Vegmonkey and the Mrs.

Vegetable growing in a very small space in Cheltenham

This blog has moved to March 11, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 10:40 pm

Please update any links you have to this site…

Enjoy us as we grow!

Vegmonkey and the Mrs.


Campaign for lovely labels! March 5, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 10:19 pm
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Modern metal garden label        Organic green garden labels        Evil white garden label

It’s the Mrs here – yes I do exist! At last I have actually been trusted to write a blog entry – or in reality had access to the computer long enough to do so – hhhmmm.

Last week when we were planting out the various seeds and the potatoes it was my honourable task to write the labels. Frustratingly we have three different types of labels and with my self-diagnosed O.C.D. kicking in I wish we’d stuck with one type! I am keen to have jam packed full beds but also keen that the garden looks pretty and girly – I’ve got to have some space for candles, windchimes and oh yeah, flowers. Anyhow back to the labels…

We received the green labels as a Christmas gift and I really like the fact that the look quite organic but they don’t seem to be lasting that well. The metal ones were found at a car boot sale but offer a modern and trendy feel – I get quite an urge to put a metal watering can next to them and take a photo for Ideal Home magazine. That just leaves the white plastic labels – well say no more – I’m starting a campaign to get rid of them! I know they’re probably the most functional but surely the veggies and plants should be the focus, not bright white labels littering the beds. I beg you to offer your support!


Planting on Sat 1st March March 2, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 3:30 pm
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feltham first macro                   ULSTER SCEPTRE PLANTED      

As last year we didn’t get anything planted until about the middle of April, we thought we’d start nice and early this year with a few things going into the ground, a few into outdoor pots and a few into seed trays in the mini greenhouse.

In the Brassica bed, i’ve put a row of turnip seeds straight into the ground and planted 8 Brussel Sprout seeds and some ‘All Year Round’ cauliflower in pots in the mini greenhouse. The seedlings should grow nicely if i remember to water them, ready for planting out around mid-April time. I am conscious the Sprouts will take up the space for a long time so have decided to put them out the way at the back. I’ll only be putting in 5 plants, but it’s nice to be able to choose the healthiest.

The Legumes bed had nothing new in it, but as the picture at the top shows, the Feltham First Peas are slowly coming through. Interestingly, the same variety i planted under cover at the same time have come on better, so that shows my cold frame is actually working. The picture is meant to look like that by the way, i spent a little while out in the garden this morning experimenting with the aperture settings on my camera. A nice effect i think.

In the Cucurbits bed, we still have the overwintering onions, which to be honest, i’m not sure will come to much, but nothing needs to go in the space so i may as well leave them alone. We planted the chitted ‘Ulster Sceptre’ Potatoes in here too. There are three rows, each with 4 tubers. 3 tubers have also gone into each of the 2 ‘potato buckets,’ shown top, as an experiment to see which produces more and bigger potatoes. In the third potato bucket, i planted 3 ‘Wilja’ tubers that i picked up at Dundry Nurseries at the weekend. These are a maincrop, so will be ready a lot later than the First Earlies.  The plan is that the potatoes and onions are harvested, and the squashes and courgettes go in. This makes the most of the space and allows us to grow more.

In the Roots bed, i have planted a row of purple carrots, a row of orange ones, two rows of parsnips and about 60 onions sets (30 Setton, 30 Red Baron). I have not covered any of them, so am going to keep my eye on the weather forecast to avoid a frost. I’m fed up with the faff of removing and replacing fleece covers morning and evening! The Purple Sprouting is still sitting proudly in the middle of this bed, so when that comes out mid-April, i’ll successionally plant the rest of the onions and another couple of rows of each carrot. I think 150 onions in total will be enough for us, so that is what’s going in! We have decided against Leeks this year as i think carrots and onions are much more fun to grow and we use them more!

Finally, some sweetcorn went into pots to see how it germinates, and a lot of lettucy bits, but that’s a post for another day when we start seeing the first signs of a few leaves.

Rhubarb is something i really wanted to grow this year, but that will have to wait until i have more space. I know the garden centres have some plug plants for sale already but what’s everyone else got in?


When gardening becomes a Blur March 1, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 7:21 pm
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alex james blur green leap day

Friday was ‘Green Leap Day’ for the National Trust, a chance for everyone who works there to get the day off, to make an impact on the environmet and reduce their environmental footprint, by doing things such as changing to energy saving lightbulbs or starting a compost heap.

At the school i teach at, we have good links with Hidcote Manor Gardens, a beautiful National Trust site in the Cotswolds, not far from Chipping Campden. Definately worth a visit if you are in the area.

It was arranged that we would have a visit from Dame Fiona Reynolds, who is the Director General of the National Trust and from Alex James, who used to be in Blur and is now a farmer. The head gardener, deputy head gardener and a mix of other soily people came to help us out too.

A few carefully selected children spent the morning talking to Alex and Dame Fiona, and planting a variety of things including Early potatoes, broad beans, onion sets and herbs. We began by digging over the beds, which was followed up by a lot of time counting the worms and working out whose was longest and whose was fattest!

Alex then did and assembly all about how we could be more ‘green.’ A fantastic day morning was had by all, the beds got half planted up too, and one of the compost bins got turned too. Before i was interviewed on camera, Alex recommended i grow Artichokes at home, but sadly here i don’t have the space for something like that, however if i ever do get an allotment, they will be top of the list! We also discussed how veg gardening usually ends up being more expensive than buying it in the supermarket…you can’t beat the taste or the fact that you know exactly where they’ve come from and what they’ve got on them! I couldn’t resist a photo…i think he’s cheering as he thinks it’s a publicity photo though, not ‘cos it’s Vegmonkey, but heh, i can dream!

Quite how he has gone from iconic indie superstar, to being involved in the Beagle Space mission, to being Artist in Residence in Astrophysics at Oxford, to a Cheese Making Farmer, i don’t know, but he’s using his fame to raise green issues and living the ‘good life’ by the looks of it which is where i expect we’ll all end up in the end.


How to improve veg garden soil in Spring February 27, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 9:47 pm
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       ph meter draper                       ph meter draper 2

Since most of our soil in the raised beds is from compost bags and is mixed with sand, i thought it about time to check the ph of the soil (apparently that means ‘potential of hydrogen’ – it’s the water in the soil that is measured, not the soil itself). Something i didn’t know up until last week.

I’ve previously used ph soil mixtures, where soil is put in a small testube with water and shaken. The resulting colour is then measured against a chart. I am guilty of losing the charts and measuring instructions, recently, but in the past have never been truly enamoured by the green sludge that i end up with.

I decided that i would invest in an electronic ph meter as (another!) little luxury. Sticking it into the soil, it seems the ph of most places is about 8. Neutral is 7 and the best ph for veg growing is between 6.0 and 7.5 as that is when the soil has the most nutrients available for the plants growing in it. Being ph8, the soil is Alkaline, where to grow most veg it needs to be slightly acidic.

I realised i needed to do something about lowering the ph of my soil so set about researching on the net. I new already that animal manure is slightly acidic and had added planty of that, but needed to know more. I found a lot of information on adding lime, including application rates for different soils etc, but this sadly is the method for increasing the ph of the soil. Not good. I eventually found some information about the addition of yellow sulphur to the soil. So, i popped down to Robery Youngs, the local garden centre and picked some up. I duly sprinkled it on the beds at the recommended rate, but it seems it takes about a year to work after being dug in! I would have liked a quick fix, but there doesn’t seem to be a safe one!

So, it’ll just have to be chicken pellets or something of the like next year if nothing improves. Or maybe i’ll just have another amazing crop of veg and not worry about it!

The ph meter is actually quite interesting as it also has a light meter on it (not that i can move my beds!) and a moisture meter (could be useful?!).

After applying the sulphur i spent some time looking at what ‘goodness’ the soil actually needs replacing after a year of having things grown in it.

The three main things the soil needs for good plant growth are nitrogen (good that i left the bean roots and the green manure roots in the soil to leave their nitrogen then!), potassium and phosphorus. These are sometimes known as  NPK. It seems manure is good for this…rabbit being quite good (how would you collect so much?) and bat being particularly good apparently! I’ve stuck with good old fashioned horse manure. Nice and simple.

This led me on to find out about how much goodness the manure actually contains…i know it does lots of good to the actual soil structure, but what about the innards! This website contains some useful information. It describes manure as being like introducing thousands of tiny little sponges into the soil to hold in the moisture and make the nutrients more available. It also says that manure does contain a relatively small amount of nutrients and should not be relied upon alone as a soil improver.

This website says that farmyard manure can be over 80% water and as a soil food, it is best ignored.

So where to get the nutrients from? I’ve decided to use a blood fish and bone mix. This has an N-P-K ratio of 6-7-6 and will be applied at the rate of 4oz per square yard before planting. It is organic, a balanced fertiliser and will release its goodness slowly, however it does need to be reapplies every 6 – 8 weeks.

There are many other organic and inorganic fertilisers available i’m sure but i think this will do the job nicely. This is getting complicated…


What’s still in the ground? February 23, 2008

        japanese senshyu onions resized vegmonkey                winter walcheren cauliflower

Next Saturday will be amazing fun! I know it already. It will be the first main planting day for us at Vegmonkey and the Mrs. Not much will go straight in the ground apart from the potatoes, but a lot of things will be going into seed trays and the ‘greenhouse’. Last year we planted a lot of beneficial plants that encourage insects such as limanthes douglasii (poached egg flower) in the beds, but found it made the beds untidy, cluttered and took away valuable growing room. This year, the aim is for the garden to be a lot tidier and more organised.

As the previous post showed, the stupidly long and annoying purple sprouting broccoli is really getting in the way as i want to be planting the onions where it is, next weekend. I’m sure there’s a way round it. It does look like it’s a few days from producing – i will find it very difficult not to post on it when i crop the first bunches! We’ve also got some beautiful rocket that has sat in the ground for about six months, slowly growing happily and not bolting. The japanese onions that we planted back last year are also growing well, although i have read on a few other blogs that these have not been hugely successful, i’m going to leave them to see what happens as the space for the cucurbits isn’t needed until at least June.

Finally, the Winter Walcheren cauliflower planted last July/August sat in seed trays before being transplanted into the brassica bed. I have since moved the three plants that survived the winter winds into this years brassica bed. They seem to have survived the move, and hopefully will grow really bushy soon – that’ll mean cauliflower by April! Here’s hoping.  There’s a pic of the Senshyu Japanese Onions and the Winter Walcheren Cauliflower at the top.

Next job: tidy garden and clean seed trays ready for next weekends planting!


Growing ‘Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli’ – update February 15, 2008

growing purple sprouting broccoli 

As this is our first year (almost over!) at Vegmonkey and the Mrs. and one of the biggest lessons we have learnt is not to grow early purple sprouting broccoli in such a small garden as ours, as it takes over and needs a huge amount of space. We  planted it in April, and it is just beginning to sprout from the main head as can be seen from the picture. I posted previously about the plant and the battering it has taken over the year. It really is a very hardy plant!  I’ll cut this main head as soon as it grows a little more, then hopefully lots of little side spears will appear and we will have lots of broccoli.

The ideal scenario with Broccoli is to grow lots of plants and take a little off each one so not to exhaust each plant too much in one go. A bit like you would with rocket. We don’t have this privilege sadly so will have to be careful.

Now at the start of this post i said our lesson learnt was to not grow early purple sprouting in such a small space. It also doesn’t fit into our rotation (crops March to May) as i will need the bed space very soon for the roots and onions and i loathe to take out a producing plant.

HOWEVER, being a stubborn sod i want to make it fit!

The plan is to grow:

Summer Purple – Sow March to April.  Harvest June to October (this is very early and will enable us to have this delicious vegetable in the middle of the summer!)

In pots ready to go i the ground when the summer purple stops producing 

Rudolph – Sow March – May. Harvest Nov to Feb (putting it in at the start of October will also hopefully produce smaller plants than the monster we have at the moment.)

In pots to plant out in Feb after Rudolph has stopped cropping as a bit of an experiment.

Cardinal – Sow April to May. Harvest March – April

So hopefully we will have a cropping plant of some description for 10 months of the year, which is pretty amazing in my book. I’ll make sure i post on how it’s doing as it seems to be the second most popular search that my blog is ‘found’ on, behind the planting planner. If anyone has any trouble tracing the varieties, let me know and i’ll hunt out the seed packets.