Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Mouse Nest

Last week I chose a sunny day to clear out and repack the shed for winter, making sure it was watertight.  No sooner had I got everything out than the heavens opened and a heavy shower ensued.  Anyway, I eventually got everything back in and tidied, but in the process found this.

I knew I had a mouse in the shed last year, as holes appeared in my hessian potato sacks but in the process of tidying I discovered that a mouse had used the chewed up hessian to make a little nest in a plant pot.  In the photo you can see the hole in the middle where the mouse slept.  There was a surprisingly small entrance at the end to access the nest, and it wasn't until I pulled the stuff out that I realised what it was!  Very snug.

Friday, 18 October 2013

I have Carrots!

 If you are lucky enough to have fine, sandy soil then you may not appreciate what an achievement it is to grow such big carrots on clay soil in northern climes!  I have spent 10 years trying to grow carrots here and finally I have succeeded.  The secret was (a) forget about early carrots as the soil is too wet and cold and (b) cover them with insect mesh the whole time to keep off the carrot fly. The seed variety I used is Autumn King and I will be growing them again.
 It's been a good year for root crops - I checked the parsnips as well and while this is a small one picked from the edge, they are a good size and length and will keep us going up to Christmas I think.
 I have picked 4 pumpkins too, this was the most orange, the rest are ripening.  We also have 4 marrows.
 Another experiment this year was chilli peppers, which were reasonably successful, one was even trying to turn red but there wasn't enough time before the weather turned for the worse.
And the tomatoes (Totem) did well, some of these are now eaten, the rest are ripening and will be eaten shortly!  A good year indeed.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Harvest Time Part 3 - No More Plums, Please!

 A little over a week ago I picked all the victoria plums from the tree you can see here.  Strangely, in the photo it doesn't look like very many, but trust me, it was a lot, our biggest crop ever.
 I didn't weigh the plums, but I estimate the crop at around 40 pounds.  I also picked the Katy apples as the weather was due to turn bad so didn't want them getting blown off.  So what do you do with 40 pounds of plums?  My Mum was away in Canada so I couldn't palm some off on her.
Se there followed a full week of plum processing; by the end of the week I had 12 bottles of plums in syrup (centre of the picture), 12 pounds of jam (left and right), 10 boxes of stewed plums in the freezer and managed to eat a few pounds raw.  Oh, and we had plum sponge/crumble every day, my hands were stained orange, and covered in tiny cuts from slipping knives.  I'm sure I will appreciate this lovely fruit over the winter but right now I am sick of seeing plums!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Harvest Time 2013 Part 2

 With the fine weather due to break, I decided to dig up the second potato crop - these are Cosmos.  Just in time, it started to rain 8 hours later and has not stopped raining since, 15 hours later!  There is only one job worse than digging up potatoes - digging up potatoes in waterlogged ground.  24 hours on, my back is still aching.  Of course, I could have got my Other Half to help, if I had wanted sliced and diced potatoes, of course.  :)

The crop is fairly good, with about 8 potatoes per plant.  Some damage due to slugs mainly, with increasing damage on the wetter part of the bed.  But no blight this year due to the good weather, and it's certainly the best potato crop for years.
I also picked the first victoria plums and took the opportunity to prune the tree as well, a bit late but it needed doing as didn't prune it last year due to the wet summer.  The combination of these two things means the branches are less likely to wave about and get damaged in the wet weather now.  There are a few good eating plums in here but many of these are the damaged fruit which I will cook and put in the freezer.  Looks like another good crop this year, I probably left 5 times this quantity on the tree, so lots more to come.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Harvest Time 2013 Part 1

 It's the time of the year when all the hard work starts to pay off.  I have dug up the first crop of potatoes, Lady Balfour (I think, can't find the label), an early maincrop.  I actually started eating them a couple of weeks ago but they needed a little bit more time in the ground, even though they were delicious then.  Still have another crop to go, they're not quite there yet so I have time to dry and sort these.  Should have enough potatoes to see us through till Christmas.

I also investigated the carrots, pulling a few thinnings out to have a look.  I have been trying to grow carrots for 10 years and think I have finally cracked it this year.  The variety is Autumn King, which seems happy in our heavy soil and because we are overrun with carrot fly, I grew these under insect mesh from the start.  I am happy to report that there is absolutely no carrot fly damage so I think this will be the way to grow them in future.
I have a number of wild brambles in the corner of the plot which is not capable of cultivation, they are around an old tree stump, the tree was cut down several years ago now.  They have never produced anything worth eating but this year are covered in juicy blackberries.  The autumn raspberries are also starting to produce fruit and the strawberry plants which went in as new, tiny things earlier this year have also produced a late crop, so it has been a good year for fruit so far.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Vegetable Garden in August 2013

 After a few summers of dreadful weather, I am relishing this year's sunshine.  This is the first crop of beetroot I have managed to grow in 3 years, as they do not like cold and damp soil. These beetroot are the thinnings, taken out to make room for the remaining plants to grow bigger roots.  They were delicious, all gone now!
 I am also optimistic about these carrots which have been sitting under their insect mesh for a couple of months.  I have put in the bigger supports as the plants were touching the top of the mesh.  I did check and there are baby carrots down there!
 It really has been a good year for roots.  These are the parsnips, which have in fact grown even bigger since I took this photo.  I am looking forward to winter parsnips!
 The tomatoes are also doing well, covered in fruit and I have now put them under a cloche to ripen them.  Another 2013 success.
 The apples needed supporting so I have been making my constructions. All the books tell you to stake trees in a particular way, but in my experience the trees make their own decisions about which way to grow.  This tree has lurched to the right and the weight of the apples was bending some branches alarmingly.  The tree looks much better now if a bit strange!
 This tree made a lurch forwards but has stabilised in that position, despite my best efforts to pull it back in the early years.  It just needs some support for a few branches.
 And this one, strangely just has one branch which needs assistance, the rest of the branches being perfectly sturdy.  The support for these trees prevents the wind whipping the branches round and damaging them, as the spot is quite windy at times but with the wind coming from changing directions.
 My chilli plant is also producing its fruit nicely, though it has suffered from what may be slug attacks.  They don't eat the chillies, though!
 I have also dug up the first potatoes - Lady Balfour.  Quite floury at the moment, I'm sure they will firm up in time, I am just digging up plants which look to be finishing or have been slug attacked.  Remarkably little damage on the tubers though.
The peas are also doing OK, though I am not fond of this variety of plant as it is too close to the ground for my liking.  Unfortunately the seed supplier had run out of my normal tall variety so I had to settle for these.  However they are tasty, if a little slow to get going.  Anyway, at least there is lots to eat now in the vegetable garden

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

After the Rain...

 We had several weeks of dry and sunny weather but it has broken down a bit now, alllowing the weeds to spring up and in some cases flower, as in this case.  But we did need a good drenching as the soil had got very dry.
 My first pumpkin has set (Small Sugar) which is almost a record for an early pumpkin, and after such a cold start to the year too!
 I have picked the first marrow, though you can see the weed problem clearly here!  These young marrows have soft skins so can be cooked whole.  I always pick the first few young, then leave the next ones to grow on to maturity and harden off.
 Unfortunately I didn't get to this one soon enough!  I've left it in the hope it will distract the wildlife from eating other plants...
 My tomatoes are looking like they will be a big success this year, with lots of fruit on each plant.  Have been hunting for the variety name, as this plants seems to like the conditions, but have not yet found it.  I must make a note of it for next year.  The rain has really brought the plants on.
 After a few lean years, I am cautiously optimistic that we will also have summer cabbage.  The root fly appears to have been conquered and the plants are growing on well.
 We also have one courgette growing, with others not far behind, but I am disappointed with this variety, called Best of British, which has been poor in germinating and slow to grow.
 I have spent hours picking fruit - last week the whitecurrants, redcurrants and first crop of blackcurrants.  Today it was the last whitecurrants, another crop of blackcurrants and the first green goosberries - the ones from the outside of the plant which have had the most sun.  I fancy some gooseberry jam!
The Broad Beans have done well this year, there are still some on the plants but the bulk are now picked.  And the spinach/chard just keeps on going, we pick it every 2-3 days but it really lives up to its name - Perpetual Spinach!

So now we've had the rain, we could do with more sun.  What do you think of our chances?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

2013 - The Year of The Summer

 After 3 years of summers with torrential rains and little sun, this year is finally shaping up to be dry and sunny, pure bliss from a gardening perspective.  Weeds stay away, blight does not make an appearance and the grass grows more slowly, so I am enjoying the lovely weather.  It seems the woodpigeons are too.  After sampling my pea seedlings a few weeks ago, I protected them until it was time to set up the stakes and supports, thinking the peas were now too big to be gobbled up.  I was so, so wrong - above is what they should have looked like...
 ... this picture shows some of the plants 24 hours later!  Fortunately not all were eaten, so I have put the netting back on and the woodpigeons have now moved on to the next door plot and are eating his blackcurrants.  Better his than mine.
 I have thinned the apples, removing the small ones which hadn't already dropped and lightening overcrowded branches, particularly the tips of branches.
 For the first time in 3 years I have a decent crop of beetroot -actually they are bigger than this now, as it is so dry I have started a watering rotation and these plants had a drenching yesterday, putting on a lot of growth overnight.
 Likewise the spinach and chard has doubled in size, again a good crop looms.
 I have started picking the ripest redcurrants, these are also under netting due to the woodpigeons.
 And here are the peas a few days after I put the netting on, making a good recovery though I think the ones at the top of the row are done for.  Still, I watered them today and live in hope.
 The broad beans are filling out nicely, very late but they will be very welcome when they're ready.
 And I've had the first small crop from my new strawberry plants.  These are now getting a regular drenching at the roots to keep them going.
 I finally weeded the parsnip bed, once the plants were big enough.  They have germinated quite well in two loose rows.  Surprisingly, there are also some spinach plants mixed in, which must be a result of the spinach plants which went to seed in the bed behind last year.  I never look a gift horse in the mouth, so have left these in.
 The cabbage have sadly been affected by cabbage root fly, but it seems to be confined to one small section so we have removed all the plants and put them on the general waste pile some distance away.  The lettuce is doing well, now is a great time for salads.
And after a slow start, my resowings of courgettes and marrows have come up.  These plants are also getting  regular drenching at the roots.

All in all, the summer is shaping up well and I'm enjoying the weather.  Hope it's good where you are too!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Lots of Weeding to be done...

 The seedlings and the weeds are now growing well.  These are parsnips which have now germinated, alongside the weeds.
 My dwarf tomato plants have also put on a lot of growth and the first flowers, which is good, just need the weather to be warmer and drier now.
 I've planted out the marrows, pumpkins and courgettes.  I lost one plant, and also have a few gaps as the low temperatures earlier inhibited germination.  So I have sown more direct into the soil,  with cloches over the top.
 Weeding is now the major activity.  At the back of this picture are the lettuce and summer cabbage, to the left the tomatoes.  At the front you can see the newly weeded pumpkin patch and by way of contrast the weedy bit behind is the parsnip bed.  The seedlings are too small for me to weed just yet.  Unlike last year, we are getting dry spells between the downpours so I can try to make progresss on the weed problem.  Should keep the Allotment Gestapo Police happy...
 The broad beans are flowering well now, even if very late as normally I would be eating them by this time!  Some of the runner beans have germinated but once again it seems patchy due to the temperatures so I will resow this week.
 The peas attacked by the woodpigeons have made a good recovery and I should be able to remove the net soon to stake them up.
 This is the old strawberry bed, after a dig over.  A few plants were left at the side as they had flowered and are fruiting, I'll remove them once they have finished.  The new strawberry plants have settled in well and are flowering though the crop will be small this year.  This patch of ground will take its place in the vegetable rotation once cleared, manured and rested.
 The potatoes are looking very healthy and are huge already.  I hope it will be a good crop this year and that what is underground matches what is above.  The biggest plants are Lady Balfour, which I have never grown before, so it is a bit of a gamble.
 The lettuce and cabbage are also doing well -  the combination of rain and sunshine suits leafy plants and I am cautiously optimistic we will have cabbages this year.  I hear there is cabbage root fly about - I've never had a problem with this before and wonder if it is more a problem for winter cabbage?  I suppose there is a first time for everything, so will have to wait and see.
 The plums are also doing well.  After experiences of previous years with the weight of fruit damaging the tree in the rain and the perennial problem of rot, I am going to thin out the plums to improve the quality of the fruit.  Same for the apples, which also need reducing.
 With much of the plot under better control thanks to the weather, we have turned our efforts to the overgrown bits we didn't get to last year.  Here is an example - the patch of ground on the left of the picture looked just like the patch on the right a week ago!  These are old herb beds which needed clearing.  The biggest problem was some escaped mint which will take some time to eradicate.  One trick I did discover is that the mint roots travel horizontally at a set level below ground and it is possible to get your spade under them to remove them. Next week we will tackle the second bed.
 Having been thwarted from their attempts to eat the cabbages and peas, the woodpigeons turned their efforts to the redcurrants.  The cheeky birds seem to be treating my plot like an all you can eat buffet!  I have netted the currants, not easy as they are big bushes.  In truth, the birds can get at the berries on the edge but will not be able to eat the bulk of the fruit.  They even turned up while we were on the plot, flew straight to the fruit bushes and perched there, one on the fence and one on the open shed door, eyeing up the currants!
 The spinach and chard have also benefitted from the improved weather and I have been able to pick a small first crop.  This was my first sowing, which germinated poorly due to the cold, the second sowing is doing better and this week I filled in the gaps in the lines here.  I've also done a second sowing of lettuce nearby.
And finally, this isn't my garden though I wish it was.  This is a small cottage garden (literally, it is outside a cottage I pass by on my way back from the allotment) which I admire frequently.  Some of the flowers are past their best in this pic, mid June is the best time for it but I do love this style of garden and am deeply envious!