Friday, 22 May 2015

A new cane-support system

Regular readers will know that I have experimented with lots of different ways of supporting canes for growing tomatoes. There are a few good gadgets out there, but there are lots of poor ones!

You have seen this before, but just for the record, this is my preferred tomato-growing setup:

The key feature for me is the green wire cane-support device. In my opinion it is perfect for the job, but it doesn't seem to be available any more. There are many similar products on sale, but none of them are much good. They are mostly far too flimsy.

Anyway, the unexpected advent some more tomato plants prompted me to experiment with another method for supporting a cane. First off you need one of these:

I got them from Gardening Naturally.

That on its own is never going to support a cane big enough to hold a 5-truss tomato plant, but with the aid of a bent wire coat-hanger it just might! I drilled a hole in two opposite sides of a suitable container; cut the coat-hanger and bent it into a straight length; wound it round a bamboo cane; inserted the ends of the wire through the holes; bent them down to stop them shifting, and ended up with this:

Not ideal, but definitely worth a try!

I used the new method when potting-up one of the recent arrivals - a variety called "Crimson Crush", about which I shall write tomorrow:

If this method works well enough, I might try it on some of my other pots next year.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Carrot Root Fly precautions

Last year I used Enviromesh for the first time, to protect my carrots from the Carrot Root Fly, and I am now a convert. Carrot Root Fly infestation is more or less inevitable if carrots are not protected, and the results can be devastating.

Carrots infested by Carrot Root Fly - Photo from 2010

The manufacturer's website describes Enviromesh like this:-

"Enviromesh is a fine mesh netting, woven from U.V. stabilised polyethylene.  The mesh size is 1.35mm.  The weight is around 55g/m2, light passage 90% and air passage 75%.  The material is very durable.  In tests, it showed no deterioration after continuous exposure for a period of 60 months.  In practice, Enviromesh has lasted a period of more than 10 years."

Having seen the results of using this material, I shall be using it for the foreseeable future!

These are my maincrop carrots, duly protected:

There are three rows of carrots under there, as well as one row of beetroot.

And these are my little "cocktail carrots", growing as usual in a raised wooden planter outside our kitchen window. The actual carrots are in two plastic crates filled with compost.

I have used a small offcut of Enviromesh, supported by six metal rods topped with cane-toppers.

This will give enough height for the carrot leaves to grow unhindered.

The mesh is secured to the wooden planter with some drawing-pins.

All the carrot foliage looks good so far, but of course it is too early for any significant roots, though with all this protection I'm quietly confident... (famous last words).

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pricking-out Leek seedlings

This year I am growing three different varieties of Leek - "Apollo", "Toledo" and "Winter Giant". The reason I have three types is firstly to extend the harvest season, but also because if one variety doesn't do very well perhaps another will.

At the weekend I pricked-out a little batch of "Winter Giant". Prior to this they were all growing in one pot - their "seed bed". Pricking-out means separating them and putting them into individual pots. As you can see, the pots I have used are the tried-and-tested Elmlea ones, which are tall and slender - ideal for Leeks which need some depth but not a lot of space.

There were, I think, 16 Leek seedlings, and I have potted-up the 10 best ones and put all the others into one further pot - just in case of casualties.

 I will now grow these on for a few weeks, until they are about the thickness of a pencil, at which point they will be planted-out into their final growing positions.

As with many other vegetable crops, you have to be patient with Leeks. I will not be harvesting any for a long time. These ones will hopefully mature in the late Autumn or early Winter.

On a different note, I just want to show you how the Salads bed is developing:

It looks a bit weird, seen through the netting, but you can see how the Lettuces (foreground) have grown, and how much foliage the Radishes (background) have produced. I have harvested more-or-less one complete row of Radishes, but there are five more to come. The little patch of "Cutting Salad" over at the left is growing rapidly, though disappointingly hardly any of the Lettuce seeds germinated. The patch therefore consists mostly of Rocket and Oriental Brassicas, with some Cress.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Regenerating herbs

A new generation of Herbs is growing up in my garden. The seeds I sowed a few weeks back have produced some fine-looking seedlings, which are just about ready to go into bigger pots.

This is Thyme:

This is Parsley:

This is Chives:

This is Bay - grown from a cutting, not from seed, but looking very vigorous:

The Pineapple Mint from last year's Rocket Garden is coming up strongly. I think it is more white and less green than before.

The colour on the fresh young leaves of Variegated Sage is really vibrant at present:

There is a lot of fresh new growth on the Lemon Balm too. We never use this herb in our cooking, but it's a good-looking plant though.

These represent just a small selection of the herbs in my garden; there are herbs everywhere. That's the way I like it!

P.S. I have transplanted the Thyme seen above...

Monday, 18 May 2015

Harvest Monday - 18 May 2015

Well, cold, wet and windy weather we had at the beginning of last week has not suited many of the veggies, but there are some things that enjoy rain:

I think that rain at Asparagus harvest time is a good thing. Last year I made a big effort to water the Asparagus generously during May, and it really paid off: I had probably the best harvest I have ever had. This year, Nature is doing the task for me.

We ate that particular batch of Asparagus really simply - as a Starter, steamed until tender and served with just butter and home-made bread. That way you can really appreciate the flavour of the vegetable.

Radishes of course also like lots of moisture, so they have been doing OK as well. I sowed 3 different varieties on the same day and fortunately they are growing at different rates. These are the first ones to mature. They are "Cherry Belle". Coming along behind I have "Sparkler" and "Saxa".

There wasn't much else to harvest this week - if you ignore the herbs, that is. We have consumed copious quantities of Parsley and Mint, as well as a bit of Rosemary and Thyme. In fact there is hardly a day that goes by without some herbs from the garden being added to our food.

This is my entry for Harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. Maybe some other contributors can tell us about some rather more ambitious harvests...?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Planting-out Runner Beans

Now that my second big raised bed is finished, I have not wasted any time in filling it.

 It now plays host to this year's Runner Beans, supported as usual by a framework of 8-foot bamboo canes.

I have put in 7 pairs of canes. The task was easier than usual this year, because I was able to stand on the wide timbers, allowing me to put in the horizontal top cane without too much stretching!

With the exception of those at the end of each row, each cane will support one Runner Bean plant.

Along one side I have 5 plants of "Enorma", grown from seeds bought at the Hampshire Potato Day back in January.

And along the other side I have 5 plants whose official name I don't know, but which I have called "Jed's", because they are grown from seeds given to me by my Mother-in-Law's neighbour Jed Higson, about whose shed I once wrote.

The canes at the ends of the rows will each support two French Bean plants, which are smaller than the Runners. I have some of "Kew Blue", which is a purple-podded variety:

And I have some of "Kentucky Wonder", a green-podded variety.

I have also sown some of my old favourites "Cobra" which I will try to squeeze in as well.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Planting tomatoes

Last weekend I planted-up six of my tomatoes into their final homes, big 40cm self-watering containers:

I was a bit dubious about the weather, which is why I only planted six, even though I plan to have at least sixteen. By the middle of May the chances of getting frost in my part of the world should be very small, but you never know. As it happens, I'm glad I only did six, because on Tuesday night the temperature fell to only just above freezing (1.3C to be precise). Fortunately I had taken heed of the weather forecast and carried the tomato-containers into the garage - which was not easy, since they are quite heavy and have a 5-foot cane sticking up!

Since I had to go out to work early as usual, the tomatoes remained in the garage until Wednesday evening when I dutifully took them back outside. Actually, I bet they wished I hadn't because Thursday was a rotten day - wet and windy, with the maximum daytime temperature reaching only 9C.

It wasn't practical to move 26 containers of potatoes into the garage, so I covered them with a length of fleece - that 10-metre piece that I had bought as my "insurance policy". This was exactly the occasion for which I had bought it, and it served the purpose nicely.

This year I am trying to be disciplined with the tomatoes - by which I mean not attempting to grow too many. This is hard for me, since there are so many varieties that I really do want to grow. As I mentioned, the plan is to have 16 tomato plants (well, maybe 20 at a push...). If the Summer is anything like decent, watering loads of tomato-containers could be a chore. This is why my preference is for the so-called "self-watering" type of pot.

This is my preferred set-up for growing tomatoes

It has a reservoir in the base, which you can top-up via a vertical plastic tube. This will keep a tomato plant supplied with moisture for 2 or 3 days, but not much more if the weather is hot and sunny. I usually water them every day, aiming to keep them evenly hydrated in order to reduce the chances of them getting Blossom End Rot.

Blossom End Rot

Yesterday I planted another six tomatoes:

This is not the final configuration of the pots. When the tomato plants get a bit bigger, the pots will need to be spread further apart, in a single row, otherwise they will not get enough light or air.

This weekend I will be trying to get all the other tomatoes planted, because they are getting too big for the 5" pots in which they are currently living. I say "all the others", but inevitably there will be a few that I don't have room for, which will be given away to friends. This is always a sad moment, because I hate disposing of perfectly good plants, but at least it is better than just sticking them in the compost bin.