Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter stocktake

Each year in mid-April is usually a good time to take a look at what you've got in the ground and compare that with your planting plan. It will highlight if you have extra room you weren't expecting - something has failed at seedling stage, or you simply forgot to sow at the right time - and will also be a good check to see if you have room for the rest of your planned planting.

In the suburban veg plot, the broad beans have grown well since their re-sowing in February and are flowering well. Among them are nasturtiums which I hope will be more attractive to the blackfly than the beans themselves.

I've already started harvesting radishes and the looseleaf salad - and as last year, it's just fantastic. Crisp, fresh and tasty leaves from plot to plate in 2 minutes. You just can't get better than that.
The celeriac, carrots, beetroot and spinach are filling one raised bed and the butternut squash, miniature pumpkins and courgettes are also out in the ground.
On the herbage front, the chives and sage are in flower and the mint is flourishing. Just in time for Pimms season!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The great tomato giveaway

It was when I fell over the tomatoes for the 15th time that I got really annoyed. They were in a seed tray on the floor of the greenhouse - 6 plants each in a 5 inch pot - I should have realised they would impair my movements given that my greenhouse is about the size of your average corner bath (you know, one of those 80s avocado numbers - surely my parents weren't the only ones committing offences against interior design thirty years ago?). So I picked up the tray to move it somewhere more suitable. And that's when the scales fell from my eyes and I saw for the first time the reality of the situation I found myself in.
I think most of us sow more seeds than we need - to allow for germination failure - then the general advice is to select the strongest ones and thin out the weaklings and throw them away. I would estimate that I had an average germination rate of 80% across the 4 tomato varieties I sowed. And that's where problem started. I just can't throw plants away! First I'm waiting to see if the smaller ones are suddenly going to overtake those that looked strongest in the first place. So I prick them all out - just to give them all an equal chance. Weeks later, they're all growing on strongly and I keep potting them on - in newly bought compost and watering them all with precious rainwater from my water butts. I spend weeks in March carrying them all out to the greenhouse each morning and carrying them back indoors each night to tuck them up. Through April I see them flourishing in the sun and the bigger they get the more I can't bring myself to throw them on the compost heap.
So this emotional attachment has finally culminated in a veritable jungle of plants in a very compact greenhouse. And this is not just a case of a 'few' too many plants, oh no, this is proper obsessive. Each summer I have space in my greenhouse for a total of 5 tomato plants, 6 if I'm not growing melons as well (that's another post altogether). Guess how many tomato plants I have - that's right, 42. And it's not just tomatoes, I'm the same with peppers and chillies. Once the tomato plants are placed in grow bags on my greenhouse floor, I have space on the staging for 8-10 pots, depending on the pot size. So why on earth wouldn't I raise 59, yes, you read that right, 59 chilli plants. And still yesterday, I found myself potting some of them on again as they'd outgrown their pots.
This just can't carry on, it is, as they say untenable, unsustainable and just plain impossible. I'm going to ruthlessly pick out the strongest ones to keep and the rest are going on freecycle. And once they're gone, I'll see what else I can giveaway.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A visit to Van Gogh country?

My sister-in-law will never forgive me if she ever sees this. We were visiting her for a few days last week and as ever, she and her boyfriend generously gave up their bedroom for us and themselves slept on a sofa bed in a very crowded home office. And I thank her by posting a photo of her garden on my blog. You'll have realised by now that she's not a garden person.
I think if you squint a bit, it could be a field of Van Gogh sunflowers that are far far away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Polytunnel envy

I was privileged enough to recently visit a garden that has been tended by a couple for the last 50 years. It's your classic secret garden, hidden just off the high street of a Hertfordshire village and I bet that most of the village residents don't even know its there. It has all the elements of a garden that I would love - beautiful old walls to trap the heat and act as backdrops for fruit cultivation, small meandering meadow areas with mature trees underplanted with daffodils and paved paths weaving beneath arches framed by climbers.
And in one area of this beautiful garden is an amazing vegetable and fruit plot. Potatoes growing in sacks in a greenhouse big enough to house my entire garden, rows of mange tout merrily waving their tendrils in the sun and then - the polytunnel envy set in. It's fatal, I should really stay away from other people's polythene-lined supercharged, super-heated growing spaces. I just don't have the space for one - unless we fastened the top of the arch to the back door and it ended at the larch hedge on our boundary. It would be like that scene from ET where the government scientists rig up a plastic walk-in tube stretching from the front door to a van - you'd never see the outside world again. But sadly I'm not sure the chickens would be very happy with that. Anyway, back to my gardening jealousy. The owner of said amazing garden structure explained that he uses his polytunnel to grow an array of veg, starting them off much much earlier than you'd be able to in an open plot and just look at the result!

The broad beans are not only about 4 times the height of mine, they're also in full flower and complete with visiting bees. Although they look like they were autumn sown, he actually sowed them in situ in February. Behind the first row of Aquadulce Claudia is a row of peas that are not quite visible in the photo. With leaves a good 3 inches across! It makes my 2 inch tall efforts in the suburban veg plot look a little lacking. Roll on the suburban smallholding...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

tracking the radishes

One of the many things I love about growing my own produce is seeing how things progress almost on a daily basis. And that's where photos come in - particularly digital ones. You can snap away all through the spring, summer and autumn and see how things are growing and changing. Dates are no problem, as most digital photography systems automatically assign the date and time to each image file so the info is always there to see. I also like seeing how further on (or far behind) I am from one year to the next. It acts as a prompt for sowing times - reminding me to get a move on usually. And it always give me a little self-satisfied thrill to know that the progress is down to me - the seeds I sowed, the seedlings I watered, the plants I tended.
As radishes are usually the quickest thing to develop in the suburban veg plot, here's the progress thus far for Radish Scarlet Globe sown in situ 12 March.
First photo taken 25 March:

and this one taken on 6 April:

All this talk of dates is now reminding me to sow another pot this weekend if I'm to keep myself in radishes throughout the summer!