New Shoots

It’s that time of year again when I’m busy sowing seeds and getting irrationally excited when the little green shoots appear from beneath the compost. Outdoors I have sown salad leaves, carrots and parsnips, although only the lettuces are showing signs of growth yet. As usual, my first sowing of leaves is in the old fish box retrieved from a local beach many years ago.

Indoors, the peppers and chillies that I started sowing much earlier in the year and then sequentially until about a month ago are coming on well (all except one variety which has not germinated at all and must be duff seeds, since they have been kept under the same conditions as all the rest). The ones doing the best so far are the purple jalapeƱos which were amongst the first planted.

This year we have an additional protected growing space. When Mr Snail moved into the flat he’d rented in Reading, it was full of stuff abandoned by previous tenants. After checking with the landlord, most of this went to a charity shop, but we retained one or two things, including a mini-greenhouse that had been on the tiny terrace. A few weeks back, Mr Snail put it together here in Wales and it’s providing a space for some sorrel frown last year as well as more germinating seeds: peas and various brassicas. Later in the summer, I think I shall put a couple of pepper plants in there to see how they get on.

I certainly wouldn’t have gone out and bought a plastic greenhouse like this, but it seemed a shame not to make use of it and I think it could be a valuable addition, since my wooden cold frame rotted away some years ago.

Inside the limery the carnivores are waking up and the citrus plants are growing great guns, and I’m dithering about exactly when to put them outside.

And finally, in the bathroom the flower on the Nepenthes continues to bloom…

mc flower

Monkey cup flower

I do enjoy this time of year… all that promise of future harvest…

Sow far sow good

Regular readers may have been wondering about the limery… well, now it’s time to plant seeds, the wide windowsills have come into their own. It’s lovely to know there’s plenty of space to give our crops a good start in life.

Already germinated and growing are broad beans, melons, peppers, chillies, tomatoes, oregano, parsley, sage and salad leaves (we are eating these – they are cut and come again). Planted today were leeks, courgettes, winter squash (five varieties), garlic chives, kale, runner beans, French beans and sunflowers. There are also potatoes chitting and the two citrus trees (one orange and one lime) are growing well and will be good to move outside once the risk of frost is over.

I cannot express how happy I am about all this – everyone needs a limery!

Completely packaging-free tea

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Tea without packaging – tins refilled in the shop

I continue to enjoy my loose Nilgiri tea – I took my tin to the shop for a refill last week and thus avoided bringing any packaging home. Of course, it doesn’t arrive at the shop without packaging. I’m guessing that they don’t have wooden tea chests round the back from which they refill their own tins that are on display in the shop. No, by buying loose tea and using my own container I am only eliminating one element of the packaging… but still that is one element less. The shop where I buy my tea from put it, by default, into bags that include a layer of plastic (maybe cellophane), a layer of foil and a layer of paper. On the rare occasions when we have bought tea or coffee without taking our own receptacles, we have felt it necessary to dismantle the bags carefully before putting the component parts into the recycling.

The ultimate in avoiding packaging

The ultimate in avoiding packaging… eventually!

In fact, I have not been looking for any other ways of making my tea-buying more ethical, but one was presented to me last Thursday, when my friend Ann gave me a Camelia sinensis plant. That’s right – I’m now the proud owner of a little tea plant. Apparently they like acid soil (less than pH 5) so it should be right at home here in west Wales. Being plants of the Himalayas, tea bushes can survive outdoors in the UK in areas where we don’t have severe frosts. So, in theory I could plant it in the garden. However, I know from experience that many plants drown or rot in our soil over the winter, so my inclination (at least for now) is to keep it in a pot in the limery over the winter and out on the new patio during the summer.

The small bit of research that I’ve done suggests that, if I can get it to thrive, it’s relatively easy to make green tea from the young leaves – you have to steam them and then dry them – so that is something I would like to try out. I’m sure I will never be self-sufficient as regards tea, but it would be nice to be able to grow at least a little of my own.

If you only grow one thing

I returned from holiday to a garden with few crops. I knew that builders and gardening do not mix well, so I had left plenty space for the builders to expand into, thus severely curtailing my planting. However, before I left I sowed a large container (a plastic fish box salvaged from the beach years ago) with salad leaves. And now I am reaping the rewards:

A mixed crop

A mixed crop

Since I arrived home on Sunday evening I have had four meals containing leaves harvested from this box and there are plenty more to come. I chose to plant red mizuna and a red-leaved lettuce, plus there are a few self-seeded Claytonia in there. I can harvest exactly the amount I want, so my salads are always fresh.

If you want to start growing and only have a limited space, or worry that your skills are not up to it, get yourself a container and plant some seeds for salad leaves (you can buy a mixed packet). Choose cut-and-come-again varieties and you will have weeks of fresh food at a fraction of the cost of those plastic bags of mixed leaves you can buy in the supermarket. Plus the only packaging will be a seed packet or two and you won’t have unused food going to waste in your refrigerator.

This is why I garden – pesticide-free food, freshly harvested, no plastic bags, cheap and easy.

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