magic beans and cold frames

Perfumed sweet peas and purple teepee beans were one of the first seeds I planted on the windowsill this year. Both were sown in old loo roll tubes (I managed to save a few for myself despite Ruby’s plans to make a 30 legged spider) and germinated quickly in the warmth of our kitchen. Now they’re growing quickly in my Gabriel Ash coldframe.

I used some saved seed from last year for sweet peas but have also tried ‘Perfume Delight’ from Higgledy Garden. I think I was unable to resist the claim that:”‘Perfume Delight’ will knock you off your perch and it has more flounce than a Barbara Cartland convention.”

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My purple bean seeds are ‘Purple Teepee’ from Otter Farm; not, as you might expect from the name, tall enough to require a wigwam but a lovely purple podded dwarf variety of French bean. I love the look of purple beans as they grow and as they turn green when cooked, Ruby refers to them as ‘magic beans.’ Magic to me too as they convince my 5 year old that greens (or purples?) are exciting.

It’s tempting to keep my seedlings too long on the kitchen windowsill, wallowing in the warmth that radiates from our woodburner. But I know from experience that they end up leggy and weak and, soon after germinating, I whisk them out to my coldframe. Now that it’s warmer I sow lots of seeds straight into trays in the cold frame too.

Upright

Our Gabriel Ash coldframe is an upright version like the one above (this isn’t ours, which is definitely not quite this immaculate!), almost like a small lean-to greenhouse. Every time I pop out to water my seedlings it’s a reminder of how lucky we are to live here. Several years ago we lived in a house with a tiny garden and craved the sort of outside space we now have. Already keen to grow lots of food, I had plenty of pots of herbs outside the back door and an allotment to grow vegetables and flowers. Ruby was then a very active toddler who loved to roam as freely as we did, so we were so pleased when we thought (after ages of trying) that we’d sold our house. Now we could move to a home with space for veg, herbs, fruit, flowers, pigs and children! We were so disappointed when just before exchange, our house sale fell through.

To cheer ourselves up we bought our Gabriel Ash coldframe, to temporarily sate our Good Life aspirations. It was soon crammed full of salads, chilli and tomato plants, while aubergines and tomatillos jostled for space.
Now we have more space outdoors (partly cleared by pigs last year) the coldframe is still very much a great part of the garden. At the moment it’s crammed with seed trays of flowers, shallots that I’m trying to get going in plugs (rather than plant them straight out without roots, only to be immediately picked up by birds), beans, peas, lettuce, parsley and rocket. I’m keen to make newspaper pots, like the lovely garden deli version for brassicas too. The rocket is waiting to germinate in a large, shallow terracotta pot; then I’m planning to pop my little viola plants in the middle and put it within easy reach of my back door. Pretty and edible, hopefully.

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Some of my seeds have a progression from windowsill to coldframe and then onto daytime airings on the old table that stands next to the coldframe. I’ll soon risk a few on the table outside at night too, so they’re finally hardened off ready to be planted in the ground. I’m hoping the lovely sunshine this week will warm up the soil in readiness for my treasured little plants, but am speeding it up in some areas by covering it with fleece.

Even though I’m hoping to sow lots of seeds straight into the soil soon (patches of nigella sown with carrot beckon) my upright coldframe will still be hard at work. I have a bulging, very messy already, seedbox and lots of ideas for flower and veg combinations in my head. So as fast as seedlings are planted out, I have more that I want to quickly germinate in the warmth of the cold frame. Then in a few months, it will contain less seedlings, but be heaving with tomato plants, cucumbers, chillis, maybe a tomatillo or two. The hinged lid will be permanently open by this time and the shelves rearranged to accomodate the rapidly growing plants. It’s always at this time of the year that I have covetous thoughts about greenhouses. I know a secondhand one is more my budget but I can’t help but have a sneaky browse of these lovely Gabriel Ash ones:

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I get carried away thinking of the vines and peaches that would clamber around the walls, sheltered by one of these lovely structures. While I’m saving, the chillis and tomatilloes in the coldframe will have to sate my greenhouse fixation!
This post is sponsored by Gabriel Ash. All opinions are my own: as I happened to already be making full use of one of their coldframes when they approached me, I was delighted to write about their products. You can request a Gabriel Ash brochure here.

greedy planting and uses for poppy seeds

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Have been sitting by the woodburner browsing seed catalogues, dreaming of planting chop suey greens and nigella persian jewels. With a mug of tea, or better still, glass of wine handy, planning tasty and attractive plant combinations has to be one of my favourite winter evening activities. Maybe the fresh lime green of lettuce seedlings next to red cabbage, dill amidst cornflowers or the lovely rich Autumnal colours of curly kales combined with red ‘Treviso’ chicory.

Clearing more ground in the garden in readiness for all my planting I keep stumbling on lots of burgeoning life. Snowdrops of course, sunny yellow celandines, hellebores and a few cowslips keep taking me by surprise. And lots of hardy perennials; both veggies and flowers are showing strong signs of bursting into life.

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It all encourages me that I must get my own act together. So I’ve been stirring from the warm sofa next to the woodburner to sort out my seed box. I once dropped very heavy hints, with a birthday approaching, about this lovely Burgon & Ball seed box.

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This is what I was given: DSC04045

Decorated by Ruby, with copious amounts of glitter (which leaves a trail whenever my seed box is moved) it’s obviously a lot more personal than the stylish seedbox I’d coveted. A seedbox with character. Looking at the state of it now, with my packets of seeds crammed in any way they’ll fit, it’s probaby more suited to me too.

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I always start off at this time of year with good intentions towards my seeds. Sorting through them, discarding any that are out of date and putting the remaining seed packets in order of when they’re ready to plant (I have cardboard dividers for each month) is very satisfying.

They obviously don’t stay like this for long though. Once I start planting, I don’t know quite how it happens but my seed box rapidly descends into chaos. Many packets live in the pockets of my old fleece a bit too long, rarely even making it into the.seed box. But ever optimistic, I’ll be filing my new arrivals with all good intentions.

There are some really interesting seed companies that make browsing for seeds particularly addictive. I love the way that it’s not uncommon now for descriptions of vegetable seeds to emphasise looks, not just productivity.

Otter Farm waxes lyrical about Polestar runner beans: “Good looking with beautiful and delicious flowers, this is my desert island bean.”

Scarlet Emperor runner beans are described as, “..usually purple with dark mottling, encased within long, slender green pods but they are most famous for their beautiful scarlet  flowers – they were originally grown as an ornamental plant, so you can be sure they’ll add something beautiful to your garden.” They taste good apparently too!

I’ll definitely be growing Crimson Flowered broad beans again – they scored highly on  looks, productivity and taste in my garden last year.

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The Organic Gardening Catalogue also has a great selection of heritage veggies that will look as beautiful in the garden as they hopefully will on the plate.
This is where I’m going to concentrate my efforts this year; after a dismal potato harvest and pathetic tomatoes, I’m trying to think carefully about what grows easily here, what we love to eat and what looks beautiful.
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Much as I’m tempted by all the wonderful heritage varieties of tomatoes and tomatilloes, they’re going to have to wait, along with aubergines, peppers and chillis until we have a greenhouse. If I find myself drawn towards a particularly tempting packet of tomato seeds, I’m going to remind myself of the tasty (and cheap) tomatoes grown by a great farmshop just down the hill.
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Instead, I’m going to continue to grow lots of chard, cavolo nero, kale, salad crops and herbs, obviously all mingling with pretty flowers – some edible, some purely for frivolous decoration. Talking of which, I’m very tempted by the lovely looking Flamingo Pink leaf beet but wondering how much less productive it will be than the white stemmed variety, which is still going strong after the snow.
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Lots of beans too. Runner beans, french beans, broad beans and borlotti are all popular to eat in this family, and they freeze well if there’s a glut. We’re still eating some of the broad beans and runner beans I picked last summer.
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The borlotti tend to be productive in rubbish soil too so are useful for those newly cultivated areas that we’ve run out of compost for. And the novelty value of the purple varieties of beans tends to go down well with Ruby. With me too; varieties such as Blauhilde or Purple Teepee snaking up a rustic wigwam definitely add beauty to the garden in my view.
I fancy making a tall wigwam of runner beans with a den for children underneath too. But will have to see if my thoughts on this are more enthusiastic than they are practical.
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Below the beans, apart from rambling patches of nasturtium and calendula, I’m going to grow squash. Having reluctantly decided that butternut squash (one of my favourites for flavour) doesn’t like our hill, I’m going to try Hubbard, Uchiki Kuri and Kabacha Squash this year. In the hope that I’ll have a bountiful supply to last through next winter, enabling me to cook lots of noodles with squash and try more of Louisa at chez foti’s lovely squash recipes.
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Seeds of Italy have some great salad seeds that would grow quickly while my squash get established. Something about their website makes me dream up meals to cook with my harvest and I’m also drawn to the ‘Easy to Grow’ range, including delicious endive, chicory and basil. There are pictures of a mother and daughter happily planting together on the packets of this range but I have to admit that the appeal of the  ‘Easy to Grow’ label has more to do with my shoddy gardening than it does to my motherly instincts.
seeds of italy chicory
More cabbages and brussels are on my list too, particularly as there are so many of Trine Hahnemann’s lovely Nordic recipes I’m keen to try. Obviously not grown in stark rows on their own. I’ve been getting inspiration from Joy Larkcom’s brilliant ‘Creative Vegetable Growing’ and loving her ideas for planting red orache among red cabbage or interplanting red cabbage with spinach, flanked by leeks and with rows of lettuce at the edge. I like the idea of making use of the space between slow-growing brassicas and leeks with crops which will grow (and be eaten) quickly and look attractive in the meantime. And I’m totally inspired by this description by Joy of Hadspen garden:
“the sort of exuberant, carefree garden where nasturtiums romped through the sweet corn, self-sown verbena bonariensis struck a purple pose alongside red cabbage and pumpkin tendrils saucily embraced the runner beans … seedling rhubarb stood out starkly against the giant umbelliferous heads of angelica.”
I can dream!

Encouraged by Joy Larkcom to think of more combinations of veggies and flowers that will romp happily around the garden together (or fight for space could be more likely in my case!) I’ve been very tempted by Benjamin Ranyard’s lovely selection of flower seeds at Higgledy Garden.

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Higgledy Garden has a great collection of bee friendly flower seeds; as our bee population are declining at an alarming rate they seem a great idea – they come with free postage and in compostable packets too. And there are some lovely hardy perennials, my favourites to fit in with lazy gardening ways.

It’s also worth a look at the Higgledy website purely for a good read. I fear that just as I”m drawn to vegetable varieties by descriptions of their showy/often blowsy flowering qualities, Benjamin’s wordsmithery is encouraging me to blow my seed budget on flowers for cutting. For instance, on Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’:

“Not all Aquilegias are much cop for cutting. Not true of ‘Nora Barlow’ who despite her rather dower name is actually one of the most striking Aquilegias I have ever come across. Flower heads start of as tight green buttons and then explode into cream and purple fireworks. Ding dong!”

Then there’s cookery books. My current favourites, ‘the Nordic Diet’, ‘Jerusalem‘ and Sarah Raven’s ‘Garden Cookbook’ have so many recipes I’m keen to eat this year that they’re influencing my seed planning as much as gardening books. And surely that’s just as it should be.

What’s the point of growing masses of productive plants that aren’t exciting to eat? Whereas looking at recipes for kale salads, broad bean kuku (a lovely frittata-like dish from ‘Jerusalem’) and borlotti bean brandade concentrates my mind on what I’m keen to grow and eat this year.

Having been dithering over whether to grow maincrop potatoes following such a wet summer  last year (and plenty of blight) I read a great article in The Telegraph by Mark Diacono on how to ‘Grow spuds with your cook’s hat on.’ Mark’s ideas about choosing only really delicious varieties to grow that suit your favourite recipes convinced me to concentrate on varieties of new potatoes that are particularly delicious freshly dug and waxy salad potatoes that are cropped before blight has chance to appear.

Dreaming of bringing those first few precious early summer goodies into the kitchen in fact.Summery food for rainy days

But before I get too carried away with new varieties of seed potatoes, perennial flowers and new vegetable and fruit seeds, I’m also determined to make good use of what I already have. Looking at the envelopes of seeds I saved myself last year (mostly the very easy nigella, calendula, poppy) I’m reminded of the poppy seeds I kept for the kitchen. The needs of my tummy mingle with gardening planning again and I’m planning culinary uses for my poppy seeds. Would welcome any new ideas. These are my current favourites:

Uses for Poppy Seeds:

– Sprinkle on home-made flat bread and white rolls

– Make the Garden deli’s mixed seed loaf

– Nigel Slater’s Beetroot and Poppy Seed cake

– Try this easy looking bagel recipe and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Think I’ll quickly use up my poppy seed stash if I try all of the above. Good job they’ll soon be self-seeding generally around the garden again. And that this messy state of affairs is pleasing to both my eye and belly!

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