Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 30 January 2012

Bradshaw's Chippenham

NAH and I have been enjoying the latest series of Great British Railway Journeys on TV recently. Last week's trip took us back to our old stomping ground in the North East and I was taken by surprise by the wave of homesickness which hit me.

Great British Railway Journeys is one of those gentle little gems. A trip along various railway lines is the opportunity to explore the scenery, towns (often the less well known ones with the kind of quirky items I like) plus the history of Victorian times, particularly how the coming of the railway changed the face of Britain.

Each series is based around using Bradshaw's Guide*: a guide to Britain's delights aimed at the Victorian who wanted to explore by rail. It's different to most guidebooks as the order isn't alphabetical or by county, but by region and railway line.

Such is the series' popularity, the 1866 edition has been republished and NAH bought me one for Christmas. The entry for Chippenham (once I'd found it) reads:

Distance from station, 3/4 mile.
A telegraph station (most important - this was the internet of its day).
HOTELS - Angel, George
MARKET DAY - Thursday (I wonder when it changed to Friday and Saturday?).
FAIRS - May 17th, June 22nd, Oct 29th and Dec 11th (I wonder what happened to those?).

This is a parliamentary borough, on the Great Western Railway, in North Wiltshire on the river Avon, but not otherwise remarkable, except as being a great seat of the cheese trade. Population 7, 075 who send two members to parliament (over 30,000 today with just one MP). A little cloth and silk are made. It has two tanneries, a foundry, four banks, a new Town Hall and Market House, built for £12,000, at the cost of J. Neeld Esq., MP of Grittleton, and a long bridge on 23 arches. The old church large and handsome. In the time of Alfred it was a city of strength, and was taken by the Danes in 880. It is delightfully situated in a valley on the south bank of the river Avon, by which it is almost surrounded.

This is a snapshot of Chippenham around 25 years after the railway came and it would seem before the town was transformed by it. There's no mention of the great railway engineering works, nor of Nestlé or Wiltshire Ham. The bridge has been replaced and the Market House renamed the Neeld Hall and whilst it's still a place for meetings and events, the cheese market there is no more. It would appear the coming of the railway brought about the demise of Wiltshire cheese as there was more profit to be made in selling the milk to the London trade.

It shows how in a mere 150 years a town can change dramatically more than once. I wonder what George Bradshaw would make of Chippenham today?

* = apparently it should be called Bradshaw's Tourist Handbook and the original one you see Michael Portillo using is very rare indeed.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Salad Days: Of Sprouted Seeds and Microgreens

I'm experimenting with some radishes for microgreens - not quite the mini forest of waving seed leaves I have in my mind's eye yet, but aren't those root hairs fab?

Welcome to January's edition of Salad Days: our monthly get together on the fourth Friday each month to see how everyone's getting on with their 52 Week Salad Challenge!

When I kicked off the challenge 3 weeks ago, I didn't expect the enormous reaction I've seen from right across the globe. Many thanks to you who've already started writing your blogposts and tweeting your pictures, experiences and questions using the #saladchat hashtag. I'm really chuffed with everything that's been happening this month :D

You'll find Mr Linky at the end of this post for you to enter all your Salad Days entries. Don't worry if you don't post today, that's why I'm using Mr Linky so that you can add them when you're ready...

The pea shoots are enjoying their move from the kitchen windowsill to the bedroom. So is Skimble - you can just see his whiskers at the top left in the photo

As you know the challenge is about growing, foraging and eating salad leaves every week of the year. I've left things flexible so you can design the challenge to suit you. However, I haven't said what I'm aiming to do this year, so in 2012 I will...
  • Kick my 4 bags a week bought salad habit by growing my own - at least one bag per week will be replaced by my own fresh produce
  • Extend my usual April to October salad cropping season and by the end of the year I will be able to continue growing all my own salad leaves into 2013
  • Make better use of the resources I have already - cloches, cold frames, seed sprouting kits, growing trays, horticultural fleece, left over seed packets etc. Reuse/Recycle are also allowed
  • Only buy compost, seeds and feed - i.e. I won't be buying a greenhouse or polytunnel to make things easier for me
  • Try new techniques and varieties including microgreens, foraging and eating more edible flowers
  • Write a blog post about salad every week

Pea shoot at dawn

Over the last few weeks I've learned:
  • The challenge is lots of fun and it's been great learning from your experiences and helping wherever I can
  • Chickweed and hairy bittercress are surprisingly tasty. So was the carrot top I furtively nibbled whilst out shopping
  • There's a surprising amount of greenstuff available in January
  • Beansprouts are traditionally sprouted in the dark. In a later post I'll report on my experiments to compare lentils sprouted in the dark and light
  • NAH likes sprouted seeds! For someone who only liked peas when I first met him and has a real aversion to roots, this is progress
  • Microgreens grown in compost will yield 3 crops, those grown on trays (like my radishes in the first photo) yield just one. Guess which version is sold in the supermarkets
  • My houseplants have really perked up since I started watering them with the rinsing water from my sprouted seeds
  • Ungerminated and leftover sprouted seeds are great in soups
  • I have far too many seeds in my seed tin - at least I can use lots of them up for trendy microgreens (NB don't use parsnips for this as they're toxic - thanks to Mel for asking the question and @simiansuter for tweeting the reminder a couple of weeks ago)
  • I can replace at least 1 bag of salad a week with sprouted seeds and microgreens started in January. This bodes well for the rest of the year
Now it's over to you, how are you getting on with the 52 Week Salad Challenge? Leave a link to your blogpost via Mr Linky below. NB the next Salad Days will be on February 24th.

NB You can catch up with all my weekly 52 Week Salad Challenge posts, plus lots more useful links and information re the world of salad leaves on my dedicated 52 Week Salad Challenge page :)

Update: This Mr Linky is for genuine 52 Week Salad Challenge posts and others recommended via #saladchat. It's NOT for links to websites offering gardening services, materials and suchlike. These will be removed as soon as I find them.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Some Dates for Your Diary

Filling out the pages of this year's calendar reminded me there's quite a few brand new gardening related events to look forward to in 2012. Here's a roundup of some extra dates you might like to put in your diary...


There's no Red Nose Day this year, but there is Garden Re-leaf Day on Tuesday 13th March instead. All proceeds will go to the charity Greenfingers, which raises money to build gardens at children's hospices.


16-22 April has been designated as the first National Gardening Week by the RHS. Expect all kinds of activities designed to encourage us to get gardening - here's the schedule for what's happening at the RHS.


As I reported last November, May 18th is Fascination of Plants Day. The extensive list of participating organisations in the UK can be found here.

Various times and locations

This year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations include the creation of 60 'Diamond Woods' around the country. I'm delighted I've been invited to a tree planting session at the one closest to me: at Caen Hill near Devizes on February 12th. Check The Woodland Trust's Jubilee Woods website for more information.

Edinburgh is famous for it's Fringe Festival and many other festivals now offer an alternative point of view. This year the Chelsea Fringe will be joining it's famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show sister. Look out for pop-up gardens, installations, secret gardens and all kinds of mayhem in London from 19th May to 10th June. NB Chelsea Fringe is also participating in the Fascination of Plants Day.

Much of the talk this year will be centred around the Olympics. The gardens at the Olympic Park promise to be quite an eye opener if the talk given by James Hitchmough I went to a couple of weeks ago is anything to go by. (I also gave you a bit of a sneak preview here). For those of us who didn't manage to obtain tickets OR who might just possibly prefer gardening, the Olympics Committee has devised Garden for the Games, a countrywide community gardening initiative which forms part of the cultural Olympics events planned for this year.

Plus, if you miss this you'll have to wait 10 years for the next one...

I'm contemplating a trip to Holland for the Floriade. It lasts from April 5th to 7th October, so there's plenty of time to visit. I'm wondering if anyone's been before and can offer advice on whether it's worth the trip and the best time to go?

And if all that's not enough, you can always check my Perpetual Events Diary for all the regular gardeny events happening on our shores :)

However, that's not all...

This weekend it's the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which allows you to gainfully stare out of the window for an hour in the name of science ;)

I'm up for a local Potato Day too (in Marshfield on Saturday) - you can see if there's one near you here, or there's always the mega one put on by Garden Organic at Ryton.

And not forgetting there's the first of our monthly Salad Days get togethers here on Friday as part of The 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

NB The full list of Salad Days dates (fourth Friday every month) is as follows:
  • 27th January
  • 24th February
  • 23rd March
  • 27th April
  • 25th May (might include a 'spot the salad' from Chelsea!)
  • 22nd June
  • 27th July
  • 24th August
  • 28th September
  • 26th October
  • 23rd November
  • 28th December (might bring it forward to the 21st?)
Do you have a particular gardening event you're looking forward to this year?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Seed Giveaway 2012

January's a great time to dust off the seed tin and see what I already have before hitting the slew of catalogues which have flopped through the letterbox recently. As a result I've found I have more seed than I know what to do with.

Last year's Nasturtium seed giveaway went down very well, so I thought I'd do the same with this year's spares. I've weeded out all the packets which have gone out of date, so you'll get something which stands a good chance of working well for you this year. Here's what's available - any numbers in brackets mean I have more than one packet to spare:


Aquilegia x hybrida 'Crown of Jewels' Mixed
Aquilegia 'McKana Giants' Mixed
Bronze Fennel
Calendula 'Neon'
Helianthus maximiliani (NB perennial sunflower)
Hollyhock 'Halo' Mixed
Morning Glory 'Star of Yelta'
Phacelia 'Tropical Surf'
Sweet Rocket (3 2 1)


Artichoke 'Violet de Provence'
Beetroot 'Alto'
Beetroot 'Boltardy'
Beetroot 'Egyptian Flat Rooted'
Brussels Sprout 'Evesham Special'
Cabbage 'Golden Acre Primo III'
Cabbage 'Kalibos'
Calabrese 'Green Sprouting'
Chilli Pepper 'Chenzo' (3 2 1 - medium hot)
Onion 'Santero'
Onion 'Rouge Long de Florence'
Pumpkin 'Hundredweight' (2 1)
Sweet Pepper 'California Wonder'
Sweet Pepper 'Sweet Ingrid'
Sweet Pepper 'Golden Bell'
Tomato 'Alicante'

Like the look of something? Here's what to do next...
  • Add a comment below, stating which seeds you'd like. This is so people after you get an idea of what's still left as this is on a first come, first served basis (though I'll also be updating this post as I go along)
  • Please request no more than 5 packets, so plenty of people get a chance for some free seeds. If you request more, I'll send you the first 5 on your list. If I have more than 1 packet, then I'll just be sending one of them to you
  • Email me on vegplotting at gmail dot com confirming what you'd like (and who you are if it differs from your online persona!) and the address for me to send the seeds to you. Sorry, no email with your address or if I can't match who you are with the comments means no seeds - I did a lot of tracking down last year to make sure people got their seeds and sadly I haven't got the time to do that this year
  • I'll send you your seeds ASAP - don't worry about postage, I'd prefer it if you gave a donation to your favourite gardening charity instead
  • The closing date is February 11th as I'll be taking along anything that's left to Bradford on Avon's Seedy Sunday on the 12th
  • Sorry, this is only open to UK residents only, owing to higher postage costs and customs restrictions re sending seeds abroad
  • Any questions? Just ask in the comments below :)
To summarise
  • Your comment below reserves your seeds
  • Your email with your name (if I need to match who you are with your online persona), address and seeds requested means I'll send your seeds to you ASAP
  • Anything not requested by email by midnight, 11th February goes to Seedy Sunday
Update 30th January: I've spotted that comments from those of you who've responded via my RSS or email subscriptions haven't gone up on the blog and went into in my spam email folder which I rarely go into. I don't have a record of your comments you left me in my blog spam folder either (which I keep a very close eye on), so your comment requests and any follow up emails were missed until this morning.

Therefore I won't be able to send you everything you've asked for as comments came through on the blog in the meantime for quite a few of the seeds. I'm sorry about that and I've also reported the problem to Blogger, so that hopefully things will get sorted in time for next year's giveaway.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Salad Leaves for January

A quick, visual guide to salad flavours - spotted in Marlborough earlier this month

Update: this post is also a good starting point for February.

Starting a salad challenge in January is probably the toughest time to start here in the northern hemisphere but if we can prove we can grow something now, then it bodes well for the rest of the year. Thank goodness we didn't embark on this quest this time last year! The coldest winter in decades would have made life pretty tough indeed.

The excesses of Christmas have given way to New Year's good intentions so this is probably why this challenge has struck a chord with so many of you. There's a desire for fresh, tasty healthy food and finding anything remotely gardeny to do is seen as a good thing.

What to Do Now

I've found the most important thing to do is to check my seed tin before going mad with those oh so tempting seed catalogues. I've found I already have packets of mizuna and rocket a-plenty (both suitable for windowsill sowing now), plus a number of salad seed mixes. I checked the instructions on the back of the latter and quite a few of them said they're suitable for indoor sowing for baby leaves. Guess what I'll be doing over the weekend. I've cleared the windowsill in my bathroom for the results - this is brightly lit as is required for this time of the year.

We've seen some frosts and colder nights this week and Tracy produced a timely post outlining how best to protect your windowsill sowings - it can get surprisingly cold there at night despite being indoors.

As seen in last week's post, sprouting seeds is a very good way to fill the gap before I can start harvesting leaf crops sometime next month. I also have some pea shoots well under way in readiness for a later post. I also mentioned microgreens in the Salad Challenge kick-off post - Fennel and Fern's been trying shiso and @Simiansuter has added leeks to my list of seeds to try using this method soon. He adds that not many of these are needed for a taste hit ;)

In the Salad Bowl - what you can harvest this month

Those of you who sowed undercover in the autumn are smugly reporting good crops of rocket, mizuna, chard, lamb's lettuce (aka corn salad), kale, winter purslane (aka miner's lettuce), land cress and all kinds of baby salad leaves. You've proved the winter salad bowl needn't be boring - hurray! Do you have more you can add to the list?

Salad 'Supplements' - seasonal crops to add to your leaves

I've seen lots of remarks about beetroot, which is an excellent salad supplement. A number of you have also spotted their leaves have been growing this month. You may like to try lifting some of them to force more baby leaves to add to your roots. I've found the variety 'Bulls Blood' is perfect for this technique - in fact I grow it in the summer just for its salad leaves.

Carrots of course are another stalwart at this time of the year, either grated and added to mixed leaves or to marry with cabbage and other seasonal fare to make coleslaw as a side dish for your salad.

What are your favourites?

Some Surprises

Those of you who have ventured outside to take stock of your garden's larder have been pleasantly surprised by what's on offer. I managed to find salad burnet, hairy bittercress, viola leaves, dandelions (possibly - see the questions below), and various mints on my patio. My allotment also yielded chickweed and nasturtiums.

Carl Legge has taken the prize for the most available this month via his inspirational visual guide to nearly 20 grown and foraged salad ingredients he found at his place in North Wales. You might also like to check out his tasty recipes for chickweed :)

The unseasonably warm weather's meant some of my stored onions and potatoes are starting to sprout. These have been brought into the kitchen to be used ASAP. Naturally I'm using the green tops of the onions chopped and sprinkled in my salads. I might even combine them with the potatoes to make potato salad for an additional salad supplement :)

Can you help answer these questions?

We've managed to answer all kinds of queries over on #saladchat, but so far the answers to these have eluded us
  • Fennel and Fern would like some more ideas for using her shiso leaves, particularly for a supper party
  • I'd like to know if left over packeted seed can be used for sprouting - if it's certified organic
  • Can baby dandelion leaves be foraged now, or is it best to blanch them for a couple of weeks using e.g. a small plate?
Next week is the first of our designated monthly Salad Days. Join me and Mr Linky in showing off all you've managed to achieve in our first month of The 52 Week Salad Challenge.

NB I'm compiling all of these posts plus lots more useful stuff into a Page dedicated to the 52 Week Salad Challenge. Take the link or you'll find it in the right hand sidebar under the Pages heading :)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #29

  1. Build your supermarket on one of the town's most popular estates
  2. Make sure there's a large, warm welcoming area to get shoppers in from the cold
  3. Add several features designed to help them spend more money
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to wonder since when have coins not been cash?
  5. Et voila!
I know I'm being a little unfair as these are a feature of many a supermarket outside of Chippenham, but it was only when I was in my local one that the penny (literally!) dropped ;)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

GBBD: Topsy Turvy Land

There's a surprising number of flowers in my topsy turvy January garden. The unseasonably warm weather we had until a few days ago brought many blooms to the fore well ahead of their time.

The snowdrops I showed you to welcome the New Year have gone over already, but have been replaced by many more. The first yellow crocuses are out and as you can see my pure white primrose has joined them.

I don't know its name because it came with the large batch of primrose 'Cottage Cream' I ordered a few years ago. Their colour is half way between the yellow of our native primrose and the one pictured.

Because I have so many of the others, this one is particularly treasured. It's also the only one which is vaguely flowering at the about the right time having only just opened its buds. The others have been flowering since last July.

You can see it's already sporting some fresh new growth and has been joined by plenty of other green shoots. The more seasonal cold of the past few days hasn't knocked them back yet as the house provides some shelter for these plants.

It seems the wild's been responding to the warm weather too. The National Museum of Wales has reported 63 species of wildflowers in bloom this month, about double usual number. I believe the current cold, frosty weather is set to continue for a while yet, so I wonder how many of our plants flowering out of their usual time will receive a setback?

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Let's Eat Shoots AND Leaves!

Coffee jar sprouting: puy lentils from day 1 weigh-in and soaking, through day 3 and 5 progress, to final weigh-in on day 7

As I don't have any maturing salad leaves at the moment, sprouting seeds is an excellent way to grow something fresh and tasty for my salad until my January sowings are ready sometime next month. They also take up very little space on the kitchen windowsill, so here's something quick and easy you can grow even if you don't have a garden!

I've raided my store cupboards for various seeds and my stash of old coffee jars which I've kept in case they come in handy one day. I'm using some elastic bands brought in by Skimble (and washed) to keep the cloth in place on top of the jars. I don't recommend you use a piece of j-cloth like I did at first as the weave is just a little bit too tight and makes draining the seeds a wee bit tricky. Sterilised muslin or old tights are a much better bet.

If you don't have coffee jars to hand, jam jars will do though you'll need to adjust the amount you grow accordingly. Smaller seeds such as mustard, cress, mung and aduki beans can be grown successfully on damp kitchen towel on saucers or small plates/dishes. It can work for larger seeds too if you ensure they're kept thoroughly damp (though not waterlogged). The picture below shows some dried peas I had left over from my Mushy Peas post on the posh sprouting tray I usually use for chitting my parsnip seed.

  1. Select which seed(s) you're going to try - I particularly like mung (aka beansprouts), aduki (similar to mung), peas (NB use whole, not split), chickpeas (my absolute favourite) and lentils (whole)
  2. Tip a small handful of seeds per person you're catering for into the jar. For once I've weighed this out, so you have an idea of how many I used - it came to 30g. You'll probably find you'll need to adjust this up or down accordingly depending on you and your family's tastes and usage. The amount you see was a good sized addition for 2 salads each for NAH and me
  3. Resist the urge to add more seeds to the jar because it looks such a paltry amount. They need room to breathe and grow
  4. Fill the jar 1/2 full with water and swill the seeds around for a minute. Tip out the water and fill the jar again to the same level. Leave to soak for 12 hours - overnight is easiest. This gets rid of anything nasty and kick-starts the sprouting process
  5. In the morning, discard the soaking water and replace with fresh. Gently swill the seeds around and tip out the water. NB you can do this without needing to remove the jar cover
  6. Tip the jar on its side and leave to drain for a couple of minutes - the seeds need to be kept damp but not absolutely soaking wet for the rest of the process
  7. Stand the jar upright and leave on the windowsill to sprout. In winter a south facing windowsill is fine, but at other times of the year somewhere less bright is needed to prevent scorching or drying out
  8. Repeat step 5-7 both morning and evening until the seeds are ready to eat - this is from when the white shoots reach a reasonable size (day 5 in the picture above would be fine) through to them turning bright green 1 or 2 days later
  9. When ready, sprouted seeds can be eaten straight away (preferable) or kept in the fridge for 1-2 days
Typical growing times (days - might be a little slower in winter)
  • Aduki (aka azuki, adzuki) - 4-5
  • Alfalfa - 1-4
  • Chickpea - 3-5
  • Cress - 3-5
  • Fenugreek (spicy taste!) - 3-5
  • Lentil - 2-4 (so mine were a little old, but still tasted great)
  • Mung - 3-5
  • Mustard (and most other brassica seeds) - 3-5
  • Pea - 6-8
  • Radish - 2-4
  • Sunflower - 1-3
  • Sweetcorn - 2-3
Hints and Tips
  • If you'd like to have a variety of seeds and they all grow at around the same rate, you can put them all in the same jar. @I_Like_Cake is growing a nice mixture of alfalfa, rocket and broccoli
  • Try getting in a routine with your seeds. I start batches off on Sundays and Wednesdays. I also wash them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Adjust this routine accordingly if you have any time away planned
  • Don't throw away the water. It's choc full of minerals and other good stuff. Use it to water plants or as a starter for making soup or vegetable stock
Price and Weight Watch (all January 2012)

Overall verdict: for beansprouts there's not much to choose pricewise between shop bought and sprouting your own. However, your own will be fresher and not wrapped in plastic. The real benefits are reaped by sprouting other kinds of seeds and it means you can add a much wider variety of tastes to your salad bowl. If you feel OK about using store cupboard seed, then this works out much cheaper (just a few pence per serving) than buying special seed for sprouting.
  • Beansprouts are around 50p-60p for 400-680g of sprouted (possibly non-organic) seed - way too much for us to use before they go off! The more unusual sprouted seeds are much more expensive and not so easy to find
  • Store cupboard seed is around 79p (chick pea) - £1.35 (mung) for 500g; my puy lentils come in at the luxury end of the market at £2.29, though I could have used green lentils at 95p (both are for 500g)
  • Seed company sprouting seed is typically £1.95 to £3.25 for various 50g of organic seed (250g packs also available) and £2.50 for 120g non-organic alfalfa - look out for special offers
  • The weight of your sprouted seed will typically be 2-4 times greater than what you started with (82g from 30g seed in the pictures at the top of this post). Did you know a sprouted seed can grow up to 30 times its seed size?
  • My twice weekly sprouting is enough to replace one bag of bought salad leaves
  • NAH's verdict? They're a nice crunchy change for our salad :)
NB If using coffee or jam jars aren't your thing, you can buy ones like @GillyInAriege has. She says they work much better than the trays like the ones I showed you earlier. They also come with a neat tilting mechanism (picture courtesy and copyright @GillyInAriege)

FAQS - NB most of these were aired during #saladchat on Twitter this week - thanks for your contributions everyone :)

Q. Can you really use store cupboard seeds for sprouting? I thought they'd been treated to prevent germination (via Diana at Elephant's Eye)

A. I haven't had any problems with the shop bought seeds I use for cooking, but then I live in the UK, not South Africa. There are plenty of seed companies selling seeds especially for sprouting if you want to ensure you're using seed and nothing but the seed. From what I've seen, Suffolk Herbs has the most extensive range in the UK. I haven't used them for sprouting seeds, but I've been pleased with the results from seeds ordered from the other pages of their catalogue.

Q. Can I use my old packets of seed from last year e.g. peas?

A. No - they've almost certainly been treated with e.g. fungicides, so are best used for growing trendy pea shoots (post to follow). NB Salad Challengers - could old seed be used if it's certified organic?

Q.Help! I have too many sprouts, how do I stop them growing and/or going off before I can eat them all? (via @GillyInAriege)

A. There's quite a few solutions, depending on why you have too many:
  • You could try harvesting them a day earlier than you have been doing, so they won't have grown so much
  • You can keep them in the fridge for up to 2 days when they're ready (though Gilly doesn't have a fridge, so other ideas are welcome!)
  • If you're growing too many for your needs, cut down on the amount you're putting into the jar at the beginning - I know it's tempting to add a bit more for luck!
  • If you're going away, or know there'll be a period time you won't be eating so many (e.g. Christmas celebrations), stop sprouting seeds 3-5 days before this happens
  • Use your seed sprouts up in other ways e.g. sprouted chickpea hummus or as an addition to sandwiches and soups
  • Other ideas and recipes anyone?
Q. Why don't my mung beans look like the beansprouts I can buy?

A. Shop bought beansprouts are sprouted in the dark and under pressure. Any suitable seeds can be sprouted in the dark e.g. in the airing cupboard - you'll get a paler, more elongated sprout. Give it a try! For more authentic looking beansprouts, Joy Larkcom suggests sprouting seeds in a sided container, covering them with a cloth and placing a 1lb weight on top. The container can then be placed in a dark place or foil wrapped around it to exclude light.

Q. Why do my [chickpea] sprouts taste like cardboard? (via @esculentetc)

A. They could be too dry or too old. Try using the method outlined above and/or harvesting a little earlier. The same solution applies if your sprouts taste bitter - they should taste fresh and sweet

OK folks, it's now over to you - leave your seed sprouting experiences, questions, hints, tips etc. in the comments below, or join us for #saladchat over on Twitter...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New Year, New Blog

For the past few weeks there's been a new tab sitting alongside the one I have open for Veg Plotting when I'm typing away on my computer.

There's a tiny glimpse of it on the right of the picture. I can't show you any more as the blog belongs to a local company and I'm now looking after it for them on a part-time basis :)

The blog's focus is all about raising money for charities local to the company's various locations. It's something which fits in very well with my New Life's Resolutions which I outlined at the start of 2008, particularly those concerning Making a Difference and Finding My Passion. Last year the company raised over £70,00 for good causes and the blog is aimed at helping employees with their fundraising efforts and reporting on their many varied successes. I'm loving it!

It also means I need to make some changes as far as Veg Plotting is concerned this year as I'll have less time to blog, especially during the summer months when there are a number of major flagship events planned. I'm aiming to post 2-3 times a week instead of the 4+ I achieved last year, so there'll still be plenty of reasons to stay tuned, especially with The 52 Week Salad Challenge in full swing on Fridays.

I'm currently tweaking the Pages you'll find on the right hand sidebar as Blogger now allows up to 20 of these and I want to use them to highlight more of Veg Plotting's existing content which you might not be aware of. I've already set up ones called Free Resources and Tutorials and All About Chippenham. I'll be adding some more new pages during the coming weeks and I'll let you know when they're available. If there's something you'd particularly like to see, then let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Who Are Our Influential Gardeners?

Places of Change - Preparations for The Eden Project's show garden at Chelsea 2010

A few days ago The Daily Telegraph invited us to meet 30 of Britain's most influential gardeners as compiled by Tim Richardson. It's an extensive list, covering lots of different aspects of gardening and horticulture: designers, TV personalities, nurserymen, heads of relevant charities, magazine editors and more.

There's also a fair few names who'll be completely unfamiliar to most people: Martin Philips and Terry Duddy who sit jointly at number 4 for instance. They're cited as the Chief Executives of B&Q and Homebase BTW.

Now I have no idea how well these two garden or how stately their acres may be, so this list got me thinking somewhat. So much so, I was awake until 2am mentally compiling a list of all the people I thought were missing. That's the problem with this kind of thing: there's always room for it to expand much further.

Part of my problem is the list is called influential gardeners. I believe a list of the most influential people on gardening would be more accurate, but I admit that doesn't have quite the same catchy ring about it as the one used by the newspaper.

So my question for you today is this: have a look at the list and tell me who you think is missing. It looks like Tim has restricted himself to those who are living, so for the purposes of the first part of this exercise please concern yourself with those who are still amongst us. I believe there's just one non-UK name on the list, so it'd be great to hear of others we should know more about.

As a starter for 10, my 2am list included (in no particular order):
  • Tim Smit - for the Eden Project AND The Lost Gardens of Heligan
  • Jekka McVicar - for her magical organic herbs
  • Professor Stephen D. Hopper - head of world heritage Kew (especially the Herbarium as far as I'm concerned)
  • Heather Gorringe - for Wiggly Wigglers and raising the profile of the humble worm
  • Mike Calnan - Head of Parks and Gardens at the National Trust. I sat opposite him when I volunteered there: he influences 300 of the nation's most visited gardens, but doesn't have the media profile that Simon Jenkins (included in the list) does
  • Pam Warhurst - for starting Incredible Edible Todmorden: a way of thinking about public planting and growing food now being looked at globally as well as by other towns in the UK
  • Mr Bloom - OK, he may be a fictional character but I'm betting the current CBeebies generation will cite him as a major influencer when they're all grown up
And how about starting an additional list of those people (living or dead) who've influenced you as a gardener. They can be as humble or distinguished as you like, it'll also be interesting to see why you've included them too. I wonder how many of them appeared as Dinner Party guests a couple of years ago?

The choice is yours :)

Update 12/1/2012: Tim has responded to this post and his online commenters in The Telegraph today. I would like thank him for his concern about keeping me awake - this was merely serving to illustrate how thought provoking his piece was, as he had fully intended (thought provocation not sleeplessness!).

I see a number of points he makes are those I've made here. Any list like this will always have more room for names and by including only the names of the living meant it could be kept within bounds.

As Veg Plotting is read in a number of countries, I thought it would be interesting to see who the influencers were elsewhere, especially as lots of the names in Tim's list would be unfamiliar to quite a few of my readers.

This post was serving not to criticise, but to extend the conversation because it's an interesting question. I think the response in the comments shows it was a good thing to do and my thanks goes to everyone who contributed.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The 52 Week Salad Challenge Begins

Hurrah - lots of you have said you're up for the 52 Week Salad Challenge and lo, here we are in week 1! We have people from the UK, France and the USA all eager to have a go, so our salad is fast taking on an international flavour :)

Quite a few of you asked questions on how this is going to work, which is where today's kick-off post comes in...

The main idea is that we all grow and/or forage some salad leaves to eat every week this year. What and how much is entirely up to you. We're in completely different locations, have different tastes, levels of skill and resources available so devising something more specific to suit everyone would be very hard and might not be what you'd really like to do.

Over the year I'll be posting every Friday with ideas of what to grow, techniques to use and anything else I can think of that's salad related. I've already got oodles of ideas, but if there's something you'd particularly like me to post about, then let me know.

The fourth Friday of each month is designated as Salad Days. January's will be on the 27th and I'll list the rest of the dates then. I'll be posting on how my own personal challenge is progressing and you're invited to join in to tell us how you're getting along. I'll put up a Mr Linky for you to add your blog's URL so we can all come a-visiting. If you don't want to write your own post, you're most welcome to leave a Comment instead.

I've been thrilled at the response to my announcement post last month and also over on twitter. It's highlighted something I'd like to work really well this year: the opportunity for us to share hints and tips; pool our knowledge and to generally help each other out. I've learned loads already and I'm sure you and this challenge will help me to crack successional sowing at last!

It sounds like you've all been chatting away about this already! How do I join in?

Lots of people left comments in last month's post, so that's a good place to catch up. My Friday posts will also form a weekly meeting point going forward and I'll use Mr Linky on Salad Days to hoover up anything else I can find from your blogs. You're also welcome to use the picture at the top of this post to show you're joining in. It'll make it much easier for me to look out for you if you do - please copy and save the image rather than linking to it as the latter can slow down blog load times. I can email it to you if you'd prefer.

We've also been chatting away on twitter and I've favourited quite a few tweets I've seen so far with ideas and useful information which I'm aiming to link to or mention in future posts. If you're on twitter and would like to join in there, it would be great if you could use the #saladchat hashtag, so that we can easily find your tweets and join in. Who knows? We could even have a specific #saladchat time on there if you want one!

OK, I'm raring to go - what can I do right NOW?

There's loads you can do and it makes such a nice change from just poring over seed catalogues and dreaming about how wonderful the garden or plot will be this year :)

Like @GillyinAriege, you can start sprouting seeds which will be ready in as little as 2 days if you use the jar or tray method. This will be a staple crop over the next few weeks for those of you like me who are starting now. The above link will help you get started and I'm also putting a Fact Sheet together. Gilly is trying mung beans and alfalfa and I'm trying a newbie (for me) from the store cupboard: puy lentils.

For the longer term, you can also start indoor sowings of e.g. peas (for trendy pea shoots), rocket (nice and peppery leaves) and mizuna (a good lettuce substitute) in trays of growing media on brightly lit window sills. Mark at Vertical Veg heartily recommends growing broad bean shoots as well as peas.

You can also try growing super trendy microgreens on your windowsill like You Grow Girl shows in her very clear post. Try basil, broccoli, celery leaf (aka parcel), mustard, radish or rocket for starters.

NB Both indoor sowings and microgreens are a good way of using up some of those half finished packets of seed you may have from growing them last year.

There's also the possibility of foraging for edible weeds or flowers. I'll be trying hairy bittercress and Viola flowers (thanks for the idea Jane!) in my salad this week as I have both growing just a few yards away on my patio. If any of you have suggestions for other foraged goods to try now, do add them to the Comments below. I'll be looking at foraging in more detail in a later post.

Er, if I start my seed sprouts today, I won't have anything to show for Week One!

Don't worry, the key thing is to get started this week using any or all of the techniques outlined above which appeal to you. If you can't find anything to forage, then you can grow something to eat in as little as 2 days.

Has anyone jumped the gun and got started already?

Oh yes and they're a great source of inspiration and ideas!

Gwenfar got cracking and sowed lettuce Bronze Arrow, my fave HSL [Heritage Seed Library - Ed] variety, plus 2 Franchi green & red cut/come again lettuce, in unheated propagator & inside on sill a few days ago (via twitter, hence the quote rather than link); Mags has given me polytunnel envy with her first harvest of the year and Jono is picking a great array of some unusual varieties for us to try sowing later.

Note: if any of you are thinking about using up some of your old seed for this challenge (now or later on in the year), Gwenfar has written a very useful post about seed viability with a couple of downloadable references she's put together showing how long various vegetable and herb seeds remain viable for.

I've also found a couple of great salad related posts from Jekka McVicar (more ideas for what you can do now) and Noel Kingsbury (mainly inspirational and observational) this week. Jekka has persuaded me it's not too early to have a go with sowing some Nasturtiums :)

I'm using another technique/growing something you've not mentioned/add something clever of your own choice

That's great! Do tell us about what you're doing in the Comments below, or write a post on your blog, ready for inclusion in the Mr Linky for this month's Salad Days. We want to learn from your expertise :)

Remember, you might have been ultra good and started your winter crops last October (like Mags and Jono for instance) so you need to make it clear whether this is something we can do now, or if you're providing inspiration for what can be done later this year.

Um, what's Mr Linky, I haven't come across him before?

It's the clever widget used at the bottom [usually - Ed] of a host post for people to add their blog post URLs to when we're all posting about a common theme (aka meme). It makes it much easier to visit lots of other blogs in a quicker fashion. I use it for Out on the Streets (public planting examples) or collecting together everyone's posts about the Malvern shows over at Meet at Malvern. Carol for instance uses it for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day, so you may have come across it there.

I won't be able to post on the 27th but I can a couple of days later...

No problem, by using Mr Linky, it means you can add your post's URL when you're ready to and we'll be able to find it easily.

I've got started and already posted something!

Even better :) It's been great to see your posts and tweets about what you're up to - as you can see I've linked to the posts I've found already to provide some inspiration for us all. Why not tell us about your 52 Week Salad Challenge post in the Comments below? I'll make sure your post's URL is added to Mr Linky on the 27th. And don't forget to use the #saladchat hashtag for your salad related tweets :)

*whispers* I'm a complete beginner and I'm not sure what to do...

Don't worry - the idea is for us to learn from each other and provide encouragement. I'm no expert, so one of my personal challenges for this year is to try new techniques and new varieties. I particularly want to find some new flavours so my salads are less boring. I'll be outlining my personal challenge on the 27th and the idea is for you to find what suits you within the 52 Week Salad framework. Why not start by simply sprouting some seeds this week?

I'm in a completely different part of the UK/World to you

Fantastic. Gwenfar and I are really interested in finding out how things differ in your part of the world in terms of sowing times and the different varieties you grow and the techniques you've tried. This is one of blogging's strength over books as we can pool our knowledge and experience of different soils and climates (as well as varieties). I'll be writing about this in a later post.

*grins and polishes halo* I already grow salads every week of the year

That's brilliant. I'm really interested (so are Sally and Easygardener at least) in learning how you've cracked it. I'm sure you can find your own challenge within the 52 Week Salad framework which suits you. For instance, do you provide salad for every meal you want it for? Are there new techniques or varieties you'd like to try? Or how about adding an extra leaf to your usual mix?

I'd love to join in the challenge but I don't have a blog :(

No problem. I don't want a lack of a blog to be a barrier to you joining in. You're always welcome to join in via the Comments on my weekly 52 Week Salad Challenge posts and you can read about what we're all doing via Mr Linky in the monthly Salad Days :)

Wish I'd known about this earlier, it's too late to start now :(

It's never too late! Why not start your 52 weeks right now? You're in a better position to avoid all the mistakes we've made so far and all the posts you've missed are being collected into the 52 Week Salad Challenge page ready for you to use them when needed.

NB I've put a new Page in the sidebar on the right which will include a summary of all the salad challenge posts and a month-by-month guide of what you can do. You can help me put this together for January by leaving a Comment about any salad leaf varieties you've found work well at this time of the year.

Right, I think that's it for now. If you have a question not answered by the above, do add it to the Comments below.

Next Week: I'll be looking at seed sprouting in more detail, which will include some fab info from @GillyinAriege :)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Field of Light

Yesterday NAH and I went to have a look at the Field of Light TM work currently on display at the Holburne Museum in Bath. It's by Bruce Munro who hails from nearby Warminster.

Here you can see part of the work itself, plus the reflections in the windows of the museum's new extension and the puddles below. The lights change colour along the fibre optic wires you can see on the ground. It makes for a totally magical experience.

NAH being the engineer he is couldn't resist fixing one of the globes back onto its light ;)

You have until January 8th (4-7pm) to go along and see for yourself...

Update: Here's an extra image (plus another one) published over at Sign of the Times :)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

May 2012 be a happy and healthy one for you and yours :D

As you can see my annual snowdrop count has commenced early at VP Gardens. I spotted these on December 23rd. They're just ordinary Galanthus nivalis, not one of yer actual early snowdrop cultivars which are meant to bloom the wrong side of Christmas. This is the earliest date I've recorded for my snowdrops - comfortably beating the previous record of 10th January and proving my garden is continuing in its topsy turvy nature from last year*.

Today the snowdrop count stands at 14, though it's set to go at least 100 times that over the next few weeks :)

* come to think of it topsy turvy is actually more normal than normal is ;)
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