Saturday, 27 May 2017

Softening the edges

This post will probably be of interest to anyone who is growing trailing plants, such as tomatoes, courgettes and squashes, in containers. These containers often have a fairly sharp edge, and when the stem of the plant flops over it, it may get damaged, like this little courgette:

Here's a way of preventing such damage.

Take a piece of cylindrical rubber / plastic (possibly a piece of an old hosepipe), a few inches long. This one is about 3 inches and is made of soft rubber:

Using a craft knife or sharp scissors, make a slit the whole length of the cylinder:

Slip the piping over the edge of your flower-pot in the place where the plant stem crosses it:

Voila, the edge is "softened". Job done!

Naturally, this technique works with many different materials...(an empty water bottle for instance).

My Courgette and Cucumber container has a particularly sharp edge because it is made from an old water-butt that I sawed in half. It is definitely going to need the treatment!

I'm not quite sure yet what I'm going to do about the "Maskotka" tomatoes growing in this tall wooden planter.

The black plastic crates in which they are growing have nicely rounded edges, but the planter itself has a wide, sharp edge.

I don't think it will be practical to apply the technique demonstrated above to this thing. The plants may just have to take their chances...

Friday, 26 May 2017

PSB - the cycle begins again

Everyone knows how fond I am of Purple Sprouting Broccoli! Now that this year's harvest is a thing of the past, it's time to start all over again because PSB takes about 9 - 10 months from sowing to harvest.

Last Saturday I sowed seeds for five varieties of PSB. They were "Rudolph", "Red Spear", "Red Arrow" and two variants of "Early Purple Sprouting" - one from Mr.Fothergill's and one from Marshalls. I sowed approximately 6 seeds in each of 5 small (7.5cm) pots, using Levington's John Innes No.1 as the sowing medium. The pots were placed in a seed tray, covered with a large plastic bag to maintain humidity and then put on an indoors windowsill.

A mere 3 days later, they germinated:

It looks as if there has been a good germination rate, with several seedlings visible already in each pot.

As soon as possible after germination they went outside (the temperature even at night-time has been in double figures for several days now), to make sure they get as much light as possible. This will prevent them going long and thin - aka "leggy".

I will grow the PSB in those little pots for another couple of weeks or so, until they have at least one pair (preferably two) of "proper" leaves. When they are big enough to handle I will choose probably 3 of each type to transplant into individual pots, and keep them in those until space becomes available in one of the raised beds - which should be after the Broad Beans have finished, so maybe late June or early July. These days I usually grow only 4 plants of PSB, but it's always nice to have some spares. The big question is am I going to shell out some cash to buy nematodes to ward off the Cabbage Root Flies that love to attack my brassicas?

In other news...

The Broad Beans have started forming pods:

And the Runner Beans are now producing their second set of leaves:

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Tomato progress report

A couple of days ago the first flower opened on one of my tomato plants - a significant milestone in their development.

Having had all those problems with weedkiller-contaminated compost over the last few years, I am hyper-sensitive about it now, and I inspect the foliage of my tomato plants very carefully, very often. So far they are mostly looking OK, though I'm a bit worried by this one. One of its leaves has decided to turn upside-down. This might possibly be a symptom of the same old problem.

For future reference the plants were raised initially in Levington's John Innes No.1 compost (seed compost), then in Levington's John Innes No.2 when transplanted to 5" pots, and they are now in Levington's Original Multi Purpose compost. I have deliberately not used any home-made compost, just in case there is still some contamination lurking in it.

Young leaves at the top of a plant are often quite yellowish, like this

I have noticed some slight discolouration and mottling on the leaves of a few plants. This is probably just a mineral deficiency, and if so can be remedied by an application of "Tomorite" or similar tomato food. It's normally considered beneficial to start feeding tomato plants when the first flowers open, so next time they need watering I will give them a feed as well.

Slight mottling on these leaves

As the plants get bigger, they begin to put out side-shoots, which appear in the leaf axils, like this:

Traditionally the side-shoots are removed from cordon-grown indeterminate tomato plants, to help them concentrate on producing a smaller number of bigger fruit, whereas with the shorter bush (determinate) varieties the side-shoots are left in place.

As the cordon varieties grow taller (mine are about two feet tall now), they need tying to their supporting stakes to stop them flopping over.

I use soft jute string and tie them loosely with several turns of the string at intervals of about six to eight inches.

Well, so far, so good then.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

First chilli sets fruit

My chillis are definitely relieved that the weather has warmed-up. They don't have to spend their days cooped-up in the plastic greenhouses (although they are still zipped-up tight at night).

Here are some of them, sunbathing...

The one nearest the camera (seen in close-up below) is one of the unknown Panamanian types from last year. I think it is some sort of Habanero. With the possible exception of a 3-year-old Rocoto which may or may not be still alive, this is the sole survivor of my over-Wintered chilli plants. Several of them made it through to March and then just suddenly died.

Unidentified Panamanian chilli

The plants I am growing from seed sown earlier this year are mostly doing OK now, and one or two of them have flowers on:

Homing-in you can see the very first fruit of 2017! It is on the biggest of my plants, which regrettably is one whose formal identity I do not know.

It probably won't be long before some of the other plants have fruit too. There are lots of buds forming. These ones are on "Fidalgo Roxa":

I've mentioned before that the size of my chilli plants is very variable this year. This is the "Tiny" class:

One of those is a "Jalapeno", given to me by Donna from the Gardeners of Fleet Facebook Group. She gave me two plants which were both the same size, but one of them has grown rapidly and the other has been much slower.

Jalapeno siblings

The prize for the smallest plant of all goes to this so-called "Redfields Orange":

At least some new growth is finally visible, so maybe it will come good in the end? I'm not holding my breath...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Planting Cucumbers and Courgettes

At the weekend I decided to plant out my cucurbits. Don't get too excited - it was only two cucumber plants and one courgette!

As you can see, the plants are not yet very big, and could easily have stayed in their pots for another couple of weeks, but you know how it is - we gardeners are often impatient people! Anyway, my excuse was that I wanted to get them well established before we go away on holiday next month...

The three little plants have all gone into the same container, but it's a big container, about 50cm in diameter:

That container is half of an old water-butt, which serves the required purpose very well. I have grown cucurbits in it for several years now, but I refresh the soil every year with a load of home-made compost and a couple of handfuls of pelleted chicken manure. The soil is now very dark, rich and crumbly.

The courgette is a "Defender" and the cucumbers are "Diva" and "Passandra". For now I have covered them with a big plastic bell-cloche, to keep them warm and protect them from wind and rain (+ animals) until such time as they are able to fend for themselves. This is why I have put the plants quite close together, so that the one cloche covers all three.

In due course, when the plants outgrow the cloche, I will support the cucumbers with some tall canes, but I will leave the courgette to do its own thing.

Being honest, I have to say that Jane and I are not particularly fond of courgettes as a vegetable. They are all too often served overcooked and sloppy, and the skins can be tough and bitter. However, a few months ago I had some very lightly steamed courgettes served as part of a "seasonal vegetables" accompaniment to a restaurant dish, and I thought they were excellent. I plan therefore to try growing my own and cooking them in that way. Cucumbers on the other hand, we both love - and so too do the grandchildren.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Potting-up Pelargonium cuttings

A couple of months ago I took some cuttings from an over-wintered Pelargonium plant, a "bog-standard" red one that I originally bought on a market somewhere. This is my way of maximising value for money on my plant purchases!

The cuttings all "took" successfully and were looking very healthy, and I judged that with the weather seemingly set fair for the next 10 days or so it would be safe to plant them up. Pelargoniums are frost-tender and prefer nice warm sunshine.

I have put my four new young plants into much bigger pots - mostly ones that until recently held Daffodil bulbs. I have used ordinary garden soil instead of compost, because I think that Pelargoniums (or Geraniums, as most people call them) actually do better in quite poor soil. They tend to produce more flowers and fewer leaves.

Just before doing the transplanting, I watered the small plants quite generously and then let them drain for about an hour. This makes the root-balls easier to keep intact, causing less transplant shock. You can see from my next photo that the plants already had well-developed root systems.

Here are the four plants on completion of the task. The one in the smallest pot (at right) is going to go outside my front door, where I have a sunken pot into which this will slip. The big green pot currently empty is reserved just in case I happen to buy anything next weekend at the Fleet Food Festival, at which there are usually a couple of stalls selling plants - for instance the Pepperpot Nursery !

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Happy beans

My Runner Beans are in (planted).

As previously advertised, I'm growing 12 "Scarlet Emperor" plants, one per pole. "Scarlet Emperor" is an old-fashioned variety, but one that has stood the test of time and is still very popular amongst allotmenteers and vegetable-gardeners. The pods have a stronger taste than many of the more refined modern varieties too.

I planted these beans last Tuesday, the day before the big rains began. This was deliberate, because I knew that the copious amounts of water would help the beans to settle in. It's not a good idea to plant beans in hot dry weather because it puts them under a lot of stress.

You can easily tell if a bean plant is happy. Look at its shape. If it stands up strongly and looks like a capital T or even a V, then it's happy. If the leaves are droopy and form an M shape, it's less happy!

T-shape =  happy bean!

I'm hoping that my beans will settle-in quickly and grow away strongly, without any damage from the weevil grubs which sometimes attack them. Sometimes I buy nematodes to counter-attack the weevil grubs, but they are very expensive these days and I would rather do without them if I can. I have plenty of spares waiting in the wings, just in case.

In fact (although there is nothing to see just yet) I have also sowed a few more in this pot in the coldframe, as an insurance against any disasters...

Bean seeds are cheap, so I have nothing to lose really.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A non-veg post

As you know, Mark's Veg Plot is mostly about veg, but from time to time I write about other stuff. Today I want to show off a rather lovely Heuchera. This one is called "Palace Purple".

I must confess that until not long ago I had thought of Heuchera as a dull, unexciting plant that never did well in my garden. Then I saw some lovely specimens at West Green House and realised that Heuchera could be a very beautiful plant - given the right conditions. That last phrase is the important bit - "given the right conditions". My Heuchera had always been in a place that was far too damp and shady. In the Autumn of 2015 I dug it up and divided it into 6 little plants, which I kept over Winter in pots in a coldframe. Last Spring I planted them out in a new place, which gets a lot more light, and unsurprisingly the plants are now flourishing. A year on, they are just springing into life once more after their Winter sleep.

Later on the plants will produce tall spikes of small creamy-white flowers, but to be honest those are always insignificant compared to the deeply serrated foliage, which starts off being a bright burgundy sort of red, and gradually darkens to bronze-green as it matures.

Purple is very much the IN colour at present, so I want to show you another purple plant. This is Lysimachia ciliata "Firecracker" aka Purple Loosestrife.

I bought this plant a couple of years ago at the RHS plant-shop at Wisley, and I knew when I bought it that it spreads rapidly. Some might call it "invasive". That's OK by me, because I have put it in a corner with some other thugs - Japanese Anemone "September Charm", and Wild Garlic. They are in a place where I can control them easily enough. Each year I rip up a fair few offshoots of the Anemone, but I haven't so far had to restrict the Lysimachia, although it has grown a lot.

In the Summer the Lysimachia will produce a mass of small yellow flowers which contrast most attractively with the dark foliage.

One more non-veg plant for today: Geum "Mrs Bradshaw". I only have one specimen of it and normally it has plain orange-red flowers, like this:

This year however, one of the flowers has a yellow border to its petals:

It will be interesting to see whether the yellow appears on more of the flowers, or on just this one.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The start of the Salad season

With increasing temperatures and (at last) some welcome rain, the vegetables in my garden have started to grow in earnest, rather than just struggling to survive.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been harvesting Radishes, which are normally the first salad veggies to become available each year. This year mine have not been such fine specimens as I usually produce. I think the dry conditions have not suited them at all well, and the slugs seem to have attacked them more than usual too.

The so-called "Daddy Salad" I sowed in a seed-tray has been brilliant though. I have already had four cuts from it, though I do cut the leaves carefully and only take the biggest ones each time.

The pea-shoots have been tasty, if rather scarcer than I had hoped. Not all of the peas germinated; I used old seed, so I suppose that's hardly surprising. However, I notice that they have started to produce a second crop of shoots now.

I have another tray of little lettuce seedlings coming along (mixed varieties). These ones will not be picked as Baby Leaves, but will in due course be planted-out in a raised bed for growing as "proper" lettuces.

In the relevant raised bed I already have a number of lettuces that are rapidly approaching pickable size:

I have one or two specimens of several different types:

The 2 at the top left are "Dubacek", and top right is "Tom Thumb".

I'm not sure what this one is, because it came from a mixed pack.

This is "Redin", a red 'un!

And this is the unmistakeable "Little Gem", a compact Cos / Romaine type.

And this frilly little number is "Lollo Rossa".

In the Right foreground of this next photo you can see my two half-rows of Beetroot.

Behind the Beetroot are Radishes

Here they are in close-up. They're obviously a long way from ready, but they are looking good so far.

Finally, there's the little square mini-bed of Baby Leaf Salad:

There's a bit of everything in there - lettuces, endives, rocket, cress, even a few stray bits of the self-seeded Celery Leaf (which is coming up everywhere!).