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choosing seeds

Vegetable Garden

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do Inside

January 18, 2015

Winter GardeningIs there anybody out there digging right now? Brrrrr, just the thought makes me want to pull the duvet snugly back around my legs as I look out of the window at the frost covered grass.

To be honest there’s not a huge amount we can do outside in our gardens or vegetable plots at this time of year, bar winter fruit tree pruning. Soil should never be worked or trodden on when it’s wet or frozen as it can become compacted and it’s still too cold to plant anything outside.

Winter is the time for plotting and planning, cleaning and sorting and in this article there are nine tips to help you with your 9 Winter Gardening Jobs You Can Do Indoorsgardening jobs that can be done from the warmth and comfort of your home, preferably with a steaming cup of tea by your side and perhaps a biscuit or two low-calorie of course 😉

The following suggestions come in no particular order. Just pick which ones take your fancy. If you do manage to spend a bit of time preparing for your spring garden now, you’ll find that all the gardening jobs will be much easier when you do begin work in earnest.

No. 1 – Sort Out Your Seed Box (or Make One)

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do InsideI’ve yet to work with a group that kept their seeds in a tin until I met them. Most produced plastic or paper bags full of packets and it’s something I used to do until I found that it might be the reason my seeds weren’t germinating.

If you want to get the best from your seeds, they need to be kept in an airtight container in a cool environment – not stuffed in a kitchen draw, which is where I used to keep mine.

To make a seed box, all you need is an airtight container, preferably rectangular or square (empty biscuit or chocolate tins are ideal) some cardboard dividers with the months written on them to help you organise your planning dates and some brown envelopes for collecting stray seeds or broken packets. Here’s a post explaining why it’s important to keep seeds in a container. While you’re sorting out your seeds, you might notice that some are out of date. Don’t throw them away, they might still be viable. Click this link for details on how long some of the more popular flower and vegetable seeds last as well as how to do a simple germination test to check their viability.

No. 2 – Order/Buy New Seeds

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsChoosing the vegetable plants you want to grow at the beginning of the year can be fun. It can also be a bewildering headache if you’re not sure what will grow best in your garden.

Fortunately seed shopping has become much easier now we can buy online, allowing us to choose seeds from the comfort of our homes. I’ve used Pinterest to help me with this in the past and I’ve also written a post that explains some of the factors you need to take into consideration when chosing and buying seeds, such as how much time you have to garden, how much space, soil and aspect conditions as well as pests and diseases. Check out the links above for more information.

No. 3 – Sort out the Gardening Tool Bag

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsJanuary is a great month for sorting out the tool bag and if you don’t have one, I’d recommend you put one together. There are so many sales on in January that if you’re missing anything, now could be the time to buy or replace it, before you need it.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago showing the contents of my tardis like bag. Tool bags make gardening life so much easier and I get a great buzz of excitement every time I rediscover mine in the springtime.

No. 4 – Wash Your Plastic Pots and Containers

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsThis job was always rock bottom on my gardening ‘to do’ list but it’s such an important one if you want to avoid spreading pests and diseases around your own or your friends’ gardens.

Fortunately I was given a great tip that can almost make washing your pots a fun task – just throw them all into a bath tub. Here’s a short article explaining how to wash and sterilise your pots and the reasons why we should do it.

No. 5 – Plan Your Crop Rotation

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsIf you’re growing organically or without chemicals, crop rotation is vital but it’s still a practice that confuses many.

There are four main reasons why we rotate crops. These include preventing pests and diseases building up in the soil, crops benefit one another that are grown together, crop rotation prevents nutrients being drained from the soil and it makes it easier to look after plants grown in the same families if they’re rotated together.

This article explains the most popular 4 year crop rotation practice where vegetables are grown in the order of Potatoes, Legumes, Brassica and Roots/Others. A handy acronym to help you remember the rotation is People Like Bunches of Roses

No. 6 – Source Manure

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsIf you’re starting from scratch or didn’t add organic matter to your vegetable garden in the autumn, you’ll need to do so within the next couple of months.

If we’re taking something out of the soil, we need to replace it. Adding well-rotted organic matter to soil such as animal manures, leaf mould, comfrey and nettle fertilisershomemade compost or green manures not only helps to add nourishment to soil and increase plant health, it also helps with soil structure and texture which will improve soil erosion and drainage, helping to prevent vital nutrients washing away.

Now is a great time to look in the local small ads or find a local stables or farmer who can supply you with manure. You might also begin to source some green manure seeds for spring planting or to begin composting, if you’re not already doing so.

No. 7 – Find Your Gardening Diary or Begin a New One

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsKeeping a gardening diary is one of the cornerstones to learning your gardening craft.

It’s very easy to forget where we planted something, what variety we grew or how well it grew for us. I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes and my diary has helped me to keep track of everything over the years. You can read more about the importance of keeping a diary here.

No. 8 – Grow Microgreens

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsMicrogreens have been the buzz word in the food and gardening industry for a couple of years and they’re very easy to grow indoors.

There’s  nothing fancy about Microgreens. They are simply seeds that are grown in compost or a soilless medium (anyone remember growing cress in cotton wool?) then harvested as seedlings when they have just four tiny leaves.

The seedlings are usually a combination of salads, herbs or Brassica and if you can’t find them in your local garden centre, you’ll find packets of mixed seeds online.

No. 9 – Make Paper Seed Pots

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsDefinitely a job for a warm kitchen table, making newspaper seed pots is a great way of upcycling and a money-saving exercise too.

You can either use a special paper potter, as I’ve done in this YouTube clip, or use a small plastic bottle as a mould.

Once the paper pots have been made, they can be stored in a dry place until you’re ready to fill them with compost and pop seeds into them.

Get Outside

All of that said, January shouldn’t just be about sitting inside and planning. Getting outside at any time of the year helps us to reconnect with nature and is particularly good for the wintertime soul once we’re wrapped up, warm and dry. If it’s not too windy or icy and you can get out for a walk, I’d recommend you do so. You never know what you might be missing and I’m not just talking about the exercise.

Have you any more tips for winter gardening jobs we can do in the warmth or are you a hardened gardener who’s outside at every opportunity?

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do Indoors

Blackberries in the Winter Garden

Vegetable Garden

How to Choose Vegetable Seeds … What Should I Buy?

April 6, 2010

Seed Tin

Choosing a variety of vegetable plant or seeds to grow in your garden can be difficult – there are so many to choose from. Looking at the hundreds of seed packets on offer in catalogues or on garden centre shelves can be bewildering, so where should you begin?

There are several factors to bear in mind before you open your wallet and keeping a list of possibilities in said wallet is one of them. It’s a bit like the golden rule of grocery shopping – never shop on an empty stomach. So when shopping for seeds, never shop without a wish list.

How do I make a wish list of seeds?

To put a wish list together you will have to ask yourself a few questions:

1. What do you or the people you’re growing for like to eat?

There’s no point planting a big patch of radishes if only one of you eats them, so your list should start with what you and the people you’re feeding like to eat.

PSB and Kale2. How much space do you have? Will you be growing in containers, a small back or front garden, in flower borders, raised beds, or a larger allotment?

Seed companies are now producing plants developed to grow specifically in containers, such as dwarf baby tomatoes that can be grown in hanging baskets and can withstand drought better.

Cabbages take up a lot of room and take a long time to grow. Choosing Savoy, red or white cabbages will give you a winter crop when everything else is sparse and they’re often more expensive in the shops too.

Some vegetables can be very decorative such as courgettes and rainbow chard. These wouldn’t be out-of-place in flower gardens and runner beans can be grown over pergolas and archways.

3. Do you hope to provide all of the vegetables for your family’s needs year round or just ones you particularly like that are perhaps unusual or expensive, such as shallots or asparagus?

To be fully self-sufficient in your vegetable requirements will need quite a lot of space and a greenhouse or polytunnel. You will also need to be fairly organised – by making comprehensive plans for your crop rotation – and be prepared to put in the time and effort of year round sowing, planting and harvesting.

4. How much time do you have to tend to your crops? Some will need more care than others.

tomato plantsUpright tomatoes for instance will need daily watering and side shooting (pruning), whereas bush varieties don’t. Bean and pea pods will need to be picked on a daily basis too once they’re ready. As soon as you stop picking them, they will stop producing pods.

If you plant a three metre double row of runner beans under good soil conditions, not only will you have to pick them daily, you will also have to eat or store about 27kgs of beans. Storing beans usually involves blanching them (plunging them in boiling water for a couple of minutes), then bagging them up and freezing them.

Carrots5. What soil type do you have?

Knowing whether you have sandy or clay soil will help you choose varieties. For instance carrots prefer to grow in a light soil. If you have to grow vegetables in heavy clay, choosing a round, quick maturing early variety is likely to give you better results. (As the roots wont need to swell as much, they wont be as bothered by the sticky clay).

6. How acid or alkaline is your soil?

Most vegetables prefer to grow in a neutral soil with a pH of around 6.5 to 7, although potatoes are much happier growing in acidic soil of 4.5 to 6.0. If you try growing them in soil with a pH of around 8, they’re not likely to grow as well.

aphids7. Are you aware of any pests or diseases in your soil such as eelworm or clubroot?

      Potato eelworm is a microscopic pest that lives in the soil. The cysts can remain in the soil for years, developing only when a crop is planted there.
      Clubroot is a disease that can affect Brassica (cabbage type crops). It’s more likely to exist in poorly drained, acidic soils.

Carrot root and cabbage root fly can devastate crops.

Potato blight is a parasitic fungus that can affect other members of the potato (Solanaceae) family such as tomatoes.

Many varieties of vegetables have now been bred to be resistant to these and other problems. If you’re not sure if you’re looking at a pest or a beneficial insect, here’s a couple of posts that will point you in the right direction. The first one here on recognising the good guys, the second on recognising the bugs you don’t want to see hanging out in your vegetable garden.

8. Are you growing 100% organically?

If so you will have to buy organic seeds. If you’re growing chemically free, make sure you choose seeds that haven’t been treated with fungicides. Most importantly choose seeds that have not been Genetically Modified (GM).

Ask your neighbours what they have grown successfully.

If somebody’s growing vegetables nearby to you, they’re more likely to have a similar soil type and pests than a friend or relative 40 miles away. Use their experience as a guide. However, if friends are growing potatoes or onions that aren’t as fussy about soil, try out their recommendations.

Keeping Notes of Seeds & Crop Rotation in a Garden DiaryKeep a note of what you’ve planted.

If you had great success with a variety of carrots for instance, make a note and buy that variety again. Or try a couple of different varieties and note which one performs the best. If you decide to grow kale (which isn’t just for the animals, it’s rich in vitamins A, C, E and iron) and you’re not struck on the flavour, don’t be put off kale completely, try a different variety the next time.

No matter how good a memory you have, I promise you will forget what variety you’ve planted, where and when, by the end of the growing season if you don’t mark rows and keep notes. It really is worth the effort.

Get hold of a decent seed catalogue or find a good on-line seed supplier.

Hardback and paperback gardening books often have suggestions of recommended varieties of vegetables that aren’t available in garden centres, on-line or seed catalogues. Use these suggestions as a guide only. If the variety you’ve chosen says “early” or “main crop”, that’s the part to remember.

“Early” means it matures much faster – in the case of carrots 12 – 18 weeks and “main crops” will mature in 18 – 24 weeks. However, earlies can be planted later and main crops earlier!

If you want to buy seeds locally, but are doing your research in a catalogue or book, look out for the words “good resistance to…”, “resistant to bolting”, “keeps well” or “quick-growing” rather than the named varieties – you may be able to find something similar.

Looking at seed catalogues or on-line shops will help you to become familiar with currently available varieties.

Brown Envelope SeedsSome seed companies save and grow their own seeds – Brown Envelope Seeds and Irish Seed Savers in Ireland or The Real Seed Company in the UK for instance. They may have heritage or old varieties that are no longer available from the big commercial companies and may be better suited to the local growing conditions – be guided by their suggestions.

What are F1 Hybrids?

These are seeds that have been made by crossing two strong parent plants. The result is a seed with excellent vigour, quality and disease resistance that you can expect to perform well. They are more expensive than other seeds but it’s usually worth paying extra for the almost guaranteed performance. You cannot save the seed from F1 Hybrids however as they will not breed true – often reverting back to a parent.

Awards of Merit

The Royal Horticultural Society in the UK carries out continual assessments and trials of seeds. The best are given the Award of Merit – Gold, Silver or Bronze.

So next time I’m asked “what should I sow, what varieties do you recommend?”, I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving you a straight answer….