Monday, May 31, 2010

Behold the chickens...

Yes, chickens have arrived at the suburban veg plot!! We collected 3 ex-batts on Saturday afternoon and since then have been amused by their cautious and comedic exploration of their new surroundings. So far they haven't been let out of the Eglu run but we might give them a run out today. The suburban veg plot beds have been fenced off from the main lawn area, so that should keep the crops chicken free when we come to free-range them!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Terminal terminology

This week I learned the difference between hardy, half hardy and tender as plant descriptors. And I'm baffled.
Let's start with hardy - that's an easy one. A hardy plant is one which will withstand extreme cold, winds and frost. In your veg garden, this would be the likes of savoy cabbage, cavelo nero and overwintering broad beans.
Now it starts to get bizarre. Any normal person would expect half hardy and tender to operate on a sliding scale towards wimpishness in the face of harsh weather conditions. But no, that would have been far too straightforward and intuitive. Instead of which, tender is used to describe a plant which may be killed by a frost and half hardy is the term applied to a plant that will certainly end its days if confronted with a below zero temperature.
Logical? Hardly! I'm sure that's been confusing the amateur gardener as far back as the advent of the max/min thermometer. To whoever makes up these terms, can I suggest something? Next time you're dealing with a plant lacking in the cellular and substantive fibre to stand up to a bit of chilly weather, try leaving the word hardy out of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

top gardening tips for hot weather

Phew, what weather we've been having this past week! Saturday was soooo hot - particularly if you happen to be climbing Mt Snowdon like we were. And that's "climbing", not "getting the train up, having an ice cream and then getting the train back down". There are 7 walking routes to choose from when it comes to getting up that big Welsh mountain and we decided to challenge ourselves by doing one of the toughest - The Watkin Path - 3.5 hours up and then 3 hours down again. Gradient aside, the sun for the first 2 hours made for a very hot and exhausting walk. However, armed with factor 50 sunblock, a cotton neckerchief to keep the worst of the sun off my neck and a plentiful supply of water for along the way, I got to thinking about sun and heat protection for the suburban veg plot.

One of the best investments I've made for the veg plot thus far is an automatic greenhouse vent opener. It's basically a hinged arm hydraulically controlled in response to rising temperatures. As the internal temperature in the greenhouse rises, the arm starts to push the window open. Gardening magic at its best and perhaps the best £25 I've spent.

Last year I also bought some water-retaining products to use in hanging baskets and pots. Both the granules, which you mix with compost when potting up containers and the mats, which I've found most useful for hanging baskets have proved their worth. It's so nice not needing to water them numerous times every hot day and the various fruit and veg growing in them still seem happy enough to start flowering.

And finally, if I get chance this weekend, I'll be applying a coat of Coolglass on one end of the greenhouse. This white pigment (titanium dioxide) is mixed with water and painted onto the glass panes and acts to reflect the sun's rays thus keeping the temperatures down and preventing plants from drying out too quickly.

Hopefully those measures will go some way to maintaining my veg growth if the sun stays with us this summer!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Local runner goes foraging

I regularly go out running in my local area. Actually, I should correct that - I'm more of a fast jogger really. Anyway, whatever speed, I often take in a cycle route created from an old local railway line. It's nice and shady when the sun is out, it provides shelter from the bizarre weather we've been experiencing (hail showers last week!) and although it's heavily used by dog walkers, yummy mummys, cyclists and other runners/joggers, it's nice and wide so there's rarely a bottleneck.
Well, last week when I was out I passed a clump of plants that had pretty white flowerheads that reminded me of aliums. As I ran on, I tossed this about in my mind and came to the notion that they were wild garlic. Luckily for me my runs are 'out and back' so I encountered said clump again on my way home. Without missing a stride I swung down and plucked out a leaf as I ran past and was rewarded by that lovely fresh mild garlicky scent. Mmmm, I just had to have some for the suburban veg plot.
So yesterday found me, trowel in hand, heading down the cycle path to get some of my own. The garlic is in two large swathes on opposite sides of the path, which got me wondering about the origins of it. Suburban gardens back onto the path at both sides, but two householders living at exactly the same position along the path deciding to toss plant debris over their respective back fences sounds like too much of a coincidence for me. I assume it must have grown from seeds ingested by a bird elsewhere and then excreted from one of the many tall trees overhanging the path. Whatever the reason, the wild garlic has flourished well there.
I got myself a couple of plants in flower and have now installed them in a semi-shaded corner of a border. Can't wait for the first stir fry!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fact for the week

Did you know that Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who laid the foundations for our modern scheme of binomial nomeclature was born Carl von Linne. His father adopted the Latinized version, Linnaeus, after a giant linden tree (a lime tree to us Brits) on the family homestead. Do you think that inspired young Carl's interest in the Latin language?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Burying potatoes

I've grown potatoes each year since I got my garden but they've never really been the huge success I've hoped for. As space is tight on the suburban veg plot I used potato sacks or planters rather than growing them in the raised beds. Maybe that's the problem, maybe I don't water enough, maybe the growing medium is too poor. Whatever the reasons for my slightly underperforming potatoes, it has yet to put me off and so the bank holiday weekend found me once more setting off across the lawn with chitted potatoes in hand...
My potato collection this year has taken on a curiously Peruvian slant (possibly a subconscious leaning as 6 months after ordering the seed potatoes we booked our honeymoon - which takes in Peru. Make of that what you will.) Anyway, I purchased a collection of potatoes specially bred from ancient strains grown in the Peruvian Andes for thousands of years. The collection consists of Mayan Gold, Mayan Queen and Mayan Twilight and it was the Mayan Gold I have planted this weekend. They've been chitting for the last 8 weeks in the the kitchen and should be ready to harvest in mid September.

So my guide to potato burying on the suburban veg plot goes thus: firstly, fill the potato sack to the depth of 15cm with general multi purpose compost. I also added in the last of the 2009 rotted horse manure (note to self, must fetch some more). This gives the seed potatoes a decent depth to start stretching out those chitted shoots.

I then add a layer of organic potato fertiliser (providing the correct NPK ratio to grow great spuds but not too much foliage) and cover this with more compost or soil.

Then place the chitted seed potatoes on top of this, followed by a good soaking. This not only wets the growing medium but also serves to start dissolving the fertiliser into the lower layers so that the roots will reach down into it and benefit from the nutrients.

Finally cover with a good few inches more of compost. The haulms should start to show in a week or so - I'll keep you updated!