1 Year of blogging

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Groblog is one year old!

On reflection I havent written much, mainly because the growing season has been/will continue to be manic this year. Business ventures are expanding in exciting directions… more of that in future posts.

Vegplugs.co.uk

Vegplugs.co.uk is really flying. Order volumes have more than quadrupled year on year, and even though we planted over four times as much we still do not have enough plants!

Due to the dangerous combination of whopping order volumes and the wheels falling off the Royal Mail postal service, a few orders did not make our 7 day dispatch policy. Apologies to customers who had to wait a while for plants .. we are up to speed now. Sincere apolgies for the delays/any administrative mistakes. Great plugs, but the administrative staff (me!) need a kick up the a**e.

We are using APS Couriers and are really happy with their service. Soon all orders should go via APS but for the next few weeks some will still need to go with Royal Mail.

New cultivars have been a focus for 2011, with lots of trials underway. Be blogging about that soon!

A quick note on the weather.

A few of our customers/friends have noticed slowed growth over the last fortnights cold weather, particularly for aubergines and peppers.

I try to get the aubergine/pepper plugs outside 24/7 from May onwards, only covering them if there is a risk of frost, but in all honestly they grow better (well, they look better- greener- but stems are weaker) indoors and in some cases grow a little quicker than outdoor raised young plants.

For aubergines/toms/peppers/soft herbs leave them in a sunny, warm place with low levels of wind (some breeze is neccessary) for as long as possible- on Gardener’s World the other day they still had corn, cucurbits and all of the above indoors and were not going to take them outside until early to mid-June. Best not to rush these plants and let them get as big and strong as possible before facing the elements. The exception is tomatoes which are hardier than peppers/aubergines and need some degree of natural conditions (wind=stronger stems and shorter inter-leaf spacings) to stop them getting leggy.

Here is an indoor raised pepper living happily on the kitchen windowsill since germinating in february:

And here is one raised outdoors:

Ultimately it will be a stronger plant, with I would think better yields. Planted at the same time but growing ‘normally’, i.e this plant is pacing itself and knows it is too early to fruit.. flowers are just beginning and the plant will produce at least 15 flowers at the same time, whereas the pepper in the top image thinks its in St Tropez.

Growing

I’d love to be able to say my garden looks fabulous, but sadly it looks like a barnyard. What has been planted so far? Ballhead cabbages, carrots, tons of green manure and sweetcorn. So no harvests for at least another month. I cant bear to post a pic as its just embarrassing. Customers send me pics of their plugs growing fabulously all the time and they put me to shame.

Pig update

Pumpkin the large black pig is but a distant memory. A delicious, distant memory of roast pork, A4 sized sheets of crackling and fine charcuterie.

Squash … now unfortunately this explanation is going to involve a major digression … well, basically she is now the size of a small hippo, and immensly clever thanks to all the stimulation she gets spending her days trying to reach tantalising rows of plug plants.

She also has acquired expectations beyond basic food and board- Squash needs love. Squash needs love because she is used to being fussed and scratched and hand-fed Swiss white chocolate/doughnuts/marzipan daily.

Let this be a lesson to you- don’t let you’re pigs get too smart or reliant on affection. You will wind up having to schedule time to faff over a 30 stone monster every day. Immediately after said visit a shower needs to be scheduled. Immediately before said visit a barrow load of food needs to be found.

A mildly rubbish post, but I havent posted for ages and i’m feeling guilty 🙂

Better stuff to come! Xx

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The Welsh Vegetable Project from Dyfi Valley Seedsavers

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Welsh Vegetable Project from Dyfi Valley Seedsavers is a summary of Wales’ heirloom cultivars, published January – December 2010.

 

The Welsh Vegetable Project

Introduction

The aims of the project were to seek to find and trial Welsh Heritage Vegetable varieties within Wales that are not available on the National List and to trial them amongst a variety of growers in Powys.

The project aimed to seek out varieties that may be on the verge of disappearing, or new varieties bred in Wales and to raise awareness of the importance of vegetable diversity by encouraging seed saving. The project was further motivated by a need to reduce food miles, and to encourage food growing using varieties that are suitable for the growing conditions of the local area in the light of climate change and the growing need for food security.

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March bestsellers at vegplugs.co.uk

April 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Below is a list of the 15 most popular purchases in March at vegplugs.co.uk. 

February was the month of the Brassica- loads of orders for Pentland Brig, Sicilia Violetta, Nautilus and Rouge tet Noire. Early April we are seeing lots of orders for peas, companion flowers and sweet peppers, and loads of seed orders too.

1. Sweetcorn ‘LARK IMPROVED’ 6 Plug Plants Lark is an exceptional cultivar, this recently improved strain is going to be great for early planting. At vegplugs.co.uk our plugs are grown in individual coco fibre pellets. The growing medium means we can let them get quite big without them getting spiral rootmass or running out of soil nutrients. Sweetcorn plugs can thus be planted up until end june, unlike seed which has to be in the ground soon.

A quick digression on planting sweetcorn from seed … there is a short window when outdoor conditions are right for planting sweetcorn seed. Sweetcorn seed is sensitive to both temperature (likes heat) and moisture (no waterlogging or seeds may rot). In the UK end April is usually a good time to direct sow. you want to get that second or third week when the soil has properly begun to retain the suns heat.

To avoid sweetcorn seed drying out and germinating poorly I plant quite deep- at least 1.5″. This is probably deeper than seed packets suggest, but it also means a slightly deeper rooting profile for this already very shallow rooting crop (so more anchorage, and stronger plants).

 

2. Herb Collection- 10 Plants – Dispatch March until October Seriously, we can’t grow enough herbs. No matter how many we plant there is never enough.
3. Heirloom Tomato Seeds ‘OPALKA’ Opalka kicks ass.
4. Heirloom Tomato Plant ‘ORANGE BANANA’ This is a really robust cultivar with thick stems, large leaves and big bunches of very large tomatoes. Support it well!
5. Broccoli (sprouting) ‘RED ARROW’ 6 Plants Old faithful, and not as massive as Early Sprouting Rudolph.
6. Lettuce ‘FLAME’ 6 Multisown Plug Plants Flame is one of the prettiest lttuces around, ad it grows nice and tall so makes a nice feature in the garden whilst taking up little space.
7. Pumpkin Plant ‘ROUGE VIF D’ETAMPES’ I thought Galeux D’Eysine or Zapallo Plomo would be number 1!!
8. Cucumber Plant ‘SPACEMASTER’ An attractive, compact cutivar which responds well to light pruning. Vines are short with short leaf spacings.
9. Cucumber Plant ‘BUSHY’ Good quality fat fruits. If given enough space and fertile soil this cultivar can be extremely productive.
10. Chive Seeds ‘Extra Fine’ The best chive for cutting all summer.
11. Fennel ‘BRONZE’ Large Plug PlantDecorative, good for herbal teas.
12. Summer Purslane Seeds A brilliant summer leaf, can be planted March til August. Leaves are really succulent with a bright, gentle flavour. Successional sow. good one to sow in the shade of maturing rows of crops like brassica or chard.
13. Chilli Pepper Plant ‘AOC PIMENTE D’ESPELETTE’ March’s most popular chilli is the only one in our whole selection with no Scoville’s! How British 😉
14. Heirloom Tomato Seeds ‘ISIS CANDY’ A heat loving indeterminate. Slim vines need careful training and staking.
15. Large Collection- 84 Plants – Dispatched May/June Our bestselling collection is the biggest one! 

This year we have quite a few orders for the Large collection from community allotment projects, city farms and small business enterprises, so we will keep in contact with them and try get some good photos!

The Real Seed Catalogue

March 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you’ve never visited the Real Seed Catalogue its worth a look. We grow around 10 of their cultivars, Napia Early Pointy sweet pepper and Verde Marchigiano cauliflower being the most popular. Their business ethos, general information and seed saving instructions are excellent.

Here are a few of their newer cultivars which we are trialling this year and all going well selling via our website next year:

‘Wautoma’ Cucumber
An excellent cucumber from the breeding program at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980’s, this was recommended to us by cucumber expert Robert Bruns. It can either be used small for pickles or left to grow for use as a slicing cucumber.

The plants set many lightly striped dark green fruit , with tiny white spines that come off easily. We got an awful lot of cucumbers off this one!

Quick to set fruit, bitter-free, and Robert says it resists nearly all known cucumber diseases. (anthracnose, angular leaf spot, CMV, DM, PM, & scab!)

You can grow it indoors or out, and we think it’ll be quite a few years before we find anything that can even come near it in terms of yield or reliability. We grow huge numbers outdoors here in Wales with no trouble at all.

Provide some support outdoors, under cover quite happy on the ground.

Parisian Pickling’ Cucumber
A proper gherkin-type cucumber with a long history – selected in the 1800’s for the cooler northern climate of Paris when cucumbers became fashionable in the city – other ‘southern types’ just couldn’t crop reliably that far north.

It is a very reliable, early and productive cucumber, making lots of fruit with no fuss, even outdoors in the UK. It used to be grown as a pickling cucumber (picked small as ‘cornichons’) – but we find it also works well letting it get bigger for use in salads.

You would of course need to peel it if you let it get huge or over-ripe (like any cucumber), but the skin is just fine to eat up to a normal size, so this a good choice if you only have room for one type of cucumber, but want pickles as well as salad.

We used lots in salad this summer.

Taltos

Originally collected from Geza Korbely in Hungary in 2001, this is a great early sweet pepper.

Hungary has a tradition of early sweet peppers, and this one was given to us by pepper-collector Sharon Vadas-Arendt in response to our request for the best early-season peppers she knew of.

The flavour is great, and it has large (3” x 6”) sweet & juicy yellow fruit that ripen to orange.

“Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato”

This is a great Acorn Squash we have added. Acorn squash have a good flavour, and we have been trying various types to find one suitable for the UK climate.

We are really pleased to have come up with this one which is much earlier than the others, producing lots of squash even in short summers.

The pale heart-shaped fruit are pointy and have gentle fluting down the sides. When mature, you can simply cut them in half and bake in the oven. (Though of course there are other options for the experts – Kate’s mother once made a very fine acorn-squash soufflé!)

Originally collected by Tom & Sue Knoche in Ohio, USA.

Very productive. Remarkably long-keeping too.

Grushovka (Early dual-use type) WEB SPECIAL
This is a really good producer of big pink tomatoes – halfway between a plum and an ox-heart type – with an excellent flavour.

Compact plants grow to around 3 or 4 foot tall and are easy to manage.

The heart-shaped fruit are shocking pink. A bit like a plum tomato – good for sauces, but also very pretty in salads, or for making a lurid pink gazpacho soup.

Medium sized blocky fruit, very tasty . Tall Bush .

Just a very few packets grown this year by John Wheeler in Pembrokeshire.

plant picture

 

‘Rainbow’ Quinoa

Quinoa is a high-protein grain you can easily grow at home. It is cooked just like rice, and as well as tasting nice, it is rich in lysine, giving a good nutritional balance to your meal.

This is a diverse population of different colours all selected for an open flower-shape that sheds water easily and helps grow good seed even in slightly damper climates (like, for example, the west coast of Wales where we are . . .)

Note that at first you might question the name – we certainly did to start with. As it starts to grow, it seems to be just different shades of green. But wait patiently! As the seed ripens, they do indeed go all different colours, making an impressive display.

It did very well this year, reaching about 6 feet tall by the end of July, even despite a cold windy spring. The plants flower in July/August, and seed is ready in Sept/Oct.

Bred for home gardeners.

Descriptions and images courtesy the Real Seed Catalogue.

RHS AGM List 2010

February 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Click here to read the list of the Royal horticultural Society’s 2010 AGM Winners

Pentland Brig – The best kale ever

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pentland Brig is a tall growing heirloom kale. Its one of the most popular cultivars at vegplugs.co.uk and it’s really worth growing.

Pentland Brig has an attractive, upright habit and frilled leaves. The plant grows at about the same speed as a cauliflower, and grows to a similar size, possibly larger.

Here is a Pentland Brig in the Groblog garden. Note my foot in the bottom corner of the image for scale:

It’s such a shame I’m wearing crocs- the ugliest shoes I own, and only being utilised as they were a gift from my mother. Rest assured I have a stonking shoe collection and can regularly be found tending plugs in 5″ heels. But that’s another post entirely 🙂

The brilliant thing about Pentland Brig is it produces side shoots (like a sprouting broccoli) after the main head has been picked. Even when it flowers it still deliciously edible.

The leaves taste more cabbage like than most kales and are very thin, almost paper-thin, giving them a wide range of culinary applications. I like them steamed with butter, but have also used the leaves in place of vine leaves to make dolmades, and shredded and deep-fried them to make a sort of crispy seaweed.

Pentland Brig has a great flavour, but the best tasting kale is probably Red Russian. It has a butteriness that I’ve never encountered in a vegetable before, and it cooks down to a silky, spinach like consistency.

How to get big aubergine yields

February 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

It can be challenging to get a really substantial crop from aubergines in the UK so we have put together an extended growing guide (the original can be read on our website here) to help.

Aubergine plants need regular care throughout their lifecycle to ensure plants receive no check to growth- the benefits of this early care will be seen in the harvest weight.

As aubergines need a long growing season, get an early start in March by raising young plants with heat and under glass outdoors, or on a sunny windowsill indoors. Seeds can be started as early as end January as long as sufficient heat and light can be provided. Aubergine seeds should be started no later than April/early May-  better to buy plugs at this time in the season.

Aubergine seeds, along with tomato and chilli seeds love ‘bottom heat’ (i.e from a heated mat, propagator, hotbed or soil heating cables) and will germinate much more quickly and consistently with this provision.

Pot on transplants when they have healthy but not dense rootballs. You can keep potting them on every 3-4 weeks until they go into the ground.

Plant your aubergines into their final growing positions in late April or May- a bit earlier in a polytunnel/greenhouse. Its is not advisable to plant out too early as aubergines grow well in pots but are stunted by cold temperatures and harsh winds.

They should be at least 15-20cm tall when they go into the ground:

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Aubergines plants are attractive and look good in flower beds and containers. They grow relatively slowly compared to tomatoes, cucurbits and tall herbs, and in addition they are short plants when mature (maximum 1m), so it is advisable to plant them in or near the front of the bed receiving full sun, and give them plenty of room. The more sun the better for aubergines.

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Aubergine plants need as much heat and wind protection as possible and well-draining soil, a sandy loam type soil is ideal.

Container grown aubergines should be housed in pots which are a minimum 30cm wide and 45cm deep. A suitable compost blend for aubergines contains plenty of rich soil, soil aerators and slow release fertilisers.

Aubergines have a deep rooting profile and will benefit from the soil being worked at depth prior to planting. Plant spacing is at least 45cm (18”) for the mini aubergines and 90cm (36”) for large varieties. Leave at least 70cm (30”) between rows.

Loosely tie the plant stem to a central stake to guide growth upwards, if neccessary. Aubergine plants tend to bifurcate naturally but you can pinch out the top of the plant when it is about 30 cm (9”) tall to encourage it to bush out if it does not appear to be doing so by itself.

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As the plant matures, avoid overwatering and feed consistently with a general purpose fertiliser until fruits set. As fruits begin to swell, switch to a feed which is higher in potash.

Watering regularly (little and often) is important during fruit maturation. Harvest each fruit as it matures (when still glossy and firm) by cutting the stem to ensure continued fruit set. If fruits lose their gloss they are too ripe and may not cook well- in this case it is best to keep it for seed.

Pinch off blossoms 4 weeks before the first expected frost so that the plant channels energy into ripening existing fruit instead of producing new ones.

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