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December 2008

Growing Veg, - part one the inspiration

I don't know if it's the credit crunch, or people wanting better tasting vegetable, or just if it's more fashionable, but lots more people are starting to want to grow vegetables.

I've only just this year got a big enough garden for a veg plot, but I have grown veg ever since I left college, on an allotment when we had a flat, and in containers and a raised bed when we were in Guildford, and although I haven't been able to get to self sufficiency, the ability to have fresh garden picked veg with Sunday lunch in the summer, and to be able to eat tomatoes and lettuce and radish that I've grown myself is immensely rewarding.

Growing veg is a huge subject, so i'm sure i'll come back to it lots in my blogs over the coming year, but for those that want to add some winter reading to their Christmas lists, these are my inspiration suggestions

The Vegetable Expert  - Dr Hessayon
For the complete beginner this is the first book to get.  This has been updated since my version as the Vegetable and Herb expert, - but the edition that I have is on sale on Amazon for 1p !!!

The Great Vegetable Plot by Sarah Raven, - ISBN 0-563-48817-4
This is a great book with lovely clear photos which explains how to grow things that you can't buy in the shops, or that you can get when they are not available in the shops

Grow your own veg - Carol Klein, - the book to go with last years TV series, easy to follow and features lots of information about setting up your plot. 

The Seed Catalogues from
Franchi Seeds,
Simpsons seeds
Thompson and Morgan
are always a good read.

Have fun, and remember, Vegetables from the garden don't look or taste like those in the shops, they're better! - have fun.

Early Celandine appearance

When you spend a lot of time weeding, like I do, you find a pattern to the year in weeds, but this week, the normal timing has been broken, as i've found 3 gardens with Lesser Celandine taking hold. This yellow flowered weed which is in the buttercup family and has a latin name of Ranunculus Ficaria, is usually one of my problem weeds in February, but with a particularly wet season behind us, the rosettes of heart shaped leaves are appearing already in shady borders.  Like Oxalis, this is a real pain to hand weed out, as it has clusters of little bulbils, usually hiding a good inch down into the soil, and if they get broken off (and there are usually 8-10 on one plant) then you get another plant. Luckily, unlike if it appears in February and March, at this time of year you can dig down gently to get out as much root as possible, as other weed seeds arn't likely to germinate this month from the disturbed soil.

Clearing up the leaves

At this time of the year, a large part of my gardening day is spent clearing up leaves. - I've been asked recently WHY? - so here is my answer

Leaves on the ground over winter are an excellent hiding home for beasts and creepy crawlies.  While the environmental side of me thinks that is great, the gardener in me doesn't like slugs, snails, Beetles and other mammals feasting on the leaves and roots of my precious plants.

Hedghogs and other hibernators need a pile of leaves or a hogitat in an area that isn't in a main border, so that they won't get disturbed.

Leaves left on borders will also start to decay down, - this isn't actually wanted as the decompostion process will take nutrients out of the soil, - so you want to collect up the leaves and put them in a pile to decompose, and then put them back on the garden when they are leaf mulch (in a year or two) and can put the goodness back into the soil as they then release nutrients

Leaves will be hiding the weeds, - this is a great time to get weeds out, as
a) there's less of them, so they are easier to spot
b) the grounds soft, so they come up easier
c) as there is little growth at the moment, the ground will look tidy for longer

So although it's hard physical work, i'll spend the rest of the month clearing leaves, so that i'm ready to start pruning in January with clean and tidy, weed free gardens.

Overwintering Passion Flowers

I receive emails from all over the world asking me about Passionflower care, -

Although i'm not an expert about growing in the different climates of the USA, or Norway, or Thailand or Spain, - here are the basic things you need to know about Passion flowers in the winter.

Passiflora Caerula which is the common hardy variety in the UK, has a purple and white flower with yellow stamen.

It is an evergreen in very sheltered conditions, but will loose its leaves by the time the temperature falls below zero on a more than occasional basis.  This variety i've seen survive winters of -5-7degrees C, but the older and more established the plant the better its chances of surviving.  Most text books say that it is moderatly hardy down to -3 degrees C.

As Caerulea can be quite a thug see previous passiflora post for details being cut back to ground level by frost occasionally can be quite an advantage.

If your Passiflora Caerula is in a pot, - this is probably restricting growth quite dramatically so the plant may be acting in a juvinile form, - this means that it won't survive quite as low temperatures, - i'd suggest a good lagging around the pot, and a top dressing of mulch to keep it warm, - also ensure good drainage.

If you have a varieity other than Caerula, particularly if it is a red coloured flower, then it is less likely to be hardy, and it is very likely to need winter protection and a frost free greenhouse.

Cold Feet

Well I can tell it's December because my feet have been cold inside my wellies for the last 2 days, - even 2 pairs of socks havn't helped much (and they make my boots tight), so i've put some Goat socks on my christmas list.  I've been hearing lots about these, - they are made of goat mohair, and are very warm, and don't smell, which is just as well because at £10 a pair, I won't be getting one for each day of the week, - i'll let you know if they work.
My hands have also needed some extra help to warm up, so i've got out my skiing gel packs.  These are a plastic pack which when activated by clicking the metal disc in them swell up with hot gel to slip inside your mitts. Just the thing for a mornings gardening, even when you need 7 layers of clothing.