Symbolic Forest Gardenblog

An experiment in container gardening

Posts Tagged ‘sowing’

Bare soil

This afternoon, I finished weeding the rosebay willowherb, until more shoots spring up at least. Weeded every shoot I could see, dug up every rhizome I could find, levelled out the soil and spread a layer of compost across the top.

The sowing plan for the bed starts with: peas at the back, against the trellis. Now, I’ve had issues with pea support in the past, and I suspected that the laths of the trellis are a bit big for a pea plant to wrap a tendril around, so the trellis has been covered in green plastic pea netting. It’s not the prettiest solution but it’s not too obtrusive; and I’m sure the vines of the back neighbour’s honeysuckle will love clinging onto it too.

In the front of the bed, we have scattered various seeds, mostly flowers, in the hope that the will grow up in front of the pea plants without eclipsing them entirely. We’ve scattered handfuls of:

  • Cornflower, Centaurea cyanoides “Blue Diadem”
  • Night scented stocks, Matthiola bicornis
  • Corn marigold, Chrysanthemum segetum
  • Poppy, Papaver rhoeas “Flanders”
  • Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris vulgaris Cicla-Group “Five Colour Silverbeet”, because Gretchen has spotted it elsewhere and liked the different colours of the leaves.
  • Tree spinach, Chenopodium giganticum “Magenta Spreen”, scattered from a packet I bought a couple of years ago and intended to sow but never did. The aim of the tree spinach is much as it was when I bought the packet: it has been sowed in the left-hand end of the bed, a dark and fairly damp corner where not much grows apart from dandelions. Tree spinach might prefer sun, but will hopefully cope with the shade there; and there won’t be any peas at that end that it might crowd out.

There are also nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus “Empress of India”, apparently “a classic Victorian variety” according to the Internet, sowed in a couple of spots, their seeds like tiny miniature brains. The key to all of this, of course, is the idea that the peas are going to clamber up high enough and quick enough that none of the stuff around them will cause any problems. The other key, which you might have realised, is that nearly all of the ornamental (or semi-ornamental) stuff is self-seeding. Hopefully, once everything is set up, everything will keep on going year after year, or at least until we move house.

This is all very experimental and no doubt a Proper Gardener would tell us we were trying to cram far too many plants into a tiny space. However, we will wait and see. I won’t be surprised if not everything develops, or at least, doesn’t grow exactly how I originally envisaged things. It might need a bit of tweaking next year, or it might all come up again, irregular but satisfactory.

I’ve given up on the calendula seeds mentioned previously, and bought a new packet. Into pots, we sowed:

  • More calendula, obviously.
  • And more Tropaeolum majus
  • Mixed rocket leaves
  • A different dwarf sunflower, Helianthus annuus “Choco Sun”, allegedly one of the smallest sunflower varieties available. Short enough for a toddler to sniff, I hope.

And with a general tidy-up, the garden is looking reasonable again. The back bed may be bare soil now, but hopefully within a month or two it will be full of greenery, and mostly the greenery we intended, too. In the tidy-up a lot of the wooden containers were thrown away, their wood rotted too far to save them, but that leaves us a good terracotta core. The plants we bought and potted up 2½ weeks ago are settling in nicely: the fennel looking lively, the thymes putting on new growth, and the marjoram already starting to fill up its pot. I’m rather pleased with how quickly things have been turned around. Even if things aren’t perfect yet, there’s not too much more tidying up left to do.

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Fireweeding

The first few pea shoots started to break the surface a couple of days ago, making it five days after sowing. Rather fast, I thought; only a few have come up so far, which makes me worry I’ve kept them too damp or something.

In the meantime I’ve been clearing out the back bed, into which the peas are going to be transplanted once large enough. A few years ago, I spent weeks clearing bindweed out of it, going through the soil archaeologically to excavate the tiniest pieces of bindweed rhizome. Now, after a couple of years of baby-rearing abandonment, it’s been colonised by rosebay willowherb. So I’m going through the soil almost archaeologically again, pulling out chunky pieces of rosebay willowherb rhizome this time. Hopefully I have got as much as possible: if I’ve missed any, once there are other plants in there the archaeological approach isn’t likely to work very well. I will have to resort to pulling up each shoot again and again until the rhizomes are exhausted.

There is still no signs of the calendula seeds we sowed twelve days ago germinating. To be honest I have no idea how long they normally take to germinate, but as I usually tend towards the impatient side, and I was always a bit skeptical that the packet would still contain viable seeds, I am suspecting that nothing is going to appear. Pushing on ahead, today we planted a pot of borage seeds (Borage officinalis) and another of poached eggs, which is hardly the nicest plant name I’ve ever come across, so I think I’ll just refer to it as Limnanthes douglasii from now on. Both pots will only really be large enough for one plant of each; a rather small plant in the borage’s case; but that will suffice. There may be just enough room for one borage plant in the back bed too, in front of the peas, but I doubt it with everything else I’d like to squeeze in there.

We did also buy a few plants from the greenhouse at St Werburghs City Farm, which sells plants as part of its horticulture training scheme for adults with special needs. A couple of chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) and a dwarf variety of sunflower, which hopefully should grow to about the same height as the children. They were repotted this afternoon, despite a cold shower of rain, and with the children “helping” moving the compost about.

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A bowlful of mud

We had the children planting peas yesterday. Never mind cress: in theory they are surely an ideal children’s plant? They germinate fairly quickly and easily, grow fairly fast, have interesting shapes as they climb, and produce something you can eat. Moreover, we’ve always had a reasonable amount of success with peas in the past, despite my moans of despair at them falling over rather than climbing (see the archives on here for various moans of woe).

Some would think that sitting two toddlers down at the kitchen table with a bowlful of “soil” (actually seed compost) would be a Bad Idea, but I was impressed just how well it worked. Give each child a small fibre pot and a spoon, and they quickly work out what to do. When it’s about half-full, hand them a pea, let them drop it in, and when they look away make sure it’s nicely aligned in the middle of the pot. Watch them spoon more compost in, tamping it down occasionally, and there you are.

So now we have eighteen pea seeds in pots on the windowsill, waiting to see if they come up, and waiting to see if, if and when they do, the children remember that they planted them. When they do come up, we are planning to try them in the back bed this time, which does make me worry if they will survive without being savaged by slugs also. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

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Potatoes everywhere

After being lazy for far too long, this week I have finally managed to get our second batch of potatoes into the ground. Another potato bin, the same as the first, was acquired from a certain Swedish-Dutch furniture giant; its base was thoroughly perforated; and I delved into the cupboard under the stairs to find the bag of Red Duke Of York seed potatoes we bought from the Riverside over a month ago now. Unfortunately, I discovered a bit of a problem.

Some authorities on potatoes, you may already know, suggest chitting your tubers before planting. Leave them in a suitable spot, undisturbed, to get to work growing shoots, to give them a bit of a head start when they get in the ground. Other authorities say they’ve found chitting more trouble than it’s worth, because the chitted shoots are rather too prone to damage and can easily break off, leaving a potato with no more eyes and no more chance of growth. All of these authorities say that: if you do chit, plant the tubers when the shoots are about a couple of inches long.

Well, with our second batch of potatoes for this year we didn’t get any choice in the matter. Going under the stairs to find them, I discovered that they had managed to thoroughly chit themselves, all around each other and through the sides of the bag they were in, to a good six or seven inch length. Getting plantable potatoes out of the bag, without breaking the shoots off was an incredibly delicate job; and I hate to think how much I damaged them when backfilling their planting holes and firming them in. Still, most of my earthing up has already effectively been done, I suppose. It remains to be seen if any potatoes will result.

Nevertheless, the first batch of potatoes is doing well, with a good showing of richly-coloured dark maroon-green leaves coming up from at least two of the tubers. The coriander seeds I mentioned in the last post have germinated well, after about 10 days on the windowsill; and the runner beans I sowed at the same time are now all a good few inches in height. It will be tempting, if we get a warm Sunday in the next few weeks, to get my tripod out and try doing a time-lapse video of the runner bean vines coiling their way up their poles.

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The Fortnight In The Garden

The long Easter weekend: time to catch up on the planting schedule, and get some digging done. In the past couple of weeks, we have:

  • Planted more peas.
  • Planted green beans and runner beans, to germinate on the windowsill
  • Planted some coriander to grow from seed

It does feel as if I should be doing an awful lot more, given the season and the warming of the weather. It doesn’t help that Symbolic Towers has, literally, nothing more than a single windowsill for plant germination, and despite last week’s warm spell the ground still isn’t warm enough for outdoor plants to be moving very quickly.

The potatoes are springing up, though, with lovely dark red foliage. Unfortunately only two of the tubers seem to have grown, so I slyly slipped another into the depths of the container at the start of this week. No sign of it coming up yet; but it means that the earthing-up has become rather uneven, the soil inside the container now having a mountainous slope to it.

The first of the seeds we saved last autumn have been planted. Of a batch of six green beans, only one came up: it has been planted outside, with poles to climb up, and is looking a little lonely. Hopefully the next batch of green beans – put under plastic to germinate this time – will have a greater success rate. At least the bamboo poles give the garden some height, something that has been missing since last year’s batch of beans was finally cut down last November. The second batch of peas has now been planted out too; the first are a tangled mass of interlocking tendrils quickly climbing up each other’s arms.

What will be coming next? Well, there are still more potatoes to plant. Moreover, with the drier weather I’ve been able to restart work on digging up the back bed. I think I mentioned that project back when this blog first started: basically, as the walled bed at the back of the garden was full of broken glass and bindweed roots, we decided to dig it all out completely and sift through all the earth; I didn’t fancy, some time in the future, to plunge my fingers into the ground without thinking and stab them on a pointy shard. It has taken a while, but the end of the digging-up project is starting to come into sight; and when it does, maybe next month, we will have an awful lot more growing space to play with. So much, in fact, I’m not entirely sure what we will do with it all. Maybe it’s time I started looking into perennial vegetables that don’t mind a slightly shady spot.

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New year’s gardening here we come

In the last post, I mentioned that although the rocket is in bloom already, there weren’t any hoverflies about yet. The very next day, I saw the first I’ve seen this year. Orange and black, it had gone before I had chance to grab the camera. It was warm in Sunday’s sunshine, and I could occasionally also hear bumblebees nearby – presumably queens looking for a nesting spot. The only one I saw was a good twenty feet away, not quite close enough to attempt an identification.

I was in the garden, because I’d decided that, with the weather being so warm, it was about time I started getting some seeds in the ground. Don’t want to leave it too late, after all: last year, because of when we started, we didn’t exactly grow the mixture of things we wanted. So Sunday was spent clearing compost out of all the pots which had had last year’s annuals in, and sowing a very few new seeds. In one pot: a mixture of calendulas and lettuce. A bit of an experimental mixture, and I’m not at all sure I have given them enough space to get along. Indoors, on the kitchen window sill: peas, germinating inside to avoid tempting the local wildlife. Peas are damn tasty, after all.

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Winter planting

Today, we cut down the remaining wizened bean plants, having made sure we had saved all the potentially viable beans for sowing next spring. With the beans and their canes missing, the garden has lost all its height, and looks very empty all of a sudden. Very bare, compared to June or July.

However, the cycle goes around. In the post, the other day, a garlic bulb arrived.

Solent Wight garlic bulb

Carefully peeling off the papery skin revealed a tight-packed spiral of fat cloves

Solent Wight garlic bulb

This is a softneck variety, Solent Wight, chosen because it’s meant to be a particularly easy variety to grow in southern England, as you might expect from the name. The cloves were planted up in a couple of our largest containers, moved to the sunniest side of the garden along the wall of the house; in spring a thin sprinkling of annual flower seeds might go in between the garlic stems if there looks to be enough space for them. In 8 or 9 months, if all goes well, this bulb will have turned into ten or more ready for drying and eating.

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Coming up already

On Saturday, as mentioned, we sowed a few boxes of quick-growing seeds to make them useful for what’s left of the summer. Radishes, rocket, and mixed salad leaves.

Today, four days later: all six of the boxes are sprouting already! I know radishes and rocket are quick germinators, but they weren’t this quick before.

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The week in the garden

This week we have:

  • Pulled up the pea plants, post-harvest, and dug them in to the back bed
  • Pulled up the English marigolds, and the rocket that had gone to seed
  • Re-sowed the boxes this freed up: two with radishes, two with rocket, and two with mixed salad leaves
  • Sowed the last of our Swiss chard seeds in a spare half-box.

In the name of Science, I sowed the new boxes in an experimental pattern. All of the boxes had the existing compost thoroughly turned over to dig in the roots that had been growing there before, then had extra compost added to top them up. For each of the three types of seeds, we sowed one box which had been growing peas, and one which had been growing something else. We’ll see if the nitrate-fixing effect of the pea roots is noticeable. My suspicion is: it won’t be, especially for fast-growing plants like the radishes, because the pea roots won’t rot down fast enough.

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