (Joan J, Polka, Autumn Bliss and All Gold).  Primocane raspberries mainly fruit on the new year’s wood, so the age old pruning approach is to cut all the old wood to ground level in late winter.   Depending on the variety, this produces fruit between August and November.  However, the season can be extended by ‘double cropping’.  There have been loads of studies on the technique so I’ve decided to have a go.

There’s brave.

Erring on the side of caution, (not so brave then), I’ve cut to the ground two-thirds of the stands and left one in three, (approx), of the stands unpruned.  Hopefully, this will give an earlier crop of raspberries in July from old wood.  I haven’t yet decided on what the subsequent pruning regime will be. Potentially double cropping could shorten the life of the stand so I will definitely rotate between the stands and see how things go.


So being on a roll I also pruned the redcurrants, whitecurrant and gooseberries.

I deserve a cup of tea.






a snowball’s chance…..

It’s still brass monkeys here.

In spite of the chill the first seeds of 2015 are coming up. It’s always very exciting to see sown seed germinating, especially the early crops.   I bundled down to the polytunnel to check on progress and lo…there was sprinkle of mini plants with embryonic leaves marking out a row.  At first I thought it would be a radish sowing as it is quick to germinate but it isn’t – it’s a variety of Turnip, (Brassica rapa), called ‘Snowball’.


I shouldn’t be surprised that the first to germinate is the turnip because they are very hardy plants and, apparently, very easy to grow.   So I can’t think why I haven’t grown turnip before and I’ve probably only cooked with the vegetable on a few occasions.  Obviously it’s time to change this state of affairs and I’m already on the lookout for great recipes.

Confusingly some areas in the UK, e.g. Scotland, North England, Cornwall, call a turnip a swede and vice versa.  For the record I call the orange fleshed roots swede and the, usually smaller, white fleshed root, turnip.  Even Brussels have had to accommodate this cross naming.  A Cornish pasty can be ‘said’ to contain turnip but actually contains ‘swede’; (I’ve probably bunged in both).

I’ve sown a number of varieties:

  • Petrowski -this is an early yellow fleshed turnip, so of course the rule of thumb that swedes have orange flesh and turnips white has immediately gone out the window .  It was introduced to England by Suttons back in 1879.   An early variety with sweet, crisp flesh;
  • Green Top Stone, a main crop turnip with pale green tops and white bottoms; in truth I may have been a bit quick off the mark sowing this so soon, and
  • Snowball


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‘Snowball’ is an heirloom variety and is meant to be sweet and juicy.

The leaves of turnip can be used as greens, (Alys Fowler is a great fan of turnip greens), though I think I’ll be growing the crop mainly for the roots.  As the turnip is a member of the brassica family it will need protection from the cabbage whites and from flea beetle; hopefully the early sowing in the tunnel will be mature enough to lift before either of those pests become a problem.  Lifting the roots when they are small, about golf ball size, is meant to avoid the bitter taste of older specimens.

I’m trying to embrace using less favoured vegetables, (well less favoured by me), in our meals,  or as Yotam Ottolenghi would say …. ‘spread the love’.  Here’s a great sounding recipe from the man:

Roast turnip, potato and garlic with harissa and orange.

Reading this week: Seven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World by Jennifer Potter


give peas a chance…..

Back in January I did the first sowing of peas, Feltham First.  I packed a seed tray with loo rolls and sowed one seed per roll.    The seeds have germinated and I’m now hardening them off by placing the trays outside during the day and bringing them back into the utility room at night.  A sort of horticultural hokey cokey.  This first sowing is destined for planting out in the polytunnel.  Feltham First is an early, dwarf variety with good cold tolerance and doesn’t need much in the way of staking.

A direct sow was never going to be on the cards because the polytunnel is in a field and where there is a field there are mice, not to mention voles and rabbits.  Mice are particularly fond of peas and I’m not fond of traps.   A sowing can be decimated as soon as they have gone into the ground.  Some growers mention soaking the peas in paraffin, sprinkling on chilli or covering with holly leaves.   I’ve only tried the holly leaves and it didn’t work.   This time I’ll wait until the peas have set the first set of leaves and then I’ll plant them out.   In the meantime we are running out of space indoors and the time has come for the next sowing, (impressed by the appearance of succession sowing?),  I am.

So the OH has knocked up a handy alternative in the polytunnel.


Suspended lengths of guttering.   The rest of the Feltham First have now been sown and the first sowing of Oregon Sugar Pod, a mangetout style pea.

Unless the mice have trained with the circus this sowing should be safe from rodent raids.

We have had a couple of fine days and the soil is drying out so I took advantage and started preparing the veg. plot.


Spring if not quite round the corner, is not too far down the road.  Better crack on!




i say potato…

How quickly the year rolls round.  Today was the occasion of the annual Potato Day.  A new venue for us this year, Harper Adams.  We arrived bang on opening time, nipped into a parking slot and headed in.  It didn’t disappoint.  Laid out in front was a huge array, (around 120 varieties), of spuds, well priced at 17p a tuber or 15p for 10+.   Organised by Organic; First Early; Second Early and Main Crop we soon had our selection done and dusted.   There were peas and beans by the half pint pot, sweetcorn plus selections of onion and shallot sets.   Round the periphery were potato related stands.  Anya and Winston were not available by the tuber so I’ll pick these up elsewhere but we gathered up 10 varieties spread across FE/SE/MC mixing waxy and floury types.  We stuck to 3 tubers apiece which will take up around 5 rows in the veg plot.  Out came the egg boxes and in went the tubers for chitting, (yes, yes – old habits die hard).


Amongst our usual favourites we have three newcomers:

  • BF15 – a first early, yellow flesh waxy style potato (Belle de Fontenay Flava cross).  A variety raved about by Monty Don for flavour, meant to have good yields.  Good salad potato.
  • Orla – an early variety that can be left to bulk up and then lifted as a main crop and touted to have good blight resistance.  Useful as a baked potato option.
  • Casablanca – first early with a floury texture.  A culinary all rounder.

The peas and beans destined for the polytunnel have started to emerge.  Over the next week I’ll harden them off and see how the min/max temperature in the tunnel goes.  Once planted I’ll fleece them and I will need to come up with some form of barrier.  The area in which the polytunnel sits hasn’t been rabbit proofed yet.  It could all end in tears……