Saturday 30 July 2016

Allotment decision, and a chance acquisition

Some while ago I wrote about considering whether to apply for an allotment. Today I'm telling you my decision. My decision is that I will NOT be applying for an allotment at the location I described. These are my reasons:-

Jane and I went along one day to see the allotment site, but to be honest it didn't look that impressive. A lot of the plants being grown looked thin and pale; many of them were infested with pests. Even many of the well-tended plots had veg in them that I would consider sub-standard. I concluded that the soil there was probably very poor - certainly in comparison with what I have in my own garden. Seeing the lie of the land also helped me to understand some of the chat I had seen on the Allotment society's website about flooding at the bottom of a slope.

Many of the plots were quite a way from a water-point, and hosepipes are not allowed. Fetching water could be a very time-consuming and laborious task.

Perhaps the biggest factor affecting my decision was the distance from home. It is not much less than two miles by road, though there may be a shorter walking route through the big housing estate that is being built. The allotment site is intended primarily for the residents of the new estate of course. Unless I took the car, I could end up spending a lot of time in transit, and taking the car would negate some of the health benefits.

There is a fairly long Waiting List already, and I would imagine that it would get longer as the new houses are completed. The list is actually two lists - with priority being given to residents in the parish where the allotment site is located, and a second list is maintained for people like me who live in neighbouring parishes. Even if I put my name on the list now, it might be a long time before my turn arrived.

A final factor is the matter of rules. The allotment site obviously has rules, which is understandable and sensible, but my garden doesn't. I run my garden the way I want to, and no-one can tell me to do otherwise. Now I am a relatively easy-going person and not unduly cantankerous, but I just thought there are bound to be some occasions on which I would rather not have someone else telling me what I can or can't do on my plot, so on balance it's best if I stick to gardening on my own property.

Anyway, the decision is made! No allotment for me.

Now, the other subject of my post today- just a quick mention of something nice I picked up a few days ago. We made a trip to our local Recycling Centre (aka "Tip") to dispose of some rubbish. While we were there I noticed in their sales area a rather nice wicker log-basket. I paid £3 to take possession of it. It's roughly the size of my 35-litre plastic pots, but an awful lot nicer to look at:

I have lined it will a couple of old compost sacks trimmed-down, filled it with soil and sown some seeds in it already. As you can see, I'm using the damp hessian technique again, because it seems to work very well. The Beetroot seeds I sowed the other day using this method germinated in just over 3 days. In this new container I have sown loads of Parsley seeds, in the hope that I will be able to have enough of that herb to keep us going over Winter. (We use a lot of Parsley!)

The ugly blue thing in my photo is the container in which the shingle was delivered. It is still about a third full. I will be using the rest of the shingle next Spring, when I construct my next batch of deep raised beds. Until that time I have to put up with having an unsightly blue monstrosity in the garden!

Friday 29 July 2016

PSB. Will the spares be needed?

These days I usually grow only 4 Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants each year.

PSB "Red Spear"

In such circumstances, the loss of just one plant would be a reduction of 25% in my cropping-potential, and for this reason, I always raise lots of spare plants so that I can replace any casualties. Very often the maggots of the Cabbage Root Fly manage to destroy one or two plants, and I usually deploy a pack of nematodes to counter-attack them. This year I have had no casualties in the PSB, and I have not applied any nematodes to them. This is largely because I didn't feel the need. Earlier in the year I bought and applied two packs of nematodes to counteract the Root Fly threat to my climbing beans, as I usually do. I saw no signs of Root Fly damage to the beans, and none of them died. I concluded that it was not a bad year for the Root Fly, and decided to omit the later application of nematodes at PSB-planting time. I think I got away with it!

You can see here my 4 plants, which are already settled-in quite nicely and growing OK.

They look a bit pale, and I think that is because they have been fairly stressed by the very hot weather we have had over the last week. I have actually watered them not only in the evening, but also in the middle of the day as well, in what I call Fist Aid Watering, despite which they have drooped a lot, though they recover overnight each time.

Although I really only wanted to have 4 PSB plants, on May 17th I sowed 24, and subsequently potted-up the best 12 - three of each variety! None of the spares have been required this time. I have given away 4 to a friend, and I think the remaining 4 will go the same way shortly. They are still in 5-inch pots and not looking very happy:

However, having good PSB is so important to me that I'm not taking any chances, and I sowed another batch of seeds on 24th June. Brassica seeds are normally pretty cheap, so this is not a great extravagance. This is what the second batch looks like now:

They look good to me. It's almost a shame that I really hope they won't be required.

In a similar vein, I also used up the last few seeds of a packet of "Endeavour" Brokali. Being old seed, it didn't germinate well, and I have ended up with only three little plants. I plan to put them in amongst the Beetroot in the bed which until recently held my Peas.

Since my main brassica crops are protected by nets, the butterflies are searching around for somewhere else to lay their eggs, and they have definitely found the Brokali. Close inspection reveals clutches of eggs on the undersides of many of the leaves:

With only 3 plants to deal with, it won't be a big problem to rub off these eggs, but it just makes me glad that I don't have half an acre of brassica plants to attend to!

Thursday 28 July 2016

More pests and diseases

You know I wrote a couple of days ago about Blight descending on my tomatoes? Well, I'm just about keeping pace with it - chopping leaves off whenever I see another patch appear - and for the time being it's not too severe (that could easily change). The trouble is, there are lots of other things out there attacking my veg!

This is another very common ailment that affects tomatoes - Blossom End Rot:

Many people think that BER is a disease, but it's actually not. It's probably best described as an "ailment" because it is a physiological problem which happens when fruit cannot properly absorb Calcium from the soil. It is allegedly caused / exacerbated by dry soil. I am very aware of this and I water my tomato plants very assiduously - sometimes twice a day - and the containers in which my plants are growing have water reservoirs in their bases. Still, whatever the reason, the tiny little fruits on my "Primabella" plant have developed it. All the affected fruit is on one truss, so hopefully this is the full extent of it, but there's not much I can do apart from keep on watering thoroughly. BER damage cannot be undone; all one can do is hope to prevent further damage.

Here's the next problem - Leaf-miners attacking the Parsnips:

These things do what their name suggests - they burrow into the leaves and eat the soft interiors, leaving unsightly brown patches. Their routes can be traced via the wiggly silver lines of their burrowing.

Unsightly is probably as bad as this gets. Those Leaf-miners are going to have to eat a lot if they are to do significant damage to my enormous Parsnips! (Well, to be accurate, Parsnip leaves).

Now, I'm sure that most people would not classify the Blackbird as a pest, but many gardeners do. Blackbirds do a lot of damage if they are allowed, and they have a particular liking for soft fruit. I have four large Blueberry bushes, and their fruit is just beginning to show signs of ripening. Funnily enough, it is also starting to disappear. I wonder who / what could be responsible?? The Blueberry bushes are pretty big, and unfortunately I don't have a fruit cage, but I'm determined to preserve at least some of my berries, so I have created a Heath Robinson style cage, knocked-up from bits and pieces - rods, plastic connectors, bamboo canes, a spare piece of netting...

Blueberry - notice the huge amount of new growth on the right side of this plant.

The good news for today is that the netting is successfully keeping the Cabbage Whites off my brassicas. The garden is now full of frustrated butterflies flapping round looking for somewhere to lay eggs. The only unprotected brassicas are my spare PSB plants, which are in effect serving as a decoy!

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Tomatoes - past the critical point??

With blight nibbling away at my precious tomato plants leaf by leaf I'm experiencing some anxious moments. Will any of the tomatoes ripen before the plants succumb? Indeed, will the plants succumb? We have had several days of hot dry weather, which blight does not like, so maybe the disease can actually be halted before it becomes catastrophic. My feeling is that some of the fruits are probably mature enough to ripen now, even if I have to pick them to avoid the blight. They mostly look very green still, but I know from experience that even fruit like that will eventually ripen.

I would like to be able to publish loads of photos of ripe tomatoes, but I'm afraid I can't. Well, just a few of the "Maskotka", the first of which are nearly ready:

However, see what you think of the other varieties. Every plant has at least a few reasonably advanced fruits. Despite being badly hit by the weedkiller contamination, "Stupice" is doing surprisingly well. Every truss (and it has 5) is well-filled. Almost every flower has set, to produce a fruit.

This is "Tigerella", whose fruits are now very stripy. Again, this plant has three well-filled trusses of fruit, with more coming on.

This is "Costoluto Fiorentino". I have removed lots of tiny fruit from it, because I don't want it to get overloaded. I think a small number of good fruit is better than lots of indifferent ones, and this variety produces big fruits if given the chance.

Here is "De Colgar" the Spanish "Hanging tomato". The idea is that you hang up the ripe fruits (still on their trusses) in a cool place, which will allow you to keep them for ages - long after all the fresh ones have finished. Allegedly these will last throughout the Winter if you let them. They have thick skins and are really only suitable for cooking, not eating in salads or anything.

Here is "Primabella", one of the new generation of blight-resistant varieties developed in Germany. My plant has grown very tall, but it was very late developing fruit-trusses. In terms of yield, it may therefore not be so good, but its blight-resistant qualities may still redeem it.

This next one is "Supersweet 100", which is setting some enormous trusses of tiny fruits. Probably about 100 fruits per truss, I suppose!

The last one I want to show off today is "Grushkova", a compact bush variety which produces medium-sized ribbed red fruit.

The fruit set has again been pretty good on this one. No ripe fruit so far, but several that look as if they would ripen if I had to remove them from the plant in an emergency.

I'm beginning to think that there is still a chance of a reasonable tomato crop this year!

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Another stroll on the Common

I've been out walking on Velmead Common again. I'm beginning to realize what a huge diversity of flora and fauna it holds. Every time I go, I see something new. Even going to the same place at a different time of year usually means you will see something different. These days, with Google and the social media to help it is very easy to identify an unfamiliar plant too.

Our Summer, such as it is, is well advanced and bits of the Common are beginning to look more Autumn-ey. To me, these Rowan, or Mountain Ash berries are very evocative of Autumn.

Rowan berries come in a range of colours, from yellow through orange to red, though the redder ones are most common. They can be used when ripe to made a preserve somewhat similar to Redcurrant jelly, though not as sweet. We made some once, but I think the berries must have had some mould on them, because we were very ill when we ate the jelly, and have never made it again!

I was looking very carefully for fungi, but I didn't see many. I think it's too dry for fungi at present. This one was evidently fresh though. Nearby there were two or three more of these, just bursting through the surface of the soil.

Lots of the trees, like this Birch, are sporting a dashing orange coat of lichen at present:

These are the "fruits" of the Arum Lily - Arum Maculatum - looking very impressive. Don't be tempted to eat them though, because they are extremely toxic.

Here's a plant I had not consciously seen before:

Did you recognize it? It's Common Centaury - Centaurium Erythraea. The flowers grow on stems about 12 inches tall. I found quite a large patch of it just next to a track in one of the more open areas of the Common.

I had to seek help with identifying this next one, which is Enchanter's Nightshade - Circea Lutetiana. Despite its dramatic name, it is apparently not very poisonous.

Circea is very invasive, and for this reason seldom used as a garden plant. It's amusing to note that one variety sometimes used in gardens is called "Caveat Emptor", which seems very appropriate in the circumstances!

I didn't see much in the way of animals or birds this time. I expect they were all resting in the heat of the day (it was early afternoon), prior to coming out after sundown. I wonder who might have been hiding in here...

The hole is surrounded by a dense array of spiders' webs, but it's probably not a spider's home. I think maybe the spider is hoping to catch whatever it is that lives there, as it comes or goes.

My most interesting sighting on this occasion was of a really vivid Cinnabar Moth. It very obligingly sat still for a couple of minutes while I photographed it.

Cinnabar Moths mainly feed on Ragwort. Indeed, Wikipedia tells us "It has been introduced into New Zealand, Australia and North America to control poisonous ragwort, on which its larvae feed."

This is some Ragwort, which I photographed nearby.

Well, the larvae may feed on Ragwort, but the adult moths evidently enjoy Yellow Vetchling. In this next (zoomed) photo you can see the moth's long proboscis probing deep into the flower to drink the nectar.

I hadn't realised that Cinnabar Moths were so "woolly"!

I saw this huge old weathered log, and thought "Wouldn't that be great in a childrens' playground?"

All kids love balancing on logs (and falling off), don't they?

Well, that's a selection of the things I saw this time. I'm sure I'll be back there again soon, and I'm equally sure I'll see something interesting and new!

Monday 25 July 2016

Harvest Monday - 25 July 2016

Several of my blogging friends in the USA (e.g. Dave, our host for Harvest Monday) are very keen on making lacto-fermented vegetable products, such as sauerkraut, so I think I know what they would do with this lovely specimen. It's a "Cabbice" cabbage (Pronounced as "Cab Ice" - it's alleged to be as sweet as an Iceberg lettuce.)

It didn't look very big outside on the garden table, but when it came indoors it seemed a lot bigger! It weighed 768g (1lb 11ozs).

We are not keen on fermented vegetables, so our cabbage was cooked conventionally - lightly boiled, and served as an accompaniment to a meal of roast Lamb, with fresh Mint Sauce.

That meal also included the last of my Broad Beans (picked last week) and some of these "Nicola" potatoes.

These potatoes are the best so far in terms of yield. As with the other varieties, I planted two tubers in a 35-litre pot, and these ones yielded 1.33kgs. I have to say though that there were about 100g of very tiny tubers that had to be discarded because they were really not big enough to be worth bothering with, which has not been the case with the other varieties.

The salads keep coming too. This is the latest "Ice Queen" lettuce.

After removing the coarse outer leaves, a firm crunchy heart is revealed. It's rather like a loose-textured Iceberg.

As I described a couple of days ago, I finally got round to removing my exhausted Pea plants, which gave me an opportunity to pick one last little batch of pods. At the same time I got a few of the "Cobra" climbing French Beans, which are just starting to come into their own.

I'm keeping the purple-podded "Desiree" peas to be seeds for growing next year, but the green "Early Onward" ones went into a mixed-vegetable curry that Jane cooked for us.

This week also saw me picking the first Runner Beans of the year, always a precious moment since Runners are amongst our favourite vegetables. This is 350g of "Streamline" beans.

Runner Bean "Streamline"

When there are Runner Beans to be had, the French beans always take second place, but there's no denying that these "Cobra" beans are good!

I'm linking my post to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Cucumbers: good news and bad

My "Cucumber experience" has been a bit mixed this year. One of my plants got flattened (and killed) by heavy rain; one never got going at all, and now two more have just spontaneously died. It's amazing how quickly a Cucumber plant can die! One day it looks fine, and the next it's a limp shrivelled wreck. I conducted a "post mortem" on the two recent casualties and I found that their roots had been completely eaten away, but by what I know not. In the container there is now just one Cucumber plant remaining, and to be honest it doesn't look strong. The Cucamelons, on the other hand, look fine and are growing enthusiastically.

Pot with 1 x "Passandra" Cucumber (yellow leaves!) and 2 x Cucamelons

The remaining Cucumber plant has so far produced only one fruit, though it does have another one forming - seen here:


Fortunately, I have two more cucumber plants elsewhere. One of them is that unknown variety that has grown from a seed that nearly got sent to a friend [Read the story HERE.]. You can see it in the middle of this group of pots.

I honestly have no idea what type it is - it's probably not even an outdoor type - but we'll soon see.

The last line of defence is the spare "Diva" plant that I couldn't bear to throw away, the one squeezed in near my Philadelphus tree. It's actually looking pretty good and is now about 4 feet tall and happily climbing its bamboo wigwam:

The spare "Diva"

It has its first flower too, so maybe it will soon produce its first fruit.

The loss of  Cucumber plants like these can be particularly galling because they are expensive plants to raise. A packet of seeds costs about £3 or £4, and typically contains only 5 seeds if it's an F1 variety. I'm lucky in that I have not lost out financially because my seeds were very kindly supplied FOC by Marshalls - but it's still annoying to lose plants that you have nurtured, before they have a chance to deliver a crop.