A chitting dilemma

I’ve seen on various blogs that other people have started to plant out their seed potatoes. As a result I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be able do the same for my first batch.

Chitting seed potatoes
Chitting seed potatoes

They are looking fairly impressive to my untrained eye and, even allowing for the fact that my small veg garden being roughly at a latitude of 55° North, the weather is getting noticeably warmer lately.

One advantage of living  close to sea level is the difference in temperature  with higher inland areas. This is more noticeable to me of late as we expect to move to a new property in the near future which is 1000 feet up in the North Pennines!

There is another, slightly larger batch of seed potatoes which have made almost no sign of progress. Presumably this is because the first batch were brought into the (centrally heated) house where the others were left on the (unheated) garage window sill.

My dilemma though is whether I can hold off on planting all of the seed potatoes until we move to the new property. Alternatively perhaps I should plant the more advanced ones to save any risk of losing them or damage to the shoots.

This decision complicated partly because I’m always too eager to get things planted but also because we really need to “clear the decks” in preparation for the move so this first batch might well be safer in the ground anyway!

I suspect that the first batch will have to get planted this weekend so that I can get a small amount of planting gratification. Hopefully the second batch will eventually come to life over the next 4-5 weeks so that I can take them with us when we move and plant them as the first job at our new place.


I’m not impatient, I’m following the instructions!

It does seem a little early in the year but my excuse is that I’m just following the instructions that were included with the box I had delivered from Marshalls Seeds. It is  a little annoying that after you complete your order online they will not send anything until the time is right but I can see some sense in this and it certainly stops me getting ahead of myself!

In fact  I could develop a liking for this annual delivery event and I can imagine that over time it will become yet one more sign at the start of each year that Spring must be heading our way.

Chitting tray
Chitting potatoes using every available space

This year’s box contained some seed potatoes – Swift – and the included instructions for these were very specific that these should be opened and set out for chitting as soon as possible after arrival.

Apparently the seed potato crop suffered badly with last year’s wet weather and I get the impression that they are worried about rot. Who am I to argue with the specialists and they provide cardboard trays for free so I might as well get it done.

I’m sure that I ordered the same sized small bag of seed potatoes as last year but I definitely got more in the bag this time around – perhaps that is an indication of the smaller size available this year? It remains to be seen whether the smaller sizes this year will be slower to get started or will produce a reduced yield.

Seed potatoes
Another tray of seed potatoes

Also included in this order was my selection of seeds to try out this year. When ordering these I tried to find interesting varieties that wouldn’t take too long to reach maturity so that even if we manage to sell the house and move, we might stand a  chance of eating something that we harvest from the garden!

More seeds and a handy garden knife
More seeds and a handy garden knife

There is nothing more on order now so unfortunately, apart from getting in some seed compost, the garden shopping is done for the moment. I just need some warmer weather and longer days so I can get started!


A limited seed order for 2013

I have spent the last few weeks pondering which vegetables to plant this year whilst not wasting any time, effort or money on crops that we won’t see through to harvest if we manage to sell our house in the coming months.

Rather than spend the next few weeks repeatedly changing my mind, I decided to just go ahead and order a small selection of vegetable seeds for this year but I tried to focus on those which are ideally early planting and thus early harvesting. I will just have to accept that in the event we are lucky enough to sell fairly quickly that means some crops may be left for the new owners.

However all is not lost as I have a cunning plan to use various containers for some of the slower growing or longer term crops so that we can (in theory at least) take those with us.

Most of these will be started off under cover anyway – assuming I ever buy the replacement glass needed for the cold frame – but some may be planted out directly under cloches in the raised veg beds.


This year I have again gone for first early potatoes (Swift this time) which if the website is to be believed could be ready for harvest “in as little as 7 weeks from planting” – I have my doubts about this but I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

The Thompson and Morgan potato growing guide has some great information, particularly the planting and spacing guide but also about the various problems when growing potatoes.


A variety called “Early Onward” which is (allegedly) a “heavy cropper, maturing some 10 days earlier than Onward“. I think that these are destined for one of the veg beds that are now covered with cloches but there’s still no guarantee that the weather will warm up quickly enough to suit my impatience!

The guide to pea growing on the Thompson and Morgan website is a handy reference but doesn’t specifically mention this variety so I’ll just make it up as I go along!


This will be my first attempt at beetroot but it was a special request so it’s worth a try. This is a variety called Boltardy which “is the perfect variety for early sowing“. This will most likely be planted up in a number of medium sized pots/troughs so that I can handle succession sowing to get a decent crop over a longer period while still keeping it slightly portable.


A rather interesting looking variety called Purple Haze which can apparently be sown “under frames or cloches in February as soil starts to warm” and unsurprisingly this is a nice shade of purple! Apparently the taste is excellent but I may need to eat them with my eyes closed – after all I’ve always known carrots to be an orange colour!


Finally I decided to take the plunge and try some rhubarb so I ordered a double pack with 1 crown of Stockbridge Arrow and 1 crown of  Champagne. This is definitely one for a large (3ft?) tub which has nothing growing in it right now and I’m hoping that my calculations are good enough so I can fit both crowns in there with no adverse effects 

There is a handy rhubarb growing guide on the Thompson and Morgan website which I found very useful and I’ll be going back over that when the delivery arrives

Left overs

There are also still some seeds left from last year – particularly the Nantes carrots and Apollo leeks – so assuming I can find any spare space they may get planted at some point. Unfortunately they aren’t as exciting as the new stuff I’ve just ordered so they’ll probably get forgotten but I’d hate to waste the space!

I can now spend the next week or two watching for the delivery man with my parcels… and waiting for warmer weather of course!

A weekend off but can I really spare the time?

This weekend will be a non-garden zone and will be devoted to other more pressing tasks such as an Open University assignment which must be submitted by Monday. With luck (and some hard work)  it should not  interfere with a trip to Stamford Bridge for the FA Cup match on Sunday.

I know that I should be grateful and really should make the most of this “free” weekend away from the garden. However I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’m missing an opportunity to get a head start before spring really kicks in.

As usual there are plenty of other jobs that I could get on with like the front garden which needs a good tidy up and some sensible pruning on the bigger shrubs. I know that some of these still wouldn’t get dealt with even if I had been around this weekend but it’s the thought that counts.

I’m also fairly sure that I could plant out the first batch of seed potatoes that have been chitting away happily for the last few weeks. I’m sure they will survive one more week of chitting before I get to plant them out.

There is a lovely looking tray of marigold seedlings which were coming on nicely too. These are French Marigolds that are intended for my initial attempts at companion planting because they kill nematodes and deter whiteflies. I’m not too clear what a nematode is just yet or why I would want to kill it but I plan to find out soon! I’ve also noted from the previous link that I shouldn’t plant marigolds next to bean plants (although they don’t say why).

I’m also hoping that the cheap plastic mini greenhouse I bought recently will help to reduce water loss and give decent protection for the seedlings. I have also implemented a “semi-automatic watering system” while I am not around but I’m not sure that she will remember!

Maybe this delay will actually be of some benefit by stopping me planting things out too soon! I have to keep reminding myself that snow at Easter is not uncommon and being in the North East means that spring is slower to arrive than other parts of the country.


Chitting update

Little or no progress with chitting my seed potatoes

Currently there still seems to be very few signs of action on the chitting front which is a little disheartening but not entirely unexpected I suppose. I wish I could remember some details of the previous (and first) time I grew potatoes but that was some years ago and my memory isn’t what it used to be… I think!

This looks like a fairly respectable seed potato but it just doesn’t have any signs of activity yet. They have only been chitting for 2 weeks now so I can only assume the problem is with my impatience and not some bigger problem with the seed potatoes.

Of course the chiting arrangements in my garage (some egg boxes not too near the windows) might not be the best setup but I’m sure they worked well last time around which was a few years ago now.

Next weekend I had planned to start a second batch of seed potatoes on the chitting process so it would be nice to see some signs of activity by then.

It’s chitting time… or is it?

imageThe chitting of my seed potatoes started just over a week ago but as you can probably see there seemed to be no progress yet – I know it’s too soon and I’m an impatient fool but I can’t help checking and would look more frequently if I could!

I’m hoping I’m not too late with this given some of the advice I seen but at the same time even if I’m too early I’ve not found any reliable advice on what to  do in the event of a cold snap when I want to plant them out. Perhaps it will all even out in the end…

Many of the books I’ve seen talk about chitting in a fairly general way but don’t go any further than telling you to do it. For example, most  don’t cover when you might expect to see the first signs of activity which is fairly important for an impatient semi-beginner like me. There also seems to be very little information on how long the whole chitting  process should take but like most things in the garden it will just “take as long as it takes” and I noticed that no one offers advice on speeding it up.

The seed potatoes I’ve bought for this year are Charlotte (a second early or so I’m told) and very popular with home growers it appears. I have great hopes for them and I’m just hoping that my expectations are met in some small way when it comes to harvest time.

These  were bought on-line from the Marshalls website and the delivery arrived very promptly but I was not particularly impressed with the quality because I’ve had about a 10% loss due to mouldy or damaged tubers. Of course I have no idea whether this is a good result or if I’ve been sent a duff batch.

As it turns out this is not such a big problem because we don’t have a huge amount of space and will only spare 1 of the 3 veg beds for potatoes this year.  There  will only be a couple of rows with about 8 plants but by staggering the planting times I’m hoping to spread out the harvest with any luck rather than get a glut of new potatoes all at once.

I’ve tried to deal with all eventualities and will be chitting in two batches by starting a second batch about 3 weeks after the first. I’ve also put a small plastic cloche/cover on the intended veg bed to warm the soil and keep off any frosts. Presumably I could keep the cover on once I’ve planted them out if there is any remaining risk of a frost but nothing I’ve read mentions it.

Once there is something more to report I will post some pictures and I plan to document the slow progress all the way from chitting to plate!

Four simple questions


With so much to choose from it seemed almost impossible to narrow down the options of what vegetables to grow. After a little careful thought I soon realised that my first task was easily identified though – just go through a few reliable gardening books and note down which plants were labelled as “easy to grow” or “good for beginners”.

Predictably there were too many  final choices and they were most of the usual suspects that many gardeners tackle when starting out. However that list was easily  cut down to size  by the simple guiding principle that says “don’t bother growing something you won’t eat”.

As we only have 3 small-ish veg plots, the final list ended up as Potatoes, Leeks (from seed) and Onions (from sets).


This is easily solved because I am only working with 3 fairly small veg beds this year – not much I know but that is 2 more than I’ve ever had before so I’m happy! Two of these beds are wooden sided raised beds from a kit which have been set up on top an unwanted section at the bottom of the garden. These have been carefully prepared over the last few months, filled with nice new compost and left to settle although I did pop in some cabbages last autumn (don’t ask, they’re not doing much) and I also had a failed attempt with spinach when all I got was some more greener for the compost heap.


I suspect that this might be the tricky part because we live on the north east coast of England which is not known for the tropical climate. The growing season is noticeably shorter up here and plants are definitely slower to get going. My main concern will be fighting off the impatience so I don’t start sowing or planting out too soon.


Arguably the hardest of the 4 questions… I’ve grown some veg in the past but never more than one crop per year and certainly not every year so why is this year different? Can it all be down to a mid-life crisis? Have I really not got anything better to do with my time? The most likely explanation is that it seemed like a good idea at the time and now I’ve set myself the challenge I don’t want to admit defeat without giving it a go!