Thursday, 31 March 2011

"Daddy Salad", oriental style

I am growing a batch of "Daddy Salad" (aka Baby Leaf Salad) with a difference - it is an oriental mix

It has Mizuna, with the long spiky leaves.

It has purple mustard

It has Pak Choi (centre right, with spoon-shaped leaf appearing)

It even has what I think is Greek Cress (don't ask me how "oriental" that is)

I am not intending to grow this lot to maturity. I will cut them in another couple of weeks' time, when they are about 3 or 4 inches tall, and they will be a nice tasty salad ingredient, perhaps accompanied by a dressing involving Soy sauce and chilli; maybe Seasame oil or seeds; or Corainder / Cilantro if you like that... If you don't need a vast quantity of salad, it is perfectly possible to cut individual leaves. This way you can avoid damaging the growing tips of the plants and they will produce more leaves. In my opinion this is better than chopping them off indiscriminately at a certain height - though of course this may be the only practical option if you are harvesting in quantity.

P.S. Did anyone see my post on Chicory, which went out on Tuesday? I had some "issues" with this one (involving a bit of finger-trouble on my behalf), so some of you may have seen an unfinished version of it some days ago. Nobody has made any comments at all about this post, which is a bit unusual, so I was wondering if maybe there was something that had prevented anyone seeing it...?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cherry Blossom

At this time of year, gardens throughout Britain are bursting into life. The most obvious sign of Spring for many people is the proliferation of blossoms on the cherry trees. At other times of year the cherry trees may go unnoticed, but in late March and early April they dominate the landscape.

In my own garden though, March sees the LAST of my cherry blossom. This is because my solitary cherry tree is an Autumn-flowering one - Prunus Autumnalis "Surbhitella". It never produces a really spectacular display like some of the Spring-flowering types, but it has a long season: the first flowers normally appear in late November. Also (crucially) the flowers are very tenacious, and will resist all but the very worst Winter weather.

This is a photo of one of the blossoms, taken on March 28th.

In my usual way, I also offer you a close-up view of the same flower:

The flowers may be on their last legs, but they are being replaced by a mass of delicate foliage:

There is also one bit of bad news to relate: every year, the fresh new leaves are comprehensively chomped by some voracious bugs. Masses of circular holes appear in the leaves, which then fall off the tree. I don't know what sort of bug does this, and even if I did it would probably be beyond my capability to spray the tall straggly tree against it. In the end, after the insect life-cycle has run its course nourished by those juicy leaves, the tree produces a second crop of leaves (though I suspect it is never as luxuriant as the first crop would have been!). Isn't Nature marvellous?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Chicory is one of my favourite salad ingredients. It has a bit more of an identity than lettuce. A slightly sharp, perhaps "bitter" taste, and a slightly crisper texture than most types of lettuce. Goes well with a sweet  salad-dressing- maybe one made with honey and mustard, or a creamy blue cheese one.

In one of my raised beds I have still have a few chicories that have successfully survived the Winter, having been sown last Summer, and grown on under fleece for about nine months.

Even if Chicory was not nice to eat, I would grow it for its looks

This is "Rossa di Verona"

This is "Pan di Zucchero" (Sugarloaf)

Don't know what this one is...

This is "Grumolo Verde"

In theory, the Rossa di Verona ones are supposed to have produced a heart by now, but I don't think they are going to. The advent of warmer weather may well induce them to bolt, so I think I am going to harvest them sooner rather than later. The green ones are the last few of a mixture from which we have had some very good pickings.

Here's a nice way of using chicory in a salad. Prepare a bowl of mixed chicory leaves. At the last minute, dress with your chosen salad-dressing. Top with sliced Mozarella cheese that has been marinated for an hour or so in Extra Virgin olive oil with chopped fresh Oregano. Serve with toasted bread thickly spread with olive tapenade.

This could easily be a meal in its own right, but we served it as an accompaniment to this: pasta with bacon and mushrooms, tossed in pesto. It was a good combination. (Vegetarians - just leave out the bacon!)

Monday, 28 March 2011

My garden today... (2) Edibles

Yesterday I posted about some of the ornamental plants in my garden. Today is the turn of the edible ones.

Down one side of the garden (the South-facing one) I have my fruit trees and my raspberries. The latter are coming up strongly now. They are an Autumn-fruiting variety called "Autumn Bliss". This type bears fruit on the current year's canes, and you cut the canes down to ground level every year.

Here's a view down the line of the fence. The metal posts are bits from an old rotary washing-line. I use them as stakes for supporting some of the raspberry canes. For further support I also use wire attached to eyelets screwed into the fence posts.

At the left of the previous picture you can see the minarette fruit trees. The one in the centre is the apple - "Scrumptious". Its buds are already producing leaves now, and it won't be long before it flowers.

Yesterday I pricked-out most of my little tomato plants. I had sowed them in 5" / 13cm pots, with 7 or 8 seeds in each pot. The seedlings were beginning to look overcrowded, so it was time to transfer them to individual pots.

I left three of each type of seedling in the original pot, and transferred the others to individual 3.5" / 9cm pots (and I used a few of those tall cream cartons that I have saved). I made a point of planting the seedlings really deeply, since this will encourage them to form a better root system - more roots will emerge from the buried stems.

I had a look under my new cloches, where I sowed the beetroot and parsnips, not really expecting to see anything yet, but the beetroot are already up - and this is only 12 days after sowing.

Likewise, the radishes are through as well, not protected by cloches, but sown the day before the beetroot.  Normally I would say that radishes would germinate much more rapidly than beetroot, but this time it has been the reverse. I think this demonstrates how beneficial the cloches are.


 The Celeriac finally germinated and is growing strongly now. I think I was just being impatient. I will only be able to grow half a dozen or so of these plants, so I will have to thin them ruthlessly within the next few days.

I will transplant the ones I want to keep into individual pots, just like the tomatoes, and I will grow them on indoors for a while because I know that Celeriac doesn't like cold weather.

I have also assembled the two plastic mini-greenhouses that my Mother-in-law gave me for my birthday. One of them is just like the two I had already, but the other (described as a "Seedling greenhouse") is effectively a cold-frame made of vinyl. It is higher at the back than at the front.

These will come in really handy for protecting my tomatoes and chillis etc overnight, when I want to harden them off and get them used to living outside. They will also be very useful for protecting vulnerable seedlings from wind and heavy rain, which we often get at this time of year - although just recently it has been unusually dry and still! In the picture above you can also see (most of) my water-butt, which collects rainwater via a diverter from the gutter downpipe. This saves me a lot of walking to and from the tap in the summertime, as well as making best use of a precious resource.

Gratuitous Lara photo opportunity...
This has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I just wanted to direct you towards some more lovely pictures of our gorgeous grand-daughter Lara, who recently went on an outing to Peppa Pig World.... Emma, her Mum, has written about it on her blog Mellow Mummy

Concentrating hard !

Sunday, 27 March 2011

My garden today... (1) Ornamentals

The plants in my garden are loving the warm, sunny weather we have had this week. So are the insects...

This Euphorbia "Clarice Howard" looks even better in close-up.

Crab-claws, or spanners? What do you think?
In amongst the Euphorbia, I found a lone Primrose. It looks like a wild one, but I know it's not. Two years ago I planted a tray of mixed Primroses in several different colours, but I don't remember there being one of these creamy yellow ones. I thought they were all bright yellow, blue and red. Can Primroses "revert" to their original wild form???

The Daffodils are right at their peak.

Some of them are bold, brash, and "in-your-face".

Others are more muted.

Some of them are delicate and "feminine". This one looks almost like a ballerina in a tutu!

The Convallaria Majalis (Lily of the Valley) is thrusting up through the soil near my shed. Just like the Euphorbia this spreads rapidly and may need to be discouraged!

I even have one hardy Geranium (aka Cranesbill) plant. I've forgotten what variety it is! It's a tall one which has purplish-pink blooms. Some years ago I was as mad keen on Hardy Geraniums as I am now on Dogwoods, but I lost interest in them and removed them. This one got left behind by accident.

This is what the flowers look like (photo from Summer 2010).

Can anyone identify the variety for me?

The Golden Hop is energetic and impatient to get to the top of the fence...

Hey, this post is long enough already, so I'll post about the edible plants tomorrow...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

How big are your Brassicas?

They say that "size doesn't matter", and I know that seedlings always start off very small, but looking at my Oriental Brassicas I am all too conscious that they have a long way to go yet!

Inspired by my blogging friend Takaeko, from Japan, and other bloggers from the Far East, I have sown seeds for three different types of oriental brassica. I don't need to tell you what varieties they are, you can see for yourself on the labels!

Notice the fine example of "Re-purposing" or whatever you want to call it, in the fact that these seedlings are being raised in an old washing-up bowl. Actually it is a perfect container for this task - much deeper than a normal seed-tray, and much sturdier too. I drilled a few holes in the bottom to provide drainage.

These oriental brassicas grow pretty rapidly. This shot is of the same ones taken only 4 days later:

Has anyone out there in the UK grown this type of brassica before? I'm keen to hear from you if you have. Is it worth me growing them on to maturity, or are they better as baby leaf salad ingredients? Are they nice in any style of cooking other than a stir-fry? What do our UK slugs and snails think of them? I have tried a couple of times to grow Chinese Cabbage (the type the supermarkets call "Chinese Leaves"), but the slugs absolutely destroyed them.

My other brassicas are looking good too. I have had them outside in the mini-greenhouses for the last couple of weeks, so they have perhaps been a bit colder than they would like, but at least they have had plenty of light. Today I started thinning them - removing the weakest of the seedlings. I will do this progressively, aiming to end up with about six of each.

The two pots at bottom right of the picture have red varieties in them - Marner Langerrot and Kalibos. Notice how few of them have come up, compared with the green varieties. They also seem to grow much slower. Still, this is probably for the best, because I won't have room for more than about two of each variety, and it would be good if they would mature after the green ones have finished.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Geraniums are recovering

Towards the end of January I took some cuttings from one of my Geranium plants. At that time (20th Jan) it was not looking very healthy, and a lot of the leaves were pale and/or blotchy. The cuttings were a bit of an insurance policy  - in case the parent succumbed.

20th Jan

I had a close look at the parent plant again today. It has been kept in my garage, which is quite cold, but certainly frost-free. The plant looks much healthier now, and the leaves are much greener. This is probably due to the increasing day-length and ambient light levels.

There are lots of pale greeny-yellow leaves forming at the ends of the stems where I took the cuttings.

I think these little leaves are only pale because they are young. They look healthy enough to me.

This next photo shows off the little tiny silvery hairs on the Geranium stems.

I think this plant is going to be fine. I hope it will go on to do as well as it did last year. At one point it had 20 massive big pink flowers on it.

Today I potted up the cuttings I took, back in January. They had been sitting in a jam-jar of water on the kitchen windowsill, but they had only produced a very small number of tiny roots, so I decided it would be better to put them in some compost.

The cuttings from last Autumn, over-wintered in the garage, have not grown much (which is not surprising), but they have regained their green colour - having been turned bronze by the cold.

This was last September:

This is today: (The one in the picture above is on the left in the picture below)