Tuesday 30 May 2017

Bank Holiday blues

Why is it that our Bank Holidays seem to be doomed to experience dismal weather? With monotonous regularity the storm clouds begin to gather on the Friday evening...and then they keep us waiting for the next two days! For most of this past weekend we seemed to be on the edge of a storm, and while many parts of the country had it really bad, we had some rain but nothing dramatic and no thunder and lightning (at least not that I was aware of). Monday, the official holiday, was dull and gloomy all day, with occasional rain, so not a day for enjoying the garden. Fortunately I only had a few small tasks to do.

For instance, I put up some 7-foot bamboo canes for my cucumbers to climb:

The cucumber plants have already grown a lot since I planted them, and before long they will need that support.

The biggest of the three plants is the courgette "Defender".

The "Maskotka" tomatoes in my tall wooden planter have flopped over now, as planned, and I have given them some gentle guidance on deciding which direction to grow in, by pushing in a few short sticks.

Tomatoes "Maskotka"

My idea is to have two plants trailing down each of the long sides of the planter.

Several of the tomato plants have flowers on now, though no fruit setting just yet. This is "Losetto", which has the luxury of protection inside the big wooden coldframe:

Tomato "Losetto"

Likewise, flowers are beginning to appear on some of the potato plants, which is a sign that tubers are probably forming down below the soil.  This is "Nicola", one of the Second Early types.

Potato "Nicola"

The Runner Beans haven't needed any assistance with finding their poles. It always amazes me how they work out which way to lean! I suppose if you were to watch a time-lapse sequence, you would see them thrashing about in ALL directions until they found something to attach to.

Runner Bean "Scarlet Emperor"

I'm sure they will find it easier to climb this year, having the rough-surface of those Hazel pole to cling to.

Most of my vegetable plants seem to be well established now, so I have been giving away some of my spares, like tomatoes and beans. These two fine specimens of "Ferline" were the last to go:

It was a wrench parting with them, but I'm glad they went to someone who will grow them, rather than ending up in the compost bin. Just for the record, I have 23 tomato plants now. I think that's enough!

Sunday 28 May 2017

Late May update

Apart from occasional successional sowings of salads, my sowing and planting for this year is mostly done. It's now time to sit back and watch things grow. This post is mainly a "Situation Report" one...

The Broad Beans are doing well, and although they are beginning to set pods now, this will be my next harvest.

Broad Bean "Top"

For once the tips of the BB plants are not infested with blackflies (aphids), so this year I am going to try eating some of them. Discussing this with friends on Twitter, most people say they are good - particularly if briefly wilted in some butter (and garlic?). Apparently they are like over-sized peashoots.

As I half expected, the row of Broad Beans which I sowed a month after the first one has very nearly caught up. The oldest row is on the right in this photo:

The senior row is bushier, a fact which may be due to the difference in cultivars, but I suspect it has more to do with the light levels. Most of the light reaches this bed from the right-hand side.

Both rows have had plenty of flowers, and the bees have been active, so I'm hoping for good pod-set.

The Runner Beans are of course still pretty small, but they are just beginning to reach out towards their support poles:

The foliage of one of my potato plants (Belle de Fontenay) is beginning to turn yellow. This is a sign of approaching maturity, and I am expecting to be able to harvest my first spuds of the year in about 3 or 4 weeks time.

Potato "Belle de Fontenay"

This is the Onions bed:

No sign of bulbing-up yet, but that doesn't surprise me. I have read that until the longest day onions put their main efforts into producing green leaves, and then after that bulbs begin to swell. I hope so...

This next shot shows my carrots and parsnips. It's taken through their protective Enviromesh - which I'm not taking off just for a photo! Again, they are a long way from ready, but looking good.

My two apple trees have set fruit. The older one ("Winter Banana") doesn't have many fruits, but I think that may be the result of over-enthusiastic pruning on my behalf. I wanted to get the tree into a good shape first, and this has now been achieved. The bumper crop can come next year!

"Winter Banana"

The other tree, a "Laxton's Superb", is smaller and a year younger, but is covered with little applets:

"Laxton's Superb"

I suspect that many of the applets will be naturally shed soon in the "June Drop".

As well as the apples I have a few pears:

The amount of fruit I get from that ("Concorde") pear-tree is very small, and I keep threatening to buy another tree to partner it. Maybe this will be the year I do it.

Also on the Fruit front, my Honeyberries are ripening. Even if I were to pick all the berries at once, it would still be a "light crop", but it's interesting to have them anyway.


Last year I tasted Honeyberries for the first time, and I wasn't impressed. Maybe I picked them under-ripe (though they looked and felt ripe), but they weren't very sweet. In fact I thought they tasted almost savoury. Anyone else tried them?

The Salad department is doing well. Though my radishes haven't been as good as usual this year the Baby Leaf lettuce has been superb:

Baby Leaf salad

These are peas being grown for their shoots. They have been cropped once already and are now just about ready for another picking.

Well, that's my tour of the fruit and veg for you. I'll leave you with a couple of pics of some Aquilegias...

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...