Seeds from Italy

Blog readers will know that I like to try growing something a little different or unusual each year. Last Summer I bought a packet of vegetable spaghetti from an Italian seed company. Apparently related to the durum wheat family, vegetable spaghetti is not a widely eaten food in the UK and is considered by many in Italy as an exotic delicacy. Each year at the end of March is an extremely anxious time for spaghetti harvesters all over Europe as severe frost can impair the flavour of the spaghetti. Each strand of spaghetti always grows to the same length thanks to years of genetic engineering by expert growers. This particular variety comes in variegated form, producing green, red and white strands.

You can get these seeds from the parent company in Italy by ordering online at internet on

Lima Beans

Another of my recent purchases in the USA was a packet of Lima Beans. This year I am planning a 'bean hedge' consisting of many different colours of climbing beans. Yellow, purple and green. Thompson & Morgan have a runner bean selection packet containing 4 different colours of runner bean flowers.

I am not sure, but I think Lima beans are grown for the white bean itself rather than the pod. These are named 'Florida Speckled Butter' which indicates to me that they are a butter bean. Americans call them 'pole beans' which is the same as 'climbing beans' here. The pod looks about 3 inches long and contains about 3 beans. Has anyone tried growing them over here?

Perhaps I could eat them with a nice Chianti......sssssccchlluurrp!


A couple of weeks ago I brought my strawberries into the greenhouse in the hopes of having an early crop. These are 2 year old runners which I planted up in a growbag. Last year I did not permit them to bear any fruit, thus enabling them to put all their energy into building up crowns for future years' crops.

This time of year, or earlier, all they need is a high potash feed and to stop watering. Strawberries have a very fine root system which is vulnerable to over-watering. Strawberries have two different sets of leaves which have two different purposes. The leaves this time of year are to feed the production of flowers and fruits. Once the plant has finished fruiting in June or July, shave off all these first set of leaves completely. The second set of leaves which will grow through the Summer and Autumn will feed the crown to produce these new leaves in Spring.

A difficulty I have experienced with this grow-bag cultivation is that the plastic on the growbag has deteriorated to such an extent, that after only 2 years it is much too brittle to pick up and handle, hands (and paws) just go straight through it.

How Big is Yours?

Everything is coming on leaps and bounds in the greenhouse at the moment. The last few days have been so warm and sunny that stuff has actually been brought outside for a few hours' sunshine. The nights however, can still be frosty so there is a big difference in day and night temperatures.

Now is the time that I like to compare the size of mine... with the size of everyone else's! There is a risk of being too optimistic and getting flattened by a late frost. Certainly my tomatoes are well out of their modules by now. I may have to do some potting up in the next few days.

A couple of years ago I bought an 'autopot' greenhouse watering system. This consists of a 10 gallon tank and a series of linked self watering pots. I think it is time to get this out of storage.

Growing Okra

A few years ago I tried growing okra, without success. Today I planted some seeds in a heated propagator in the greenhouse. I bought them in the USA this week - Wal Mart 59c

The packet said that it will take 54 days to maturity, which doesn't seem that long to me. I might try planting a few seeds in succession, maybe in May or June. My Sister used to grow okra when she lived in Mississippi. I can best describe the plant as about the height of a large chilli plant - about 4 feet tall.

Has anyone grown okra over here? Does anyone have any hints?

Pickling cucumbers

This year I am planning to grow ridge cucumbers of various varieties. Whilst in the USA right now I am trying to find some packets of a wonderful spice mix which was labelled something like 'Kosher Dill Pickle mix'. Essentially it was a sachet containing salt, sugar, spices and dill which you just boil up with water to make that wonderful pickling liquid you buy in the UK with jars of gherkins.

Pickling, canning or preserving is a really big part of American home life. In fact, there is more interest generally in home pursuits. Most big supermarket chains have ample supplies of Kern or Mason jars - what I knew as Kilner jars when I was growing up. My host has given me some jars of her own zucchini (courgette) chutney. mmmmm!

I have bought so many goodies here in the US, I am now struggling to make the British Airways 51pound suitcase weight limit.

PS. I have also bought an antique spitoon !

Cheap seeds

Having a small break in Tacoma, Washington USA at the moment. Went to a store this morning and the seed packets were 5 for $1. The scenery here, right under Mt Ranier is spectacular. I hope to find some good squash varieties here. I searched the DEFRA website at home, so I have a list of which seeds and plants I may bring back into the UK and which I cannot. Seeds in Wal Mart are usually 97c, so I will fill my boots.


I had a seed planting orgy yesterday. I thought I would try some of this 'Raab Cima di Rapa'. It is described as a brassica which takes only a few weeks to produce some broccoli-like spears. Has anyone tried it? Is it worth growing?


'Still Squealing' - that's how I ate my first pickings of PSB yesterday! The last few days of bright sunshine had brought my broccoli on leaps and bounds. First you boil the water, then you go and pick your veggies -hence, when you plunge them in the boiling water, if you listen carefully, you can hear them squealing....

My Tits..

Another glorious Spring day today. A friend delivered some wooden pallets and we took them down to the veggie garden to build a new improved compost bin. Thirsty work, so we sat on the patio and had cups of tea and bikkies in the Spring sunshine. It was then that he noticed my tits... Yes, the birdbox is having visitors and it won't be long before they make a deposit and move in to raise a family.
I also saw my first butterfly today. The greenhouse is fairly warm in the sunshine and stuff is growing fast.
Hooray! my seed potatoes Red Duke of York arrived in the post today from Thompson & Morgan , who messed up my original order. I have also inherited some spare Sarpo Axona as well. Did you know it is an old gardening tradition to plant potatoes on Good Friday?

Broad Beans

I never seem to be able to pull my finger out in time to plant broad beans in the Autumn. Having said that, I don't think there is much difference with those planted in Spring - they always seem to catch up eventually when the days get longer. I planted these 'Express' in the greenhouse just 2 weeks ago, yesterday I left them outside to harden up a bit. We've had some bright sunny days this week and the temperatures in the greenhouse have been way up.

Blog readers may remember that I have given up shopping in supermarkets for Lent. I consider them a necessary evil. I have been buying fruit and veg from market stalls, and local shops. It's really tempting to go and buy quick ready meals when I am starving hungry and there is nothing at home. Still - I have a few leeks left on the allotment, and the Swiss chard is starting to come to life again. Roll on Spring!

What? No veggies?

Visted Kew gardens yesterday for the 'Intensely Tropical' display in the Princess of Wales greenhouse. Thousands upon thousands of tropical flowers in bloom and displayed imaginatively. Such a walk through time, as I have been visiting Kew for over 40 years. Only problem is..... no veggies!

Nice pussycat!