Monday, 24 November 2014

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Autumn Acer
It's been some while now since I've felt like writing – or gardening. Been busy as usual but been on a gardening downer for some while. I've been repeatedly turned down for gardening jobs & courses and it has put me into a decline. It seems that no one has any faith in my abilities. Thanks to kind words of close friends, explaining that it is my age not my ability that is the issue (small comfort really), I've tried to rally but by heart isn't in it these days. 

Tomatillos & peppers

Crops from the allotment have been mediocre, I think I should cultivate the weeds instead. The best crop were the Tomatillos. The little Russet tree produced some fruit - but they looked like Cox's not Russets! Nearly all the brassicas bolted and had to be pulled up. The only ones still growing are the Brussels Sprouts. In the home garden the hanging baskets & tubs looked pretty but the borders failed to impress. Unfortunately my Lady Boothby Fuchsia is looking very poorly due to an infection of red spider mite and the naughty fuchsias are looking very poorly too. Up in the greenhouse the cucamelons were all growth & very little fruit, the crystal lemon cucumbers were very disappointing but the tomatoes did better, the red pears were the best.
Skeleton Tomatillos
Crystal Lemons & Tomatoes


I've tried to start preparing the allotment for next year by digging out beds & covering with compost and weed suppressant. I still need about another forty metres of fabric stuff but there is Christmas to pay for first so it will have to wait. I've  tried using other weed suppressants like cardboard but they didn't work down there. I haven't made many plans yet but it will probably be the usual mix of beans, parsnips, carrots and onions with some other odds and ends.

Next year's hanging baskets will feature trailing begonias, their colours are very vibrant and they should like the amount of sunshine at the front of the house. Fuchsias will be moved to somewhere more suitable with a bit more shade than they get at the moment.

Not a Russet

Whether or not I continue this blog still remains to be seen, viewing figures are very low and comments are like hens teeth. I feel like I've spent the past year flogging a dead horse.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

How Does My Garden Grow?

Back Border
Having found time to do news from the allotment – and it is still raining (Hooray!!) I shall do an update on the garden too. Back in the late winter I put a lot of flower seeds in my lovely heated propagator, they were given the usual two chances 'join us or die' (Sons of Fenris Gardening School – that's from Robin of Sherwood – well the Sons of Fenris bit anyway) and most of them chose to join us, although some decided to die later. I had lots of Rudbeckia Cherokee sunset; Nigella Persian Jewels; Ostritch Plume Asters; Shasta Daisies; Oriental Poppies and Evening Primroses. I have planted a lot around the garden and put a lot into a friend's garden (with permission!). The Penstemon never appeared and the few Electric Daisies sadly died. Better luck next year!
One basket
I have planted up three hanging baskets – and this year two of them are splendid – far better than any I've ever done before. I have added some of that Westland 'Grow Sure' to all the pots, baskets etc this year and I think it has made a difference. All the herbs have been repotted as they were all looking rather sorry for themselves. The planters which some of them occupied have been replanted with flowers. I did have some potatoes in planters but they have been harvested and replaced with flowers too. A lot of the plants that I have used were heading for the compost bin at work as they were too poorly to be sold. All they needed was a bit of a tidy up, potting on and lots of food and water.
Harlequin Buddlea & Rudbeckia

Front Border
I have steadily been adding a border to the front garden to disguise the long fence which is there. Last year was so dry and the soil is so bad that most plants didn't survive, except of course the good old fuchsias! This year I've added some of the aforementioned flowers which I grew from seed as well as more fuchsias (you can never have too many!). To add height and structure I’ve planted out my little Olive tree and an Acer which had no home. I may also put in a Mountain Ash which has outgrown it's pot.

In the back garden the border is slowly filling out – but the soil is very poor so again only the toughest make it.Last years Canterbury Bells put on a marvellous display in the spring. Again I've filled in all the gaps with the flowers I've grown from seed – at some point I hope they will all burst into a mass of flowers!

Not so Difficult Corner
Round on the difficult bed, which is far less difficult since the edge was boarded, things are going quite well, new fuchsias have been added and last year's Lobelia is still flowering!

The coalshed bed is looking glorious with the naughty fuchsias (which hardly stopped flowering all winter) joined by two new Fuchsia Divas and Lady Boothby growing tall at the back. Rather than witter on any further I shall say the rest in pictures.

Naughty Fuchsias

The Sink With Everflowering Calendula


Buzzing Escallonia
Tall Fuchsia
Buddlea Alternifolia


Fuchsia Paula Jane & Old Lobelia

Compost Plants
Not fit to sell

Mulch Ado About Weeding

Storm Brewing
I haven’t posted anything since the end of March – I have been so busy gardening & working there has been no time, it's all systems grow! However today we are having a break from the sunshine with some lovely rain falling, something we have not had enough of recently. Down on the allotment the perpetual battle with the weeds continues. When the plot was rotavated I knew it would be storing up trouble by chopping up the roots of many perennial weeds but the area to be dug was very bit & I didn't feel able to dig it all over by hand. The weeds have duly returned but they come out easily for the most part.
Bean Tunnel

I have two new invaders to deal with this year. Firstly Sycamore seedlings, there is a tree at the edge of the field which has not caused much of a problem before but all the seeds have blown onto the plots and sprouted this year. On worked plots that’s ok because they will just be dealt with like any other weed but where the plots are empty we could have a forest of pesky sycamores spreading more of their seeds until we are overrun! Fortunately most of the vacant land was ploughed up earlier in the year which may have killed some of them, it certainly had no effect on the tough perennial weeds which have returned with vigour.

The other invaders are rogue potatoes – last year the crop was very small (in every way) and I think a lot got left behind and now they are coming up everywhere! I've been growing potatoes with everything!

Brassica Heaven
Looking back to the last picture blog I had just started planting out the broad beans – today I put the last of the crop in the freezer! I had three varieties, Red Karmazyn, Aqua Dulce Claudia and Imperial Green Longpod. I think I'll stick with the Longpod & red ones next year – lovely colours and excellent flavour. I actually managed to grow some peas this year!! A huge harvest resulting in about 12oz of peas! That's 12oz more than previous years. I must find out what I am doing wrong, it's probably not enough water and dreadful soil which are the problems. I am trying to improve things but I think it takes more time & money than I can spare to improve the soil. I'll just keep plodding on – I shall grow green manure again this year to help improve nutrients & soil structure.

This year I have grown far more brassicas than previously, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli and Romanesco Broccoli (or cauliflower if you prefer) that's the green pointy rather alien looking one, I think it is quite beautiful the more you study it. These are all happily living in 'Brassica Heaven' – a cage I constructed using some very fine green mesh & fence posts. It keeps all the nasty beasties out and filters the sun making it a lovely place to go weeding, although the frequency of that job should be lessened by the mulch of straw which I have put in there.

Fruit, Herbs & Tomatillos all mulched
Straw is the latest thing I'm using to combat weeds & drought. It worked very well round the strawberries so I looked online and found it quite acceptable to use liberally on the rest of the allotment. Of course truly Organic gardeners would need to be careful about where it is sourced from but I do not claim to be fully organic so a local farm which was selling bales for £1 each was fine for me. A kind gardening neighbour also got me a couple free of charge so the allotment will be well covered when I'm done.

Special treatment for Blueberries
I've got a lot more fruit in a larger area. I've moved some stray strawberries near to the others and added gooseberries, black currants and red currants. The fruit area is now bordered with some herbs for the bees to enjoy. The Blueberries have never been moved into tubs as planned. I bought a soil testing meter and checked the plants at home which had been replanted into ericacious compost last year. I was dismayed to find that the soil was no longer acidic – that explains why the Camellia was looking so miserable. I checked the soil on the allotment and it read the same (I have some doubts about the accuracy of this tool). I decided to leave them there and give them special feed for acid loving plants and have mulched them with pine needles. Only time will tell how effective this will be.

Further down the plot there are climbing and dwarf French beans and runner beans growing on the rose arches again; carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, courgettes, butternut squash, celery, onions, shallots and tomatillos. The latter are a totally new crop for me – supposedly very easy to grow and high yielding. Their Latin name is Physalis philadelphica – relatives of Cape Gooseberries they are from the nightshade family. They are used a lot in Mexican cooking rather than tomatoes. So far they have proved very easy to grow, I have several on the allotment and have kept the remainder in the greenhouse. The Squashes not only have a mulch of straw they also have personal irrigation. Ollas are traditional clay pots which are sunk into the ground and filled with water which then seeps out gradually giving a continuous supply of water to crops. I am using milk cartons which I've punctured with a pin – maybe a bit too enthusiastically as they seem to leak too quickly but I can replace them with others if necessary.
Squashes with mulch and irrigation pots

Left Tomatoes
Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Up in the greenhouse I have the usual tomato plants, this year I am very proud to say that I have grown them all from seed – usually they all fail and I have to but in late replacements. I have Ailsa Craig and Moneymaker for the main crop then a late addition is Red Pear which I got with Grow Your Own magazine. They are all big and healthy and there are plenty of fruits forming. I also have cucumbers – Crystal Lemon. I planted six and all three in one pot failed completely so they have been replaced with Cucamelons – another one new to me. These very vigorous vines bear fruits the size of grapes which look like tiny water melons, they are said to taste of cucumber with a hint of lime and can be eaten fresh or pickled. Although I've kept them in the greenhouse they can also be grown outside but I didn't have a suitable space so left them inside.

Courgettes and first broad beans
On the whole things are going far better than last year, at least I have some broad beans in the freezer and have harvested peas and courgettes. There is still much to be done and much to look forward to.
Beautiful and delicious

Friday, 28 March 2014

A Picture Is Worth.......

I'm saying it all in pictures this week.........
Chilli Necklaces ready to hang and dry

4 Pint milk carton makes a scoop/funnel

Planting has begun - broad bean area

Carrots and Parsnips under tunnels

The Heat is On! 

Tiny Electric Daisy Seedlings
Rudbeckia Seedlings

Extra seedling storage in greenhouse

Brassica Seedlings

Harlequin Buddleia glowing in the sunshine

Calendula Still Flowering!!!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Hard Work

diminutive daffs
We ll spring has sprung at last! Although today today's temperatures have taken a tumble after the highs of yesterday (20C under clear blue skies!) there is great feeling in the air. In the back garden I have lots of Tete-a-tete daffodils (all of 4” high) and crocuses and there are lots more bulbs poking their noses through. The grass has been cut for the first time too!

On Saturday I spent five hours down on the allotment. The raspberries and blueberries were pruned. I mulched the asparagus with some of my home made compost – quite pleased with it and there's plenty left for digging in with the strawberries and some of the beans, I have a lot of beans planned so it will need a lot of compost. I also dug out a very weedy area ready to put in the carrots – that was quite hard work for the start of the season but my back survived! There's similar patch half way up the allotment to do at a later date.

giant crocus
I've realised that I've been doing the allotment all wrong!! I've been working it as a whole plot then walking paths between the beds. This really wastes a lot of time and effort. It also means that I can't spread fertilisers or organic matter to rot down over winter as much will be wasted. So when I planned the allotment this time I plotted out permanent beds roughly 6ft wide with paths about 2ft between each. They will be about 3 metres long purely because thing like cloches and tunnels tend to be made that length. (Yes I know I'm mixing my measurements but it can't be helped!) The trouble is that the allotment is about 15ft wide (it is measured in chains – or some other archaic measurement) so I'll have an odd very long bed running down one side but unless I break it into much smaller pieces and lose even more growing space to paths I think it will work ok.

It's back!
Yesterday I took the plunge and put the cover back on the mini greenhouse and then moved a lot of pots into it. I've not put seeds in it because I've had a similar building blow over before and lost all the seeds which were inside it. Instead I'll be keeping the seed trays in the main greenhouse, which I think is warmer because it is twin walled. The only big plants left in there are the Camellia and two Acers, just in case there are any frosts in the next week or so. I have put in plenty of seeds now – Romanesco, Broccoli, Canadian Wonder Beans, New Zealand Spinach, and Parsnips. Down in the heated propagator are pre-sprouted tomatoes (from the tray on the windowsill) two pots of electric daisies and three pots of tomatillos. The tray of flower seeds are doing well, lots of tiny fragile seedlings. Having emptied one compost dalek I was able to turn the second one into it. A smelly and heavy job but well worth doing because the bottom had become very compacted and slimy, it wasn't composting well so hopefully now that it has been turned over it will compost down a lot better. I need to look at what I put in there – I think it needs more dry matter, perhaps straw or shredded paper and turning over or mixing about more often to keep the air flowing. It had a good start with lots of old compost from Rob's greenhouse clear out.
hidden gems

One thing which didn't get composted were the chilli plants found by the bin – Rob had emptied his greenhouse and dumped them leaving most of the chillies on the plants so I sat and pulled them off, I will put them on string soon and hang them in the airing cupboard to dry then eventually they will all be ground down to make my own chilli powder.

hot box
This lead me to thinking about the importance of only growing what you intend to eat or maybe sell. Many newcomers to grow your own make the mistake of growing everything that is traditional whether they like it or not. I have seen plots with large amounts of thing like Broad Beans, Brussels Sprouts and Runner Beans going to waste because they were grown out of habit rather than need. With ever spiralling seed prices it really is important to plan carefully what to grow. I always go by what I like most, is hard to get in the shops, is always expensive in the shops and maybe it is a bit unusual. To this end this year I am making the soft fruit area much larger, likewise the area dedicated to hungry veg – beans, spinach and aliums is bigger. I am also not doing potatoes as they take up a lot of room, always stay relatively cheap in the shops and there is wireworm in the soil. Some people grow things which are trendy but then much later discover that they either don't like said plant or have no idea what to do with it. This then has the knock on effect of denting their confidence. It isn't the same as growing something as an experiment, this usually done as a informed choice which may or may not work out well. I did that last year with the salsify, I was curious so I tried it and was not impressed. The Chard was a similar experiment but more successful as I enjoyed it's earthy flavour and will grow it again (if I have room). I also plant to experiment with growing lentils this year too as I love to eat them and can't always get my favourite type. The same rule applies to greenhouses – don't grow tomatoes if you don't really like them – grow something different that you do like, maybe different fruit such as melons, or get some early fruiting strawberries. If you are a veg lover try Aubergines and Peppers instead.  Whether your passion is for tomatoes, carrots or brassicas try some different varieties – either new F1 hybrids or heritage as well as the reliable varieties the choices are amazing especially if you search online.  I think we all need to get more imaginative in our growing.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Looking Forward

Happy days
I have been in a bit of a gardening downer over the past few weeks. The allotment didn't do well last year when others had bumper crops, I cannot find a job in horticulture (Garden centre, nursery or gardening!), I didn't get a place on a gardening course and Norfolk Master Gardeners have been disbanded because there is no further funding! All of which added on to a very wet winter put me into a decline. However it is not terminal and like the most persistent weeds I've started recovering. I ordered a box full of assorted seeds from Seed Parade – excellent value for money – and some James Wong seeds from Suttons, Cucamelons, Callaloo, Tomatillos & Electric Daisies.

As I said last time I have commandeered part of the middle shed for seed growing – so long as I can stop people dumping junk on the flat surface!!! I started some broad beans off a couple of weeks ago just in cells on the bench not in the new toy and they are just starting to pop their heads up. At the same time I put in some onion and leek seeds which don't seem to have stirred yet. I managed to clear a small space on the greenhouse bench so these have all been put up there as it is lighter and warmer. Also in the greenhouse are pots and hanging pots of strawberries, long overdue for planting up, hopefully I'll get a small early crop.  I rescued some Garlic, destined for the bin, from work & am glad to say that some of it is growing happily in a trough near the greenhouse. 
Back in the shed I've changed tack and put some flower seeds into a tray in the propagator. The packets say they should have been planted by last year but I'm hoping that with heat they will all spring into life. There's a mixture of Poppies, Rudbeckia, Asters, Sweet Peas & Shasta Daisies. I've got lots more to try but there isn't much room because I've pre-sprouted some parsnips and they are now in there too. How successful things are remains to be seen – I have bought proper seed compost this year and I am very disappointed. It's Levingtons so I expected it to be good quality fine blended compost but no, this is full of hard woody lumps and fibrous bits, not what seeds need at all. I might as well have used ordinary multi purpose!

On the kitchen windowsill are the rest of the parsnip seeds and another tray of assorted seeds all pre-sprouting to check their viability. I've got tomatoes, peppers and peas all laid out in organised rows. It is a technique I first discovered on my Master Gardeners induction day. It makes so much sense when you're not sure of the viability of seeds to just try a few on a damp paper towel to see if they come to life.

I haven't done anything on the allotment for ages – it needs digging over, or rotavating to save my back! Although I've not managed to get down to the allotment because of the wet weather I have been planning out the coming growing season. The top half of the plot will be nearly all fruit plus the asparagus with a dividing line of herbs across the middle, these are mainly grown for wildlife as I have plenty at home to use in the kitchen. The rest of the plot is divided up for a normal three crop rotation but fitting in nine different types of beans plus two lots of peas, spinach, chard, squash, onions and leeks means that the 'hungry' area will be much bigger than the brassica or roots areas. Fortunately we are not big brassica eaters – I am doing Romnanesco, Kale & Brussels Sprouts this year for a change. In the roots part I've got four types of carrot (not planned but magazines give things away!) and two types of parsnip. I will need to do some clever planting to get everything in! I am thinking about growing a pumpkin on the 'compost' heap. It isn't really usable compost because it is just the heap where I pile all the weeds I dig out – so more of a mountain than a heap!

I have purchased a soil testing probe – it does moisture, Ph and light. I have tested it out here and there and was shocked to find that the Acers & Camelia which were repotted into ericacious compost last year are now in non acidic compost. It reads Ph6! So I had to purchase some special food for them to try and redress the balance. I shall have to use only rainwater for them to help balance things out. This makes me wonder what to do with the Blueberries. I need to check the Ph of the soil on the allotment before I decide but if Ericacious compost doesn't stay acidic enough is there any point of transferring them into pots?

Alexanders Everywhere!!
In the garden at home there are signs of life with bulbs poking their noses through. However this mild winter has meant that the weeds have already taken over – we are overrun with Alexanders! I dug loads up last year and they are back with vengeance so I'm seriously thinking of using some mega strong wed killer on them. Not organic or good practice but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures! I know that some people like to eat them – leaves in salads & roots later in the year but I'm not one of them! It will be tricky in some places because they are growing close to or in some shrubs.

Ever flowering Calendula
Last time I mentioned I'd dug up the scorzonera – well I did eat some of it & was not impressed. It was very tough and fibrous and the famous 'delicate' flavour left a lot to be desired. Still it was only a curiosity! The Fuchsias have calmed down and although full of buds they aren't opening. The calendua is still flowering!