Tag Archive: seeds

IMG_7289The nights are squeezing the light of day, despite sunshine there’s a chill in the air, and mornings are often shrouded in mist and fog. October marks the real onset of autumn, I think – here are a few important things to do in the garden this month.

1. Leaf litter pick

Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly, including rose leaves, to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering – don’t compost these leaves. Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material or a separate ‘Leaf mould’ bin if you want to create this wonderful material – stuffing leaves in black plastic bags is another option.

Using black bags for leaf mould making

Using black bags for leaf mould making


2. Cut backs

Cut down stalks of perennials that have died down, unless they have some winter or wildlife merit. Clear overhanging plants away from pathways and prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering, tying in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.

3. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns. This is also the time to move trees and shrubs, and plant hedges.

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now


4. Come in out of the cold

Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse or other frost-free place. Lift Dahlias and Begonia tubers and Gladiolus corms to store in the dry (removing the dead leaves before storing them). Cannas, Pelargoniums/Geraniums and fuchsias can also be lifted before any proper frost. Trim back soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, potting them into multi-purpose compost and keeping them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free place.

5. Food – strip, store and plant

Strip: Apples, pears, grapes and nuts can all be harvested as can squashes and pumpkins before the first frosts. Finish harvesting beans and peas and once finished cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil as these have nodules on them that have fixed nitrogen from the air and will slowly release this as the roots break down. Any plants with green tomatoes or peppers remaining can be hung upside down indoors to ripen.

Store: Check over any  stored onions, garlic and potatoes and remove any rotten ones immediately. Try to improve air flow around your stored veg to prevent rot e.g use onion bags or hessian sacks.

Plant: spring cabbages, garlic bulbs and onion sets. Reuse old grow bags by cutting off the top and sowing late salad crops – cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass or a cloche. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees – alternatively order fruit trees now in preparation for spring planting.

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter


6. Sourcing seeds

Collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Order seeds for next year.

Save money by saving seed

Save money by saving seed


7. Spring loaded

Plant spring bedding such as wallflowers, Bellis, Primulas and winter pansies. Now is the ideal time to plant Clematis. Finish planting spring bulbs such as Narcissi and Crocuses – Tulips can wait until November.


8  Grassy act

Finish off essential lawn maintenance to avoid water logging and compaction over winter (see September tips for more detail).  Fresh turf can still be laid now – Autumn rains (assuming we have some) should ensure the turf settles in.

9. Odds and …..

Remove netting from fruit cages to allow birds to feed on any pests and invest in bird baths and bird feeders if you don’t have them – the birds you support will help you keep pest numbers down.  If you haven’t already done so, turf out the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers etc. from the Greenhouse and clean and disinfect it. This will allow more light in and prevent pests and diseases over-wintering. Set up your greenhouse heater if you have one in case of early frosts. Empty and if possible clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Maybe install a new water butt ready for next year? Check tree ties and loosen if they are too tight around growing stems – and add stakes and support for young trees and shrubs to avoid them being ‘wind rocked’ during the winter.

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs


10. …Sods

Prepare your soil for next year – start digging in leaf mould, compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it, though if your soil is on the sandy side, like mine, richer material like compost and manure is probably best left until the Spring when it’s nutrients are needed and they will not have leached away in the winter wet. However, if your soil is heavy, then pile it in now! It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting that much easier.

Old School Gardener

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WP_20160130_13_10_48_ProI’ve now begun this year’s seed sowing; some early veg and some of the interesting varieties above, courtesy of my visit to Wallington Gardens last year and the RHS seed scheme…Looking at the germination requirements some of these are going to be a challenge!

Old School Gardener

Blickling Hall, under some recent snow

Blickling Hall, under some recent snow

Old School Garden

31st January 2015

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

Well the New Year came, and it heralded a new gardening energy for me after a few months of relative sloth!

I’ve begun my volunteering at Blickling Hall and as you might have read this is proving to be very interesting and satisfying, including meeting a host of other volunteers and helping to begin the regeneration of the two acre walled garden.

At home it’s been a few weeks of planning (seed checking, organising and buying), thinking a bit more about the wildlife pond I’m going to install here at Old School Garden and getting a few things under way, like chitting the potatoes (‘Foremost’ as first earlies and ‘Charlotte’ as second earlies), sowing  the first leeks, some bush tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peas, all with the aid of some heated propagators. They’re now doing nicely and in the next week or two I’ll pot these up and bring them on in my makeshift greenhouse (our lounge!). It’ll soon be time to get the next lot of seeds underway.


Seed potatoes being ‘chitted’ on the windowsill

I haven’t been up to much outside- and the mole hills continue to appear! I think I’ll venture out in the next few weeks and continue the tidying up before things really get going. Oh, by the way, I’m persevering with the Melianthus as I believe if I leave the foliage on (despite the plant looking a bit straggly now) I might get some flowers in the next few weeks- there are some already forming on a plant I’ve seen at Blickling.


First signs of growth for the new season…

I’ve completed my review of the grounds and gardens at the local primary school and hope that this will help them get to grips with their open spaces and get the most from them, especially educational and play value and for improving the diversity of wildlife. I’m also still working on the Management Plan for the local churchyard – the base plan is in place and I now need to research some details on establishing much of the space as a wild flower meadow. My latest garden design course is due to begin in Reepham in just over a week’s time- hopefully there’ll be enough takers to let it run.

I guess that’s about all the news this month old friend. I hope you’re keeping well and warm in this spell of cold weather, though thankfully we seem to have missed the dramatic snowfalls in New England (well, at least for now).

all the best,

Old School Gardener

WP_20150107_11_25_59_ProIt’s early January and a perfect time to think about what you’re going to grow in the coming year, putting this down on paper (especially for food crops) look through your seed collection, and plugging any gaps. With not much to do in the garden at present, this is just what I’ve been up to in the last couple of days.

I’ve done what I usually do- slotted the packs of seeds I’m going to use into a weekly organiser so that I know when to sow them (always being prepared to adjust this if the weather doesn’t quite go to expectations where outdoor sowings are concerned), adding in a few more things where I want to grow more succession crops (e.g. carrots) or widen the range (e.g. squashes).

I’ve also bought some additional asparagus crowns to add to the bed I started last year (only a couple of plants came through their first season). As last year, I’ve been collecting seed from some plants and adding to my collection through purchases, including taking advantage of the RHS Members’ Seed Scheme where I can buy packs of 12 different seeds for just £8.50. I placed my order yesterday and look forward to receiving some interesting ornamentals to add to Old School Garden.

As far as food is concerned I’ve prepared a new plan for the Kitchen Garden and showed both early and follow on crops…kitchen gdn 2015Changes for this year include:

  • Relocating the three large pots of blueberries – I’m planning to partly sink these into the ground in a spot where I can more easily erect a bird proof cage over them and at the same time release some gravelled space next to the Greenhouse and Cold Frame where I can store pots and trays for ‘hardening off’ new plants.

  • Growing more carrots and parsnips in plastic dustbins, as my experiment last year worked quite well and provides some extra growing space when the rest of the garden is pretty well full.

  • I’ve substituted one Blackcurrant bush with a White currant to improve the balance of the fruit we have and bought ten raspberry canes (two varieties of summer fruiting to plug some gaps in the rows and hopefully improve fruiting).

  • I’m also continuing to install plastic hoops (I’ve used plumbing pipe available from DIY stores) over some more beds to enable me to use plastic/ enviromesh/netting to provide a warm micro climate and protection from pests.

Let’s hope for a productive year!

Old School Gardener

How to Build a Propagation Bench

How to build a propagation bench

Instructions on how to create your own solar – heated bench for propagating seeds and cuttings and looking after seedlings.

Old School Gardener

How to build a Cold Frame

‘Spring is around the corner and it will soon be time to start sowing seeds.

For those of us who haven’t got a greenhouse, (especially a nice warm one like our editor Maddy’s, who has been using her hot bin composter to keep her greenhouse above freezing all winter), the unpredictable weather can have a huge impact on when we start our seeds. With the possibility of late frosts, seeds can be easily damaged, right through to April and May.

So making a cold frame is a great way to start off your seeds in a warmer and more protected environment, until they are strong enough to be planted out in the unpredictable weather……’

Great idea from Permaculture Magazine – click on the title link for further information and other useful links

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Heavy shower

The blckbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Hill

The blackbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Young

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

It’s coming to the end of one of the driest and hottest July’s we’ve had in nearly 10 years. Today looks like it will be the hottest of the year to date – somewhere in the upper 20s if not low 30s Celsius in our corner of England (and higher elsewhere)! Having spent a couple of hours this morning planting out the last of my summer annuals, thinning and transplanting wallflowers and planting some leeks, I’ve escaped the worst of the heat and come inside to drop you a line!

As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been very busy on several gardening fronts. I guess the most significant event was our first garden opening last week, which I’ve done a separate article about. This was great fun and I was very pleased with the way the garden looked and the many positive comments from the 70+ visitors. We raised over £300 too which will be going to three local ‘good causes’.

One of these is ‘Master Gardener’, where I continue to offer my voluntary advice and help to those starting  to grow their own food. Gabbie, the local co-ordinator, has come up with the idea of using the money we raised as a special fund to be tapped into by Norfolk Master Gardeners to purchase small items to help their households, groups and other new growers- I’ll tell you more about this in due course. I’ve attended a few events recently and had fun talking with a range of people about their food growing experiences and maybe even helped to recruit a few new households. The latest event was the ‘Destination Aylsham’ Fun Day yesterday, which I helped out at with fellow Master Composter Sally Wilson- Town and co-ordinator David Hawkyard. Well over 70 people came over to discuss composting and ‘growing your own’, though my period at the stall seemed to coincide with the quieter, ‘wind down’ phase towards the end. Still,  no matter, we seem to have promoted composting and food growing to a few more people – and I managed to sell some plants and produce too!

I’ve done my last session this academic year at Cawston Primary School, where we had great fun harvesting potatoes, broad beans and a few onions. In truth, with the exception of the Broad Beans, these were harvested a little too soon, because this was the last opportunity for the children to garden before their holidays which begin on Thursday. Still, the potatoes were of a good size and a reasonable quantity and will be used in the school kitchen this week along with the beans and some of my donated home grown produce (we’ve had some enormous Calabrese and Cauliflowers lately). The children also continued to dig out the old compost bins so that we can make a new start there in the Autumn. However, it’s disappointing that we’ve not been able to keep on top of the weeding in the bog garden around  the wildlife pond (which is also looking extremely dry), as many weeds have now set seed, so that will be an added problem for us in the Autumn, when  hopefully the soil will be damper and weeding easier. However, the Outdoor Learning Co-ordinator , Sharon, tells me that the pond has been a real winner with the children and has yielded examples of a wide range of insect and other wildlife.

The gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum are struggling in the sun and heat, but the planting and care taken earlier in the year by myself and other volunteer gardeners seem to be paying off. The rambling rose ‘Rambling Rector’ in the Wildife Garden looks particularly splendid as it covers the arbour and adjoining wall, where I and my friend Steve spent an hour or two pruning and tying in last autumn.


At home, Old School Garden is also struggling in the heat, and evening watering sessions of hand held spray and sprinkler have lasted a good few hours in recent weeks – and still many new plantings are wilting! Anyway, the long borders are looking great, though with a few gaps after shearing back the oriental poppies. I’m hoping that my strategically placed pots of tender perennials and plantings of annuals will soon plug these and the overall show will reach a crescendo in a few weeks time. The kitchen garden has proved to be very productive to date, though we  continue to get problems with pests such as pigeons and to a lesser extent blackbirds and aphids. I’ve noticed a few Cabbage White butterflies recently, but hopefully with my planting of Nasturtiums and netting of my Brassicas, we’ll not be too badly affected by their hungry green caterpillars! So far we’ve had crops of :

  • Potatoes – though I had to lift many of these a bit early as blight had started to affect them

  • Calabrese  -huge heads from the F1 variety ‘Beaumont’

  • Cauiliflowers- though a few heads were ‘blown’ as we couldn’t keep up with the supply!

  • Mange Tout – despite early pigeon attacks!

  • Celery – too much to cope with!

  • Carrots – a reasonable first crop though many were twisted and misshapen, possibly a combination of too rich and stony soil

  • Lettucs – a few varieties from the garden have tasted good along with some ‘cut and come again’ varieties in pots.

  • Tomatoes – just a few of the smaller, golden variety to date, but plenty on the plants in the greenhouse, ready for swelling and ripening.

  • Courgettes – the start of what promises to be a bumper year, especially as my friend Steve has given me four ‘Patty Pan’ plants to go with the two green varieties he’d already supplied!

  • Strawberries-  you remember I’d started the process of relocating the strawberry bed? Well the new plants seem to have taken well, though, as youd’ expect I didn’t let them flower or fruit this first year, but the old plants I left hoping for ‘one more year’ of fruit were a disaster. Very few fruits and what there were the blackbirds, slugs and mould seem to have taken. So for the first time in many years I actually bought two punnets of strawberries!

  • Raspberries – these are coming on well and we’ve enjoyed a few days supply so far, though the pigeons, despite my various ‘bird scarers’, seem to be enjoying themselves and breaking off the fruiting stems as they use them like ladder to go up and down the canes!

  • Garlic – most now harvested but some along with the onions are just drying  out before storing

  • Broad Beans – a good crop of a rosy pink variety, though when cooked their attractive colour seems to turn a rather dull grey, but they taste just fine!

  • Gooseberries- first bush harvested , two red varieties to come this weekend

  • Blackcurrants- two bushes harvested and a lot frozen, with one more to come shortly

Later today, I’ll be sowing some further crops of Lettuce, Mange Tout, Carrots and Cabbage as well as some Pansies I got from the Royal Norfolk Show and which  should provide us with some autumn and winter colour. That’s if it is not too hot of course.

Well, old friend, I see that it’s about time for lunch, so I’ll close for now and wish you and your good wifeFerdy’ well. By the way, would she mind terribly if I called her by her second name, which I find so much more attractive? Lise seems to capture her elegant beauty a lot more than that  nickname she got all those years ago at University! We’re looking forward to seeing you both here at Old School Garden in a week or two’s time – hopefully the garden will still look good and the weather will mean we can enjoy some warm summer evenings on the terrace with some good food, and even better wine!

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter…. letter from Old School Garden 21st June 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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Heritage Veg- keeping the old varieties going

Heritage Veg- keeping the old varieties going

I had an interesting delivery in the post yesterday. It was from Garden Organic, the UK charity that promotes organic gardening. Some of you may recall that I’m a volunteer with the ‘Master Gardener’ programme they jointly run in Norfolk and a few other places, providing advice, information and support to people starting to grow their own food. More recently I became a ‘Master Composter’ doing the same thing but focused on recycling green waste into a useful gardening product. Well, it seems that this has enabled me to have free membership of the ‘Heritage Seed Library’ (HSL) run by Garden Organic at their base near Coventry.

seeds in handThe HSL aims to conserve and make available vegetable varieties that are not widely accessible. It does this by maintaining a collection of vegetables from the UK and Northern Europe that are not readily available in seed catalogues. Some of these varieties were commercially available once but have now disappeared from catalogues and seed lists. Others have never been offered in catalogues but have been developed by gardeners and passed on through the generations until they were donated to the HSL. There are also some varieties that have a special local significance. Many have a story to tell, and HSL collects not only the seed, but also information on their characteristics, methods of use, origins, and what this can tell us about our gardening and culinary heritage. Just flipping through their current catalogue is a journey into the past with varieties carrying evocative names like:

Navy Bean Edmund – a variety of bean first cultivated to sustain Australian forces during WWII and which is the kind used to create ‘baked beans’.

Long Blood Red– an American Beetroot described by Vilmorin in ‘The Vegetable Garden’ (1885) as an ‘American variety with a long, slender, deeply buried root..good, productive, and well-coloured kind’ – a member of HSL describes it as having ‘the best flavour, wonderful for picking’.

Maltese plum – a variety of tomato donated by someone whose friend acquired the seeds on holiday in Malta! Trusses are borne on leaf spurs, so unlike many other varieties you don’t grow it as a cordon or remove the side shoots. This is a late variety that produces a heavy crop of firm, red plum type tomatoes ideal for stuffing.

What varieties of Veg do you grow?

Which varieties of Veg do you grow?

The HSL is not a gene bank, so does not preserve the seeds in cold storage, but grow them and make them available to other gardeners so that they remain alive and able to adapt to new conditions. Any new characteristics then have a good chance of being spotted and made use of. The HSL was created in response to the loss of old vegetable varieties that occurred following European legislation designed to counteract the activities of some unscrupulous seed companies. After the commercialisation  of seeds in the 19th century the traditional practice of farmers and gardeners exchanging seeds declined. European law says that only seed that is listed on a National List (and ultimately the EU Common Catalogue) can be marketed. To be on the list a variety must go through a series of tests, part of which is about ensuring consistency between generations. The tests both cost money and were impractical for many smaller seed companies, so many varieties started to disappear, especially those that are inherently highly variable.

With the costs incurred in breeding and maintaining a variety, a large, profitable market is needed by commercial seed companies. This means that they often decide against maintaining varieties suitable for ‘niche markets’, e.g. gardeners, in favour of those more acceptable to large-scale growers. The varieties available are therefore more likely to ripen at the same time to make harvesting with machinery easier, tough enough to withstand travel and handling in supermarkets, and familiar in visual characteristics so that they are acceptable to the average shopper. Flavour often takes a back seat.

The HSL runs a membership scheme to help to distribute seeds and counteract the costs of the EU legislation. Members pay an annual fee which goes towards the costs of collecting, growing, storing and distributing the seed. HSL produce articles on seed saving, research and the latest developments on the international seed scene in ‘ The Organic Way’, the Garden Organic members’ magazine. Every winter they also send out a Catalogue covering a portion of the collection- members can choose up to six packets  containing a few seeds of different varieties to try out for themselves. HSL is also active in promoting seed exchanges around the country.

The HSL currently looks after 800 varieties of Heritage Veg seeds

The HSL currently looks after 800 varieties of Heritage Veg seeds

Currently HSL looks after over 800 types of seed from open-pollinated varieties (not F1 hybrids), of which around 200 are detailed in their Seed Catalogue. As well as research on the varieties and testing of previously untried varieties that come in from time to time, HSL grow some of the seed used at Garden Organic’s HQ. More seed is grown by Seed Guardians – special members who volunteer their resources to look after and bulk up selected varieties. These are then available for distribution to HSL members.

The collection is still expanding. Every year HSL receive samples of vegetable seed that gardeners have been looking after and keeping alive. They ask a lot of questions about each one to determine its place in our culture and then conduct our trials on it, taking notes and making assessments throughout its growing life to find out as much as possible about it. This gives HSL the opportunity to ensure that it is different to anything else they are looking after, not obviously diseased, has not crossed (and is not a hybrid) and is something gardeners would be interested in growing. If HSL decide it is something they should be keeping they add it to the collection, so there’s always something new coming in. You can find out more about the HSL and download a seed saving guide at their website- see link below.

This is my first exploration of ‘Heritage Veg’ and the inclusion of a small sample of Greek Squash seed will give me a chance to sample an unusual variety for myself – if I can find the room for it in the kitchen garden, that is!

Taylor's SeedsCo-incidentally, last week I was also involved in another aspect of ‘Heritage Seeds’, the opening of a special exhibition at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum, Norfolk. Next to the Museum’s Cherry Tree Cottage Garden (which is designed to be a re-creation of a typical Norfolk cottage garden of the 1930’s), a new space is devoted to displaying various interesting objects from one of Norfolk’s historic seed merchants. R. & A. Taylor, whose Seed Shop in King’s Lynn once provided a wide range of seeds and other ‘horticultural sundries’ to the County’s gardeners.

Over two years of research culminated in the official opening of the new display last week. This captures something of the seed shop as it would have been in the 1930’s and is also home to a significant collection of objects and other material donated to the Museum by the Taylor family in 1982. The present curator, Megan Dennis, and founder curator, Bridget Yates, also wanted the new display to provide a new focus for the museum’s gardening collections. The display was officially opened by James and Bob Taylor, who worked with their father in the family business in Norfolk Street, Kings Lynn. It was a happy day and the new display provides a fascinating range of objects and information for all ages.

I particularly like the material about School Gardening as it used to be carried out in the 1920’s – a solid part of the curriculum, but with a strict gender bias that is true in some households today: the boys grow the vegetables and the girls tend the flowers!

Sources and further information:

Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library and link to pdf on Seed Saving

The Breckland View– article on the Seed Shop display and background

Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse Museum

Master Gardener

Home composting

Old School Gardener

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16th March 2013


Thanks for the tips… have pretty much done everything now!

Bought some seeds and have planted them in a compartmentalized seed tray… went for basil, coriander , parsley , sage, oregano and piripiri chillies.

Also got some raspberry plants – maybe they’ll work this year!!

Now to wait and see if they sprout!


To be continued…. do youn have any tips about growing fruit and veg in containers? Please let me know!

Previous post: Dear Dad ….15th March 2013

Old School Gardener

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