Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Gardening Year!

 It's been a very busy year for me which has left me with little time for gardening.  But I did manage to organise some winter blooms.  I have tried hard this year to get my christmas cacti to actually flower at christmas, and two of them are now in full bloom, with one budding as we speak.  Getting the summer rest period right is the key, and what I realised this year was that my plants go into hibernation a bit later than the books say.  When I reawakened them, I kept them on cool windowsills for a while, then moved one to a warmer sill so as to get it budding.  I now have them flowering nicely in sequence.                
 There's nothing better than a splash of bright pink at Christmas.
 I haven't grown hyacinths for a while, but do love their perfume so decided to get some pink ones and some white ones.  They went into the pots at the beginning of October, put outside and covered to keep them dark.  We had a very warm autumn this year which was not helpful as warm and wet = mould.
 Though they did have some mould growing on them, it did not seem to cause any problems.  I brought these pink ones in when they were this high.  Strangely the white ones are well behind despite receiving the same treatment, but that does mean that I will have hyacinths flowering for several weeks which is a good thing.
I love the powerful and natural scent, and at this time of year it is a pleasure to walk into the house and breathe in the hyacinth aroma.

Have a great holiday!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

September Fruits

 A long gap since my last post, mainly due to the fact I mislaid the cable to connect my camera to my computer!  So a catch up on the summer produce.  Here is a basket of Cosmo potatoes, a good crop this year with little damage.  These will keep us going to the end of October, following the Desiree potatoes earlier.
 As beds are emptied, we are clearing and doing preparation for next year.  We have an ample supply of horse manure on the plots, and some years ago I did an experiment with using fresh horse manure on beds and found that as long as it goes on before Christmas, it rots down well and is ready for planting in spring.  Normally you have to rot down manure before using it, but this method saves you that job.
 A bumper year for peas, despite the pigeons having a go at them earlier. They are actually still going, never had peas in September before!
 It has also been a very good year for blackberries, and I now have a quantity in the freezer.
 The apples and other soft fruit got hit by late frosts and so the quantity is down but the quality of fruit is good. Here are the Katy apples.
 The Victoria plums have also produced but not as much as last year, they were also adversely affected by the damp weather in August.
It was very wet in August, I left a tub out in the rain and after a few days discovered a newt swimming around in it!  He must have fallen in by accident one night.  We put some branches and twigs in one corner for him to climb out, and the next day he was gone.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Late July in the Vegetable Garden

 A lot happens in a month, including the birth and growth of these caterpillars, these are the cinnabar moth which is a pretty bright red moth.   It lays its eggs on ragweed, a wild plant poisonous to horses but delicious to cinnabar moth caterpillars.  I usually keep a couple of plants in corners of my plot just so I can watch these lovely creatures.

 A month ago these Alderman peas were only a few inches tall, having had their heads nipped off by woodpigeons.  In just a few weeks they have reached their full height...
 .,..well over a metre tall they are now obstructing the path.  Picked the first pods today, full of sweet fresh peas.  The second crop which is behind them is coming on too.
 It was a good year for strawberries, we have had pounds of them, the first full crop from the bed I planted up last year.
 Blackcurrants too have been abundant, the whitecurrants and redcurrants did not do so well as last year they had some kind of disease so I had to cut a lot of the wood out.  But they look healthy which is the main thing.

 The first pumpkin is now set, with more to come.  The marrows have completely failed this year, I suspect a bad batch of seed was responsible as they mostly failed to germinate and the couple that did are very poor specimens.
 At this time of year with everything growing fast, the problem you have is if you turn your back for a minute.  I left a couple of courgettes on the plant to fill out, but they filled out more than expected!  In the centre of the picture is a normal size vegetable, the monsters either side are what happens when you leave them too long!  A few of the onions in the drier part of the bed have died back so I took them up, but there are more for later in the year.
 And I have taken up the first of the potatoes, early maincrop Desiree.  Still have two more beds of potatoes, but they are still growing and will benefit from the rain which is due this weekend.
 These are the Desiree, a nice red potato.  Not as big as they can get due to the dry weather, but completely slug free which is nice.
This is a field of meadowsweet shining in the evening sun.  A plant used in medieval times to make rooms smell nice.
I forget the name of these flowers, but they grow wild in abundance round here, no attention required!  

We have had very dry and hot weather, rain to come which I am looking forward to as I hate watering the vegetables, so here's to a cool, wet weekend!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Moving into summer

With the rain behind us for a couple of weeks, the garden work has been mainly weeding and grass cutting to get back on top of things after the wet weather.  It is still early in the summer but my New Dawn rose is now at its best.

 The weight of the blooms has dropped it slightly over the door, but it is having an excellent year.
 In the vegetable garden, the peas have recovered from the attack of the wood pigeons and are now growing quickly.  I have re-used the apple tree prunings from the winter to provide support for the peas.  Because the pigeons are still around (though they have moved to a neighbouring plot for their meals) I have left a barrier of netting around the peas and beans which extends above pigeon head height so they cannot get at the plants.  Working well so far!  There is another sowing of peas behind this batch so plenty to come yet.
 The strawberries have started cropping and there is a lot of fruit.  The plants were put in new last spring (2013) and this is their first good cropping.  You generally get 4-5 good crops before replanting is required.  The dry weather means the slugs and snails get fewer strawberries than they would like, good for us...
 My peony has just two blooms this year, I will have to ensure I feed it a bit more, to get more flowers.  But they are lovely.
 Not sure whether I like the flowers more closed or open, with  splash of yellow.
 This is actually a wildflower, purple toadflax, which seeds itself.  Pretty and interesting at this time of year as it is quite tall.

A few days ago I went collecting elderflowers to make elderflower cordial.  Do it on a dry day, shake the insects off them, then put them in  large pan.  Pour over boiling water and let them steep for an hours.  Sieve the liquour off, then let it settle in a large, wide jug as some vegetative matter does get through the sieve.  Once that has dropped to the bottom, pour off the clear liquid at the top, put in a pan and heat with some sugar to taste, add a splash of lemon juice and hey presto elderflower cordial.  Keeps around a week or two.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Killer Pigeons and Other Disasters

 After some very poor weather I went up to the vegetable plot to check on my plants.  I discovered my runner beans were rather shorter than they had been last time I saw them.  My initial thought was slugs, but then I looked at the peas....
 Heads neatly snapped off, and a number missing.  Damned wood pigeons!  Last year was the first time we had any problem with wood pigeons using the plot as an all you can eat buffet, but it seems it was not a one-off.  Most of the runner beans have lost their upper sections.
Here are the peas, there were two unbroken lines either side of these twigs, you can see the gaps.  Further explorations revealed that they had also started snacking on the spinach and chard nearby.  Happily, it looked like a recent development of only two breakfasts so a lot of the plants have survived.  I was going to put the second sowing of peas in anyway so I took the opportunity to resow in the gaps of the earlier sowing, I will also fill in the gaps in the beans as I have lots of seeds left.  Resowing generally works before the end of June, which is the latest successful time at this latitude.

So I got out my very long roll of netting and wound it round all the plants, hopefully they will recover.  Another net has gone over the spinach and chard as the pigeons seem to like them too.
The most difficult thing about gardening here is the weather, combined with our clay soil it can make germination very difficult.  This year we had a relatively warm spring, but just as I started planting the weather turned cold and damp for a couple of weeks.  My cabbage sowing resulted in just two miserable specimens - believe it or not, this is the best one!  So I decided to cut my losses and buy a few plants.
At least we will have some cabbages later this year.  Other things have suffered with the rain too.  I lost one courgette to the damp, still time to resow that one.
 I thought I had lost all the parsnips, but on closer inspection I found a few clumps where the soil was clearly just warm enough for germination, with big gaps between the clumps.  The colder temperatures came at just the wrong time.
It's a similar story with the beetroot, although I got cloches on the soil temperature dropped a little too far.  I may need to transplant some beetroot and parsnip to fill in the gaps, though I may also get a little more seed and sow more next week as there is just time.
The wet weather has encouraged the slugs and snails - while my potatoes are as slug and blight resistant as they get, even they cannot withstand invasion level numbers.  A few stems have been toppled by the creatures gnawing away at the base.  Not too many, so a dose of slug pellets and some sunshine should fix the problem.
Happily it's not all doom and gloom, here are some broad beans which have now set, so that's something to look forward to.
And there looks to be a bumper crop of strawberries on the way, as long as the sun shines a bit more!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Wildflowers and Apple Blossom

 On the allotment I am slowly working my way through the planting, with lettuce, spinach, cabbage, beetroot and parsnip going in this week.  Still some weed infested bits to clear.  The fruit is doing well; the plums, gooseberries and currants are set while the strawberries and apples are flowering.  This is the Blenheim Orange, a tree that has been somewhat troublesome.  It needs pollinators to set fruit and both of the compatible pollinators tend to start flowering ahead of it.  This means pollination is reduced, most frustrating.  But it has a lot of flowers this year and there are more apples on the plots now, so I live in hope.
 Walking back from the plot is rather nice if I go the long way, so here are some pictures of what's flowering in the wild now.  This rhododendron hangs over the river - while not a native plant they have long escaped gardens and can be found in all sorts of places.  As long as they don't damage the native flora, I'm ok with that.
 You can actually buy this kind of fern in garden centres, but high above the river bank they grow entirely naturally under the tree canopy.
 The bluebells are just coming to an end but they are still dotted about under trees.
 These grow among the bracken on a sheer edge above the river.
 Such a beautiful flower but they don't last long.
 These are the roots of a huge tree which sits on top of the rock face, it's quite incredible that the tree grew there at all.  Now the roots and rock provide accommodation for wildlife - you can just see a hole on the right hand side.
 This is another fern you can buy in nurseries but which grows wild here.
 And here's a large patch of wild garlic which seems to be getting bigger each year.  I love the smell of this.
 Right now a lot of wild flowers are in bloom - the photo here does not do it justice but the combination of blue and white here is great.
 And here's one of my favourites - meadowsweet which wafts its fragrance in your face as you pass by.