Sunday, 18 April 2010


Well last night, being a family birthday, I almost didn't go out and fleece the greenhouse, or put the flower pots in. I'm glad I did, as when Vicky and I went to the boot fair this morning there was ice on the windscreen. The cucumbers are in the greenhouse, along with all the squash and courgettes, but I covered with a double layer of fleece, and they are fine. The digital max/min thermometer gave a low of 2 degrees at the glass edge, the one hanging in the centre of the greenhouse shows 5 degrees.
At the bootfair I picked up a glass fish tank for £2, which is ideal for more of my painted lady caterpillars. I have so many, I 'potted up' 13 jars yesterday, it took me well over 2 hours. The jars that had been potted a week needed new food, so I transferred all I could find into new jars with new nettle tops pressed into the damp compost. They lasted quite well in that medium, and there are no puddles of water to drown the caterpillars. I put all the wilting leaves on the nettle bed in the woods. It is probably too cold for any missed caterpillars to survive outside, but they had more chance than in the compost bin, with no new food plants.
The picture shows a mallow leaf, covered with blue pearlescent eggs and some of the hatched caterpillars. As they get older they become black, with tiny hairs. I've been potting up nettles and mallow with small bit of root attached, hoping I've got plants before I need them for the next generation. They've probably got about a month.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

I couldn't resist

Planting potatoes that is. I had 3 maris peer potatoes that had sprouted extremely well, and some Saxon potatoes that haven't done much yet . I've put them into the allotment garden, in the bottom of a trench, so I can earth them up. I've tried potatoes in pots other years, with disappointing results. this year if don't get anything, well it won't matter, because I don't expect much.
I popped into the allotment garden after work this morning, and besides the potatoes I put in more meteor peas and some oregon sugar pod mangetout, as well as the jubilee hysor bean plants and some radish. The soil was quite dry so I watered the seed beds, where parsnips, carrots, beetroot and turnips are all showing good growth, as well as the shallots and onions. The overwintered aquadulce claudia beans are in flower, which is good after the weather they endured. The Martock beans from HeyWaye are looking very healthy, but no signs of flowering yet.
I'm aiming to move the germinated brasiccas out of the greenhouse asap so they stay short and healthy, but the courgettes will soon take up the space, as I need to pot on into individual pots. The rest of the celeriac need pricking out, and I need to pot up the tomotoes into their final pots, they have not minded being in the greenhouse at all, though I will need to watch the temps for the cucumber plants which have been living out there for the last few days now.
I have been collecting nettles and mallow again today for my caterpillars - the next generation. Most of these will be destined for sale as a charity business fund raiser at school, with a few being kept on to go through the whole cycle again.
I hope my starawberry plants come soon, as I've been offered a strawberry planter this year. I've oft been tempted, but been put off by the price, of course if I like it, then I might get another for next year. Things are moving so fast the plum tree is covered in bloom, the peach tree is outside, and the blackcurrant ben connan is covered with bloom. I've just made the last of the blackcurrants into jelly, so that works quite well. Clearing out the freezer to get ready for new produce is almost as good as planting!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Nettles for Caterpillars

Today I had to go in search of nettles. My painted lady butterflies have been so busy laying eggs that the plants I put in the enclosure looked more blue than green. Today I saw the first hatchlings, and they are VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLARS! They definitely need a lot more food than the poor plants could provide, so I have come up with a plan. I took large pasta jars, put an inch or so of wet compost in the bottom, and pushed in the nettle bits I had picked. I then cut off a leaf containing eggs and baby caterpillars, and put one in each jar. The tops have been covered with fleece secured by an elastic band. Butterfly farming could be my new occupation. At around £20 for 10 caterpillars (with food and home though), I could clean up. I only have 4 butterflies still alive, but they were still egg laying today, as a new batch appeared on the fresh nettle plant I put in this morning. I had wondered if the weather might be kind enough to release some of the caterpillars, but the wind is bitingly cold tonight, so I think it is still a bit early.
I finished off planting my climbing french beans and my runners today, checking back in my diary I was doing eaxctly the same thing a year ago. The courgettes, butternut squash and pumpkins are now through, and moved into the unheated propagator. I'm just waiting for the winter squash, Festival. None of those have come through yet, but hopefully they will appear.
I've been hardening off my containers of flowers the past couple of days, a white petunia is already out, and the plants all look good. I'm not risking them outside overnight for a while though. The kohl rabi is also hardening off, and I intend to get that planted in the allotment garden this week sometime., along with the broad beans, Jubilee Hysor, I think they were. They have been sown in the toilet roll middles, and now are strong plants ready to go out. I was going to put them in on Friday when I went, but forgot to take a trowel or small fork. The carrots, radish, beetroot and turnips are beginning to show, and the onions and shallots are sprouting; they all went in a couple of weeks ago. I've still got some onion sets to go in here, but I might use them more like spring onions, as I didn't really have space for 100.
I've been trying to sow salad leaves successionally, most take a week to show, but the lettuce have been more reluctant. The celeriac germinated well, and I transplanted 18 into modules for me today. I've got the other pot, but they seem a bit slower, so I'll give them a few more days befor moving them on. I caught up with Gardener's World on iplayer tonight, and fast forwarded through the bit I wasn't that interested in. However it's good to see that I'm on track with most things. I wasn't growing any potatoes this year, but some of the ones under the sink have started sprouting, so maybe I'll put those in and see if I get anything worthwhile, Maris Peer and Saxon are the varieties, an early and a second early I think.
Tomorrow we are intending a visit to Wisley. My camellia in the back garden is looking lovely, but the one I put out by the drive looks yellow and poorly, I don't think it likes it out there, so I'll have to see if I can find space to bring it back. I do love the camellias, and they have a lovely show of magnolias too, one on Andy's favourites.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cucumbers in a hurry and other stuff

On Friday I planted the cucumbers in the heated propagator, and yesterday they were all popping through. I have had 100% success rate, so it's a good job I like chilli and cucumber soup. The squash and courgettes aren't up yet, but they are in the heated propagator in the greenhouse, so it isn't as warm as the kitchen windowsill, whihc is filled up with my smaller chilli plants now.
I did decide to set up the greenhouse ready for the tomatoes, and monitor the temperature for a couple of days. I've hung fleece up to make a tent of half of the greenhouse, and plan to snuggle all the tomatoes in there to start with. They can be spaced out a bit later, and in any case the greenhouse is bursting already. I need to move the peach tree out, but it hasn't quite finished blossoming, so I want to leave it for a few more days. I've resisted planting beans yet, but there is still time for those anyway.
I need to start hardening off some of my flower plants, but I'll still need to keep a watch on the weather as I don't want to risk losing them to a chance frost. The petunias, fuschias and lobelia have been potted up, and the petunias are in bud, so not bad for a fiver in Wilkingson's back in February. The cuttings I took from the fuschias are coming along well, and the next lot are beginning to root too.
I spent my vouchers with T&M over the weekend as they had their free P&P. with the rate they charge, I saved quite a lot, although I was disappointed I couldn't combine my vouchers for another propagator. Instead I came up with 3 separate orders, and only paid out £2.98 altogether. I ordered 5 fuschia plants, £5 voucher, so they came completely free. Then I ordered some orchid bulbs, whihc started the weekend at 3 for £9.99, but then came in BOGOF, so I ordered the 6 with my £10 voucher. Then finally I ordered 12 strawberry plants and a casseille bush, which is a cross between blackcurrant and gooseberry. These did come out a little more than the £20 voucher, but I did resist the special offer on clematis, much to Daniel's relief, as he gets a little exasperated when I try to fit 3 times as many plants in as I have space for.

Mushroom Logs

I've finally managed to get this project underway. Just by chance a couple of weeks ago I was on duty at school talking to one of the prefects, who said his family had just cut down an oak tree. He said they were trying to get rid of the wood, so I asked if I could have some logs for mushroom growing. I ordered the dowels online, 30 each of shittake, oyster and lion's mane mushrooms, £12, no P&P, a bargain compared to everywhere else. They came last weekend, and Andy and Dan picked up the logs on Saturday. I paid for them with a jar of chutney and a jar of marmalade! Today Andy drilled the holes and tapped in the dowels, I sealed them with the wax, and Daniel placed them in the shadiest parts of the garden. It does say you can wrap them in black plastic, but I really want the logs to be a bit of a feature in my more 'woodland' bit, so I decided to take the chance. After all the other logs I had originally seem to be covered with a white fungus, so these should manage with all the added care and attention. Now we wait for 18 months or so before trying to shock them into fruiting. If it works they last for 4-6 years, probably closer to the 6 as it's oak. They might not be as 'perfect' as the ones they sell, but at only £4 each they work out a lot cheaper.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

April Already

It doesn't seem possible the year is moving so quickly, but here we are, April already, and so many things to do in the garden. I have checked back through my diary to see what I was doing last year. I had more time of course, as I wasn't in at work, but I don't think that was the only reason things were further forward. The plum tree was in flower on the 2nd last year, this year the buds are only just beginning to burst. They said it was a cold winter, and the plants know it!
I did get very carried away yesterday though, sowing cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes, (all in the heated propagators) so I hope the spring warms through soon.
There is no way I will have space for them all, but I'm intending to give some away, and my tutor group at school are setting up an eco-friendly business to sell free range eggs, plants and veg, so they can have any extras. We are going to canvas for donations of just about everything after the Easter break!
I would like to say a public thank you to those who have donated seeds through the Grapevine Forum. They are much appreciated, and we are intending to sell on seeds that are not practical for us to plant. Hopefully we will come by more as the time goes on. We have 7 weeks until the market day at school, so there is time to get saleable plants, although Easter has got in the way of planning.
I now have a good number of jalapeno peppers set on my plant, and there are flower buds on the habaneros, scotch bonnets and Dorset Nagas. I have 65 assorted plants in all, some of which need re-potting this weekend, space is definitely at a premium.
By this time last year I was risking the tomatoes in the greenhouse, but I don't feel so inclined this year. They are getting too tall now, they outgrew the cupboard, and are not really getting enough light in the living room, despite a couple of lamps as well as the conservatory style roof. It's going to be difficult to harden them off as they are all in their final pots, but they are too lush to go straight out, the setback may well kill them.
At the allotment garden I planted parsnips, beetroot, carrots and turnips a couple of weeks ago, and I'm itching to ge there to see what, if anything, they are doing. I have some broad beans; jubilee hysor; to plant out as well as some meteor peas. The broad beans have been grown in loo rolls, the peas just in pots. I have bought Moonlight runners, which are supposed to have been cross bred with french beans so they are self fertile, but look and taste like runners. I was also thinking of sowing some pink ones (Sunset), and some red ones (Lady Di), both from the seed swaps I've done. I was putting the loo rolls in the mushroom boxes (I do try to recycle), and found I was running out! It seemed I had millions, but it just goes to show how important it is to forward plan. I still have french beans to sow as well. I'm not sure whether to try the beans in the cold propagator in the greenhouse, or to wait until the heated ones free up.
As usual, what we do depends a lot on the weather, we are having very heavy showers interspersed with periods of sunshine, but the ground at home is still so wet.