Seed Shoestring Budgeting: a £20 spend

The seed catalogues have been arriving in earnest and I’ve starting idly thumbing through them. I need to sit down and have a proper planning session, and decide what seeds to grow this year in the flower borders and the vegetable patches. There are some really fantastic new specimens around, including some stunning dahlias in Sarah Raven’s catalogue. But I must be disciplined – my seed spend has got to be done a shoestring for 2018!

This year I’ve got a small seed spending budget; around £20. This includes buying things like seed potatoes, onion sets and any packets of flower seeds that I decide on. I was given some gardening vouchers for my birthday, and I want to spend them wisely. As ever, I’ve got to be realistic – having a toddler who hasn’t got through the putting-everything-in-her-mouth stage (and who always finds a way to go somewhere or do something she’s not supposed to) doesn’t afford me much time in the garden at all. So I want to avoid otherwise simple but time-consuming things like potting on, if I can help it. And I need reliable growers that don’t need buckets of TLC to survive! Then there’s budgeting for the long-lasting companion plants like nasturtiums and marigolds…

shallots in the greenhouse

There’s one thing that I am set on already, though. This year I really want to try again with shallots. I ADORE cooking with shallots, but whilst my homegrown efforts always taste great, they seem a bit miserly compared to the bags of big banana shallots that I like to buy in bulk. I also like to have some homegrown potatoes too. Picasso and Charlotte are my go-to potatoes, so I might try finding space for one or the other. Or both. I’m still on the fence about whether to do onions. I haven’t had much success with them over the last three or four years. Again, they taste wonderful, but the actual size and yield has been woeful. I need to look into feeding again and make sure that I’m on top of any feed schedules for this year, otherwise I just shouldn’t bother!

Morning light

The only exception to my rule about fuss-free growing, are Spanish Flag flowers (ipomoea lobata). The first year I grew them, they were a stonking success, but in the two attempts since, they have been an abject failure. I suspect this is because I started them off too late and they prefer a long period of warmth and regular watering to flourish, neither of which they were serviced with over the last couple of growing seasons. But I still hang on to the memories of the arch covered in cascading, climbing vines that stood proud, adorned with flashes of cream, orange and flame red. I’d like to try again this year, to see if I can recapture the success of 2015. 

As I’m having to become ever more thrifty and manage my finances properly, I’m thinking about how to get more on a shoestring budget. Seed saving and cuttings are, of course, the first thing that come to mind. I might try taking some rosemary cuttings from my mum’s thriving plants, and lavendar from my own, and growing them on. This will have to happen a little later in the year when the plants are throwing out new growth, but it should save me a few pounds in the long run!

So my next task is to get my calculator out, get a pen and work out what I can do with £20, to get my growing season started… what’ve you got planned for this growing season?

What does chitting potatoes mean?

Chitting potatoes
It’s that time of year, when my kitchen windowsill fills with egg boxes full of chitting potatoes.

When I began growing my own fruit and veg back in 2006, there were a whole host of horticultural terms and phrases that I had never come across before. Throughout the last decade, I’ve picked up a fair amount of knowledge (I don’t think you ever stop learning and adapting when you’re growing your own), and a bit of a gardening vocabulary as well.

One of the first definitions I picked up was ‘chitting potatoes’.

In short, chitting potatoes means leaving them out in a cool, light space so that the potatoes can start to grow a few sprouts from the speck-like ‘eyes’. Chitting can usually start with earlies and main crop potato types from January or February, and usually a cooler windowsill with a sunny aspect will do. Always opt for seed potatoes (available online or from your local garden centre),  as these will be carefully bred and selected without diseases, and chit ‘blunt’ side up where you’ll likely find the most eyes for sprouting.

Whether you chose to chit your potatoes or not before planting them out when the soil is warm is entirely your choice. There is still an ongoing debate as to whether chitting actually helps the potatoes grow any stronger, faster or more prolifically. Me? I’m of the opinion that if you can give them a head start, then why not.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 visit

botanic garden

Part of the Botanic Garden

This week I headed down to Sloane Square with my mum for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The weather was a bit crap – overcast and pretty chilly for a late May day – but given the crowds I was actually quite pleased not to be in the glare of a hot sun!

First off we headed for the show gardens, and although at times given the volume of people it was hard to stop and ponder the planting, I really enjoyed the flowing, naturalistic planting schemes that seemed to prevail in the vast majority of the gardens. Wildflowers have definitely made a comeback, with ragged robin a popular choice, and it seemed most gardens were going for purples, whites and a variance on rusty orange or rusty pink.

I suppose just like fashion, preferences for planting are subject to trends. But I like this recent trend. Pollinating flowers like alliums and salvias were in evidence everywhere, as was a certain type of almost milk chocolate-coloured California Iris.

I think my favourite garden had to be the Botanic garden – not for its main feature, a glass house, but for one side of the garden that was planted up in a style that nodded to permaculture, with salvias, lupins, wild carrot, hyssop, beetroot, rhubarb, blackcurrant, gooseberry, french beans, nasturtiums, and all manner of fruit and veg crammed in together to create a bustling, thriving growing space. It definitely gave me lots of ideas for my own patch of the good life.

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

The Greening Grey Britain garden was also an inspiration, with some almost prairie-like planting with swathes of plants that are perfect for pollinators, wildflowers including ragged robin and aquilegia (another popular feature in many gardens this year), grasses, and some gorgeous rusty metal bird seed cups that I haven’t been able to locate anywhere! I love the idea of ‘Greening Grey Britain‘, an RHS scheme launched last year in a bid to overcome the paving over of front gardens, driveways and what could be thriving spaces for flora and fauna to reduce flooding, combat localised temperature rises and even subsidence. Want to make a contribution and bring colour and vitality back to the streets of Britain? Then visit the RHS site to make your promise.

So lots of ideas and inspiration, and armed with three new packets of seed (two types of pollinator-friendly Astrantia, and some white ragged robin), I’ve come away determined to make the Smallest Smallholding a living, breathing and productive oasis in my part of suburbia.

Natural planting schemes were everywhere!

Naturalistic planting schemes were everywhere!