16 Oct 2011

Well, colour me happy!

Excuse the gi-normous photo, but I couldn't resist! Everyone is relishing this lovely warm spell of weather and these are a few of the plants still brightening up the veg patch.  They're also causing me to carefully rethink my winter planting as I need the space but don't want to rip out plants (such as the nasturtiums) that are still flourishing! I've been told to be more ruthless but just can't. I'm happy to let nature take its course.

Another day of bright and breezy sunshine means my washing is flapping itself gently dry on the lines outside and I can hoof it down to the veg garden to sit on a warm wall and seed save over a coffee. Next up will be tidying and, perhaps, I might risk sowing a few spinach seeds, maybe some peas, pak choi and hardy carrots. I'm in an optimistic mood and looking forward to spending time in the garden. I won't post now until later next weekend; I'm away next week to look after my lovely dad while my beloved mum is in hospital. She's been very ill after a nasty fall which caused a bash to the head and she needs to be in hospital for a while;  I hope this lovely weather is putting a sparkle into her day as well and encouraging her to get better.

Happy gardening everyone, let's make the most of this warm autumn!
Caro x

Edited to add:  Ooops, I spoke too soon - it's just clouded over here!  (Still looking forward to gardening though!)

15 Oct 2011

Saturday Snap! Chilli re-growth

Here in London, we're experiencing what I can only describe as a glorious summer's day.  Although there was a distinct snap in the air at the beginning of the day, there's real warmth in the sunshine.  All this lovely warmth and mild weather is completely confusing my plants.  There's me trying to make ready for the winter (which I'm sure is due fairly soon!) and the plants are seemingly putting in one last effort before this year's growing season ends.  Look what I found this morning on my chilli plant:

Chilli regrowing
:: October Chilli plant, regrowing nicely ::
There's actually half a dozen pods like this on this plant (better than it did in the summer!) This is a plant which is not protected in any way but just sits on my balcony where it gets a few hours of sunshine, when available, and is buffeted by wind!  These new pods are a couple of inches long already and I suspect would pack quite a punch when cooked!  The pods should mature to about 3 inches long, changing through a banana yellow colour to deep red.  I wonder how far they'll get before the weather changes?

There's also a fair amount of colour lingering in the veg patch and it was interesting to watch Monty D on Gardeners World last night talking about how much colour there is in his garden at Long Meadow.  I'm intrigued that his sweet peas are still flowering energetically - obviously, next year, I should be picking mine more often.  And, although I've already ordered my sweet peas for next year, I really liked the one named after Monty, a glorious deep red.  Yumm!  (I suspect I could squeeze a few in!)

13 Oct 2011

The Constant Cauliflower

Constant cauli
How long before the pigeons spot this beauty, I wonder?

I've taken my time in writing about the wondrous cauliflowers that I'm growing as I wanted them to get really established first.  Earlier in the year, Stephen Shirley, who I met through UK Veg Gardeners, offered me a selection of veg from his family's business, Victoriana Nurseries in Kent.  The Victoriana website has an extensive range of tempting fruit and veggies and, as a result, choosing - always difficult for me - took some time; I wanted to grow veg that would capture the imaginations of the children here.  Eventually I ordered Tozer brussels sprouts (a beautiful red variety, hopefully gracing this years christmas dinner), Strawberry Popcorn, Rambling Cascade strawberries and Cut and Come Again Cauliflowers.  My order went in very late in the season so we all wondered if the plants would perform well, especially in the case of the Strawberry Popcorn, and Stephen's wife Serena kindly threw in some green brussels sprouts for good measure.  

I'm pleased to say that nearly 3 months on, by following the planting instructions and preparing the soil well, the caulis and brussels are doing really well.  The strawberries are also looking good, with recent warm weather they'll have developed really strong root systems ready for next summer and then we'll see them really flourish! The sweetcorn didn't survive but it's a plant that I'll go back to next summer, if only for the novelty - who doesn't love freshly made popcorn?

But it's the caulis that are going to be the magical, mystery plant of the veg garden - even I hadn't appreciated the full uniqueness of this plant.  In late summer, I was invited to a little evening celebration at the home of Mark "Vertical Veg" Ridsdill-Smith who had discovered he lived around the corner from me. He was celebrating a good year for his business including featuring in Alex Mitchell's recently published book The Edible Balcony. Standing in the kitchen, eating some delicious home-made focaccia, I uttered the phrase "perennial cauliflower" and the room of foodies and gardeners fell into an awed silence. "Perennial Cauliflower? What? Is it true? Does it work? Why have I never heard of this before?" Ooh, I created quite a stir, I can tell you! You'd think I'd revealed how to spin straw into gold.

So, for those who missed the ensuing conversation, this is what I'm told will happen: Each plant will produce up to 10 mini cauliflower heads on a branching system not dissimilar to broccoli. At the end of the season, where other caulis would be cleared from the garden, perennial cauliflowers are just tidied up and left. Not even cut down to resprout; no, no - just left. Come next winter, off they go again producing another crop of mini cauliflowers and so on, and so on, for up to another 5 years. I'm a little bit excited by this plant, I can tell you, and looking forward to seeing the first round of produce. 

cauli with apple

I've planted mine inbetween the fruit trees in the walled border where the strawberries will ramble between them in the summer.  They won't be in the way there because that's the border that I have to, rather inconveniently, climb into when there's work to be done so it makes the perfect spot for plants that can fend (for the most part) for themselves.

Edited to add: I'll be adding more photos of the caulis as the heads develop over the winter season. I'm told that the plants produce mini-heads of cauliflower; I assume this will be a bit like the baby veg found in the supermarket. Sounds perfect to me, a plant that gives cauliflower in one portion sizes!

2 Oct 2011

Saturday Snap: Summer swan song

Goodbye summer

Of all the flowers in the garden, the sunflower is surely the one most readily associated with the long, leisurely, picnic-filled days of summertime.  Most of my sunflowers have either faded and drooped their lovely faces towards the soil or have been cleared away during the last week due to their extremely brown and crispy appearance. As this gloriously welcome hot weekend dawned over the veg patch on Saturday morning, there are two sunflower plants still putting on a show.  By standing on a wall, I could just about photograph this one;  with the sun shining through the petals, I was struck by how beautiful the back of the flower is. It seemed an appropriate view to symbolise the last of the summer. 

This unseasonal heatwave is forecast to start fading soon, with it lingering the longest in the South East of England, and then we'll be forced to face the reality of October as it should be.  I noticed a heavy beading of dew on the cauliflowers so the night temperatures are low; not too long before we all have to think about night frosts and cloches, I think.  
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