About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Sowing onions... and the rest

My dad always tells me that Boxing Day is the time to sow onion seeds, and as I woke up on Boxing Day morning, the weather did seem a little brighter than it had been recently, and I could hear birds singing, and for the first time in ages I felt like doing a spot of gardening, so I investigated my saved onion seeds. I'd had a few red onions in the cupboard that started growing, so planted them and let them flower for the seeds. I managed to get one head of seeds from the three plants and had put a paper bag over it and brought it into the conservatory to dry.

Red onion seedhead

I carefully dismantled the seedhead, separating everything that might be a seed (black bits) from everything else (brown bits). I think I had about fifty seeds, but it's quite possible that most of them were nothing of the sort. I went out into the garden to fetch some compost from the heap (product of last winter's digging) and some of the nice fine soil that I rescued from under the wood store (that is, the soil was there first, in flower beds, and I dug some out before we buried it under the wood store) and put a mixture of these in a seed tray, then planted my seeds.

Having got started, I thought I might sow some other varieties of onion seeds - I have some spring onions (free seeds) and some perennial Welsh onions left over from last year. I sowed and planted plenty of the latter last year, but the slugs got most of them so I'm going to try again, with better defences, this year. In the interests of tidying up, I'd taken my box of seeds out to the greenhouse shortly before Chrismas, and when I went to fetch it, I found to my horror that it was full of water! I knew tidying up was a bad idea!

Some of my seeds were saved, either by me (peas) or by a friend (two varieties of beans) in paper bags, and the bought seeds were mostly in opened packets, partly used last year. None of these are particularly watertight and I had visions of the whole lot being ruined. In addition, I'd noticed a few days earlier that the onion sets (my onions didn't grow very big last year - most of what I harvested were sets, so I'll be putting those back in the ground this year) were starting to grow roots.

I had a lot of seeds in need of urgent attention. If things had started growing and I let them dry out again, they'd just die. Of course, they might die anyway from being planted too early, but I felt I had to give them a chance. I started with the onion sets, as I'd noticed those first and couldn't really face examining the rest of the seeds too closely straight away. Most of the onion sets went into little module-pots, but those that show no signs of roots I've kept back. The beans-from-a-friend had spilled all over the box, so I tackled those next. There were two varieties and one, District nurse had clearly absorbed water and swelled up, so I planted those in newspaper pots - some I had left over from last year and some I made new. The other beans didn't look so much affected, so I spread them out to dry and examined the other seeds a bit. Tomato seeds were damp, so I spread those out to dry - well I'd already done that once already, so I doubt it will make much difference doing it again. A lot of paper packages were wet, but foil packets inside were unaffected, so that was not nearly as bad as it first appeared. Some carrot seeds were wet, but as I didn't think much of the carrots we got this year, I threw those away. The ones that really needed attention were the peas.

Peas sprouting in their paper bag, after sitting in water for a few days

The pencil note on the bag informed me that there were about 180 seeds. It also told me what variety they were, but I didn't note it down and the bag is now too muddy to read. I started by making more newspaper pots, but by the time I had fifty I'd run out of newspaper. I could have bought another, but it was taking ages to make all those pots, so I decided to risk the rest outdoors. After fetching more compost/soil and sowing fifty of the peas in little pots, I prepared a bed outside. Prepared means weeded really. This was so much easier than last year - I just went over the bed with a hand fork, lifting mostly shallow-rooted weeds. It still took a while, but much easier than digging out all those deep roots that I did a year ago.

Although the weather varied from slightly damp to steady rain while I was working, it wasn't cold, so not too unpleasant until the rain soaked right through my hat and down the back of my neck. Once I'd got the bed cleared, I made a couple of shallow trenches with the fork, sprinkled a little lime in the bottom (read: accidentally tipped a heap of lime at one end them tried to spread it around evenly) then spaced the sprouting peas at intervals of about two inches. Before covering them up, I added mouse defences. This was a trick my dad suggested, and it seemed to work last year: Spread holly leaves over the peas. Since we still have Christmas decorations up, I asked Ian to pull down a few branches of holly for me, as my hands were far too muddy to take indoors. There may be a few sparkly bits in with the peas this year.

The weather's very mild at the moment, so they're not getting any additional cold protection just yet. I'm intending to keep an eye on the forecast and pile on mulch and/or cloches made from a few sheets of greenhouse glass if a frost is expected. What are the chances of me actually doing that before a frost hits? Place your bets...

I don't have a picture of the outdoor peas - it's pretty boring, just a newly dug bed with the occasional holly leaf poking through, so here's the greenhouse instead:

Midwinter greenhouse, unseasonally full of new-planted seeds

Sorry the picture's so dark, but that's a pretty accurate representation of the weather here at the moment. Those who called the sun back at the solstice, could you not have called it a bit more urgently?

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