Blog, Growing

Make A Fresh Start

bean-plant-2348098_1920Mustard and cress, sunflowers, peas and beans sprouting in recycled coffee cups—remember those happy times back in nursery? Getting your hands dirty, desperately waiting for the first little shoots to pop their heads up, then carrying your plant home in grubby paws to present it to your family?

Things were so much simpler back then. Life, with its tests, exams, debts, and deadlines forces us into a hamster wheel of tail-chasing, day after day. We’re already a quarter of the way through the year. Can you believe it? Where did the time go? New Year’s Resolutions to take it easy and have more fun are a distant memory (although one resolution came back to surprise me last week—you can read more about that here).

Time flies when you’re busy, and we’re all busy all the time these days. If we’re not wrapped up in earning a living, we’re on line helping other people to earn theirs, by shopping or clicking. Why not take some time out during this holiday weekend to rediscover your roots? Take a break, abandon the rat race and re-live those times when you were a lot closer to the earth— physically, as well as mentally. It’s easy to forget that until the supermarkets and their needs turned food production into an industrial process, our food was almost all local and seasonal. It wasn’t all that far back. The first supermarket arrived less than thirty years ago in the market town where I grew up.  Before that, tinned pineapple, new potatoes from Jersey or fresh mandarin oranges at Christmas was as exotic as it got!

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Home made bread and homegrown salad, just waiting for a poached egg…

Reclaim your independence, if only in a small way. Make a fresh start this spring. Grow some sprouting seeds, or cut-and-come again salad  in a tray on your windowsill. If you’ve got room outside, get the biggest container you can find, and grow some beans. Scarlet runners or climbing French beans will scramble up a wigwam of canes. They make a great show in a small space. They aren’t frost-hardy, so you’ll need to wait a week or two before sowing them direct in your container, but you can make a start indoors earlier than that. At this stage you can do your bit for recycling—start saving the inner cardboard tubes from toilet rolls to make your own plant pots.

There was a big fuss a few years ago about possible hygiene concerns when handling toilet roll inners.  Take care, and wash your hands thoroughly after every gardening session, and again before you eat. There shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re still worried, stick to reusing the cardboard tubes from the middle of kitchen roll, gift wrap or baking parchment.  Each one of those will make several small pots.

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Bees love sunflowers, while birds (and bakers) love their seeds

Obviously, watering will make your bio-degradable plant pots soggy and they’ll break down quite quickly, so only use them for the early stages of quick-growing things like beans, peas and sunflowers.

To give your home-made pots stability, pack them into something waterproof, such as a plastic box. I use old takeaway containers. Although we eat healthy food every day, now and again it’s hard to resist something ready-made! Fill the pots to the top with seed compost (garden soil is too rich, and full of weed seeds). Firm it gently, then push one big seed into each. Add enough water to make the soil nice and moist, then put your container close to the glass on a sunny windowsill.

Wean your baby plants onto the outdoor life gradually. First, put them outside only on mild days. Bring them back indoors at night for the first week. After that,  only coddle them if there’s likely to be a frost. Once they’ve been planted in their permanent container, water them regularly and peg a sheet of newspaper around them at night if frost is forecast. Once your plants start to climb, they’ll be unstoppable. They’ll take as much water as you can give them. As the pretty flowers turn into beans, keep picking the pods to encourage your plants to keep producing. Don’t let them become has-beans. If you do, the plant will think it’s done it’s job. It will transfer its strength into maturing seeds and the beans will become tough instead of tasty.

RED_KALE_-3100694_1920Your bean plants will be killed by autumn frosts, but by then you’ll be hooked and looking forward (I hope) to planting up your container with some sprouting broccoli or red kale. The frilly leaves look good over winter, and you’ll be picking home-grown shoots next March, when they cost a fortune to buy from the supermarket.

Growing things helps me cope with modern life. It keeps my feet on the ground, encourages me to plan, and keeps me looking ahead. What’s your tip for staying optimistic, despite all the fears and frenzy of modern life?

 

 

Blog, Growing

Float like a butterfly, pollinate like a bee?

It’s 20th February, the wind is blowing straight from Siberia, but the apricot tree growing in my greenhouse doesn’t care. It could live outside quite happily  if it wasn’t for the early flowers you can see in my photo. They are every bit as delicate as they look.  This cold would destroy them, and all the pollinating insects are too sensible to risk being blown about by the icy breeze. That means if we’re going to enjoy eating our own apricots this summer, I have to do the bees’ work myself.

This is the best-ever flowering we’ve had. Home-grown apricots are such a rare, delicious treat, I’ve never managed to take a photo before they’ve all been eaten. As you can see by the teethmarks on this one, I was only just in time last year!

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Once a day,  from the moment the first apricot flowers open until the last petals begin to drop, I dust each one with a fine paintbrush. There’s no skill involved, and  I don’t bother buzzing like a bee while I’m doing it! All I do is nudge pollen from the anthers to the stigmas. With luck, that will fertilise all the flowers. I’ll be able to see where my impersonation of a bee has been successful. Tiny green fruits will soon begin to swell.

This apricot tree is growing in a tub. If it dries out at any point from now on, it will react by dropping its fruit.  Once the compost is nice and moist, I’ll top up the soil with an inch or two of fresh compost. When the little apricots really start to grow, I’ll give the tree liquid plant food as well.

With luck, in five or six months time we’ll be picking warm, sweet apricots in summer sunshine. My dream is to grow enough to make jam. Warm croissants spread with butter and home-made apricot jam is my favourite Christmas Day breakfast. What’s yours?