Friday, 29 May 2009

Sunny Weekend

Today we picked the first spinach and another batch of lettuce.  So it's Moroccan spiced chickpeas with spinach later...
Oxalis, this plant grows outside my house all by itself, next to another self-seeded plant, a yellow poppy.
I should know what this plant is - is it weigelia?  I used to know, just noticed it lurking in the undergrowth this morning, almost invisible under the heavy canopy.
While I was there, getting covered in greenfly dropping off the trees, I took this picture: you can see the pink flowered thingy on the left, the white flowers are cow parsley.  The river is the one which runs past my house before joining the Irwell 20 metres away.

This is from my huge blue geranium - the first flowers opened today.  It's enormous and really lovely when all the flowers are open, which will be next week, I hope to get a picture then.
This weekend I am off to the seaside, on the east coast.  We're going birdwatching at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.  So there will be no more posts until Monday at best.  In the meantime, here are some pictures from the Pembrokeshire coast in May 2006.  Above you can see the flowers and rabbit holes on a bit of coast near Solva.  These pictures are not very high quality as they were taken with a conventional camera and converted to digital.
And this is a view of ox-eye daisy and thrift at St David's head.  What's amazing here is you can see the steepness of the cliff, but there were rabbits running around on it too!

Have a good weekend, see you next week.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Summer Gardening

Now the planting rush is over, I'm settling into the routine of summer gardening.  This consists mainly of weeding and cutting the grass.  Here's my trusty strimmer, with a battery which takes a couple of hours to charge.  Best thing I ever bought.  
Then there's the construction of my Heath Robinson contraptions.  These appear around fruit trees/bushes periodically over the summer.  This one is holding up the branches of the redcurrants.  The fruit bed is on a lower level, and as the fruit swells the branches droop against the upper level.  This means I can't cut the grass underneath them and the slugs have a feast.  So I make a frame and use jute string to hold the branches clear of the ground.  Cheap, effective but not pretty!
A chive flower - Brits of a certain age may remember the children's programme the Herb Garden.  For some reason, this plant makes me think of that programme!  I love chives in potato salad, so have a pot growing by the back door.
The early raspberries are flowering really well now.  These are from the plants I moved in the winter (see this post) so they are doing very well.  The strawberries have already set a lot of fruit too.
White hawthorn bushes and yellow broom flowering in a sheltered old railway cutting.
Finally, a scenic view of sheep and hills.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A Rainy Day

It's been raining most of the day, a fine rain which is good for the vegetables.  Here are some pictures I took yesterday.  Above is geranium Russell Pritchard - it's a small geranium, does well in sun.  This one is in my Mum's garden, but it originally came from mine.  Unfortunately the year after I transplanted a piece, my plant died so I'm planning to take a bit back this year.  Only a few flowers yet, but it is one of my favourite geraniums, a deep pink.

As I was wandering along the flower border yesterday I notice a bee paying close attention to the cornflowers, so I decided to try to catch him in the act.  Very hard - every time the camera got him in focus he flew off to the next flower.  I did catch him eventually, though slightly out of focus I'm afraid!

Pale pink aquilegia, several of these are flowering now.

Finally, the promise of things to come - buds on my shrub rose.  It's the first rose to flower, usually at the end of May.  I have no idea what variety this rose is, it has been here for decades in varying states of growth or decay.  It suffers with an orange fungus most summers, and a few years ago died back quite a bit after a very hot spell - I clearly didn't water it enough.  So I cut it back fairly brutally, and lavished a bit more attention on it.  This year it has had a good dollop of horse manure, some plant food and some chimney soot to try to ward off the fungus.  So far, so good, it's looking vigorous and healthy.  

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Mission Accomplished

The six weeks from Mid April to the end of May are the hardest in the vegetable garden.  There is soil preparation to be done, seeds to be sown and lots of digging.  It was harder this year as the snow in early December followed by much frost prevented me finishing the autumn digging.  Late snow and frost also prevented an early start in spring, so it's been a bit of a rush.

But today I finished the planting, with the last cut flowers going in (Helichryum and Cosmos), and the first flower has opened on the broad beans (above).  There is still transplanting and some seed sowing to be done for herbs, but the rush is over and while there will be weeding and grass cutting, I can turn my mind to larger projects such as path building and clearing of derelict ground.
I earthed the potatoes up for the last time today, as well.  Another feed went in, to be watered in by the rain tomorrow.  The plants look healthy and are growing about 2 inches a day, by the looks of it.
Lots of strawberry flowers too, this is a small corner of the bed, with the toe of my welly at the bottom.  We should be eating the first strawberries in about 4 weeks.

So now I can ease up and enjoy the garden a bit more!

I took the longer route to the post office today, to see what birds and plants are around.  This is a close-up of a broom flower.  I had never noticed before how curly the stamens are, quite impressive.
This plant is growing at the edge of a field all by itself, but there are quite a number of these plants around here, increasing by the year.  Such a lovely colour on a dull morning.
This is Bistort, which grows in large clumps in the damp spots around here, which, being in the bottom of a river valley, means it grows almost everywhere.  This clump is on the embankment above a disused railway station (closed under Beeching in the 60s), you can just see the edge of the platform in the top right corner.
It is sometimes called the "toothbrush plant" - you can see why!  Click on the photo to see close-ups of an ant and a beetle!
Finally, a close-up of comfrey flowers, a deep pink in bud.  There are several plants, mostly on the edge of fields around here.  I always think it's a shame the flowers open sequentially instead of all at once, but maybe that's the charm of it.

Rain is due tomorrow, but I hope to have a photo or two - see you then!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Cow Parsley and Vegetables

Cow parsley - a pretty, airy umbellifer in full flower at this time of year.
The camera really struggled to focus on the tiny flowerlets that make up each flower head.

Today it was back to the vegetables.  At this time of year it's light from 4 am to 10 at night, and the days are still lengthening, so the plants are growing like crazy now.   One day's growth is very visible, especially after yesterday's wall to wall sunshine.  So this week I need to get the last plants in to make the most of the light.  The little plant above is a cucumber, Crystal Apple, which is a globe cucumber.  I first grew it last year, but it's slower to get going than pumpkins and courgettes, and I started too late.  Add to that last year's appalling weather and the plants produced nothing.  I learned from that, and today planted six cucumbers out, will put some stakes in for them to climb later.
Spinach - a week ago it was tiny, in a few days I will be able to pick the first crop.  This is perpetual spinach, I gave up on other varieties as they constantly bolted, no matter what I did.  Looks like a good decision!

This is a view of the peas/beans bed.  The broad beans are in the centre, you can just see some of the peas climbing the net.  The wigwam at the end is one of the runner bean groups.  The peas are finally streaking up the netting, the runner beans have settled in well except for one plant which has died, and the broad beans will flower this week.

Lots more weeding today - the brassica bed is finished and almost ready for when I move the seedlings in.  I got the grass and dandelions out of the strawberry bed, which is now full of flowers, and the early raspberries are just opening their flowers.  The tomatoes and courgettes are enjoying the warm sunny weather and more seedlings are popping their heads up.  

A very pleasant gardening day in the sunshine.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Another day out

After a week of torrential rain, today dawned bright, clear and warm, such a relief.  So it was off for a good long walk, with a picnic lunch in the rucksack.  We went to a place we often visit, it's not far from home, and is called Musbury.  This is a picture of the valley, taken from the deserted village looking up the valley.  The wall on the right is from the best preserved house. Do click on any of these photos for a better look.

This valley was settled for centuries, part of it was made into the Earl of Lincoln's deer park in the late thirteenth/early fourteenth centuries.  You can still see some sections of the enclosure ditch dug 7 centuries ago in this valley and the next one.  The farmers here grew oats, reared sheep, spun wool, were handloom weavers and at times illegal whisky distillers, before Wesley came along to tame those he described as "wild men".  Some of my ancestors came from here, so for me this valley has a strong resonance.

Small mills were built by the water at the bottom end of the valley by the end of the 18th century, providing employment for the 2000 people who lived here - this valley and others like it were the birthplace of the industrial revolution.  But when big mills were built further away, powered by water from a new reservoir, the life became uneconomic and people drifted into the nearby towns to work in the factories.  All the houses in this valley were pulled down to prevent squatters moving in.   They tended to carefully take off the roof tiles and timbers to be used elsewhere before pulling down the walls, but these roof "tiles" (they are actually made of stone, the traditional local roofing material) were never collected and are still here.  The village and almost all the farms had gone before the end of the nineteenth century, so these roofing tiles have been here for about 100 years.

So now the valley is left to the grass, trees, sheep, some cows, occasional horses, the birds, lizards and, it seems, the stoats (or weasels, hard to tell which).  I saw one of these today, was only a few metres away when it sat up to get a good look at me.  Unfortunately my camera was in my bag so I missed the best chance I've ever had to get a picture.  Off it went, like a flash.

One one side of the valley is the old quarry.  Stone from this and the other quarries in this area paved the towns and cities of England in the nineteenth century.  Now all that's left are huge piles of stones, abandoned buildings and the path of the old tramway (centre of the picture) which moved the stone to the funicular which took it down to the valley bottom.  You may notice that in all of the photos today the hills have flat tops - every single one has been quarried over the centuries.

I don't know the botanical name of this plant, I have always called it "cotton balls", since it resembles cotton plants.  It grows on peat bogs, of which there are several in this area.
The land round here is steep, with lots of gullies in which trees and bushes congregate.  The flowering tree is a rowan, very pretty at this time of year.  
At the end of our walk I noticed this geranium.  I've never seen one like it before - it was growing by the side of the road.  A stunning flower.

Normal gardening resumes tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

More weeding

Forget-me-not - a lovely "weed" which spreads itself about.  I have some growing among my strawberries and don't have the heart to take them out!
These are my brassicas and leeks.  Left to right: leeks, sprouts, cabbage golden acre, purple sprouting broccoli and cabbage minicole.  Lots of weeds among them of course.  I always start these off outdoors, ideally in the bed where they will be transplanted.  I cover them up to get them started, but after that the only protection they get is some slug pellets until they are past the vulnerable stage.  The cabbages are small ones as if I grow big ones, I end up eating the same vegetable for 2 or 3 days and that's really tedious.  These are all doing well, starting to put out their first true leaves now.  I sowed them before I had finished eating last year's leeks and broccoli!

Today was all about weeding, lots of it.  Boring and hard work, but that's what being a gardener is about at times.  I took the cloches off the tomatoes and courgettes today as the weather is getting warmer.  I like the tomatoes to get bashed about a bit by the wind as it makes them grow stronger stems.  I have a couple of tomatoes which may not make it, have been attacked by slugs, but the others are all doing well and putting out new leaves.  Of course the thing about weeding beds is you sometimes find things you've missed, so today's haul of edibles included 3 small leeks, and a small chard plant.  Lots of lettuce as usual and some rhubarb too.

A hawthorn tree in full bloom.  These are most often used in hedging, but when they are, often flower very little.  Neglected hedges are full of flowers, in the straggly shape you see above.  They seed themselves easily as the birds eat the berries in the autumn and drop the seeds all over, so nearby we have a regenerating woodland full of bird-sown hawthorns.  They are pretty in the spring and in the autumn, when covered in bright red berries (also used in herbal medicine).

Friday, 22 May 2009

Moon Planting

Here are my potatoes - you can just see all three beds.   Now my potatoes are the most advanced on the allotments, and it's not just because I plant them early.  I do try to get them in around St Patrick's day in March, the traditional time, though I did them a little later this year. But the main secret is moon planting, which I use for all the fruit and vegetables I grow.  

I first heard of this some years ago, and when I found myself browsing a bookshop in London one evening in 2006, I found this book.

The basic principle is that growth of plants is governed by the moon, or more accurately by the sidereal zodiac (not the same as the zodiac used by astrologers).  There is a huge amount of detail to this, but put simply there are days on which it is best to sow seed, or plant out the four types of plants:
  • root - e.g. beetroot, onion, potato, carrot
  • leaf - e.g. herbs, lettuce, cabbage, spinach
  • flowers - e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, flowering plants
  • fruit-seed - e.g. apple, beans, cucumber, peas, pumpkin
When I tell people this is how I grow things, they look at me like I'm crazy.  But I'm not alone - a couple of years ago some scientific trials were done (Kew Gardens, I think, but it could have been another horticultural institute) and the results were conclusive, with an average 30% improvement in the quality of plants and their produce over the ones sown at random.

You can go to huge lengths in this planting regime, but I don't have patience for that.  The only other rule I tend to abide by wherever possible is to plant in a waxing moon as they do better that way.  The downside is that if you miss a window to plant something, you have a 10 day wait until it comes round again, but I have learned not to worry about that.

The first year I tried this convinced me the effect was real.  The onions were bigger, the peas and beans better and so on.  So when I look at other vegetable plots and see their plants smaller and less healthy than mine, I know the reason why.  I happily share this with gardeners who ask, but they just think I'm mad...

If you fancy trying this, I suggest you start with a book to get your head round it - after that you can get calendars separately or online for each new year.  The book above is by Nick Kollerstrom.

UPDATE:  I should have said that this is not foolproof - the heavy rain in the last week has killed off some of my seedlings, for example.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sunshine at last

This is the flower stem of a bleeding heart plant (dicentra spectabilis) - one of my favourite plants, which is in my Mum's garden.  I don't have the right conditions for it.  If you enlarge the photo further down the page you will see some of the leaves are stripy - it started growing and was then hit by the last snow, we think.

This is a potentilla, also in my Mum's garden - it has stripy orange/yellow flowers which I really like.  

You may recall from an earlier post that I did a bit of a makeover on Mum's garden.  This is the scene one month on.  You can see the potentilla and bleeding heart towards the back.  The other plants are filling out now, and we lost none although the himalayan poppy struggled a bit.  Some self-seeded plants have grown up to soften the harsh lines of the stone (the yellow poppy at the front for example), and there is a hosta in a pot in the foreground too.  All in all, I'm quite pleased with it so far, though there is more to do.

Today's scenic photo is of the river Ogden, about 1/4 of a mile upstream from my house.

So, on to the vegetables.  I put in the pumpkins today, four of them.  Each has a good dollop of manure around the roots, and some slug pellets to protect them.  I seem to have lost some beetroot in the wet weather - slug damage I think, so I was liberal with the pellets (organic ones) today.

This is the sorrel, flowering.  I grow it for early salad leaves, and keep one plant to provide seed for next year.

Jerusalem Artichokes are now pushing on well.  I didn't harvest these this winter, as they had such a poor growing season.  I'm hoping for a better crop this year.

The lettuce is still going strong, potatoes too, so are the weeds and the grass!  Lots to do...