Showing posts with label EoM View. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EoM View. Show all posts

1 Nov 2014

October, another good month

Pineapple sage - both leaves and flowers are edible.

Amazing. Only two months left until the end of 2014 and I've spent a chunk of yesterday morning watching a bee gathering nectar and pollen in warm sunshine. We've had the best of both worlds as autumn has surely arrived with wind, rain and slowly falling leaves but late summer is also just clinging on. I haven't even thought about putting the heating on yet or switching over to my winter duvet. October has been pretty decent, weather wise.

The morning's walk through the garden had the feel of a misty autumn morning, the sun not yet risen and the veg leaves silvered with dew. The spider webs seem to have disappeared for now, thank goodness.  I still haven't quite recovered from walking through a giant spider web spun between a tall privet hedge and my car. There was a delayed moment of realisation (and, yes, panic) when I saw a huge garden spider hanging from my hair close in front of my face. It was worse when it dropped and I couldn't find it as I was just off on a long journey. Hallowe'en, Shallowe'en - been there, done it.

Apparently a winter Pimms is available. Borage, the perfect accessory.

So, October finished on a gift of a warm sunny day. The soil in the garden is damp, making weeding a bit sticky (but quite achievable - take that, chickweed!) and the mild temperatures have prompted lots of growth, mostly flowers and herbs kicking out one last flush.  Most of the leaves have dropped from the fruit trees, the best borage plants ever are flowering in the garden - as are other edible flowers such as violets and edible daisies (Bellis perennis), and I'm still picking a few courgettes. I'm still waiting for signs of any saffron crocus flowers, so far only leaves but I can be patient. And the nasturtiums … more floriferous than ever. By the way, nasturtium flowers look and taste very nice with home-made mushroom soup.

I've lifted the last of the tomato plants and discovered the parsley sown companionably underneath - still tiny, will be lovely for next year. Likewise, I removed a courgette whose trunk had snapped and found the Cavolo Nero kale plants I'd sown from seed. I'd been wondering what had  happened to those; it's what happens when you sow to fill the gaps and don't expect your experimental Ikea bag grown courgettes (more of which later) to suddenly take off when planted out late in the season. (These are the ones that are still producing fruit now in November.)

A few bush bean pods were left for next year's seeds. The weather has been dry enough to leave them on the plant but I think now would be a good time to pull the plants out and hang the pods up to dry, leaving them any longer would be chancing it seeing as tiny snails are bulking up on the green buffet in my garden.

The big surprise of yesterday was seeing the first head on my broccoli plants. I was a bit slack with my brassicas this year, sowing seeds into modules in mid-May and then not potting the plugs on until end of June. These little plants then didn't go into the veg patch until early August. Privately thinking I'd left it a bit late, I remained hopeful and the weather was kind. Looks like I'll have broccoli after all which is great as it's a constant on my shopping list.  I've grown several types as they were labelled 'Autumn' broccoli, 'Christmas broccoli', 'Early Spring' broccoli - so, experimentation and weather notwithstanding, that should keep me in greens for a bit. The first head was cooked and eaten last night with a dusting of parmesan; it was sublime.


Not so good in the garden are sightings of Rosemary Beetle.  I don't even have to spot the culprit to know that they're there as the tops of the rosemary leaves are all munched. This does not make for a happy gardener as I rely on my herbs throughout the year, especially the evergreen ones in the winter months. At this time of year, the adults have mated, the larvae have hatched and all will feed on the rosemary foliage until spring when the larvae will drop into the soil, pupate and emerge in early summer to start the cycle again.  Can I offer some advice?  Squish with extreme prejudice. It's hard because they're very handsome beetles but the alternative is dead plants or pesticides. And I say no to both those options; they have no natural predators.

The beetles lurk on the stems but have a preference for the shoot tips as you can see.

Moving into November, I'm choosing seeds for next year and sowing sweet peas and erigeron (daisies). Next week I'll dig out my seed packets and have look at any veg that I can start off now - peas and broad beans, I think - that can sit the winter out in a cold greenhouse or under polythene. The benefit of starting hardier seeds off now is that a strong root system will develop even though the top of the plant is doing very little. Result: earlier crops. We'll see.

A Polka raspberry, still producing just a few berries. This may be the last.

Joining in with the Garden Share Collective where garden bloggers from around the world share news of their food growing gardens.

7 Sept 2014

Here we go September; Bye-bye August

I'm pleased August is over; it was too hot and too dry (unbelievably for the UK) and September is always so wonderfully lush - the penultimate hurrah of the season.  Without a tap in the veg garden here, the plants have had to struggle without water while we had nearly a month of no rain. My water butts ran dry in the first week; after that, the plants were on their own apart from a few daily cans of water going onto the tomatoes and asparagus beds. A friend on the top floor used to lower a hosepipe connected to the water supply in her flat. Since having new taps, the connector doesn't fit so I've been carrying water from my bathroom, two blocks and four flights of stairs away.

Shallow-rooted raspberry canes have really struggled with the lack of water and it shows in their leaves. Even the courgettes stopped fruiting and any courgettes that had formed simply yellowed on the plant. (They have slightly perked up since the rains came. The plants, that is, not the yellowing courgettes.) Not quite the bountiful harvest that I'd hoped for. I am thankful not to have to deal with gluts of beans and courgettes but a few more would have been nice - especially since the courgette chutney I made turned out to be delicious. I've a feeling those jars won't last long enough.

Just when I was completely despairing at the lack of water and I'd been out to buy a fourth hosepipe so that I could connect them up to reach the nearest tap (over 200 metres away), the wind picked up, the skies turned grey and it practically didn't stop raining for the last week of the month! Buckets left out to catch any rainfall filled overnight (or within an afternoon's rainfall).  I got caught out in a sudden shower a couple of weeks back and even my waterproof was soaked within minutes and my shoes waterlogged as the drains were unable to cope with the downpour causing huge lakes to form on the roads.  At least the garden was finally getting watered and seeds sowed between showers popped up within 48 hours!

Curly parsley and feverfew in the herb bed.

UK weather is notoriously variable but this past month has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous with  very little inbetween. At one point, I set out in sunshine and was being rained on by the time I reached the end of the road; as I turned around for home, hailstones of ice pounded down on me and I returned home as thunder and lightning rumbled across the skies. Just a normal British day? For a while, yes.

So how are things in the garden? Truthfully, only rosy-ish. It all looks very lush and green but there's very little to eat apart from masses of herbs and a handful of fruit. The greenery is supplied by giant rhubarb and courgette leaves, nasturtiums and herbs.

I've taken off all the lower leaves of the tomato plants so that the fruit can ripen. My mistake was to grow them grouped together in the asparagus bed. I'd read that toms and asparagus are ideal companion plants so thought it worth a try. In hindsight, I feel tomatoes are better grown in a row, spaced well apart where they see the sun. I'll still have a few tomatoes when they ripen but certainly haven't had plants dripping with trusses. Possibly the water thing again and I've lost a few branches to the strong winds we (also) had in August. The Indigo Rose black tomato, which I know many other bloggers have been growing, seems to have very late ripening fruit; heavy rains have split quite a few and the remaining trusses are only just turning now, at the beginning of September. I'll leave these as long as possible to see what flavour develops. Let's give them a fair trial.

Clockwise from left: Indigo Rose, Maskotka, Yellow Pear, Sungold.

The artichoke looks dead but I'm thrilled to see that there are new shoots coming up at the base. (I had been wondering whether it had suffered a premature death.) The bush beans are slowly starting to produce, a handful here and there, but nothing like the glut I was expecting - and the plants are still attracting black aphids. (I won't be sad to see the back of those come winter.) I haven't had any strawberries to speak of this year but ten raspberry canes have been producing a small bowlful about twice a week. Tall beans and cucamelons have been non-starters with the lack of water - or maybe I was tempting fate by installing an enormous 2 metre arch for them to scramble up.

By mid-August I noticed that every time I went to the garden, I found apples with one bite taken out of them before being tossed aside. Grrrrrr. To curb my frustration and thwart the miscreants, I decided to pick all the remaining fruit. The taste was okay (another 3 to 4 weeks would have been preferable)  and at least I have a few for purée, crumbles and chutney. They'll go nicely with my green tomatoes and courgette.

Kale 'Cavolo Nero'
Bush beans (delicious flat pods that will turn into red kidney beans if left)
Physalis (Cape Gooseberry/ground cherries)
Spring onions
Courgettes (the small newer leaves are delicious too, cooked and eaten as greens)
Nasturtium leaves and flowers
Herbs: parsley, rosemary, bay, oregano, thyme, lovage, lemon verbena

Looking forward - sown or planted out:
Plants of Romanesco cauliflower, broccoli and okra from seeds sown back in May and potted on.
I put wool slug pellets around them and cages over the top to deter pigeons. They've doubled in size in the past week.
Chilli plants, still ripening but turning the most amazing colours!

Spinach 'Nile' and Spinach 'Picasso',
Ruby Chard,
Cavolo Nero,
Celtuce (a cross between celery and lettuce)
French Breakfast radish
Rocket (aka Arugula)
Lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons and Salad Bowl)
Shimonita spring onions
Carrots (fingers crossed for some baby carrots before winter)
Beetroot (for overwintering)

Jobs to do:
Be vigilant! I squished some grey aphids off the broccoli yesterday and have seen butterfly eggs on a neighbour's cabbage leaves so netting the beds is the next step.
Chop back the strawberry top growth and pot up a few of the runners from Mara des Bois plants. These will replace the plants I was donated several years ago.
Move plants. I planted the lovage and pineapple sage too close to each other so one will have to be moved.
Make more chutney and jam. The rhubarb that I'm growing is Glaskins Perpetual. It has a reputation for  having a much longer season that other varieties and is looking really healthy. I'll try taking a few more stems for the freezer and for preserves - I've found a nice sounding recipe for Rhubarb, Rose and Cardamom jam. Very exotic!
Sow more spinach. I can never have enough of the stuff and the seeds sown last month are now being harvested as baby leaves.
Weeding! The dry weather gave me a month off this chore, now it's back to reality.

This post was destined for the monthly Garden Share Collective but I missed the link-in deadline. The other posts can be read here on Lizzie's Strayed from the Table blog.

9 Jul 2014

The plot thickens, actually … eomv June/July

There's no getting away from the fact that gardening is time consuming. Last year I didn't give the garden as much attention as it needed and, come summer, it showed. (To me, at least.) With that in mind, I've made more effort this year with the result that it's coming together very nicely and the veg garden is definitely plumping up with edibles.

Despite slugs, snails, aphids, kids and footballs, I'm making time to work on the garden and to enjoy it, because spare time is precious.  I still don't have enough time in the garden but every little bit is making a difference. Writing this summer post has given me pause to stop to think about why enjoying the garden this year is different.

My gardening obsession has gone way beyond growing a few beetroot and trying to identify plants. Six years of helping myself to the community garden space, training in garden design/horticulture and engaging with the wider gardening community via blogs, lectures and visits to shows and gardens has undoubtedly given me a lot more confidence in what I'm doing.

My ideas have changed as well. Instead of growing neat rows of lettuces and carrots for the larger community, I now grow only what I and my helpers like. At the start, I so wanted the community to join in that I grew veg as tempting giveaways. I've now come to my senses and identify what I love to eat, what I'd like to try but is expensive in the shops (if available at all) and what is better freshly picked so that I can use the space effectively. When the veg patch was just started there was, shall we say, confusion as to who could take the harvest. It's fair to say that one's now been sorted. (Helpers, gardeners and very small children only.)

I've learnt to think ahead with my seed sowing so that the garden can be used all year round and not just in the summer months. (I have kale, broccoli (hurrah!) and romanesco cauliflower plants ready to go into the ground now that the broad beans have been cleared.) And I've introduced more flowers, both for bio-diversity, colour and/or for eating so that other people who live here appreciate what I'm doing. (Flowering now: Feverfew, sweet peas, meadow flowers, lavender, anemones, geraniums, pansies, dianthus, day lilies and the ever present nasturtiums. Next month these should be joined by rudbeckia, echinacea, delphiniums, lupins and sunflowers.)  … :D

The result, this summer, is that the veg garden is full with lots of mange tout and peas, kale, courgettes, beans and tomatoes growing, brassica plants for the winter, fruit and herbs. Space is made for unusual edibles such as Cape Gooseberry, asparagus, artichokes, cucamelons, golden mange-tout and giant sugar snaps. I'm also not averse to removing plants that aren't working for me.  All last year's strawberry plants will be being torn out as I don't like the flavour (but the slugs do). This year's Mara des Bois strawberries are so much nicer, and I'm thinking of planting just a few standard strawberries, nothing fancy, just Elsanta or Cambridge Favourite. The new Polka raspberries are a revelation - large, firm, sweet. Perfect. Autumn Bliss raspberries, you've been warned.

These are early Autumn Bliss from last year's canes. 

The warm and wet spring was a mixed blessing: more pests but I was able to sow earlier; more sunshine and rain meant that my lettuces and salad leaves bolted as soon as they were ready to eat, even the baby leaves! Rows of radishes and beans have been slimed and munched before roots could form.

But all that doesn't matter now that mid summer is here because, on the plus side, I can nibble on mange-tout pods, peas, raspberries and strawberries as I water the garden in the morning. The peas have now been picked, podded, blanched and frozen but there's still time to resow for a second harvest. I'm going to resow broad beans as well; they won't set pods before the autumn cools but I should get a crop of bean tops which are delicious steamed and served with a knob of butter and a wave of salt and pepper. (The same way I cook kale, incidentally.)  Sometimes with a softly poached egg on top. Simple, delicious, seasonal.

In previous years, I've felt a sense of panic as the year marches on and I get behind with my sowing, thus missing out on winter veg. Dare I say, I'm a bit more organised this year?  Fruits and veg are appearing in manageable waves - so far there are no gluts, although I have seen baby courgettes starting to form.  And my winter veg are good sized, healthy plants currently hardened off ready to be planted.

The orange fruit of physalis form inside the green pod. 
When they're ready to be picked, the outer case turns brown and papery. 
Cape gooseberries are expensive to buy but easy to grow from seed.

As befits a midsummer edible garden, there's still plenty waiting in the wings. Container potatoes are flowering so should be ready soon - I might have a quick furtle to see what's in the bag. Balcony tomatoes are starting to flower and the outdoor tomatoes are growing really well; hopefully this means that they won't all fruit at once! Courgettes are appearing, tall beans, more giant mange-tout and winter veg are ready to be planted out. Braeburn apples are looking good for the autumn. Actually, these look more like cooking apples but they are definitely Braeburn!

I wasn't quick enough with the elderflowers this year. I walked high and low over Hampstead Heath and found just enough flowers to make about 3 litres of cordial, most now frozen in small plastic bottles until needed, but this was in the very last week of local flowering. It makes sense that the trees would flower according to their growing conditions and location; being urban, London is a few degrees warmer but, as I drove back up through the countryside from the Hampshire coast last week, I saw so many elders still with a few flowers that I had to stop myself pulling over in country lanes to pick more!  The up side is that I now know where all the elders are on the Heath; there's a huge amount of berries forming so I won't miss out on elderberries (or sloes!) later in the year.

Yes, it's shaping up to be a very good year.

This end of month post is linking up to The Garden Share Collective hosted by Lizzie at Strayed Table in Australia. The GSC is one year old this month (happy birthday!) and is a growing group of food gardening bloggers from across the world. (Australia, New Zealand, UK and now US.) If you want to join us in our end of month garden share, click this link to find out more. Click the logo below to see what other GSC bloggers are writing.

2 May 2014

April/May: … Celebrating the start of summer!

Yesterday, despite the rain, was the start of summer. For Celts, the beginning of May is Beltane, an ancient day marked by rituals that herald the onset of the summer months. I like the idea that summer has begun, luckily though it was raining heavily so I resisted dancing around outdoors with flowers in my hair.  Although it isn't feeling too summery today, I'm not complaining as we've had some fabulous warm weather during April which has warmed up the soil and brought sowing and planting out on a bit earlier.

I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying participating in the Garden Share Collective, hosted by Lizzie in Australia; not only can I read what other GSC writers are up to but I'm motivated to get on with doing things in the garden so I have something to show at the end of the month!  I can therefore proudly report that I have been getting on with it this month, helped hugely by being able to get outdoors without a coat!

First up, balcony 'potting shed':

The greenhouse staging that I bought last month is a perfect fit for my tiny balcony, an area less than 1.5 square metres. I also bought a bunch of nifty seed trays at one of the RHS hort shows, perfect for setting up a Cut and Come Again salad bar - a few seedlings will be pricked out to be grown on as individual lettuces.  They're the brown trays in the photo above and have a snap on water tray as part of each unit.

From left: Golden Streaks mustard, rocket, Broadleaf mizuna
So the balcony is looking very productive with seedlings of broadleaf mizuna, salad rocket (arugula), Golden Streaks mustard, Red Russian kale, Bubbles and Saladin lettuce, Lamb's Lettuce (aka corn salad/mache) and watercress. Seeds are taking about 8 days to germinate and they're just left, uncovered, outside on the balcony.  Inside, on the 24th, I sowed tomato seeds (late, I know!) of Gardener's Delight, Sungold, Yellow Pear and Maskotka, only two per module, into an unheated propagator; they all germinated within 4 days and are growing strongly.  In the same propagator, I also sowed cucamelon (a tiny oval cucumber, just germinated) and a range of broccoli as it seems to be the one veg I can't do without. With good germination, I should have 4 summer broccoli, 4 autumn/early winter broccoli and 4 purple sprouting broccoli for late winter/early spring next year.  It sounds a lot of sowing but the veg patch is not huge so, over time, I figured out it's best to sow less and have more variety.

In the Veg Garden:
Peas, courgettes (they finally appeared!), mange-tout, potatoes and a few of the sweet peas that were started on 11th March have been successfully planted out into the garden 10 days ago. I say successfully but I lost a courgette to slug attack; I noticed the nibblings and popped a cloche over the other one and brought the third back indoors (I only sowed three so that we didn't have a glut). A subsequent dusk slug hunt netted over 50 slugs of various sizes in 2 nights! That's the way to do it!

The broad/fava beans sown on 9th March are doing really well and now stand about 8 inches/20cm high. This cultivar (Karmazyn) grew to about 70cm last year so, if the weather holds, I expect to be seeing some flowers by the end of May.

My fledgling Asparagus bed will not be tempting my taste buds this year.  Just one spear per crown has appeared - but at least I know they all survived!  I'll let these grow, cut the fronds down in early winter, mulch and wait to see what happens next spring. I've read that asparagus should be given a bed to themselves, with nothing else growing in it. In my little patch, I need to use all the space effectively so I've resolved that dilemma by placing crops in pots in the spaces between the plants; I can't see why that won't work!

After a long wait, only one of my module sown bush beans germinated. With the temperatures outside rising, I decided to sow a bed of beans outside. The seeds went in on the 20th and there's nothing to be seen yet.  As my blog friend Flighty has been saying "Surely it's too early to plant beans?" I guess he's right!

Several times this past month a few neighbours have come out to help.  Luckily we have different skills: I like planting (and being in charge!), Frank is terrifically good at digging, Karen enjoys weeding and replanting, the children like watering and sowing seeds.  A very complementary set of skills! So, what did we achieve?  lots of raspberry runners have now been removed and the beds dug over, a mature horseradish plant was dug out - a huge job, carried out by Frank - quince and honeyberries were potted up, fennel and sweet cicely moved, another small brick path was laid (by me!) so that I can reach the raspberries easily without walking on the soil, wigwams of canes were built ready for the climbers and dozens of self-seeded ornamentals were relocated by Karen, mostly foxgloves, cowslips, primroses, rudbeckia and day lilies … and, it goes without saying (sort of), lots of weeding!

Clockwise from top left: Strawberries, cherries, tiny lemons, gooseberry bush, raspberries, honeyberries.
I'll write more about the fruit trees in my next 'tree following' post but, apart from the pear trees, the promise of tree fruit is looking very good - including my lemon tree although it will have to be a very small gin and tonic for those lemons!  I'm not sure if the gooseberry bush I planted last year will fruit but it's very leafy and green; there are also a couple of tiny fruits on last year's honeyberry bush; the Physalis (cape gooseberry) is re-emerging; I should get a few redcurrants, the raspberries are about to blossom and there is a sea of strawberry flowers under the fruit trees, around the edges of the raised beds, in one of the raised beds, etc, etc. I grow a variety called 'Rambling Cascade' (from Victoriana Nurseries in Kent) and it's certainly living up to its name. Apparently the runners can be trained up canes, trellises and trees - I might have to give that a try! We certainly won't be going short of strawberries this year! I just hope I get there before the garden pests!

So that's where we are at the end of April.  Going into May I still need to find the time to fence around the veg patch island which Frank has promised to help with.  Crops still to sow outside are beetroot, carrots, salad onions; I have 3 40-cell trays waiting to receive flower seeds and I want to start off some climbing beans and more squash indoors.  Hopefully I'll be potting on my tomatoes by the end of the month and able to start off some basil and other herbs on the balcony.

Till next time, I'll leave you with a glimpse of my veg patch flowers this week - there's a purple theme going on and the lovely tulips are finally on their way out (although I may have a few more to come in May!).  Happy gardening - and congratulations to our host Lizzie on the birth of her baby daughter!

6 Apr 2014

March/April: Keeping up!

~ Rhubarb, cowslips, cornflower (Centaurea montana) and cowslip seedlings to transplant ~

There's never enough hours in the day is my mantra as the gardening year starts up in earnest. March can sorely test a gardener's resolve to resist sowing too early.  As fruit trees come into blossom, fingers are crossed against the possibility of frost. It's been such a brilliant spring for blossom and, for once, beneficial bugs too. This year, with exceptionally mild spring temperatures, I've also been on the lookout for pests such as aphids, baby slugs and vine weevil grubs in pots.  My searches have already proved successful; as I garden completely organically, this is an area to keep on top of.

I didn't completely resist the urge to sow: French beans, peas, mange tout and courgettes were sown into modules on the 11th March, with the intention of having plants ready to go out at the end of April. The peas are growing strongly and are ready to be potted on, the beans and courgettes are so inactive that I'm wondering if I actually sowed any in the modules! A gentle poke around may be in order.  It doesn't matter if they don't germinate because there's plenty of time to resow. Once the first lot of peas and beans are planted out, I'll sow another lot to have fresh veg over a longer period.  I'm writing all this down in my little black book - it's amazing how quickly the details get forgotten.  For this first round, I'm growing (or not, as the case may be) four each of Bingo, Sugar Ann and Delikatess peas, four Golden Sweet mange tout (a tall yellow podded climber), two yellow courgettes, two striped Italian courgettes and eight Canadian Wonder bush beans. All of these have been started on my balcony in an unheated propagator.

~ Sage, garden mint, globe artichoke, wild garlic, flat and curly parsley ~

Meanwhile, down in the veg patch, herbs that were cut back are regrowing strongly, a raised bed has been sown with Karmazyn broad beans - 23 in total, the 24th space was already occupied by a bean I'd found in last year's bed and shoved into the soil last December. It was a tiny seedling when I planted the other beans and is still the only thing showing in that bed. It's only been three weeks but, given the recent warm weather, I was expecting to see something other than last year's sunflower seeds germinating.  Dare I say that some typical April showers would be helpful?
(Update: as I'm late posting this, but typed it last weekend, the broad beans are now showing!)

Sweet peas sowed on 24th February were all growing nicely by 17th March, the new Sarah Raven seeds giving 100% germination and being the quickest off the mark. They've all now got their fourth set of true leaves and have been pinched out to encourage sturdy bushier plants with more flowers.  I'm following the advice given by Wellywoman in her book The Cut Flower Patch to maximise my chances of success!

~ Borage, pear blossom, tulips, apple blossom ~

The pear and plum trees are currently covered in blossom, just ahead of the cherry and apple trees. It's a glorious sight that the bees are aware of - there's also a few self-seeded borage plants in the fruit tree border for extra nectar for hungry bumbles. The tulips under the trees are just open while February's narcissus are still blooming!  At this stage, I'm quietly optimistic of a good fruit harvest this year.

Gooseberries, raspberries, marshmallow

Salad news: I've sown a small raised bed with a selection to be used as 'cut and come again' salad leaves: rainbow Pak Choi, spinach Reddy, Bull's Blood beetroot and Lamb's lettuce. The Pak Choi has germinated well; any thinnings will be transplanted and grown on elsewhere. As soon as I've built another raised bed, that too will be sown with more lettuce varieties, this time to grow on into larger plants.

Upstairs on my balcony, I've added a couple of window boxes for more quick pick salad. I've repotted the lemon verbena; this plant would grow into a large bush if planted out into a border but I like to keep it nearby to pick the leaves for tea.  The little chives plant that I planted on from a supermarket buy last year died back over winter but is putting on good strong growth this year - must remember to keep watering it! A couple of days ago, I bought some inexpensive slimline greenhouse staging  - 4 wire shelves on my sheltered balcony mean that I can start seed sowing in earnest without clogging up my windowsills.  Space, the final frontier.

My big job for April will be to try and fence all the way round the Veg Patch island. Having tried fencing off individual beds with strong plastic netting, I've found that there's one bed where cats are still getting in - and it's not buried treasure they're leaving behind. Coated wire netting seems to be keeping animals out of individual beds, but then it becomes an effort to weed the fenced area. Fencing around the perimeter is the next option to try. I'm hoping that this latest plan will work; we're all so fed up with picking up poo that unless this is sorted, it could be curtains for any ground level food growing.

On a much more positive note, Victoriana Nurseries have donated a quince tree to the community garden!  That brings my fruit tree total to ten trees.  If nothing else, that's an achievement that I'm very proud of.  The quince is a bare root tree so, until I've decided where to position it, I've planted it into a large pot of multi purpose compost where it will be well watered and happy.  Any trees supplied with bare roots should be given a good soak in a bucket of water to rehydrate the roots and then planted as soon as possible; ours will be planted this weekend.
(Another update: the quince tree is in, planted with a team effort on Friday.)

So what's in store for April?  Next on the agenda, after fencing, is weeding. That's the price I've paid for not cutting off the Orach seedpods promptly.  Seedlings are growing in the fruit tree border  and popping up by the thousand.  I want to sow some meadow flowers under the fruit trees and don't want them, or the trees, competing with the orach seedlings for nutrients so they'll have to go.  (I might just keep one or two … !)  I've got herbs, honeyberries and raspberry canes to plant out and seed sowing on my balcony will begin in earnest this week so there should be some progress to report by the end of next month!

Happy gardening days are here again!

This post is written to link in with Lizzie's Garden Share Collective over in Australia where they've been glad of some rain after a very dry 'summer'. Lizzie is still blogging despite being days away from giving birth so I wish her well with her labour and hope it all goes smoothly. xx

29 Mar 2014

The Edible Garden Show at Ally Pally

As the foster-gardener of the Urban Veg Patch, and therefore grower of edibles, I've long wanted to attend the Edible Garden Show and see what it's all about.  This year the show has been relocated from Stoneleigh in the Midlands to Alexandra Palace in North London, a short drive from my home, so off I went.

Ally Pally is a huge building, high on a hill with extensive views over North London; the show is located in the south side of the building as I found after I'd walked all the way round ... past the fitness club, past the lake, past the ice rink, past the café, past the BBC tower, past the car park that I couldn't find - you get the idea.

Once inside, the show was a visual feast, with no aspect of home-raised food neglected. As I wandered around looking at the exhibits, there were many products that I recognised and quite a few that I felt had a lot of potential for education.  As ever with these shows, there was plenty of opportunity to chat with the exhibitors and it's this access to information which is so valuable to gardeners.  Talks and workshops run throughout the day, staged in 'theatres', one stage for cookery, two for gardening and a poultry area. James Wong was a particularly effective speaker in the Experts Theatre and I managed to have a chat with him about his new book that he's currently writing and researching with the RHS (working title 'RHS Flavour Growers Manual', due out next year).

In the Poultry Area, a small group of school children clustered around a warming pen for 3 day old chicks, anxious for a turn to hold one. For anyone thinking of keeping poultry, this area was sure to excite. The sound of chickens, ducks and gobbling turkeys filled the air, with advice on hand about the characteristics of different breeds, how to house and care for them and, of course, plenty of equipment to buy.

After a good look round, several glasses of water (it was very warm in the building!) and lots of chat, there were four exhibits that I was especially interested in.  Compost Cocktails, Dragonfli (bees by post), Plantspacer and Meadow in my Garden.  I felt that these had definite possibilities.

The Dark Art of Soil Composition ... completely unlike  Hogwart's potions room
First, Compost Cocktails: New for this show and hosted by the company behind J Arthur Bowers and New Horizons composts.  In a booth with shelves filled with jars of powders and potions, tubs of dark crumbly mixes and a 'cauldron' for mixing, this fun idea educates in the dark arts of soil composition.  In short, how to create the ideal soil conditions for growing particular crops. So if you want perfect carrots, plump cabbages or luscious fruit, you'll know the right soil to use - basically getting the NPK ratio right for your crops.  (NPK = Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium = Roots, shoots, fruits).  This was something that visiting school children were eager to engage with, getting their hands into the soil, learning about peat and environmental impact, but mostly having a lot of fun mixing soils to a recipe for successful growing and turning the drums to mix.  Multi-sensory learning, works every time.  It's a different way of presenting soil composition (including peat, coir and green compost) and, after more trialling in local schools, the company hope eventually to take the idea to the RHS.  Personally, I could see potential for both school gardening clubs and entry level horticultural courses. The premise of mixing soils to suit a purpose is exactly how the company makes the bagged soil available to the public. What could be more important than soil?

Next up, Plantspacer from Squared Gardening.  This is one for the novice veg grower, school gardening club or, indeed, anyone with limited growing space.  A set of three square templates punched with circles as planting guides; pictures show which veg suits each template and how many of a chosen plant can fit in that area.  The templates also group together plants that have similar nutrient requirements. The principles of square foot gardening made simple.  Actually, I think I need some of those as I always slightly scoff at the planting distances on seed packets and weeding between plants is not my forté.

And so to pollination.  Bees.  Live bees were at the show.  Unsurprisingly, of great interest to the school children. How do the bees get out, asked one.  Hmmm, that's just a little too much information, I thought.  Curiosity got the better of me and I had a chat with Julian Ives, proprietor of the company, Dragonfli.  The idea is less about making honey and more about pollination.  With a hive and colony of bees in the garden, good pollination of fruit blossom and vegetables will improve yields.  A colony and hive is provided by the company; during the season, new queen bees are produced by the colony to fly off and create new colonies in the wild. I wondered how customers felt about having to replace their colony every year (the old one naturally dies) but was assured the company has a very good record of repeat orders and was becoming popular as a learning resource for schools. I had some concerns over packaging up bees to send in the post; wouldn't that be traumatic for them?  Apparently not. The bees are sent by courier in a sealed box with food and water for the journey and would be quite happy for several days.  The company also supply solitary bees, seeds and organic pest controls.  Personally, I love sitting in my summer garden, surrounded by the droning of busy bees and would love a small hive.  ... Although, perhaps not in a community garden.

Still on the topic of pollination - and sited next to the bee hive stand - was Meadow in My Garden.  I encountered this exhibitor at another show last weekend and was immediately taken with their product, packets of site or colour specific grass-free wildflower seeds to attract beneficial insects to the garden.  I'm improving the area under my fruit trees with herbs and flowers this year.  A tricky area given that it's shaded in the summer when the trees are in full leaf so I bought a packet of short mixture Tree Foot seeds.  This should give me a display of 24 flowers including Catchfly, Swan River Daisy, Carpet Flower (Sweet Alyssum) and Corn Marigold, none taller than 40cm.  Mmm, lovely ... and because the seeds are a mix of annuals and short lived perennials, I can look forward to at least two summers from my floral meadow.  It helps to know what you want though as there is a massive choice - surely not a problem!  Mixes for dry soil, wet soil, shade, bees, butterflies, aphids, shade, drought, planters or larger borders ... they're all there.  I have a larger box which I'll probably use for a spot of guerrilla gardening around the neighbourhood and, looking at their website, I'm drawn to the blue mix of white cosmos, blue cornflowers and plum coloured scabious.

Kirsten of Heart and Home, Colapz cans, Veg Trug pockets

Other ideas spotted that are worth a mention are brightly coloured collapsible water cans - perfect for car boots when going to the allotment, or using as a bucket when camping. I resisted but would like one for my tiny balcony as it folds up to a disc just a couple of inches thick.

Also brightening up a vertical growing space are these felt grow pockets from Veg Trug.  They're plastic lined so allegedly won't leak or stain and the water seeps down through the stitching so that the plants aren't waterlogged.  I remain unconvinced that the roots will have enough space and they would certainly need daily watering but, for someone with no growing space, this could just be the answer as they can be hung outside a window or on a tiny balcony. (Um, like mine.)  Probably useful for cut and come again salad leaves, small herbs, strawberries and nasturtiums.  Interested?  Here's the link.

I also want to mention the lovely Kristen, above, who runs a small family business called Retro Heart and Home. She sells wonderful wooden products, such as the highly covetable peg rails made by her husband, and sources lovely products with a Scandinavian feel such as these high quality linen mix dishcloths. Everything she sells is a product that she loves to have in her own home.  Recently, a certain very well known department store linked to a supermarket (allegedly) reproduced her christmas display exactly.  So, if you want beautiful objects for your home, don't pay department store prices - go to Kristen first and support small businesses!

If you haven't been to the show before, I'd say it was well worth it for the talks and workshops alone. Take some cash as there's masses of retail therapy in the form of tools, organic pest control, magazines, hoops and netting, gloves, raised beds, seeds (Suttons, DT Brown, Thompson and Morgan), herbs, fruit, plants ... and food, lots and lots of food. And a café and free parking.

Half price tickets to the 2015 show!  I see from the event guide that, until the end of April, register on the Edible Garden Show website and you'll receive newsletters and how to get this great offer.

1 Mar 2014

Bud-wiser (February end of month)

Here in the UK, after a month of storms and rain - and the occasional sunny day - there is a palpable sense of gardeners gearing up for spring and the advent of a new sowing year.  In horticultural terms, March is the nominal end of winter but the past few months have been noticeably mild and the weather here could go either way, with the threat of sudden frosts and outbursts of caterpillars never far away.

Seen lurking on a Festuca glauca grass yesterday - lurking with intent?

With the end of month post in mind, I took a walk around the veg patch gardens yesterday in the chill sunshine to check on progress. It's good to know what might need to be protected if we do have a cold snap.

Clockwise from top left: cherry, plum, pear, cherry.  Apples not showing yet.
First stop was the fruit trees.  A Twitter chum told of cherry blossom in Bristol yesterday; no such thing here but no need for me to be envious - I'm pleased to see that the buds on my east-facing trees are, sensibly, only just beginning to open.  The plum tree is looking good with lots of new growth which I hope will be fruiting spurs (how to tell?).  Please, please, after 6 years, let this be the year that I get some fruit.  I do love a freshly picked Victoria plum! (Ditto for the pear tree.)

Next up, raspberry canes: I've left one old cane at 40cm in each batch every year and found this is a good way of having early fruit, with the new canes producing fruit into later summer. As expected, the old stems have fat buds about to burst into leaf, the new canes are just bright green leaves sprouting out of the soil. Quite a few a long way from the parent plant; they'll have to go.  I grow Autumn Bliss, a popular primocane variety (late summer fruiting, no need to tie in the branches), but have been increasingly disappointed with the quality of the fruit, although last summer the small fruit was perfect for jam :)  Funnily enough, the children don't seem to have the same high expectations that I do.  This year though I'm raising my game and last weekend I bought 5 new canes of Polka; this is another primocane that allegedly has large, juicy berries. Keep the faith.

Soft fruit doing well: new rhubarb, honeyberry, blueberry, strawberry.  
Glaskins Perpetual rhubarb is showing a lot of promise at soil level.  I am envious of those that are forcing rhubarb to enjoy earlier in the season.  As I have only have the one rhubarb, I'm reluctant to weaken the plant to appease my impatience!  Solution: I planted two little Red Champagne crowns last weekend, bought very cheaply from the supermarket.  An absolute bargain if (when!) they thrive and I'll have lovely big leafy plants in my borders as a bonus.

Last year I bought a Honeyberry plant at the RHS spring show. They're an alternative to blueberries but don't need to be grown in ericaceous soil.  Too good to be true? I found out afterwards that at least two are needed for fruit to set.  They're not self-fertile so last year's plant has now been joined by 3 little chums. I would have bought only one but the offer was for a job lot. They've arrived and need to be potted on. (Jobs for March!)  What with the redcurrant and gooseberry bushes (one of each) and quite a few strawberries, the veg patch will be soft fruit central come summer.  With a bit of luck.

A splash of pink for spring!

 I don't know if it was just that the sun was shining, that it felt good to be outdoors and that I lingered over really taking note but it really felt that spring was breaking over the garden.  Heucheras putting out new leaves, paperwhites, narcissus and violets in flower, tulips coming up, honeysuckle on the way in, Viburnum x bodnantense still flowering but now with tiny leaves. (I must remember to move the clematis by the Viburnum as the leaf canopy gives a lot of shade.)

Herbs that died back (or should have done!) are reappearing (wild garlic, sweet cicely, comfrey, tarragon, mint, golden oregano) and the blackcurrant sage (which needs to be dug up and moved) has new flower buds.  Flat leaved parsley has become an enormous (but still edible) mound, lavender has been cut back and moved under the fruit trees, marshmallow is sprouting (top photo, below) - as are the spuds chitting on my windowsill indoors.

A lesson learned from the Great Dixter seed sowing study day was the advantage of sowing some hardier plants in the late summer, planting them out in the autumn or letting them overwinter in a cold frame. This gets them off to a good start in the spring as a strong root system will have had time to develop.  In the veg patch gardens, this theory is supported with August sown Cerinthe (quite my favourite plant at the moment as the stems look fabulous in a vase), Jacob's Ladder polemoniums (self seeded and growing strongly), Borage (about to flower), Cavalo Nero and white onions. I've even used some of the onions in a tomato sauce today along with parsley from my balcony. It's that mild winter, again.

Globe artichoke (top left), Tete a tete daffs with violets, Cerinthe major purpurescens

Considering I wasn't expecting to find much growing in the garden, this end of month review has shown how much the garden has evolved - not just as a 'veg patch', which was the original motivation for reviving the space, but as a proper garden.  All this and seeds still to be sown! I'm getting quietly excited by the year ahead.

I'm linking to both The Patient Gardener and Garden Share Collective for this end of month view. Thanks to both for hosting and sharing!

3 Feb 2014

One month down, eleven to go

 ~Spring, at last? ~
January has provided the perfect weather … for choosing seeds and planning the garden from the comfort of a cosy sofa.  An occasional glimpse of sunshine has kept the spirits bolstered but mostly the month will be remembered for an excess of rain with one or two storms thrown in for good measure.

The first weekend of February has been wonderful though - clear blue skies for two consecutive mornings so I've been able to not only get some much needed work done in the garden but also to take a look at the current state of play. All photos were taken on Saturday morning during the inspection.

I wasn't expecting much - this is the UK in January! - but the garden is now in its fifth year as 'the veg patch' and slowly we've built it up year on year.  The herb beds have always done well but the mild winter has allowed the parsley, marjoram and thyme to keep going, although the Sweet Cicely died right back. Tiny shoots are appearing on the tarragon and mint plants and the blackcurrant sage has been flowering like this (below) since autumn.  It's so pretty that I'm going to try and take a few cuttings to propagate it.  Fennel regrowth is vigorous and rosemary maintains the evergreen backbone of the herb bed.  One of the jobs on my list for February is to move the lovage I planted last year;  it's in the wrong place as I haven't allowed it enough room to spread which may be a good thing as it's a big plant!

On the veg front, I have onions and kale (Cavalo Nero); the kale is still small having been planted out quite late in the autumn but will quickly catch up now and the onions are the tiddlers from last year that I left in the ground.  I assume they're edible, if not they'll flower and make a very nice lunch for visiting bees!  The globe artichoke (Violette de Provence) is looking good - when that fruits this year, it will be the first time I've tasted artichoke but, for looks, it's one of my favourite plants in the garden. The physalis and marshmallow plants from last year are also showing strong signs of regrowth (as is my 'Glaskins Perpetual' rhubarb) and will need to be planted or potted on.

And then there's the flowers. At this time of year it's all in the detail.  Last year I was desperate to establish a clump of proper violets - edible flowers, y'know - so ordered plug plants of Viola odorata from Victoriana Nurseries. I let them grow on in a large planter as I didn't want to lose them to a passing animal; now they're strong enough to survive on their own so I'll plant them out under the fruit trees where it will be nice and shady in the summer months. The flowers shouldn't appear until late February but I've got one or two nodding violets already. It's that mild winter again.

Elsewhere, one large self-seeded Cerinthe has been flowering for weeks (I pulled several others out today as they'd flopped across paths), geraniums planted at the beginning of last summer are reflowering, strange twisted borages display wind-battered blue blooms and a bed of polyanthus sing out with their bright pink petals.  I planted those for a bit of spring colour as I didn't think there'd be anything else and tucked a row of saffron crocus down the middle of the bed. I won't see any crocus flowers (or saffron stamens) until the autumn when they'll be flowering next to the (edible) dianthus flowers - the two spiky clumps in the pic below.

Oh yes, and there's my old faithful, the cowslip (Primula veris) as shown in the top picture.  That photo  seems to sum up a spring day for me; inexplicably, I've had the tune 'Dawn' from Pride and Prejudice running around my head all day since I took that shot, probably because it made a beautiful soundtrack to my walk around the garden in winter sunshine. It's a rather nice piece played on the piano (one there for Pianolearner!), have a listen:

So what else?  The weekend saw the raspberry canes chopped back, with the old canes bundled up to be used as pea sticks in a couple of weeks. Mint and comfrey have been repotted into larger pots, strawberry plants have been pulled out - I have way too many of them and the fruit wasn't that great. I'm left with the Rambling Cascade strawberries that I had two years ago from Victoriana and some Mara des Bois woodland strawberries. (Tiny but with an intense flavour.)  Traditional spring bulbs are beginning to show - one or two narcissi are about to flower, bluebell leaves are pushing through as are the tête-a-tête daffs planted last spring so I'm hoping for a show of those in a few weeks. And I'm thrilled that a small team of us managed to get over a hundred tulip bulbs planted in December - that really is something to look forward to!  I also cleared and netted one bed, only another four to go!

~ Nothing is wasted: raspberry canes ready to be used as pea supports. ~
One last thing.  In recent years, we've had very chill weather in early Feb. I'm now hoping that this isn't on the cards for this year as my plum tree has got lots of fat buds on newly grown spurs - could this be the year the tree finally fruits? I'm actually quite excited at the prospect of what's in store this year.

I'm joining in with the Garden Share Collective for this end of month post. There are bloggers from Australia, New Zealand and UK taking part; it will be interesting to see what's happening elsewhere in the world!
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