Sunday, 27 March 2011


I don't go in for arbitrary numbers all that much. I'm too ruthlessly rational for that. So it's the first day of the new year, so what? It's all essentially made up. However, it's hard not to notice things like losing a certain amount of weight, or harvesting a certain quantity of vegetables. So I have been idly counting seedlings as they spring up, and today I have reached the 500 mark. I should say, that includes shallot sets, which may be cheating, but they are cancelled out by the Lobelia, which are so numerous and tiny that I haven't a hope of counting them.

My current windowsill inhabitants are:
  • 178 tomatoes
  • 37 shallots (although 11 will be planted out later today)
  • 4 Eschscholzia (freshly-sprouted in the last 24 hours)
  • 34 aubergines
  • 12 castor beans
  • 35 Calendula
  • 15 okra
  • 45 Cosmos
  • 8 broad beans
  • 17 sweet peas
  • 17 nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  • 33 beetroot (the first 'Chioggia' appeared today)
  • 66 chicory

Which is all very exciting, but also slightly worrying, as I am only halfway through my spring sowing, and I have totally run out of windowsill space. I am rushing things out into the garden as fast as is sensible (the shallots are fine, the broad beans will go out soon), but it means I really need to get on with repairing the greenhouse as soon as I've finished a piece of work that's due this coming week.

The tomatoes are still centre stage. I sowed the last varieties today (yes, 178 is just the first batch), and have been potting the older plants on for a week or so. I now have 68 pots full, not counting the ungerminated ones. I was a little concerned they weren't growing very quickly, but I was wrong - I checked on Tomato Lover, who very helpfully takes pictures of her plants every week throughout the year, and mine are actually bigger than hers were at the same age (the largest ones are now nearly 3 weeks old). The ones in their own pots now are getting quite sturdy, coming to the end of the seedling stage, and getting large enough for me to realistically call them 'plants'. They are certainly growing faster than the other crops, but then maybe they prefer the warm, sunny conditions on my windowsill more than some. In any case, they have been a huge success already, and give me the positivity and confidence to continue with the whole project.

'Green Zebra' seedlings desperate to be repotted - I got 40 plants from a pack claiming to contain 30 seeds! A dozen were potted on after I took this picture

Meanwhile, I planted some broad beans I'd started off indoors outside, next to two I'd already planted out a few weeks ago. They are in a newly-dug and fertilised bed, with council and homemade compost, sifted garden soil, and blood, fish, and bonemeal. A few perpetual spinach plants that survived the winter in the greenhouse (or what was left of it after two major storms) are interplanted with them, and the back of the bed has been sown with turnips.

To be honest, I have been disappointed by the beans. Whether it is me (I started them off in toilet roll tubes) or the seeds themselves, I feel the germination rate has been pretty poor (maybe 60%). The 'Karmazyn', a pink-seeded variety, has been worse than the 'Red Epicure' (red-seeded, unsurprisingly), although the outdoor-sown ones have done better (see below).

Another bed needs topping up with garden soil (it's mostly homemade compost), and then I am trying carrot seed mats. The idea is from Annie's Kitchen Garden, where the method of gluing seeds at pre-measured spaces onto flimsy paper towels works like a dream. I have never grown a crop of carrots successfully, mainly because I do it in pots and then neglect them. This time I'm hoping not having to thin them will mean a successful crop.

Meanwhile, my first tulips have been blooming this past week, bringing some colour and a real sense of spring to the back garden. Nearby, two large planters of peas and broad beans I sowed before I went away last month are poking through, and providing hope for my first crops in a couple of months' time.

Tulip 'Candy Prince' against the back fence

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