Saturday, July 12, 2014

Raspberry pruning

Mid July is usually the time for pruning summer fruiting raspberries. The stems that grew last year have produced their fruit, the leaves are looking a little yellow and now is the time for a tidy up to prepare the plant for next years' fruiting.

Consigned to the compost
Start by pruning to the ground all the canes that produced fruit this season. They're usually pretty easy to spot as they still bear the remains of the fruits and flowers and will be starting to turn dry and yellow. Once these are out of the way, things become a little clearer.

The plant will have already started to produce canes this year and these will be your fruit producers next summer. Retain the tallest and strongest looking ones. There will be shorter and thinner canes also, which you need to decide which to keep and which to prune out. Remove the really small ones and also anything that looks decidedly spindly. Weak looking canes will not produce fabulous berries.  Focus too on allowing air to the lower stems and thin out canes where they're crowded.

Once that's done, give the plant a good water to rejuvenate it and keep to a regular (maybe weekly or fortnightly) feeding regime. The effort you put in now will pay off with next years' harvest.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Well hello Birmingham!

With Saturday morning arrived the daunting job of loading up an enormous van with all of the plants (and quite a few extras) I have been growing for the past 4 months.
Thankfully our approximations of number of plants and space required were pretty accurate and after a couple of hours huffing, puffing and wrestling with oversized pots, everything was assembled, tied down and secured in the back for our jaunt up the M1.

Arriving on site at the NEC, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation but the traffic organisation and build up processes in place made it an easy prospect and after a much shorter unloading than loading time, all our plants were lined up next to the allocated raised bed. But by that stage we didn't feel any inclination or energy to put even one pot in place.

But three days later (with the amazing help of some very valuable family volunteers), we've gone from an empty raised bed to a fully operational garden exhibit, accessorised with some beautiful garden accessories and vintage items from my Etsy shop Ember Gate

You can even see the queue of visitors building up in the background at the entrance gates.

It has to be said though – the build up was aided by the arrival of the refreshments car...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A squeeze on time and space

If you thought that all my focus on the Gardeners' World show was affecting my planting and growing for the suburban veg plot you wouldn't be far wrong.
I think I've managed to keep up with some things; we have peas and broad beans planted out and flowering already, the potatoes are in and growing vigorously.

Exquisite Aquadulce broad bean flowers
But I've sown only one set of beetroot and carrots and the tomatoes are sulking in their very small pots in a corner of the greenhouse.
It's a matter of space at the moment – the tomatoes are usually potted on into their pots or grow bags in the greenhouse by now, but that space is still needed for my plethora of chard, basil, cucumber and cucamelon plants for at least another two weeks. I spent most of yesterday moving pot after pot of lettuce out to the cold frame, which now being fully glazed is fairly slug-proof.

The cold frame filled to capacity

Chard 'Bright Lights' for my Gardeners' World raised bed
Thankfully, I have a lot of fruit that are perennial - from blueberry bushes to raspberry canes, tayberry plant to wild strawberries, so all of those seems to be taking good care of themselves and seem to need only water from me in order to do their thing.

Apple cordon with lots of buds - sadly, none of them have formed fruits.

And below, raspberry and tayberry flowers respectively. I have high hopes for a good harvest from both of these in 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Colour, structure and support

On Thursday 12th June, the BBC Gardener's World Live show in Birmingham will be ready to open and my Edible Patch raised bed will be fully planted up and awaiting the view of the paying public.
Overall, things seem to be on track. The broad beans have grown well and are in their final containers. I have grown the crimson-flowered variety – mainly for their vibrant flower colour and currently have 68 plants in various stages of growth. This should mean that by the time we're on site, I will be able to display plants both in flower and producing pods.

Last week, a lovely local hedgelayer, Stephen, delivered a batch of 12 hazel bean poles (9 foot tall!), which will form the basis of my 3 wigwams for climbing plants. They are being cut down to size a bit as I am allowed a maximum height of 2.5m in situ.

And supporting the climbers, I'm using a wonderful sustainable product called twool. This is produced from the wool of the Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep. It is used in exactly the same way as the typical jute twine that many of us use around our garden, but it is made entirely in the UK, supports the farming and preservation of this ancient sheep breed and involves 8 other British industries in its production. I recently received a selection box of twool and twool rope from Twool HQ to use in my raised bed display – and it will certainly add some colour to my display. Look out for the Twool stand at Chelsea Flower Show this month if you're attending – their new twool rope is an RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year finalist.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Designed to be eaten

It is now just over 6 weeks until the BBC Gardeners' World Live show and my panic levels are rising slightly. I have been sowing seeds for this project since early February when I was working on the design side of things. The successful designers were due to be notified in early March, so I figured that it would be too late to start some plants at that stage, so optimistically began sowing sweet peas and other fairly hardy seeds. My greenhouse is bursting at the seams and I feel like I've been pricking out lettuce and other seedlings since the very dawn of time, but I'm optimistic that I will be able to fill the raised bed come June.

The plans below are taken from my submitted application to the RHS. As Edible Patches is considered an amateur category, they weren't too prescriptive about how the submission was made. Which is lucky, as my autocad drawing skills are somewhat limited. So, drawing on my knowledge of garden design plan types, I went for a 'plan view' (a bird's eye view) of what the bed would look like and two 'elevation views'  – a simple sketch giving a sense of what it would like standing at each of the long sides looking across the bed. My freehand drawing skills stopped developing at age 13, so I relied on my trusty iPad and an app called Paper to put my ideas down in a visually attractive way.
The plan view gives a very simplistic impression, mainly concerned with colour and texture variations between my selected crops and flowers. The plan is not to scale, so I also generalised the space taken up by each plant.

In the elevation views, you can get more of a feel to the vertical structure and hierarchy of the components of the raised bed. The 3 central circles in the plan view have become wigwams up which climbers will grow. Some plants are in symmetry across a central axis, some contrast with the plant adjacent or reflect some element of the plant at the opposite side.

Lastly, this is the planting plan and plant list. Still, the space taken by each type of plant is generalised but this allows you to see what plants I am intending to use in what area of the bed.

  1. Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant)
  2. Broccoli Kailan 'Kichi'
  3. Nasturtium 'Milkmaid'
  4. Kohl Rabi 'F1 Ballot'
  5. Asparagus pea
  6. Chard 'Bright Lights'
  7. Basil 'Red Rubin'
  8. Lettuce 'Romana Mortarella Verde D'Inverno'
  9. Lettuce 'Navara'
  10. Cucumber 'La Diva'
  11. Climbing Nasturtium mixed
  12. Broad Beans 'Crimson Flowered'
  13. Lathyrus chloranthus 'Lemonade' (sweet pea)
  14. Cucamelon
  15. Purple dwarf french beans
  16. Sage
  17. Dill 'Bouquet'
  18. Pea 'Golden Sweet'
  19. Lancashire Lad purple podded pea
  20. Lathyrus odoratus 'Matucana' (sweet pea)
  21. Fennel
  22. Cerinthe major 'purpurescens'

My selection criteria for these were:
* edible crop or companion plant with a specific benefit to edible crops
* can be grown from seed
* easy to grow – no specialist gardening knowledge or equipment needed
* has an attractive merit: flower colour/shape, colourful leaves/stems, unusual variety, productive crop

The Edible Patches are designed to show how a small area can be turned over to edible crops, so I made sure that everything I chose will grow well in shallow soil or containers (as some people's small space might be a patio or balcony) and I wanted to show how quickly edibles can get from sowing to harvest.

I may have to make a few small tweaks/changes to this design by the time the show comes around. My sage is an existing plant in a beautiful container, that was grown from seed a few years ago, but everything else has been sown since autumn 2013. I have plenty of back-up plants as well as a few replacements in case one variety fails, succumbs to pests or simply gives up the ghost in the next few weeks. But I hope to stick as faithfully to my original design as I can.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Slug patrol

To follow up on my previous post, I can report that I did order some nematodes a few weeks ago. Application is very easy – the contents of the packet are mixed with a specific volume of water and then you simply water the lot over your garden. I had 6 raised beds to treat and then used the remainder on specific areas of the wider garden where slugs are causing a problem. I planted out 4 echinacea plants that I raised from seed last year, and within 3 days, they were looking very nibbled and sorry for themselves. I also have an open area of a sunny bed where my dahlias will go, so that was a target area to treat also.

So far, things are looking pretty good. I planted out meteor pea seedlings a week ago and there are very few signs of any slug damage on those. The plants have really started to grow well in the recent warm weather and a couple of them are now showing flowers.

And in the greenhouse, where space is a little tight right, I've been pricking out my tomato plants. Hopefully I will have room to move these onto larger pots next month.
I am finding small slugs and snails in the greenhouse still – maybe hitchhiking in on the bottom of a pot? It's not all bad news though as the chickens are making short work of these as a breakfast treat!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In need of nematodes?

While doing a spot of weeding the other day, in preparation for potato planting, I came across an alarming number of slug eggs in the soil. Doing a bit of internet research on the subject made for worrying reading:
  • A slug can lay 20-100 eggs several times a year
  • Slug eggs can remain dormant in soil for many years, hatching when conditions become suitable.
  • A cubic metre of garden can contain upto 200 slugs
  • Slugs are hermaphrodite (possessing both male and female reproductive organs) so can mate with any slug of the same species they come across.
  • They can also reproduce without a mate by producing eggs without the male gamete being transferred (parthenogenesis).
  • Only 5% of a slug population will be above ground at any time. The remaining 95% will be below ground, laying eggs, feeding on roots and seed sprouts, and digesting your newly emerged seedlings.
(slug facts courtesy of 

Last year was just awful - I'd never seen such a rampage of slime-secreting leaf-eaters that ploughed through my seedlings last spring. Previous years I've not had such a big problem. They occasionally hit a particular plant – salad leaves are usually popular – but 2013 was notable for virtually nothing being safe. They worked their way through so many of my crops – they put paid to the first sowing of rocket salad and of beetroot. I sowed carrot seeds three times and had the grand total of two carrots reach true leaf stage. They took down a lot of my pea, borlotti bean and sugar snap plants when they were first planted out, they nibbled lots of the potato haulms and had a really good go at the courgette and squash plants. I feared they might have finished off my Hooligan pumpkin plant but thankfully it rallied and went on to produce a single fruit. One after one they decimated my baby nicotiniana plants. I kept some replacements in the greenhouse, but even there they didn't seem to be safe – a few nibbled leaves and even telltale trails on my 4 foot tall tomato plants. It seems there is nowhere a slug won't go for some dinner.

Having had such a mild winter, I fear for the 2014 crops already. A less than frosty winter means that the slug population has avoided the natural population control of freezing temperatures, so I may well employ the services of nematodes to keep the hungry hordes at bay. My finger is hovering over the 'Buy' button as the weather warms up and hoping that there will not be a shortage of the product as many fellow gardeners do the same.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wildlife gardening

While I sit here typing this I am watching, despite the drizzle and cool temperatures outside, a pair of blackbirds collect moss and plant debris from the edge of my lawn with which to build a nest. Earlier, a host of house sparrows collected, first on my neighbours' hawthorn tree and then on our apple tree, loudly chattering and constantly moving from branch to branch. The local foxes have been out overnight again – this I know because my raised beds are a moonscape of hillocks and holes where they dig for who knows what. And only yesterday, a rather huge bumblebee flew heavily into the window pane looking out onto the garden. Nonplussed and unharmed, it bounced away noisily disappearing over the fence. My garden is about much more than the food and flowers I grow within in and the method by which I do this is as important as the result I work towards.

My reasons for growing organically are twofold. The first is an understanding that my garden environment is a ecosystem with populations of organisms from the bottom to the top of the food chain that naturally respond to the environmental conditions and availability of suitable foods. As the seasons pass and the weather changes and one year rolls into the next, the success or otherwise of a reproducing population will be reflected further up the food chain without the need for intervention or control by chemical means. A boom in creatures that I might consider to be pests, such as slugs, snails and aphids will be followed by an increase in their predators as they take advantage of the increase in numbers on which to feed.

My second conviction is one that we have heard lots about, particularly during the past year. That the effects of various chemical pesticides are often not fully known or understood until they begin to affect wildlife that was not the original target. For years now, new chemicals have been introduced and hailed as the next big thing, the saviour for gardeners amateur and professional, before years later they are withdrawn under the shadow of a human health scare or for some previous unknown effect on one or more wildlife populations.

A solitary bee checking out available accommodations

Frogs are a frequent spot in the suburban veg plot

A sleepy bumble bee having a snooze on an arbour

A ladybird in metamorphosis

The unwelcome Vulpes vulpes

An introduced species – the lesser spotted lawn ruiners

A bee feasting on the nectar of Dahlia 'Bishop of Landaff'

Possibly not taken in my garden. But given time, and a land bridge from India...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sowing the seeds of a busy year

Such a mild winter and warm start to the year has meant that many people have started sowing earlier than usual. Beware the cold nights though – temperatures dropped to 3 or 4 Celsius around here last night. Tender plants need to be covered with fleece if outside or kept under glass.
I for one have been transporting a tray of tomato and chilli seedlings out to the greenhouse every morning and back in the house come the evening. Best not to take the risk of losing them.

In other news, the seed sowing is taking on epic proportions. Aside from a backlog of RHS seeds I've been meaning to get sown for a couple of years (let's hope they're still viable), I've also been hedging my bets by sowing lots of salad and veg seeds in case a certain project came through. And then it did.

So, come June this year, I will be planting out an 'Edible Patch' at none other than the Gardener's World Live Show at the NEC in Birmingham! The teaser bit is here on their website. Most of the other beds seem to be from allotment associations, so that sounds like they have a group of people growing the plants that will form the display. There's just lil' old me to produce mine. Hubby is lovely and supportive (and will definitely be roped in for all the heavy lifting come June) but his strengths just don't lie in seedling tending...