Why Is Soil So Important?

Bear with my whilst I talk about soil! It’s my favourite subject in the world, but why is soil so important!?

Save Our Soils

Soil might seem boring, but did you know it’s one of the most biodiverse and abundant ecosystems on the planet, it’s essential for almost all life on earth and it might even hold the answer to climate change?

As gardeners we know that soil is important because it’s what we plant our plants into, and where our plants get their nutrients from.

So here it is, 5 reasons why soil is so important. Stay tuned for the last one, because you might just be surprised!

Number 1:

Soil manages water. Water that ends up as ground water runs through the soil where it gets cleaned. The soil can extract chemicals, disease causing bacteria and heavy metals. That’s how come we can drink water pumped out of wells! But soil also stores water meaning that healthy, well structured soil can help to prevent flooding and drought. 

Garden Soil

Number 2: 

Soil microbes in our food help to bolster our gut biome. Over the last 20 years or so scientists have started to understand just how important “good bacteria” in our guts are, and that’s why probiotics exist! But food growing in healthy soil contributes significantly to our gut health and our health overall.

Fungi in Plant Stump

 Number 3: 

Biodiversity! There are more organisms in one handful of garden soil than humans who have ever lived. Soil is a major contributor to global biodiversity, which helps regulate our planet – keep an eye out for my video on the importance of biodiversity coming out soon. Soil biodiversity is largely overlooked because it is mostly microscopic, but did you know that almost all of the microorganisms used to produce antibiotics come from the soil? If that isn’t enough to convince you of its importance, maybe try this…

Number 4:

Food security. Here in the UK over 95% of our food comes from the soil. Without soil we would not be able to grow, harvest or forage for food. Animals would not have access to food and earth’s ecosystems simply wouldn’t exist. 

Number 5:

Carbon storage. Yep, soil contains around twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. In fact plants are pumping carbon down into the soil on a constant basis and healthy, undisturbed soil becomes more and more carbon rich over time, meaning that it could be a very simple, elegant and cheap way of sequestering carbon. The problem is that global agriculture is constantly disturbing and releasing carbon from the ground. Check out the film Kiss The Ground for more information on this.

Check out the video on my YouTube channel!

Christmas Gift Guide for Organic Gardeners

Ok, I’ll level with you, I understand it can be pretty difficult to buy Christmas presents for people who squeal when they find a particularly good pile of horse manure, or a couple of pallet collars going free.

Part of the fun of being an organic gardener is repurposing things to use on your allotment and trying to do things in a way that is as un-consumerist as possible. But that doesn’t help much when it comes to buying for them. So I’m here to help; because there are a few things that even organic gardeners would be very happy to receive!

So let’s dig in and find out why organic gardeners really want too find under their home-grown Christmas trees!

  1. This oh-so-efficient Osciliating Hoe from Kent and Stowe

It might not look like much to the untrained eye; but to us organic gardeners this is the Cadillac of hoes! It’s made from sustainably-sourced wood, with a nice long handle to prevent back ache and its brilliant oscillating head makes light work of even the toughest weeds. It might be a little inconspicuous in your present pile, but I guarantee they will thank you.

Price: £32 Get it here

2. The Almanac 2022

This seasonal guide to 2022 is not only useful but also provides some very decent shelf candy. It’s beautifully written and insightful and contains lots of helpful information that even your favourite organic gardener might not know! Not only that, but if it goes down well this year, you’re set for life on gift ideas – thank me later!

Price: £10.50 Get it here

3. This easy to use and brilliantly made Wormery

Wormery

What’s your organic gardeners favourite thing? You? Nope, guess again; it’s worms. That’s right, worms. They won’t admit this of course, but if you want to stand a chance of being as highly regarded as worms, this is a good place to start. Allow them to turn kitchen scraps into compost and natural fertiliser for their gardens all whilst playing with worms! What’s not to love.

Price: £89.75 Get it here

4. Cut it like Monty Don with these super sleek Niwaki Secateurs

Niwaki Secateurs

These Japanese secateurs are just the absolute gold standard of gardening tools. They are sharper than the entire gardener’s question time panel and unlike the GQT panel are built to last. As I write this I am fighting the urge to get up and just go and visit mine and hold them. If it were socially acceptable to walk around with secateurs in your pocket, these would go with me everywhere. They even come in a really sexy box. Your organic gardener will definitely thank you!

Price: £79.20 Get it here

5. These Stylish Slate Plant Labels

Slate Plant Labels

If you don’t have a huge budget but you want to get the perfect present for your favourite gardener, these slate plant labels ought to do it! They’re bound to be a hit as they are reusable, organic and beautiful! Bound to make any garden look high end. A word to the wise if you’re getting these for yourself; they don’t stand up to the frost very well, so use them in summer 😘

Price: £12.49 Get them here

Muckboots worn by me!

6. Muckboots

The best gift for gardeners that are always playing in the dirt; Muckboots are the most recommended gardening boot! They are hard wearing, comfortable and really easy on the eyes! I switched to Muckboots a few years ago and have never looked back. I use them for literally everything from hiking to food shopping. they are available for men, women and children so it doesn’t matter what shape or size your favourite gardener is – you’ll be able to find them a muckboot!

Price: Dependant on Style Get Them Here

7. The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson

The Garden Jungle

This wonderful book would make a great stocking filler. It’s not only full of brilliant information to help your favourite organic gardener win arguments about organic gardening (which we all know they would love!) but it also tells a lovely story. They are guaranteed to love this infinitely readable and very interesting book.

Price: £3.99 (at the time of writing) Get It Here

8. This Multi-Talented Garden Tool: The Hori Hori Knife

Hori Hori Knife

You know that Crocodile Dundee moment “that’s not a knife, this is a knife!”, well this is a knife! Actually, it’s a brilliant knife, but it’s not just that. It also works as a trowel, it’s great for bulb planting, trimming roots, hoeing weeds and lots of other jobs. It also comes with a super cool canvas sheath which means your gardener can wear it on your belt and NOBODY will mess with them. The chances are, if they don’t have one of these, they probably want one. And if they don’t want one, its probably just because they don’t know they exist!

Price: £32.00 Get It Here

9. This Flask for those cold days in the garden

Thermos

Fed up of making them endless cups of tea, or talking about how they can get power to their allotment shed to run an electric kettle?! You’re not alone. This flask ought to hold them off for a bit though. If there is one thing us gardeners love on a cold day outside its a warm drink, so give them the gift of a nice warm cuppa and they will thank you forever!

Price: £23.94 Get It Here

10. Extend their growing space with this great value mini greenhouse

Mini Greenhouse

Buying a greenhouse can be a bit of a minefield, but if you want to push the boat out and get them something really special, this mini greenhouse is an excellent gift. If they have a greenhouse, this will extend their growing space, and if they don’t have a growing space, it won’t make them feel like they can’t also have a nice big greenhouse someday! These things may not look like much but they are great for starting seedlings, keeping the frost off and they’re surprisingly hard wearing!

Price: £80.90 <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>Buying a greenhouse can be a bit of a minefield, but if you want to push the boat out and get them something really special, this mini greenhouse is an excellent gift. If they have a greenhouse, this will e</p> Get It Here

I hope you enjoyed this Christmas gift guide – if you have any other suggestions, or you were the luck recipient of one of these gifts, drop me a comment, I’d love to hear from you! 💚

Merry Christmas from me, my garden and my tortoise Bruce 🎄🤶🏻🐢

Merry Christmas Gardeners!

When to Harvest Luffas

Luffa Flower

Luffas or Loofahs are a really fun crop to grow and a great sustainable alternative to plastic too. Many people don’t associate those lovely sponges we use to exfoliate our skin in the bathroom with plants (I remember thinking they were sea creatures as a kid!). But once you discover you can grow your own you will never buy another luffa or kitchen sponge again (and you’ll likely have enough for your friends and family too!). Not only are they prolific, they are also beautiful plants with huge tropical-looking leaves and wonderful yellow flowers.

It’s that time of year; everything is coming indoors to keep it from catching the frost. Luffas are no exception! The growing season is coming to an end here in the UK for tender crops and its important not to get complacent, even with our indoor crops. Polytunnels and greenhouses are no match for a heavy frosts sadly.

Luffa Seedling

Luffas need a really long growing season, so I start mine off in late February / early March. I took mine in this week (early November) and they still haven’t quite ripened up. One was perfectly ready, but the rest have had to come in prematurely to protect them from frost. The good news is that they will dry out at home and I’ll be able to harvest the sponges inside soon.

So when are luffas ready to harvest? This is a pretty good question, and if you have got this far its likely that you are pretty invested in not getting this last part wrong! So, as I’ve said before, take them off the plant either when they are dry and “ready” OR before they are burned by frost. They will start off green, hard and heavy. As they dry out, the skin will start to become squashy. Gradually, they will become lighter as they dry out and the skin will start to turn yellow. They will then develop brown patches. when they are starting to turn brown they are ready to harvest.

We harvest the internal skeletons that are made out of a really tough polymer called lignin. Lignin does not break down very easily which means that whilst the rest of the fruit dries out and disintegrates, the lignin skeleton remains. To harvest the skeleton all we need to do is cut from the top of the gourd to the bottom through the skin (taking care not to cut the skeleton too). Then we simply peel off the skin and voila! The skeleton comes out super easily. If you harvest the skeletons from inside the fruit too early you may well be left with a very big clean up job – and these things don’t smell good!

It may still be a little slimy and a have little pieces of flesh on it, so I take them home and wash them in a tub of warm water, giving them a squeeze all the way down to clean them. When they have dried (which can take a day or so!) the seeds will shake out easily too and (hurrah!) you will have seeds for next year too!

The most important thing to remember about growing luffas is that they are a warmth-loving plant. They need to be grown inside in the UK with as much heat as you can give them. Make sure you start them early and have a big enough space for them. But most of all – harvest them correctly!

Check out this video of me harvesting my luffas:

What to Grow Through Winter

Some people want trips to the Costa del Sol to sunbathe or New York to shop-til-you-drop, but we gardeners have a slightly different sense of fun. So this week I packed up my bags for my first “holiday” for about 2 years and took myself to Wales. West Wales to be precise. Like any other self-respecting gardeners; upon arrival at our hosts house me and my friend Sara Venn (look her up – she’s amazing!) were taken directly into the garden without the offer of a cup of tea or use of the facilities. After our garden tour (in completely inappropriate footwear I might add) I presented our host with a wheelbarrow full of home grown squash by way of thanks for putting us up for the weekend.

Our host; the bright and brilliant Stephanie Hafferty had lost almost all of her squash seedlings whilst taking time out of her garden to design, set-up, run and speak at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show’s very first No-Dig demonstration garden (check it out). So it seemed only right that I should share my glut!

As we have discussed here before, squashes are a really good crop for storing and keeping over winter. But one thing that Steph does really well, and is showcasing in her beautiful garden is cropping over winter.

Whilst she only began to set up her garden in late March of this year, it is already heaving with produce. The no-dig beds are easy to prepare and ready to use straight away, so Steph had no trouble getting crops in the ground as soon as she arrived at her new home.

Steph has been a no dig gardener for 13 years now and she started growing her own vegetables at the age of 17 after reading a book about making wine from vegetables. She fondly remembers turning up at university with demijohns of home made wine. Steph started growing more when became a mother at 27, and speaking about, writing about and teaching no dig gardening has become her life’s work.

I was struck when we arrived by how much produce there was in her garden, even though it was late October, wet, cold and windy! I asked her to show me around again, looking specifically at what she was growing over winter.

We started in the poly tunnel, which was built in August of this year (we are currently on October). It is about half full as there are still some beds needing to be made, but what she does have growing is:

Steph’s Polytunnel

Salads, potatoes for a Christmas crop, carrots which will crop next spring, orientals such as pat choi and plenty of herbs. Dill, coriander, parsley and chervil are all growing happily. Steph, who is a food writer amongst her other super powers (check out her book) tells me about the importance of herbs over winter to lift a dish and bring freshness. There are also beetroot for leaves and plenty of brassicas.

She points out that all the brassicas would be absolutely fine outside, but in the event of snow or extremely cold weather, having them under cover helps with harvesting. The other benefit to growing brassicas inside Steph tells me ifs that when they go to flower in spring they will attract in beneficial predators. She will open the doors of the poly tunnel and will already have an environment that will support those wonderful creatures that eat things like aphids.

Moving outside she has leeks, parsnips, beetroot and carrots. Radish for a crop but also for the flowers and pods, and chard glowing like jewels in the rain. The beetroot and carrots she intends to leave in the ground over winter under a couple of layers of fleece and some enviromesh. The mesh is to stop the fleece getting ripped. This is something of an experiment this year, as she hasn’t been through a winter in Wales yet and it is particularly wet. But where she was in Somerset, this was how she “stored” her crop over winter – a great technique for anyone struggling for pantry space! She also has plenty of brassicas outside.

Steph talks about the importance of fresh food over winter; the soil bacteria are good for the stomach and fresh food lifts the spirits.

When it comes to growing over winter, its all about planning she says. We sow parsnips all the way back in March/April for a crop over winter, and summer is the key time to sow brassicas.

Steph is an absolute font of knowledge and I’m very happy to call her a friend. I had such a fabulous time staying with her.

If you would like to hear the full chat with Steph about winter growing you can check it out on my YouTube channel:

How to Save Seeds; Top 5 Easy Seeds To Save

Seed saving is an important and powerful act. Too often seeds are treated like a commodity that can be bought, sold, discarded or disrespected. But we need to think about where our seeds come from. Often seeds are produced on seed farms, where conditions have to be so closely monitored to prevent cross-pollination or incorrect pollination. This can mean conditions that are essentially disastrous for our environment.

There are a lot of positive reasons why seed saving is such a great thing to do too. For example the return rate is usually really good. One seed can produce thousands more seeds in the first year, and if you continue to harvest the seeds could keep you going for the rest of your life! You’ll also be blessed with enough to be able to share with your friends and community, and might even get some back via seed swaps and the like.

Moreover, plants become accustomed to the specific environment within which they are grown. If, year on year a plant is grown in your garden, on your soil, under your management practices, that is what the plant will become accustomed to. Gradually it will adapt to that environment and you should find your plants becoming more and more healthy each year as they adapt.

There are a few pitfalls to look out for with seed saving: F1 varieties are created by cross pollinating two different plants. If you plant the seeds of an F1 plant then the resulting plant won’t be true to form. So choose open pollinated varieties if you can.

I’ve tried to put together a list of 5 easy seeds that you can go out and collect and save right now, but this list is far from exhaustive! So without further ado, allow me to introduce my top 5 easy seeds to save (and you can do them right now!)

5. Annual Flowers

You might not associate flowers with a vegetable garden, and if this is the case, I urge you to reconsider! Flowers are a great thing to grow as part of a vegetable garden to increase biodiersity, encourage pollinators and as another “crop” that you can enjoy in the form of cut flowers.

Most annual flowers simply require you to allow them to go to seed. Towards the end of the season stop dead heading them and let some of the seed heads develop. When they are brown and dry the seeds are ready and it really is as easy as just collecting them and popping them in an envelope.

Try this with Cosmos, Sunflowers, Calendula, Marigolds, Strawflowers, Cornflowers, Antirrhinum, violas, nasturtiums and many more. You’ll never need to buy another flower seed in your life!

Marigold Seeds Ready to Harvest

4. Beans

Beans are so easy to save seeds from. The only thing you have to do is let some of the pods dry out on the plant. When the pods are fully dried out simply open them up, remove the beans and put them in a packet for next year. If they are a little damp (as things can be this time of year!) I recommend leaving them to dry spread out on some kitchen roll or something for a few days so you don’t risk them going mouldy over winter.

3. Lettuce

Lettuce seeds are so easy to harvest, it feels like there should be a catch! The only thing is that you have to do is let your lettuces go to seed. After they have flowered, the flowers will die back and little seed heads appear. Then it really is as easy as taking the seeds out, and popping them in an envelope.

2. Chillis

Chillis are such fun to grow because of the wonderful diversity of shapes, colours and tastes. They are also more often than not self pollinating, which means that plants grown from their seeds will come out true to form. It’s really easy to save chilli seeds but do watch out when handling really spicy chillis as they can cause irritation, so you might want to consider wearing gloves, or as a minimum not touching your eyes mouth or nose afterword!

Simply let a fruit fully develop on the plant, then open the fruit up and harvest the seeds. Again, let them dry for a few days on a piece of kitchen roll and then pop them in an envelope.

1. Tomatoes

Ok, so these aren’t quite so easy BUT I think it’s an important (and fun!) skill to learn and its really not that hard so why not give it a go? Imagine never having to buy another tomato seed again!

Firstly, be careful with F1s, they are everywhere in the world of tomatoes. Also cross pollination is a big thing with tomatoes, but the good news is that if you aren’t fussy, they can create some really interesting results!

All you have to do is take the seeds out of a fruit, however you prefer to do this (I just slice them and squeeze the seeds out). Put the seeds in a sieve and wash off any excess tomato juice. You will notice that the seeds are covered in a kind of jelly. In order to get rid of this we place our seeds into water for around a week. Just enough to cover them. I recommend doing this in a jar as it can get quite smelly! Once they have soaked for a few days, take them out, rinse them again and let them dry out on some kitchen roll before storing them away safely.

A word of warning

Whilst seed saving is great fun, I recommend staying away from saving any squash or pumpkin seeds. As frustrating as this is because they’re so easy to just pick up and pop in a packet, they can create some quite toxic hybrids. Last year a major seed manufacturer had to recall some courgette seeds because eating the fruits was making some people seriously ill. This is called toxic squash syndrome. So unless you’re prepared to go the extra mile of hand pollinating and making absolutely sure that nothing else has pollinated your squashes other than itself – it’s not worth it!

It can also be really upsetting if you spend a lot of time saving seeds and they get destroyed over winter. That’s why I recommend making sure that they are dry before putting them into a packet and I also recommend storing them somewhere that is cool, dry and away from any rodents! Mine just sit in a box in my living room after too many disasters trying to store them in the shed or the greenhouse.

Check out my video about these 5 easy seeds to save for a little bit more information on how to actually save them!

If you want to know more about seed saving, or you are interested in saving more seeds I highly recommend this book: Back Garden Seed Saving by Sue Stickland

How to Harvest Winter Squashes and Pumpkins

This time of year is pretty exciting, for some of us it might already be time, and others will be patiently waiting to harvest those long-awaited pumpkins and winter squashes.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin

From a sowing in April, they should be almost done by now and ready to tuck up into your pantry for eating over winter. Winter squashes and pumpkins are highly valued for their tough skins that make them perfect for storing. They can store for an entire year if they are kept somewhere cool, dark and safe from the frost.

But in order to be able to store them for this long, we have to harvest them correctly, and at the right time, or we risk losing all our hard work.

So when harvesting winter squashes and pumpkins the first thing we need to do is check the stems. If the stems are still green, they will still be pumpkin nutrients and water into your fruit. This is great, but when it comes to harvesting we need the fruit to be sealed off from the rest of the plant. This is because if the fruit is not sealed there is a chance of infections being able to get into the fruit and the chance of it going rotten skyrockets! Pumpkins and winter squashes will seal themselves, but we have to allow them to do it.

So how do we know when it’s time? Quite simply, the stems will die off. When the stem supplying the fruit has turned brown and is no longer looking like an alive part of the plant – the chances are that seal around the fruit has been made.

Unfortunately, we could be hit by an early frost which necessitates harvesting our winter squashes and pumpkins early so that we don’t lose them. In which case it is best practice to eat them sooner rather than later, or just keep an eye on them and make sure to eat them before they start to rot.

When we harvest, whether we are cutting green or brown stems, it’s a good idea to leave a bit of them stem in place. We do this by finding where the stem from the fruit joins the main vine and cutting the main vine either side. What we will be left with then is a “T” shape on our fruit.

T-Shape on the stem, with some leaf stems still attached

What this does is allow the vines to die off, or to die-off further and gives the fruit some opportunity to form a seal around itself. If we cut too close to the stem of the fruit we risk removing the naturally built seal and opening up an infection site.

A word of warning: Some squashes or pumpkins will develop lesions in their stems, or the stems will become damaged one way or another. These fruits will not store well and therefore you should prioritise eating these ones first!

For more information check out my little video on harvesting winter squashes and pumpkins:

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The Seed Pod Podcast

Exciting news! I have joined forces with my very good friend Richard Chivers (Sharpen Your Spades) and we’ve created a brand new organic gardening podcast 🥳 It’s called The Seed Pod.

We will be digging into the world of grow your own gardening, and all that comes with it. We want to bring you seasonal advice and science based information that you can apply to your gardening straight away!

We are really excited about this new adventure, so we would love you to check it out!

Never miss an episode

Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:

What to Sow in February

Ok, I know it was only the other day that I was talking about practicing patience, but there are now a few things that we can be sowing! On the 14th of February (or thereabouts depending on where you are in the UK) we start to see over 10 hours of daylight. This seems to be the magic number for starting healthy seeds. 

The average seed contains just about enough energy to support the plant right up until it has a root and two leaves (4 in some cases). The first root is called the radicle, and goes down in search of water and nutrients. The first leaf or leaves push up through the earth and unfurl to start collecting light. The first leaves are called the Cotyledons. Plants that produce just one leaf from the seed are called Monocotyledons, and plants that produce a pair of leaves are called Dicotyledons. 

If when these leaves push out of the earth, they do not find enough light to sustain and grow the plant, the plant will suffer as a result. I talked about this in my last post. BUT the good news is that we now have those daylight hours that we need to get seeds started. 

This week I will be sowing lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale, early cabbage, broad beans and spring onions. All of these things can go outside more or less straight away as soon as they are big enough. They are all cold tolerant so won’t mind going outside, and sowing now will ensure that they have enough light to grow strong instead of leggy.

I’ll also be sowing chillis, peppers and aubergines in the greenhouse on heat mats. These plants are the exception to the rule. They aren’t really supposed to grow in the British climate, and they need a long growing season. So sow them now, but give them some help in the form of extra heat, and if you can, keep Chillis and Peppers in a greenhouse or poly tunnel throughout their growing season. Aubergines are notoriously difficult to get pollinated so if you’re growing them indoors think about planting some flowers to lure in pollinators and make sure that they have a way of getting in (leaving doors open!). You can also put aubergine’s outside in a warm sunny spot.

A greenhouse is the perfect place to sow seeds. Double glazed windows that most houses have now filter out so many of the sun’s UVs making windowsills not a great option. If you don’t have a greenhouse a clear plastic box turned upside down works fine too. Raise it off the ground for a little extra warmth. Alternatively, sow in a conservatory or porch, or somewhere where the light comes from all angles and the seedlings should be fine. Grow lights are an option if you don’t have anywhere else to sow, but remember they are never as good as the sun! 

Happy Sowing 💚

Becky x

Practicing Patience

Sweet Million tomatoes outside in August, sown in mid March

It’s February, and the temptation to brighten the dull and dismal days with some seed sowing is almost too much to bear. We want so desperately for spring to be with us and we yearn to see green shoots pushing up through the ground. Anyone who has ever planted a seed will know the pang of excitement at the first sight of green amongst the brown compost. In our honest and understandable desire to experience this comes the peril of sowing too early.

In some ways we are lucky to live in a world of heat mats and grow lights. But these gadgets which are designed to make our lives easier and grow us healthy plants often end up doing the exact opposite of this. They lure us into believing that we can cheat nature and raise healthy plants without listening to the seasons. The truth is obvious; these gadgets cannot replace natural conditions of seasons. By which I am mainly talking about sunlight. Plants are literally water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. We would not expect a seedling to do well with very little water (depending on the plant of course – some cacti and succulents manage fairly well!). Equally we cannot expect our seedlings to thrive without sunlight. We can add some light, or extend the number of hours of light in a day artificially with lights, but the majority of plants we grow in our gardens and allotments in the UK don’t need it. They just need to be sown when the time is right. 

After Valentines day (February 14th), day length starts to increase rapidly. There is more and more natural light becoming available to our plants, and this is a green flag for starting to sow. 

Most things still can’t be sown in February, but things that need a long growing season like chillis, peppers and aubergines can be sown. These should be provided with some warmth in the form of a heat mat or propagator, because they aren’t “meant” to grow in our climate here in the UK so we have to help them along a bit!

But what is actually so bad about sowing things early? Well, as gardeners I feel as though we have a responsibility to seeds as tiny little lives to do the best for them. We also have a responsibility to ourselves not to create too much work for ourselves, particularly not in spring! If we sow too early we not only have to provide extra heat and light for our seedlings, but we also grower weaker plants that need extra help even when conditions are good. For example etiolated (“leggy”) seedlings; they stretch up more than they should, producing more growth in their stems to try and get more light. This creates a weak stem which often topples over under the weight of just a few leaves. We can bury the stems of some plants (like tomatoes, chillis and aubergines) and they will set roots out from their stems, but if conditions still aren’t favourable, they will just do the same again. Even a slightly weaker stem can be a problem when fruit starts to set as the plant may not be able to support itself and we risk the plant breaking.

But it’s more than just producing weaker plants. Plants like tomatoes use climatic signals to tell them when to set fruit. It doesn’t just happen when they are big enough or old enough. Tomatoes need temperatures over about 15 degrees in order to set fruit. So planting tomatoes in March gives them plenty of time to get big enough to bear fruit before the temperatures get high enough to trigger fruiting. 

Chilli “Sombrero” sown indoors in February and given some extra heat to trigger germination

The point is that by sowing too early, we set ourselves more work, for no extra benefit. 

Seeds are precious little capsules containing tiny lives. They shouldn’t be wasted, or disrespected. During wars seeds banks are given the highest level of protection because they are paramount to the future survival of plants and in turn, us. As gardeners we are custodians of tiny seed banks ourselves (in my case in a small basket in my kitchen). When we plant these seeds we must endeavour to do it in a way that is respectful to the life within. 

Find an experienced gardener in your local area who can give you the gift of their wisdom as to when to plant what. Personally I use Charles Dowding’s sowing times as he is fairly local to me, but find something that works for you, and don’t forget to learn from your own experience too. A bunch of leggy tomatoes filling up your conservatory in March isn’t ideal. When they get too big for your greenhouse or windowsill is when they should be going into their final growing space, so the aim is to get that timing right.

So keep those itchy sowing fingers in your pockets a little longer, the time is almost upon us!

January Blues

January is usually a quiet month in the garden. Not much happens in the garden in January due to the low light levels and low temperatures. Frankly, this is a relief as I look out through the rain spotted glass into my vegetable patch. I like that January offers us those tantalising days, when the sun comes out and you can almost feel it’s warmth, teasing spring. Those are the best days to get outside and do what needs to be done. Otherwise I highly recommend curling up with a nice warm pair of socks, a cup of tea and a decent seed catalogue! 

In my experience there are two types of woman; the ones that get excited about designer handbags and manicures, and the ones with soil under their fingernails who get excited about a new dahlia cultivar.  I am proud to say I fall into the second category. A decent pair of socks I can definitely get on board with though!

So January is a great time to prepare for the growing season to come. This does include (although I will not accept any responsibility for your resulting bankruptcy) buying seeds, bulbs, corms and so on. Of course, before we do any of this, we must MUST first check that we are not doubling up on seeds. If you have a friend you can do a seed swap with, January is the time! And if you have old seeds that are still in date, use them instead of buying more. Of course the best possible thing to do is to save your own seeds, but it’s not really the right time of year for a post on that. There are a few exceptions to this; notably parsnip seeds should be as fresh as you can get them. 

Another part of the preparations you can enjoy this time of year (with warm socks and a nice cup of tea) is garden planning. Its probably best to do this before you get any seeds. Having a plan gives you a much better idea of what seeds and bulbs you need. This not only saves us time and money but also saves seeds for other growers and gives less power to large seed companies (after all, shouldn’t seeds be a publicly owned good? – check out www.seedsovereignty.info for more on this).

My favourite thing to sow in January is sweet peas. I sow these on a windowsill in my house so they are protected from the cold (and so I don’t have to freeze going to check on them!). They need a reasonably deep pot and can either be sown in root trainers or in pots with around 5 or 6 seeds per pot. They’re wonderful to grow and sprout really quickly if you have good fresh seed, so they can bring a little joy to your January windowsill! I use sweet peas to cover up unattractive fences (I’m looking at you rabbit fencing!) and grow up obelisks to add height to borders. In summer my entire house smells sweet and beautiful with little posies dotted around each room, and any friend I visit is almost guaranteed to receive a posy of their own (note: If I visit you in summer and don’t bring sweet peas, don’t assume we have fallen out, its more likely I forgot!).

IT can be exceptionally hard to sustain a positive attitude and good mental health through these dark winter days. All the fun and festivity of Christmas is over and the goodwill seems to get switched off as quickly as the fairy lights sometimes. Its particularly hard when we find ourselves in another lockdown. There is little to do (or too much to do if you’re working from home, home schooling, caring for another or anything else you wouldn’t usually be doing). It feels bleak and never ending sometimes, but remember that spring is on its way and us gardeners are going to need our strength! So take some time this month. Dream of what you want from the year ahead. Pamper yourself. Plan, draw, redraw and replan your garden or vegetable patch. Wear your ugliest, comfiest jumper like a warm hug and remember not to go too mad on those seed catalogues.

Much love,

Becky x