28th April, 2008

My parents visited at the weekend. They like to keep busy so obviously I engaged their help in the garden. Whilst my dad mowed the lawn, mum and I did some therapeutic pricking out of a lot of snapdragons which I hope will make a splash of colour in the front garden.


I gave up on my early sowing of carrots under cloches and will try again next weekend, I think it has been too cold even with the cloches. I did sow some Autumn King carrots in the bucket though which I have high hopes for this year.

I also sowed some more beetroot, cucumber and some more chilli peppers. I seem to have a slug in the greenhouse since only one chilli pepper and two melon seedlings remain. I also put some early pots in two buckets which I hope will produce some nice salad potatoes.

I pricked out the tomatoes into individual pots and what with all the sowing, the greenhouse is looking quite full now and that is how it should be of course.

The recent warm weather has at last got the plants growing. Both the apple and peach blossom are looking good.

Apple blossom

Peach blossom

The broad beans are making lots of flowers, but the plants themselves are a bit small so I'm not sure how big the pods will get.

Even my onion sets I planted at the end of March are showing now.

The close up above really shows how stony my soil is, and this is a bucket I collected earlier with help of my kids; still plenty more to go.

22nd April, 2008

Above is a picture of the greenhouse. This was moved last year from the bottom of the garden where it was under trees and did not get enough sun. The tomatoes and cucumbers I tried to grow there never thrived. Furthermore, watering it was not easy although I did set up a drip feed system. It was quite a job to move but I had help from my father. First I had to take out the glass and then lift the frame intact off the old base. The slabs of the old base were used for the new base which I had to extend; my dad helped lay a small brick wall on which the extending slabs could rest. The old base was broken up with a pneumatic drill (hired for the day). Then the greenhouse was reassembled and in the process I managed to break 7 panes. I was expecting that.

The rubble from the old base was used to make a path at the bottom of the garden, Now the greenhouse area is cultivated and raspberries and tayberries are growing there.

In the summer, the greenhouse is watered automatically with a drip system connected to a timer on the outside tap, this also waters my collection of bonsai trees which can dry out very easily on hot days. I set the timer to 15 minutes in the morning at around 5am and another 15 mins at around 7pm. At the moment however, my wife waters the greenhouse by hand, thanks!

In front of the greenhouse is a coldframe which I made from two double glazed window panels that I got from a colleague at work. By the fence is a grey bucket in which some of the carrots will be grown.

The cloches are protecting a row of early carrots and radishes.

I need to tidy the area by the coldframe but some of the pots will be used for the peppers and aubergines.

Below is the greenhouse last year. You should be able to see 5 tomato plants (Gardener's delight) with plenty of flowers on them, 2 blueberry plants and at the back, melons.

19th April, 2008

Brrrr! It's still cold with a stiff easterly wind that seems to be blowing directly from Siberia. The temperature according to my thermometer is only 9°C. Even the greenhouse is struggling to get above 10°C. Consequently, there's not much growth except for weeds of course, so I did a bit of hoeing and turned 2 compost heaps. Regular turning helps aerate the pile and aerobic conditions are needed to produce good compost rather than an anaerobic smelly sludge.

I found a dead rat in the pile which did give me a bit of a shock but it wasn't a total surprise . I know the neighbour has been putting rat killer down and a few weeks back I saw Roland (aren't all rats called that?) in the compost bin rather sick looking. I added his body back to the pile to aid the decomposition process; I learned this from Bob Flowerdew (Gardener's Question Time, BBC Radio 4) who recommends adding dead animals (such as roadkill) to the heap as well as peeing on it. I do both now!

I've got 6 compost bins and even that doesn't seem enough. I did collect and fill the bins this January with farmyard manure. My wife's friend is a farmer's wife and they let me have some although I did have to go and bag it and bring it home myself. It didn't smell too bad.

Compost bins at the bottom of the garden. It would be better if they were in full sun to warm them up and promote the rotting but they have to go out of the way under the trees.

Below is a picture of what I call the side bed with south to the right, so it gets plenty of sun. It's full of the maincrop potatoes. The soil is still quite pale so I must add all that lovely compost. This bed used to be a flower bed so the soil is in reasonable condition, but it still is very heavy to work and the hedge, although providing a wind break dries the soil out.

Below is the bottom bed and part of the middle bed to the right. The viewpoint is due south with the base of the Bramley apple tree in the background. Under the enviromesh are the spring greens and behind them are the overwintered broad beans. This soil is very stony and has large clumps of pure clay in it. It's going to take several years to get the soil how it should be so growth on these beds may not be exceptional. Certainly, last year's onions and cabbage could have been bigger, and the soil dries out quickly and becomes concrete. I think I will be making another trip to get that farmyard manure again (and again).

18th April, 2008

I've listed the vegetables being grown outside in the previous post. I try and get plants established beforehand either indoors on a windowsill or in the greenhouse. At the moment there are:

Leeks: last year I sowed these in modules, but they took up a lot of shelf space in the greenhouse, so this time I'm trying two 7" pots with about 50 seeds in them (that'll be a lot of leeks!). The variety is Porvite and I sowed them in early February. They are very slow to grow and are about 4" tall at the moment.

Notice the labels? I use cut up plastic milk bottles.

Tomatoes: I'm growing my favourite variety (Gardener's Delight) for the greenhouse and Sub Arctic Plenty for outside. Last year blight killed off most outdoor tomatoes but my greenhouse toms survived and I had lots of fruit. I don't grow too many plants and sow just enough to fit in the greenhouse, so I put 6 or 7 seeds indoors to start with in 5" pots and then once the first leaves appear they go in the greenhouse otherwise they get too leggy.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse with basil, their perfect cooking companion, behind. I don't bother to sow basil, I buy a growing plant from the supermarket and then split it into several bigger pots which normally provides enough for the year.

This year I am sowing in my home made compost. I dug up a large area of lawn to provide new beds last year and stacked the turf to make some loam. So I'm using this loam now which I am mixing 50/50 with some peat-free compost as the loam is still a bit too heavy with clay. So far germination is good so this experiment seems to be working.

Sweet peppers, chilli peppers and aubergines: I grow these the same way as the tomatoes. Sown late March/early April. Varieties: pepper - Gourmet; chilli - de Cayenne; aubergine -Florida high bush.

Kohl rabi: I grew these last year for the first time and they were very nice with a good cabbagey flavour. I prefer these to cabbages as they are more compact plants and they can be easily covered with mesh to keep the dreaded Cabbage White butterfly off. I'm growing them in modules. The variety is Kolibri F1 hybrid.

Coriander: fresh coriander is so aromatic and tasty, it transforms a meal. I grow these in modules and the big seeds let me sow one per module although germination is poor this year. Maybe it's because it is last year's seed. I will sow some more later in the year as it doesn't appear to last very long before bolting.

Broad beans: you'd think I have enough of these when I grow overwintering beans already! I grow these (Jubilee Hysor variety) in individual pots for planting out later. It's not essential to do this I suppose but I think the beans get some help in germinating and also protection from any rodents. I have sown a lot, maybe too many but I can always give some to my friends and work colleagues. There is quite a large vegetable growing community where I work.

Melon: I sow individual seeds in 3" pots on the windowsill as they need the warmth to get them going. I still haven't perfected growing melons in the greenhouse. I don't prune or support them properly I think and they are usually last to go in bigger pots so I just try and squeeze them in rather than allocate them their own space. Must try harder. The variety is Edonis F1 hybrid.

Peas: I don't normally grow peas as the pea moth caterpillar inevitably ends up on the plate, which is not very appetising. But I had a packet that came with a birthday card so I'm giving them a go and I'll try and protect them with mesh. I'm starting them off in modules and the variety is called Celebration, let's hope we do.

Lettuce: I'm growing the Little Gem variety in modules, 6 at a time. Is that too little? I will sow successionally through the year, maybe even through the winter if I can. My family like the crispy lettuce, so we'll see how these are liked as I have not grown lettuce in earnest before. Slugs will be the biggest problem.

Parsley: last year I grew the curly leaved stuff. But I think the flat leafed variety is preferred by chefs, so I'm giving that a try this year. I soak the seeds in water overnight first (to help germination which can be slow) and then sow onto a tray of compost. That worked last year anyway.

Beetroot: mmm, I love beetroot. I grew enough to eat fresh but not enough for pickling which I'd like to try, it must be sweet vinegar though. So I've sown some now in modules and I'll sow some later and depending on how they grow use the small ones for pickling. This variety is the common and popular Boltardy.

Sweetcorn: you can't beat fresh sweetcorn! Last year we had a lovely crop. I chit the seeds by placing them on a wet kitchen towel in a plastic container with lid and then leave them in the airing cupboard until the roots and shoots appear. Then I plant them into 3" pots, I've got 48 plants this year and I want to grow them all! The variety is Ovation F1 hybrid.

Sweetcorn seeds sprouting.

Dwarf bean: I sow the seed in pots or modules. I grew a flat podded variety last year which was a bit stringy. This year it's the round pod variety called Nomad, sown a few days ago.

Courgette: last year I grew 4 plants and we had a glut which we made into soups/meals and froze, or we gave some to the neighbours. So it's the same this year! I grow about 5 or 6 seeds in a large pot indoors and then transplant them into their own pots later for the greenhouse and then finally planted outdoors. This year it's a variety called Venus and they were sown a few days ago.

17th April, 2008

OK, so the blog starts today. It's mid-April and the veggie season is beginning. The weather has been quite cold so far and I have delayed sowing as a consequence. However, in the ground at the moment are:

Spring greens: this is the only vegetable I'm harvesting at the moment. But they taste wonderful stir-fried with some garlic and soy sauce. I may grow these again since they fill the empty ground overwinter. But I'm not growing any other brassicas (except for kohl rabi) as these aren't eaten by the family and they get attacked by cabbage white butterflies.

Onions: planted last October as sets, they are a Japanese but I can't recall the specific variety. They are about a foot tall now and coming on well.

Garlic: like the onions these were planted in October and were from 3 bulbs of the garlic I grew last year. The variety is Solent Wight which I bought from the Garlic Farm, http://www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk/index.asp

Spinach: I'm only growing this for the guinea pig to eat, although we have a bit now and then. It's very easy to grow in autumn and overwinter.

Here's a picture of the onions (foreground) and garlic with the spinach behind them.

Broad beans: I planted these in November in individual 3" pots and overwintered them in the greenhouse. The variety is the common overwintering kind, Aquadulce claudia, which I grew last year and had a good crop, still got some in the freezer! They have started to flower but they seem a little on the short side (probably due to the lack of organic stuff in my heavy clay soil).

Shallots: I planted these as sets in February when the ground was frozen! They are showing nice growth now.

Potatoes: Bought these from Thompson & Morgan. It's their blight resistant starter set of early and late maincrop. They were planted out early April after chitting. I've read it's not really necessary to chit maincrops and Gardener's World are conducting a little trial of this. But, if I'm storing them then they may as well be chitting I think.

Turnips: I did try sowing these earlier indoors on a windowsill, but they got very leggy so I discarded them and sowed afresh direct in the soil at the end of March; they are showing through now. I grew turnips last year in several batches and they were delicious especially mashed with carrots, even the kids liked them.

Carrots: I'm detemined to do better this year as the kids love carrots and you can't beat fresh carrots straight out of the ground. I did try to grow them in a bucket to avoid the carrot fly (they can't fly above 30cm) but it didn't work as I had used fresh compost and no roots developed. But this year the bucket soil is looking great (very rich and black) so fingers crossed. The bucket is for the maincrops, but I have sown early carrots (Adelaide F1 hybrid) direct into the soil and they are under plastic cloches. These have starting sprouting this week after I had nearly given up on them over 2 weeks ago.

Radish: these are so easy to grow as long as you don't let them dry out too much and then they bolt and get woody and too hot to the taste. I've just sown them beside the carrots and turnips successionally.

Asparagus: I've planted out some new crowns into a sunny bed. I did try them in a more shady area but growth was poor.

Fruit: I've got autumn raspberries which produced lots of fruit last year. Again something the kids can't get enough of. I also have summer raspberries (first year), a thornless blackberry, a redcurrant bush and a tayberry. Plus, three fruit trees; a plum tree (tasty fruit last year), pear (no fruit, I think it got rust disease but this year there is plenty of blossom) and an apple tree (Bramley cooker). I overpruned the Bramley a few year's back and not had much fruit consequently. Now I know how to prune it though there does seem to be much more fruiting spurs with blossom about to appear.

Nice new autumn raspberry growth!

Plum blossom

Rhubarb: second year crowns still establishing and I'm not sure whether to risk pulling a few stems. I also bought some more 1st year crowns.

Herbs and strawberry bed: The herbs were planted last year and grown mostly from seed. I have thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, chives, rosemary (grown from a cutting) and tarragon (Russian not the better tasting French variety) mint and horseradish.

Blueberries: 3 pots in ericaceous compost.