Tuesday, 19 May 2009

May update

Back to my bad habits of not keeping up with my promises of blogging!

April has been pretty rubbish on the gardening front. Hard to do anything between the showers (I don't mind getting wet but the two apprentices in the buggy do!), visitors and a couple of weeks in France introducing the apprentices to the family!
Still managed to plant potatoes just before Easter. This year we've got Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Pink Fir Apple and Saxo Arpona - supposedly blight resistant - all from my trusty Alan Romans, a Scottish family business based in Fife. As local as can be ...
I also sowed a couple of row of broad beans at the same time and they are now about 10 cm tall, which means the mice didn't get them to my relief!

Thankfully I have managed quite a few afternoons since our return from France and the plot now looks in a reasonable state. Nowhere near as good as it did last year but I'm not setting the bar very high this year!
I've sowed some parsnips and carrots, hoping for the best. If we get just one, that will be an improvement on last year anyway!
I've also got peas and beans organised. Some dwarf peas called 'Hatif D'Annonay', some mange tout 'Norli' and a variety called 'Asparagus Pea' which is actually nothing like a pea but looks like a crinkly bean and tastes a bit of asparagus (surprise surprise). For the beans I went for 3 climbing varieties: 'Soissons' (a green flageolet), 'Borlatta di Fuoco' (a borlotti) and 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' (an old variety of green beans). I also got some dwarf beans, which name I can't remember just now. And finally some runner beans 'Red Rum' to cover the metal fence at the bottom of the plot.
The asparagus are now coming through but because they're only in their second year, there's still no picking!!!
The strawberry bed needed a serious tidy up with lots of last year runners still attached to the mother plants and lots of weeds too. It looks a lot better now and I can't wait to pick my first strawberries of the season - still a long wait though, we're only getting the first flowers now!
I have now picked the last of the purple sprouting broccoli - we had a great harvest this year for the first time and it was delicious. Well worth the space it takes!
I leave you with a general picture of the plot taken from the lawn area a the top.

In the first bed on the left are the potatoes, followed by parsnips and carrots on th other side of the path. On the left, in one of the small beds by the old greenhouse, I have the garlic which I planted back in January. Then the strawberry bed and an empty bed in which the brassicaes will go and at the bottom, barely visible are the last plants of the PSB which I have now removed to make way for the sweetcorn and courgettes I have inside in propagators (that is if they ever get big enough to be planted!). I'll have to take more photos next time but the apprentices were complaining I was taking too long ...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Back for good?

Wow, can't believe it's been almost a year since I last posted here ...

Last summer was not ideal, rain and cold don't make happy gardeners. The plot did ok, considering the weather but the main concern was some growing being done elsewhere...

It seems that my habit of double sowing was to follow me in life and on the 23rd of November, these two wee boys made their grand entrance into our world:

Noah and Liam

Their first visit on the plot was on the 5th of January - very cold and dark and not much work could be done. Rather a case of assessing the damage after an autumn where I was simply too big to do anything and a winter of frost and snow ...

Yesterday though the sun was shining again and I managed four hours on the plot while the boys were sleeping peacefully in their buggy.
I sorted out the Jerusalem artichokes corner, digging out the last tubers and replanting 12. I also managed to do a bit of weeding as some beds really needed it - the bump got in the way of a lot of tasks at the end of last growing season! And finally applied a good layer of compost on the asparagus bed - better late than never.
The boys seemed to enjoy their first proper session - that or the fresh air! - and they were all smiles when we got back...

Now I better check out my seeds, order my potatoes and start doing some sowing ! Tomatoes and sweet peas first I think.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

March Big Catch-Up

Although I haven't been posting much in March, I have been out on the plot pretty much every weekend, dodging snow and hail showers ! Hopefully the cold unsettled weather is behing us now and we can finally look forward to spring "proper".

But before I thought I'd post a bumper update of the various jobs I have been doing on the plot in March.

- Early this month, I finally did some tidying up in the strawberry bed - removed all the runners that escaped my attention at the end of the summer, pulled the weeds and cleared dead leaves and debris. I also decided to cover the whole bed with black fabric; this will keep the bed weed free and also will prevent the fruit from rotting down on the soil. I also moved the bushes that were at the back of this bed and transplanted some of last year runners. So that's me hoping for a bumper harvest of strawberries this year !!!

Before and after pictures of the strawberry bed . I have a row each of Mara des Bois and Elsanta bought from Ken Muir last year and the rest are an unknown variety, kindly donated by my neighbour.

- I finally dug up the remaining of the Jerusalem Artichokes. In the pictures below are a couple of plants worth; I planted about 10, which was enough for us to have a meal of Jerusalem Artichokes pretty much every week from October till March - pretty good, I think. As an experiment I blanched and froze the last harvest - I'm not sure if JA freeze well, I guess we'll see! I also saved 14 of the best tubers, which I replanted straight away. Two weeks on, they're not showing yet, but I didn't really expect them to anyway!

- We planted a row of red onion sets, next to the two rows of overwintering white onions and a couple of rows of shallots. They are a kind of banana shallots and we're trying them for the first time this year. I also found some stored red onions from last year sprouting in a drawer in the shed (not sure why they were left behind really ...). I have planted them up in the "odds and ends" bed as an experiment.

Top row: Red Onion - Baron and bottom row: Shallot - Jermor

- I transplanted the fig, orange and lemon trees from Lidl in big pots, wrapped them in a lot of horticultural fleece and left them outside. And yes, I know, this was a big silly gamble.

The results are rather mixed so far. The orange and lemon trees are doing great but the fig trees are clearly a lot more fragile and lost their leaves to some pretty heavy frost. I have now rescued them and brought them back inside where they seem to be recuperating well. I have spotted a few buds already and I'm pretty confident they will make a full recovery. Fingers crossed !

- On Good Friday I planted potatoes.

- A couple of weeks ago, I sowed some peas, 40 each of Kelvedon Wonder, Early Onward, Norli (mange tout) and Sugar Bon (sugar snap). Our clay soil was still a bit too cold to sow direct, they are in modules in a cold frame. No show so far but it's been so cold, I can't blame them!

- Today I also sowed some broad beans. And to contradict myself, they went in direct! But I have a pretty good reason for that; last year, the mice ate all the broad beans in the cold frame but didn't touch the peas - I know, funny mice ... But they also didn't touch the broad beans when they were planted direct. I do not try to understand how Glaswegian mice work. I just learn from past casualties!

- I also did a few tidying up jobs around the beds, building and rebuilding path and bed borders. But as it started hailing when I was finishing I didn't hang around to take pictures! You'll have to wait to judge my bricklaying skills!

And finally, the usual view from the top of the plot taken this afternoon in between two hail showers.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday potatoes

On our first summer, a few eyebrows were raised when the "old boys" found out we were not growing “tatties”. Our excuse was that we got the plot too late for planting potatoes but we could tell they were disappointed. To redeem ourselves, we tried to plant some “Christmas potatoes” at the end of the summer. But we lost them all in “The Big Flood - episode 1”. So last year, we were determined to grow tatties!

Potato bed, early June 07

I thought potatoes were simple things. Until I looked at the seeds catalogues. Pages and pages of them. First earlies, second earlies, early and late main crops, salad potatoes, blight resistant, eel worm resistant (what the heck is eel worm anyway?!), frost resistant, high yielder, grow better in the North, white, black, red, blue … My head was spinning!

Last year , we picked small amounts of a few varieties to experiment with, see what would grow well on our plot and which ones we like more. Well, one year on, we are still none the wiser as we lost our entire crop in "The Big Flood - episode 2". So this year is the real trial !

I got them all from Alan Romans, a family run business based in Fife. By the way, they also sell a good selection of seeds at dirt cheap prices - much recommended!

Our choice this year is:

- Red Duke of York and Duke of York for the first earlies

- Charlotte, a second early and salad potato

- Cara, a late maincrop, which I believe is blight resistant

- Pink Fir Apple, which is also a late maincrop. They are knobbly looking and a heritage variety and despite being very tasty, they are rather hard to get hold off in supermarkets or greengrocers.

- Mr Little's Yelthom Gypsy, an early maincrop but also a conservation potato. This is my "fun" potato of the year - I absolutely love the name and it is apparently the only known potato to show blue, white and red together in the skin.

Clockwise from top left corner:

Pink Fir Apple, Cara, Charlotte, Red Duke of York,

Mr Little's Yetholm Gypsy and Duke of York.

With regard to planting, there are two schools out there, the “chitters” and the “non-chitters”. Chitting potatoes means getting them to sprout before you plant them, like they do when you forget them in your veg basket. The "chitters" argue it speeds up the growing process. Last year, I didn’t chit mine, not on purpose, I simply forgot. And when I remembered it was too late. But it didn't seem to bother my potatoes too much and they grew regardless. This year I got them a bit earlier and I was a bit more organised so they have been chitted.

Once again, I decided to stick with a gardening tradition in which potatoes are planted on Good Friday. So, this Friday, the potatoes went in despite all my concerns. After all Easter is very early this year and we could still get frosts and awful weather. Although I'm glad to read that such an early Easter is not going to happen for at least another 150 years! The bed in which they went is now covered with black fabric, hopefully keeping the soil warm enough ...

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Thank goodness for the blogosphere (and Lidl)

As I was just finishing the fig and cinammon jam my wife's cousin gave me for Christmas, I was thinking one more time how much I would love to have my own fig tree. Where I am from, figs are in plentiful supply in summer and autumn, but here, when the shops have them, they cost an absolute fortune. I mean £2 for 4 figs, what are they made of, gold?

Fruit tree extravaganza - Fig, orange, lemon and fig again (and potatoes chitting away)

The Urban Bumpkin brought to my attention early this week that Lidl were having one of their big gardening extravaganza this week and were practically giving away fruit bushes. Lucky she did as I was convinced it was next week and would have certainly missed out.

After a first failed attempt, I went back on thursday night and got a couple of fig trees. At £2.99 each, it's almost too good to be true, so we'll see how they get on. But I am already dreaming of fig and cinnamon jam!

And because I was prepared to pay a lot more at a garden centre, I also treated myself to a lemon and an orange tree. They will probably have to come back in during the winter or be seriously "fleeced". We'll worry about that when the time comes!

The weather forecast for this weekend looks atrocious and I don't think we would have done much on the allotment. Just as well we are off to Budapest tomorrow - although my birthday was at Christmas, this is my belated birthday present! Very excited!

I leave you with a couple of dwarf daffodils which flowered, right on cue, on St David Day.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Blooming marvellous!

There isn't much colour on the plot at the moment, apart from that lonely crocus that appeared in the middle of an empty bed ... The snowdrops below were actually photographed outside the flat!

Last week I was seeking inspiration for spring and summer blooms and inspiration I found on a couple of trips to Poundland and Poundstretcher last weekend - not your usual suspects in terms of garden centres but they actually have a very good selection of seeds and bulbs at a fraction of garden centres' prices. Here is what I came back with !

I spent a large part of Sunday afternoon deciding what should go where and finally came up with a plan: the larger, bolder plants will go in the long border on the left side of the plot and the smaller ones will go on the new flower border in front of the lawn. I filled the long border last Sunday and am now waiting for milder temperatures and the end of the frosts to plant the rest in the smaller border.

So in the long border we've got: dutch iris, physalis, lupins, gladioli, gysophilia, red hot poker, triteleia and acidanthera.

In the small border will go: lillies, freesias, tigrida, sparaxis and probably some annuals.

I also got a bit carried away with the annuals and now have a selection of seeds which should get doted around the vegetable beds: nasturtiums, sunflowers, poached egg plants, mimulus, nemesias, nigellas, nemophilias, forget me nots, marigolds and snapdragons. That seems a little ambitious though and I have a feeling that some of them might not make it out of the seed packet! Only time will tell I suppose.

I've sowed some sweet peas inside last week, some seeds I saved last year and some "High Scent" variety I bought this year. One week on, a few are already poking their heads through the compost !

Hopefully that will mean colourful bouquets throughout the summer!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Cut flowers

Now that I have made final plans as to what goes where in the vegetable beds, I have started fretting about flower borders. I’ll grow the usual suspects amongst the vegetable beds: nasturtiums (I always grow those, my wee sister is called Capucine, which is nasturtium in French), poached egg plants and marigolds to attract butterflies and hoverflies. And sweet peas will cover the unsightly metal fence at the bottom of the plot. But I have a newly cleared long border which I would like to use for growing flowers for cutting – I normally grow sunflowers and I have seen some gladioli in Poundland (30 bulbs for £1!!) but I am uncharacteristically lacking in inspiration. I would prefer to grow perennials but will probably mix in a few annuals. What are your personal favourites? Any suggestions for a sunny border and clay soil? Please feel free to inundate my comment box!