Thursday, July 3, 2014

Things I have learned

Always keep your wellies by the back door.

Slugs are less enticed by older leaves so it pays to bring your plants to a decent size before planting out.

Always keep an eye peeled for pests. I just paused to have a quick slug hunt and rid myself of seven small ones and this monstrosity:

Cover your salad leaves with a net or the birds will eat them, in fact cover as much as you can!

The cabbage white butterfly often lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves, so a seemingly flawless plant can be covered in caterpillars over night. Find those little yellow eggs under your brassica leaves and squish.

The amount of insects per square foot of soil is terrifying.

Even correctly spaced beetroot may need to be thinned, as a single seed can be a cluster of a few seeds.

Loosen the soil around your onion and garlic bulbs before lifting, to allow the bulbs to expand in the soil.

You can eat the tops of a lot of plants – Brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, peas, and beans to name only a few.

Don’t pull up your salad plants – many of them will grow new leaves after you cut what you need. Look up “cut and come again”.

Little and often is the key to keeping the garden going through the year.

Teach me more things - leave a comment! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Secret to a Successful Vegetable Garden is Little and Often

We are all busy people. Whether what we do is of value to the next person is irrelevant. Before I became a mother, I took any course or class that stirred my interest, travelled around the country and abroad to live concerts I couldn’t miss, had endless energy to spread around, endless patience for other people. I certainly knew I was happy and appreciated that, but I didn’t realise how easy it was to make myself happy when I was only responsible for my own actions. No matter how stressful a moment in time was, I always had the reassurance that I’d soon return to my personal freedom. Now I have to work harder to balance the responsibility of a child with the desire to always be doing something of joy and value. My garden makes this so much easier. My eight-month-old son will sit happily beside me while I weed, plant and sing him nursery rhymes. If he bores of looking at me, there are birds and cats to watch and unexpected breezes to make him gasp and laugh.

To truly perfect an art requires so much of your time. It is the reason that brilliant people are often considered eccentric – they don’t thin themselves to entertain peripheral distractions. For those of us walking the more mainstream line, we need to find a way to juggle all the boring bits of life to allow for those moments of pleasure and satisfaction. I rarely spend more than a solid hour in the garden. I might pop in and out twenty times in one day, picking a few weeds here, planting a seed there. It is the accumulation of these miniscule efforts that keep the vegetable garden surviving through the seasons.

On the 21st of June I spent a few minutes planting two borlotti beans at either side of a branch. Only for the entry in my diary I would have barely remembered the act. This was the result yesterday, twelve days later:

This is the glorious sight of the original bean, it's red outer coating discarded beside it, split in two to allow the new shoot to escape. The moment I saw it, I was immediately grateful that I had taken the little time to dig the ground and bury two seeds.

I instantly planted two more.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Learning About Broad Beans

Like most gardeners, I have more seeds than sense and more varieties than vigour. I have unopened packets borne of impulse, the likes of fennel and gherkin cucumbers. I do not aspire to be a whimsical gardener; I want to learn valuable skills and soak up empirical wisdom through experimenting with methods and figuring out what works for me rather than relying on generic tips. The only way to do this is to specialise in certain plants, growing them year after year learning new tricks with each success and failure.

This is my second year growing broad beans and I've already witnessed different behaviours from crop to crop. Last year I planted in the autumn, over wintered the plants in the greenhouse and planted out in the spring. Most of my pods were harvested before the black bean aphid attack in June. We are at the end of June now and have escaped any aphid attack so far. I followed age old advice of picking out the growing tips once the first pods had developed. This has the double advantage of diverting the plant's strength towards swelling the bean pods, as well as making the plant less susceptible to the aphid.

A piece of advice I failed to follow was to not plant your beans in the same bed as alliums. Below you can see broad beans and mange tout alongside my garlic. So far I cannot see any ill effects. Both varieties and showing a marvelous yield. I have been eating the peas for a week and some of the bean pods are just about large enough to warrant harvesting some for the beans inside. You can eat the young broad bean pods whole but I prefer to wait until the beans have swelled to adult size.

A sight less desirable are my two other broad bean plants, whose yellow mottled leaves you can see below. These plants were started at the same time as the others, planted out at the same time but into a large contained with some spinach and lamb's lettuce, my reasoning being that the leafy plants would benefit from sharing the soil with the nitrogen adding properties of the beans. Well my salad leaves were devoured by birds and my spinach bolted and when a bed was freed up, I moved my broad bean plants to, what I though was a better position. I was wrong.

The plant above has borne two pods with no sign of further flowering. The tips were pinched out (maybe a little too early?) like the other plants. The two pods produced, however, are of a massive girth, at least in comparison to my other plants. This evening I decided to stop gazing at the plant in wonder and pick the two pods so I could get some enjoyment at least. The pods are pictured with a cherry tomato for scale:

When to harvest broad beans:

Squeeze the pods and if there is no empty space around the beans, they are ready to be picked. Sometimes the pods might look swollen and it seems like the beans are quite large, but when you open it up you find an vacant bean shaped hollow with a tiny bean inside. By squeezing the pod, you can determine if the bulge is bean or air.

I prise open the first pod to be met with a promising sight.

Opening the pod reveal three flawless, plump beans.

The second pod lets me down (see what I mean about the deceiving size of the pod), but still produces one good bean:

Is life too short to cook four beans?

Two minutes on the boil, a smidge of butter and black pepper and a beetroot leaf makes a banquet fit for an pixie.

So what have I learned about growing broad beans? I'm not sure to be honest. Maybe my two failed plants suffered from a second transplantation. Maybe I picked out the tips too early? Maybe they suffered from poor pollination. If so, why? A large comfrey plant only a metre from the beans draws alot of bees every day. Maybe there is a mineral deficiency in the soil. They are in a raised bed, which had my homemade compost added to it. The successful plants, to the best of my memory, were planted in the bare ground with nothing added.

One thing I have learned that planting near alliums doesn't seem to affect the plant so don't be too restricted by companion planting guides. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Images Restored; Crisis Averted

Be still my beating heart. I spent ages deleting old photos from my Nexus last night as I have duplicates of every thing and figured that my blog has a copy of most things. Well I got a nasty surprise today when I realised that any blog photo I deleted from my Google Photos account had also disappeared from my blog. If the baby had not been asleep I would I have screamed, I would have cried but after a moment of calm collection I remembered that luckily there is no hiding your footsteps on the internet (there's a reason for those weird ads that keep popping up on your homepage) and I was able to restore them all in a matter of seconds - go to your bin in Photos, click on relevant photographs and click on the undo icon to restore. My posts were immediately updated to their former glory. Im still annoyed that anyone who may have stumbled on my posts would have scoffed at my amateurish badly formatted posts. Come back would-be readers! Come baaaaaaaack!!!!!!!


...only joking

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rescue your rotting vegetables!

The flawless displays of fruit and veg in the supermarket are evidence (or the cause) of our desire for picture perfect produce. Bruised or even just misshapen food are left to shrivel and die. Don't be so quick to discard fruit and veg that appear unsightly, a quick investigation with a knife and you'll often find that there is plenty perfect flesh inside.

Recently I was gifted with two cabbages (in exchange for my hand in marriage - a good deal I thought) that I had great plans for. A week later I noticed a slight smell in the kitchen which turned out to be my cabbages.. on the turn. Oh no I gasped, cursing my neglectful ways, and was about to dump them into the compost when I decided to examine them further. A few minutes later this:

Had become this:

Shredded and ready for the freezer to be added to soup or stew or something else starting with S at a later stage.

Shredded cabbage can also be used to make good old coleslaw or brined to make sauerkraut.

So quick, take a look at your fruit and veg and rescue any casualties.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Garden: 18th June 2014

A belter of a heatwave has been bestowed upon us, temperatures well into the twenties each day, and it is magical to witness the garden thrive in the presence of such sunshine. We are spending most of our days in the garden, eating our meals there, lying on the grass and eating straight from the plants. Life is sweet.


This year I planted some broad bean plants beside my garlic, since learning that they are not recommended companions. Well I cannot complain at face value as my plants are bursting with pods, while another two broad bean plants in another area of the garden, in a bed of their own, are looking miserable with tatty pods. I hope pairing beans with alliums does not have an adverse effect on taste because it certainly doesn't seem to be reducing my yield.

Ah the humble mange tout, one of the first treats each season and this year my eight month old baby had dibs on the first pod. The crunch of green between tiny teeth brought smiles of glee to his face, and filled me with warmth and pride.

My various brassica plants have taken off since moving from pot to bed. The netting is to protect from birds and the cabbage white butterfly (mother of the destructive caterpillar).

I'm proud of my straight lines! Beetroot in the background (don't forget to sample the leaves - a very satisfying salad leaf that brings great colour as well as taste to your plate) and carrots in the foreground. Unless you want minature veg, make sure you have given sufficient space between seedlings. Thinning carrots can attract the carrot fly so try to avoid it. Beetroot seed can be a cluster of a few seeds so even if you have given ample space at sowing time, check again when the seedlings have established as you could have two or three plants develop from the one seed. If this happens, transplant the extra seedlings to a new spot.

A great sign on my weathered tomato plants - flower buds. We will have fruit! These plants were not looking well a few months ago. Two plants cracked in the wind, but I managed to sprout new plants from the remains. When the flowers develop, I will start using tomato feed. Or maybe just comfrey tea, I'm not sure yet. To date, I have given an organic general purpost feed a few times. I have been regularly picking off side shoots also.

A few brassica plants still need to be bedded, and my leeks need some attention. I'll leave that for another post.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Garden: 29th May 2014

I am expecting a very late tomato crop as these babies have been outside from very early on, without cover. 

Carrot seedlings - the line in the foreground were planted one month before the back row:

All but one of my brassica seedlings have grown into lovely little plants. This purple sprouting broccoli is six weeks old:

Calabrese (common green broccoli) of the same age:

Another peer, the cauliflower:

Brussels sprouts on the left, greyhound cabbage on the right:

Broad bean plants (planted fourteen weeks ago) are flowering and mange tout plants are establishing themselves:

Beetroot seedlings that were planted 22 days ago:

A monstrosity of a comfrey plant that is attracting so many bees to my garden: