24th November, 2008

It was a very cold weekend, the coldest this year. But I still got outside to do some of my latest favourite pastime...leaf collecting. I still have a way to go to fill the new leaf cage.

The greenhouse is the place to be if you are a young plant at this time of year I reckon. The broad beans are looking great.

The spinach and spring onions haven't done much but I will prick them out into modules next weekend. But the onions outside are a good size.

The lettuces are small and I think they may be bitter to taste, maybe I should taste a leaf and find out.

The garlic and shallots too are showing some green shoots.

The soil is very wet now and I won't be doing any digging for a while since I'll just make the soil structure worse by walking all over it, but also it is too heavy to work. I don't have a lot of compost left and I intend to incorporate the compost every time I am digging. So I'll have to wait.

Finally, I used up nearly 3kg of the stored apples to start off some apple wine. It's bubbling away nicely in the airing cupboard. It will be ready in 6 months if all goes well, that is when I'll be harvesting the broad beans. This is my first venture in to wine making and it seems to be relatively straightforward. Let's hope it works out. But it has inspired me to make more, I think I'll try some parsnip wine next. It's nice to have a bottle of wine at the weekend so to satisfy that demand I calculate I need to make a batch of wine every two months!

I've given up on the cider making unless I can find a cheap cider press, but that seems unlikely. I did make a bid on ebay for a 6 litre press but it sold for the price of a new one (~£110+). They seem to be popular at this time of year not surprisingly, so maybe I'll look again when they are not in demand.
I overestimated how much chicken wire I'd need to make a cage for the leaves. Or there was a generous amount of wire provided. Whatever, I have a very large cage now! I doubt I will fill it; it would be great if I did as I know I will use as much leaf mould as I can make.

I had to use the flash to take the photos, as it was getting late in the day. I've only managed to fill about half of the cage.

I've braced the supports for the blackberry and loganberry plants. The blackberry especially put on so much new growth over the summer that the supports were buckling under the strain.

I plan to cut down the Leylandii hedge (behind the blackberry in the picture) as it mostly dead and therefore not very attractive and it's very hard to trim, and it's probably drying the soil out.

The broad beans continue to grow in the greenhouse and there are two main leaves on most of the plants. The lettuce under the cloches are growing too and there should be enough to pick some leaves for a salad soon.

The potatoes are lasting well and we'll be eating them well into the new year. Also in store in the garage are the apples which are lasting well and are being used for apple pies mostly. I shall make some more apple jelly though on a cold day when I can't get outside, as every week there are a few apples that have turned brown. The onions should last us until the next harvest, although I have rediscovered fried onions.

12th November, 2008

The broad beans have started to germinate. It's amazing that these plants can grow in the cold and low light levels. As with last year, I'm giving them help by starting them off in the greenhouse where they get some protection, but I have successfully germinated broad beans directly in the soil outside. Tough plants.

I have been top dressing the front lawn which is a side project of mine. I'm trying to make it into the perfect lawn and spend some time (too much?) in looking after it. Last year I added lawn dressing which I bought from a garden centre. It's a fairly large lawn so the dressing cost around £20. This time I've gone for the cheaper option and have made my own dressing from cheap multi-purpose compost (4 x 75 litres for £10 from Wickes) that I mixed with equal amounts of sharp sand. I just spread it over the lawn and brush it in. I'll have some spare compost left over and I'll be using that for next spring's seed sowing. I got the idea of lawn dressing from Recycle now that suggested using your home made compost as a lawn dressing. The trouble with that is home made compost is full of weed seeds and I'm trying to grow grass not weeds. I'm very good at growing weeds anyway.

Talking of recycling, I was disappointed to read here that the UK does not have the capacity to recycle all its own paper and that some of it gets shipped abroad to the Far East where it can be processed. So there was I thinking I was saving the planet but no, the paper gets shipped half way round the world. How much carbon dioxide does that generate? It's all about money after all.

Another rant I have is about the government's initiative to provide 50% discounts for loft insulation. I reckon I can do this myself for a lot cheaper. I do have some existing insulation but it needs to be thicker. Then I learn that the government is still claiming the VAT, albeit at 5%, which seems rather cynical to me. There is a petition that I have signed (and you can too) to request that the VAT be waivered for loft insulation materials. If the prime minister wants to make tax cuts then this one would be helpful don't you think?

5th November, 2008

Not much activity now. I've been collecting leaves for more leaf mould.

The beds look very empty now. I've pulled up the squash and pumpkin plants and taken down the runner bean wigwam. There were two green marrow shaped and sized pumpkins which I am going to leave for a while to ripen up hopefully.

Leeks and cloches over the lettuce in the side bed.

Just parsnips showing, but I've dug in compost/leaf mould at the far end and planted garlic next to the parsnips, bu there is no sign of their green tips yet.

Only the parsley left in the middle bed.

29th October, 2008

This is an update on the pictures I should have taken last blog. First are the chillis in the greenhouse looking very straggly; I don't think they will survive the winter especially since today and yesterday saw a heavy frost which is very early; some parts of the country had snow.

These are the broad beans in pots trying to germinate. No signs yet. I've got enough I think without needing to do a second spring sowing. I've still got broad beans in the freezer from last year!

The spring onions have germinated after all! I can grow them. They are on the right in the picture below with the spinach in the other pot.

Below are the lettuce underneath the plastic squirrel protector domes.

And some more under the cloche.

I planted these on a lovely sunny autumn day and was quite hopeful that they will put on some growth but the latest cold snap will probably slow them down and I may be lucky to get much at all. Maybe I'm expecting too much and perhaps I should just pick the young leaves.

A good thing about the frosts though is that it will kill off many of the overwintering pests, hopefully some of these guys.

The onions are showing their green tips, a lovely sight.

The garden chores are slowing down now. I've been digging in some compost and last year's leaf mould in the bottom bed. I will have to continue to collect this year's leaves. I want to make two permanent cages for the leaves, one for the current year and one for last year's. I'm undecided how to do this at the moment. I'm inclined to go for the simple chicken wire cage, but I want to make them really big as I can collect a lot of leaves.

Now that we have had a frost I can try the leeks and parsnips, they should have sweetened up nicely. The horseradish will be good to dig up too, I'll need to get the ingredients to make some horseradish sauce.

The cold weather has driven me indoors and into the kitchen. It's warm when the oven is working. I made some more pickled beetroot and two jars of apple jelly. The jelly has already been tried on sandwiches by the kids, so I'll probably be making more which is no problem as there are a lot of apples to get through. I had a go at making an apple pie too. For some reason I had thought there was some magic art to making pastry but on the BBC food website there is a video masterclass that shows you how using a food processor. Works a treat!

20th October, 2008

I finally dug up the last of the Sarpo potatoes. The Miras were up first and they were very badly damaged by slugs. I reckon at least half of them were affected. So I wasn't too hopeful for the Axonas despite the few I had dug the previous week being damage free. But good news, only a few were eaten and even that was mild damage. The two varieties were grown next to each other so I think this is a good comparison and I shall be keeping some of the Axonas back for next year. It's not recommended as disease may be carried over, but these spuds are blight resistant so they should be OK, and I got blight on the tomatoes this year but not the spuds.

I made an order of seeds and potatoes from Thompson & Morgan. The bill came to around £40 which is a lot less than last year as I hope to use some of this year's unused seed.

I planted out some shallots alongside the onions. The shallots were selected from bulbs of this year's harvest, so no cost again. I did the same trick for garlic (Solent Wight); the cloves are a bit small but I planted them in the bottom bed where I dug in a lot of compost to help them fatten up.

The greenhouse was cleared of the tomato plants. There are still a few sweet peppers left, none of them has turned red though. The chilli plants don't look like they will survive the winter but I'm not too bothered as I'll just grow some more next year.

I sowed broad beans (Aquadulce), freshly arrived from T&M, in 3" pots and they will overwinter in the greenhouse. Likewise, I sowed some spinach and spring onion in large pots. The spinach has germinated quickly but there is no sign of the onions. I used a new packet of seeds to exclude the possibility that my past failures with spring onions was due to old seed. The nice weather recently has heated the greenhouse up nicely and should be good for germination, if this doesn't work I don't know what will.

I transplanted some lettuce (Little Gem) which I has sown a few weeks back, into the side bed and covered them with plastic cloches. It's a bit of a gamble but I may get some young leaves for a winter salad.

I pulled up all but one of the courgette plants which is still flowering and I even cut a courgette last weekend. It's been a good yield this year as was last year.

The chillis I strung up have nearly all turned red; I hadn't expected that.

The flowering stems of the blackberry plants were cut down and this year's growth tied in.

The butternut squash plants are dying back revealing some small fruit, I don't know if they will taste any good.

Finally, the leaves are starting to fall and I will be collecting them for leaf mould. I plan to make a cage out of chicken wire to put them in rather than the black bin bags I have used before.

Sorry no photos this post.

7th October, 2008

A dull weekend with a lot of rain, the river flooded again. So not much work could be done outside. I had planned to dig up the last of the Sarpo potatoes but they would not have dried out. I did dig up one plant of the Sarpo Axona to find a good batch of red tubers with no slug damage. The skins are quite tough and I tried some tonight. As I suspected they are quite floury but will be good for roasting.

Speaking of eating, I picked one of the green peppers. Their skins look like they have been polished.

I rearranged the herb bed. I have too many thyme and sage plants and could use the space I free up for other veg such as more strawberries and carrots. I think the carrots will grow well because the soil has a very good structure due to the bed being well cultivated for flowers beforehand.

I will remove one of the rosemary bushes too. I transplanted some strawberries from the planter; it hadn't been very successful, I think the soil dries out too quick. I may put in a thyme plant in the planter as they will tolerate drier conditions.

I cut down the asparagus ferns and then mulched it with a good layer of compost (boring photo below). I'm hoping for more ferns next year of course. That's the joy of gardening, next season is always anticipated as you never know what it may bring.

I'm going to take regular photos of the 3 beds to follow the seasons; they can change so dramatically.

Side bed showing leeks and empty ground where the spuds were with the Sarpos behind that. In the immediate foreground are some pathetic carrots, that's why I want to try carrots in the herb bed.

Beyond the Sarpos are the overwintering onion sets and then some more leeks and a few remaining beetroot with the asparagus bed beyond that.

Looking back up the bed to the greenhouse with the grapevine against the fence, no grapes though but it is only its second year.

The bottom bed is mostly empty after I dug up the sweetcorn. In the foreground are the parsnips which have got some good root on them. I need to grow more next year. At the back are some rubbish squash plants, I suspect they haven't grown as they are in the shade of the apple tree for much of the day.

The middle bed also has two squash plants then the flat leafed parsley and pumpkin. Behind all that is the runner bean wigwam which is still producing.

Finally, the Japanese maple bonsai has turned a most magnificent red.

30th September, 2008

A nice day on Saturday which was used to cut the Leylandii hedges. Not a job I relish at all. I'm slowly chopping it down truth be told to replace it with something nicer, not sure what though.

Anyway, vegwise the Markies potatoes have been cooked and are quite tasty, to my surprise! They are good baked, microwaved and as chips. The Sarpos are still in the ground but I'll probably dig them up next weekend.

Here are the Sarpos with the nicely trimmed hedge behind. Notice the brown bits in the hedge caused by aphids, a prelude to complete demise. Apparently the hedge is too dense for birds to get in and eat the aphids. You can brush/rake out the dead stuff which may open it out a bit. Maybe I should try that.

The beds are looking like it is the end of season now, autumn has really arrived. The sweetcorn has been disappointing. I rightly suspected that they had not put enough leaf on and as a result the cobs were small. Now they have gone quite tough and are not as nice to eat.

The pumpkin plant has put on lots of growth but the fruit is tiny. I have never been able to grow one yet. There's always next year!

Right next door to the pumpkin is the flat leafed parsley which has grown very well.

The apples were all picked off the tree and they filled a wheelbarrow.

So I had a go at pressing some apples to make cider. Ahem, not a great success. I completely underestimated how many apples are needed to make a gallon. I found out after the attempt that 11kg of apples will give one gallon of juice. The good news is that my home made press did work! But it only produced 700mL of juice which is quite a bit short of a gallon. But....the juice was absolutely delicious to drink! Wonderfully sweet and smooth.

This is the press all loaded with chopped up apples (a food processor was used to do the chopping).

The chopped apples are wrapped in tea towels to hold them in place and then a bit of plywood is placed on top and pressed down by tightening nuts screwed onto the bolts.

This is the juice dripping out, not a great flow rate.

A proper cider press would do the job in no time, but they aren't cheap, even the second hand ones on ebay are sold at a premium. I did call a local homebrew shop to find out if they rented presses, but they only sold them. I may have another go but I need a lot more cloth to hold the mashed apples in the press and a quicker way to chop them up.

The tomatoes (gardener's delight) struggle on in the greenhouse despite the lateness of the season. There has been a big yield from them and there are still plenty left although they are getting smaller but still taste beautifully sweet.

The only melon was picked and had been attacked by slugs but there were good bits that could be eaten. Melons, along with cucumbers and pumpkins are veg I haven't perfected yet.

I did get a good yield of chillis which I have strung together to dry. They are mostly green due to poor summer (?) but hot nonetheless.

I'm still harvesting:

Runner beans - but only a few, not a good yield this year.

There are some green peppers ready to pick in the greenhouse.

Finally, I planted around 50 onion (Radar) sets in the ground where the potatoes had been and I'd added lots of compost. Next week I'll plant the garlic using bulbs from this year's harvest.

22nd September, 2008

Another cracking weekend weather wise, but perhaps it's all a bit too late. The sweetcorn is getting tough now and leaving it, in the hope the cobs would swell, didn't really work. They are still edible but you can tell they are not at their peak. Also something is eating the cobs on the plant, it has to be a squirrel.

So I dug up the Markies potatoes, deciding that further slug damage was likely. There was a good yield with about one third damaged, but not enough to throw away. The undamaged tubers were stored in a pillow case! Well, I don't have paper or Hessian sacks; it was an old-ish pillow case, honest. In the gap I dug in lots more compost, this is a prerequisite for any veg garden!

The courgettes just keep coming! But at least they are being eaten as courgettes and not marrows now.

The single aubergine was harvested and eaten in a cheesy pasta meal, delicious but very disappointing that I only got one this year. I think the poor yield is because the plants were kept too wet. The pots stood in trays so as to conserve water during hot spells. But of course we never had a hot spell, so the trays filled with water from the automatic watering system. I have to balance the flow to be enough for the tomatoes which are heavy drinkers, with the aubergines and sweet peppers. I learned from the GYO forum that aubergines don't like the soil being too moist which I think explains the lack of fruit. I also think I need to get them growing a month early; February/March rather than April.

I used the spent compost from the aubergine pots to fill up the carrot bucket, after picking the rest of the carrots which have not been a big success. There was no carrot fly but they never reached a size I expected. I think this may have been to erratic watering.

I don't have any pictures for this blog, but I do need to keep a record of the veg pics at the end of the season as it's interesting to see comparisons of progress through the year.

Instead of snapping away, I spent time doing other chores in the garden such as making paths around the fruit bushes and cutting the grass. The front lawn was looking good after the cut and then I transformed it in to a dishevelled mess by scarifying it. Fortunately, I have an electric scarifier, I don't think I would do it by hand! I filled up a compost bin with what was pulled out which is always useful; it's amazing that there is any grass left.

I pickled 6 jam jars of beetroot after I found a simple recipe that looked like it would be a sweet vinegar method. I don't much care for the straight pickled beetroot, I think the sweetness brings out the flavour. I tried some and it's perhaps a bit too sweet but maybe it will mature. I would have made more but I ran out of jars.

16th September, 2008

At last some nice weather! So I took advantage of the sun to dig up and dry some of the potatoes (Lady Balfour and Cara) which had started to die back. They were a bit disappointing, they had a fair bit of slug damage but some were good enough to put in a paper sack for long term storage. The Sarpo varieties (Mira and Axona) are still quite green on top but the Markies have all died down. I'm in two minds as to whether to leave them or dig them up. It's probably best to do the latter as the slugs will only eat them.

I dug in serious amounts of home made compost into the gap that was left by the potatoes in readiness for the overwintering onions and garlic. I haven't bought the onion sets yet but I won't need to buy the garlic as I will just use cloves from this year's crop.

I noticed blight on the outdoor tomatoes (sub arctic plenty), this is what it looks like.

So I picked all the tomatoes green and red before they all succumbed. The green ones were made into a simple curry that was nice as a side dish. As you can see there were a lot, the surplus was frozen for a later curry meal.

I'm still harvesting

courgettes - more cake and curries
beetroot - more bortsch, pickling in sweet vinegar next week
cherry tomatoes - a very good yield this year but they are greenhouse grown
green chillis - a good yield too, the greenhouse certainly overcomes the shortcomings of the British weather
turnips - getting a bit woody now and they should have been eaten much earlier
raspberries - wow, a large bowlful everyday
cooking apples - loads and loads, I plan to make some jam/jelly, give some away, freeze them and store them in the garage

8th September, 2008

In the last entry I was critical of the potatoes. Well, I've dug up some more of the Lady Balfour and I'm quite happy with the yields. The slug damage is not so bad and there is a bit of scab. The scab is due to dry soil and alkali conditions which can both be cured by adding compost. I may have contributed to the alkali conditions by liming the ground the previous season; that may have been a mistake. Perhaps I should have checked the soil pH to begin with.

Anyway, I don't think the soil is too dry at the moment! There has been a lot of rain and the river nearby has flooded again. The wet weather is the best friend of blight but the tomatoes and potatoes have not succumbed (yet) although some of the plants are dying back.

But the potatoes underneath are alright.

The rain has also not been kind to the blackberries. Most appear to have rotted on the plant. There are more coming but the weather forecast doesn't look favourable.

I have picked around 40 apples to make cider with; they are softening up in the garage. I still haven't worked out how to pulp them yet; I'm thinking of fitting a hover mower blade to a drill and blending them in a bucket. Could be interesting. I have made the press though.

I suppose the wet weather is good for the plants, the pumpkin is putting on a lot of leaf but I fear it is all too late. It's the same situation for the squashes. The picture below show the pumpkin plant and to the left is the flat leaf parsley which is growing well.

The rain has prevented me getting out into the garden and I've taken my eye off the kohlrabi which I sowed to get a late harvest. The picture below shows how brassicas in general are very quickly eaten. I'm not sure what did this damage as I couldn't find any caterpillars. I really should have put some mesh over them when they were planted out. I think I'll get an edible vegetable out of it despite the munching.

I have a lot of beetroot so I decided to make some borscht. I wasn't sure I'd like beetroot soup but it was very tasty. It includes onion and carrot plus some red wine vinegar which gives it a nice tang. I'll make some more but I'll be the only one eating it, the family aren't too keen on beetroot. All the more for me!

1st September, 2008

It's been the least sunny August on record. Not surprising then that some of the yields seem lower than last year, specifically the beans. I noticed the price of runner beans in the supermarkets, ~£4/kg! That seems a lot for a veg that most home growers have more than they know what to do with. Maybe the supermarkets can't sell any because they are given away to everyone free at this time of year? Or maybe not now that there has been no sun.

I'm keeping a record of the potato yield. So far I'm getting about 1kg per plant. I think that could be better and again I blame the soil quality for this. It's horrible dry clay clumps, not even the spuds have broken it up and the grass clippings mulch doesn't appear to have done much to retain the moisture. So, whilst the soil is loose I've taken the opportunity to dig in plenty of compost from the compost bins.

As for the potato quality, well the Valor variety are very floury and only good for roasting and chips; they are good chips though! The Lady Balfour are more waxy and slightly better; they hold up to boiling/mash but can explode if overcooked. There is quite a bit of slug damage so they won't store well; I'm hoping that I can dig them up as they are needed. I think they will be OK to leave in the soil until the frosts. On the GYO forum, the consensus is that Kestrel are a good variety for slug resistance and taste. So I'll be trying those next year.

There has been poor growth of the pumpkins and squash which I put down to the lack of sun. That said there are fruits forming but I'm a little concerned that they won't have enough time to grow to their full size. It's a waiting game.

The sweetcorn was tried out and as expected it was very sweet but still needs some more time for the cobs to fatten up. Come on sun!

The sub arctic plenty tomatoes are ripening; I haven't grown or tasted this variety before. They are not too sweet and more suited to cooking in my opinion but then I may be spoilt by the sweetness of the gardener's delight tomatoes growing in the greenhouse.

Sub arctic plenty tomatoes

Gardener's delight

The carrots in the buckets are perfectly formed and taste so much better than shop bought ones. They are a bit on the small side so the yield won't be much. Next year I vow to sow a lot more.

The autumn raspberries are starting to crop big time. We can never have enough of them! Also the blackberries are ready and they needed a partner for a crumble so some apples were picked. I didn't think the apples would be ready but I was wrong. They are even sweet enough to eat uncooked so I'm optimistic about making a cider that won't strip the lining of your throat.

The dwarf beans have not been a success this year. They didn't germinate well to start with and then I took my eye off them after the first crop and they have been eaten by slugs I assume. Must try harder.

After all my enthusing about the plums, only 4 were harvested which meant one each in our family. The pleasure was all too brief.

There was I thinking I had a tasty aubergine nearly ready until I inspected it closely to discover some thing had beaten me to it! Fortunately there is another one. But that's all, there are flowers but I think it's too late to form fruit now. A poor yield.

The sweet peppers look OK.

The coriander bolted and flowered but the lower leaves are still usable and the flowers attract lots of insects, so it's staying.

The parsnips are putting on leaf, it was worth persevering with them after all.