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Vegetable Garden

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now’s the Time

June 23, 2014

If you’re new to growing vegetables this year you might have noticed that your veg have grown quickly over the past few weeks thanks to some rain, glorious sunshine and a lovely long stretch in the days. They may be growing so fast in fact that they’re falling over themselves reaching for light and space. If this is the case you will have to start ‘thinning’ your seedlings (if you haven’t done so already), which effectively means pulling some of the plants out of the soil to allow space for the others to grow.

Time to Thin Your Vegetables

Beetroot Plants Waiting to be Thinned

I personally found this a very difficult process when we began growing our own food here at home. I didn’t want to have to make the decision over which plant would be pulled out and which allowed to grow on, after all I had been carefully minding all my seedlings up until that point. All I can say is that the decision-making process gets easier with time as you will quickly see the benefits of giving your vegetables the space to develop properly.

Thinning Beetroot ~ Now's the Time

Baby beetroot leaves ~ delicious lightly steamed or sautéed in butter & garlic

Once thinned the vegetables will have the space to grow, they’ll have better access to soil nutrients and they’ll stand a better chance of withstanding diseases thanks to the increase in air circulation between them.

Depending upon which vegetables you’re about to thin, you can tackle the process in a couple of ways:

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now's the Time

Baby Beetroot ‘Thinnings’

A) Remove the very small and weak seedlings which will allow the larger, stronger ones to grow on.

B) Remove the large seedlings (or baby vegetables by this stage) and eat them, giving the smaller seedlings space to grow.

I’ve found A) most effective with carrot and parsnip seedlings and B) better with cabbage, swede, beetroot and chard. That said, if the carrots are more than a fingernail length (any smaller and they’re too fiddly to bother with) they are delicious washed and added to salads.

Some seedlings can be pulled and replanted elsewhere – lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach and chard respond will do this. However, root vegetables don’t generally like being disturbed so it’s usually not worth trying to replant beetroot, carrots and parsnips. That said, there are always exceptions, so if sending your seedlings off to the compost heap is a problem, try replanting them and see what happens. Learning by doing is the best way to remember. (Note: never compost carrot thinnings as they can attract the carrot root fly.)

If you’d like to find out more about thinning vegetables, Gardeners World have some fact sheets for plants that you might find helpful.

Was it just me or have you ever had to get over the dilemma about selecting which seedlings stay and which go?


Vegetable Garden

Keep an eye on your seeds with a garden diary

February 28, 2014

garden diary

The Importance of Keeping a Garden Diary

One of the first tips I give to community gardeners when we begin is to keep a garden diary.

My last post mentioned one of my gardening dislikes but keeping notes in a diary is high up there in my likes, mostly because I have ‘a thing’ for stationary and in particular, pretty notebooks.

A seed diary, a garden work diary, a weather diary – it doesn’t matter how little or how much you add to your gardening notepad, the trick is to remember to do it.

Making regular notes about what happened and how your plants grew for you each year will help you to remember what went right or what went wrong in your vegetable garden and is an important step in the learning process. I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes over the years, but if I hadn’t written down the process, might never have remembered why!

garden diaryYour garden diary could include notes as brief as jotting down the variety of seeds you bought and whether all the seeds you popped into seed trays or modules germinated.

You might include notes on how long the seedlings took to push their way up through the soil and grow their first set of true leaves (the second pair of leaves you see growing on the seedling, the first set are known as seed leaves or cotyledon leaves), or you could include the name of the supplier and shop you bought the seeds from which will help you determine whether they look after the packets of seeds they sold to you.

Keeping a note of how well a particular variety of plant grew for you and whether you harvested lots from it, or whether the fruit or vegetables were the tastiest you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing or the most mundane, will help you pin down seed varieties to grow again or recommend to friends.

If you’re following recommended crop rotation guidelines, it’s a good idea to mark in your diary which beds you planted your seeds or seedlings into, to help you keep track. Include a few photos or sketches too – I find taking photographs throughout the year is a great way of jogging my memory of final growing positions of plants, regardless of where I’d planned to plant them.

Keep a Diary - Polytunnel snow 28 February 2014

Snow on 28 February 2014
Polytunnel 2 degrees C overnight inside

Adding general weather conditions to your notes can help you work out when the last frost dates were, whether you had to cover plants or whether your success that year was as a result of non stop sunshine for days, or if the blazing heat caused every last one of your lettuce or spinach plants to bolt and prematurely flower.

Another tip is to keep a note of the compost you sowed your seeds into. I’ve found the brand can hugely influence how well and quickly my seeds germinate, again worth remembering for the next time.

Regardless of whether you keep your notes on paper in beautiful books (which I always return to, no matter how many gadgets I have), in simple copy books, recycled paper clipped together, or on your phone, tablet or computer, the main thing is to keep your notes up to date and to continue to do so, no matter how much bother it may seem at the time.

You’ll find you’ll learn so much more from watching and learning how your own plants grow in your own garden and by referring back to your garden diary than reading heap loads of articles telling you how to do it.

I’d love to hear how you keep a track of what’s growing in your garden. Do you keep notes on your computer or do you have a soft spot for beautiful notebooks like me, or do you even bother at all?

Vegetable Garden

20 Tips to Help you in the Vegetable Garden

January 24, 2014
Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale

Very soon I’ll be returning to the community gardens projects I’m involved with and as the time gets closer, I’m feeling that familiar bubble of excitement.  The days are lengthening and the birds are beginning to chirp away in the hedgerows when the sun shines, reminding us that we will soon be enjoying another ‘grow your own’ year with friends and neighbours.

But wait. It’s still mid Winter. There’s not very much we can sow right now so what will we be doing? Over the coming weeks I’ll be guiding the groups through all the areas involved with growing vegetables. We’ll be looking at crop rotation, companion planting, moving compost heaps as well as washing down the polytunnels and cleaning the pots. We’ll be discussing what we would like to grow and eat, how we can continue to make the gardens more sustainable and how we can reach out to more people in the community and teach them the skills and many benefits of being involved with a community garden.

If your mind is beginning to wander to the growing year ahead, the following list may help you. I’ve collated some of the posts I’ve written over the past couple of years that might help you to practice patience, seed choice and care as well as tips on when and how to start sowing.

grow your own squash

grow your own squash

1. First things first, here’s a handy annual vegetable planner that will give you some idea of what needs to be sown when. Remember, if you live in a cool area, sow your seeds later than if you live in a warmer, sheltered one.

purple peas2. In the Monthly Jobs section there is a monthly guide on what you can be doing or planting now so take a look if you’re itching to get out on a sunny, warm day.

3. January/February are great months for sorting through your seed tins, checking what seeds you have and what to buy. Here’s a post that will help you figure out what seeds are viable – and how long you can expect them to last.

4. One of your goals this year might be to put up a greenhouse or polytunnel. This post will help you decide where to begin and this one asks the question about whether cheaper is better.

Runner Bean Seeds5. If you want to start sowing your seeds early and there are late frosts or snow forecast, this post describes planting under a cloche – it’s something we used to do a lot of before we put up the polytunnel in our own garden.

6. For the very impatient among us who are wondering exactly when it’s safe to sow our seeds for best results, you might find this post useful.

7. It’s vital that we look after our seeds to get the most from them. This post here will help you keep your seeds in tip-top condition.

8. When the sun comes out and the soil dries out a bit, I’ll be heading out to do some weeding. This article explains how to weed pernicious weeds without chemicals and this one gives 16 natural alternatives to weedkillers.

grow your own swiss chard

grow your own swiss chard

9. If this is the year you want to grow your own vegetables organically, here we look at exactly what it means to be organic.

10. When it comes to choosing the correct seeds for your plot, it helps to know what soil type you have. Here’s a fun experiment you can do at home.

11. Lots of seed packets will tell you it’s okay to sow parsnip seeds from February onwards. My experience was quite different.

12. Choosing what to grow and keeping tabs on it can be quite an art. I’ve found Pinterest to be very helpful.

grow your own potatoes13. If you like to grow potatoes, there’s a few posts to help you on the blog and in particular one written last year about choosing blight resistant potatoes and eradicating the need to spray against blight.

14. As the time comes, you may have a few questions on how to sow seeds. This post shares tips for sowing seeds in recycled containers as well as a YouTube clip with seed sowing instructions.

seedlings15. Once your seeds are sprouting, do you know how to identify them if your labels have fallen out of the tray? This post might help you.

16. If you’re new to growing vegetables you might find it quite expensive to begin with. Here’s ten steps to creating a budget garden.

17. Would you like more vegetables or herbs growing closer to your kitchen? Here’s some tips for container planting.

grow your own flowers and veg18. If you have a small space, there are certain considerations to get the best from your plot. This post helps you figure out what vegetables to grow in a small space.

19. If you don’t have a greenhouse or anywhere to start your seedlings off, a seed bed might be the answer for you.

20. Lastly and just for fun, here’s ten facts about our best friends – the earthworm.

There are many more posts on this blog to help you with your vegetable growing experience, as well as gardens to visit and our own growing experiences here in the Carlow hills. If you can’t find the answer to a vegetable growing question, leave a comment and perhaps I can address it in a post over the coming year.

So best of luck and here’s to a successful vegetable gardening year ahead!

Vegetable Garden

Identifying Squash Seedlings

May 23, 2013

The following post comes hot on the heels of the earlier one today following a twitter comment from Rachel where she was wondering about how to identify seedlings.

Cucumber, squash and courgette are all in the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables and their seedlings look remarkably similar. I’m sure many of us have planted modules full of the flat seeds in multipurpose compost, labelled them, watched them grow, potted them on to individual larger pots, forgotten to add new labels and then completely lost track of what we’d sown.

If this has happened to you this year, here’s a few pics that may help you to name your seedlings:  Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

How to identify seedlings

May 23, 2013

Do you know your lettuce from your parsnip seedlings?

seeds and weeds

Spot the coriander
(it’s the serrated leaf on the uppermost seedling at the top of the picture, the bottom seedling is a nettle)

Most gardeners like to feel they can identify their favourite plants but when they’re at their itsy bitsy tiny seedling stage, with only their first two seed leaves (known as the cotyledons) it’s a challenge.

Lots of seedlings look the same when they only have two leaves and in many cases it’s not until they’ve developed their next set of leaves, or their ‘true’ leaves, that it becomes clear what plants they will grow up to become.

Cotyledon leaves

Would you be able to spot the difference without the labels?

Often plants from the same vegetable families will look remarkably similar as seedlings, which is no surprise as their seeds and flowers are very similar too.  Continue Reading…

Lifestyle, Vegetable Garden

Seeds and the Joy of Spring

April 7, 2012

True Leaves Form on a Brussels Sprout Seedling

I used to think I was an autumn kind of girl until I started gardening and discovered the joy of spring.

After a burst of activity that involves sorting through the seed tin, ordering new seeds and excitedly opening the post box when they arrive, life settles for a few weeks until the light  increases and the temperatures rise. Towards the end of February it’s time to get busy     again. A quick drive to the garden centre to buy fresh new seed compost, washing modules, making newspaper pots and sorting through the shed is quickly followed by the first seed sowing session.

Courgette (left) Crown Prince (right)

Most vegetable seeds bar roots can generally be started off in trays and modules – it gives them a head start, protects the tiny seedlings from slugs and snails and means that when the weather improves the seedlings can be transplanted to their final growing positions, shortening the growth period and freeing up space in the garden for follow-on crops (or in the case of tomatoes, giving them time to ripen and turn red!).

Heated Propagating Bench

This year was the first using my heated propagating bench and has been a delight to see. With the thermostat set at 18 – 20°C, the seeds have germinated much quicker than on my windowsills.

Each morning, as I pop outside in my PJs to open up the polytunnel for the day, allowing the fresh air to move around it, I’ve had the pleasure of observing the tiny stems  push their way through the

Cauliflower Seedling

Calendula Seed

compost, discarding their cozy seed shells like old jumpers that no longer fit. Each morning this spring I’ve started the day with a smile.

As the shoots quickly develop their first cotyledon leaves so that they can start the process of photosynthesising, feeding and urging the tiny seedling towards the light to grow bigger and stronger, this to me is a true sign of spring. I’m watching the wondrous birth of

Winter Squash

new life and its magical.

Once the seed leaves open fully, the true leaves start to grow, taking on the characteristics of their adult form. The roots get stronger and more prolific, giving you the nod that it’s time to move the seedlings from their tiny modules into bigger pots.

This is when you learn the importance of labelling as to an untrained eye, it’s impossible to tell a Brussels sprout from a cauliflower, or a ‘One Ball’ courgette from a ‘Crown Prince’ winter squash.

Holding the seed leaves gently and moving the seedlings into fresh, dampened multipurpose compost, allowing the little plants to take in more nutrients so they can continue their growth unchecked is a delicate task and forces you to slow things down – this is not a job to be rushed or you risk breaking the delicate stems.

Careful and regular watering throughout this period of growth will make sure strong, healthy plants are ready to transplant to their final growing positions in a few weeks time.


So I’m a Spring kinda gal. Do you share my delight of this season or do you prefer the heat of summer, the colours of autumn or the frosty mornings of winter?


Vegetable Garden

Starting Seeds Indoors : How do you know when it’s safe to sow?

January 15, 2012

How do you know when it’s safe to sow?

Seeds : How do you know when it's safe to sow?

You’ve made your lists, drawn out your crop rotation plans, have your seeds and compost ready, and before long you’ll be itching to start sowing seeds.The pressure builds as magazines and social media start to fill with stories of planting dates and there’s a noticeable jostle over who’s sowing seeds indoors when. Does that sound familiar? If you’re new to vegetable gardening beware, it soon will be and before you know it you’ll be sowing too and then wondering why your seedlings are seriously struggling or have died.

As such an avid social media user, last year I remember feeling a sense of panic that I’d left my sowing too late, yet it wasn’t even March! I know from experience that we can be three weeks behind the growing conditions of warmer gardens, but it was difficult not to feel left behind when being bombarded with everyone else’s reports.

Why is it important to sow seeds at the correct time (temperature)?

Seeds : How do you know when it's safe to sow?If you attempt to sow seeds below their preferred temperature, it can result in slow germination, seeds rotting, problems with plants developing and ultimately disease as they wont have started life with the best start.

Seeds need heat to germinate and the requirements vary from plant to plant.

For instance, the optimum temperature for climbing beans is 25°C but they will germinate between 15°C and 35°C. The optimum temperature for spinach is 10°C but they will germinate between 5°C and 30°C with less success.

How do you know when is the best time to sow seeds?

Seeds : How do you know when it's safe to sow?

Leggy seedlings sown too early with too little light

Part of being a successful gardener is learning to work with, understand and appreciate nature and her elements. That means noticing the wind directions and the signs of seasons changing, the fluctuations in temperature.

Keeping a diary of not only what and when you sow but weather conditions that can be referred back to will become an invaluable aid.

If you’re thinking of sowing seeds indoors that can be transplanted out as the temperatures rise, or plant seeds directly into the soil where they will germinate, you’ll need to have an idea of the soil temperature.

How do the guides work out the sowing dates?

We can roughly work out when the best sowing dates are using average temperatures from previous years. Having an idea of when the last frost date is in your area will help you to plan when to sow your seeds indoors, ready to be transplanted outside and hardened off once the soil temperature has warmed up.

Take runner beans for instance. You have two choices:

  1. Sow the beans directly into the soil once the soil temperatures have reached  a minimum of10-12°C for three days or more (between May and June, depending upon where you live), though ideally 15°C for optimum germination. NOTE: this is the easiest method! For us living here at 305m above sea level, I would be aiming for early to mid June however, if you live in a warm, sheltered area, mid May should work for you.
  2. Sow the beans in compost in modules ready to plant outside when soil temps are 10-12ºC or more.

Seeds : How do you know when it's safe to sow?Beans take between 7 – 14 days to germinate and you could allow approximately 3 – 4 weeks in the pots before transplanting outside.

As an example, if I’m looking at the calendar, aiming to plant my beans outside on 11th June, I would plan to plant them in pots during mid to end of April (keeping an eye out on long-range weather forecasts). This should also allow time to harden them off before planting i.e. acclimatising them to the outdoors gradually.

Seeds : How do you know when it's safe to sow?There’s no science here – most guides will suggest you sow runner beans between April and May.  The above was just a demonstration of how they arrive at that.

Where do I find the frost dates for my area?

In Ireland the most helpful resource I’ve found for frost dates are the reports published by Met Éireann that give 30 year average temperatures from 1961 to 1990. These can be used as a guide for the average number of (ground) frost days that occurred each month as well as minimum and maximum temperatures. Bare in mind that the weather conditions from your nearest weather station might not resemble those of your garden. In our case it can differ by up to 5ºC so again, keeping good records including temperatures might help you.

For more accurate current readings Met Éireann also publish daily records, those combined with the averages could give you a very clear sign of the final sowing dates.

If you want to be totally sure however, soil thermometers are readily available either online or from garden centres.

Whenever you choose to sow, it’s a good idea to start gathering resources in case of unexpected frosts that can either be used at the beginning of the year to protect sowings and seedlings, or at the end to protect from autumn frosts. Start stocking up on horticultural fleece, collect newspapers or pick up old net curtains from boot sales so that you can cover precious seedlings should a cold snap occur.

If you’re looking for a general guide of sowing and planting dates for Ireland and the UK, you can download a free, Greenside Up Annual Vegetable Planner here.

Do you begin the gardening year by sowing seeds inside or do you sow directly outside once the soil temperatures have warmed?