I’m Growing New Potatoes for Christmas.

New potatoes are more than just a treat for early summer, you can enjoy them into the winter too. Started now, they will be ready to eat by Christmas. Here’s how I’m growing mine.

Special seed potatoes are available online, in catalogues and in garden centres now. I’m growing Charlotte and Pentland Javelin which are favourites for taste. You can also buy Nicola and Maris Peer. These are cold stored potatoes, primed ready to plant in August. You can also hold back some of your spring-bought seed potatoes, but you have to keep them in the bottom of the fridge until now, before planting.

Royal Horticultural Trials at Wisley showed that potatoes grow best in bags rather than rigid-sided plastic plant pots. You can buy special potato sacks, but I’m re-using compost bags. It’s a good way to recycle them.

I’m using Dalefoot salad and vegetable compost. Roll the tops down to form a collar, spike the bags to give good drainage, and fill them with 30cm of loosened compost.

Sit the seed potatoes on top of the compost. Ensure they are not touching, place them about 20cm apart.

Cover the potatoes with 5cm compost and water well. Place outdoors on a sunny patio. As the shoots start to grow, cover them with more compost and roll up the compost collar. Keep doing this until there is a 5cm gap left at the top for watering. What you are doing is “earthing up” the potatoes, without all the effort involved on growing them in the ground.

Move the bags, before the first frosts, into a greenhouse, porch or conservatory. By now the top growth will have died back and can be removed. Stop watering and keep the potatoes stored in the dry compost until you want to cook them. Because they have not been harvested and exposed to sunlight and air, the potatoes will not form hard skins and will retain that new potato taste and texture. In the past growers would have stored them in damp sand. My grandfather used to make “clamps” for vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, when vegetables had to last right through the winter without the availability of fridges and freezers.

I use soil association-approved Dalefoot Compost which is made from sheeps wool and bracken. It gives farmers in the Lake District an income for their wool which might otherwise go into landfill. It’s 100 percent natural and peat free, and contains a source of potash which makes fruit and flowers grow well.

My summer potatoes did well this year. I’m hoping for a small but tasty crop of new potatoes just in time for my Christmas dinner.

After planting my potatoes, I am sitting in my summerhouse with Grace cat, enjoying sunny weather and 23C temperatures, thinking of winter days ahead. I’m sure those tasty treats will be so welcome when the days are cold and wet.

You can listen in to my 10 minute gardening tips during BBC Gardens Hour today at 1.40.47 on the timeline on Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07hst9m Each week we try something new, do pruning, take cuttings, grow something from seed, help wildlife. Sometimes our projects work, sometimes they fail, but it’s a lot of fun trying, aiming to get the best from our garden plots.

Links: Seed potatoes https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taylors-Autumn-Planting-Potatoes-Christmas/dp/B008M4MHFC

Dalefoot compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Karen twitter : https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

Karen on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you for reading!

You might also like to read: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

And : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Response on twitter. @bimblegarden said:

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

Fact sheet for growing strawberries /recipe for ten minute strawberry jam biscuits

If you listened in to the gardeners’ phone-in programme this week on BBC Radio Leicester you’ll have heard us giving hints and tips on planting and growing strawberries. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to get the best from home grown crops.

Buying bare-rooted runners, or root stock, is an affordable way to buy strawberries online or via seed and plant catalogues. It’s a good way to buy named varieties and virus free stock.

I’ve chosen the Plant Heritage Collection from Marshalls. 30 runners for around 66p each.

Royal Sovereign : A well-known mid season strawberry famed for flavour. Large juicy fruit. Crops in early summer- and again in autumn.

Cambridge Favourite : Reliable and popular variety. Good for jams and preserves.

Red Gauntlet: Mid season, heavy cropper. Fruit is held well above the ground. Good for damper soil, or for growing under cloches or in tunnels. Some resistance to botrytis.

1. When the plants arrive, take them straight out of the Jiffy bag and either plant into 3″ pots or straight into the garden, if soil and weather conditions are suitable.

2. Choose a sunny, well drained spot – not in a frost pocket

3. Enrich the soil with well rotted garden compost, organic Plantgrow fertiliser, or peat-free sheeps wool and bracken compost from Dalefoot Compost.

4. Planting depth is crucial to success of the runners. The crown, the thickened area where the leaves are attached to the roots, should be resting at soil level. Too high and the plants will dry out. Too deep, and they will drown.

5. Don’t plant where tomatoes, chrysanthemums or potatoes have been grown. The soil may harbour wilt disease.

6. Watering techniques are important. Do not drench the leaves and leave them wet overnight. The plants are more likely to suffer from moulds and the fruit will rot. Either use a leaky pipe, or push the watering can through the leaves to water at ground level.

7. Feed every 7-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser. I use seaweed extract, but you can also use tomato fertiliser. Plantgrow also has a handy liquid fertiliser in its range.

8. Protect the flowers from frost using a layer of fleece. The flowers are easily damaged and turn black. A whole crop can be lost to frost overnight.

9. Cut back all leaves and remove straw mulch after fruiting to prevent a build up of pests and diseases. We use chopped mineralised Strulch.

10. The plants will naturally produce runners. Stems will arch over and where they touch the ground, new plants will grow. Pot these up and renew your strawberry beds every 3-4 years. The old plants are best discarded after this length of time as pests and diseases start to take hold.

11. Vine weevils love strawberry plants. There’s a new organic nematode treatment that can be bought off the shelf. Previously treatments had to be posted out and used fairly quickly. The new nematodes from Neudorff are easier to buy and use.

STRAWBERRY JAM ALMOND BISCUITS

These are a family favourite and only take 10 minutes to make. Lovely with morning coffee, or for afternoon tea.

Ingredients: whizz together

200g caster sugar

115g butter

115g ground almonds

115g plain flour

1tspn baking power.

1 egg

3 drops almond essence.

Rest dough in the fridge for one hour if you want biscuits to retain their round shape. I was in too much of a hurry, so mine turned out flat.

Take teaspoons full of dough and roll in the palm of your hand. Place on a baking tray. Make a well in the centre with a spoon handle or little finger. Fill with strawberry jam. Top with slivers of almond.

Cook in oven at 200C for 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they soon burn.

Will last for three days in a sealed container. If you can resist them that long.

Here’s a link to the radio programme. Have a listen in at 2.08.18 on the timeline.

bbcleicester http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063rcnf

Here’s some fruit tarts I also made with the home-made jam. Totally delicious! Wonderful after a hard day working in the garden.

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What new plants are you trying out this spring and summer?

In a Vase on Monday ….. er Wednesday.

Defeated by torrential rain, I’d given up on gardening until today. Here’s a brief glimpse into my day.

A quick peek in the greenhouse before I go off to work. And it’s sunny in here. At last. Yippee!!! Windows opened. Wonderful scent. Just love primulas. So cheerful.

Second year hyacinths are never as good. But they still have a value. I love the intense blue of this one, set against the yellow of the dwarf daffodils. I’m growing Tete-a-tete in pots for picking. And in honour of my wonderful Welsh grandmother, Tenby daffodils, which grow wild in Wales.

Love my newly acquired plant pots. The green one on the left is from Burgon and Ball , and the one on the right is from new company Plant Furniture.

After a quick snip of flowers for the show, I’m off to Radio Leicester for the Gardeners’ phone-in, 11-12 on a Wednesday. A fun place to work. Sophie and Jack the producers look after me. I’m always so grateful for all the encouragement and support they give. I probably couldn’t do it without their kindness to be honest.

We chatted about growing tomatoes. I’m growing bush tomatoes in containers and hanging baskets alongside programme host Ben Jackson. We’ve got cherry tomatoes from Mr Fothergill’s, Suttons and Thompson and Morgan to try out. And we’ll be growing them in Dalefoot sheep wool and bracken compost as an alternative to peat. It’s always more fun growing something with another person. I haven’t got an allotment, for example, where you would have neighbours to chat with and share hints and tips. so I’m going to grow along with Ben, and we’ll share seeds and compost and compare results. It will be a fun project to do over the summer.

We always have a laugh on the gardeners’ programme. If I see something a bit unusual, I’ll take it in to show the team. Today I took in these Badger Paw gloves. I spotted them at the Garden Press Event a few weeks ago and thought they looked interesting. The event showcases new ideas, new seeds, tools and machinery, containers and plant pots- all heading for supermarkets, garden centres and nurseries this summer. The Badger Paw is said to be perfect for preparing soil, planting, weeding and clearing roots. It’s made by Creative Products and has breathable stretchy fabric. What we couldn’t work out though was why the claw is only on one hand. It’s an interesting concept and I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

My posy of flowers this week also contains hyacinths – which just seem to keep on flowering. They love the cold weather. Tucked inside my paper wrapping are iris reticulata, hellebores, snowdrops, and dogwood twigs from my new florists’ “Hedge-in-a-Box” kit from Hopes Grove Nurseries. I spotted their ingenuous hedge kit for gin makers at the GPE. On the stand there was a sign saying make any suggestions for new hedge kits. So I asked if they could design a hedge for florists with coloured stems and flowers for all year round picking. And my wonderful “hedge-in-a-box”arrived on Monday! I’m really thrilled with it.

Thanks for joining me today. Thanks also to Cathy for hosting this meme and kindly allowing me to join in later in the week when either the internet – or the weather – has let me down.

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BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

February is a cold, dark, short month. But everywhere there’s signs of spring. Wild violets and the first primroses pop up by the front gate. And snowdrops cheer up the hedgerow, pushing up through hats of curled, brown leaf mould.

It’s traditionally a month of self-denial and fasting. Many people give up something for Lent – chocolate, wine, or favourite foods. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is a way of using up egg supplies before the fasting period begins. I make orange curd to use up eggs and butter.

But I also like to make marmalade now. An antidote to winter. I line up pots of marmalade along my kitchen window. A kind of ribbon of orange light. My own stained glass window. Here’s my favourite recipe, which I make with Seville oranges – and some citrus fruits from my heated greenhouse. Tucked up indoors and standing over a steaming pan of oranges makes for a heart-sing moment. And we need plenty of those in February. My grandmother’s old saying is usually true. As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. I highly recommend staying indoors, keeping warm and making marmalade.

ORANGE MARMALADE

2lb or 900g fruit ( I used Seville oranges, and some kumquats and calamondin fruit from the greenhouse.)

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

Cut the lemon and oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Put any pips or pith that cling to the squeezer into a square of muslin placed over a pudding bowl. Now cut the peel into quarters. Scrape off the pith and add to the muslin. Cut the quarters into thin shreds. Add the juice and peel to the water in a heavy-based preserving pan. Tie up the muslin square and tie loosely to the pan handle with the bag suspended in the water. The pith contains pectin which will help the marmalade set. Simmer gently uncovered for 2 hours until the peel is completely soft. Remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Put a plate in the freezer. Pour in the sugar and heat gently until the sugar crystals have melted. Squeeze the muslin bag to extract the jelly-like pectin. I used plastic gloves, or you can press it between two saucers. Increase heat. As soon as the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes, spoon a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and pop in the fridge. If it has a “set” the marmalade will crinkle when you push it with your finger. If not, continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stand for 20 minutes. Add a tsp butter to disperse scum. Pop the jam jars in the oven to warm for five minutes. Pour the marmalade into jars with the aid of a funnel, cover with wax disks and seal while still hot. Label pots- and enjoy!

A visit to my mother-in-law’s house would always find us searching the pantry for the cake tin. Over the past 50 years, you could pretty much guarantee to find some flapjack in there. Joan recently gave me all her treasured recipe books. Here’s my own version, adapted from Joan’s family favourite. It travels well and is ideal for picnics.

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

Melt together in a microwave the butter, sugar, and golden syrup. Stir into the oats, walnuts, and orange zest. Tip the mixture into a lined tin and level it off. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is still slightly soft. It will firm up as it cools. Mark into 12 pieces while it’s still warm. Leave to cool and then brush the top with melted orange marmalade. Keeps for a week in an airtight tin.

Each week on BBC Radio Leicester there’s a Gardeners’ Phone-in programme between 11am and 12 noon. I like to take in a posy from my garden, showing what’s in flower all year round. And I also take in something I’ve made using produce from my plot. This week it was a jar of marmalade and some flapjack. Tune in on the i player to listen to the programme which starts at 2.11.31 on the timeline at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t8n69. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of my greenhouse from last summer. A reminder of lovely warm weather to come.

Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

It’s amazing how a few little touches can make all the difference. In defiance of the cold, dark days, I’ve brightened up the greenhouse with mouldable lights. These are tiny fairy lights on a copper wire. They can be twisted around floral arrangements and basically they hold their shape without damaging the flowers. I’ve used chrysanthemums from the poly tunnel for this display. It makes a lovely warm glow at a time when we all need some winter cheer.

I’ve chosen indoor battery-powered lights from the Christmas range at Wilco . The 2.2m cable contains 20 warm white lights for £3.50 and includes the battery. I’m going to wrap them around plant pots in the greenhouse next.

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/radiogardening-howto-i-player-bbc/.

You can listen to any radio programme for 28 days after the broadcast. And there are special programme clips and podcasts too. The gardeners’ phone-in is on BBC Radio Leicester every Wednesday between 11am and 12 noon on 104.9 FM and digital. And on Sunday there’s local radio’s longest-running gardening programme, Down to Earth hosted by Dave Andrews, between 12 and 1pm. We will be taking phone calls live in the studio this coming Sunday, December 3rd.

Here’s a link to this week’s Wednesday programme hosted by Ben Jackson. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m8p6x. Move the timeline round to 2.07.57 where the programme starts. We talk about making Christmas presents from materials found in the garden- including jam jar succulents and cacti, and making bird feeders with fir cones. And our mid-morning studio treat, for all the staff, was Chocolate Tiffin made with fresh autumn raspberries from the plot.

Here’s some details on the prepared hyacinths we mentioned. These are some I grew to flower for Christmas 2016.

You will need to buy “prepared” hyacinths which means they have been put into cold storage to fool the bulbs into thinking they have had winter already. To complete the treatment at home, place the bulbs in John Innes No2 compost in 3″ pots. Put the pots in a cold dark cupboard in the potting shed, garage or basement. Or put them into a black plastic bag. Store them for 9 to 10 weeks at 9C. Water just once. At the end of 10 weeks, check over the pots and those with about an inch of leaves and a flower tip showing can be brought out into a cool bright place to grow on. You can make up displays for Christmas by selecting bulbs that look about the same height and putting them into larger plant pots together. Don’t bring them straight into a centrally heated house or the flowers won’t develop properly. The bulbs need to be grown on in cool conditions for another 22 days.

Here’s some hyacinths and forced narcissi I used to create an early spring display this year. You can also bring twigs of cherry blossom into the house and they will give an earlier flowering too. I wrote about forcing Paperwhites Here.

The scent is quite glorious. Interestingly, different varieties of hyacinths need varying periods of cold/dark treatment. The variety Pink Pearl needs 10 weeks, but Anna Marie needs just 8. So experimentation is needed if you wish to mix the varieties in a display. I would set the 3″ pots at weekly intervals and grow more than I needed so that I could select the right number of plants for my display. Just a reminder- always wear gloves when handling bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.

A very quick and cheap Christmas present idea we mentioned was jam jar succulents. Here’s the materials I took into the studio. You will need a small recycled jam jar, handful of ornamental washed shingle, small amount of moss from the garden, and a succulent or cacti from the garden centre. Mine is an offset from one of my own plants. You half fill the jar with shingle, wrap the succulent stem with moss and plant. Finish the present with a ribbon. Plants need virtually no water over the winter. In summer, water once a week with a tablespoon of water. Tip the jar up to allow any excess water to drain out. Do not allow the succulent to become waterlogged.

This one has been in the jam jar for two years.

Talking of Christmas presents ideas I love these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. I’m practically living in them, they are so comfortable. I may be a fairly scruffy gardener, with old trousers and holes in my jumpers, but my hands are glamorous.

Here’s a quick peek of Ben’s garden, which we talk about on the show. It’s a 2.5 by 2m raised bed, a bit overshadowed and plagued by slugs. But we’ve planted winter veg, salads and flowers – to see how much we can grow in a small, less than perfect plot. The kale and chard keeps growing through the cold weather. You just harvest the outer leaves, leaving the growing tips to keep going. I’ll keep popping by now and again to see how Ben’s getting on with the project. I’ve got a matching plot at home so we can compare progress. I have to say, Ben’s is looking better than mine at the moment. My plot is on a windswept ridge, and his is in a pretty, walled garden.

And after all that talking- we tucked into my Chocolate and Raspberry Tiffin. I wrote the recipe the recipe Here. Click on the link to see the recipe.

Do you have any recipes to share – or ideas for Christmas presents using materials from your garden? I’d love to hear your views.