I am really looking forward to getting into to the swing of spring sowing, but as this morning’s weather demonstrated in no uncertain terms, it is still very much winter! This is part of Charles’ garden at Homeacres. The two beds with wooden sides are the dig/no dig experiment.

This weekend, Charles and I have run two gardening day courses, quite a challenge with sore throats and coughing but I think everyone heard us! I made the lunches. No photos of the warming soups – Saturday’s was a spicy squash soup and today’s a pink beetroot and seasonal veg soup – and these are some of the fresh seasonal salads I made. Many people commented on the amazing colours for the time of year. If you are looking for reasons to grow your own, then eating a homegrown rainbow on a freezing February weekend surely should be one of them!

A top favourite was the really zingy raw kohl rabi salad. That is certainly one I will be including in the recipe book I am writing. Before we went on our Northern Tour I signed a double book deal with my lovely publishers, Permanent Publications,

The team at Permanent published our award winning No Dig Organic Home and Garden so of course I am delighted and excited to be working with them again. More about these books in future posts, but the first one to be published, this autumn, will be a recipe book with extra lovely interesting things that you can make and do with what you grow.

Also before we went away, Charles and I visited Pennard Plants Potato Day in Castle Cary, to stock up on all of our seed potatoes. I bought those lovely wooden seed trays there. I’m going to oil them before using. Although I have a lot of sturdy plastic seed trays which have many years left in them, both Charles and I are looking towards a future with less plastic and so trying these out seems a good plan. This year I am trying seeds from the Seed Cooperative for the first time, too. They came with impressively no plastic at all, except for 3 rubber bands.

I keep all of my seeds in two drawers of what was once my brother’s nappy changing set of drawers – he is now well over 40 and a respected forensic psychiatrist! As you can see from the photos below I have a lot of seeds! Into these drawers I pop every silicon packet that comes with my sons’ trainers etc to help keep the seeds dry. As you can see, I use a lot of different seed companies. The photos were taken before the arrival of the last seeds, thanks to Mr Fothergill who kindly let me choose some from their catalogues.

This year Mr Fothergills added some that they thought I would find useful to experiment with, considering work I am doing, as well as my own choices. They were super-kind and helpful. They include a patio aubergine I am especially interested in trying out! More on these in future posts.

*Why the blue morning glory? It is poisonous and so stands out in that selection, but grows so beautifully in the polytunnels that I just love to include it in my garden.

I also sorted out the plant labels for the year. These were all bought in 2017 in the bargain bin sell offs. The plastic ones work best with the Edding 140s pen pictured, it doesn’t wash off in the rain, unlike Sharpies. The copper metal ones are for labelling my fruit trees and other perennial plants and the wooden ones for most other things. I will of course be using the reverse side of plastic labels I used last year.

copper, plastic and wooden labels

I am not entirely confident how much more ‘eco’ the wooden lolly pop stick plant labels might be – I certainly had to chuck away the same amount of plastic packaging from them. I don’t know how or where they were made, what chemicals were used. It is tricky and I am not confident saying “these are better than plastic” yet.

In front of the box I have put a bamboo toothbrush (all of our toothbrushes at home now are bamboo, except the electric one) and some cutlery from a meal, which I will re-used as labels too before composting.

I expect that using pencils on the wooden labels will work well this year – hopefully so! I have a feeling that the handmade pencil with my name on might be a more permanent, darker marker.

Getting ready for the new season means planning….

Every year I buy Maria Thun’s Biodynamic Calendar. It is quite easy to follow and comes with a useful wall chart. It is reliable and is based on decades of experience. Maria is now dead, but the calendar is calculated by her son who worked with her. It seems steady still, as far as one can tell.

This year for the first time I am also trying out this Moon Gardener’s Almanac. My biggest problem with it so far, and had I realised I would not have bought it, is that the author is obsessed with digging! But at least it will provide a comparison with the other chart I have. On the plus side there are lots of spaces for notes, on the negative she doesn’t seem to have much consideration for the soil. At the moment I do not recommend buying this book, but as it is early in the year I might well change my mind (not the digging parts though, oh my!)

I do not do moon growing religiously. It is mainly for pleasure and also as a useful way of deciding how to organise my sowing schedule. If I miss a moon sowing day I plant by the phases of “oh my goodness, need to get that one sown asap”!

The key issue is timing – and I am very fortunate to have a partner who is an expert in such matters. So I also use his diary to help plan my sowing schedule for the year. It has the key timings for just about everything, plus lots of gardening advice and space for writing in notes every day.

I talk to him too of course … Honey, when are you going to sow your maincrop peas? True romance 🙂

 

I need to plan for my own gardens and also for my work ones.

One of my passions is growing aubergines, many varieties of this beautiful fruit. I grow a lot. Charles thinks I am as dotty as can be growing so many and he has a point: they take up space, need heat and light, need to be sown so early and it is ages before they can go in the polytunnel…

They need a long growing season and so the aubergines, along with chillies and peppers are going to be the first seeds sown here this year. I have heated propagators for now and heat mats for later on, so my next blog post will be about growing aubergines, chillies and peppers!

Charles recommends Valentine’s Day as being the key day for sowing for the new growing year in SW England, a bit later the further north you go.

Valentine’s day is also a key time here in Bruton as my frogs always return around this time, to mate in my pond. I have been feeling horrible with the coughing lurgy, but made time to do my annual clear of moss and debris from the pond before the mating season begins, as this is of course the only time I can do it; can’t disturb the mating frogs or baby tadpoles. I use an old rake, my copper one is too fancy for such tasks. As you can see, the pond was looking rather overgrown.

I carefully use the rake to remove the debris and pile it up along the edges of the pond. This gives an opportunity for any pond dwelling beasties to slither back in. Later, the wild birds use a lot of the moss when nest building. My pond is not the prettiest but the sheer number of wildlife visiting and benefiting from it is wonderful.

I have the compost ready, just need to make sure all of my propagating spaces are geared up for the new sowing season. But this week looks so very cold here that with a few exceptions, being calm and waiting seems to be the best idea.

13 comments

  1. Pennard looks to have some amazing seed potatoes. I’ve never heard of some and the French salad stuff looks very interesting.

    Which see potatoes did you select this year.

    I’ve had some lovely tasty, biodynamically grown, Alloutte this year but suspect that they are EU farmer’s potatoes. I’ll see if they will sell me some tubers this year. Apparently they are blight resistent. Don’t know if that is early or late blight. Hopefully both,eh?.

    Suella

  2. Thanks a Steph for including info on labels. I have tried several methods using different plastic labels and different writing implements but all of the writing disappear (washed off) after a few months. I will definitely get the Eddings pen as this would seem to be the answer. This is only my second year of veg growing in our small garden. We enjoyed 2017 harvest, hopefully 2018 will be as good. No dig is good for me as I have arthritis in my ankles and shoulders so I cannot do as much as I would like. I thought at 73 it was a bit ‘late in the day’ to start gardening, but I find it very interesting and enjoyable. Hope your cough clears up soon. Kind regards, Mike

  3. Congrats on the book deal! Am ridiculously excited about sowing seeds this week. Good point re:plastic packaging. We need to rethink EVERYTHING!

    1. Thank you. I’m just finishing a cup of tea and then sorting out the indoor propagators. Just a few things this week, the main crazy sowing time is March.

      I forgot to mention in the blog that I have had the metal pen on the copy of Charles’ diary for over 31 years now. More expensive than a throw-away plastic biro initially all those years ago, but I think it will last me another 30 years!

  4. Pennard are usually great, but are currently very tardy with my stepover apple tree order, placed Christmas Eve. A reminder three weeks ago has not seen a delivery!

    I must say everything I sow in February, even early March, lives indoors on windowsills. My lean to usually starts filling outside around 10th March.

    I would say you becoming a renowned expert on Aubergines is not dotty, rather a way to establish a niche as a go-to expert. Perhaps you would get enough interest to run a weekly mailshot for those interested in growing, with key tips at specific stages through the growing year? I know from learning to grow tomatoes how valuable such a newsletter can be for novices and experimenting intermediates….

    I am also trying out a few seeds from the Seed Cooperative. Hopefully it will be a happy experience.

    1. Thank you.

      I am a kitchen gardening and no dig expert but don’t want to establish a niche as an aubergine expert – quite happy with being an aubergine enthusiast 🙂 I think people are happy to follow the blog so don’t feel the need for a mailshot; not sure I have the time for any more writing, what with 2 books plus articles this year.

      Thanks for the suggestions though!

  5. Hi Steph, I’m super excited about your new cookbook! My family has really enjoyed the various hummus recipes from No Dig Organic Home and Garden, and I love your ideas on use for leftover citrus peelings. Our latest experiment is drying them, soaking them in vodka, and making tasty cocktails.

    We can also appreciate your love of aubergines (here in the States we call them eggplant…doesn’t really make sense as they don’t look like eggs, but oh well). My oldest daughter (now 7) grew her own aubergine last year and was thrilled at her first harvest. This year we will be growing Rosa Bianca; we are fortunate that they, along with peppers and tomatoes, love the summer weather in Northern Georgia. You and Charles keep up the great work!

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