Monday, July 28, 2014

Heart attack and Vine

My jalapeno plants recently spent their first day outside of the safety of the kitchen windowsill. I thought they would enjoy the scorching hot sun. When I went to bring them back inside that evening, I was horrified to find one with a bastardised, burnt leaf! Till I realised it had fallen from the ivy above. Phew.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Garden: 16th July

July is a lovely time of the year in the garden and the sunshine has been generous this year. There is plenty to eat but I must keep reminding myself not to neglect the sowing of future crops in order to avoid a sudden end to my bounty. This year I have introduced more long season crops - leeks and purple sprouting broccoli, along with my usual two brussels sprouts plants - to ensure a winter harvest.

We have been boiling beetroot for a few weeks. It is a real shame that beetroot has such a bad reputation from it's common disguise jarred in vinegar. The unadultrated root is so mild and earthy and really deserves to be as common as the carrot, being that it is so easy to grow and so suited to our climate.

The young leaves are a superior salad vegetable and the older leaves can be shredded and cooked in butter and garlic.

My first time [successfully] growing broccoli is a learning experience. So used to the firm heads in the supermarket, my looser heads were beginning to flower before I realised it was time to harvest. I should have cut the head when it looked like this:

No harm done thought, the steamed broccoli was without a doubt the best I have ever tasted. In fact, dinner that night came almost predominantly from the garden:

I am hopeful for a good harvest from my six tomato plants. If you recall, the plants suffered a lot when the were first left outside. Some plants were reduced to a stalk. They came back with vigour, thanks to the long season of sunshine this year. Care for the plants includes picking off side shoots (they could probably be thinned some more but I am taking a chance), mulching the soil (they are in pots) with comfrey leaves and feeding with comfrey tea as well as regular watering. I tend to give the plants a really good drowning. Recently, I moved them into slightly bigger pots, approximately 9".

This is my year for brassicas. I have about 16 plants, with a variety of broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout and cabbage. The slug and caterpillar damage has been surprisingly minimal. I am collecting slugs by hand and squishing the bright yellow eggs lain by the cabbage white butterfly on the underside of the leaves. I have also mulched around the plants with comfrey leaves, which are apparently appetising to slugs, in the hope of distracting them from the plants.

My Garden: 23rd July

I am trying my hand at jalapenos this year. Below are three plants that have been sitting inside my kitchen window since some time in June (cannot find a record of planting date). It's definitely time to give them a new home.

The moment they are moved into new 5" pots, I realise how cramped they must have been in a single cherry tomato pot!

My deficient in everything broad bean plant produced a fresh shoot some time ago and finally gave me some beans. I'll take two plump pods over nothing.

Recently I put tin foil around the base of my brassicas, which I read is to deter slugs who do not like the texture. THEY LOVE IT! They love it, the slimy bastards. I recently moved four plants to where my garlic had been lifted. They have been decimated and when I invested I found masses of slugs neatly sleeping inside the foil. For too long I had not the heart to kill them, and simply threw them in the back corner of the garden, in the grass clippings heap, but no more mercy. The smaller ones I squashed on a concrete block, the larger ones were thrown into a bucket of water. Not fool proof apparently as a load of them are climbing back out! They can move a lot faster than I'd anticipated too.

The only thing for it is to get chickens. Chickens love to eat slugs. And I love to eat eggs. Soon....

A Rose Experiment: Saving my Rose Bush

The following is a post I wrote on my original blog at the beginning of 2013. At the end I have updated the results since then.


I have a very small understated rose bush, well more of a rose stalk, that has produced one beautiful pink flower a year. I want more (more more more how do you like it how do you like it).

Here’s how my rose bush looks today, on a cold damp January day:

Mangy and miserable.

Step 1: Leaves are removed
If I had been paying attention to the plant, I’d have noticed the blackspot on the leaves. It might be too little too late, but from what I’ve read online, the leaves should have been removed back in November, before the onset of winter. However, as this winter has been remarkably mild and the real frost is only on its way, I’m hoping that todays leaf removal will help the plant.

Step 2: White vinegar and coffee grounds

Now to prepare a feed from what is available in the kitchen. A quick look on a few gardening sites and it seems that roses like acidic conditions so I whip up a simple dilute of white vinegar and water. Another frequently suggested feed is coffee grounds so I sprinkle a handful of the grounds around the base of the plant, and soak in with my vinegar dilute.

I’ll update the post in spring when hopefully I’ll have new healthy foliage.

…fast forward to March 16 and my rose bush which was reduced to a single stem has started to grow new foliage. Compost was laid around the base about a month ago and today I gave it a feed of coffee granules and vinegar dilute:

Second update: 

That year, my rose bush never flowered. As far as I can recollect, a bud didn't even develop. Disaster I thought. It wasn't great to begin with but at least the pathetic plant produced one beautiful rose for me. I considered pulling it up because it just looked like a stick in the middle of the garden.

But I didn't. I left it there and this summer, the year following the removal of leaves, I was treated to a sight I had not seen previously:

A single beautiful rose, at the base of the plant as usual, but what's this? three more buds at the top of the plant! My heart soars.

It's still not a prize rose bush but any improvement is a victory.  There was an aphid attack before the flowers opened but a quick combination of squishing and spraying with a mixture of water, garlic powder and ginger powder cleared that up.

I don't know what the white marks on the leaves are, maybe they were caused by the aphids. If you know, leave a comment!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twelve Things I Have Learned Through Vegetable Gardening

Always keep your wellies by the back door.

Keep your watering can outside the back door and pour all your waste cooking/kettle water in there. I get a kick out of re-using my pink boiled beetroot water on their surviving cousins in the garden.

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.