Purple sprouting broccoli is a welcome spring crop, and is worth the long growing season if you have the space. It is nothing like its broccoli or calabrese cousins and is often considered the equal of asparagus; prices in the shops may help you make the decision to find the room to include this brilliant brassica.
If, like me you are waiting keenly for the first pick of home grown purple sprouting broccoli, or if you’re already reaping an early harvest, then you’ll love this fresh, simple recipe.
Purple sprouting broccoli
Soy Sauce or Tamari
Toasted Sesame Seeds to garnish
Rinse the broccoli and cut off any hard stems
Heat the sesame oil in a wok and add the broccoli once the oil is hot – it should sizzle
Cover the pan allowing steam to cook the broccoli
Just before the broccoli is cooked (still with a ‘bite’), add soy sauce
Serve immediately with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
Welcome to our latest ‘How To…’ guide. Things you will need for this: seeds, compost, pots.
Seeds can either be sown directly into the soil where they will grow, or raised in posts first to give them the necessary protection for a head start on the growing season. Once you’ve decided what seeds you want to plant, the technique for sowing is pretty similar for all seeds. Remember to read the seed packet to make sure you’re giving your plants the best head start.
Step 1. Choose a growing medium. You can buy organic seed compost from a number of suppliers. It is not essential to use seed compost, but because seeds contain all the energy needed to germinate, they don’t need a high nutrient compost to start off with.
Step 2. Choose suitable pots or seed trays in which to sow your seeds and fill them with compost. Make sure you leave enough space for a covering layer of compost or to make a hole to plant the seed. If the seeds are very small (such as brassicas) you may want to sprinkle them thinly (broadcast) over a seed tray rather than into individual pots or modular seed trays (ones with multiple sections joined together). You can use a variety of containers to plant seeds, as long as they have drainage holes in the base. If you are keen to avoid plastic, then why not try making your own paper pots from newspaper. These can be planted out without the need for transplanting and disturbing roots.
Step 3. Sow your seeds. As a rule, seeds should be planted twice the depth of their size. For very small seeds, a fine layer of compost to cover is sufficient. For larger seeds, use a piece of cane, a pencil (or your finger!) to make a hole the correct depth and drop the seed in. Try and make sure you only use seed that is in date. Some seeds store better than others and should be kept cool and dry. Some seeds have extra needs to help with germination. Some need an ‘artificial winter’ and will need to be kept in the fridge before sowing; some will benefit from soaking overnight. Check the packet for any tips and directions on this. A good tip: don’t forget to label your seeds; I always think I will remember what things are, but I don’t.
Step 4. Water in. The best way to water seeds is by standing the entire tray or set of modules in water and allowing the compost to draw up the moisture until the surface is just wet. Don’t use rainwater for seeds and seedlings as it can contain fungal spores that can lead to a common cause of seedling death: dampening off, whereby the seedling stem withers away.
Step 5. Raise seedlings. For indoor sown seeds, keep the trays somewhere with constant temperature and good light. Make sure the compost doesn’t dry out, but don’t overwater. You can put covers (or cloches) over the seeds to help maintain the temperature, but you should remove these as soon as the seed germinates to allow good air circulation and prevent moulds from forming. For outdoor plants, you will be more at the mercy of the elements, but you can use covers to help minimise overwatering from rain, damage from wind and fluctuating temperatures.
Step 6. Thinning out your seedlings. As cruel as it seems, it is important to thin out seedlings where you have broadcast sown to ensure that the remaining seedlings have optimum conditions to become strong plants. You can always use seedling thinnings as a topping on salads, or pot them on and give them to friends and family.
Step 7. Growing on your seedlings. Some plants, particularly those with larger seeds, will need to be potted on to larger containers as they outgrow their seedling pots, but this is not recommended for the brassica family as they dislike having their roots disturbed. If you do transplant seedlings, only handle them by their leaves and roots; try not to touch the stem as it is easy to damage it. Pot on into organic potting compost where the young plants will benefit from a higher nutrient content.
Now you can sit back and daydream of warmer spring days when you can plant out the seedlings after risk of frost has passed. Don’t forget to harden off tender plants by leaving them outside during the day for a few days, then over night before planting in the final location.
For a quick look guide on how to plant different types of seed, go to our seed sowing table.
We are pleased to confirm that the Organic Starter Bed scheme operating at the Weald Allotment site has the green light from the Allotment team at B&HCC to continue in 2019. Read on to find out more about what the scheme is and why it has been so successful
In 2014 the Organic Gardening Group (BHOGG) worked in cooperation with the City Council’s Allotment officer to pioneer a project enabling 6-8 people on the Weald allotment waiting list to spend a year cultivating a “starter bed” and gardening on the organic community allotment. The scheme has been in place ever since, with great outcomes from a survey of users covering the period 2015-2018.
24 people were involved and responses were received from 16 with all 16 rating the scheme at “very good” on a scale of ‘very bad’ to ‘very good’. What participants loved: hands-on gardening experience outdoors, use of equipment, learning from each other and access to a breadth of gardening knowledge, sense of community engendering friendships and sociability.
All participants believed that the scheme helped them prepare effective for their own allotment or to continue as a volunteer on the community allotment to gain further experience. As one grower noted:
“It’s been really useful for learning what crops I would like to grow, how much work will be involved and what size Allotment might be manageable for me”
Of 14 people who have gone on to have their own allotments, 12 have successfully cultivated their allotments and we only know of 2 people who have given up. This appears to be a very low drop out rate compared to the allotment strategy figures for allotment holders generally.
There were no notable problems reported, and in fact participants suggest that more sessions and communal events be held. Unexpected benefits were reported, such as the impact of the plot on wellbeing for volunteers:
“Although I joined BHOGG to learn about organic gardening, I found it also had massive benefits for my mental health (I suffer from anxiety). The effect of going once a week has been very noticeable I i.e. I notice a change in my mood if I don’t go”.
In conclusion, there seems to be much to recommend this scheme, and support from B&HCC and from sponsors Infinity Food have made the project possible. It would be great to offer the scheme to a larger number of people and on other allotment sites.
“In my view the project is a wonderful community enhancing, educational and healthy living inspiring network and activity. People are helpful to each other, there is a good balance of personal accountability and group responsibility, co-ordination is brilliant despite that task being obviously akin to herding cats. I have personally enjoyed making new friends, the fresh air and exercise and feeling much more prepared for my own allotment when that time comes.”
If you are interested in becoming involved in the scheme, offering some volunteer time on the BHOGG Weald plots or in helping support the work of BHOGG generally, please do get in touch with us. You can read Alan’s full starter bed scheme report here.
So, you’ve finally got to the top of the allotment waiting list and been given your long dreamed of plot. You arrive seeds in hand raring to go, but the whole place is covered in weeds. Is your first thought to reach for the Round Up? STOP!! There is another way – the organic way.
Inheriting a plot that has been neglected and allowed to become covered with annual and perennial weeds can be very disheartening, as can the similarly disappointing, but self-inflicted situation of missing a few weeks up the plot for one reason or another and returning to semi-jungle conditions. We’ve all been there, and the temptation can be to ignore it, eventually leading to us giving up the plot.
However, with a little bit of hard work initially, an organic approach can help you maintain a mostly weed-free plot without using any man-made chemicals. The time of year dictates how much initial work you will have to put in. Late winter or early spring is good time to make a start, as annual weeds will have died back over winter and root systems of more pernicious weeds will be dormant or weaker.
The first step is unavoidable manual work. Clear the worst of tall growth with shears, loppers and billhooks. Or, if you are able to borrow a strimmer, this can really help make a swift job of it. In fact, an electric strimmer may be a worthwhile investment, particularly if you are planning on keeping grass paths or a lawn area on the plot. This is also a good time to decide on a plan of where you want your vegetable beds to be, adding broad paths between them plus a wild area where you can let the weeds run riot to provide much needed habitats for beneficial wildlife.
Comfry and other ‘weeds’
It is worth digging out any obvious perennial weed issues (such as bramble). Every piece of weed root removed at this stage will be one less future weeding job. If you feel tempted to let machinery take the strain and rotavate the plot, a word of advice, this will simply chop up any perennial weed roots into smaller pieces and distribute them throughout the soil, meaning a healthy crop of weeds next year!
You then need to cover the soil (mulch). This effectively shades out weeds, protects the soil and the microorganisms from excessive sun and rain and provides a microclimate for those organisms to break down the mulch so you have a perfect planting environment for your seedlings later on. There are multiple materials for achieving this, and you may want to do some research on what works best for you. The topic of mulching is an immense one and would need its own article, however there are some excellent sites out there including those promoting other gardening principles that are synergistic with organic growing such as ‘no dig’ systems and permaculture. Ones to visit include: Charles Dowding’s Organic approach, Joshua the Gardener’s no dig gardening, Garden Organic website, Brighton Permaculture Trust.
My favourite method is to apply a mulch of compost or manure and then cover with large pieces of cardboard weighted down with wood or stones. I tend to peel back any remaining cardboard before planting, but it is entirely possible to plant through any mulch, layering up in a compost and cardboard ‘sandwich’ and continuing to benefit from the weeds being shaded out.
Once you have removed the worst offenders and covered the plot, you shouldn’t have to do too much to maintain it. You can continue to cover empty beds with a mulch, or perhaps more usefully use them to grow overwintering crops (such as brassicas, leeks, autumn sown onions, autumn sown broad beans) or to try out the dizzying range of green manures. These plants add nitrogen to the soil either by fixing it with their roots (leguminous plants) or by being incorporated into the soil by hoeing in. Again, look online for what suits your soil’s needs the best.
Evidence shows that it is much more healthy for the soil and its trillions of microorganisms to have plants growing in it. And this is true even if the plants happen to be weeds to us. The next best thing is to cover the soil with a mulch rather than leaving the soil bare. Supporting your soil is at the heart of organic gardening.
Top tips for keeping the plot mostly weed free:
Focus on cultivating ONE bed at a time. There is no need to dig over the whole plot! It is easy to get excited with plans for dozens of different beds, but try and be realistic about how much time you have to devote to the plot. You can easily grown more than one type of vegetable in the same bed; in fact this is a useful strategy to promote diversity and prevent disease for your crops.
Don’t do too much in one go. If you spend an entire day trying to tackle weeds, you will come away feeling disheartened and sore! Take on a small area and enjoy it. Why not invite friends along for some added muscle if you’re impatient to clear more space.
Address perennial problems as soon as you see them. Pulling up a dandelion seedling is much easier than digging out a well-rooted mature plant.
Where you have perennial or pernicious plants growing through paving or other hard standing areas, you can utilise heat to help you. Boiling water poured on the offending weed
Once you’ve cleared a space, keep it clear. That way you only have to graft once. Mulch, cover, plant, whatever method suits you.
Learn to love your weeds. Keep an area for wildlife – they will help pollinate your crops and help you fight off plant pests. Many plants we consider weeds are also delicious to eat: nettle, dandelion, chickweed, purslane, so don’t dismiss them entirely.
Find what works for you. Chat with other gardeners and of course, ask us at BHOGG!
Seedy Sunday 2019 did not disappoint with a day packed with interesting stalls, events and people. Over 2,000 happy punters had a great time visiting the seed swap, with over 2,500 packets of seeds to choose from, and visiting the 70 stall holders who were showing, telling and selling all things gardening and wildlife related.
We were busy on our BHOGG stall all day with people coming to renew membership or join for the first time, buy wonderful organic feed and to ask expert advice on organic gardening. Seedy Sunday is an important event for BHOGG and organic gardeners as seeds saved locally often have adaptations to local soil conditions and microclimates, making them more likely to grow well and need less support. Seed swaps also provide a much wider choice of varieties than it is possible to get from seed companies, and although they may not always be strictly organic, their local heritage is an added boon.
Kate Harrison from the Seedy Sunday committee told us what she loves about the event:
“I’ve been coming to Seedy Sunday almost as long as I’ve lived in Brighton – 17 years! If you’d told me back in 2003 that I might be on the organising committee one day, I’d have been amazed. What I love about Seedy Sunday is that every year I learn something new, I buy some eye-opening plant (this year: Sea Buckthorn and Chilean Guava), and I meet some fantastic people. The atmosphere at Seedy Sunday is so special – full of people saying hello to old friends, making new ones, and talking about their common passions – gardening and wildlife.”
Seedy Sunday was organised by around 50 volunteers this year that set up, packed down and helped on the day. They always welcome new volunteers, so get in touch at their website for more information on how to be involved in next year’s event.
If you didn’t get along to the BHOGG staff to renew your membership or join, then don’t forget you can do so online on our website.
It runs from 10.30 to 4.00, at BHASVIC, 205 Dyke Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 6EG. See the map here. Please note there is NO parking for the public on site. For information on public transport click here.
Check out the brilliant programme this year, with details of the great line-up of speakers, including the local author of The Wildlife Gardener, Kate Bradbury; and a local Gardeners’ Question time.
There are fun children’s activities, lots of brilliant exhibitors selling and telling about all things horticultural and wild, and the lovely Infinity Foods will be upstairs with their café selling lunch and cakes.
At the heart of Seedy Sunday are the wonderful seed swap tables – here’s some more information about how it works. Come and have a browse whether you have seeds to swap or not – you can make a donation of 50p per packet if you don’t have anything to exchange. We’re also happy to have Betsy’s Bakes providing refreshments in the seed swap room.
1. Plan your plot: crop rotation; put crops that need regular picking near a path; ones that need less attention (spuds, onions, leeks) can be in less accessible areas
2. Tidy overgrown patches (brambles, ivy, etc.), but don’t be too tidy to allow an overwintering shelter for beneficial creatures
3. Finish planting & pruning of deciduous trees, shrubs (but not those that flower before midsummer) & hedges (birds start nesting soon so don’t delay on hedges)
4. Get your seeds & spuds at Seedy Sunday
5. Get a couple of beds ready (weed & feed) for March planting of early spuds & onions.
Do this by taking out any overwintering weeds and adding a layer of compost or manure to the soil’s surface in a mulch. If possible do this when there is a sunny day and the ground is damp – as a mulch ‘seals’ the soil, it is better to seal in warm and moist conditions, rather than cold and wet ones. If the weather doesn’t oblige, place a cloche (cover) over the prepared soil to help warm it. You don’t have to invest in expensive cloches, you could source a large piece of clear plastic from some packaging – ask friends and family if you don’t have any – and do your bit for keeping some plastic out of the environment!