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!

Monday, 18 July 2011

July 2011 in the Vegetable Garden

I've spent most of my gardening time in the last couple of weeks picking and processing fruit; redcurrants, blackcurrants, whitecurrants, strawberries and raspberries. But everything is coming on now, so here's a quick round-up. The courgettes are flowering well - they're F1 hybrids and don't need male flowers for pollination so they're quick to get going. Once the fruits have set, I take the flowers off the end to stop rotting if we get monsoon weather like we've had this weekend.
The peppers I bought a couple of weeks ago are growing well under their cloche and have lots of flower buds. This is an experiment, no idea if it's going to work!
The red gooseberries need picking, must do that in the next couple of days.
The pumpkins which suffered under the predations of the slugs and snails and then the cold have now recovered and are growing well. On the subject of ravenous critters, since I bought the new slug pellets the plot is now littered with corpses, about 60% snails, the rest slugs. We didn't used to have snails on the allotment but in the last few years the population seems to have grown. I do feel slightly guilty but round here there are no natural predators in big enough numbers to impact the snail population so some of them have to go - once the plants are big enough, I won't need the pellets anyway.
These are my shop-bought cabbages and cauliflowers (replaced the eaten plants) which are now doing very well under their butterfly net.
And I've built supports for the apple trees; this is the Worcester Pearmain tree which is going to need a new stake in the winter as it's leaning at an alarming angle now. While the Katy tree has nice tough branches now, this one is still a little floppy, so that's a project for winter. For the first time, all four trees are carrying a good crop, so there's lots to look forward to.
And the pruned plum tree is also doing well, with the plums swelling nicely. They will start to turn colour this week.
You can just see the second crop of peas on the left, then broad beans and the first peas. The broad beans have been magnificent this year, still plenty left, and another good picking of peas.
And this is the garlic - the best I've ever grown. The lettuce in front is doing well, the nibbled plants are now recovering. I expect to be pulling the garlic next month, I'm hoping there may be some really monster bulbs under there!

So, back to the fruit picking...

Friday, 15 July 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day July 2011

At this time of year the flowers in my beds are finished, and are resting under the shade of the trees, so attention switches to the pots around the house. My summer plants are just starting, they've been slow due to the cold spring/early summers, but we're finally making progress.
My New Dawn Rose has been magnificent this year and is a talking point for people who walk by. The blooms have been unusually large and I have tried to figure out why. There's no smoking gun, but I'm, wondering if the warm/cold/warm/cold (you get the picture) weather is responsible. It slowed the plant down so I think it spent longer developing the blooms than normal when temperatures rise consistently. Well, that's my theory anyway!
These pelargoniums are doing well; I grew them from cuttings taken in early March. Easy to do, these plants will overwinter in the house, then I'll repeat the process. If you've never taken cuttings before, these are a good place to start.
I love nemesia, but these have been very slow to get started due to the cold weather. They're now starting to flower and will continue through the summer.
Still small, but they provide a welcome spash of colour round the house.
This is my favourite flower at the moment, a delphinium which is a new plant this year. Next year it should have more blooms, but I'm enjoying the few it has, plus the novelty of seeing this plant round here. You don't see many delphiniums in this part of the world due to our high slug and snail population, they eat them voraciously. So this is in a pot armoured with copper tape to prevent the critters munching on it.

Apologies for the gap in posting, I've been busy with work and all my spare time has been spent picking fruit on the allotment! The glut is still with us, but will post pics of the vegetable garden soon.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Some July Flowers in Containers

My New Dawn rose is just at its peak, it's been putting out flowers for weeks but at the moment it's prolific. The flowers seem a little bigger this year than before, a stunning sight. As a reminder, this grows in a ridiculously small amount of soil on a paving slab.
My yellow floribunda rose is also in full flow, this is it's second year.
I've underplanted it with pink busy lizzies, an unconventional colour combination but certainly bright! To the left you can just see a newly planted pot.
These are the lobelia cardinalis Queen Victoria, which I sowed earlier this year. I potted them on and they were finally big enough to go outside last week. I planted them deep in this container as they have very tall flower spikes, and I don't want them to get too battered by the wind. I have several pots of these, not sure if they will flower this year, but I'm hoping.
My white pelargoniums are all coming into flower, on this one you can see the influence of its pink ancestor, with lots of the flowers starting off a pale pink before brightening to white.
And I have a number of nemesia. I love these little flowers, and hope to get some better photos once they've got going, but it's taken them ages to get big enough to plant out, with the cold weather. They're varied in colour, this is a lovely red one.

Not much time for gardening this week, very busy with work, but I do hope to get more done this weekend.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

2011 - The Year of the Slug & Snail

It's about ten years since I've seen such a plague of slugs and snails. Generally we keep on top of the population by leaving beds uncovered during the winter and turning them so the frost kills the eggs, plus using raised beds and where possible using varieties which are slug resistant. In my first year growing potatoes I was horrified to discover my Charlotte potatoes (the leaves) literally covered in a carpet of slugs, so since then I've been more careful. But the two months of wet weather recently has allowed them to thrive so today I bought some nuclear strength slug pellets rather than the more environmentally friendly ones I normally use. Don't like it, but as this point it's a choice between growing food solely for the slugs or food for me. I choose me.

Above is a good example of what the slugs or snails (don't know which) have done to the lettuces. Every leaf gone, the centre cored out. This lettuce may or may not survive, but you can see above that the beasties have targeted only the green lettuces, apparently the red ones are not as tasty.
They've eaten things they don't normally bother with, such as parsnips. Fortunately I did a second sowing a couple of weeks ago and they are now coming through, so with additional protection I should still get some parsnips this year. The roll of honour of the plants fallen in battle includes 2 runner beans, some leeks, spring onions, radishes, all the parsley, all the coriander, most of the cabbage, all but 3 of the broccoli, 4 courgettes, and 2 pumpkins.

Still, I am an optimist by preference and the gaps in my beds have given me the opportunity to try a few new things. Above are two pepper plants, which I will grow under a cloche. Next door to these are two mini cucumbers - I'm determined to crack the cucumber problem and with a gap in the bed I bought two little plants to try out.
I was left with only 12 summer cabbage plants and 3 purple sprouting broccoli, so I also took the opportunity to buy more brassicas. I've got winter cabbage, red cabbage and some cauliflower. Again, cauliflower is something I've never tried, it does have a reputation for being difficult and I'm not sure if our soil will be right, but I've nothing to lose (except £1.75 for 8 plants). All the brassicas are now in, watered, surrounded by a pallisade of slug pellets and under a net to protect against the cabbage butterflies, which are already fluttering by.
The second sowing of peas have germinated but in the process I discovered once again that I really can't sow in a straight line. So Other Half had to build a support frame with a bend in the middle (note the bent willow on the left hand side) to deal with my inadequacies.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Last year our broad beans failed completely as we had a drought at exactly the wrong time for them. This year the rain came at the perfect time and we have a bumper crop - this is the first picking, lots more to come. Tomorrow all the first early potatoes will come up and I will finish the currant picking (I hope!).

It's very frustrating to spend time nurturing plants only to see them destroyed in a matter of hours. This year it has been literally a case of "here today, gone tomorrow", but I think that half the interest of gardening (fun might be too strong a word right now!) is doing battle with whatever the weather throws at you.
But the rewards of all this work are plain to see. At this time of year there's nothing better than tucking into a bowl of home grown strawberries and cream.
And following on from my last post about the mole I met a few days ago, I went back a couple of days later and found a mole-shaped hole by the path. So it looks like my mole has taken up residence; a good choice, with a field on one side and the high grass bank of the road on the other. I hope it enjoys its new home.