Monday 9 July 2012

Cutting remarks

I nearly forgot to take cuttings this year. With all the unseasonably cold and wet weather, it's been hard work just keeping the weeds down and taller plants staked against the wind. Late spring to early summer is the best time for taking softwood cuttings: creating new plants from the green stems and tips of this year's growth. Rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, fuchsia and hydrangea are all easy to propagate this way. This year I've concentrated on rosemary and lavender as I want to restock the herbal bed at the allotment next spring.

1. Choose your cuttings. Snip non-flowering growing tips from the plant. Cut cleanly using a sharp knife or very sharp small scissors just above a leaf node. You don’t want to be leaving a long bare stalk on the plant which will be prone to rotting or admitting disease.

2. If you can’t use them straightaway, put your cuttings in a polythene bag and seal (zip-lock is ideal).

3. Use modules, tall and skinny better than flat and wide.

4. Fill the modules with cuttings compost, not too finely textured. Firm the tops lightly, and water thoroughly. Leave to drain.
5. Prepare your cuttings. Trim the stem just below the bottom leaf nodes. Remove the bottom leaves so that you have 3-4 leaves left at the top. Don’t peel or tear the leaves away: again, cut as cleanly as possible.
6. Take a dibber – my ‘dibber’ is a pencil, which is about the right width – and dip the pencil into the compost in each module to a depth of about 2cm.

7. Drop each cutting into the hole left by the dibber. Don’t bury the leaves - they should remain clear of the compost.

8. Use your fingers to firm the compost around the cutting.

9. Label your cuttings.

10. Place the potted cuttings in a seed tray or propagator. Cover with a clear plastic lid. Or a polythene bag secured over the cuttings will do, so long as the polythene doesn’t actually touch any part of the plants.

11. Move the tray or propagator to a spot out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days to give the cuttings a chance to recover, then move to a warm light, sheltered spot indoors.

12. Resist the temptation to check and pull at your cuttings. Take a look every so often and if there is any sign of wilting give the propagator some ventilation (punch a small hole in the polythene bag).

13. After 3-4 weeks, have a look at the bottom of the modules. If there is any sign of roots poking through, you can remove the lid altogether.

14. Leave the rooted plants to form a string root ball before potting up into small pots (about 8 weeks).

Thursday 5 July 2012

A wet day at Hampton Court Flower Show drove us straight into the Growing For Taste marquee where we met up with old favourites like Seeds Of Italy - I'll be trying some of its giant-leaved Neapolitan basil, Pennards, The Garlic Farm and Dobies, and found new exhibitors in Otter Farm's Edible Forest Garden and Plants4Presents' exotic herbs and spices.

Spice plants were popular in the Growing For Taste pavilion. Plants4Presents had an especially good range of
turmeric, ginger, cardamom and curry plants.
From top, left to right: chocolate mint plants, the herb display and Perilla frutescans at Jekka's Herb Farm stand. Bottom rotw, hostas and agapanthus in the Floral Marquee.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Waking up in the sun

After what seems like weeks of wind and cold and rain, it only takes a couple of sunny days and suddenly it looks as though we might get some produce this year.

These are tree onions, or Egyptian walking onions, which is a much more exotic name by far.
These edible bulblets are produced at the top of the stems.
Walla Walla sweet onions, grown from seed, beginning to swell at last.

These Quattro Stagione lettuces have been looking like limp flattened seedlings, but are now finally beginning to heart up.

Little Gems are also putting on new growth fast.

Last week they were immature white buds; this week, we have raspberries!
Hosts of strawberries hang down over the side of the raised bed.

Purple-podded mange tout peas need another couple of weeks before they're ready to eat, I think.