Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘straw bale gardening’

Polytunnel Update

The weather was a bit changeable this weekend so I was happy having lots of tasks to keep me busy in the polytunnel. Although the polytunnel took quite a battering from storm Doris recently, and we will have to replace the cover, it’s still functioning.

First task for the day was to get my Vitopod cuttings propagator up and running. I’ve found that using the Vitopod significantly increases my success rate, particularly with softwood cuttings. It’s a hydroponic cuttings propagator and I think the hydroponics make it very easy to maintain adequate hydration of the cuttings while they are growing new roots.

Today I took some Bay, Rosemary, Sage and Box cuttings. I also want to take try taking some cuttings from my fig trees later in the season as well as more herbs. I’ve found that taking cuttings from plants that are already thriving in the environment at Hooters Hall generally leads to more success when it comes to planting out.

Here’s a picture of my Vitopod and the first of the cuttings

 The polytunnel is full of seedlings at the moment. I’m shuffling them between the heated propagator, the hot beds and my potting table. The hot beds have been working really well. The temperature does drop a bit more than the heated propagator when it’s a cold day but overall they are keeping a temperature of around 20C. Once I’ve got all my seedlings growing well I’ll be using the hot beds to plant out my sweet peppers and in June I’ve got some sweet potato slips arriving which will also go in the hot bed. If there’s room I want to get at least some of my melon plants in their too although they did quite well just in the raised bed lat year.

Here’s some pics from around the polytunnel as you can see the Elephant Garlic in the raised bed is coming along nicely I’ve also got quite a few shallots and spring onions.

I’ve grown quite a few different varieties of tomato this year. The one that I’m most fascinated by at the moment is Tiny Tim. It’s been bred to be a true windowsill tomato and I’m planning on growing it on a shelf in our South facing conservatory. The plants are perfectly formed and thriving but miniature in comparison with the other tomatoes. Here’s a picture.

As well as miniature windowsill tomatoes I’ve also got some miniature Blueberries which seem to be doing quite well and I’m going to be growing Butterbush a variety of Butternut squash that is more bush like than vine like and which produces smaller squashes. I’m interested to see the produce from these mini varieties. So far the tomato plants are vigorous but tiny and I’m hoping we’ll have a good crop.

Last year I tried straw bale gardening for the first time with great success. I grew cabbage, kohl rabi, beans, peas and spring onions in my straw bales and also planted the same varieties in the polytunnel beds so I could compare them. Without fail the plants in the straw bales were 3 weeks or so ahead of the plants in the beds. You need to keep on top of the watering with straw bale gardening but that wasn’t a problem because we have a water supply in the polytunnel. My straw bales survived the winter and although I wouldn’t want to move them around they seem to be intact enough for another season of growing. I’ve decided to grow salad crops, shallots, spring onions and maybe some carrots in them this year.

To get the bales ready for planting I’ve spent the week watering them and adding some fertilizer to get the decomposition going again. Last year I started my vegetables in trays then planted them in the bales as plug plants. This year I’m more confident so I’m starting the seeds straight on the bales. Today I added a thin layer of compost to four of the bales and then sowed some rocket, spring onions and shallots. Here’s a picture.

My final job of the day was to plant several trays of sunflowers. I have some that have been bred as cut flowers, an edible variety and a super tall variety that I’ll be taking into my workplace for a sunflower growing competition. I’m looking forward to trying the edible variety . The buds, petals and seeds are all edible. According to the sales pitch the petals  can be added to a salad for a colour contrast and a mild nutty taste. The green buds can be blanched, then tossed in garlic butter; being similar in flavour to a Jerusalem artichoke and the kernels inside the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted as a snack.

Lights, Tree cabbage & Apricots

Propagation whether from seed or cutting is the starting point of growing anything so I’ve invested in a bit of kit to assist me in getting the propagation environment just right. I’ve been using a Vitopod propagator from Greenhouse Sensation for a few years with a lot of success. It’s heated with an easy to control thermostat so I can tailor the warmth to the seeds I’m trying to germinate. Not getting too hot is just as important as not being too cold when it comes to germinating seeds. Some seeds just won’t germinate if it’s too warm.

Once seeds have germinated they need light to grow well. Too little light can lead weak to etiolated seedlings. While the polytunnel obviously gets a lot of light and I’ve never had a problem with etiolated seedlings the days are shorter at the end of winter and beginning of Spring. Shorter day length can affect the flowering of plants, this is known as Photoperiodism. I don’t  plan on specifically growing plants that demonstrate photoperiodism currently but I do want to make sure that my seedlings benefit from having the maximum light they can. Using artificial light also means I can start my seedlings inside if I want to, that I can extend my growing year by starting seeds off earlier and I can grow plants that are used to longer growing periods.

With all those benefits in mind I had been thinking about how to use some horticultural light in the propagation area of the polytunnel. Fortunately, Greenhouse sensation have just brought out a light kit for the Vitopod propagator so I treated myself this week. It’s very easy to put together and fixes onto the propagator with suction pads. I’ve plugged it into a timer and set that so the lights come on from 3am to 6am increasing the day length.

Here’s a picture of the lights on the propagator. The support for the lights is made out of clear plastic so it does look like the lights are just floating above the propagator. You can adjust the height of the lights very easily.

As we move properly into Spring the permanent plants in the polytunnel are showing signs of new life. My perennial vegetables the Tree Cabbage and Nine Star Broccoli are flourishing. I’ve got three Tree Cabbage and five of the Nine Star Broccoli. I grew the Tree Cabbage from seed but bought the Nine Star Broccoli as plug plants. As perennial vegetables they stay put all year round. You can pick the leaves from the Tree Cabbage to use as you would a cabbage and the Nine Star Broccoli acts like purple sprouting broccoli but is a cauliflower. It produces multiple small cauliflower like heads and will continue to be productive over at least 3 years.  You can get the Tree Cabbage seed from The Real Seed Catalogue and the Nine Star Broccoli plants from Victoriana Nursery Gardens

We’ve also got fruit trees in the polytunnel. Once again the Apricot seems to be aiming to be the first to blossom.

Hopefully we’ll have another good harvest this year.

Last year we tried growing in straw bales for the first time. It was very successful and the bales have survived the winter. They aren’t quite as sturdy as they were though so I think this year I’ll mainly use them for salad crops. I’m going to leave them in their current position because I suspect they might disintegrate a bit if I start hauling them around the polytunnel.

This is how they look right now.

As you can see the polytunnel could do with a bit of a clean. After the big storm recently we’ve decided to replace the cover so there’s little point cleaning it now. We’ve got the replacement cover ready to put on we just need to wait for a dry, non windy day.