Sunday, 20 November 2011

Winter Colour

While there are still a couple of Rudbeckia flowers outside, generally everything is grey and brown now, but inside I have two Christmas cactuses cheering me up.  They are such beautiful flowers.
I really ought to be thinking about next year's seed order but somehow I just can't face it yet.  I've just finished my home-grown potatoes and there are very few veg left, along with some apples, but until everything is eaten I just can't focus on what to (try to) grow next year.  So for now I'm just enjoying these flowers.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Slow Going...

It's been too long since my last post, work has been manic (this is a good thing in such difficult times!) and with computer problems I haven't been able to do much, but I have finally persuaded my prehistoric laptop to accept and upload photos again.  It has been very slow going on the plot, I picked the last of the apples, a fairly good crop but they didn't ripen too well due to the lack of a summer.  It's been almost impossible to work on the soil due to the rain, the ground is completely saturated, so the weeds have really got away, as you can see from this photo of a small corner of the plot, completely overgrown.  It's been so wet, as I pulled the canes you can see out of the ground last week, they had formed a vacuum seal and only gave way after quite a lot of tugging, with a "pop'!  Now that's wet soil for you.
This autumn has been unusually warm overall, which has given some of my beleaguered vegetables a little more time to grow.  In fact the temperatures have been remarkably close to the ones we had in our so-called "summer".  We're not going to have monster parsnips this year, but at least we have something to salvage from the wreckage.
Whereas these beetroot are a disaster, along with pretty much every other beetroot plant in the north.  They just didn't grow at all, so no beetroot this autumn.  We have no idea what the weather will bring this winter, but we are hoping for some dry weather so we can work on the soil, plus we have an old shed to demolish and a new one to construct, which should be fun!

Monday, 3 October 2011

What a Topsy Turvy Year!

It's been a strange year, warm weather in April and now a summer in early October, very strange and the plants are very confused.  But this was a nice surprise for me - autumn crocuses in full flow.  I bought some about 10 years ago, stuck them in a pot and they were good the first year.  After that they didn't do much and I forgot all about them, keeping them because they happened to be in a pot which a nice aquilegia made a home in.  It seems they have made a comeback!

In the vegetable garden, the remaining apples are coming on.  This is Blenheim Orange, a large dual purpose cooker/eater.    I think the "orange" in its name may have something to do with the colouration you can see on these apples, on the sunny side of the tree.  As they ripen they turn a glorious shade of orange.
While the vegetables have been fairly dismal this year, we are still getting crops of courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans.
And these are the Spartan apples, like the Blenheim Orange the first substantial crop for this tree.  You might think that these look ripe, but in fact they have a few weeks to go.  Spartan turn a shade of purple when ripe and should be ready later this month. 

Sorry about the delay in posting, it's the busiest time of year for me in the shop plus my laptop is slowly dying and now refuses to import photos from the camera.  I'm in the market for a cheap tablet, if anyone's got any ideas?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Some Successful Experiments!

After the difficult year we've had with the weather and temperatures, it's nice to see some of my experiments have paid off (and survived the recent hurricane left-overs).  On the left are some of our tomatoes, bush types which we tried for the first time on the basis that they fruit earlier than cordon types, which is now essential in our shorter growing season.  I tried two varieties, a small cherry and a larger type called Totem, and I think I'll stick with Totem next year, the cherries not being quite so successful.  Despite having only two weeks of summer weather, they are ripening though I had to scour the inside of the cloche for slugs this morning!

The peppers have also done well, though the small slugs are now starting to eat them so I picked them rather than watch them disappear.  Given better weather (i.e. actual summer temperatures) they should ripen to orange.  But I'm really pleased with them and will definitely try them again next year, though I will need bigger cloches for them and for the tomatoes.

I'm particularly proud of this garlic.  In recent years our garlic crop has been diminishing as our climate has cooled, our shortened growing season doesn't allow it to mature and we can't plant in autumn in our cold, wet soil.  So I decided a change of variety was in order and chose "Picardy Wight" from Thompson and Morgan.  This variety originated in northern France and presumably has been bred on in the Isle of Wight, a well-known garlic area in the UK, given its second name.  It can apparently be planted in autumn or spring.

I haven't counted the bulbs, but this crop grew from 6 bulbs (current price £4.49 for 3) and some of the bulbs are massive.  More importantly, it has actually matured properly (started Feb).  So I recommend this variety to those in northern climes, an excellent crop with good sized cloves, the kind you'd be happy to buy in a shop.

Still to come in the garden - more apples, carrots and marrows, maybe a few beetroot?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Preparing for the next storm

Having survived the tail end of one hurricane this week, now it's time to prepare for the next one, which is due to arrive on Sunday night. The plum tree survived this week's storm quite well, mainly because all the weak branches had already broken in the atrocious weather earlier in the year. But with very high winds expected, it was time today to remove the last of the fruit; I did a picking 10 days ago which mostly went into jam.
My tomatoes are slowly, very slowly, ripening. Watching Gardeners' World last night, Monty Don suggested taking the leaves off the plants to bring on ripening. I though this was a good idea, so I set about it today. If you're wondering what the cloche frame is made of, it's plumber's tubing, very good and sold at all DIY stores. Add some plastic to the top, and it does a great job in protecting plants.
I'm glad I did this because as I dug among the leaves, I came across a bit of rot, and also a bit of blight. At this stage, it's not too bad and by removing the leaves I hope I've nipped it in the bud. The damp weather has created ideal conditions for diseases.
And here are the plants after their haircut! Rather denuded, but there will be more air around them and I also threw a few windfall apples underneath to encourage the tomatoes to ripen. The cloche has now been firmly closed in advance of the storm.
While I was working on the tomatoes, I disturbed this frog which was hunting slugs among the plants. I hope it will go back, as the slugs have eaten some of the tomatoes.
It was also time to remove the Worcester Pearmain apples, they started falling off this week with the weather, so they've all been picked now to prevent more damage. I finished picking the Katy apples yesterday. The remaining two apple trees are not at a stage where the fruit is ripe enough yet, so I've left those on and made sure the trees are secure.
Here's a selection of veg for today; the last peas of the year, the first runner beans at the bottom, a few tomatoes, my precious first ever cucumber and three french beans. I bought a climbing french bean plant earlier in the year as an experiment. Not sure £1.75 is a good price for 3 beans, one with a slug hole in it? The snails loved it, though since I prefer to feed myself instead of the snails, I don't think I'll grow any of these plants next year!

And a note for those reading this in northwest England; I hear that Lancashire County Council has bought extra salt this year and is expecting snow to fall in November. This tallies with my perception that autumn is 3-4 weeks early, we don't normally get this kind of weather until October. So I'll be trying, between the downpours, to get out and get as much work done as possible before the winter weather closes in.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

My first cucumber

Given the number of cucumber seeds sold every year, you'd think they were easy to grow, but I've never had any success with them. I've tried greenhouse types, outdoor types, round, long, almost all going and never produced anything. So earlier this year when we lost plants due the frost, I picked up a couple of cucumber plants in the garden centre. My Mum laughed at me, thought they would produce as much as previous attempts, i.e. nothing. But I proved her wrong - here is my very first cucumber, after 10 years of trying. It is a miniature type, designed to fruit earlier than others, just like the tomatoes I also bought earlier in the year. One to try again, I think.
This cucumber is growing in this long bed. You may think there are several plants in here, but in fact there are only three. The pumpkin you can see right at the back of the bed is actually growing forward from there right to the end. I decided to cloche this bed given the cold and now very wet weather, to protect the cucumber and also to help the pumpkins set as they were rotting off in the damp. It's worked well, with three pumpkins set on the one plant at the last count.
I weeded the parsnip bed at the weekend; they are small but the first sowing was wiped out by a plague of snails. At least they have room and light to grow now. It's been a fairly bad year for vegetables, cold and wet, and everyone at our allotments has struggled. We really must be due a better summer next year.
But the fruit has been doing well - I picked the first Katy apples this weekend, some rhubarb and a few autumn raspberries. I dread to think what the current windy and wet (America's hurricane) weather will have done to my trees since. I'm just hoping my supports held and the trees are still there, with most of their fruit still on!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Small but perfectly formed...

Here's my dwarf chilli plant, with its three fruits. This was an experiment; the plant sat on the sunny windowsill of my bedroom, the warmest place in the house. Given that this summer consisted of temperatures which rarely reached the dizzying heights of 19C (66F), it could have been warmer and then maybe it might have done a little better. Still, for a trial, this is a good result. To the right of it you can almost see the basil, which I bought as seedlings and potted up in a large bulb pot. This has also been very good, producing leaves over several months, so I think I'll be repeating these next year.
But here's another experiment which didn't do so well. This pot, and several others like it, contained Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria. It now contains a dandelion as it turns out that snails and slugs are very, very fond of this plant and despite my best efforts, they gradually stripped every leaf and then stalk back to the ground. So this plant is a no-no for my climate, sadly.
But I still have some flowers - this is Rudbeckia Goldsturm, a little nibbled by the slugs and snails which have thrived in our cold, very cold summer.
And the nemesia and geraniums are still going strong. I can't recommend nemesia highly enough for being trouble-free, flowering for months and providing a good splash of colour around the house.

I lit my first coal fire in the house a couple of weeks ago, autumn is already here, so the plants are slowing down now and another cold winter beckons. Lots of jobs still to do in the garden, I have finally done the summer pruning of the fruit trees and cut down the old raspberry canes, but we still have some more raspberries to come yet, along with all the apples. I also did my first picking of plums this weekend, in the rain as it turned out! Hope to get out between the showers later in the week. I really don't fancy picking fruit and vegetables in the pouring rain again.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Musings on Weather and Climate

Regular readers of this blog will know that this year has been a difficult one because of the weather. But I don't think it's just this year - take these Desiree potatoes, for example. An early maincrop potato which we dug this weekend (actually my Other Half did 90% of the work). A good crop, but this is the size of crop we used to get from both first and second earlies too. Not in recent years. This set me thinking about weather and climate change. For years we have been told that the world is getting warmer, and that here in Britain it would get warmer and drier, though recently this has changed to warmer and wetter to cope with the actual facts! Since 2005 I have been keeping brief notes on the overall weather for each growing year, so I revisited them this weekend. Up to 2006 we had what I described as "average", gradual warming in springs, some hot and dry weather in the summer, a gentle cooling at the end of the year. In 2007 and 2008 we had warmer springs, but cool and wet summers. In 2009 the pattern switched to late, cool springs (with late frosts), wet and cool summers again, but with the added kicker of a cold winter. This year we had exceptionally warm weather in April followed by an exceptionally cool May and frosts, which confused the plants enormously. The general pattern is one of cooling, not warming, with a shrinking of our growing season.
While one year doesn't create a pattern, three certainly does in my book. These Cara potatoes, another maincrop which has done very well, are suggesting to me that I should forget early potatoes as our springs are now too late and cold for them. I've not had a decent crop of earlies in years. Our summer here is most definitely over, the Swifts headed back to Africa two weeks early, the swallows are already gathering and the starlings have returned from the hills earlier than normal. The long range forecast for September and October is suggesting colder than average temperatures, so it's looking like we're in for another cold winter.
So my 2012 planning will concentrate on adapting to our seemingly shorter growing season - planting things like these bush tomatoes, which crop early (50-60 days) and are now under a cloche to ripen. They started out under lights in a nursery so I think I will have to buy some ready grown plants like this to give myself the best chance of crops. I may have to forego purple sprouting broccoli, which does not survive prolonged freezes. I'll probably increase my autumn crops such as cabbage in compensation. More cloches may have to be purchased in order to give my plants the best growing conditions.
These are my peppers, again shop bought to fill the gaps left by the late frosts. They've done quite well but are definitely on the downhill slope now. They're under a cloche to keep them warm and ripen. It feels like early September here now, I lit a fire for the first time this week to keep me warm in the evening. Never done that in August before! Still, the challenge in gardening is the constant change, every year is different and that's what makes it interesting.
Finally, I was just about to remove a rotting courgette when I noticed something underneath it. Two toads were spending the day snoozing in this nice damp spot - you can just see one poking its head out! Toads are my friends, hoovering up the slugs, so I left them where they were. Not something you see every day!

Happy gardening!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Crime Scene Photo

Well, that got you interested didn't it? While the criminal classes were rioting 25 miles away, though happily many have already been locked up (the police "Shop a Looter" campaign is going well), I had my own crime to detect. I reached into the chest in my shed where I keep nets and potato sacks, as I had need of the said sacks. This is what I found. Despite there being only a tiny gap under the chest lid, apparently it was big enough for a woodmouse to hop in there and make its home in the winter, chewing up the hessian to make a cosy bed. I think I need some new sacks...
Once again, we have had monsoon rain. So bad, in fact, that for the first time ever I put my cucurbits under cloches in an attempt to prevent the flowers and thus the fruit rotting off in the wet, having already lost some courgettes and pumpkins. It was a good idea, the first pumpkin has now survived and the courgettes are looking good. So is the grass, as you can see from the photo.
The tomatoes are doing surprisingly well, despite the rain.
The plum tree needed a bit more support and many of the branches are bending in an alarming manner, but are holding firm. Not long now and the fruit will be ready.
The apples are also coming along, but later than normal, probably two weeks or so late.
The cabbages are loving the rain though.
Today I finally got my leeks transplanted, into the traditional deep holes. Many were unfortunately gobbled up by the slugs and snails, so survivors are few.
And with the appalling weather a number of them are ridiculously small, so these runts are planted as a group for early picking. They'll never get very big, just to spring onion size. Still, they will be useful anyway.
But we've also picked the first marrow, which is a welcome addition to our vegetable table. We have a few more dry days forecast, so I am hoping to get some gardening done this week, but really this year has been a major struggle with the weather. I've never had to cover plants in August, crazy. Hope it's going better where you are.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Quick Update

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, but leaving aside the necessity to work for a living, the rest of my time has been spent weeding and picking fruit. I now have 4.5 bags of gooseberries in the freezer (and the scars on my arms to prove it!), which is probably arounds 15 pounds of fruit.

Now the rain has returned, another branch of my plum tree has suffered damage, though not as bad as last time, so this week will be spend dodging showers to get out in the vegetable plot. I'm hoping for a couple of dry days. Meanwhile my cat can continue to enjoy sitting on the doorstep among the flowers while I'm working hard.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

After the Monsoon...

While North America is sweltering, we're, well, not so much. The now customary July monsoon has come and gone, leaving my brassica frame flattened as you can see. Happily, the plants were ok and I got it back up quickly.
For several days I wasn't able to get out and pick the fruit which really needed picking. I've picked the ripest green gooseberries now. These have a reputation for being very tart, but if you leave them until they are soft and slightly yellow, they're sweet enough to eat off the bush, delicious. But the green ones make better jam as they're higher in pectin.
The red gooseberries have also been picked and mostly packed into the freezer. Very sweet indeed. The raspberries suffered in the monsoon, with mould taking over so we've lost a lot of fruit. Not unusual at this time of year, hopefully we'll get some more yet.
But the rain damage meant they were really only fit for jam making - as they don't set well on their own I mixed them with an equal quantity of redcurrants from the freezer. Raspberry jam is a soft set so it doesn't keep as well as, say, gooseberry jam, but it is one of my favourites.
The strawberries are past their peak now but still producing. The ones in the basket were rain damaged and I used them to make a cordial, along with the final remnants of last year's redcurrants from the freezer. I tend to eat perfect fruit fresh, poorer quality fruit gets packed into tubs and put in the freezer for making cordial in the winter. They turn mushy but for cordial it doesn't matter.
My experiment with different types of tomatoes is doing well, we have quite a number of small fruit on the little bushes, which is earlier than I have ever managed before. This is looking like a successful experiment, though it's a bit early to call yet.
The broad beans have had a very good year, with a huge crop, this basket is the last of them. The variety I have settled on is Claudia Superaquadulce, a very hardy variety suitable for north-western clay soils, and it gives 100% germination.
There were so many this year that this bowlful has gone into the freezer, after being blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes. Conversely, the peas haven't been as good, the weather hasn't suited them as well as last year, so more beans and fewer peas in the freezer. You win some, you lose some...
Potatoes have been similarly problematic. The first early crop was very poor, the second earlies better but not great. Lots of people have had this problem, a passing gardener at the allotment leant over the wall and told us he'd had very poor results from his first earlies too, and he grows them in tubs. This is the second year where the cold early in the year and the late frosts have really impacted the plants, so I'm seriously thinking about dumping earlies next year and going for maincrops. Will see how the remaining plants produce.
And another experiment, carrots, has also yielded its first, shall we say, unimpressive results. Believe it or not the carrots in the photo (the snail shell is for scale!) have been in the ground for over 3 months! Dreadful, and these are the good ones because they are actually carrots! Much of the crop was done away by the carrot fly, the rest suffered due to the soil, I think. These carrots were early ones sown under cover.
The autumn carrots which I sowed at the end of June are looking much better. Slightly patchy germination, but the plants seem healthy. There are two varieties, resistafly and fly away, both designed to handle the dreaded carrot fly. So far in this experiment the results suggest I should forget early carrots and focus on maincrop.
The bed which held the early carrots was, I realised, in a poor condition. It's under a tree which means that once the leaves are out, it receives less rain, and the soil itself was very lacking in organic matter. So since the carrots failed, it gave me the opportunity to get to work on this bed. I dug in a lot of fresh horse manure, something I wouldn't normally do as fresh horse manure kills plants rather than nourish them. But since I won't be using this bed again until 2012, I dumped a lot of manure on it, and will leave it to rot down over winter. Hopefully I'll have more success with this bed next year.

This week's projects are to pick more green goosberries, clear away and weed the broad beans and first peas, and I hope to pick the first courgettes. Happy gardening!