Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, How To, Planting

Have you ever wondered why you can go in a shop and buy lovely potatoes and onions throughout a long and very cold winter that have been grown right here in the UK? Actually, it’s all in how they are grown, harvested and stored that makes a difference. You, too, can grow your own potatoes and onions with just a few tips so that you know when and how to plant them and, of course, when and how to harvest and store.

Growing your own potatoes
It isn’t as difficult as it may seem, but you will need to be aware of a few well-placed bits of advice from farming experts such as Carpenter’s Nursery and Farm Shop who make it their mission to provide the best products and information specific to UK growers.

Choosing and Planting Your Seed Potatoes

The first thing you need to know about growing potatoes is in how to choose your seed potatoes to ensure you have virus-free, certified seed and that you’ve prepared your soil approximately two weeks prior to planting. Of course, you also need to have previously placed your ‘seeds’ in trays that are well ventilated with the eyes facing upwards and outwards.

Allow them to grow to at least ½” to 1” in length, or if you prefer metric, 12 to 25 mm. This will take a few weeks, but when they have grown to a good length, you can now plant them in soil that was properly prepared and ready to accept your crop.

Growing potatoes at home

How Long Before You Can Harvest?

This is a question most asked by those who are planting potatoes for the first time. There are actually various times you can harvest and the exciting thing to learn here is that you don’t need to harvest the entire crop at the very same time! You can scrape off a bit of soil to expose the upper potatoes and once they have grown about the size of an egg, you can safely harvest a few new potatoes.

This is approximately 12 weeks, or a bit longer, into the growing season. The rest of the crop will take 6 to 8 weeks longer and at that point you will need to learn how to ‘lift’ them from the soil so that you don’t damage the tubers.

Growing Onions at Home

Like potatoes, onions should be planted sometime between mid-March through mid-April but unlike potatoes, you need to be very careful not to have manured the ground too close to planting. While potatoes can go into ground which has been manured two weeks prior to planting, soil prepared for onions should be prepared a good bit earlier than that as freshly manured soil can easily lead to rot and you surely don’t want that!

Growing onions at home

A Few Closing Words

While potatoes are technically tubers and onions are a root variety plant like garlic and shallots, both will have the main ‘edible’ under the soil. What you have just read through is but a brief idea of just how easy it can be to grow your own potatoes and onions and since both are planted and harvested at about the same times of year, it helps to learn how to do both as it saves you unnecessary steps when preparing and planting your garden.

Both can be stored over a long winter and both are hardy if you start with certified seeds and bulbs. This year, why not plant your own potatoes and onions and enjoy home-grown, organic crops. It’s fun, easy and absolutely rewarding.

Alex MungoAlex is a professional writer with a keen interest in gardening. He currently contributes written articles to various gardening websites such as Carpenters Nursery & Farm Shop.

Gardening Year, Greenhouses, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Sometimes the November garden seems like July
Sometimes the November garden seems like July

The old coats are dusted off. Gardening in hats and coats, boots and string tied trousers. Hardly moving against the wind, spectacles splattered with fat raindrops that fly up the valley looking for someone to annoy. In and out of focus the last blooms of Autumn brighten us, feeling warm-hearted and wondering how on earth dahlias face the weather with such exuberant joy.

But cold fingers and cheeks make working in the November garden peevish. Snatched jobs, unfinished projects punctuated with promises of getting back on the job, later, tomorrow, when I have warmed up a bit, when it stops raining, maybe.

The opposite of November is April, when we are sowing and planting, and although it is cold in April, snowy cold, somehow it’s not so doom laden as November. But there is plenty to do, between the showers. At least April warms up, November gets darker and colder, and even though we are all glad of the clocks going back, we gardeners regret the sudden disappearance of the light.

Sowing and planting:

It is possible to sow and plant. Lettuce, radish, spinach, onions. Yes, you can sow onions in a cold greenhouse. You have to wait a while for germination, but by the time Spring arrives, they are well on the way to being transplanted.

Believe it or not you can sow peas now. Keep them under a cloche, more for protection from mice than anything else. They will germinate, and then stop growing when the temperature really drops, and burst into life in the Spring.

The cabbage variety ‘All Year Round’ can also be sown now with pretty much the same results. Now I have a trick with cabbage at this time of the year. I sow the same variety in pots of compost indoors. What you get is a plant that grows tall and doesn’t look much like a cabbage at all. But the leaves are edible, they still cook like cabbages, they still taste like cabbages. I tend to eat them in salads. They do just as well in the cold greenhouse.

And sometimes the November garden seems like November
And sometimes the November garden seems like November

You can still plant onion sets and garlic, particularly garlic. It rather reminds me of my grandmother, who used to call me ‘brass-neck’ quite a lot, can’t think why. But garlic comes in two forms, hardneck or softneck. Hardneck varieties have a thicker central stalk and bigger corms, softneck have smaller corms, more paper and more flavour.

Of all my favourite is Chesnock Wight, a hardneck. If you don’t manage to plant garlic this month, Solent Wight can be planted as late as January.

Jerusalem artichokes can be planted now. Treat them a little like potatoes, bury them at about 30 cm and they will pop up in Spring when the soil warms. Why November? They get the earliest start, and since they are very hardy, they are not bothered by frost, though I do plant them a little deeper than Spring planted tubers.

Actually it is a sunflower, not a relative of the globe artichoke at all. And they are said they are aphrodisiac in nature. The queen of Henry IV of France, Catherine de Medici was said to eat hardly anything else.

I rather envy pipe smokers. Well only inasmuch as it seems cosy, sitting in the shed on rainy, sleety days, puffing on a pipe, keeping the fingers warm. But there are plenty of things to be doing indoors in November.

Cleaning and disinfecting pots and utensils. Sharpening tools, especially spades and cutting tools. A good grindstone is one of your most important pieces of equipment. And get into the greenhouse, if you haven’t already, and clear out all the old compost filled pots with dead plants in them, shift the moss between the glass before the frost comes and freezes, expanding to cause a broken pane.

Clear your gutters, and add some bleach to your water butt. This will clear any algae or other nasties growing within, and will have all vanished away before you come to use it again.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Composting, Gardening Year, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

The exciting part of New Year is the expectation – how is the year going to turn out and, especially in the garden, will it be the same as last year?

Hope not! Certainly the weather was the overriding factor affecting the garden last year, and if you are in to veggies, like me, then it was a complete wash out – literally! I actually chased my potatoes in a six inch torrent of water that was travelling faster than I could run. And to think that we moved here thinking that because we were on a hill we would have no flooding troubles.

But it never is the same and, over the years, we have found the garden has a life of its own. Yes, we can plan and change stuff, but the garden has its own character that always shines through, and we do our best to foster that character.

The Christmas tree in January..

Last year we had a real Christmas tree and one of the first jobs of January was to recycle the remains. We normally have an artificial tree, but that year, the real one came out of a disaster – a car had come off the road and crashed into a copse of young firs, so we took advantage of the situation, and as no one was hurt, it seemed the right thing to do.

Christmas trees, like most pines, are full of resin, and do not rot so easily. Therefore we simply chopped up the branches and use them as mulch. The main stem was sawn for the fire and the ashes poured into the compost heap.

Snowdrops!

IMG_0697
Snowdrops in the cracks of the paving

Snowdrops are a favourite for January, such a delicate plant to look at, but this little beauty is as tough as old boots. I am naturalizing them about the garden, but they seem to do that all on their own too, setting seed everywhere, even in the cracks of the paving.

Snowdrops are dug up in August and then simply pushed into the ground in their new location- and quite forgotten until they pop up with a shout in late December – early January. They do well in the barest of soils, the only real care they need is to be left alone, and not walked on. Once they have flowered, let them grow leaves for several months, so they can manufacture more of the corms that we distribute around the garden in high summer.

Another job for January is the lawn. Work off all those extra dinners of the festive season by aerating the lawn, if not too wet, and also trim up the edges, a job which always improves the lawn’s appearance. When I had one to play with, January was the ideal time for working on the gutters of bowling greens, getting them just right – we tend to forget the lawn is at its weakest, and likely it’s most vulnerable at the edges.

Think Spring!

You may remember one of my earlier blogs was about putting dahlias to bed for the winter, in a frost free place, having dug up the tubers, divided and dusted with sulphur powder, and set them in a cool but frost free place. Now is time to give them a check for rot of any kind. Open them up and have a good inspection for any signs of rotting, bad odours, blackness, weeping or anything else untoward. Remove any offenders and repack for a couple of months to continue their sleep. We need to inspect them because they would infect the whole set if left, which would be a disaster.

If you haven’t already done so, dig over your plots, making sure you are careful not to damage roots of trees and shrubs, and if you can, give them a good mulch of well-rotted compost. Take special care of young fruit trees at this time of the year, as well as the compost mulch, make sure they are secure in the ground, so they will not be blown about by the wind and weather of January, and if they are in their second year, you can prune them. All you need to think about is making them into a goblet shape – so the drying summer wind can reduce the humidity around the plant, reducing fungal infections.

Cut away small branches that turn inward or cross and touch another, and that’s all you need to do to give the plant a successful start to the year.

2012-12-27 11.39.55
Sow onions in large numbers in a box of compost

You can sow onions seeds now. Don’t mess about fiddling with a few seeds in small modules. Get a wooden box or seed tray and fill it full of seeds. Water and keep warm. You will end up with a Mohican hair-cut of onions growing, which you can tease apart and then transplant in April. And while we’re on the subject of sowing, start hoeing your parsnip bed – these seeds are in the ground for a long time – hoe and give a dressing of general purpose organic fertilizer and then cover with plastic sheeting to warm the soil in preparation.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Celebrations And Holidays, Grow Your Own, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

happy_christmas_mailout_1_576x270

When I was a small child I always thought the plants, the birds and wildlife in the garden were all celebrating Christmas just like the rest of us. The sprouts were just waiting to be picked, knowing they were special; the new potatoes in the bucket were honoured by being pampered in the greenhouse just for this special day. As if they were all a little like the Magi, journeying through the months ready to worship the New Born King on our Christmas dinner plates.

If you have sprouts in the garden, take a bowl out with some ice in it, and cut the buds off into this. They will remain tight and unblown. Sometimes we forget, pick enough for a few days of feasting, and by Christmas morning, their leaflets have loosened.

1 sprouts

Parsnips, our longest growing vegetable in the garden, are at their best following a frost, and this year we have had a week or so of cold – they should be really fine. Collect them on Christmas morning, top and tail them and give them a jolly good wash. Microwave and then add butter – I could eat just them alone!

I always try to grow some baby carrots in sandy tubs for Christmas, and, if you have some, just run them under the tap to get rid of the grit – it is amazing how grit gets everywhere, and you don’t want it in your gravy! I always add the carrot water to the gravy – especially since I give them an extra knob of butter to boil in – you get an ever so rich gravy that way.

2 carrots

Traditionally, Christmas is a time for sowing onions, so if you want a couple of hours away from the madness of Boxing Day, pop off to the shed and sow your next year’s stock. I always sow them in a large wooden box of compost, (far too many according to the books, but they tease apart really easily) and transplant in the late Spring.

I do hope you get something ‘gardening’ for Christmas. Last year someone bought me a kneeler – and boy, is it useful. I can now get down to basics on my hands and knees without messing my trousers and I don’t get so tired.

3 snips

One last thing for the kids is to grow your pineapple tops. If you have a fresh pineapple this Christmas, tease back the leaves to find some buds. Carefully pull them out and plant them in small pots of compost and keep them warm. Of the ten buds you find, five will grow, and then next year you will have some pineapple plants to give to a favourite aunt for Christmas. They are handsome and unusual little house plants.

Do have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget, when you are eating your Christmas Dinner – are the birds topped up with wild bird food? After all, it’s their Christmas too.

Merry Christmas from me and all of the team at Primrose!