Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sowing the Seeds


The cucumber family have given us pumpkins, courgettes, marrows, melons, gourds and squashes as well as cucumbers. Pumpkins are the perfect plant to let your kids loose on to stimulate an interest in gardening from a young age. They are very easy to grow and kids just love to see them grow huge as they give them a fortnightly feed, or weekly if you want a whopper. They really do respond to feeding and watering and soil rich in humus.
Then at harvesting just before Halloween the kids will get the lantern and the adults will get the flesh for soups and seeds for roasting or next years crop.
Pumpkins can be stored in a cool place and keep for many months. We are using our last one in mid May and it is still perfect. However courgettes are the summer favourite as they don’t store fresh, though you can store them once you have cooked up some soup. They are both very healthy vegetables high in vitamin A, C and E and full of minerals, fibre and pumpkins high in beta-carotene. Courgettes combined with spinach make a lovely light summer soup for healthy slimmers and pumpkins with added sweet potato, carrots, onion, garlic and nutmeg makes a warmer winter soup. Pick all courgettes when about six inches long and use within three days. If some grow faster than you can pick and use, they can still be used for summer soup. Use the smaller ones for stir frying, grills, baked, barbecued and combined with aubergine and tomatoes for ratatouille. This is always relevant in late summer when both courgettes and home grown tomatoes are at glut levels.
I sow my seed the last week in April in single cells in a tray on a sunny windowsill, then pot up into individual pots just when the first true leaf is forming. Grow on for a couple of weeks then harden off by mid May for planting out at the end of the month.
They both enjoy similar growing conditions. I grow them on land heavily manured or composted in winter, then in May when all risk of frost has gone I add extra compost to each planting area to increase the water retaining properties and create soil with a high humus content. Add a good dressing of growmore fertiliser then plant out about three feet apart.
Keep them weeded, watered and fed during the growing season.
Pumpkin shoots can grow fast and extend rapidly all over the place so prune them once they have produced two to three fruit per plant. You can get more pumpkins per plant if the land adjacent has been cleared from early potatoes, onions or broad beans and you let the long shoots take over the space, but you will need to keep them fed and watered. However if you are after that huge pumpkin that everyone loves to achieve then only allow one or two fruit per plant and really give it some serious feeding. Stop feeding in late summer to help ripen up the fruit and put some straw or bark chips under the fruit to keep them clean. After cutting at harvest time, wash any soil off the pumpkins before storing them indoors in a cool airy room.
If you have found a good reliable variety you can keep the seed for the next year, but store it well out of the reach of mice which just love a wee nibble over winter.
Squashes and marrows are grown very similar to pumpkins and come in a range of shapes and colours and it is always interesting to try something different each year.

Plant of the week

Red geraniums are a show winner when it comes to impact of colour in the garden in summer. I grow mine from cuttings overwintered on a window sill every year, and potted up as they grow. They will flower all winter (if you let them), then by early May they are ready for tubs, hanging baskets and flower beds. If you grow them strongly it is possible to produce ten plants from one cutting taken in September, then two months later it will have rooted and grown so remove the tip and use it as the next cutting. Repeat this process till April, but do not allow them to flower to keep their vigour for growing.

Painting of the Month

Sunset on the River Yare is one of my favourite oil paintings. The idea came from a holiday on the Broads a few years ago when we took an evening boat trip up the River Yare from Great Yarmouth. Other boats and the windmill were illuminated by the low sun as it was setting. I knew it would make an excellent painting.


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