Saturday, 30 April 2011

What is this?

Please help me to identify this plant:

It has long spiky green leaves, like this:

It puts up tall stems with clusters of lots of little white flowers like this:

Jane won this plant for me a few years ago - well before I got interested in blogging and photography - and I cannot for the life of me remember what it is called. I'm sure some of you must also have some of them...


I think that the radish was probably the first vegetable I ever grew. When I was at boarding scool we were each allowed a small patch of ground to cultivate as we wished (very Avant Garde for the 1960s and 70s!). Most of my fellow pupils grew flowers, but I wanted something edible. Radishes grow very quickly, so they could be sown and harvested easily within the space of one school term, and would therefore not need attention during holidays like longer-lived plants.

Today I still grow radishes, usually as a catch crop when a piece of ground is available only for a short period of time. For instance, I have a couple of rows of them in the same bed as my peas and Broad Beans. They were sown at the same time as the beans, but they are reaching maturity now, whereas the beans will not be ready for another couple of months. Radishes, which often germinate in only 3 or 4 days, are also often used to mark the rows of slower-germinating seeds (like my Broad Beans), so that you don't accidentally dig them up when weeding the beds. In my next photo you can see radishes side-by-side with the Broad Beans. A point worth noting is that radishes like moist soil, so you must keep them well watered, otherwise they will bolt.

I enjoy radishes as a general-purpose salad ingredient, but I like them best as a "nibble", served with a cocktail before dinner. We have a little bowl of fine salt in which to dip them.

The trick is to bite off the lower bit of the radish and then dip the remainder in the salt. To facilitate this, we normally leave an inch or so of stalk / leaf on each radish, to act as a handle. Radish leaves are also edible, but I don't find them very attractive, especially when there are so many other nice salad leaves around - they are hairy and can be very tough.

Following the example of fellow bloggers in Japan, I am this year trying for the first time to grow the long white type of radish which we here in the UK call Japanese Radish, or Mooli. I think Mooli is the Hindi name, isn't it? At present, my ones are only tiny, but I'll report on their progress as they develop.

Can anyone give me some ideas for how to use this type of radish?

Finally, (this is for the UK audience only) - don't forget that the "Grow Your Own" show takes place tomorrow (Sunday 1 May) and Monday (2 May) at Loseley Park, near Guildford. Follow this LINK for further details.

P.S. Blowing my own trumpet, as they say... A big THANK YOU to all my readers who helped me to reach a new milestone during April. For the first time ever my blog got over 5000 pageviews in one month.

Friday, 29 April 2011


The last of the broccoli posing with the first of the radishes

Well, the Sprouting Broccoli has finally finished. Another great crop from one of my favourite vegetables. But what goes round comes round, so they say, and today I have removed the Broccoli plants to make space for the next crop - climbing beans. The plot looks bare now, but it won't stay like that for long!

The bed in the foreground is the one in which the Broccoli was. I expect the Asparagus in the bed behind it will be grateful for the extra light. Make the most of it you Asparagus, because those climbing beans will soon blot out your light again! Here they are, waiting impatiently for their bed to be made up, like hotel guests who have arrived before Check-in time!

Actually, the Asparagus is doing really well. On Easter Sunday I harvested some absolutely enormous spears.

In preparation for planting the beans I have added to their bed a generous layer of home-made compost, and a sprinkling of pelleted chicken manure. I know the birds would dearly love to scratch around in the insect-rich compost, but whilst I don't mind them having a feed, I would rather not have them re-distributing the compost all over my shingle, so I have loosely covered the bed with a stretch of chicken wire. This will allow the birds to grab the insects but without too much "fossicking"... It doesn't make a very exciting photo, but you know me - I try to record everything!

Here's an arty photo of one of my feathered friends waiting for a turn at choosing a worm or two.

My second sowing of peas is doing OK now, by the way. Before they germinated they were dug up twice by the foxes, so I had to resort to netting the whole peas-&-beans bed in its entirety. I expected to lose a few of the pea seeds, and aimed-off for this by sowing extra thickly, but I may perhaps have overdone it...

These peas may be a bit too crowded by normal standards, but I'm going to leave them like that and see what sort of a crop I get. I may need to be more generous with the water this year.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Potatoes - a progress report

My potato plants are growing very quickly in the warm weather. I have some of them in my plastic "Seedling Greenhouse" thing, which I close at night-time and open during the day.

Actually, I don't really think the protection has been necessary this year. Usually the weather in April is cold, wet and windy, with frequent frosts, but this year it has been completely different. Anyway, the acquisition of the Seedling Greenhouse was done according to what I call the "Umbrella Principle" - which states that if you carry an umbrella it seldom rains!

The individual potato plants are looking strong and healthy.You will see from the photo above that some of the plants are bigger than others. This is not just erratic growth; it is because I have plants of seven different varieties (3 of each - in a total of 21 tubs). In retrospect, I suppose I should have labelled them, but I didn't, so I don't know which is which.

Some of the plants are quite small still.

Others are already tall.

Many of the plants have benefitted from a bit of extra attention from my little helper Lara, who just loves watering everything in sight (herself included)...

I have earthed-up the plants twice so far. [Earthing-up involves adding more compost / soil in order to bury as much as possible of the plant stems, from which the tubers will eventually grow.] I will need to do it once more I think, aiming to bring the level of compost right up to the rim of the tubs.

Six of my seven varieties are Earlies (the seventh is "Pink Fir Apple", an early Maincrop). Earlies are normally ready about 3 months after planting, so I am expecting them to be ready towards the end of June. I'm sure Lara will want to help me dig them up!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Planting out

The spell of warm weather we have had has brought my plants on a lot quicker than I expected. Often we get cold wet and windy weather in April - but not this year! Many of my plants have become too big to remain in their little pots and seed trays, so I have had done a lot of planting-out over the last few days.

Here is my Marrow ("Bush Baby") in its new home.

This big tub (filled mostly with home-made compost) is half of an old plastic compost-bin. It is open at the base for improved drainage, but as you can see, it provides a depth of about 50cm for the Marrow to grow in. I'm prepared for the worst too: if there seems to be a danger of frosts or very low night-time temperatures, I will protect the plant with a big plastic bell cloche - like this:-

The long-awaited planting-up of the Cucumber bin has also taken place! I have put two Cucumber plants ("Marketmore") in this tub, and I will be training them to climb left and right over the wooden support frame I constructed.

I have put out some Lettuces into their final growing places. There are six each of "Little Gem", "Webbs Wonderful" and "Fristina". They will be joined in due course by six of "Batavian Red", but those are still too small for planting out.

In the background, further down the same raised bed, you might just be able to see three Red Cabbage plants ("Marner Langerrot") and a couple of rows of Radishes - the white Japanese or Mooli type, and the long red Italian Ravanello type "Candela di Fuoco".

Here is a pic of the same bed from the other end. Clumps of Perpetual Spinach and Swiss Chard in the foreground, then two rows of radishes, then three Red Cabbage, then the lettuces in the distance. I think this is what you call "a mixed planting"!  [Ali: sorry that the rows are not dead straight. My excuse is that Mr.Fox re-arranged them for me. :)]

The flexible green plastic hoops are now covered with netting, by the way.

 In the next bed, the red Beetroot are mostly looking OK.

However something has eaten away the stems of some of them, just above ground level. Their foliage is still surprisingly perky, but I don't expect them to survive.

The golden Beetroot (sown later, without the benefit of a cloche) is still tiny, and its germination rate was not very good so there are a few gaps.

In my usual way, I have re-sown with a few more beetroot seeds in pots, as an "insurance policy". Even if I don't need them for filling gaps, I can always use their foliage as a salad ingredient...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Columbines and Convallaria

I have a few Columbine (Aquilegia) plants along the side of my house. They are self-seeded volunteers, but I love them anyway, so I let them stay. The first of their flowers opened last week. (Kelli, I hope you are noting this).

There is one with mauve-tinged pale pink flowers, that is very prolific. It self-seeds very profusely, even though I try to remove most of the seed pods before they mature.

There is also one with dark blue, almost purple flowers - which I prefer - but this one is less vigorous. Despite my attempts to favour this one over the pink one, the pink one still wins the battle for space!

In a shady corner next to my shed, where little else will grow, I have established a small patch of Convallaria Majalis (Lily Of The Valley).

The delicate white, bell-shaped flowers are very strongly scented. At this time of year I normally bring a small bunch of them indoors, where they impart a beautiful fragrance to the Living Room. If only the flowers had a longer season!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Do you know your seedlings?

Just recently, Janet Bruten from Plantalicious wrote about the difficulties of recognising vegetable seedlings in amongst a multiplicity of weeds on her allotment. This got me thinking about how similar some plants look when they are young. See if you can identify the ones in the following photos:





They all look quite similar, don't they? This is what they are:-

A - Parsley
B - Celeriac
C - Parsnip
D - Hamburg Parsley
E - Carrot
F - Coriander (Cilantro)

The carrots, by the way, are not officially being cultivated. They come from seeds that have dropped out of the bird-feeder. And the Coriander is self-sown from a Baby Leaf Salad mixture I grew last year. It's not one I would sow deliberately, because I am very allergic to the leafy bits of this herb, though surprisingly I am OK with the seed used as a spice.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter roundup

Here are some photos that demonstrate the state of play in my garden this Easter...

The glossy new leaves of the Bronze Maple tree have burst out enthusiastically.

The Bay trees' flowers are unobtrusive, and very slow to develop. The buds have been visible for weeks now.

The leaves are looking dull at present, with a matt finish, and many of them are turning yellow. These ones will drop off over the next few weeks, and new ones will appear where the flowers have been.

This is the Cotinus "Royal Purple" putting on its new livery.

The Jurassic Park-style fronds of the fern Dryopteris Erythrosora are lengthening and unfurling.

And my other ferns (the ones I divided and re-potted in the Autumn) are also putting up lots of new fronds.

The delicate pink-tinged white bells of the Blueberries are slowly swelling.

More gorgeous golden hues are showing on the Dogwoods!

The greater light levels ensure that the Golden Hops live up to their name.

The Cherry tree has put out a few shoots near its base, They look lovely, but I will remove them to encourage the tree to put more of  its energy into branches higher up the trunk.

The Pear tree's blossom has fallen now, and little fruitlets are beginning to form. I just hope that the bees have done their job, and that many of these fruitlets go on to become mature fruit.

This is a colour combination I adore - the deep purple of the Cotinus set off against the backdrop of the golden Dogwood.

Even the central head of the "White Eye" sprouting broccoli looks spectacular - almost like a traditional cauliflower, in fact.

And the Cavolo Nero plant is STILL going strong. I love the symmetry of this cluster of flowers... It reminds me of a compass rose (Not a plant you know, but one of those things that shows the points of the compass.)

This is my favourite time of year! Everything is looking fresh, vigorous and full of promise.