Saturday, 27 December 2008

Moon Planting

Some people believe plants grow best if they are planted according to the phase of the moon. There are some books and charts that explain why this might be so. Anyway, I decided to take part in a trial for the early planting of tomatoes, which according to the charts are best planted today or tomorrow as they are fruiting plants. I have planted 3 seeds each of Tigrella, Sunburst, Green Tiger and French Black. They are currently sitting in the heated propagator on the windowsill.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

More Chilli Jam (Recipe included)

The weather is pretty mild today, and dry too, but I can't get outside so instead I decided as I didn't have any home grown tomatoes I would try the jam recipe with tomato juice. To save work I just cut the stalks off the chillies, put them into the tomato juice, quartered the apples and stewed the lot together. It means the jam hasn't got individual bits of chilli in, but it still tastes good. I think this lot is hotter still, but the chillies might have been dried a bit, so 100g may have been more fruits than last time. The jam itself is darker red, but this is because the tomato juice is darker than the home grown, probably from plum tomatoes. Buying the juice worked out cheaper than buying tomatoes this time of year, so it cuts the cost of the pressies. I decided to give my brother and his wife a selection of cheeses and a jar of the jam. She likes cheese, he likes the jam, so they will both be happy.
Recipe for Chilli Jam
  • 1.5kg tomatoes stewed, sieved and the juice made up to 3 pints, or 3 pints bought tomato juice
  • 100g chillies (stalks removed, easiest done with scissors)
  • 1kg bramley apples (cut into pieces, with skin and core included)
  • 500g (1lb) of sugar to 500ml (1 pint) juice, do not mix the measures!
For jam with bits of chilli, using gloves, remove the pith and seeds and chop the flesh. The pith and seeds or the whole chillies should be stewed with the apples and tomato juice until the chillies are soft and the apple breaks down. Then sieve to remove apple cores, skins and seeds. If you want to make a clearer jelly, put the juice into a jelly bag and allow it to drip through without pressing. This will look good, but gives less yield.
Measure the juice and add the required amount of sugar, sorry for the mix of imperial and metric measures. Add the chilli bits if you saved some. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached, and put into jars.
Takae was fascinated yesterday when I was putting the soaked mung beans in the sprouter. I explained I was planning on chow mein on Monday, so by then they should have grown enough to use. It will be interesting to see her reaction today when she sees they have already got tiny roots showing.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas is coming!

Another week and it will all be over. I trimmed the chillies off the stems today, and found I have just 100g, so I feel another chilli jam batch in the making. I'll have to buy the tomatoes for this lot, but I still reckon some jars will make good Christmas pressies.
Talking of Christmas pressies, our gardening club had a wonderful seasonal get together at Nicola's. She went to a lot of trouble to give us a wonderful time. We all took along a secret santa pressie, then lucky dipped from the bag. I was lucky enough to get a card book, with address and date organiser.
We were pleased to be eating some of our own produce. Nicolas roasted some celeriac chips, grown by Amanda from plants provided by me. We also had my chilli jam, Amanda's chutney and Nicola's beetroot relish. Everything was delicious, and we felt a real sense of pride. Next year, onwards and upwards!
We will be digging up the parsnips in the next couple of days, hopefully we will achieve Dans' wish of home grown roast parsnip for Christmas Day. I will also serve some of the frozen beans, and use the last of the beetroot for salad later in the day.
Once we get to this time of year my fingers get itchy and I feel as if I have to plant. This year I've already got some broad beens in to overwinter in the greenhouse. I bought some Aquadulce Claudia, the hardiest one which can be planted directly out side in Novemeber, but due to a spell of ill health they stayed in the packet. Not to be deterred, I soaked 12 beans in water overnight and sprouted them in the seed sprouter, They took around 5 days to show root, then I potted them up, 3 to a 6 inch pot, and stood them in the cold greenhouse. Yesterday I noticed 4 are showing above ground. I will grow them on ondercover and plant out when they are a good size and conditions are reasonable.
There is a trial going on by some of the members of the Grapevine Forum, planting tomatoes on 27th Dec, a good day if you plant by the moon. Obviously a challenge to keep the plants stocky and healthy, athough as I usually plant 2 weeks into Jan, hopefully I will manage the extra couple of weeks.
I noticed today when I got out the car that my garlic is finally shooting. It has taken it's time, but hopefully has been busy underground producing a strong root system. The are a number of self sown calendual (pot marigolds) growing in the same place, so I think I will thin these, but leave enough to provide colour in the spring. I really want to grow enough to make Sarah Raven's Calendula Hand Ceam!
I am dying to prune the grapevine and have a tidy up, but I need to take things easy as a recent fall at work serious jolted my neck and aggravated my osteo-arthritis. I am following the physiotherapists advice in the hope I am fit enough for a good growing year next year.
In case I do not post again before the day, Merry Christmas and a Happy and Successful New Year.

Monday, 24 November 2008

First Snow

The first snow fell on my garden yesterday. At 8am there were a few wispy flakes, but within 30 minutes the roofs of the houses were showing white. Disappointingly for the children next door, whose father had them outside by 8.45, the snow stopped shortly after and the rain washed it all away. Later the sun tried valiantly to show through, but gave way to the heavy rains.
There had been lots of notice of the falling temperatures, so I had grouped all the plants together in the greenhouse and covered them with several layers of fleece. Hopefully this was enough to protect them. I noticed the unprotected pepper plants were severely wilted today, but I haven't had a chance to check out the covered plants. In the veg garden I pulled all the beetroot of any size and dug up my last 2 yacon plants. The yacon had only made one decent size storage root, and 2 small ones, although there were a number of new growing tubers. These I packed away protected by polystyrene and bubble wrap in the garage for planting next year. I was rather disappointed in the taste of the yacon tuber. We tried the smallest one, it was crisp and juicy, but had very little flavour. Perhaps the larger one will taste better. If not I might be selling tubers on ebay next spring :)

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Review of the fruit year.

Some of the fruit did very well this year, but the frosts at blossom time, followed by so much cold wet weather didn't do any favours. However, saying that, I am pleased with the harvest I managed out of my small space this year, and I've been thinking of how I can improve on it in the coming year.
Cherries - The tree is still relatively young, so it is not giving us a full crop yet. We picked around 25 ripe cherries, but unfortunately due to a period of heavy rain just before harvest, many of these were split. They tasted delicious, and gave us an idea of what to look forward to.
Grapes- I was very pleased with these this year. Despite seeing bunches of mouldy grapes hanging in the local vineyards, mine ripened perfectly. I must curb the tendency to pick too quickly, they didn't really develop a good level of sugar until the 1st week in October. With the forecast of high winds we finally decide to pick the whole lot about 12th Oct, washed and picked them over, before storing on a tray in the fridge. We ate them over the next 3 weeks, with few going off.
Blackcurrants - Ben Sarek and Ben something else! I didn't expect to get many this year, as they were only planted in spring. We should really have pruned them right back, but Dans was desperate for jam. In another post I mention the jam, blackcurrant and blackberry, very nice. I'm looking forward to increased yields this coming year.
Plums - Neither tree produced any fruit this year, the frosts were against us. Fingers crossed for next year. the trees are going much more vigorously than I expected, pruning gets away from me!
Blackberries - Very pleased with the size and taste this year, especially as we only had one fruiting cane. There are more canes this year, so the crop should be a more useful size, although blackberry ice cream featured heavily on the menu.
Strawberries - A dead loss this year, the slugs got most of them despite nematode treatment. The plants look healthy and produced flowers and runners galore. I'm trying containers next year in the hope of getting a crop. The pink flowered ones are still going strong, but I've yet to taste one of those!
Raspberries - The autumn ones are still producing the occasional berry, lovely flavour, we just need more canes. As it was the only one that survived, hopefully I'll be able to propagate more for next year.
The summer flowering ones, Glen Ample, did not live up to their name this year, and were not as sweet as autumn bliss, but we have a lot more canes for next year, so hopefully we will get a worthwhile crop.
Blueberries - Two different varieties are supposed to cross pollinate, so I am hoping that the two bushes in containers will really get going next year. They are in ericaceous compost, watered with rain water and fed with bokashi juice. We got a small crop this year, lovely with Greek yogurt.
Cranberries - I live in hope with these. They were bought on impulse from Woolies, and still haven't flowered in the 3 years I've had them. They are planted at the based of one of the blueberries, and look very healthy, perhaps next year I will be lucky.
Rhubarb - veg or fruit, I treat it as fruit, so here it stays. I feel it's beginning to establish now, after a disastrous 1st year, when it flowered. I think it is important to keep it well fed, and give it enough space. This year it was crowded at peak time with potato pots, so I am going to treat it with proper respect next year.
Cobnuts - I was really surprised to harvest 5 nuts this year, as they had only been in one season. Interestingly they were falling, ripe, to the ground, in the second week in September, earlier than I would have thought. Plenty of catkins showing now, so hopefully a good lot of flowers will develop. The bushes did not put on much top growth, so no need to prune yet.
Lemons - I really mistreated my lemon tree last winter, it stayed outside the whole time, and lost most of it's leaves. I already have it undercover now, so hopefully it will do better next year.
Peach - This is an experiment, as it is a self grown seedling from this year, which is already 4ft tall. Pruned, confined to a pot, and undercover, I am hopeful it will do well, although it may not fruit at all.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Review of the vegetable year

Well now that the garden is beginning to sleep I decided it's time to take stock of the successes and failures of this season.
Tomatoes - I only grew 2 types, Tigrella and Sunburst. They did well in the greenhouse, and I did not have any outdoor ones, after severe blight hit last year. I think I tried to get too many plants into the space, because those on the shadier side did not do so well. Next year I think 8 plants are all I can fit in, but I've been given some seeds of a French Black tomato, and probably some green tiger ones too, so I may have to think carefully where I could manage some outside.
Cucumbers - I grew 4 plants, and these did very well. I gave a number away, and we had trouble keeping up with them, even though Vicky will happily munch away on a whole one while watching her favourite TV programmes.
Chillies - These took a while to get going, but finally came into their own, and I have a lot still to ripen. I'm hoping to successfully overwinter a couple of plants inside to get a head start next year.
Peppers - Once again these were a dead loss. I thought when I got them into flower early that I was going to get a decent crop, but what with slugs, small caterpillars, and generally bad weather, I have only picked one decent sized ripe orange pepper. I am seriously considering giving these a miss next year and using the space for a more productive crop.
Courgettes - The parthenocarpic variety was very successful from an early sowing, although they did succumb to powdery mildew quite early, probably due to the weather. The second sowing was a bit too late to do anything. I did find we were a bit overwhelmed for a while, and I have frozen quite a few for winter use.
Potatoes - These were not so successful considering the amount of space and compost they took up. The few potatoes I got were very tasty, but I think I could use the space more productively.
Broad Beans - Considering these went in quite late, and then they had to contend with the grape vine for light, these were reasonably successful. I will be trying these again, giving them better conditions next year.
Peas - For the first time I grew dwarf peas rather than the climbing variety I usually go for. I won't be growing these again, they cropped very poorly, and tasted 'harvested' even when quite small. Vicky and I usually eat any peas we get raw from the pods, but she didn't like these ones at all.
Climbing French Beans - I grew these mixed with the runners on a wigwam of canes. I got a reasonable crop, but they did get overwhelmed by the more vigorous runners. Next year I will separate the 2, and hopefully get more beans. I did manage to freeze a few packs for the winter.
Runner Beans - These enjoyed the wetter summer, we were not overwhelmed, but had sufficient for every dinner we wanted them for, and I managed to freeze some too. Next year I am trying a white flowered variety to fit in better with the colour schemes in the flower borders. Hopefully they will do as well.
Beetroot - The only problem here was not planting enough. I got a good crop of reasonable size beets. Next year I will start planting earlier, and make sure I have a succession.
Radish - The first planting did well, and I was hard pushed to eat them all before they went to seed. However the second planting was affected by cabbage root fly, which made most of them inedible. A low 'wall', or covering with fleece would prevent this, but may be a problem in the potager, as it will not look particularly pleasing the the eye.
Parsnip - These were sown direct, in April. Not that many germinated, and I've only pulled one so far, but that one was a good size. I should be able to do home grown parsnip for Christmas dinner, which what Daniel was hoping for.
Celeriac - I planted these quite early this year, so they were good size plants when they went out. Unfortunately several plants ran to seed. the others are around tennis ball size, but I haven't pulled any yet.
Yacon - After getting squashed in the post, only 3 plants grew, and these were very slow. So far they are only about 18 inches high instead of the 5 foot described. The one I've dug up so far hadn't made any growth for eating or replanting, so it is in the greenhouse. The jury is still out on this one. As they cost £5 a plant I won't buy again, but I will replant outside next year if I can get any tubers from this years plants.
Kohl Rabi - Much to Vicky's disappointment, this did not do well this year. The purple ones which did grow were not such a good flavour as the white I have grown before, and they seemed particularly popular with the slugs. Back to white next year I think.
Lettuce - We were pretty self sufficient with this for a good period of time. the red cos type, Pandero, was less attractive to the slugs, so I will go with this again next year. The space I save not growing potatoes can be utilised for lettuce maybe.
Onions - I grew some red onions from seed. The ones in the pots did better than those In the garden, although they were not huge. I think I will try some of these again as they look pretty in salads. If I had more space I would probably use onion sets for cooking onions.
Garlic - This has done very well again this year. I have been saving the largest cloves for replanting ever since we moved here, 4 years ago, and I think it does pay off, as the plants become acclimatised to local conditions. I have already replanted my garlic for next year.
Although I haven't enough space to be self sufficient in veg, I have found it worthwhile to grow what I can. However when space is a premium I think it best to concentrate on the more expensive or successful varieties. there is no point in growing anything that is not liked or does not produce well. I have already decided the larger brassicas such as sprouts, broccoli and cauliflowers are not practical for me at the moment, although it would be a different story if I managed to get an allotment!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

November Already

It's amazing that a month has gone by since I last posted. The garden is now winding down with a vengance, the grapes all picked and eaten, the runner beans cleared and the greenhouse now housing plants that need a bit more protection. This year I moved the lemon and peach trees inside before there was any frost forecast. The poor lemon overwintered outside last year, and although it survived, it lost most of its leaves and we had no lemons. My previous peach tree got peach leaf curl very badly, and never recovered. As this disease is spread by rain in winter, I have moved the tree inside to protect it. Hopefully it will flower around February and produce some peaches, although how reliable it will be, as it is a home grown seedling, I don't know.
The chillies are still covered with fruit, I made another batch of jam, which seems hotter than the last lot. It's difficult to judge what it will be like, as the chillies vary so much in heat. Hopefully the rest will ripen off in the greenhouse, I'm hoping to bring a couple of plants inside, as apparently they can be overwintered and grow on much quicker next year, rather than starting from scratch with seeds in January.
I was disappointed with my yacon. I dug one plant up yesterday, but there was very little growth. There should be small tubers for replanting and a large storage root, neither evident on my plant. I have potted it up and put it in the greenhouse, in the hope it will continue to grow and at least provide me with planting material for next year. I am now wondering whether to dig up the other two, rather than waiting for the tops to catch the frost. If they have done nothing either it would be better to move them inside while they still have leaves!
I still have celeriac, beetroot and parsnips in the ground. I am waiting for the parsnips to catch the frost as it is suppose to turn the starch to sugar so they taste sweeter. The celeriac should stand the winter well too, and hopefully keep growing. Interestingly I have found a number of dead slugs recently, although it is ages since I last treated with nematodes. Still any slug is better dead than alive, especially as they will eat into any veg still in the ground.
I do not know how they are getting in, but I found 3 slugs in my downstairs bathroom, chowing down on the cat biscuits. I couldn't see any trails from back or front doors, but can't see how else they got in, unless they hitched a lift on one of the cats! Mice seem to have been an issue for most of my neighbours too, one caught 30! I'm being vigilant, as the cats (6 of them) are not allowed in the bedrooms or kitchen, so would not be able to deal with any visitors in the time honored fashion.
I decided to brighten up the garden with some pots of colour last weekend. I planted tulips down deep in some of the old compost used for courgettes, after adding some chicken manure pellets. Then I have topped these with ornamental kale, pansies and cyclamen. Hopefully these will look good right into April next year. I had just finished and came in to watch Gardeners World online, where they were doing exactly the same thing!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Hot Chilli Jam

The chilli jam is delicious. I took the seeds and pith out of a good number of ripe, red chillies, and stewed that up with some homegrown ripe tomatoes to give a pint and a half of juice once I'd sieved out the skins and seeds. I added another pint of water, together with 1kg of bramley apples (shop bought), chopped with skins and cores. Once these had stewed well I sieved again and added the chopped chilli flesh to the juice. Sugar was added at a rate of a pound to a pint, and the jam boiled to setting point. It is a lovely red colour from the tomato juice, and has a good hot, sweet taste with fruity overtones. Ideal with cheese or cold meat, although Dans loves it in a jam sandwich. He's taken 3 jars to uni with him! Considering we paid around £4 for a jar of this last year when we were on holiday, this was a snip at 50p a jar to produce.
Anyone thinking to try this, do get some thin gloves before you start. I was very careful to keep my hands away from eyes and nose, but my hands felt as if they had been dipped in boiling water after a couple of hours, and I couldn't sleep because of the pain. It wore off during the next day, but they were still tender.
The weather has changed with a vengance, cold, windy and rain forecast for this weekend. Last weekend was beautiful, and I spent the whole of it gardening, bliss.
Sadly though, a lot of time was taken up with clearing out plants that had finished producing. I took down my runner beans, all they were doing was providing homes for the spiders. I've used up the last few this week, but there are a few frozen packs for the winter. I'm not so keen on them frozen, but it will provide a change in the cold months. The blackberries are also over, so I cut out the fruiting cane, and tied up the new ones. Hopefully they will provide more lovely berries next year.
I've also cleared out most of my tomato plants. It looks as if the fruit will finish ripening, so I won't need to make chutney. I've decided the greenhouse will only hold 8 plants comfortably, if I want to put in anything else. The only thing is, I've now been given some black french tomato seeds, soI will need to decide carefully how many plants of each variety I go for.
I also intend to plant out my garlic. After emptying one compost bin and spreading the contents on the garage garden, the garlic will go out there.
I have loads of ripening grapes. They are delicious, but I don't know if we will manage to eat them all. Wine springs to mind, but I've just freecycled the demi-johns, so would need to get some more!
I also intend to plant my sweet pea seeds, some broad beans to overwinter, and split up the self sown watercress in the hope of getting enough for a salad or two. Speaking of salads, I have just put in another load of seeds in the sprouters, as these will give some good additions as the other ingerdients become scarcer. There's still loads to do in the garden, but the weather makes it less attractive when it's cold and wet.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Autumn spiders!

I can definitely tell that autumn is here, the spiders are weaving webs all over the garden! Not that I have anything against them personally, but I HATE walking into a spider's web, and always worry about where the owner has ended up! There are so many, and they aren't small either.
Picking the runner beans is a fraught business, have I missed a web, and the spider has got onto me, or even worse, into my hair? The beans are coming to an end now, there are a few flowers still, but not many. What beans are still developing are really good, longer than most I picked in the summer. I think it is the amount of rain we've had recently.
However the sun did shine on the bride, my brother's wedding was well timed between showers last week, and everything went off really well. I'll post some pics once I've got them off the camera.
I was watching a programme which showed a local vineyard where most of the grapes had rotted on the vines because of the weather. Mine are looking lovely at the moment, although a few have split, probably due to the weather. They are eatable, but still a little sour. I'm hoping they will sweeten a bit more, but some sun would help. I've picked most of the blackberries, they have been very large, juicy and sweet. Next year, with two canes, I should hopefully have twice as many.
I have been cutting the leaves back on the tomatoes to help the air to circulate. The vines are stubbornly trying to produce more shoots and flowers, but it is too late for any new tomatoes to grow and ripen now. The cucumbers have finished, and I removed the old plants from the greenhouse today, bringing in the chillies from around the garden. I appear to have 3 types, the numex twilight that I grew, a long thin one that ripens red, and another long one ripening yellow. This makes sense, as I had plants from Nicola of the gardening club, and Noel from school, but I don't know who gave me what. As Daniel has now found a place to live at uni I need to get the chilli jam made so he can take some with him when he goes in 2 weeks time!
I planted up some prepared hyacinths today, they should flower by Christmas, but I need somewhere cool and dark to put the pot. I'm not sure where that will be so far. I have also got some tulips to plant, Queen of the Night and some white ones. I intend to mix the two in pots for the patio. I've got some tete a tete to plant as well, but didn't feel too good today, so they are still in their packets.
The weeds seem to have taken the opportunity to germinate so the garden could do with a good tidy so they don't over winter. I've also noticed a number of slug eggs around which I've tried to gather up and dispose of, besides applying more nematodes to slow the population explosion. Fortunately the snails haven't moved in yet! In the greenhouse I found some caterpillars on the tomatoes. I don't know the variety, but I disposed of them anyway as they were managing to eat into the ripe fruit.
The cobnuts have lost most of their leaves now, the nuts were ripe a week or so ago. We only had 5, but the bushes are showing a good number of catkins for spring, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for next year. It also looks as if the parsnips have done well, but I won't know if they are OK until I pull some. The celariac is still small, but I have taken off the outer leaves, as they had at Wisley. Hopefully they still have some growing time left. Finally the yacon seems to be growing too, but again, it seems a bit late, and I won't know if I have anything to harvest until I lift after the first frosts cut down the stems. I do know the beetroot have done well though, those can been seen easily as they grow proud of the soil.
I had some plants come from T&M finally, auriculas, which were ordered way back, but their stock failed. I need to get them planted up tomorrow, as I'm finding I'm very tired once we get back from school in the evenings. They look very healthy, so I'm hoping I have a good show of colour next year. The carnations should flower next year too. I have had very few flowers in the back garden, and none on the ones I planted in the garage garden. If it isn't raining tomorrow I intend to plant the rest of the lavender hedge, and consider where to plant replacement sage and rosemary bushes, as the orginals have got rather overgrown.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Flowers of a different type!

It's been a long time since I've posted, but with holidays etc, I just haven't got around to it. I've also been producing flowers of a different type - sugar ones.
My brother is getting married tomorrow, 6th, and I offered to make the wedding cake as their present. It's only the second wedding cake I've made, but I have done quite a few christening and anniversary cakes for friends over the years.

In the actual garden autumn is making its presence felt. The spiders are spinning webs across any space they can find, a face full of sticky web is most unpleasant. The new courgette plants have started producing, the old ones are no more, and the grapes have filled out, but still need a little more time to ripen properly.

I am back at work now, and the nights are drawing in, so the gardening will need to take place at weekends soon!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Baby Hedgehog

Although I've been off school for the whole month, I just haven't got around to posting as there's been so much going on. However today, around 7pm, there was a small hedgehog in our garden, trotting down the path. The cats were a bit perturbed, but didn't try to attack, He/she left quite quickly, but I'm hoping we might be on the food trail now, especially with the number of slugs around at the moment.
A week or so ago we went up to Yorkshire to take Matt to his student house, and took the opportunity to stay over and look around a bit. Unfortunately it was very wet, but we did manage to go to Harlow Carr, the RHS garden. It was interesting to see what they had done in their veg bed, there was a lot of companion planting, although slug damage was plentiful. Due to the weather we could not make the most of the opportunity!
We also visited Wisley in Surrey yesterday. Being a member I have been to this garden a number of times, but it is always interesting to see what they are improving and replanting. I bought some bulbs, and a number of house leeks to plant along the gravel edge near the garage. The glasshouse is looking very established now, and despite the negative comments I heard about the artificial rock, I think now the plants are growing, that it looks very good. There were some amazing plantings of red begonias to mark the shape of chinese dragons to commemorate the Olympics, and the formal pond contained a number of lovely water lilies in bloom. I always think it a shame to see the veg unpicked in the veg plts there. Some I am sure, is used, but there always seems to be stuff past it's best left in the plots.
In my garden, the courgettes are suffering from powdery mildew, and have stopped producing at the moment. The 2 new plants are coming on, and should be fruiting in a couple of weeks. The runner beans are still going strong, I have frozen more packs for the winter. Tomatoes and cucumbers are still plentiful, and I still have beetroot to pull. I have also been picking the homegrown blackberries and a few last straggling blueberries. The grapes are doing well, but won't be ready for at least another month. I am now thinking about what needs to be done for next year. Lack of space is so frustrating!

Friday, 1 August 2008

August Already!

Time has flown by since my last post. I have been off for a week now, it's been very hot and we've had a couple of thunderstorms. These have filled up the water butts, but I do need quite a lot now that everything is producing.
The runner beans have been doing very well, but the climbing french ones have tailed off over the last week. Next year I will have them on seperate wigwams, as I think the french have been overwhelmed by the runners. Still, I've frozen several packs of each one, so hopefully these will be a nice change in the winter. I blanched them, as this kills bacteria and lengthens the freezer life.
The courgettes are still prolific, but some of the older leaves have powdery mildew. I've been cutting these off, which doesn't seem to have affected the plants. I am keeping them fed and watered, especially as they are in pots. Today I have just potted up my follow on plants. Only 2 made it, due to slug attack. There seems to be quite a few in the greenhouse!
In the greenhouse the cucumbers are going mad, I picked 8 the other day, and another 6 yesterday. I do pick them when they are still quite slim as this keeps the plants producing, and the flavour is better. I am picking tomatoes from both the Tigrella and the Sunburst plants, but the Tigrella are definitely more advanced. I am feeding at least weekly, and have removed some of the lower leaves to let the air circulate.
The blackberries on the garden are ripening well, I'm going to pick some to eat fresh tomorrow. I have been out and picked some wild ones, they make ice cream to die for! I obtained an ice cream maker from Freecycle last year, it's small, but I don't use it often enough to warrent getting a new one. I stew the blackberries without water or sugar, and pass them through a sieve to get rid of the pips. The fruit pulp is then sweetened to taste, well a bit more than that , because the cold dulls the flavour, so it needs to be quite sweet really. Then I just add cream, chill and make into ice cream. One batch did us 5 small servings, but it's a luxury product, so you don't need (get) much!
The grape vine is going mad, I seem to be out there every day cutting back the shoots, but the grapes are doing well. I wondered if I'd left too many, but they are a small variety, so I think they are on track. They won't be ripe enough to eat until the end of September.
I've now harvested my red onions, some are very small, but I have a few decent sized bulbs. As I wanted them for use in salads, the size is not so crucial, I can just use a couple at a time. I have some more coming on from a later sowing. I think I will leave these in the seed trays to form small sets, and then plant next year to see if I get bigger bulbs. I did that one year and it worked, so fingers crossed.
On the flower front, some of the carnations are now in flower, I did wonder if I'd get any this year! They are quite small, not much bigger than pinks, but very pretty. I let the pot marigolds get ahead of me, I didn't dead head them enough, so most of them have stopped flowering and set seed. I should get a number of self sown ones next year though, perhaps enough to try out the hand cream recipe!
The roses keep sending out new blooms, I have been keeping them deadheaded, and the summer flowering clematis is looking good. One of my 'large double' fuschias appears to be Mrs Popple, or a simaliar variety, a single, red and purple flower. It is covered with blooms, and looks very good, but what with white instead of purple petunias, and some plants dying off on me anyway, I am going to stick to my resolve not to buy plants by mail order next year, as these were from a reputable mail order company!
I have a pot containing a dahlia, a sweet pea and a fushia, all are doing well, I've had loads of flowers on the sweet pea, again essential to deadhead to keep it going. There is a little mildew on the leaves, but I'll leave it unless the flowers stop. They have a lovely scent.
Every time I go to sit in the garden, I see something else to do!

Monday, 21 July 2008


Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Courgettes galore and other stuff

It's that wonderful time of year when anyone who grows their own veg begins to really reap the benefit. My courgettes are producing, on average, one fruit every 2 days. With 4 plants on the go, the harvest is mounting up. I made a lovely vegatable curry the other day, with virtually all my own produce, courgettes, runner, french and broad beans, vietnamese coriander and garlic. To add make it more of a main dish, I added a tin of red kidney beans. Dan loves curry, but the number of veg in this one was too much for him and he wouldn't even try it! A shame because I'm sure he would have loved the taste. The new courgette seedlings are through, but one has got eaten by a slug!
The garlic tops were beginning to yellow, a sure sign it was time to dig them up. If they are left in the ground too long the bulbs split into individual cloves and begin to re-grow. The first autumn we moved in, 4 years ago, I bought some cloves from the garden centre. Each year I have selected the biggest to re-plant for the following year. I am really pleased with the results this year, the bulbs are generally bigger and looking good. At the moment they are drying off, and I will plait them to hang in the garage. Hopefully they will last us most of the year.
I picked the rest of the cherries last weekend. Unfortunately a lot were split due to the high rainfall, but after sorting and stoning them, the 4 of us that like cherries had enough for Sunday dessert. Hopefully next year will bring a better crop as the tree matures. I also picked the blueberries that were ripe, and in an effort to give everyone a taste, decided to make some blueberry muffins. The recipe I picked was not the best, we were a bit disappointed with the results, but they got eaten anyway. The grapes are beginning to swell, and dropping out some of the graplets that didn't pollinate. It looks as if we should get a reasonable amount, but the lone plum has dropped off, so we wait until next year for our first one.
The runner and climbing french beans are doing well, I need to pick them every day or two so they do not get too large. I'm particularly pleased with the climbing french ones as I've never grown these before. They are lovely. It's a shame I lost one of my sowings of lettuce as we have a bit of a gap now. We haven't resorted to buying yet as I left the stubbs in from the last lot and we are picking the smaller leaves that have grown, but I don't think we will have enough to keep going much longer.
The second sowing of radish was a bit of a disaster, as they got cabbage root fly and were inedible. I have pulled them all up, and will try again when we get the next wet patch of weather, which according to the forecast could be today. I do wish I didn't have to waste time going to work, but only another week to the holidays! It won't be long until I pull some beetroot. Matt will get to eat some fresh before he goes back to Hull.
I find it takes about 30 minutes to water all the pots in the garden and greenhouse now, but it's worth it. I have been picking delicious cucumbers, and I have a few tomatoes showing orange. A few more days should ripen them off nicely. The peppers are not doing so well, I have some fruit, but tiny green caterpillars have eaten a lot of the leaves, and there have been holes in some of the fruit, so I cut them off to divert energy into growing new ones. In the garden I had several celeriac bolt (begin to flower). Once they do that there is no point in keeping them, so I used them to make some soup. With plenty of thyme and marjoram the flavour was lovely, and at least I felt I'd got something from them.
I must find some insect repellant though. I sat out in the garden with Dan the other evening and collected bites all around my ankles. It's a bad year for mosquitoes (or good, depending whether you are a human or mosquito). We are using the plug in mosquito killers you buy to take on holiday inside the house, which work quite well, but as I was only outside for a relatively short time, I didn't bother to light the citronella lamps in the garden. Regrets now!
The sky is beginning to lighten, its 4.45am, so I'm going to close now, get dressed and go out to water my pots and perhaps enjoy a cup of tea, looking at the results of my labours. It's the best time, so quiet and peaceful!

Thursday, 10 July 2008


This won't be a long post tonight, but just wanted to post the fact that I picked 4 cherries today. Lovely! Sweet, juicy, almost black, I'll see whether all the others are ripe over the weekend. The beans are doing well (runners, french and broad), and I'm picking courgettes almost every day. Picked 2 cucumbers today, but still waiting for the tomatoes to ripen. The courgette seeds I planted over the weekend are not up yet, but it hasn't been long yet, maybe by the weekend!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Garden Visit and Jam.

Several people from the Garden Club visited me on Thursday evening to look at my tiny garden. Everyone was very kind and complimentary and I look forward to seeing what other people have done in their gardens in the next couple of months. Sasha didn't manage to find my house, but brought along a whole bag of lettuce to the pub, which was gleefully shared out among us.
Today is Vicky's birthday, so as she decided on an Indian Takeaway for her birthday meal, we had a roast dinner last night. I had the first picking of runner and french beans to go with it, as well as some broad beans and courgettes. I also harvested another pot of spuds, Lady Crystl again. The yield was around 500g, but only 4 potatoes, 3 pretty big ones. They tasted good, but I was hoping for more, smaller ones. Still as they were planted in recycled compost, and the tubers were those I'd saved last year, I hadn't spent much on growing them. Next time I'll try a pot of the Vales Emerald and see how they are doing.
As the courgettes are doing so well, and aren't bothered by lack of pollinating insects, I put in a couple of seeds to grow on in the greenhouse in the autumn. The main plants will have exhausted themselves by then, so hopefully this will extend the season and there will be room once the tomatoes and cucumbers are out.
Yesterday I also noticed the blackcurrants on the Ben Conan bush were begining to drop, so I picked all of them, even the slightly unripe ones from Ben Sarek. Altogether, once I'd prepared them, there were 400g. I also had 400g of blackberries I'd picked from the hedgerow last autumn in the freezer, so I combined the 2, cooked them up with 400ml of water and sieved out the seeds. I ended up with 900ml of juice/pulp, so I added 1kg of sugar to make a lovely jam. There is a definite blackberry flavour, but a tang from the blackcurrants, and it has set well. I had some small ceramic pots from some desserts we'd bought a while ago, around 200ml I suppose. I got 5 of these, plus one conventional 1lb jam jar. My mum was very pleased to get a small jar today, as she doesn't bother to make jam anymore, but does appreciate home made varieties.
I love it when all the work that has been put in earlier in the year begins to pay off. The satisfaction of feeding home grown produce to the family is enormous, even though I haven't room to be self sufficient. Looking forward to the cherries soon!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Gooseberry sawfly

I was horrified when I went into the garden yesterday to find my gooseberry bush looked just like a skeleton! I had heard gooseberrry sawfly were voracious, but there had been no evidence of nibbling before the weekend, and being a bit preoocupied with Dan's 18th party, I hadn't checked up again. There weren't any gooseberries anyway, it's a young bush, but I doubt I'll get any next year either now!
On a more positive note, the blueberries are showing colour, the mix of blue, blue/green and green berries look very pretty. I think it will be a while before we pick them though. The cherries are showing red, again a bit longer needed, as they should be black ones, but we have had a couple of raspberries each. Not a lot, I grant, but perhaps next year! This grow your own does take a bit of patience, especially with fruit. The lone plum is still with us, and the blackcurrants are pretty, so I'll try one of those soon, and pick if they are ripe enough. Amazingly, I realised we even have a couple of nuts on the cobnut bushes, that's so exciting.
As for the veg, we've had enough courgettes to more than pay for the seeds, and they survived their little holiday with the neighbours for the party. They left a few presents behind, in the form of courgettes! It was a good idea to clear the garden of the more movable pots as one of my camellias lost a largish branch when James fell on it!
I tried some of the broad beans last night, cooked up with garlic, tomato, courgette, sage and thyme. It was a lovely veg combination, and in a few weeks I should be able to do it completely from the garden. We might even have some runner beans to pick by the weekend too.
The thought of having more space if the Iwade allotment project is successful is wonderful. At the moment I can only grow enough for occasional meals, or just enough for one, but with more space it would be possible to grow so many more varieties of veg that are too large for my tiny pottager plot. I went to look at the proposed site yesterday evening, very rural, which hopefully would deter vandals of the 2 legged kind, but I bet there's plenty of bunnies and birds just waiting for a delicious feed. It does have definite possibilities though so fingers crossed.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Grow Your Own - Inside

One way to grow your own veg, whether you have a garden or not, is to sprout seeds. Everyone has grown mustard and cress when they were small, using cotton wool or kitchen roll, but there are a lot of other varieties that can be grown.
One of my favourite is alfalfa, tiny seeds that grow to lovely crisp sprouts; ideal in sandwiches or a mixed salad. Beans, when they are sprouted, are no longer poisonous raw, aduki, mung (the beansprouts used in chinese cookery), lentils, chick peas and loads more. These can all be bought from seed merchants, but you can grow untreated peas and beans from health food shops and supermarkets. This probably works out cheaper, but they might not be as fresh, so germination might not be as good, and obviously heat treated or husked seeds do not grow. If you try mung beans they are unlikely to reach the size of commercal ones, although if you grow them in the dark they will be longer than those kept in the light.
How to do it? Well you can buy special seeds sprouters, but before going out and spending, try out a homemade sprouter to see if you like the flavours. Find a large glass jar with either a screw top lid which you can pierce holes in, or use an elastic band to hold a fine piece of cloth over the neck. Muslin is recommended, but anything that allows the water to drain away can be used.
Soak the seeds overnight in cold water, then drain away all the excess. Rinse the sprouts at least 2 or 3 times a day, more if it's hot. This keeps them fresh; make sure they are well drained in between rinses, if they sit in water, they will rot. Depending on the variety, they can be ready in as little as 2-3 days, the longest is probably 6. As they germinate starches turn to sugars, (the nutrient content is very high at this stage) but do not leave them too long or the sweetness will be lost, and they will get tough. They will keep, well drained, in the fridge for at least 3 days.
Do check for seeds that have not germinated. Some stay very hard, so be careful. Most husks do soften and you just eat them alonside the sprouts, good roughage, but sunflowers stay quite hard, I usually try to remove those ones. It's quite fiddly, but they have a lovely flavour, so worth it. Besides using in salads, they are good added to stir frys and many other dishes. I am not trying to advertise T&M, but they do have an enormous choice.

If you get hooked, then this the time to buy a sprouter. It does make life easier, and usually consists of a drip tray and 3 others. I usually use the top one, which would be more prone to drying out, for growing cress, radish, broccoli etc. that I put on moist kitchen roll. The lower trays retain humidity, which is better for the sprouting seeds. Fresh veg that literally anyone can grow.!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Half price seeds and freebies

Just thought I'd add to my post earlier, as I've been sorting through my seed box. It's a good idea to sign up for the seed catalogues email news letters, because they often have clearance offers that can save a lot of money. I've recently got most of my seeds for next year half price, and as one type was out of stock, they refunded the money, and sent a £1 gift voucher to compensate. There's often free gifts as well. This year I've had 40 summer bulbs from Parkers, as well as 4 fuchsia plants, and 10 Vales Emerald seed potatoes for Browns, as well as 4 scented begonias from T&M. I suppose the problem is being strong and not ordering loads of other stuff as well! I resisted getting anything from Parkers, but did get some seeds from Browns, and some fuchsia plants from T&M.

Gales forecast.

The weather today is lovely, sunny and warm, but these's one flaw, the wind is blowing everything to pieces. The runner bean leaves are looking wilted, and some bits of the grape vine have been blown off the trellis, so they need tying back in.
Harvesting in the garden has been picking up slightly, I've had around 12 courgettes in the past week, and I picked my first cucumber, besides the lettuce and watercress. Mind you I need to renovate the watercress drastically now, it is determined to set seed. In the greenhouse the tomaoes are growing well, and have reached the roof, so the tops need pinching out. The green fruit are about an inch across, and I have some small peppers that are growing well. However, something is eating the pepper plants, and I can't find out what!
I've picked a few ripe strawberries, but we haven't enough to have a bowl full. The blackcurrants are beginning to turn colour, although they have some way to go until they are ripe. There are some cherries on the tree, but they aren't filled out yet, and we still have one plum! Oh, and one raspberry is showing colour.
I turned out a pot of potatoes during the week, fooled by finding one large one, but there were only 3 other decent sized ones, the rest were pea size, so I'll leave the other pots for a couple more weeks. I have runner beans an inch long, and the scarlet flowers are a real splash of colour. Next year I will plant white ones though, as the climbing french beans are mauve, and look strange with the red.
I have got some colour in the garden as well, although the different greens of the veg do look good. The climbing rose is a picture but it is hard to get up to dead head it, and there have been a few late flowers on the spring clematis. The summer flowering one is showing a lot of buds, but none are out so far. My american wisteria has small flower bunches shwoing this year, Vicky is dissapointed as she was hoping for the long grape like bunches of the sinesis variety. If I had one of those, it would take over the whole garden! Ice Cream, the rose I mean, is opening well and smells divine, just a shame it is quite tall, so catches the washing if I am not careful!
I am still waiting for the carnations to show signs of buds, but hopefully the fuschia buds wiil open soon. I will have to use some vine weavil treatment I think, the notches in the camellia leaves look suspicious, and I found TWO beetles in m hall way yesterday.
I've planted some more lettuce, but I think I will have a gap, because I lost the last sowing to the slugs. I think the nematodes have been successful in some parts of the garden, the strawberries were untouched, but I have still found some lurking in among other plants. I will order some moer in a couple of week though, as cutting down the population must help, and I hate them!
Happy gardening to all, and I hope the gardening club will be able to visit in July.

Should be 12th June

I wrote the following on 12th June, but for some reason the post wasn't successful. Please read on.

Well it’s quite a while since I my last entry, but that’s not because there’s been nothing going on, rather that I seem to have been rushed off my feet recently. The planting and sowing has slowed down now, most of the plants are organised, and they now ‘just’ need caring for. We had a bit of a dry patch, where I did need to resort to the hosepipe, but my device for emptying bath water arrived from Lakeland last week, so now I’ll be able to recycle that if necessary. Overnight it was tipping down, so the water butts filled up nicely. I was out in the garden at 6am emptying the water into the spare butts, so if it carries on raining, it’ll fill up again. It takes about an hour to water the garden and all the pots using the watering can, and about the same with the hosepipe by the time I set it all up.
Sadly the two small yacon succumbed to slug attack before the nematodes had a chance to make a difference. I still have the 3 strongest, so I am hoping they will produce the tubers for ongoing planting next year. Now at £5 per plant they weren’t cheap. The celeriac is growing well, and hopefully those members of the gardening club who are giving some a go will be successful and get t enjoy eating it. I’ve a few parsnips from the sowing earlier in the year, but not many. Still there should be enough for Daniel to have some for Christmas dinner.
The courgettes, Cavilli, have flowered this week, only female flowers. I don’t know if this is a feature of the variety as they don’t need pollinating, or if it’s just because it’s early in the season. It will be interesting to see how they go. By next week I might be using home grown courgettes! The patty pans are later, nowhere near flowering yet.
The blackberry is flowering well, and there are two new shoots coming up for next year. If all this year’s flowers set we should get a good crop, twice as many next year? There is one plum on the tree, all the others dropped again. This is the same as last year, I wonder if this one will mature or fall off? We also have some blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, cherries and of course, the blueberries. There won’t be an enormous quantity of each, but with the prices in the shops, these are definitely worth growing.
I had a root around in the potato pots last weekend and found a couple of spuds, about 4cm diameter. I’m leaving them for another couple of weeks to let the crop bulk up. The Vales Emerald pots are flowering, but the 3 Lady Crystl, although planted earlier, are not. This might be a peculiarity of the variety, but I’ll see which ones give the highest yield/taste nicest.
In the greenhouse things are going great guns, small peppers and tomatoes are showing on most of the plants now, but although the chillies are in bloom, there is no fruit yet. The cucumbers are behaving themselves so far, keeping themselves upright by twining their tendrils around their own canes. Mind you, take your eye off them for a moment, and they will try to spread into someone else’s space! The cucumber Noel gave me, despite being a bit lanky at the time, has now grown into a lovely strong plant, in flower and with small cucumbers coming on. Mine are a bit later, but they were only just breaking through when I got the other one, so it isn’t surprising. This should make sure we have cucumber throughout the summer, which will be great as Vicky can munch through a whole one quite happily.
Better close now as work beckons imperatively!

Friday, 30 May 2008

Nematodes go, go go....

I only ordered the Nemaslug 2 days ago, and it arrived today. The neighbours must have thought me mad if they saw me out watering the garden after all the rain we've had. I don't know if they re-formulated the carrier, but I found it didn't clump together so much as last year, although I still mixed it to a smooth paste before adding it to the large quantity of water. I also made a coarse rose for my watering can by enlarging the holes in my plastic rose with a corkscrew. I've still got my fine metal one, so I can use that for watering seeds etc.
After watering on the nematodes, I then watered again to make sure that any left on the leaves were washed into the soil. I just hope it isn't too wet for them. The radish I planted on Sunday are already poking through, so it will be interesting to see the amount of slug damage I get on them. It should be much less by the time they start to swell. I do think my red lettuce has been attacked less by the slugs than the green though, so that is something to take on board in the war against the horrible slimy things.
I also decided to site a black dustbin on the drive, and I've filled it with water from the water butts in the garden. This will be useful for watering the garage garden, and also makes more room in the water butts if it rains again, which, looking at the sky, seems quite likely. I will find it quite strange to be back at work next week, after being able to potter in the garden for the past 3 weeks (when I felt well enough!)

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Slugs, no snails!

Since the torrential rain of the past few days, the slugs have declared war, and have been feasting on any small tasty plant they can find. My radishes are a favourite with all the enemy, from the tiny black ones to the large creamy white ones. I have some nemaslug on order, nematodes that are watered into the ground, and then they attack the slugs. As most slugs live below ground these little critters are pretty efficient at seek and destroy missions, although there are a few things that can cause problems. They find it difficult to move through clay soil, and the ground has to be kept moist. We will probably get a drought now, just as they arrive!

If you decide to give them a go you can order packs online, but check not only the price, but the delivery costs too. Some places deliver free, others charge as much as £4. I usually get mine from Greengardener. They have always been reliable, will happily discuss any problems you have, and even sent out replacement packs when my sister and I felt the nematodes hadn't killed many slugs. When they arrive they must be kept in the fridge and as they are living creatures, they have to be applied within 2 weeks. You do need a coarse rose for the watering can though, as it can easily get blocked with the carrier substance they use. If you do have snails as well as slugs the website says customers have reported less snails too, but there are no official claims that they are effective against them.

I spent quite a while yesterday sorting plants from the greenhouse into their final pots. All the courgettes and patty pans are now planted up; it will be interesting to see how Cavil do. This is a quote from the Thompson and Morgan Website "Unique parthenocarpic habit (ability to set fruit without pollination), therefore adverse weather, poor light levels and a lack of pollinating insects does not affect cropping performance!" By the way, they appear to still have their half price seed sale on at the moment, if anyone out there is interested.

The potatoes bines are trying to take over the world, and many are coming into flower, which is supposed to be a sign the tubers are forming underground. I have found in the past it is best to give them a bit longer if you want a decent crop, but as usual I am dying of curiosity to see how we have done this year. Homegrown new potatoes, yum!!

I am really pleased with the home grown watercress so far. It keeps trying to flower, but I'm picking off the shoots so regularily that it doesn't really get a chance, except for the pot I am growing for seed production. I suppose I could also plant up some of the shoots as they root really easily at the leaf joint, but I don't know if it will be possible to keep it going through the winter, so seeds are an insurance policy. Salads at the moment rely heavily on radish, watercress and lettuce; it will be lovely when the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers join the line up.

Flowers wise, the climbing rose took a battering from the storms, but is still covered with lovely scented blooms. I need to get the secateurs out and deadhead for repeat flowers. Vicky's Ice Cream rose is a bit later this year, as a lot of the early growth died off for some reason, but is finally showing small buds. I've planted up the fuchsias and geraniums, together with the free scented begonias sent from Thompson and Morgan. I am pleased I didn't pay for them though, only 4 out of 6 grew! I've pushed the boat out and ordered some half price double petunias, which I adore, and some patio growing bags, which have handles so they are easy to move around. I was wondering if they would be big enough to put some of the dwarf peas into.

In the 'garage garden', the currants are looking good, it will be interesting to see if they are left alone, or if anyone has the nerve to steal them. I've put the yacon out now, it seems to me there is a lot of growing to be done before it reaches the 5ft mark, but hopefully it will do well. There are a few parsnips and beetroot coming in between the marker radishes, and the carnations I put in at the front look well. The follow on broad beans seem to have established as well, the rain certainly helped there. My globe artichokes have put on a lot of leaf, but although all the books talk about them producing offsets, mine seem reluctant to do so, there's still only one growing point to each plant. My sage bush, which I intended to get rid of this year because it was looking a bit tired, is now coming into flower, so it can have a reprieve for now. I've got a couple of replacement cutting rooted, so I might take the opportunity to resite it.

I'm dithering over whether to plant out the surviving lavender seedlings in their hedge positions, or to leave them in the pots a bit longer. After the success of germinating so many, and giving most away, disaster struck in the form of Daniel a few weeks ago. I had put some of them under the BBQ for a bit of protection, and he didn't think to move them when he lit it. Anyone want some lavender with their burger?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Water, water

If you ignore the mess in the garden, you can see the amount of rain we've had overnight, I now have a river instead of a path!
Yesterday the ground was so dry, but I had used up all the water in the butts again, and as I was keeping my cat it, carrying water through the house, or setting up the hosepipe, was not really an option. As you can see, I think all the plants are now getting a good drink.
I had planted my courgettes into their final pots, and had them dotted around the garden, but the wind blew up so strongly last night that one snapped right through. Dan moved the others back into the greenhouse for me overnight.

Amazingly, my radishes have been successful this year, I wonder if it was because I have planted them in a more open space, my 'garage garden', as I call it. Some people have questioned the wisdom of using the space for edible crops, but if anyone helps themsleves, well they do, and at least it's given me more space and opportunities. The slugs have got in a few nibbles of the radishes, but as you can see, they are still reasonable. I've also been harvesting lettuce and watercress regularly.

The rhododendron, which I have in a large pot, is looking a bit bedraggled today, but I took this picture last week. Considering it was a rescue plant, found by my sons dumped at the roadside around 6 years ago and carried home to me, because they were sure I wouldn't want it to die, I am very pleased with the show.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Grapes Galore

My grapevine, planted as a cutting 3 years ago, has loads of tiny grape flower bunches on it. Some laterals have 3 bunches! Last week I tied all the laterals in to the trellis, but I'll now need to go out and prune each one back. It seems a bit harsh, but Hessayon says with a young vine to limit bunches to 1 per lateral, so I'll have to bite the bullet. The vine has 2 main rods growing horizontally about 9 inches from the ground. Last year I retained some of the vertical grow, and its from these that the fruiting shoots are growing. It covers a 6ft square heavy duty trellis placed in front of my greenhouse, the idea being natural shade in the summer when it's needed, and in the winter the light gets in because there are no leaves on the vine. The only problem is that I have trouble reaching the top, as I'm only 4ft 11! The wooden step stool from Ikea comes into use in the garden as well as the kitchen :) The grape is Himrod, a seedless white, which ripens outside about the end of Sept. I bought the parent around 18 years ago, and it has moved with me, in the guise of cuttings, ever since. The original was planted in a 12 by 8 greenhouse, and we used to get loads of grapes. Hopefully we will be more settled now, and this one can get really established.

Its cloudy today, so hopefully we might get a useful amount of rain to fill the water butts. The yacon could also do with going into the garden, Dans might do that for me later when he gets back from school. I'm feeling much frailer than I thought I would, but I suppose if the standard time off for the procedure I underwent is a week, and lots of people need more time, I can't complain yet. I haven't even felt like going out and doing anything in the garden, which is a measure of how yucky I feel!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Back at last

After wishing for a wet and windy Bank Holiday last week, so I wasn't depressed by having to spend the weekend marking, I was pleased to find the weather was good. So many of my pupils missed their final deadline that I had little to mark. It did make for a very stressful week this week though, with work being submitted right up t0 5pm on Thursday, and I had to have everything marked, with a sample for moderation ready by Friday lunch time!
Anyway, back in time to last weekend. Fed up with the persistent puddle in the corner of the greenhouse, and unable to place the tomatoes properly without them sitting in it, I invested in a gravel flooring. I have made it about 4 inches deep, to the top of the greenhouse base. Hopefully it will retain the moisture in summer to help with humidity, and warm things up in winter. I still have the flagstone up the middle, so there is a stable path.
I planted out some of my runner beans, and the French climbers. Miraculously they have all survived, no slug damage at all. I also potted up the cucumbers and courgette plants. Why is it when you plant extras they all grow, but if you plant just what you need, they don't? I now have 8 strong courgettes and 4 healthy looking cucumbers, as well as my peppers and chillies to find space for. I counted up that I really need at least an extra 6 large pots, although if we eat the lettuce quicker some of those will be vacant. But wait, what about the small ones coming along? Sigh!
I was trying to work out where my later sowing of broad beans should go, there's no space at all! I thought of putting them up the fence, under the fan trained cherry, but then realised the feathery foliage was the free anemonies I had planted last month! I've still got 30 celeriac plants to find homes for too. Daniel told me it was hopeless when I asked him how I could re-arrange the pots so I could get my comfy chair outside next week while I am recovering from a minor (I hope) operation!
You won't believe, after all the rain we've had, how quickly the garden is drying out. With so many pots I have already emptied both water butts, so now it will be back to tap or recycled water. With the outside tap at the front of the house, and being in the middle of a terrace, watering is not easy. I won't be able to fill up cans and carry them next week, so I had to buy a new hose pipe today. It is on a reel, and the idea is to connect it to the front tap, run the hose through the kitchen window, and out of the back door. That way we shouldn't get any drips of water in the house itself. I always seem to slop it out of the watering can when I carry it through anyway. The other idea is to save all the shower water in the bath, then siphon it out to the water butts. We did that the year before last, when we had the drought. The only problem is that the bathroom is actually in the middle of the house, so the pipe has to go through the back bedroom window and down the conservatory roof to get to the patio! Still everything did well that year, even the camellias, so well worth it.
I'm really pleased that we've finally had useful amounts of salad stuff from the garden. Barbeques 2 days running have been supplemented by home grown lettuce (red and green), as well as watercress. I also sacrificed a couple of the weedier looking garlic plants to make some garlic bread. They looked rather like spring onions, but chopped and blended with the butter in the food processor they made a green speckled paste that worked well with the french bread.
Tomorrow I hope to get most stuff planted into the bigger pots so they are easier to care for and earth up the potatoes for the last time. They need plenty of water in the heat we've been having.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Welcome to Amanda

I will start by congratulating Amanda on her new projects, both in the garden and in the blog. Amanda has started her veg plot, and is keeping track of her progress at Amanda's EightBySix. Do stop by to see what she's been up to, the link's on the side.
Last week I was given a number of plum tomato plants, some more chillies, and a greenhouse cucumber. I swapped them for some of my 'insurance policy' tomatoes and peppers, as well as some watercress plants and a Vietnamese coriander. My original tomatoes have quite large buds now, but I need to sort the base of the greenhouse to avoid all the flooding before putting in the canes for them. I think I will invest in some gravel for the floor, held in place by boards. The watercress is growing really well using the capillary matting (perhaps I should plant in the base of the greenhouse), and the celeriac will be ready to plant out in a week or so.
I have used all the spinach tops, and cut down the stems to a couple of side shoots. The stems were used in spinach and tomato soup, using frozen tomatoes from last year. I also added fresh chives, and some of last years garlic cloves. Althought they are getting a bit dry, the flavour is still there.
I've stopped putting the propagator cover over the cucumber and courgette plants at night as they are growing well and I will need to plant them into bigger pots soon. This will give them a chance to harden off a bit. The french beans and runners are coming through in the peat pots, and I've got the supports in place ready for planting out. In the garden the radish markers are showing through, although the slower germinating seeds are still languishing underground. Since moving here I just can't get my radishes to 'radish', usually plenty of top, but no decent size roots. If I get the chance I will post some more photos soon, so you can see how things are progressing.
I've found the best way so far to keep the cats off is to place canes over the ground, because they can't scratch so easily. The netting didn't work well, as they scratched it out of the way, and probably caused more problems than if nothing was put down. The carnations are all still there, but they dug up a pot of onions covered with the netting.
Life is really burgeoning in the garden now, every time I go out it seems everything is bigger, but the weeds are growing too. I must do the 'front garden', a tiny strip that, because we don't use the front door much, I keep forgetting. The thistledown, or 'fairies' as we used to call them, that floated around late last summer are now getting established anywhere they can! Some glyphosphate will kill right down the roots, but I need to know it will be dry!
With not a ladybird in sight, I thought I'd try an organic solution to the greenfly that were infesting the lettuce. It is supposed to be a solution of rape seed oil that disrupts their systems, but I found that it burned the leaves, leaving small brown spots all over. The inside leaves look OK, so we'll still be able to use those. I have to say I never had this problem with the chemical sprays I used to use.
I hope the bank holiday weekend is wet and windy! What? Is she mad? No, but I will have the final A level marking to do, and I will be much less distracted if I can't get outside to the garden!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A very busy week

It seems to have been ages since I was here last, so there's lots to tell you about. If I start with the greenhouse, I finally decided to take the plunge and potted up my tomatoes. The tigrellas already have minute buds showing, and although the sunburst are as big, they haven't any flower buds yet. I mixed fresh compost with water retaining granules and pepped it up with some poultry manure pellets. I also potted up the orange peppers that are showing flower buds, but they are in 5 inch pots (approx) so I can still bring them in. I stood a couple of pots of lettuce outside to make more room together with the hardy carnations and lavender seedlings, so they can harden off. I'll still bring them in for the nights for a week or so. The watercress that I planted into a seed tray and stood on capillary matting is definitely looking better than the ones just in pots. I have found everything has been fine just covered with fleece so far. The thermometer went down to 6, which isn't too bad.
I put in just 6 runner beans, my indoor cucumbers, some patty pan courgettes and some ordinary courgettes in the heated propagator a week ago, and all but the ordinary courgettes are now up. Today I planted some more peas in pots, the climbing french beans and some cut and come again salad. A cautionary tale, if you buy peat pots nested inside each other, make sure they don't get damp. It took me longer to separate them, with a few casualties, than it did to plant the seeds! I've finally planted some more kohl rabi in modules too.
The broad beans and onions are doing well in the garden, but I've lost a couple of the kohl rabi plants since they went out. Before the rain started in earnest on Friday I put in a few beetroot, parsnip and carrot seeds, with radishes to mark the rows as these germinate fast. The cherry blossom has come on a treat this week, and one of the blackcurrants is showing flower buds.
Some good news, Smokey my son's cat, produced 4 kittens with no fuss whatsoever on Wednesday. They are all a creamy colour at the moment, but their points are beginning to darken already. Mum and Dad are short coated, chocolate pointed and blued eyed, similar in colour to a siamese, but with much chunkier bodies. I don't really know what breed they are, similar to burmese, but have the blue, not gold eyes
On a different note, we went to Wisley on Thursday, the RHS garden. The camellias and magnolias were past their best, and we were too early for the rhododendrons, but still had a lovely time. We decided to find somewhere outside the gardens to eat, and ended up at the pub at Wisley Lock. It was very busy, but lovely surroundings and food.
I am back to work tomorrow, having got all my marking finished, and planned some lessons too. Some of the students have a very busy two weeks ahead of them if they want a grade in the unit they gave in! I email each one with their mark grid as soon as it's done, but I don't supposed many, if any will have started to act on the feedback!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

April showers?

This morning I have finally potted the potatoes into their large pots. I used the old compost I grew the tomatoes and peppers in last year, which I'd stored in a 'spare' compost bin. I added poultry manure pellets to replace the nutrients, and will probably feed later on as well. Up until now I had just put the chitted spuds into 5 inch pots so they could get going. This was quite successful, as each one had begun to produce roots. As I haven't got room in the greenhouse I have put them behind it, where I can easily cover them with fleece if need be.
Dan dug over the garden by the garage and found someone had dumped some rubbish there. It was easy to work out who, and I'm not very happy. Now I wonder if the same person put the load of concrete bits there during the winter too.
We were going to rake it down, but the handle on the rake broke; it was pretty ancient; leaving it too short to use. Now I need to get that fixed! I think I might have a spare broom handle in the garage, from when the children used to play Harry Potter.
Before we could do much more the rain started again, so we came back in. I really wanted to move the tree peony which is planted too near to the minarette plum tree. Well, actually I had forgot it was there when I planted the plum tree, but the tree needs to stay put. Hopefully the rain won't last long, and we'll be able to get it sorted today.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Taking Chances!

Yesterday I spent most of the day pottering in the potager. I decided to take the chance on planting out a few of the hardier plants, to make more room in the greenhouse, so I now have a row of red onions in front of the grapevine trellis, and 2 pots containing the remaining 14. The seeds I bought are suitable for spring onions or letting them bulb up, so I'll be leaving them to grow on. The variety is Lilia, and they were planted on 12th January in a heated propagator to get them going. As soon as they were up they were moved out from the heat and have been in the cold greenhouse. They have not been fleeced against the frost, and during the day they have spent time outside, so hopefully they are well hardened off and able to cope, as long as the cats do not dig them up! The kohl rabi plants went out as well, and I still cannot find the seeds for the next sowing, so I think I feel a shopping trip coming on.
I put up a wigwam of canes for the runner and climbing French beans, just to get a feel for how much space they would take up. Unfortunately one of the connector thingies broke when I took them down last year, so something else to buy. Mind you, it was over 10 years old, so I can't complain. I can't decided yet whether to alternate the beans around the same wigwam, or have one of just runners and another of just French. I think alternating would look good, as I'd get red and white flowers together, but I don't know about the growth habits, and don't want one to be swamped by the other.
I also decided to take a chance on planting some courgettes in the heated propagator. This year I am trying a new variety (to me), Cavili. It is suppposed to set fruit even if they don't get pollinated, which is often a problem if the weather is less than perfect. I will also be growing Sunburst again. They are tiny, yellow, patty pans which look good on the plate. I also got a lot off each plant when I grew them before. I followed this up with cucumbers and some runner beans. I should have put some French in too, in case I want to alternate! I'll do some later ones of both sorts in any case to extend the cropping period, although last year the late ones caught the early ones up!
AccuWeather is not forecasting a really cold night until Tues 15th April, so I'll need to keep the fleece to hand for then. I am thinking I need to get the potato pots out, and the behind the greenhouse seems the warmest place in the garden, so as most people will have sown their earlies in the ground by now around here, mine should be OK as long as I cover any shoots that come through.
So far this has all been about veg, but I have also planted up some flowers. I put out 12 hardy carnations interspersed with ixia and sparaxis bulbs (they were dried up freebies that might grow), with cat repellant and rose prunings scattered across the bed. Having 6 cats is a challenge to a gardener, they have access to the indoor litter, but do use the garden as well. Fortunately they concentrate their efforts in our garden, although the appeal of astro turf one way, and 3 large dogs with paving the other doesn't offer much option anyway. I try to keep them to using areas that are not planted up, and put a tray of compost for them to use at the back of the garden once space becomes a premium.
The lavender seedlings seemed popular at the Garden Pub Club meet, with all six pots being taken. I hope everyone is successful at growing them on. I still have loads in the greenhouse, enough to do my hedge, and some for my brother too. We were also talking about raised beds, here is the link to the African Keyhole gardens.
Well after some showers overnight by the looks of it, the sun is shining again this morning, but I will have to do some food shopping today, or the teenagers will be complaining. I will try to 'divert' via a garden center to pick up the seeds and cane holder for the second wigwam, but must guard against impluse buys. It's so easy to pick up something, and then when you get home you realise that the 2 foot square you intended to put it in is actually more like 6 inches, and it just won't fit!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Comparison time

For the past 2 days in Iwade we have had lovely sunshine, with the daytime temperature comfortable enough to work in the garden without a coat, although a jumper was needed. In the Medway towns, just 10 miles away, they were experiencing the same sunshine, but still interspersed with sleet and snow showers. I was looking at my gardening diary from last year, and realised how much colder this spring is. By now I had planted up my tomatoes into their final pots, planted some runner beans in pots, and got cucumbers started off too. This year the tomatoes, peppers and chillies have still been coming in at night, the beans and cucumbers are still in their packets. It looked quite a hard frost last night and the night before. The greenhouse roof is still iced over, but the more hardy plants, tucked up under their fleecy blanket, seem to have faired OK. The thermometer was down to -1, but during the day yesteray it was 19-20, with the door and vents open!

The tigrella tomatoes are showing the first signs of flower buds, on par with last year, so hopefully I'll be able to get them planted up soon. The problem is space, I don't want to move things like the potatoes out too soon, but the tomato pots need a lot of room. There are a few things I am more advanced with. The celeriac is earlier, and I have the lettuce and spinach growing well. I need to put in a new sowing of kohl rabi as Vicky loves it raw, but goodness know what I have done with the seed! The first plants are ready to put out now they have been hardened off, but I know I will lose some to slugs.

The forecast is sunny for the next few days, so I am hoping to twist Daniel's arm and get him to do some digging and rearrange some of the pots on the patio. I was going to spring clean the house, but the gardening is much more enjoyable! I must get on with the 6th form marking though, as I've almost 50 A level units to give feedback on before we return. The wonders of ICT means that they are all stored electronically, so I haven't got loads of folders cluttering up the space. However piles of folders are a tacit reminder of the amount of work to do, a file on the computer is more easily ignored!

Yesterday I sorted out the fan trained cherry, Sunburst, removing the twine I had used to tie it in, and replacing it with rubber coated wire. It should be easier to loosen off as the branches grow. I hope the cranberry flowers have weathered the frost. The two bushes are well in flower now, so we were hoping for a good crop.

Last year I decided that raspberries would be a good investment as they charge a fortune for them in the shops. I bought 5 summer fruiting canes, and 5 autumn fruiting ones. We prepared the ground with plenty of compost, and got them in quickly after purchase, but only one of each type made it. This year the summer fruiting one, Glen Ample, is growing well and has put up 4 new shoots, which I am going to move into a row, but the autumn one is moving much more slowly.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Getting colder

The weather is getting colder, just in time for our 2 week Spring Break holiday. However, although there was more of a bite to the wind today, the sun was shining, and it was still reasonably mild, which was lucky as Dan forgot to close the greenhouse door for me last night!

I was working in the greenhouse again today, finishing pricking out lavender seedlings and the latest sowing of Pandero lettuces, a small red cos type. I have 3 stages of these now, as well as an early sowing of a romaine type.

The spinach and romaine lettuce are doing well, I'll be able to pick some leaves soon. Last year we kept going with lettuce through the whole year. I pick leaves from some plants, and let some of the lettuce heart up to cut for a larger salad.

With the temperature going down to freezing tonight, I made sure the potato pots are in the greenhouse, and I will be putting fleece over everything as well.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Sizzled Seedlings

Well the weather has been very mild this week, and each day I've had the roof vent open on the greenhouse, but left the door closed. Everything was looking great, until today. I came home and went out to check the greenhouse. The thermometer had gone up to 40 degrees C! I hadn't thought to take the lid off the propagator where the clematis and busy lizzies WERE growing. I lifted the lid, the clematis was a crisp, and most of the busy lizzies too. Everything else was OK, although the watercress was a bit dry!
My bokashi bin had fermented for the two weeks so I decided to empty it into the 'bean trench' in the garden. The waste still looked very much as before, although it smelled very acid. The instructions say layer the food scraps with the bran, white mould should grow, a straw coloured liquid should be produced, and the waste is pickled. It is then buried in the garden or compost bin, where it is supposed to break down very quickly. I am still a bit unsure, but anyone who wants to give it a go, shop around for the bins. They are usually sold in pairs, and vary from £25 to £55. You get 2 months supply of bokashi bran with your order.
Over the weekend the weather is forecast to change dramatically. Accu weather, which seems a bit more accurate than the national TV forecasts, says Saturday night will feel like -8, although it will probably be more like 2 degrees. I think my tomato plants will stay in their small pots for a bit longer so I can bring them in again.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Lizzie got busy

It's 5 o'clock in the morning, and I've just said goodbye to my son, off back to Hull after his Easter break from uni. His dad drives him up, and then comes straight back, a 9 hour round trip if the traffic is OK. I was hoping to get in the garden today, but the rain is beating against the window, so unless it gets better....
Back to the title of this post, the busy lizzie seeds are coming through, little dots of green. Too small to handle yet, but a few more weeks should see them bursting with colour. The electric heated propagator is great. The pre-germination of parsnips worked, just in the kitchen, but a bit too quickly in one way. They began sprouting on Wednesday, but with OFSTED coming into school for Thursday and Friday, I haven't got anything done with them. Still there are plenty more seeds in the packet, and if they sprout that quickly it won't take long to do some more, timed to be ready in the school Spring Break. It seems strange not to be calling it the Easter holiday.
The lettuce in the greenhouse are really looking good now, and the dwarf peas I planted in the same pots, to take over once the lettuce are cut, are opening their first leaves. I wish I had more space! If it would only stop raining and let the ground dry enough I could perhaps get some stuff in to the ground. The next planting of lettuce seeds are through and will need pricking out next week.
Talking of pricking out, I did 45 lavender plants yesterday, 9 to a pot, and there must be as many again still in the seed tray. Hopefully some of the gardening club will want some! The clocks changed last night, and as I went to bed at 1.30 (last minute packing), and was up again at 4, (new times), I think I will close this and try to get some more sleep.

After a bit of a snooze, and a much needed tidy around the house, I finally made it back outside around 3 this afternoon. The sun had come out and I felt spring might be back. In the greenhouse an enormous bumble bee was battling against the glass. I opened the vent and she flew to freedom. On the way back to the house I realised there were at least 5 bumble bees busy in the spring flowering clematis. I made a cup of tea and intended to go back out and sit on the bench to watch them work, but by the time the kettle had boiled it was raining again!