Saturday, July 10, 2010

Black times ahead

I must be very good indeed at growing tasty broad beans. Well, certainly the local population of blackfly seem to agree. The autumn-sown Aquadulce Claudia escaped the onslaught - we had 3 harvests from them during May/June. But the spring-sown broad bean mixture have been plagued by them since they threw up their first shoots. I've tried the various remedies - squishing them (I can't bear doing it, even wearing gardening gloves), spraying with a soap solution (works to a certain extent but doesn't actually vanquish them all) and pinching out the leafy tops (they colonised too quickly along the entire height of each plant for that to have any effect).
So, though I'm loath to admit it, I've given up fighting. At least if they're on the broad beans then they're not infesting anything else in the suburban veg plot.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lazy blogger...

apologises for the lack of posts. I'm still here - and the suburban veg plot is flourishing - though the same cannot be said for the herbaceous borders after their encounter with the chickens...

The warm sunny weather in Hertfordshire is really doing the garden good. I'm eating fresh salad leaves nearly every day - 'just like you get in M&S!' (I'm sure there's a compliment in there). This is the first year I've grown salad in the suburban veg plot and I have to say I'm delighted with the harvest. Previously I'd tried growing salad in pots in the kitchen but barely managed to get micro leaves before the whole lot turned up its toes and gave up. Now I've got very healthy rows of rocket, mizuna and baby mixed salad leaves.

The celeriac seedlings were planted out in early June and are really growing well. They were tiny little things back in February but I'm hopeful of a good harvest in the winter. Bring on the celeriac mash!!

My little bit of companion planting seems to be having a positive effect. I planted out nasturtium seedlings in my broad bean beds - probably slightly later that I should have done though. The broad beans grew at a much faster rate and it's only now that the nasturtiums have started to flower. But they look very pretty nestled in between the tall Aquadulce Claudia plants and the beetroot and they do seem to be the only plants in the vicinity with black fly on them. Sacrificial plants is the correct term I believe. And just in front of the raised bed you can see my mini leeks awaiting a vacant bed.

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!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back to school

So, with my satchel packed and new school shoes buffed to a shine, I headed off to college to start my horticulture course. I figure that as knowledge is there to be shared, I will post one little tidbit, factoid or tip on my blog from each class.
So, is everyone sitting comfortably? Be quiet at the back! No, you'll have to go to the toilet at breaktime! Today's gardening knowledge is the distinction between monocotyledons and dicotyledons. A cotyledon is the name for a seed leaf, so the former have one seed leaf, the latter 2. In simple terms, veg such as onion, shallots and leeks are monocotyledons and veg such as parsnips, cabbage and celeriac are dicotyledons. Obviously, you do need to see a plant at emergence stage to determine its type using this method.
So there you go - 2 long scientific words that you can throw into conversation with your non-gardening buddies - they'll be most impressed!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pottering on the patio...

Tidying and clearing were the keywords on the suburban veg plot this weekend. Sweeping out the greenhouse, folding up sheets of weed suppressant fabric, organising the plant pots and soft drink bottle cloches in a tidy fashion in the shed. You see, winter has now gone and I want everything to look nice on the plot. Well, that and I'm fed up of falling over things.

Even the patio got a bit of a makeover with the moving of the newly painted ladder allotment into its summer position. As you can see, I'm trying a first attempt at strawberry growing. We have wild strawberries growing in some of the flower beds but for the grow bags I purchased Cambridge Favourite plants, from which I hope to get a harvest from this year. My next job is to affix some netting to the very top of the ladder and drape it over the plants once fruiting. With any luck, that will keep the greedy birds away!

Elsewhere in the suburban veg plot, most things are growing well. The parsnips that were all painstakingly started out indoors in loo roll tubes are all growing well in their dedicated bed.

After suffering an onslaught of slug terror in late March, my purple podded peas have made a spirited recovery and are heading up the trellis. I did sow a couple of back-up peas so it looks like we'll have another glut of these this year. I do need to save more of these this year so perhaps I'll focus on doing that earlier rather than later in the summer to avoid pea moth problems.

The dwarf peas (Half Pint) have taken to the pot very well after the initial rotting problems. Here's hoping for a harvest soon!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An occasional mention of fruit

Now, eagle-eyed blog readers will notice that I have used the word fruit here - despite the blog being called the Suburban VEG Plot. Well, I will admit to having a few fruit trees/plants/bushes dotted around the place, however most of them survive despite the lack of attention they are shown.
But I decided to survey the current stock of fruit and report my findings and pictures here.

Firstly, the fruit trees that came with the garden when we bought our house: 2 pear trees - one is a mere shadow of itself due to experiencing a severe pruning the year I sited more raised beds and realised I needed to get in between them (exactly where the tree stands). The other is already showing some buds:

Secondly apple trees. There were 2 but the smaller one bought the farm in year one (It was smack bang in the middle of the veg plot raised beds and I kept turning round sharply into it quite frequently. Thus it was me or the tree.) But the remaining one is a nice size and despite giving us no apples last year, we are hopeful of some kind of crop in 2010 as the new growth is developing nicely.

Next is a blackcurrant bush. This I obtained on one of those 'free with £2.95 postage' gardening magazine offers. Planted it, it took well but it soon became obvious it was overshadowed when the rhubarb got going. Thus I moved it at the beginning of 2010 into a border by the patio - a week before I discovered I'd managed to kill off said rhubarb anyway...

And lastly, a tayberry plant. Obtained with a similar gardening magazine offer, this one arrived in March 09 and went into the greenhouse in his little pot until I found the time to plant him out. I managed to find that time in March 2010!! I was quite prepared for the plant to be dead as a courgette in December, but amazingly the odd watering it received in the greenhouse somehow kept it going and having planted it out along the same border as the blackcurrant, I can already see signs of new growth! The plan is to use the fence behind them to rig up some kind of netting over them both.

So there you go - fruit corner lives on in the Suburban Veg Plot.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Compost aplenty

In order to improve the structure and texture of the soil in the
suburban veg plot, the contents of the compost heap have been spread
liberally on the still vacant beds. The suburban veg plot compost heap
is housed in a self-built structure of 3 wooden pallets with a sliding
panel front. It is also divided down the centre to form 2 separate
The compost heap is fed liberally with our vegetable waste, flower and plant material, lawn mowings in the summer, cardboard (especially egg boxes) and copious amounts of shredded paper (taking advantage of the fact that bank details will be pretty illegible by the time they've passed through a worm or two).
We fill only one side of the heap at a time to give the other side
time to really rot down, stirring it occasionally. Then every 12
months or so, the rotted side is emptied out over the raised beds or
added to the potato sacks and the other side is forked over the
partition and left alone. This leaves us with an empty side to start
filling again. Brilliantly simple!

Monday, April 5, 2010

On the garden (war) path - grrrrr

Honestly, you turn your back for 5 minutes (well, 8 days) to fit in a bit of late season skiing action and when you come back all hell has broken loose in the suburban veg plot. My lovely healthy purple podded pea plants have been set upon by my most hated of garden nasties - slugs. I have no actual documented evidence - I could be blaming them entirely in the place of a slimy snail or two - but it's slugs I like the least so I'll stick with them. Of only 5 plants I planted out (they're a heavy cropper and we were overcome by the harvest last spring) 1 of them is a definite goner, with 2 possibly hanging on in there on life support. The last 2 put on a growth spurt and managed to shrug off the worst offending nibblers. Looks like I'll have to soak a couple of spare pea seeds as back up.

Secondly, I think the weather is to blame for my pea rotting problems this year. Despite my creative sowing in the guttering lengths, only 3 Feltham First peas look like they're sprouting - and they were planted back in January! I sowed the remainder (I had only a few from a seed swap) and a couple of those have rotted also!
I recently sowed Half Pint peas in a pot for the patio - 7 of approx 15 plants came up at the end of March, but on forensic investigation (furtling beneath the soil) I discovered the remainder had gone all squishy. So I've resowed some of those in the pot now and hopefully they will 1) not rot, and 2) catch up with the first few - shown here in the photo

Sunday, March 21, 2010

planting progress

At long last the ground outside seems to be warming up enough to start planting out or sowing direct. The sun has started to linger on the raised beds in the suburban veg plot making it a warm and fuzzy place to potter around in once more. Even the comfrey, planted only last week, looks like it's growing strongly.
The Lancashire Lad purple podded peas were planted out in their final position and are looking very contented. They grew over 6 foot tall last year and I struggled to support them on canes - so this year I've put them at the base of a fixed trellis which should support them easily.

The overwintered garlic cloves are looking really strong. I selected the largest bulbs from the 2009 Purple Moldovan harvest and they're certainly looking even better than this time last year (the concept being that year on year the selected variety adapts to the conditions in your own garden).

The Solent Wight bulbs - every last one of them has come up and a couple seem to be developing as multi-bulbs.

The tomato, chilli and sweet pepper seedlings that are growing in the kitchen have been benefitting from daytimes spent in the greenhouse - the all day light should bring them on swiftly and strengthen them further. They're still coming back indoors each evening as i don't think it's yet warm enough to leave out overnight.

And cosy in the sunny kitchen still are my little celeriac seedlings. Gosh they're tiny! One of them produced a teeny weeny true leaf this week but goodness knows how long it will be before they're big enough to transplant - 2012 maybe??

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

the comfrey patch

There's been a lot of comfrey talk recently on a gardening forum I frequent. I understand it has a number of uses from liquid fertiliser (aka comfrey tea), to compost activator, from potato fertiliser to mulch, so I decided to grow some in the suburban veg plot. Here comes the science bit, so listen carefully. If you're going to get comfrey, you need the 'Bocking 14' variety. This can be obtained only as root cuttings as its seeds are sterile. If anyone offers you comfrey seeds back away very slowly and carefully - if sown in your garden, this stuff will self seed all over the place for the next few centuries and you'll never be rid of it (nor be able to find any of your lovely vegetables among its copious leaves). Bocking 14 is all you need to remember. So anyway, I ordered some root cuttings via eBay, which arrived well packaged, healthy looking and moist. I decided to clear a space behind the compost heap to grow the comfrey - a currently unused area but one that I can access easily to harvest the leaves come 2011. I just have to resist until then as it needs a growing season to establish itself.
I'll have to venture out on a nettle harvesting walk in the meantime for an alternative 'tea' base.

Friday, March 5, 2010

stop press - horticultural update!!

I've got a place on a course: RHS Certificate in Horticulture (level 2) starting in April! Yay!!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

what to do when it's raining...again

Looking through photos of my garden from February last year, it's amazing to see the difference - all the crocuses, snowdrops and even daffodils had started to peek through and show off their gorgeous colours. Looking out into my garden today, it just looks grey and the percussion accompaniment of rain on the window ledge does nothing to improve that.
So, I have once again focused my efforts indoors - potted on the moneymaker, roma and garden pearl toms, sown some Lyon 2 leeks and tagetes (the latter to be used as companion plants for said toms in my greenhouse later in the summer) and laid out some parsnip seeds on damp kitchen towel in a propagator. Parsnip seeds are a right bugger when it comes to germination - I had very little success my first year (I think 3 parsnips finally grew from a row of about 20 sown) and then a random seed leftover in the ground germinated the following spring. This year I have a fresh packet from Kings - 500 seeds apparently - so I'm determined to get a decent crop this time around. I've heard of people having success with sowing them in loo roll tubes. This sounds ideal as parsnip and other similar vegetables don't like being transplanted - the shock or damage to their tap root finishes them off. But with the loo roll method, the root isn't exposed or disturbed at all. And being such a fan of loo roll planting (broad beans, peas and sweet peas being my past successes) I think this sounds like a great addition to my list.
This week we also signed up to attend a 'hen party' through the Omlet website - so watch this space in future months for the arrival of feathered friends!

Monday, February 15, 2010

time to germinate

So, my mammoth day of paper potting certainly paid off. Within just a few days, some of the tomatoes and peppers began to germinate in their propagators and most of the chillies were hot on their heels. The germination rate has been 100% for most of the seeds, with lower rates (60-80%) for some chillies and tomatoes which were self-saved or saved by other gardener friends. I have 5 types of tomato (covering the full range of salad, plum and cherry types), 2 sweet pepper varieties and 6 chilli varieties (2 of which were planted only last weekend, so have yet to peek through). There's no way I have space for all of the plants, so I'm already canvassing friends as to who wants what.

The Lancashire Lad purple podded peas germinated very strongly in their loo roll tubes and are now in the unheated greenhouse, swaddled in bubblewrap on the colder nights. They're already 6 or so inches high and looking quite happy. We got an absolute bumper crop of purple mange tout from these last year, so are already looking forward to a repeat of that.

Still awaiting signs of life in the Feltham First pea guttering as well as with a few celeriac (Giant Prague) seeds I sowed. The latter can take a few weeks though so I'm trying hard to be patient. The Autumn Mammoth leeks have germinated well, alongside mixed salad leaves and rocket. And with the presence of all these pots and trays in the kitchen, and no sign of the frost threat diminishing, I decided to invest in a ladder allotment on which to store everything. This will stay indoors during the winter and be moved out onto the patio as spring arrives. Makes a change from lines of seedlings along every available windowsill like last year!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

snow time like the present

Hurrah! The snow has gone!!
As pretty as it looked, after only a few days it became a bit tiresome, not only preventing me getting to the office on a few days (during a very busy time) but also stopping me from really getting into the garden. But thankfully the blanket covering has vacated the suburban veg plot.
This weekend was a hive of activity - moreso in the kitchen than on the plot. Paper potting ahoy! All of my tomato, chilli and sweet pepper seeds have now been sown in little paper pots and the seeds trays placed on my lovely heated kitchen floor.

Feltham First peas have been sown - I'm experimenting with the guttering method this year rather than direct sown. I had my builder from last year leave me 2 pieces of guttering cut to 1m length (the width of my raised beds).

The idea is that once germinated and ready to plant out, I need only to dig a shallow trench and then slide out the contents of the guttering, pea plants and all! I now have them filled and covered with holly to keep off any hungry mice.

Lancashire lad purple podded peas along with Autumn Mammoth 2 leeks have also been sown - the former in loo roll tubes and latter in a 5'' pot. I'm hoping to do better with successional swing this year, so I have another leek variety to sow in a month's time. Last years leeks were started off slightly later than planned and so we've had the benefit of them only since November. They've been great as baby leeks though - brushed in olive oil and cooked on a griddle pan - mmmm. Will be nice to see what they're like fully grown this season!