Our first taste of Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

Winter 2018 was spent deciding what vegetables we wanted to try, focusing again on the new or usual.

Again we were tempted by South American vegetable tubers so we ordered Mashua, pronounced Mash-wa (Tropaeolum tuberosum), a perennial of the nasturtium family.

As they were a little expensive, we bought just two roots and decided to plant them at either end of the plot.

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Sowing French climbing beans in deep root trainers

Purple and yellow climbing French beans growing up bamboo canes

Our climbing French beans were such a hit last year, that we were definitely keen to sow them again.

They were relatively easy to grow, looked great, tasted great and were even better with the recipe we found for preserving them. What more could you ask for? More beans, of course!

Learning from last year

We decided to stick with exactly what we did last year – Suttons’ colourful climbing mix.

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Growing oca or New Zealand yam

If you’re growing vegetables and you haven’t tried oca (also known as New Zealand yams), you’re missing out. They’re easy to grow, easy to cook and super tasty!

Sandra kneeling by the oca bed holding a bunch of freshly harvested oca

When we took on the Quest For Veg plot, one of our goals was to grow unusual produce. So when we spotted oca in the Thompson and Morgan catalogue last year, we didn’t hesitate – even though we knew nothing about how to grow them, how to cook them or what they would taste like.

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Choosing the right fertiliser 

Fertilisers provide plant nutrients. But what nutrients do your plants need and how do you know what to use?

Garden centre shelf full of an array of different fertilisers
I should mention right up front that this article has been a long time in the making. There has been much debate at Quest for Veg HQ about what to include and how to make it easy to understand. We have tried to produce a simple, readable guide to a complicated and sciency area. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know.
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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.

Getting a heated propagator for the greenhouse

Andrew in the greenhouse with a pot of seeds

It’s been a week since we sowed our first seeds in the greenhouse that our good friend Richard is kindly lending us.

It might be early days but so far there are no signs of life. We had a basic thermometer in the greenhouse and, even though the greenhouse has a tube  heater, we were worried that the temperature was dropping in the evenings and at night below what we needed to germinate our seeds.

On average, plants need a temperature of around 15-20 degrees centigrade to germinate, although some plants may have particular temperature requirements outside this range.

Andrew decided that we needed to raise the temperature under the seeds, so we went in search of a basic propagator. We didn’t want to spend too much money so went to a DIY store rather than a garden centre where we have found prices tend to be higher.

We ended up in Homebase where we found a Stewart essentials propagator. It doesn’t have a thermostat, but the instructions say that it should achieve a temperature of between 10-15 degrees centigrade above the ambient temperature.

We have set up a max/min thermometer with a probe in the propagator to see what temperatures we achieve. We’ll let you know how we get on.

In this video, we set up the propagator and sow some more seeds – including the pot black and rose bianca aubergines that Sandra won from Mr Fothergills.

We had a lot of fun making this video. Be sure to check out the out-takes at the end of the Video!

Sowing our first seeds

We don’t have a garden at Quest for Veg HQ, so we were delighted when our friend Richard offered us the use of his heated greenhouse. He even cleaned it out for us!


This gives us the opportunity to get going with plants that need a little bit of heat to start them off. We decided to begin  with a couple of varieties fo tomato from a packet of Mr Fothergills seeds from the front of the March edition of Grow Your Own magazine.

So here’s Andrew explaining to me how to sow my first tomatoes!

As a reminder, this is why we can’t start seeds on our windowsills:


 

Chitting potatoes – my top 5 questions answered!

Chitting is the process of causing potatoes to sprout before you plant them. But how do you chit and why do you need to do it in the first place?

Why chit?

Most gardeners chit their potatoes but you don’t absolutely have to. If you plant them straight into the ground, all being well, they will grow.

However, chitting allows the potato to develop strong shoots ahead of being planted. By placing the potato in the light, the shoots it develops will be sturdy and green, rather than the leggy white shoots that grow when the potato is placed in the dark.

So chitting gets the potatoes off to a good start and may give you an earlier crop.

How do you chit?

In the video, we mention removing all but two of the developing shoots. Not everyone does this.

The idea is that removing some of the shoots, is that having fewer stems prevents the plant from becoming overcrowded. There is less competition for water, nutrients and light, creating stronger plants that are less susceptible to pests and diseases. And more of the plant’s energy will go into creating a better crop of potatoes.

As with many things in gardening, whether you remove shoots or not may simply depend on what you learned with you first started to grow. So, this year we are going to try growing half our crop with all the shoots that develop, and half where we leave only two in place. We’ll let you know how we get on in a later blog.

Whatever way you go, when the shoots grow to between 1-2cm, they are ready to be planted out.

What if you set out your seed potatoes and some are the wrong way up?

They’ll still sprout. The plant is preprogrammed to know which way is up, so they’ll send out shoots which will seek to grow up. You may want to lift your potatoes while they’re chitting to check them for white shoots, and turn them the right way up.

Why use seed potatoes rather than just growing from potatoes bought in the supermarket?

Potatoes are susceptible to many viral diseases which can be carried over from one year to the next. This is why it is a good idea to buy seed potatoes.

When you buy seed potatoes, you are paying for certified crop. This means that you are buying named varieties grown in special conditions, and that they are inspected and tested to ensure quality and are then certified as disease free.

Potatoes grown for food are just not produced and stored in the same way. They may also have been treated with sprout inhibitors or to have been irradiated, which delays or eliminates sprouting. So, even if you can get them to sprout, you are likely to find that the plants don’t have the same vigor and/or produce a poor quality harvest.

Can you cut up your seed potato to create more plants?

You can although there is a risk of introducing disease through the cut surface. You can manage that by using an antifungal treatment – a light dusting of yellow sulphur can help (not too much).

If you decide to cut your potatoes, wait until you’re ready to plant them out. When you divide them, make sure that each piece has a couple of shoots (chits).

My seed potatoes have gone wrinkly. Does that mean they’re no good?

As long as they were not wrinkly before chitting, they should be fine. Seed potatoes can go wrinkly during the chitting process because the shoots begin photosynthesising. This involves giving off water and oxygen, and the potato shrinks but the skin does not, making them appear wrinkled. But the potato should still be good to plant out.

Pearl stakes her claim on the window sill

Pearl stakes her claim on the window sill

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