Wednesday, 5 July 2017

In the polytunnel

I've just strung up most of my indeterminate tomatoes. these are the ones which go on growing indefinitely; you take off the branches and let the main stem rip. The ones in the buckets are the determinates; they grow so far then stop, so you leave the branches on for a bigger crop. They flop all over the place whatever I do, so I'm inclined to let them sprawl.

These diddy little things were badly damaged when  frost got into the tunnel despite the door being shut at the end of April. Black Seaman on the left; it's a good variety so hopefully it'll catch up. He-man on the right; it's a grafting variety I want seed from, and one ripe truss will do for this year. I don't suppose it's that much for eating, but I may want to graft potatoes onto tom rootstocks to force them to produce berries. The theory is that without producing tubers, all the plant's energy goes into reproduction.

These miserable things are my biggest chili plants. They've been really slow, but once again, if I just get a few ripe peppers that'll give me seed at least.

Most of my seedling potatoes are coming along slowly. I'll be putting the biggest outside in buckets soon.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Salad Garden, by Joy Larkcom

Salad crops are something I admit to knowing very little about. I don’t really eat leaves myself, and my wife isn’t interested in salad without tomatoes. I gave up trying to grow them outdoors due to blight, which can strike in June on the allotment during a wet summer, and have only just got myself a polytunnel. I’m growing masses – I hope, after they sulked all through last month, and a very cold night left them frost damaged - so salad would be a good idea. I struggle with the blandness of some ingredients, but with plenty of tomatoes, something peppery like radish – you can eat the leaves and seed pods as well as the roots – and maybe a couple of chilis, it can be really good. 

You can eat the whole of any radish, but there are particular varieties developed for their seed pods. I tried one a few years ago; it grows five feet high and flops, so it needs staking if you want to try this. The pods are small, but it produces masses, so a few plants would be enough. Any variety can be used; it doesn’t have to be one of the ‘special’ ones.

Walking onions get a mention; they produce bulbils rather than flowers at the top of the flower stem, which dies and falls over, planting them a little distance away from the original plant, hence ‘walking’. The bulbils can be used if you like strong onions, and the leaves can be used like any other green onion. Green garlic is good in season; it’s a use for the smaller cloves while the bigger ones are grown on for bulbs.

There’s a section on wild plants. Garlic mustard is a weed I tolerate in moderation, along the hedge; it has a pleasant taste. Horseradish is mentioned here, as it often becomes naturalised; I tried growing it once before, and within a year it was coming up six feet from the original planting. I’ve planted it again, but this time it’s confined in a large container. 

The book provides a pretty comprehensive survey, including vegetables I’ve never heard of. Important ones, like lettuce and tomatoes, receive more in-depth treatment. That’s something I like; I sometimes get seeds of obscure plants, and it’s good to be able to look them up. There’s a good deal of information about cultivation, which might be hard to find elsewhere for some of the more obscure vegetables. There’s also a section on general cultivation, with short section on microgreens and sprouting seeds. 

All round, it’s a good book, and it’s going to be an asset. Published by Frances Lincoln at £16.99.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Hot Weather

Things are finally growing away, apart from weeds of course, which have been doing that for months. Even a pot of alexanders, which I planted in March and had given up on, is finally germinating. I'm still making slow progress sorting out overgrown beds, but my CFS is really playing me up and I'm getting ever further behind with it. The hedges still need cutting as well. I'm rescuing perennial leeks from the weeds right now; they've flourished over the last year, while Allium perutile couldn't cope and almost disappeared. The last few are safely potted up for the time being. Never mind, things are growing!

I've planted loads of runner beans - nine varieties or crosses form those varieties - for the Real Junk Food Project, since I want to develop a grex, they need veg, and the family don't like runners. That's a local project which collects food from supermarkets etc which would otherwise be thrown away, and runs a popular pop-up cafe where you pay what you can afford. I've planted climbing French beans (Trail of Tears) for ourselves.

 So things are slowly going in the right direction. Meanwhile, a gigantic swarm of bees which arrived on the 5th has settled down, and I noticed yesterday that new workers are beginning to hatch out. the broodnest is enormous for a new swarm, the bees quite thinly spread, as they often are in summer weather when it doesn't take too much to keep the brood warm, and the workers are badly needed.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Frost Damage

A few nights ago the temperature inside my polytunnel almost touched zero, according to the thermometer. Actually I rather think it did reach freezing. Most of the chilis are OK, but some of the tomatoes have been damaged, along with some of the dahlia seedlings and most of the achocha. Germinating true potato seed was unharmed, though a plant grown from a Negresse tuber was trimmed back. In some ways it's not altogether a loss; it's selected out, for instance, the really susceptible achocha and left two seedlings untouched, which presumably have a shade more resistance. Seed from them should in turn be more resistant. I'm more worried about the tomatoes. I may or may not have lost a couple of varieties; they were planted deep as they root from the stems easily, and if they're replanted shallow they may grow new shoots form the leaf nodes. the one I'm really worried about is a grafting variety which I only had a very few seeds of, and which would be hard to replace. I just need one plant to recover and give me one ripe tomato, and that'll produce plenty of seed for the future.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Urban Flowers

I live in the middle of Birmingham, so whatever gardening I do is inevitably urban. I have an allotment which I struggle with, so my efforts are concentrated there. There are sites all over the city, and demand has slackened off over the last few years, so some may well have empty plots and no waiting list. There’s a growing movement round the world for community gardens, where people come together to develop a space. Just across the dual carriageway nearby there’s a row of small shops with beds outside; some are neglected, while others can be a mass of bloom later in the year. A couple of years ago, a dreary stretch of dual carriageway was transformed by guerrilla gardeners who planted annuals all along the central reservation. There are opportunities to garden everywhere if you look!
The book covers all the basics; design and planning, styles, plant selection, colour schemes, which are always a bit random in my own plantings, cut, dried, pressed and preserved plants and flowers. There’s a short section on seed saving, always a useful thing to do (I keep anything precious in the freezer), and seed bombs, which are useful for guerrilla gardeners. You mix seeds into a ball of damp compost, and chuck it where you want them to grow. When it rains they germinate. Choose something tough which will perpetuate itself.
The emphasis throughout is on your own territory, whatever that amounts to, but there’s no real reason to stop there. With imagination, and sometimes by working together with neighbours, there’s a lot that can be done to transform dreary urban environments. I have snowdrops and daffodils outside my allotment, for instance, to brighten up the lane. The daffs have suffered rather thanks to being strimmed too early in the year, but I’m hoping that cutbacks have stopped that. A lilac in my front hedge provides some colour later in the year, as does a rose over the gate.
One thing worth remembering is that herbs and vegetables can be used as well as flowers. They’re useful, and can be a garden feature in their own right. Angelica, lovage, or even parsnips left in the ground provide clumps of green foliage and white flowers five or six feet high. Cardoons, a sort of giant thistle grown for its blanched stems, reach about six feet, with large purple flowers.
The book provides what you need to develop ideas for your own situation, whatever that is. Whether you have a garden, and allotment, or a windowsill, there’s always something to grow, and if that’s not enough, try guerrilla gardening!

Written by Caroline Dunster, and published by Frances Lincoln, this could be the book you need.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Potatoes, and a Break-In

This is the state I found the lock on my allotment gate in on Sunday. Someone - no doubt kids with tools - had been along ten or a dozen plots, breaking into all of them. They eventually managed to wriggle through a gap in the hedge, but not before they'd bent up my bolt to the point where it couldn't be opened. I broke in, got a crowbar and a big hammer, and manged to get it reasonably well straightened out, so it opens again. Nothing inside had been touched, and they hadn't even got into the polytunnel. Or if they did, they shut the door properly behind them!

These are some of my experimental potatoes, which made a good meal yesterday. They're all grown from true seed from various varieties. I'm obviously very late lifting them, but they're in good condition, and I'm getting enough decent-looking spuds to full a couple of beds. They should give me a good crop this year. I'm particularly pleased with the black one, at least at first glance. It was solid black inside,and kept its colour well as a baked potato. It's 'son of' Violetta. The very red one was ex-Blue Belle, and again, a good solid colour inside.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Plot update

I haven't posted about the plot for ages. I was off it most of last year due to losing an eye and being poisoned by some medication. But I've managed to pull a lot of it back, though it's still a pretty disgraceful mess.

These narcissi came to me via a dumped container. I don't know how  long they'd been in it, but the bulbs were on a sorry state. They've been in the ground for several years, and finally seem to have recovered. Some other bulbs from the same container still haven't flowered, and I don't know what they are. Maybe they need moving.

The daffs I put on the other side of the lane have sufffered due to being repeatedly strimmed in May, which is far too early. Hopefully the cuts may have put a stop to that at least.

The crown imperials have also suffered. I just had the one flourishing clump; at their best, they were magnificent. It was the only spot I could get them to grow; they really don't like waterlogging. Then we had a couple of soaking wet summers which nearly finished them off. Last year, after being moved, they were miserable, but this year they're a lot better, though still stunted. Give them a year or two, they'll be back in all their glory.

My new polytunnel Can't wait to get it up!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Good Soil: Manure, Compost and Nourishment for your Garden

Good Soil: Manure, Compost and Nourishment for your Garden
Tina Raman, Ewa-Marie Rundquist and Justine Lagache
Pub. Frances Lincoln

I’ve never come across a comprehensive book on soil for gardeners before. There was a time when I taught about soil in school geography, but gardening books tend to be interested only in how to change it and make it do what you want.
That means a lot of work. There’s an old BBC TV series, the Victorian Kitchen Garden, about the garden attached to a stately home on the chalk. At one point it shows the difference between the soil in the garden, a couple of feet of fertile stuff, and that in a neighbouring field, a few inches deep, and not particularly fertile. The difference would have been deep digging, stone removal, and huge quantities of manure, over many years. The mind boggles at the man-hours it must have taken.
The important thing about soil is to understand it. No two sites are ever identical, and what’s right for my allotment will probably be totally wrong for someone else’s garden. A thin chalk soil would need different treatment to, say, the moorland where I used to live in Cornwall. There’s an introduction to soil types, which is as much of the technicalities as you need. Observation will supply the rest.
My plot is right next to a stream, and a few years ago, the waterlogging got so bad I set out to build raised beds. It brought everything else pretty much to a grinding halt while I managed half a dozen each year, but the bulk of it was done in the end. There’s still a fair bit to do, but the rest can go at a more sedate pace. My approach was to dump in anything organic that was available. So I used garden compost, hedge cuttings, woodchip from a tree surgeon, autumn leaves, and grass cuttings, and gave each bed a couple of inches of soil on top. Then I planted straight into them. One bed killed my potato onions with a bacterial rot, but that’s the only problem I’ve had, and after a couple of years, everything but the biggest sticks had rotted down into a nice organic soil which is completely different from the silt underneath it. Things grow which never grew before.
Composting is equally haphazard. I have five compost bins, and just chuck everything in, including cardboard egg cartons and the odd dead rat. Once it’s rotted, I spread it wherever I need to fill, or top up, a bed, and cover it with an organic mulch to deter any weed seeds wanting to germinate. Nothing except the occasional dock ever survives, and they’re easily picked out and chucked back for another year. It works, so why make life difficult for myself? The book covers the outlines of the process, and you really don’t need more unless you really want to make extra work for yourself putting the ‘right’ mix of ingredients into your heaps, and turning them regularly to speed up the process. The other thing I use is human produced liquid manure, which the authors describe as ‘liquid gold’. It’s a good source of nitrogen.
Mulch is the key to a lot of my gardening. Keep beds covered with a couple of inches of something organic and not many weeds will get through, while the worms will gradually take it down and keep the soil well nourished. This is covered briefly; one area which could have done with more detail. 
The book’s pretty comprehensive. Everything finds its way in, rather like my compost bins, and emerges in digestible form. All told, it’s earned itself a permanent place in my bookcase