Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Returning enthusiasm?

Hello, Dear Reader. Long time, no see!

Now that the days are lengthening again, I can feel my enthusiasm for gardening slowly returning. I'm fed up of looking out of the window and seeing bare trees and shrubs, empty raised-beds, and drifts of wet leaves that I should have cleared up in November. I want to be outside "doing stuff"!

Actually, despite not writing any blogposts since early December, I have not been idle. I have spent a fair bit of time preparing things up at the new plot I mentioned in my last post. For those of you who haven't seen that post, let me explain.... I have agreed to take over a portion of the garden belonging to some neighbours of a long-time friend. The elderly couple who own the property are no longer able to look after the garden and have called in help from other quarters. One chap cuts the grass; another prunes the tree and bushes, and I am now in charge of the veg-patch! They have said I can use as much or as little of the plot as I like, so I'm going to go easy to begin with and may expand later on. Fortunately, this new plot is only a few minutes' walk from my own house.

This is the plot, shortly after I started working on it.

Sorry about the poor photo quality - these were taken on my phone, on a cold December morning..

The bit I am going to use initially is the area on the right in the photo above. It is very roughly 5m x 20m.

You can see that I have already done a fair bit of digging - about half of the plot so far. The soil, which has been cultivated for decades, is lovely and light, with very few stones. The garden was in active use until very recently so has not had time to get really overgrown, and my digging is mainly aimed at removing a layer of grass and annual weeds. There are only a few perennial weeds - like dandelions and buttercups - but I notice a vigorous invasion of Couch Grass from the next-door garden, which is very dishevelled. I'll have to keep a watchful eye on that.

Since the photos above were taken, I have removed the enormous pile of weeds, prunings etc (which the owners had been intending to burn), and have dug a bit more, as well as removing last year's beanpoles. The beanpoles, I regret to say, were very old and rotten. They will not do for another year, so I intend to replace them with the 8-ft bamboo canes which I used to use at my own property until I acquired those Hazel poles last year.

Here's a view looking in the opposite direction, showing the bit still to be dug. There are some currant bushes along the fence at the Left, and a row of Raspberries in front of the shed. I may or may not take over the currants and berries, depending on how I fare with the rest of the plot. I intend to spend about half a day per week at the new plot, so I may not have the time to do everything I would like to do.

My initial plan for this plot involves growing some easy, low maintenance veg, such as potatoes, parsnips, beetroot and beans. The owners of the property have been repeatedly saving their own seeds of things like beans for many years and one of the first things I did was rescue some seeds from the last few remaining bean plants (French and Runner types). I don't know if they will be viable, because I only got them after the first frosts, but it's worth a try since their (un-named) ancestors have been grown in the very same garden since the late 1960s, so they are true Heritage Veg! Likewise, I saved a few shallots, which I intend to plant as soon as the weather conditions permit.

Meanwhile, back at Mark's Veg Plot....

Over the past couple of months I have done very little gardening. I just didn't feel inspired. Because of this, the plot is looking pretty tatty, and will require a fair bit of smartening-up. I have however continued to harvest a few veggies, like theses Parsnips, Carrots and Leeks:

Today I made a start on the tidying-up - I emptied one of my compost bins. This was necessarily the first step, since otherwise I would have had nowhere to put all the stuff I am going to clear up. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad a task as it might have been. Having been in the bin for the best part of 9 months, the material was a nice, fairly dry and crumbly texture, with only a very thin layer of unbroken-down stuff on the top.

For the time being I have put it into some big plastic pots (I bought several more of these in the Autumn).

The material from that one "Dalek-style" compost bin was enough to fill 8 of those pots. The others mostly still hold soil which I used last Summer / Autumn for second-crop veggies such as Leeks and French Beans. In a few weeks time I will mix the compost with the soil and re-distribute it, then I'll use it for growing my Early potatoes. The plan is to grow the Earlies in my home garden (in pots, of course) and to grow some Maincrop ones at the new plot. I'll also be growing at the new plot some potatoes of the variety "Foremost", a First Early variety which I know the owners of the property really like. I haven't specifically discussed this, but to me it makes sense to grow wherever possible types of veg and varieties that my hosts like, since I intend to share the proceeds with them. On the 27th / 28th January I will be visiting the Hampshire Potato Day as usual, to buy my seed potatoes - a few more than normal this year, of course.

I haven't sown any seeds yet, and it will probably be another month before I start my chillis (which are usually the first), even though I have my Growhouse in which to care for them. I'm also tempted to sow some onion seeds and maybe some early cabbages quite soon. To be honest, much depends on my level of enthusiasm. After a couple of months off, I'm not getting back into the swing of things just overnight, you know!

By the way, just in case you hadn't gathered this, in the last few months I have begun to take a much closer interest in another hobby, which is Fungi-spotting. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will see that I am forever posting photos of fungi - though you probably don't see all the zillions of other photos I post in two Facebook Groups that I have joined! You'll have to forgive me then if on this blog I make the occasional digression into the mycological world. To give you a flavour of this, here's a pic of some lovely Winter Chanterelles (Cantharellus Tubaeformis) which I picked some weeks ago...

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A blog holiday

I have decided to give blogging a rest for a while. I am at a point where I feel that I have very little new to say.

I have also recently become very absorbed with studying and photographing fungi, which has led me to take a bit less interest in my veg-garden. However, there is news on the veg-garden front too...

I am going to be doing some gardening on behalf of an elderly couple (neighbours of a friend) who have a big garden but can no longer manage to look after it. Rather than let it "revert to nature" they have offered it to me to use, either in its entirety or in part. Luckily, the property is only about half a mile from our house, so within easy walking distance. The veg-garden is weedy, but not what I'd call overgrown, so it should be relatively easy to knock it back into shape again. Furthermore, the present incumbents have been cultivating it since the 1960s, so the soil should be pretty good. This sounds like a much better arrangement for me than taking on an allotment!

Despite putting my blog into suspension for a while, I still intend to be active on the Social Media, so if you are interested you can follow me on Twitter ( @Marksvegplot ) and/or on Facebook (where I use my real name).

With a bit of luck, my enthusiasm for blogging will return before too long, and I'll be able to write about how I get on with this new plot, but for the time being, "Au Revoir", and thanks for following!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Update on the PSB

This year's Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants are looking good. There were not so many Cabbage White butterflies around this year, and in any case my PSB was covered with anti-insect netting, so it has been protected from caterpillars. The mesh is not fine enough to exclude aphids, but luckily there have been very few of those too, so the PSB foliage is nice and clean. All good on the bugs front then!

I have been very careful to water my plants well, because I know that the raised beds dry out rapidly. I have also given the PSB an occasional feed of general-purpose liquid plant food, and they look strong and healthy now.

I have four plants this year, one each of "Rudolph", "Red Arrow", "Red Spear" and "Early Purple Sprouting". In the photo below they are in that order, Left to Right.

You can see that they vary quite a lot in terms of height and density of foliage. The short "Early Purple Sprouting" one would be the most suitable for growing on an exposed site because it would be less vulnerable to wind damage. My little garden is fully enclosed on all sides, but it still suffers from the wind. The first time I grew this veg, all my plants were laid low in a gale, but I learned the lesson and these days I always stake the plants, securing them to stout wooden posts with a few turns of soft string in at least two places - more if the plants get very tall.

"Rudolph" is supposed to be the first of my four varieties to reach maturity, theoretically producing spears around Christmas-time, but I find that it doesn't normally achieve that. February is more likely. The other varieties will hopefully mature at different times, giving me steady pickings throughout the Spring rather than a glut.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bye Bye Beans!

Well, I have definitely picked my last Runner Beans of the year!

I always like to take my Runner Bean plants down before the onset of really "Autumny" weather. It's a nasty job to do in cold, wet conditions.

It's surprising how much foliage can be produced by 12 Runner Bean plants. A row of them like this has a lot of wind-resistance, and is very vulnerable to collapse in strong winds, so although we were never forecast to be very much affected by the long-anticipated ex-hurricane Ophelia, Sunday morning seemed like a good time to get this job done.

Stripping away the leaves and vines with my secateurs, it was inevitable that I would find a few pods that I had missed earlier. There were a few very old ones that had already dried out, and a few immature ones that would have had no chance of growing to a decent size. At this time of year even the small ones are usually tough and flaccid - not nice for eating. The big ones I kept for drying, and the small ones went in the compost-bin.

Here in the UK not many people grow Runner Beans for the actual beans; they grow them for the young pods. However, the beans are very nice and dry well for Winter storage. They make a nice Chilli con Carne...

This is the support-frame, with the foliage removed. Those are 9-foot poles. Luckily I was able to stand on the edge of the raised bed so that I could reach up to the top.

Here are the poles, cleaned-off and bundled-up for storage in the garage until next year.

If you are wondering about the pots, they contain Daffodil and Tulip bulbs. I have protected them with wire grilles (aka shelves from my mini-greenhouses), weighed down with stones, to stop the foxes digging them up.

This is one of the benefits of the job - it produces lots of material for the compost bins.

I find that Runner Bean plants make very good compost material, because they are a good mix of soft (leaves) and hard (stems). My only problem is that the compost-bins are already nearly full - and soon I'll have a garden full of Maple-tree leaves to cope with too!

Anyway, the task is complete now.

I'll leave the raised bed empty for a while, and let the birds rummage in it for grubs. It will be the first bed to be planted-up next Spring. Gosh, Spring. Doesn't that seem like a long way off?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Finger carrots

These are Finger carrots. Guess where the name comes from?

Yep, they're called Finger carrots because they look like fingers. Doh!

These ones of mine are of the variety "Amsterdam Forcing 3". It's a variety specially bred for growing long and thin. As I mentioned the other day, they have been grown as a follow-on crop in the 35-litre plastic containers which formerly held new potatoes. Two pots were sown on July 6th and the third was sown on July 29th.

I think I sowed the carrots a bit too thickly, and didn't thin them, so many of them are thus too weak and weedy to produce anything useable, but by picking carefully I'll be able to muster a worthwhile number from my 3 pots. Look at these beauties:

Keys for scale purposes

I terms of aftercare, I did practically nothing to them - just watered them occasionally. I think if I had grown them earlier in the year I would have covered them with Enviromesh, like my maincrop carrots, but sowing later has avoided the Fly.

Washing them shows that although they have green shoulders that will need to be removed before cooking, there is no slug or Carrot Root Fly damage at all - despite having been grown without protection of any sort.

Carrots like these are a special delicacy - tender and sweet - best served fairly plain (possibly raw) and definitely not thrown into a stock or casserole! They don't need to be peeled either, just lightly scrubbed to remove the soil from them.

This first batch was served boiled and then tossed in melted butter and sprinkled with chopped Parsley. I think if I had a lot of them I would put them in a bowl on the kitchen worktop, for snacking on, but I know they wouldn't last long in our household!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Is your blog being copied illegally?

A few days ago I was contacted by Alexandra Campbell, author of the blog "The middle-sized garden", asking if I was aware that my blog was being "scraped". This is the term which is used to mean that someone is stealing material from a blog or website, and publishing it on their own blog or website. The thieves often change some of the wording of the material in an attempt to cover their tracks, or to try to avoid accusations of plagiarism. This is what has happened to me. Some of my articles have been published on a website about healthy living. They have been partially and very crudely re-worded, but there is not a shadow of doubt that they are originally my work. Even the photos still show my "Marksvegplot" watermark!

Alexandra has put together a very comprehensive and clearly laid out article about this subject, and what you can do to avoid it and /or recover from it. I think all bloggers should read her article, so here's another link to it: Is someone stealing your blog and what to do about it.

The offending website shows a contact email address, which I have used to send them a message asking for my material to be deleted, but I have had no reply (hardly surprising, in my opinion). I have also posted into the Comments section of a couple of the reproduced blogposts, but since comments are moderated, the guilty party can just choose not to publish them. At least they will now be aware that I have found out about their misdemeanours!

Following Alexandra's advice, I looked up which organisation is hosting the website to which I have referred. It is PDR (Public Domain Registry). They have a Complaints page on their website, which I have used to flag-up the scraping. Hopefully they will investigate and eventually make the offenders take down the illegitimate content. I would stress here that is it not just me that is affected - several others are, and between us Alexandra and I know many of them so we have been passing information around between us. We reckon that if PDR get several complaints about the same website, all at once, they are more likely to act.

In the meantime, maybe it is time to use Google Alerts to set up some regular searches and notifications of terms I frequently use on my blog, just to see where else they appear...

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Chilli harvest

Late September to early October is when most of my chillis are harvested. Many fruits are of course produced much earlier than this, but I always get a rush of ripe fruit just as the weather turns colder. (Ironically, this weekend temperatures in the low 20s C are forecast, which is unusually warm!). I think the plants know that this is their last chance to set fruit, before the frost kills them off.

Today then, I have picked another batch of ripe fruit:

In the basket are some each of "Aji Limon", "Ring of Fire", "Aji Benito", "Challock Chilli" and "Hungarian, long thin, red".

The "Challock Chilli" ones are the dark brown-coloured ones.

Some of you may recall that I helped their breeder, Stephen Shirley from Victoriana Nursery Gardens, to test them. After further refinements this chilli has now been stabilised and formally recognised as a breed called "Fat Bird". I saw some of them at the Challock Chilli Fest last weekend, and was interested to see that the new breed produces fruits that are much redder than the early prototypes.

With today's harvest added-in, my stash of fresh chillis now looks like this:

I already have a similar quantity in the freezer - the ones that escaped being made into Sweet Chilli Sauce etc!

Over the last few days I have been preparing some of my plants for over-Wintering, by pruning them very hard and re-potting them into fresh compost, prior to bringing them into the warm. The fresh compost will help to minimise the number of "little beasties" that come into the house with the plants. (I'm realistic enough to know that at least some will evade my scrutiny). This year I'm only going to try to keep a small number of plants (maybe 6 or 7), and I'm choosing the rarer and slower-growing ones, like my "Cozumel" and "Panama 6" plants. This way I should be able to keep them in better condition. I'll be using these "self-watering kits" to keep them optimally hydrated:

I have also brought indoors a couple of plants which have fruit that needs a bit of a helping hand with ripening, such as this little chap who I now believe to be a NuMex Sunburst Orange, who is now sitting on a windowsill above a radiator.

Just as with the Tomatoes, I have had a good crop of Chillis this year, and I think this is mainly due to the fact that we had a prolonged spell of hot weather in June, which allowed the plants to grow rapidly and build up their strength rather than having to struggle to survive in the cold and wet weather we often get in Late Spring.