Friday 31 October 2014

Gardening opportunities diminishing...

Now that our clocks have gone back the opportunities for gardening are considerably reduced. It gets dark at about five-o-clock, so unless I get up at the crack of dawn I won't see my garden much except at weekends.

One job I plan to do next weekend is to chop down the Asparagus ferns, which are finally looking quite yellow. They are not going to do any more good to the plants now, and they need to come down. If I leave them in place they will get blown about by Winter gales, which may disturb the roots of the plants.

Asparagus fern definitely looking yellow
Yep, no doubt about it!

Another job to do is plant these Tulip bulbs:

Jane won these for me in a competition. It is the Sarah Raven Perfect for Pots collection. There are 15 bulbs, 5 each of "Jan Reus", "Flaming Spring Green" and "Ronaldo". The "Flaming Spring Green" is aptly named. It has white petals streaked with red and green. It should be very impressive.

I'm not normally a fan of Tulips, because I have this perception that they are always going to be battered about by strong winds and only look good en masse. Yes, I know it may be completely baseless, but... Anyway, "Don't look the gift horse in the mouth" they say, so I shall give these ones a fair trial.

Actually I have already planted some Tulips.  Last year I grew some "Soleil d'Or" Daffodils in a wide shallow blue-glazed pot

The yellow daffs and the blue pot were a great colour combination, but I felt that the daffs were too tall for the pot.

This time I have gone for some short (6") red Tulips. They are multi-headed ones called "Dwarf Praestans". I think they will look much better in the blue pot.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Last of the Pink Fir Apple

A couple of days ago I lifted my very last potatoes of this year:

This was the yield from the plant which I grew from the solitary minuscule PFA  tuber that I found stuck in a hessian sack, left over from last year. The seed tuber was about the size of a Runner Bean seed when I planted it. It duly did what potato plants do: pushed up shoots; sprouted leaves; flowered; died. Just before being dug-up, this was it:-

So this was the harvest. Normally you'd say it was pretty pathetic, but in the circumstances, I'm rather pleased. That little seed tuber was evidently a Survivor!

As usual, the potatoes look much more appealing after being washed.

They are quite smooth for Pink Fir Apple. Not very knobbly at all. But definitely pink at the edges.

PFA will be on my list for growing again next year, as it always is! The little batch described above was eaten lukewarm, with a knob of butter and a couple of turns of black pepper. Mm-Mmmm!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Planting Winter lettuce

After such a good year for salads, I'm reluctant to stop growing them. A couple of days ago I planted eight little Lettuces which I had "hanging around". I don't normally grow any Winter lettuce, but it seemed a shame to just ditch these ones.

Lettuce "Marvel of Four Seasons"
These Lettuces were sown on 5th September, in a fit of optimism inspired by the unusually warm weather we were experiencing at that time. There are four "Valdor", three "Marvel of Four Seasons" and one "CanCan".


I have decided that with some protection from cloches, these lettuces stand a chance of growing to a useable size, though I don't expect them to be on a par with their Summertime siblings, and they will no doubt grow pretty slowly.

I dug over the planting site with a trowel, and added some pelleted Growmore general-purpose fertiliser. Using the trowel again, I made a separate planting-hole for each lettuce, aiming to put the seedlings in at about the same depth they had been at previously, in their individual 3" pots. If you plant lettuce too deep they don't seem to like it. I put the seedlings in two parallel rows so that it would be easy to cover them with two of my long cloches.

Before putting the cloches in place I gave the lettuces a good soak of water, and scattered a few slug-pellets around them. Succulent little lettuces like this are very vulnerable to slug / snail attack. I must remember to remove the cloches occasionally and water the lettuces again, since they obviously won't benefit from any rainfall.

In the past I have found that over-wintering lettuce is very susceptible to fungal diseases and it's important therefore to promptly remove any leaves that rot or die off. Likewise, soil underneath cloches can easily become covered with green algae, so it is good practice to remove the cloches and cultivate the soil around the plants once a month or thereabouts.

By the way, you may have noticed that my Parasene "Longrow" cloches no longer have end-pieces. They were very flimsy indeed and kept falling off. I concluded that they were more trouble than they were worth, so they have been thrown away. This is disappointing, considering that the cloches cost about £20 each. In concept these cloches are great, but their construction is far too frail and I wouldn't recommend buying them.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Some lesser-known "greenery"

Apart from my Winter veg (Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, Swedes, Parsnips) and the PSB for next Spring, there is not much left in my garden now except salad vegetables.

Many of you will know that I am seldom content with a simple salad. When salad is consumed in our house it is normally a pretty complex affair. Not for me a quartered tomato, a slice of cucumber and a solitary leaf of flabby lettuce. My salads often contain ten or a dozen different leaves, so today I am showing off what is available in the garden right now.

First off, Endives. I have lots of them approaching maturity at present, many of them underplanted beneath the Brussels Sprouts. These ones are in a corner of the Sprouts' bed:

When I make a mixed salad, I usually include just a few Endive leaves, rather than cutting a whole plant. They seem to tolerate the "Cut and Come Again" technique quite well. However, the Endive is also a vegetable that I do frequently cut as a complete plant, especially when we are having one of our favourite meals: rack of Lamb with potato Gratin Dauphinois and Endive salad!

Radicchio has plenty of mentions on my blog this year. Here's a classic example, in a photo which shows quite nicely the big green outer leaves lying horizontally with the tight (reddening) heart in the centre. It looks very much like a cabbage!

The Landcress is doing well. This is a veg that doesn't require much space, since you don't eat it in large quantities. It has a strong peppery flavour and is best used sparingly alongside milder leaves. This little pot of it would probably be enough for us, but ironically it contains only the last few plants that I was reluctant to discard after planting out the others in one of the raised beds.

The Leaf Celery has got very big now, despite being confined to its plastic crate.

The tiniest leaves of these plants are a very welcome addition to my mixed salad repertoire. If you have not tried growing this plant, I strongly recommend that you give it a try. It has an incredibly strong, yet really pleasant flavour. I don't like the texture of Celery, but I do like its flavour, so Leaf Celery "hits the spot" for me. It has all the flavour of Celery, but none of the stringiness. Once the leaves get beyond the tiny stage I use them for adding a savoury boost to stocks and soups. One or two leaves in a big pan of stock is plenty. Does anyone else grow this vegetable? And have you had any success with over-Wintering it? Should I discard it and sow more seeds next year, or should I try to keep it going?

Now here is the "Mixed Salad par excellence" - Mesclun:

At first sight, that little tray is nor particularly impressive, but it is effectively a complete ready-made mixed salad. This particular tray suffered a bad start, because something trampled on it just after the seeds had germinated. Probably a cat; possibly a fox. However, some of the plants survived. You can identify endive, sorrel, rocket, lettuce, mustard, carrot and chervil, and maybe a few others if you know where to look (not to mention the inevitable pine-needles!).

Chervil is a herb that I seldom crave. Its delicate Parsley-like leaves have a strong Aniseed flavour, somewhat akin to Fennel. You don't see it on sale in the shops because it doesn't keep well after cutting - unlike Parsley which keeps fresh for several days. Just like Dill, Chervil is something I associate with fish (I know this may just be a false perception), and since I don't eat any fish I tend to ignore the Chervil. I have also read that in France, Chervil is a popular herb to complement Carrots, so I might just try that (though in my grumpy old way I reckon I would probably prefer Parsley!). What do you think? Are there any Chervil advocates out there?

Finally for today, have you considered Nasturtium leaves as a salad ingredient? They have a firm, rather waxy, texture and a peppery taste. Again, this is something you probably wouldn't want to eat a lot of, but which is nice when mixed with other things. Nasturtium flowers are also edible and their bright colours can contribute a good visual element to a salad.

I have to admit that I have not had great success with growing Nasturtiums. I think this is largely because I have never put them in the right place. They like lots of sun, and the sunny spots in my garden are already taken! If you want to see some decent Nasturtiums, have a look at THESE, growing in Flighty's Plot. Mike could make quite a few salads with his Nasturtiums I think...

Monday 27 October 2014

Harvest Monday - 27th October 2014

My Harvest Monday posts will be dwindling rapidly from here on in...

I have picked the very last of my Beetroot, so there won't be any more of those until next Summer.

There were a few more ripe chillis. Here are 3 "Jalapenos" and one "Ohnivec".

I moved some of my chilli plants indoors last weekend, and this prompted many of their fruits to ripen much more rapidly than they would have done if they had remained outdoors.

We have plenty of chillis in both the fridge and the freezer, so these ones have now joined the basketful of similar ones "taking a sauna" [i.e. drying in the airing-cupboard.]

There are still plenty of salad items available. I picked these on Sunday:

The big one looks like an Endive, but it isn't. It's a "Cancan" Lettuce.

I'm currently on the lookout for a lettuce that is genuinely Winter-hardy and will withstand some frost. Does anyone know of any suitable ones?

That's it from me for this week, but why not drop by Daphne's Dandelions to see what other contributions there are this week for Harvest Monday...

Sunday 26 October 2014

My garden plan

One or two readers have recently asked me to do a post about what I have grown in my garden this year - as a whole, I mean, rather than writing about each crop separately. Here goes then...

The vegetable-production part of my garden has for many years been based upon six raised beds, each 1 metre wide and 2.4 metres long.

The plot in Early Summer. Note that the cloches and greenhouses have been removed.

These were augmented a couple of years ago by this lovely Woodblocx raised bed, which is roughly the same size but twice as deep.

Parsnips (Carrots not visible, behind)

And of course I squeeze in as many pots and containers as I possibly can.


One of the raised beds has Asparagus in it, so this is a permanent feature, whereas the other beds are the subject of a fairly strict (but not rigid) crop-rotation plan. If I saw a photo of my plot I would probably be able to tell when it was taken just by looking at where the Runner Beans are growing!

This is what I grew this year. [Look at the first photo to understand this.]

Let's call the bed with the tall Runner Beans (furthest from camera) Bed 1. In this bed I had PSB last year, and after it had finished in about April this was replaced by Runner Beans (10 plants of "Scarlet Empire") and climbing French Beans (8 plants - 2 to each cane - of "Cobra").

Runner Beans (left) and French Beans (right)

Going in a clockwise direction from Bed 1, Bed 2 is the one with the Asparagus (supposedly 10, but currently 8 plants of "Gijnlim").

Bed 3 initially had two rows of Broad Beans ("Stereo" and "Witkiem Manita"). These were followed by six Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants, underplanted with Lambs Lettuce and Landcress. The PSB will mature next Spring and will then be followed by Runner Beans (See Bed 1 above).

Broad Beans

Bed 4 has the Brussels Sprouts in it. (2 each of "Napoleon", "Brilliant" and "Bosworth"), underplanted with Curly Endives.

Brussels Sprouts, with Endives underneath them

Bed 5 is the Salads bed, and this year has hosted Lettuces (many different types), Radicchio / Chicory (several different types), Endives (several different types), Basil, Parsley and Beetroot (2 rows of "Boltardy"), as well as a few Turnips ("Milan Purple Top") early in the season.

Salads - Lettuce, Radicchio, Endive, Beetroot etc

Bed 6 is my Winter Veg bed this time, with Swedes ("Ruby"), Leeks ("Toledo") and Cabbages (initially "Predzvest" and "Caramba", latterly "Tundra"). I initially planted 16 Leeks, but as they have been used I have progressively replaced them with more seedlings, so I will be using them for some while to come still.

"Winter Veg" bed, with Beetroot in the foreground

I'll call the big Woodblocx bed Bed 7.This one has Carrots (3 varieties) and Parsnips (2 varieties). The Carrots have mostly been used now, but the Parsnips have not yet been started. I'm anxiously awaiting the chance to dig up the first ones to see what they are like. The Carrots have been very good, and I hope the Parsnips will be too.

Carrots "Early Nantes"

Elsewhere in the garden I have had loads of pots, growing things like Tomatoes, Potatoes, Blueberries, Strawberries, Cucumbers, Leaf Celery and Herbs of many different types.


Cucumbers "Iznik F1"

And don't let's forget my favourite chillis, which are also always grown in pots, so that I can move them around and protect them from the elements when necessary.

Chillis, tomatoes, potatoes

Well, I hope that has given you an impression of what I have grown this year. My policy it to have small quantities of lots of different things, so there is always something new coming along, and no gluts. This is what makes gardening such an interesting and absorbing hobby - as well as a productive one. Next year will always be different, despite some similarities with previous years.

Saturday 25 October 2014


Regular readers will know that I always struggle to grow enough Parsley for our culinary needs. It doesn't do very well in my garden, often suffering from the depredations of ants and the Carrot Root Fly. Anyway, this Winter I am going to attempt to reproduce a success I had last year: I grew some Autumn-sown Parsley under cloches, where it survived the Winter and went on to produce a good crop of lovely fresh leaves in the Spring.

Most of the plants I am using came from this pot:

There were probably about 25 or 30 plants in that pot, so what I did was transplant them in little clumps of about 5 or so, in two parallel rows, aiming to keep their roots as undisturbed as possible (which is far from easy, I must add).

After watering them in very well I covered them with a couple of my long cloches.

Later on I may decide to cover each clump with its own bell-cloche, but at present the long cloches are best, because I can lift them off quickly and easily if I need to water the plants. When Winter really sets in they will probably not require any further watering.

Obviously, these seedlings are currently far too small to be worth cutting, and they will probably grow very slowly, but if the plan pays off they will be at their best in about March next year.

For the time being, our supply of fresh Parsley comes from a batch of bigger plants still residing in pots:

Just for the record, I also want to show you today my little patch of Flat-leaf Parsley plants, grown from the Rocket Gardens prize that Jane won for me. I didn't think they would survive, because they were incredibly densely sown and were very thin and straggly when I got them. however, they did eventually establish themselves, and are now at a useable size.

I expect lots of you are thinking "What's all the fuss about? Parsley is easy to grow", so if you are of that opinion, please tell me what you think is the secret of success.

Friday 24 October 2014

Cabbage Whitefly

From a distance, my six Brussels sprout plants look really good. My anti-butterfly nets were very effective.

However, all is not well. They are infested with Whitefly. When I brush my hand over them, clouds of little white flies emerge. These are the Cabbage Whitefly Aleyrodes Proletella, not to be confused with the similar-looking Glasshouse Whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum, which infests indoor plants, especially tomatoes and peppers.

The tiny scale-like nymphs of this annoying pest cluster on the undersides of brassica leaves. The photo below shows a mix of adult flies and nymphs. The latter come in a range of colours from white through yellow to brown.

The nymphs suck the sap of the plants and excrete a sticky substance known as honeydew which promotes the growth of black sooty mould.

Although large brassica plants are normally strong enough to survive the sap-sucking, the sooty mould often affects them more severely, because it retards their growth and encourages the ingress of other diseases.

If you follow the link earlier in this post you will see that even the much-esteemed Royal Horticultural Society considers that this pest is well-nigh impossible to eradicate. The best you can hope for is to "keep it under control". Easier said than done! The scaly bodies of the nymphs seem designed to protect them from pesticides. And of course the waxy leaves of the brassica plants mean that pesticide sprays don't adhere very well anyway. So what to do?

I am trying a rather basic remedy: I  filled a spray bottle with water to which I added 3 crushed cloves of fresh garlic and a few drops of washing-up liquid. I have liberally doused the Brussels Sprout plants with this spray. My theory is that the washing-up liquid will help the garlic-infused water to stick to the leaves for long enough to kill at least some of the Whitefly nymphs. Of course this relies on the premise that garlic will kill Whiteflies, which may be entirely false! Garlic seems to kill many pests (it has also been in the news recently being used as a remedy for Ash Die-back disease), so maybe it will help here.  I have also done my best to gently rub off as many of the nymphs as possible, which is no mean task even when you only have six plants. Between them they have a lot of leaves.

The RHS thinks that Cabbage Whitefly do little real damage, because they affect the parts of the plant that are not normally eaten. "Fortunately, cabbage whitefly only infests outer leaves and usually causes little real damage to parts of the plant that are consumed. Therefore infestations can usually be tolerated", they say. Well, I'm not so sure, because I was definitely planning to eat the Brussels Tops, the cabbage-like crowns of the plants. We'll see how it goes.

To avoid being too pessimistic, I'm finishing this post with a couple of arty photos for you (taken on a rainy day):