30 Mar 2011

Thrilled ...

I have to tell you I'm feeling highly delighted today;  Would you just look at this blossom!  This Conference Pear was planted as part of the 'mini-orchard' in November 2009 on a bitterly cold day, immediately after clearing the choking ivy.  After an anxious wait through snow-filled winter days, a few buds proved it had survived its first winter.  Not much else happened in 2010.  After seeing this, I'm tentatively looking forward to eating some delicious home-grown pears from this 18 month old tree later this year.

Stuff you might like to know...
  • The pear trees were supplied on semi-dwarf rootstock so shouldn't grow taller than 10 feet.  (A pear tree in a nearby park is SO tall you couldn't reach the fruit even with a high ladder!)  The planting holes were part filled with good rich compost as the existing soil in the walled flower borders was pretty tired.  
  • Fruit trees should be left for their first year, with all blossom pruned off, so that all energy goes into establishing a strong root system.  
  • Second year trees may need feeding with potassium (for fruit and flowers) and/or nitrogen for growth. I'll use dried poultry pellets for our pear trees which is the organic option.  They'll also benefit from deep mulching around the tree with organic matter (such as leaf mould or garden compost) in mid to late spring but make sure the mulch is applied at least 10cm away from the tree to stop the bark rotting.  This will help to preserve moisture around the roots in the summer. 
  • RHS offers more detailed advice on this topic here.

29 Mar 2011

Funny ...

Of the requests (mostly ignored) that I get for promotional links on this blog, this one got my attention - for all the wrong reasons.

Subject:  Congratulation : Your Blog Have Choose For Featured At Bed Comforter Sets !
This is Shiela (sic) from bedcomfortersets.me.uk
We stumbled on your blog while searching for Bed Comforter Sets related information. We operate the largest Bed Comforter Sets website featuring more than 30,000 blogs. Our site averages 200,000 uniques visitors per month. Based on your blog's popularity and other factors, we have featured your blog at bedcomfortersets.me.uk.
We would be grateful if you could add our details to your blogs main page.

Hmm.  Now, what could I have said to that?  Perhaps:
Dear Shiela,
Thanks for your interest - I think you might have ever-so-slightly missed the point.  Nice bedlinen to comfort my raised beds? Now that really would spoil my veg rotten. ; )
Urban Veg Patch

On another (completely unrelated) note, here's a picture of a rather fetching asparagus shoot that I found in the vegpatch this morning.  Probably should have been picked before now but will be cooked by 7 tonight.

22 Mar 2011

Sunflower Challenge 2011

Last year I encouraged the Veg Patch Kids to grow sunflowers, just for the love of growing spectacular plants.  We planted them in a row against a warm sunny wall where their large yellow blooms nodded gaily at passers-by and drew some very complimentary comments.  (The Veg Patch sits in a 'sunken' garden so the flowers, despite being over 6' tall, were at eye level!)

We'll do the same this year (but, hopefully, with lots more flowers planted).  It's such a fun thing to do with children that nearly everyone does it and, if you haven't got your seeds yet, can I point you in the direction of a Sunflower Challenge that's being run to raise funds for Compton Hospice?  The name will only be familiar to people in the West Midlands.  As this is where one of my sisters lives, I can vouch for this being a very worthwhile cause.  I know it through the annual fund raising efforts of local people;  in my sister's street, a friend and neighbour makes legendary jams and chutneys from her brother-in-law's allotment and sells the lot in aid of Compton Hospice.

For a £2 donation, which buys you sunflower seeds, enter the competition (as a family, school or group) and be in with a chance to win lovely prizes.  Or do it just for fun, knowing that the beauty growing in your garden is making a difference to someone's life.

More info about the competition here - and this is where you'll also find an e-book of sunflower activities to do with the kids, download for free.

13 Mar 2011

The forgiveness of nature

This is what lures me back to the garden:  despite a lack of motivation/time to tend to the veg patch over the winter months, I recently discovered that I've nevertheless been rewarded by a small crop of extremely beautiful, small and tasty Romanesco cauliflowers.  The semi-neglected plants had persevered to produce perfect and stunning little fractal florets, very pleasing to the eye and extremely pleasing to the palate when steamed and served with a light and creamy cheese sauce*.  I felt almost mean cutting them down and eating them after so much effort (on their part) through cold winter months but, given the delicious flavour, will definitely be growing them again.  (Particularly as they practically grow themselves.)

A quick search online tells me that because they're part of the Brassica family, they're known in France as a cabbage (chou), in Germany as Pyramid Cauliflowers and in Italy as broccolo Romanesco (broccoli).  Thereby demonstrating the diversity of the species Brassica oleracea L.  Where would I be without Google?
• • • • • • • • •
* I usually make my cheese sauce by adding a variety of cheeses to a basic Bechamel (white) sauce: a farmhouse cheddar, perhaps some Gruyere or Pecorino but this time I used cheddar with a little bit of Fortnum's Stilton which goes very nicely when teamed with cauliflower or broccoli.

7 Feb 2011

A big pile of ...

Of all the wonderful attractions that North London offers, my current favourite has to be the City Farm. Yep, I just love it.  I'm a simple soul at heart.

The non-urban dweller may not appreciate the full impact of being able to pop in to a working farm on a regular basis with small children.  We smell and hear it before we get there - chickens, geese and ducks wander freely around the yard.  A pair of pigs rootle happily in squelchy mud, horses are saddled ready to be exercised around the neighbouring roads, goats wander over to say hello and sheep nurture their spring lambs in fields under the railway arches.  Three orphaned cows are constantly pestered by crowing cockerels and soon frogs will come to spawn in the pond.

Great stuff, and yes I do know a rhyme or song for every animal (and sing them).  But my favourite view is this:  a great big pile of steaming poo. Isn't it marvellous? (And, yep, there's a song for this too.)

Well, not so much poo exactly as horse manure and stable sweepings which, as we know, will rot down to very useful soil improver. A sight to gladden any gardener's heart and free for the taking (as long as you ask nicely first and then they'll bag it for you, or so I'm told).

I mention this simply to illustrate that in the Veg Patch's third growing year, our thoughts our turning to muck and soil which is just how it should be at this time of year.

27 Jan 2011

It's been a while ...

Well, I'm back.  I've noticed that quite a few bloggers step out for a while in the winter months, being busy catching up with real non-gardening life, I guess.  For me, it's because there's been absolutely nothing to report.  What with the weather having been unforgiving for so long and any good gardening days invariably clashing with my work days.  And do you know what?  It's been quite nice to not have to think about writing up non-events in my online 'diary'.  (News that my gardening catalogues have arrived and I've idly marked a few interesting seeds for the year ahead is hardly riveting, is it? )

I confess I've been giving some thought to letting it all go.  I do try to be upbeat about things but, looking back over the last year, gardening seemed to be fraught with problems to be overcome rather than a source of pleasure.  Looking forward, I can see the same issues waiting for me:  no outside tap for watering, foxes and cats waiting to dig it all up, neighbours helping themselves without helping.  Really, is it any wonder that I long for a nice large back garden to call my own?

• • • • • • • •
P.S.  Since writing the above, my sanity has been rescued by a friendly neighbour who has come outside to support me with tidying up the post-winter veg patch.  My intention was to clear the beds ready for any growers who might be interested but, in doing so - and finding strawberries and herbs springing back into life, I've started to consider what I enjoyed most about last year's growing season and may be here for a while yet - albeit concentrating this year on gardening with the children.  

Here's Archie (a very reliable and enthusiastic assistant) helping with clearing the monster beetroot/s.

3 Nov 2010

An unexpected victory…

:: Trick or Treaters from The Nightmare before Christmas (6 inch pumpkin) ::
If only I hadn't succumbed to the 'flu, last weekend would have been just marvellous! Remember the pumpkin carving at Fortnums that I wrote about? My sister, nieces, their kids, my son, me - all got together for the day and entered our respective pumpkins. My son and I swiftly carved a couple of pumpkins in the morning (mine, above) before heading off for lunch whilst the rest of the family put a bit more preparation into it, going out to select their pumpkins from a nearby farm:

… and then devoting an evening to the carving. It paid off: I'm thrilled (and very proud) to announce that my niece Kate carried off the first Golden Pumpkin Award in the shape of a bespoke Fortnum's broomstick! Here she is, collecting her prize from Fortnum's jovial judge Simon who dreamt up and organised the whole shebang.

She also won the luxury Windsor Hamper; what luck! we had a sort of pre-nup agreement that whoever won would divvy up the spoils between the family. That was a pretty solid deal for the rest of us as Kate is generally known as a luck magnet. I've got my eye on that hamper basket ;) (fat chance mate!) …although I'd happily settle for the Magnifici florentines and the caviar instead!

The standard of entries was quite overwhelming; the competition was opened up to double the numbers - I think there were over 150 entries, some of whom obviously took the whole thing very seriously:

This King of the Wild Things was carved into an Atlantic Giant, with extra stalks added. Impressive! But it didn't win because it failed in one of the categories - luminosity;  the carver hadn't hollowed it out.  So there you are, hot tip to remember for next year. 

Other pumpkins were very well carved (top right: ma boy's carving of Oogly Boogly, top left: Cheshire Cat by my niece, Jen):

(Sorry, had to get those two in!)  Here's a couple more that totally appealed to me, they were so quirky - and of course included plenty of veg and flowers!

 Every table in the Ground Floor Gallery restaurant was covered in lit pumpkins as the evening got darker (wolfman, catwoman, haunted houses) and contestants with their families feasted on complimentary snacks and drinks: mulled wine or soft fruit coolers, pumpkin risotto (they've promised me the recipe, it was mega-tasty), sausage pumpkin puff pastry slices, chocolate chilli cream mousse - really, there was no need to make supper when I got home!  But I expect what you all really want to know is…  what did the winning pumpkin look like?

Trick or Treat, dearie?
(And, clever girl, she made the giant sweets on top and filled the inside with sweets and fairy lights!)  What?  Me, biased?  Surely not!!  Ha, ha.  Well done Kate!!

P.S. I hope that next year I'll see a few London based veg gardeners there with home-grown carved pumpkins?  And yes, I'm getting over the 'flu although I suspect it's all downhill towards a filthy cold.  So annoying! So much to do in the garden!
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