Vegmonkey and the Mrs.

Vegetable growing in a very small space in Cheltenham

How to build raised beds…by popular demand! February 11, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 9:40 pm
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As a lot of people have enquired as to where the raised beds came from, i thought i’d develop that into a post about raised beds, and how to create them. It was quite a long process which we went through, when we first decided to make the beds, and even purchased the house based on the fact we could fit four in. If that’s not dedication to ‘growing your own,’ i don’t know what is!

We started looking at these raised beds but decided they were too expensive for what they were, didn’t look amazingly nice and didn’t look like they’d take the battering we were probably going to give them! We then thought about old railway sleepers like these but were concerned about chemicals such as tannins affecting the veg as we wanted to be completely organic. We finally decided on oak boards which are actually only available within a certain distance of Herefordshire but if you live in Kent you can also buy them.  These were a hundred times better than any scaffold planks we found. Email me and i’ll send you the link.

The cost was quite a lot but i think the initial investment was important as we intend to be in the house for a good few years. The beds were delivered on a large lorry, and took me and my best man (this is 12 days before our wedding!) two days to put together, using a very big drill bit, but a drill that really wasn’t fit for purpose!

The size of the beds are: 1.2m by 2.4m (the area in the middle being slightly smaller). The height is 250mm and the thickness is 60mm. They were very heavy, but untreated, from a sustainable source and organic. The bolts supplied were 4” long.

Once it all got together, it looked nice, but needed something putting in it. For the filling (i’m making this sound like making a sandwich!) we put about five 120 Litre bags of Westland Multipurpose compost in each bed, on top off a layer of cardboard to stop the weeds, and then the cardboard eventually rots down. Mixed in with this we put 2 big 20kg bags of sharp sand to help drainage and dug in some slow release organic fertiliser. The thinking behind this was that garden topsoil, which we could have got free from freecycle would have suited, but the quality wouldn’t have been as good as bagged compost and it would more than likely have been littered with weed seeds…which would have needed weedkiller etc!

After being on the ground for almost a year, the beds have held up very well. They are slightly damp at the moment but are beginning to dry out nicely with all this sun we’ve been having. 

The picture below shows what the beds looked like back in April.

Small beginnings…


Build – a – ball Brassica cage February 10, 2008

After the cabbage white butterfly decided to lay a load of eggs all over the purple-sprouting broccoli which led to an invasion of yellow and black caterpillars, i have decided to provide some protection.

The initial idea of something homemade really wasn’t very good (i got a bit confident after the creation of the cold frame!) so i splashed out on the Build-a-ball system from harrod horticultural. I think it cost somewhere around £40 for the balls and the metal parts. It was quite complicated to order, but i was happy with what i purchased. The size was 2.4m x 1.2m which is the size of our beds so i had to get the hacksaw out and chop the equivalent of the boards that surround the soil…if that makes sense.

The cage will be covered with enviromesh to prevent any beasties. We’ve tried fleece in the past to cover beds, but the enviromesh is a lot finer, so keeps more out, and is a lot tougher, so will last much longer.

I’ve since been looking on other websites and at other peoples’ pictures and have seen that some people have substituted metal poles for stiff rubber tubing or garden canes. I can see how this would be cheaper but i don’t know if it would be as sturdy considering we get quite a lot of wind in our garden (insert pun here!) or be strong enough to take the weight of the enviromesh at full height. I suppose it will also depend on if the canes fit into the holes on the balls.

Taking that on board though, i’m going to use garden canes to make a smaller cage for when the plants are young, building up to the full size one with the metal poles as the Purple Sprouting Broccoli grows.  The pictures show how the build a ball as i originally installed it and the ‘new’ adapted smaller version which will still enable the greenhouse to get some light…until things start to grow…!


             BUILD A BALL BRASSICA CAGE                            build-a-ball-2.jpg



Next job: Move August planted Winter Walcheren Cauliflowers from current Brassica bed to new one.


Where to put a veg plot? February 6, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 11:14 pm
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planting plan - where to put a veg garden 2   


planting plan - where to put a veg garden 1

A friend of mine has a nice, grassy, back garden which is just begging for a veg plot, so that he can grow some veg with his littl’un. After asking for my advice…(i do what i can!) i went round and tried to give him the benefit of my knowledge. There are a couple of pics of the space above that show the space.

I would like any advice that i can pass on to him about where would be good to put the plot and what to grow, would be much apreciated, as it’s always good to get a few opinions! It’s important to know that his other half doesn’t want the plot to impinge too much on the garden and that the patio will be covered with a greenhouse, pretty soon. Plus he doesn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it as he works long hours!

Now there’s a challenge!


‘Feltham First’ Peas Planted February 3, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 2:34 pm
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compost in feltham first pea trench from kitchen caddy 

I thought i’d take the opportunity to sow some peas today. I know they won’t come up yet but it’s nice to get them in the ground and get a plant label in (i got some nice new wooden ones for Christmas..which will slowly disappear as the plants grow!). I planted a variety called ‘Feltham First.’ It can be planted in Autumn but i have chosen to put it in prior to Spring and I’m keeping it covered until the weather warms up a little. Either way, another row or two will go in, in March. I’m assuming that as the temps warm up, that won’t take long to catch up.

I planted 2 rows of the peas 5cm apart and about a metre between rows. The theory is that the rows should be the same distance apart as the plants grow high…if that makes sense. I also planted a few seeds in some old guttering so that if i have any gaps, these can be filled by the spares. I’m not sure how i will support the plants yet. I think it will depend on if i can get hold of some sturdy hazel sticks, otherwise it will just be canes i feel, with some sort of netting strung between them.

As you can see from the delicious waste above, before i planted the peas, i dug a nice deep trench and filled it with the a mixture from our kitchen caddy. This has been slowly rotting over the last week and filled the trench nicely. It’s mostly veg peelings, crushed eggshells and teabags.  I added some organic fertiliser slow release pellets to this. The roots will have a nice supply of goodness as they grow as peas like a deeply dug rich soil.

I really wanted to put the mange-tout in but am going to hold off until the start of March i think so that i don’t have to give them any protection.


Mad English weather / What we are planting… February 1, 2008

Filed under: vegetable — vegmonkey @ 9:30 pm
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Onion sets ready for planting veeerrrryyyy soon…ish 

Mad English Weather 

When will this weather end! I do like the rain and i don’t really mind the wind or cold temperatures but not altogether! My homemade greenhouse met a sticky end as it was ripped from its home attached to the wall and unceremoniously hurled towards the Senshyu Onions, who, up until then, were growing quite happily! Soil was thrown everywhere, pots upturned and Spring onions evicted from their plastic trays after overwintering well. Looking on the brightside, it made me think about the organisation of the garden…if the greenhouse won’t stay, then i’ll move it!

It ended up being the coldframe that got moved, from the back wall to the side wall. Here it quite bizarrely fits quite nicely and will be a lot more easily accessible. The greenhouse is homeless at present.

What we are planting

I thought i’d post what i’m planting too. A lot of the varieties are ideal for a small garden for one reason or another, whether it be the short growing time, long cropping, winter hardiness or small size. I’ve grouped them by bed for each of reference. The planting plan is here for cross referencing if need be. I’d be very interested to hear if anyone has had any successes or failures with these varieties.


Brussel Sprouts – Bedford – Winter Harvest

Radish – Sparkler 3

Swede – Magres

Turnip – Purple Top Milan

Cauliflower – All Year Round and Winter Walcheren Pilgrim

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – Summer Purple and Rudolph


Pumpkin/Squash – Jack-be-little, Uchiki Kuri and Burgess Vine Buttercup

Courgette – Defender (long ones) and Tondo di Piacenza (round ones)


Peas – Feltham First

Runner Beans – Some Navy Blue ones from next door! and Painted Lady

Dwarf French Bean – Borlotto Firetongue

Mangetout – Oregon Sugar Pod


Leek – Musselburgh Improved

Spring Onion – White Lisbon and Laser

Onion Sets – Sturon and Red Baron (not heat treated – worried may bolt!)

Parsnip – Countess F1 (last years seeds so may not be viable)

Carrot – Autumn King 2 and Purple Haze F1

Leafy Stuff

Lettuce – All year round, Pandero (Cos) and Granada

Spinach – Oriental Mikado F1, Tirza F1, Emilia

Rocket – Skyrocket (looks brilliant) and wild rocket

Endive – Bianca Riccia da Taglio

Mizuna – Mizuna

Swiss Chard – Bright Lights


Rosemary, Sweet Genovese Basil, Coriander Delfino, Plain leaved parsley, Envy Parsley, Chives, Coriander


Tomato – Oregon Spring, Ailsa Craig and Gardener’s Delight

Pepper – Pretty in Purple Rainbow Chile Pepper, Sweet Orange Baby and Californian Wonder

Sweetcorn – Lark F1

Anything not on the planting plan will be either in pots, hanging baskets or attached to a bed in a currently unknown place! Bring on the warmer weather!


Potatoes – buy, chit, plant, earth up, eat – with weetabix!? January 27, 2008

This is the first year of us attempting to grow potatoes. Due to the lack of space we have plumped for a variety called ‘Ulster Sceptre,’ which is a first early. ‘Ulster Chieftan’ and ‘Swift’ were the other options i thought about but the former has relatively poor resistance to disease (not usually a problem with earlies as they aren’t in the ground long enough) and the latter i think is too common!

potatoes chitting in the cinema

The first step to home grown potatoes is debatable. Chitting involves putting the seed potatoes in a light frost free place such as a covered greenhouse or a windowsill so that they begin to sprout. The purpose of this is to give them a head start so that when they go in the ground, they have more of a chance. The sprouts appearing should be green – not white as this indicates they have not had enough light, and should number no more than 3 or 4. If they do appear too early or are white, according to they can be rubbed off up to 5 times before it has any adverse effect on the sprouts that replace them, which is interesting. Timing is everything! However, through reading i have done myself and discussion with other gardeners, it seems it is only necessary if you want a really early crop. It’s also interesting to note that commercial potato growers don’t chit at all.

close up of baby sprout

I am using an old apple holder whatsit that was no longer needed by Morrisons to chit mine in as i didn’t have the foresight to save egg boxes. Silly, i know!

Potatoes should be planted in early March. I am going to dig a trench about 10cm deep, and place the potatoes in the trench about 25cm apart with about 50cm between each row. This will then be covered over by hand, so not to damage the sprouts.  The recommended distance for earlies is 30cm by 60cm but i really do not have the space to plant any closer, and don’t mind the smaller potatoes that will result.  As the potatoes grow, they will need to be earthed up – the RHS describe this as the drawing up of soil around the plant to prevent the greening of tubers by light and to prevent the onset of blight. I am aware that i may have to build some sort of structure to enclose the soil around the plant as it grows, as the beds aren’t hugely deep – a chance to buy more tools methinks!

We will also have some in large black pots that i purchased at the potato event last weekend. They have drainage holes in the bottom, and will each take 3 of the egg-sized tubers, producing no less that 15lb’s per tub! That’s pretty good going in my book. I need to remember to add some slow release organic fertiliser at planting as i always forget ‘in the excitement of planting…’

In the grand scheme planting plan wotsit, the potatoes will be occupying about a quarter of bed 2, the one that houses the roots. I have already manured most of the bed and will be ‘sorting’ the PH at the beginning of the Spring. When they are removed in June, Leeks or Parsnips will go into their space, depending on which have been the most successful in the mini-greenhouse. From past experience, it’ll be the Leeks!

The only problem with earlies is that they don’t store hugely well. Might have to find some interesting ways of cooking them…potatoes with weetabix anyone?


How I store my vegetable seeds January 21, 2008

Filed under: vegetable — vegmonkey @ 7:44 pm
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seed storage      

After thinking long and hard about what to do with the cardboard box of seeds sitting in the sideboard, i went to Woolworths and bought 6 small plastic containers. I subsequently changed my mind, put all my nails, nuts, bolts etc in the plastic containers and used their boxes for seeds as per the picture.

This means i can keep the seeds in their original packaging and have been able to separate them into the four main families (roots, legumes, cucurbits, brassicas) – one for each bed and also have a draw for the oddbods such as peppers and tomatoes that won’t go in the beds, and one for herbs. I’ve tried separating them by planting month, but using this method alongside the planting plan is much easier.

I’ve bought what i think are my last seeds for this season this week too, a pack of Brussel Sprouts. Soon it will be time to get sowing.

Next job: Set the tatties out to chit.