Potager update … January 2017

When writing about the potager this month, the expression that comes to mind, is ‘not much to see’.


This captures the fact that on the one hand mid winter is a quiet time for fruit, vegetables and flowers, and, the fact that the lower part of this area has been reclaimed from a very overgrown and tangled mess that contained some raspberries and not much else.

The reclaiming of this area has been my most recent project, and I’m happy with the progress, given the limited hours of daylight and, of course, the busyness of the season that’s in it.

It has involved a lot of clearing and cleaning. My initial thoughts were simply to continue the path from the potager, and have beds on either side, so this is what I did.

The main path has a hard wearing weed control fabric underneath with a nice layer of bark on top, so. I shouldn’t see too many weeds for a while. The beds on other side are currently covered with black plastic, which is s useful way to leave them dormant over winter, and they should be nice and weed free when I go to use them in later months. I’ve treated the soil in the beds with lots of well composted manure, straw, homemade compost, in fact anything I could get my hands on that will breakdown over the seasons and enrich the soil. In some parts of the new beds, I removed the upper one inch layer of grass sod that was on top first, and this will be stacked to one side and covered for a year, and the result will be a lovely crumbly loam that I will use for making my own potting compost.

“I’ll hold off on this until the towards the end of January, and hopefully at that point we’ll have some fun …”

And what about the raspberry canes I hear you ask? Well, they’ve been ‘heeled in’ temporarily until the area I’m planting them into is ready.

One area I’ve enjoyed clearing is a patch of Autumn raspberries to the right of the little shed. When we first moved here, my dad gave me some raspberry canes which I planted in a group, and left, intending to come back to them. Well, five years on, they had thrived in the area, providing plenty of produce, however, unfortunately so did the weeds. Again, nothing for it only to get stuck in and lift the canes, clear away everything and  I’ll leave the area rest for the time being.

As I’ve been doing with other parts of the garden, the wood has been stained and repairs carried out as needed.

In the upper area of the potager, I’m also continuing with cleaning and mulching of beds, clearing out old pots of flowers and weeds, and collecting together all the plastic pots that seem to have decided to reproduce exponentially! Those of you that have visited the garden will know I like to collect items, upcycle and reuse, however this is a great time of year for a good old fashioned clean up.

There are some shrubs and herbaceous plants that haven’t been used, so rather than allowing them to linger in pots for 2017, I’ll plant them into a ‘holding area’ until they’re needed or to be discarded.

In the glasshouse I’ve build and filled a ‘hot bed’. No, it’s not an attempt at garden erotica, it’s a type of growing method from the 19th century, particularly popular with the French. The bed I’ve constructed a 6ft by 4ft bed, 2ft in height. This has been filled by some fresh(ish) manure and straw. The idea here is that as this mixture decomposes, it will realise heat, which in turn  will heat an 6inch layer of soil placed over the manure, allowing from some particularly early salad crops. The final step is to ‘activate’ it. This is done by dampening the area, allowing the process to begin. I’ll hold off on this until the towards the end of January, and hopefully at that point we’ll have some fun.

Finally, isn’t it nice to see the first shoots of growth in 2017. In this case they’re of my December planted garlic, I wonder what gardening endeavours await between now and harvesting.

Happy gardening.

Pricking out seedlings

After hosting a garden workshop this weekend for a local community group, it was interesting to ask a local grower what was his top tip for growing seed. ‘Heat’ he said, without hesitation, ‘unless seed have heat to get them going, nothing else will matter’.

Hmmm … fair enough.

This is similar to a question I asked dad last month about bringing on early seed potatoes and other crops. ‘No’ he said, ‘I like to grow crops when the soil is warm and you get good results without having to fuss too much’.

So you can see the connection, in order to get things going and growing, we need heat and warmth.


When that’s something that’s not present, have to either provide it artificially or wait. I come in the former category, as regular readers of this blog will know (even if things don’t work out). I have a small glasshouse, and a greenhouse, with both designed to create a protective environment from the elements. Add to this, my heated propagator and my temporary cold frames just for extra space. Before both houses were donated to me, I used to use any available windowsill space and a number of temporary cardboard cold frames, as per Geoff Hamilton.

Now that I have this extra protected space, I do try to make the most of it, which brings me around to pricking out seedlings. You see, sowing seed is just the start of the process -set up your tray, put in compost mix, level it, water it, add seed and cover (or not). Place into warmth et viola – Houston we have lift off!

But what happens next?

Well, once the seedlings germinate, any glass or propagator covers need to be removed over a period of days. All going well the young seedlings will produce a pair or two of true leaves. At this point the seedlings can be transplanted from the seed tray into individual pots. Do this gently as you don’t want to damage these new plants.


Firstly though, prepare the pots by filling with a nice blend of moist compost, lightly firm it and then make a hole in the centre with your finger. I use a spoon to scoop out a cluster of new seedlings. I then tease out a single seedling, holding it by one of its seed leaves. You’ll find the root and soil will come away too. Drop the seedling into the hole in the pot to the same level it was in the seed tray, and tuck it in with compost.

Place the newly pricked out seedling back into a protected growing area, spray it lightly with luke warm water and leave it to grow on. Repeat this process until all seedlings are pricked out.

Very quickly, what was one packet of seed will quickly become dozens of plants with the promise of a blaze of summer colour.

Perfect. Happy gardening.