Seedlings aplenty

purple tulip

Spring has well and truly sprung and the days are so much longer, meaning we’ve been spending more and more time outside and getting ahead before everything explodes into life. The recent bout of unseasonably warm weather has accelerated us out of the arctic-tinged days of early spring and right into the belly of the season that kick starts the growing year.

In the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to fill our borders with plants for every season, and this year we’ve enjoyed even more daffodils, hellebores and the most sumptuously jewel-coloured tulips in the borders. It’s a kind of therapy that has lifted me out of my winter-induced slump – the colour, the scents and the warmth gradually weaving threads of joy through my veins.  Already the alliums are shooting up and in a month or so we’ll be getting ready for the stunning display of purple sensation that should complement the bees’ favourite, Himalayan crane’s bill along with the round-headed allium sphaerocephalon.

Cristo garlic

Usually at this time of year I’m lamenting about how far behind I am with the planting, but even despite Spring’s early surge, I’m keeping up. I have really high hopes for this year. Really high hopes. The onions are already in and looking strong and healthy, the shallots are in and looking promising. We’ve got parsnips on the go, and in the greenhouse – which was completely out of commission last year – is crammed with seed trays and pots.

Each morning, as the sun swings round from the east, higher into the sky and bathing the garden in a watery light, I take a trip down to the greenhouse to see what’s unfolding. The day to day progress of my little seedlings is astounding. In the course of one day I’ve seen squash and courgette plants almost literally burst into life, casting aside the hard cases of the seeds as the thick, sturdy seedling leaves push through the soil. They’re now growing and growing into strong plants and I’m actually where I should be in the growing season.

Rondo peas

Seeing my greenhouse and veg plots come to life after a quiet winter… well, there’s a certain special kind of satisfaction in that, isn’t there? The next job is to get the polytunnel up this summer. We will get there!

Top 5 All-Purpose Edible Plants

Herbs and alliums are two of my favourite types of plants. I love to grow them, eat some of them (in large quantities), admire their amazing flowers and watch the bees and pollinators feast on them too.

I’m currently in the throes of planting lots of alliums – mostly onion and shallot sets – but I’m also looking to boost my wildlife-friendly flower borders with a few ornamental and “dual purpose” herbs, legumes, and alliums too. Here are some of my favourites that you might want to grow in your flower garden, veg patch or allotment:

chive-flowers

1. Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might seem like an obvious choice, but they really are an all-purpose allium. These little beauties can be harvested throughout the year for extra onion-flavoured zing in your culinary endeavours. Cheap to buy, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators, they can feature in container gardens, veg patches, herb gardens and flower borders alike. There are an abundance of varieties available, from mild to strong flavoured, compact 6inch plants or broader and taller 2ft specimens (A. var. sibiricum), as well as a selection of (edible) chive flowers, with white (withs silvery-green foliage), pink and mauve varieties readily available. Try garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) for a garlicky twist to the traditional light onion flavour.

2. Rosemary

Another obvious choice, but no garden or veg patch should be with some rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Whether you’ve got acres of space or just a patio to play with, you can enjoy this unique, fragrant herb and your local pollinators will thrive on the abundance of delicate, blue flowers. Here at the Smallest Smallholding I’m growing Mrs Jessop’s Upright, a tall and narrow variety that fits perfectly in between the flowers in my long borders, but if you’ve got slopes or need ground cover try Prostratus, a cascading variety.

3. Welsh Onions

I first saw welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) being grown in my mum’s garden amongst the verbena bonariensis, and it’s flowers were like a magnet for the bees. I’ve since found a few pots of welsh onions in the poorly department of my local garden centre, and they’re now going in my flower borders. Welsh onions can be eaten from bottom to top, and produce fluffy globular pale green/yellow flowers in summer. They’re great for compact gardens, growing tall from smaller clusters.

lavender-3

4. Lavender

Scent, flavour, texture, colour, lavender has it all. A staple in many English country gardens, allotments and veg patches, lavender might be a common feature, but its place in our growing spaces is well deserved. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators will flock to any variety (though English is preferred to French), and there’s a plant for every growing space from compact Hidcote through to the long, tall spires of Lavandula angustifolia. Bake with it, smell it, look at it… just enjoy it.

5. Peas (and Beans… legumes in general)

I’m a bit of a pea-growing novice, and have little experience. I’m growing some this year, because these vertical-growing legumes are not only a welcome culinary treat, but the sheer number of varieties of peas and beans available means that there’s not only a variety for every taste, but also a huge array of flowers that are so beneficial to pollinators. Peas and beans look great in any vegetable garden but can also add height, texture and colour to ornamental borders too. And with nitrogen fixing qualities, they’re fab for crop rotation and healthy soil.

© www.flowerpictures.net

© www.flowerpictures.net

Buy Seasonal, Buy Local and Ditch the Plastic

Buy local and seasonal

Support your town markets and buy local

We don’t grow enough vegetables. Yet. I’m hoping that will change this year when we finally get the polytunnel installed. But for now, I’m having to rely on buying in a lot of our fruit and veg, trying to keep it as seasonal as possible.

I’ve become more and more aware of the plight of farmers and the cruel, money-grabbing ways of supermarkets in driving down their costs from their suppliers, and just the sheer amount of waste that goes on due to changing orders, the pursuit of perfect looking veg and more. Supermarkets are not our friends, not really. Having read Tescopoly (definitely a recommended read) and recently watched yet another documentary about the marketing games supermarkets are playing with us, I have become thoroughly disillusioned with how our food shopping is going in this country.

And the thing that has really got to me recently is the ridiculous amount of packaging that fruit and veg is supplied in. I mean, even if you buy it loose at the supermarket, you still HAVE to put most of your semi-fresh produce in a little plastic bag (which can be reused but ultimately ends up in landfill). I would refuse to put my baking potato, leeks, etc in a plastic bag at the supermarket, but when you’ve got a dozen onions, it’s hard to control them all rolling around in your shopping basket.

I would get to bin changing day and just look at the number of plastic non-recyclable packets in our bin and feel bad. Really bad. We’re avid recyclers and we don’t put much in our bins, but lately all that seemed to be in there was plastic bags from fruit and veg. They end up in landfill and somehow a ridiculous amount of plastic ends up in the rivers, oceans and in the bellies of birds and sealife.

So I decided enough is enough. I don’t want to be a part of that problem. No more excuses.

Growing my own veg is one solution to the problem, but it’s a slow burner and I am nowhere near a self-sufficient level of growing yet. So where I can’t fill the gaps myself, I’ve decided to ditch plastic, ditch supermarket plastic-wrapped veg and start doing my veg shopping at the local farmer’s market every Saturday.

I take my wicker basket to fill and carrying everything home in that, as even the farmers put everything in a big non-recyclable carrier bag for me unless I tell them not to. There I have a selection of some homegrown farmers’ veg (their broccoli, leeks and parsnips are clearly pulled straight from the ground and brought to market) and some things from much further afield (cheekily bought some bananas from goodness knows where), but ultimately it’s a fresh selection, no packaging for the most part) and if you eat seasonally, it’s much  more likely to be local. And tastes better, anyway. The leek soups and roasted parsnips I’ve been making lately have been so superior! And it’s all down to fresh, seasonal and local produce.

leeks and shallots

Leeks and shallots from my local farmer’s market

I wish I could find an organic veg stall, but for now, I’m just having to wash and peel everything as I would with supermarket fare. And I’m definitely saving money – I haven’t spent more than £8 for all my fruit and veg for the week for two of us, and it’s more than enough.
So my point is this – if you can, please consider ditching the plastic too and heading on down to your local market, and grow a bit more for yourself. You’ll reap the tasty rewards.