At the beginning of January, I placed a sweet potato in compost to try to start some slips ready to grow on in cold frames.

Sweet potato growing slips

Now, one month later, I have a young triffid growing on my windowsill. The potato has sent up some shoots which have grown rather enthusiastically, and it is now time to try to remove them, plant them in their own containers, and wait to see if the potato sends up any more.

Growing sweet potato slips

The only problem it leaves me with is that these shoots are growing rapidly. Most of the shoots are a few inches long, but it has one tentacle that is about 18 inches and growing daily. It is WAY too cold to move them out to the garden, but they aren’t going to be able to stay indoors very much longer – time to put the thinking cap on I think!


Yesterday afternoon a pea-souper of a fog descended on us.  Probably a harbinger of some colder winter weather I suspect – it had that chill to it.  Wednesday afternoon is always a “get the chores done” afternoon, with no time for any extras.  On the other hand we are usually home by 5.30 on a Wednesday, so it is a nice long evening at home. What better time to curl up with a mug of coffee, a blanket and the seed catalogues.

Unfortunately I have my own inimitable style with seed catalogues, which usually entails taking a page of A4 paper, going through the catalogues and making a list of all the varieties I want to grow this year.  I then add up how much land I have available and set about my list with a hatchet.  Once I have the list down to an amount I can grow, I then price the list – and get out the hatchet again!  Finally I try to work out which veg I will want to eat fresh only, and which I am going to need to find room to store and then try to make a balance between the two.  I am sure this year will be no exception but I AM trying to put a little less on the original list this year.

I have started at the beginning with those veg that can/need to be planted early and will have to have some more planning sessions another time.  So, here goes…………

Leeks – “Musselburgh” (which I have grown before and find great) and I am going to try “Neptune” this year for the first time.

Parsnips – I will grow “White Gem” and “Tender and True”.  I have grown both of these before and have been very happy with them so sticking with those this year.

Cauliflower – I have grown “All the Year Round” in the past and I love the fact that they are mini cauliflowers.  With just two of us to feed most of the time, I full size cauliflower is too much, so we will have these again this year.

Tomatoes – The first one I am going to try this year is call “Hundreds and Thousands”.  It is an heirloom variety with a trailing habit so great for my balcony containers or maybe a hanging basket.  I am also going to try “Gardener’s Delight” – I don’t think I have tried this one before but it sounds good and seems to be happy out of doors so we’ll see how it goes.

Radishes  – I love radish so, in amongst my other radishes, another first for me is going to be “German Salad Radish”.  This appears to look like a radish coloured carrot and is used for slicing for salads etc.  Will have to see how the taste bears up.

 And I am afraid that is as far as I got last night – not a huge amount to show for an evening’s browsing but I got carried away with dreams of all those lovely spring veg for the picking.  But it’s a start – I will choose my onions and then get that lot ordered and worry about ordering the rest later I think.

What are you growing this year?  Are you trying anything new? Click here to tell us

This year I am determined to try again with the sweet potatoes.  For the last two years I have got them started, but then not had anywhere suitable to plant them out into.  They need fairly warm soil so, this year, I am going to make them a cold frame of sorts to go into when they outgrow my windowsill.

I started my potato off on the windowsill today – here’s how to start a sweet potato.

To start sweet potatoes off, simply buy a sweet potato from the supermarket.

Place a layer of damp compost in a seed tray/ice cream container and nestle the sweet potato into it so that it is partially covered by the damp compost.

The potato will start to send out shoots which, as soon as they are big enough, you remove and plant on into pots.  Grow them on in their pots until they are big enough to be planted out into the ground.  The soil does need to be reasonably warm for this so you will need to have a cold frame/cloche or similar to warm the soil ready for them.

They do spread themselves out somewhat when mature so make sure you give them somewhere with lots of space.

The problem with growing strawberries

is that they seem to be the favourite fruit of EVERY animal in the entire world. If you grow them outside the birds have them and you have no strawberries. If you net them, the birds somehow manage to get through the net, get stuck and can’t get out, and then you have even less strawberries! And if you can somehow manage to stop the birds, then the bugs get them – something about that lovely shady foliage that encourages them.

strawberries in pot

So this year I was sure I had the answer with my strawberry pots. They keep the strawberries up off the ground, the birds have nowhere to perch to eat them, and they should be out of the way of the slimy ones.


slug snail damage to strawberries

So what’s eating the strawberries?

I have to confess that I am not 100% sure what is eating them – this looks like slug damage to me, but I can’t find any slugs whereas I have found several snails lurking again.

Sigh Looks as though I will be out with a torch big game hunting again

Like many in the UK, we have had our fair share of rain this year and, while this has been good for the land in some ways, it seems to have delayed cropping in lots of plants.

container grown strawberries


Our balcony grown strawberries are just beginning to ripen properly and we had our first feed last night. The apprentice loves hers with a little sugar to dip them into. And of course if we have cream available to go with them then that is a must:)

strawberries from  the balcony garden

As you can see, there is lots of fruit to come and I am just quietly hoping that it will all ripen before the autumn comes on too hard.

container grown strawberries


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Why do you need to split rhubarb?

One of the joys of growing rhubarb is that it virtually grows itself.  It is, on the whole, a very low maintenance plant.  One of the few problems is that, eventually,  rhubarb will outgrow itself and the plant will weaken.  So, the answer is to split it every few years.   This isn’t as hard as it sounds and the advantage  is that you can increase your stock of rhubarb every few years, or have some to give away or barter – sounds like a win win to me!


How do you split rhubarb?

The first step is to prepare a patch of ground for your new rhubarb plants.  Once your rhubarb is in you won’t be able to dig the ground again, so give it a thorough dig over, get all the weeds out.  Next, dig as many holes as you think you are going to need and add some well rotted muck.

There are 2 ways to split the plant.

Method 1

Dig up your existing rhubarb plant.  Try to do this as gently as possible.  The kindest way to the plant is to dig a small trench all the way around the plant, and then work inwards loosening the roots as you go.  Once you have the plant out of the ground, use a sharp spade to slice through the root of the plant and divide the rhubarb into viable sections.

splitting rhubarb

Method 2

You may be able to see obvious new plants without actually digging up the whole root.  This is especially likely to be the case if you are overdue for splitting the plant, or if you are a little late in the spring and the plant is already sprouting (like I was this year).

If this is the case, you can split the plant by cutting down through the root where it is growing, and then gently lifting out the new section of plant.


Now plant your new plants

Whichever method of splitting the plant you use, you now need to plant your new root sections, mulch them well to keep the weeds down, and keep them watered while they establish themselves.


You won’t be able to use the rhubarb from these new plants for the first year.  Give the plant time to establish itself and, next year, it will reward you for your patience with lots more lovely fresh rhubarb.

balcony plants

So, the plan for this year on the balcony:

The runner beans will be grown in a trough, along the end wall of the balcony, with a frame of bamboo leaning against the wall for support.  This way they will all have the benefit of the sun, and hopefully will grow more uniformly.  The drawback to this is that the trough may not be deep enough for the bean roots – only time will tell.

The sugar snap peas will also be grown in a trough – possibly on the opposite side of the balcony where, I think, they will benefit from a little more sun.

The salad leaves will grow in a trough the same as last year but may move across the balcony as I don’t think they need the sun quite as much as some of the other plants.  Being a low growing plant though, I can always move them around later if need be.

The tomatoes will grow in individual pots so that I can juggle with their position while they are still small and, hopefully find the best spot for them.  Obviously once they grow taller, they will have to remain in one place.

The radishes I am still not totally sure about.  They were so successful last year that I will grow a number of trays this year – but I think they will just have to be moved around depending on where there is space at any given time.

The herbs will be the same as before, although I may add parsley and chives to the mix this year.  Grown in individual pots, the herbs are easy to move around to accommodate the other plants.

The strawberries – on a trip to wander around the garden shop, I found what I think is the answer to my problems.  Funnily enough someone else has solved the problem for me and they make a container, same idea as the flower pouches, especially for strawberries.  Who knew?  They will hopefully enjoy being at the end of the balcony, beside the runner beans.  If not, the beauty of these new containers is that I will be able to shuffle them around as well.

French beans – I am not sure I am going to try these on the balcony this year – although I may pop half a dozen seeds in just to see if they come to anything.  But after last year’s failures, I may just decide not to bother.

And another experiment for this year – Garlic.  I have had it on my kitchen windowsill getting cold over the winter, and now it has sprouted so I am growing to plant some in the garden, and some in a tray on the balcony like the radishes.  Whilst I know that this is not the conventional way to start garlic, it seems to me there’s no harm in trying – nothing ventured nothing gained!


I think any other available space will be needed for starting plants for the main garden such as pumpkins and sweet corn.


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