So much of our lives for the next year, and beyond, is held within this simple, unassuming cardboard box.
It's name is Bertie. Bertie originally started its travels on the Isle of Arran, coming to London then spending some time in France, before returning to London. A quick visit to Wales then ensued, though for much of last year Bertie was just happy to sit at home... quietly... unassuming... still. And we're delighted that this was the case, as Bertie holds so many of our growing hopes and dreams.
It is within the packets... within the monthly sections... within Bertie that much of our growing year is contained. The seeds in each packet, and each monthly section, will barely ever see the light of day. As they sit in the darkness of their packaging they are really just waiting for the dappled darkness of soil and compost. You see, it is these seeds that will germinate and grow and produce food for our table. Some will need to burst into flower before giving up their taste-filled offerings; others will just be resplendent in their leafy, luscious green goodness; and some we will know little about until they're pulled from the ground and their lengthy tap root or bulbous tubers are revealed to the sun or rain drenched world.
Bertie is a spit of a thing and doesn't really weigh much, though carries the full weight of bountiful growing seasons and harvests, and our own hopes and dreams, on his sturdy shoulders. We certainly have much to thank Bertie for, and can only hope that our growing hopes and dreams for this year are fulfilled... weather and pests permitting!
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 24
To date, I've always planted out onion sets in the autumn for harvesting the following summer. Most years we've been lucky with our white onions and had really good results; the variety of late has been Shakespeare. However, with our red onions, which have always been Red Baron, it's been a different story. They have always bolted, which obviously is not the intention and is no good for long-term storage.
However, over the past few days I've been getting that little itch again of needing to sow some seeds... as us allotmenteers often do! I had a hunt in my seedbox and came across some Ailsa Craig onion seeds which had been free and enclosed with a magazine some months back. So yesterday, as I was popping down to the allotment to do our Christmas Day harvest, I decided to sow these whilst I was there and see how they do... though in fairness even if I had had nothing to do at the allotment I would have still gone... that itch being itchy and needing a scratch!
It's become somewhat of a tradition in the UK to sow onion seed on Boxing Day. I think it springs from those wanting to grow exhibition onions, like Kelsae, though may do me well too (even if I was a day early!). I guess this tradition really aligns more to sowing on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest; though nowadays after an extended family ridden Christmas Day I am sure many will want to escape for an hour or so on Boxing Day to potter at the allotment!
I've never done onions from seed before, though have over the last few years had a hankering to have a go. It'll be interesting to see how they compare to how we've grown our onions previously... as sets... planted in the autumn... as I have already said...
Apart from White Lisbon Spring Onions which I sowed a month or so ago - growing along with what Kelly from Kelly's Kitchen Garden is doing - I currently have no onions growing. You see, I'd already decided that this year we'd plant out sets in the spring, just like Vivi does. Hers always seem to do well and not bolt, so we'll follow the way of the Queen of the Gardens this growing year.
You may remember last year we tried planting our onion sets deeper, as dad used to do. Sadly, the result was pretty poor. All of the red onions bolted yet again; fourth year growing and fourth year bolting. With our white Shakespeare, which had done really well in previous years, they didn't seem to like being planted deeper than we normally do. Largely, the harvest had onions that had either rust or allium leaf miner. Of course one reason could have been the deeper than usual planting, especially as I now remember that the soil that dad had in Guernsey is much sandier than we have, which will have certainly helped with drainage. Additionally, I think the white rot took hold as the onion sets seemed to stay quite damp around the growing onion. I know I didn't weed them enough and let Mizuna germinate and grow to full-size plants; this itself will have kept moisture in the soil at the level that the onions were forming... not ideal growing conditions for a crop that likes its own space. A note to self to hand weed more often AND remove volunteer plants if I even think they may at some point do harm!
So, I think a combination of things rather than just one had resulted in last year's poor onion harvest, and I've taken responsibility for these errors, and learned from them; as all us allotmenteers must. We get to know our soil, our light, our weather, our watering regime, our composting techniques, our fertilisers and our ways of doing things, and learn more and adapt again each growing year.
So, the sowing of these Ailsa Craig is done. They've already had a night tucked up in the poly, and we'll see how these little hard balls of onion seeds get on over the next few months. How quickly, or slowly, will they germinate? Shall I thin to one strong seedling per module or allow them to clump? When will they need planting out? Should I buy Enviromesh and cover to reduce the risk of allium leaf miner? Do I need special fertiliser for them or will a top-dressing of chicken manure pellets suffice?
We will see how they do, and find these answers as we go along. Learning and adapting as we allotmenteers always do.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 20
It has to be said, the last few weeks have found me with little impetus to get on and do the things that really needed to be sorted. Unlike other years, the recent time change of falling back an hour seems to have also let me fall into an “Oh, I will sort it tomorrow…” state of mind, and we all know where that can lead!!
So, I needed a bit of a kick up the arse, or at least a nudge in the right direction.
Thankfully, the lovely Kelly Bramill of Kelly’s Kitchen Garden gave me a right, royal kick up the arse… at least metaphorically! And, to be fair, it was less of a kick and more of a warming nudge of “Go on… you know you will like it”. And like it I did!!
A few days back Kelly uploaded her latest video where she sows White Lisbon Spring Onions and three types of lettuce. Early sowings of a lettuce that Kelly did at this time last year have provided her family with over 2.5kg of salad leaves this year!! A monumental harvest of salad leaves in anyone’s book.
So today, following Sunday Chat, it was time to get some sowing of my own done. Admittedly, I could have stayed in front of the TV watching Vivi’s first Sunday on the Sofa - and believe you me I was quite comfy watching it on our sofa in our warm front room with a cuppa in hand. However, as I watched my fingers were growing increasingly itchy, and I knew a spell of seed sowing was going to be the only thing to quell them. So, about 10 minutes in and with Vivi’s washing machine seemingly nearing the end of its spin cycle I said to Richard “Nope, I'm going to have to watch Vivi later. I'm going down to the plot to sow some seeds.” And after a rummage in my seed box, where I found gifted and ‘magazine’ seeds, that's exactly what I've done!
Following Kelly's advice, which you can watch fully in her video, I've now multi-sown White Lisbon Spring Onions in modules, and I've separated one of our half-size seed trays into three using seed labels and sown All The Year Round lettuce, Southern Giant mustard and Arctic King lettuce. The compost was already moist and the seed trays have now had a light watering and will stay in the polytunnel under their little plastic hat for some months, or at least until we move the poly to lower down on our new plot. I've never sown salad leaves or spring onions at this time of year before, though clearly it did very well for Kelly who lives much further north and in a colder environment, so fingers crossed!
If your fingers are getting itchy too, and you know that only a bout of seed sowing will sort it, then why not grow along with Kelly also? It will be interesting to see how we all do.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 12
An 'after seed sowing' darkening sky at our allotment.
...long term partners.