Thursday, 17 April 2014

Not veg at all

Here are some photos of plants in my garden that are not veg - yes, there are quite a few of them these days...

Aquilegia nicknamed "David Ford"


Dogwood - Cornus Alba "Aureum"


Cotinus "Royal Purple"


Apple "Scrumptious"

Apple "Scrumptious"


Pear "Conference"

Blueberry

Daffodil "Sundisc"

By the way, I have finally made up my mind what to do with my second batch of Sweet Peas. The ones I planted in pots are not looking very good, so I have put some of the second batch in with them to "hedge my bets". I think maybe that first batch may have got too cold, because they have hardly grown at all since being transplanted, and some of the leaves have gone yellow. The second batch, being under cover in a mini greenhouse has grown a lot, and is generally looking much more enthusiastic:


The other half of this second batch has gone in a really strange place - amongst the Raspberries! I couldn't think of anywhere else for them to go, and they desperately needed to be planted somewhere. I'm hoping that as the Sweet Peas grow they will be supported by the Raspberry canes.


Well, it might work. If it does, I will have a rather more picturesque row of Raspberries than normal!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A growth spurt

During the first half of April the plants in my garden have grown very rapidly, helped by mild temperatures and a fair bit of sunshine.

The potato plants are growing at a rate that is almost visible to the human eye, and some of the foliage is amazingly beautiful:

Potato "Red Duke of York"

The plastic "seedling greenhouse" has been earning its keep, protecting the plants from cool night-time temperatures. There hasn't been any frost recently, but it could happen at any time still.


Just about time for more earthing-up, I reckon...


The Asparagus is not doing too badly either. It looks as if I will have a better crop this year - which is just as well, since I had told it that if it didn't buck its ideas up I would be removing it this year!


The tomato plants have grown a fair bit too. They will probably need transplanting into bigger pots over the Easter weekend. I have had them outdoors in one of the mini greenhouses during the daytime, to give them maximum light, but it is still too cold for them to be outdoors at night-time.


The plants around my micro-pond have shot up too:


Most of that lot is Lily of the Valley, but there are also some Hardy Geraniums, and some Red-veined Sorrel.

Over by the fence, the "Autumn Bliss" Raspberries are coming up strongly. Last year was a very poor year for Raspberries, so I'm hoping for a better result this time.


My clump of Wild Garlic has been decimated since this photo was taken. It had grown so strongly that I felt justified in picking enough of it to make a small batch of Wild Garlic Pesto.


The photo shows very clearly that the Wild Garlic is spreading-out rapidly. Just look at all those little babies! I don't know how they got there (birds?) but tiny seedlings of Wild Garlic have appeared all over the garden, so I am keeping a watchful eye for them, and removing all those I find except for the ones in close proximity to the parent plant.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Transplanting chillis

My chillis had outgrown the little 3" pots in which they began their lives. Leaving them in those any longer would risk having them run out of space and nutrients and making them pot-bound.


As you can see, the size of the plants varies a lot. Even plants of the same variety can be very different in size.

As I normally do, I have put the chillis into intermediate-size (5") pots, not the big 10" pots that will be their final homes. I'm not sure of the science of this, but they always say that for some reason tiny plants don't like being put into huge pots. Here you can clearly see the difference between the 3" and the 5":


It was good to see that the plants all had a strong root structure.


I potted up one plant of each of 8 different varieties. I have some other, smaller, ones coming on, so I intend to eventually have 12 plants. This is about as many as I can conveniently manage, considering that I will also have potted tomatoes and potatoes to look after. I'll probably not have much trouble finding homes for my spare ones.


For the time being the chillis will live outside in one of the mini greenhouses during the day, but will be brought indoors overnight, until such time as the night-time temperatures rise to double figures.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Harvest Monday - 14th April 2014

Only a small contribution to Harvest Monday from me this week, but an interesting one because it is the first time I have harvested Wild Garlic (other than one or two leaves used as a garnish).


I have read about Wild Garlic pesto a lot, and most people seem to think it is nice, so that's what I did with my harvest. I "zuzzed" it in a food-processor, along with pine-nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, producing this beautiful bowl of pesto:


It was powerful! You wouldn't want huge quantities of it (unless you were prepared to have smelly breath for the next couple of days!).

This week I have also picked a bit more Purple Sprouting Broccoli:


The broccoli has not been very prolific this year, and although I had plants of three different varieties, supposedly flowering at different times, they all came on at once. It's tempting to say "Oh, forget it; I'll grow something else instead", but I know that every year is different and you can't expect perfect crops every time. I have been growing PSB for many years now, and I'm not going to stop just because of one poor crop.

I have cut another few spears of Asparagus. Not enough though!




The final harvest I have to report is this endive - it is the one I wrote about blanching, the other day. The blanching process only took 7 days this time.





New furniture for the patio

Until very recently we had a gas barbecue on our patio, but we have just disposed of it. We felt that since we had only used it about 5 or 6 times in the last 3 years - and not at all during 2013 - it was not worth hanging on to it. We generally prefer to cook indoors, even when we eat outside (which to be honest is a fairly rare event). So, since the barbecue has gone we have re-vitalised the patio by replacing the old plastic furniture with some new wooden items:


These are items from the "Acacia" range marketed by www.greenfingers.com.  We actually have four more chairs, but we have not put them out yet. The table is an expanding one. In the configuration shown here it is 1.5 metres long, but it expands to 2 metres if you need it to, so it will comfortably accomodate six diners.


We are planning to get a set of cushions for the chairs, because I imagine they would not be comfortable to sit in for any length of time without them.

The quality of this furniture seems very good, and I think it is excellent value for money. I was impressed with the ease of assembly too. Actually it was only the table that needed any assembly - the chairs are folding ones - and it only took me about half an hour to do it. Amazingly for flat-packed furniture it went together easily, and there were no bits missing! They even provided the necessary Allen keys and screwdriver. This sounds like a sponsored review, doesn't it? Well, it's not, but I believe in giving praise where praise is due. Last year I had a really bad experience with a flat-packed potting-bench which I was given (free) to review, by a well known retailer. It was awful: poor quality wood; missing parts; bits that didn't fit properly; minimal instructions - everything was wrong, so you will understand why I was apprehensive about this stuff from Greenfingers.

Now that the furniture has arrived, I will be re-arranging the potted plants to enhance what I call the "Mediterranean Courtyard" feel of the patio. I have two Bay trees and an Olive tree to go at three of the corners. The other corner is obstructed by the rotary washing-line! There will be a clutch of Rosemary and Lavender plants too, which will all add to the ambience.

My only worry in all this is "where will I put my seedlings?". In the past I had no qualms about putting dirty, wet pot plants and seed-trays on the plastic table, but now I won't want to damage the posh new wooden one!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Planting Lettuce seedlings

As you know, I have committed to making a better job of successional sowing this year, and I'm intending to try to keep us adequately stocked with salad ingredients throughout the Summer, so my first batch of lettuce seedlings have gone in the ground now. They were sown in small pots on 22nd February, thinned-out to one per pot and kept under cover in a mini greenhouse until a week or so ago. Over the last few days I have been hardening them off (gradually acclimatising them to outdoor conditions), and now they are planted-up in one of the raised beds:


Notice that there are only 8 of them (the plants along the edge of the bed are Parsley). If I sow little and often, I will hopefully have a continuous supply! (Although Sod's Law says they will all grow at different rates...)

These lettuces are from Sarah Raven's Best Winter Lettuce mixture - kindly provided for me to review. The mix includes three types. This first one is "Marvel of Four Seasons", which has bright green leaves liberally splashed with red.


This one is "Can Can" which has frilly green leaves with serrated edges.


And then there is "Green Oak Leaf", a well-known variety ideally suited to the "cut and come again" method of harvesting.


I have given each lettuce the protection of a small dome cloche. These are some of those I bought the other day from Greenfingers.com. They are perfect for this task. I also sprinkled a few slug pellets around the cloches. With such a small number of lettuces on the go, I can't afford to lose any!


Here is the next batch coming on. Actually, these are endives, not lettuces, but they will go in alongside the lettuces nonetheless. In a few days time I will thin them to one plant per pot, and let them grow on for another couple of weeks before transplanting them.


The day on which I planted out those lettuce seedlings was dull and rainy, but reasonably still, so I took the opportunity to temporarily remove the cloches over my Broad Beans and their attendant Radishes. This serves two purposes: first, it allows the plants to have a good drink from the rain. And second, it allows the beans to harden-up a little. If they are kept under the cloches all the time they may get very soft. At some stage they will become too tall to fit under the cloches, and when that time comes I would like them to be ready to fend for themselves.


The two inner rows are the Broad Beans, and the two outer rows are the Radishes.

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P.S. I saw a pair of Greenfinches yesterday. Although not rare, these birds are seldom seen in my garden, so I was pleased to be able to photograph them. I was standing at the window when they arrived, and I had to VERY slowly go and get my camera, so that I wouldn't scare them away. As it was, by the time I got back with the camera one of the birds had flown away - and the other steadfastly refuse to look towards me! These photos are taken with the new camera, which seems to cope pretty well with the glass of the window between it and the subject.





Saturday, 12 April 2014

Denizens of the compost bin

An active compost bin is evidently an attractive place if you are a worm! Over the last few days there has been something of a population explosion in my compost bins. They are just teeming with worms:


Such huge numbers of worms make light work of our kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, converting them rapidly into a dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich compost. The trouble is, the presence of worms attracts predators. Almost every night something (Fox? Badger?) tries to get into the compost bins by tunnelling underneath, shovelling earth hither and thither in the process:



My little veg-patch is a battleground, with a constant war being waged between me and the animals. To be honest, I have no hatred for the animals - it's just that in such a confined space they can wreak a lot of destruction very easily, and much as I love wildlife, I love my veg even more. So the presence of hordes of worms is a mixed blessing.

Whilst putting some more material into one of the bins recently, I saw on the underside of its lid what I initially took to be huge clusters of worms' eggs:


However, very close inspection reveals that these are not eggs at all - unless eggs have legs, that is:


Enquiries on Facebook and on the UK Veg Gardeners' forum identified them as "Oribatid Turtle Mites" aka "Brown Mites", beneficial creatures that play a significant part in breaking down organic matter to make compost.


Several theories have been put forward about why they are clustered on the lid of the compost bin, as opposed to being in the bin. It may be that they have only just hatched, from eggs laid on the lid, and are not yet ready to start chomping on the veg peelings. It might also be that they feel the compost to be too wet or too acidic, but my favourite theory is that they are just keeping out of the way for a bit because there are so many huge worms in the compost. When you are just a tiny mite, the sight of a huge worm is presumably quite intimidating!