Setting up our tunnel cloche

It had no instructions, some of the parts were missing and the box had been partially eaten by snails.

But we weren’t going to let those sorts of details put us off trying to erect the tunnel cloche we inherited from the previous plot holder.

And besides, the greenhouse was overflowing with plants and the risk of frost diminishing daily. It was time to think about moving our plants to the plot. We would need a structure to give them a little bit of protection while they were hardening off.

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Recipe: roast radishes 

Roast radishes, tomatoes and mushrooms
Andrew and I have gone from not liking radishes to loving them. Just as well since this is our first and only crop so far, and we’re harvesting them in abundance!

But apart from raw, is there any other way to eat them? Of course there is!

I decided to try roasting them. If you have a recipe for radishes, please share it in the comments below.

Newly harvested radish

I had heard that roast radishes are delicious. And since I was roasting some vegetables anyway, I decided to throw a few in. I’m glad I did – what a treat!

Roasted, they become tender and moist, lose their sharp peppery edge and take on a mild flavour that is vaguely reminiscent of turnip.

Below is a description of how I cooked them. It isn’t really a recipe as such. It’s more a case of throw what you fancy into a roasting dish with some seasoning and olive oil. Cherry tomatoes and mushrooms are a favourite at Quest for Veg HQ. But you could add red or yellow peppers, for example, vary the amounts of the vegetables used, or leave out the other vegetables and just roast the radishes.

I used dried mixed herbs but you could try a single herb such as thyme or use fresh herbs. You could stir in a crushed garlic clove. Or you could sprinkle over a little lemon juice just before serving.

But as a starting point, here’s our basic recipe.


Roast vegetables with radishes

Serves 2 as a side dish

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved (or quartered if they are very large)

12 cherry tomatoes

12 radishes

2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

Place the mushroom halves and cherry tomatoes in a shallow roasting dish.

Top and tail the radishes, saving the green leaves, if you have them. Halve the radishes and add them to the roasting dish.

Sprinkle over the herbs, a few twists of black pepper and a little salt. Add the olive oil and give it all a good stir.

Bake on 180C for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are shrivelled and softened, and a little brown round the edges. Roughly chop the radish tops (you did keep them, didn’t you?) and stir them through the hot vegetables to wilt them.


And that’s all there is to it! Since the oven was on, I baked a couple of sweet potatoes at the same time.

At the moment, we’re harvesting radish scarlet globe. But we have also sown Unwin’s bright and spicy mix – we can’t wait to try our recipe on the different varieties in this mix.

If you have a favourite way to cook or serve radishes, please let us know.

Preventing damping off disease

A zinnia seedlings which has gone brown at the base of its stem

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It looks like we’ve been visited by damping off disease. We found this little zinnia seedling flopped over, and going brown from the base of the stem upwards.

It looks as though we have been lucky in that we only seem to have lost three zinnia seedlings to date. It can wipe out a patch of seedlings in a tray or spread to the whole tray or beyond.

What causes damping off?

Damping off is caused by several types of organism, particularly certain types of fungi and bacteria. They live in the soil and are usually carried by water.

You might see fine fluffy white threads of fungus on the surface of the compost or on the affected seedlings. But sometimes the only thing you’ll see is the dead or dying seedlings. Or you may find that a tray of seeds has only come up in patches because the rest have been affected as they germinate.

The organisms that cause the disease are widespread in soil so it can affect seedlings planted outside. But it is the growing conditions that we create in the greenhouse that can encourage it to spread: damp, warm, humid conditions with a high concentration of seeds.

What can you do to prevent or cure damping off?

It used to be that there was a copper-based treatment but this was deregulated in 2012. So, there are now no longer any treatments available for the domestic gardener in the UK.

What you can do is try to reduce the likelihood of it occurring with a bit of good housekeeping. Here are our top tips:

Do

  • Disinfect the greenhouse regularly using a product suitable for a garden situation – in other words one that won’t poison your plants. For example, Citrox*, Vitax Greenhouse Disinfectant* or Jeyes fluid*.
  • Wash/disinfect pots, trays, tubs, capillary matting, etc thoroughly before you reuse them
  • Use commercial compost – although not entirely sterile, the chances of infection are greatly reduced
  • Watch your temperature control – use a raised temperature for germination, move seedlings to an area with a lower temperature for growing on

Don’t

  • Use rain water or water from water butts
  • Reuse compost
  • Plant seedlings too densely – check the packets for advice on spacing for each variety
  • Over water

*Amazon affiliate links – you can click to buy and we may get a small percentage, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay. Thank you for your support.

Our first harvest

Quite unexpectedly, Andrew spotted a radish that looked ready to eat. 

He carefully extracted it from the soil and here it is: the first vegetable to be sown and harvested on the Quest for Veg plot.

Our first harvest was a small radish

Radish Scarlet Globe

We carefully carried this little jewel home to wash it and try it.

I should say at this point that neither Andrew nor I like radishes. I have wondered why we are growing so many. So we were a little bit apprehensive as we sliced into this tiny prize.

Let me tell you, my friends, it was absolutely delicious!

The gleaming, snowy flesh was moist and softly crunchy, the flavour subtle – smooth and creamy at first then gently peppery with vaguely citrus notes. Not at all like radishes as we remembered them.

We can’t wait for the next one!

End of April tour of the plot

On the face of it, the allotment looks pretty similar to how it looked at the end of March. This is partly because much of the obvious activity has happened in the greenhouse, and partly because the things that we’ve planted – mainly potatoes – have yet to show much growth.

But we have come a long way. It’s good to look back to remind ourselves of the progress we’re making.

April started with the exciting news that our blog was featured in Grow Your Own magazine.

Page from Grow Your Own magazine featuring our blog

Andrew made a sign for the allotment using a pyrography tool. This meant that we were complying with regulations because we were once again displaying our plot number.

Andrew and Sandra posing with the handmade allotment sign

We planted our chitted first early potatoes. Rolling back the geotextile revealed a host of pale, leggy weeds that all needed to be dug out before the potatoes could be planted.

An array of weeds hidden under the weed suppressing membrane

We continued to sow seeds and pricked out seedlings in the greenhouse. Andrew won some Purple Prince zinnia seeds from Mr Fothergill so we have several trays vying for space among the veggies.

Andrew holding a tray of seedlings in the greenhouse

We were given a couple of tools by our good friend David – a soil miller and an oscillating hoe. We cleaned them up and they proved very useful in helping to keep the weeds down.

Our soil miller and oscillating hoe

We were asked by Westland if we woud be interested in reviewing some of their products and began with a selection of Unwin’s seeds.

Andrew in the greenhouse holding packets of seeds

Immediate jobs for may are planting the main crop potatoes that have just arrived. We will also try to harden off some of our greenhouse

Once again we are grateful to Richard Anderson of Anderson Landscapes for continued use of his greenhouse.

We’ve been sent some seeds to try

We all like to be asked our opinion, right? So, when Westland got in touch and asked if we’d be interesting in trialling and reviewing some of their products, of course we said yes.

As a start, they sent us some seeds from their Bursting with Flavour range.

The six packets of seeds we received

According to the Westland website, the Bursting with Flavour range has been designed: “… to help food enthusiasts reach new flavour heights in their home-cooked meals. The range includes a mix of easy to grow fruit, vegetable and herb seeds that can be grown in small spaces …”

I think that here at Quest for Veg we can safely be described as food enthusiasts!

The seeds we received were:

Here’s Andrew sowing the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the greenhouse, and the radishes in a raised bed in the allotment:

We’ll sow the carrots and beetroot as soon as we get the beds prepared.

One thing that did strike us was that for the ones we sowed in the greenhouse: there were not many seeds in each packet. The average packet contents for the peppers is just six, and the tomatoes and cucumbers ten in each. At £2.99 per pack, I think if we were buying these in the garden centre, we’d probably choose a variety with more seeds in the packet – we do like to feel we’re getting our money’s worth! But if space is at a premium, or you’re looking for something promising more flavour, why not give these a try?

I am happy to report that we will probably not go short of beetroot (200 per pack),  radish (400 per pack) or carrots (500 per pack).

The soil miller and the oscillating hoe

We were very fortunate to have been given two tools for cultivating the soil and hoeing by our good friend David.

In this video, Andrew talks about how to clean and care for your tools, and we show them both in action.

The soil miller

Close up of the head of a Wolf Garten soil miller
The soil miller is a Wolf Garten product. With its star shaped wheels, it looks fabulously medieval! They are designed to break down the soil as you work it back and forth, and a rear blade that cuts through any weeds.

Not only that, but the soil miller comes from the Wolf Garten multi-change tool range, which comprises a selection of handles and tool heads. Having got a handle we could potentially explore other tool heads in the range.

The oscillating hoe

Close up of the head of an oscillating hoe
Also known as the stirrup hoe, the swivel hoe or the reciprocating hoe. The stirrup shaped head has a swinging motion that keeps it at the right angle. It should have a sharp edge that cuts through weeds as you move it back and forth through the top layer of soil.

It should be self sharpening. We cleaned ours up and Andrew gave the edge a bit of a sharpen. Hopefully, that’s all we need to do to keep it in good working order.

A very quick tour of the greenhouse

It’s the middle of April and we have a full house – the greenhouse is bursting at the seams! We’re aiming to bring on a succession of seedlings over a range of plants and we’re not quite ready to start hardening things off.

Not only that, Andrew won some zinnia seeds from Mr Fothergill and couldn’t resist sowing them. We have no idea where we’re going to plant them but their rosy purple flowers should look amazing.

You may get the impression from this video tour that Sandra is not a huge fan of marrows. Can you convert her? If you have any recipe suggestions, please let us know!

And here are a couple of pictures:

A pumpkin plant surrounded by tomatoes to the left and herbs to the right with aubergines and courgettes beyond that

A pumpkin plant surrounded by tomatoes (to the left) and herbs (to the right), with aubergines and courgettes beyond that

A tray of parsley and dill, with tomatoes to their left and lettuce seedlings beyond that

A tray of parsley and dill, with tomatoes to their left and lettuce seedlings beyond that

How to prick out seedlings

In this video, Andrew demonstrates how to handle seedlings during pricking out.

Aim to prick out seedlings as soon as you can get hold of a seed leaf (called a cotyledon). That is the only part of the seedling you should handle. This is because the cotyledons are very hardy. Other parts of the seedling can be damaged easily which may at best put the plant under stress, and at worst damage or even kill the seedling.

Choose a container that is going to be big enough to allow them to grow to the size you want for planting out into their final position. We used a range of cells trays and pots depending on the size the plant is likely to grow to – pumpkins went in larger pots than alpine strawberries!

The compost used for pricking out can be potting or universal /multi purpose compost. We use peat free.

When you have potted up your seedlings, give them a good watering, and water regularly. When the plant shows signs of growth, such as developing more leaves, you should consider adding a fertiliser to encourage root growth.

Andrew holding a cell tray containing newly pricked out zinnia seedlings
The seedlings shown in the video are Zinnia Purple Prince that Andrew won from Mr Fothergill.

Planting our first earlies

Here we go. Second week of April. Chitted potatoes ready to be planted. Lots of seeds that can be sown directly into the soil. Bring it on.

Chitted potatoes on the kitchen work surface
We started the day full of hope and ambition. What can I say? It was a lot harder than anticipated.

Part of the problem was, of course, the weeds. We uncovered the planting area only to see a host fresh weed shoots.

We rolled back the geotextile to reveal an array of weeds that needed to be removed

They all had to be dug out carefully because even the smallest amount of root can grow a new plant (or two!).

A piece of bindweed root about an inch (2cm) long and the plant that has grown from it

Bindweed generating a new plant from about an inch (2cm) of root

 

Green alkanet shoots growing from a piece of root that had been missed and left in the soil

Green alkanet looking slightly alien

So, by the time it came to digging trenches to plant the potatoes I was pretty much exhausted.

Sandra digging over the area where we wanted to plant our potatoes
Nevertheless, trenches were dug and potatoes planted. You can see how we got on in this video.

We’re also trying out planting potatoes in bags that Andrew is making. He is using the plastic fabric from some spare one ton builder’s bags. He cuts it to size and sews two seams up the side and attaches a base panel. Here is the prototype.

Andrew's homemade potato planting bag

Andrew’s homemade potato planting bag

It will be interesting to compare the crop yield with those in the ground. He is also using the fabric to create other things such as this hanging bag.

Andrew's homemade plant hanging bag prototype
You’ll notice that we didn’t plant any seeds. I’m afraid we exhausted ourselves dealing with the potatoes. The seeds will have to wait for another day!