May I wish all our "net fans" a Happy New Year and may your gardening efforts be at least one of the successes of 2009.

At a time like this, when cold and miserable conditions outside prevail, take an opportunity to look back on the last year's results.  What mistakes have I made?  What were my most successful efforts?  How do I hope to improve my results this year?

It is also the time to look forward and decide what I shall be growing.  Shall I try some fresh or new flower or vegetable.  Catalogues are arriving every week in the post and also in many of our journals.  On perusal of most of these you get the impression of the great deal of work done by seed merchants to encourage us to improve our gardens.  The cost of producing this enormous variety of seeds and plants must be very great and it is up to us gardeners to support their efforts or they may, like many businesses in these troubled days, flounder.

Have you ever thought that by saving your own seeds you could help these seed producers?  Many of our flowers, especially annuals and also vegetables produce their seed with very little extra effort on our part and in many cases in fairly good quantities.  By a little selection they are as good as bought seed and if correctly treated may last for two or more years.  Money saved by this means could be well spent supporting the seedsman by selecting from the current catalogue items, which we have not grown before.  We may find a very good winner.

Looking back on  2008

You must have gathered  that my main interest now-a-days is the vegetable and fruit garden.  Home grown produce is much better than that in the supermarket.  It also helps enormously with the cost of living, especially when on pension.

As previously mentioned in former notes, I am now limited as to what I can do.  Digging is more or less non-existent and this makes a vast difference to gardening.  Alternative methods have to be found and towards this end I have obtained a small electrically operated rototiller.  It is claimed to cultivate up to 10 inches deep.  Built on the same lines as the lawn mower (cylinder type) it is worked in a backward motion and held in a more or less stationary position with a slight forward and backward movement it will dig about 10" deep, bury small annual weeds and work in a reasonable quantity of 'short' manure.  I used this on several crops with reasonable results.

Potatoes.  I grow all potatoes on the 'flat' involving no earthing up, planting earlies and maincrop as early as possible at the latest by the 2nd week in April.  This gives me the longest period of growth possible before the onslaught of the inevitable attack of blight.  All varieties are planted in rows at about 21" apart.  Down the rows the tubers are planted 10" apart and about 4" deep.  The only cultivation given after this is to keep the crop hoed as long as it is possible to work amongst them.  By the time blight strikes, the new tubers have made enough growth to be a reasonable crop.  The tops are allowed to die down and the crop left until late August or early September.  I find that the varieties I normally grow seem to be produced fairly deep and very few are affected by the blight or are green.  I dont' know whether it was the weather conditions or the new method adopted, but I am sure that the crops are as heavy, if not better than usual.  I grow several varieties and these are used for various purposes:

     Record and Kestrel and to some extent Desiree are for chips
     Kestrel and Nicola - early new, boiling
     Desiree - a good all rounder and main variety
     Charlotte, Linzer Delikatess and Nicola are salad types which are usually gathered while small but I allow full
     growth and they make good boiling potatoes with the best of flavours
     Cara - an excellent cropper and all round cooker - has been grown for the first time but it was the only
     variety to be attacked by slugs

Onions and Shallots.  Although sown very late - mid March, onions and shallots produced reasonable crops.  Producing shallots from seed is on the increase  although the crop is not as heavy as the old, proved method of growing from sets.  Onions cropped reasonably well.

Beans.  I grew 3 types of climbing beans this last year.  Runner beans - own selection.  Kidney beans - Cobra and Hunter.  This was the first time that I have grown Hunter.  It is not the usual type of kidney bean being much wider than the type with the swellings of the seed positions showing prominently.  It has now become our favourite green bean.  All cropped well and were grown on long canes formed as wigwams. 

Celeriac.  Sown inside in March, pricked off singly into 7cm pots and planted out in May.  It made reasonable growth and is frozen for use this year.

Tomatoes.  These were grown in tunnels.  The main varieties grown were Cederica, Solution and Golden Cherry.  Although they were sown and planted in late May they cropped fairly well and will last out until mid January.

I am often asked to recommend a journal or book on various subjects of gardening.  I think the most popular for allotment holders is probably the weekly 'Garden News'.  I prefer the monthly 'Kitchen Garden' which deals mainly with fruit and vegetables.  'Garden Answers' is an all round favourite which covers general gardening.  For those who are more deeply involved in the subject, joining the RHS as a member is well worthwhile with its monthly journal and reduced price or free entry to many gardens and flower shows across the country.

I must mention a recent book I obtained (you may be able to get it from your local library) called "Mr Roscoe's Garden" by Jyll Bradley which is very interesting.  It is a brief history of the 3 Liverpool Botanical Gardens and their individual carers.   I was interested since most of those mentioned at Harthill and Calderstone were work colleagues and friends.