Thursday 31 May 2018

It's not all doom and gloom!

To be honest, my Courtmoor plot has suffered a bit of a setback just recently, with the pigeons moving in. Each time I visit I dread to see what mayhem they have created. You know I said the pigeons had only gone for the green cabbage, and had left the red ones untouched? Well, this happened...

However, the value of a piece of cheap plastic netting recently fished out from the depths of the garage is amply demonstrated by this:

And to think that last year I gave away via Freecycle two large pieces of similar netting, which I thought I would never use again! It's the very lightweight type that can just rest on top of the veggies, without needing any staking or anything.

I suppose I have to be thankful that the pigeons don't seem to have developed a liking for beans yet. (Famous last words!)

Cherokee Trail of Tears beans

No casualties so far amongst the beans, and they are just about to start climbing their poles.

French and Runner beans

The "Boltardy" Beetroot aren't looking too bad either. Germination was a bit patchy, with parts of the row being thinly populated and others overcrowded despite my earlier thinning. I think that I may have to do some more thinning, although I'm tempted not to disturb them any more and just let them get on with it.

My "Pumpkin Patch" is now fully planted up with its six Winter squashes, each one sitting jauntily on its own little mound.

I'm willing them to grow quickly, so that they get past the stage when they are vulnerable to casual damage by the foxes - though fortunately these animals seem to be less of a problem at Courtmoor than in my own garden.

Winter squash "Crown Prince".

Talking of foxes, how about this lovely Digitalis (aka Foxglove) plant? I rescued and relocated it when I was weeding the Raspberry canes a couple of months ago.

It's probably a wild or feral one, rather than a cultivated variety, but actually I like that type better - it seems more natural.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Tomatoes go into their final homes

On Sunday I put my tomato plants into their final homes, which in most cases are 35-litre black plastic pots.

I did 12 of these. That's quite a lot of compost that I had to shift! I used mostly my own home-made compost that I extracted from the bins back in January. It had been "cooking" for about a year, so it ought to be good. I mixed in a small proportion (maybe 10%) of commercial multi-purpose compost, just to bulk it out a bit, and I gave each pot a handful of pelleted chicken manure.

After doing the big black pots, I also put four "Maskotka" tomato plants into a pair of plastic crates which fit neatly into my tall wooden planter.

"Maskotka" is a trailing type, and it will enjoy having the height of the planter, which is about three feet tall.

I also planted two "Montello" plants. This is another trailing bush variety, so I have given them some height too, by standing each pot on top of another one of similar design, like this:

I have 12 of those terracotta-coloured square containers. Until this year, this is what I had used for growing my big tomatoes in, but I found them less than satisfactory. They were never really big enough for the larger Beefsteak type tomatoes, and the self-watering feature was not very good. I think they are OK for smaller tomato plants, particularly the less top-heavy bush varieties.

This is the full list of the types of tomato I'm growing this year.

In 35-litre black plastic pots.
Mountain Magic
Alaskan Fancy
Bumblebee Sunrise
Super Marmande
Cherokee Chocolate
Dwarf Caitydid
Dwarf Beauty King
Dwarf Barossa Fest

In black plastic crates in the tall wooden planter.
Maskotka x 4

In the square "balconnieres".
Montello x 2

Tuesday 29 May 2018

A constant battle

Don't ever let anyone persuade you that veg-gardening is easy. It isn't. Veg-growing is a never-ending battle, and in battles there are inevitably some casualties. More of my brassicas have been killed off. This time it is the red cabbages at the Courtmoor plot that are under attack, not by pigeons, but by something soil-borne.

This one is currently healthy and looking strong.

Cabbage "Red Drumhead"

But this one has suddenly collapsed. Something has no doubt chewed through its stem or roots, below the level of the soil. Even if the leaves were not droopy, you would certainly notice the colour difference. The dying one has gone a much deeper purple colour.

I planted 5 red cabbages, but two of them already seem to be Goners. I just hope the other three will survive.

As if losing some of the cabbages were not enough, the Broad Beans have suddenly become infested with Blackfly, which arrive in droves and multiply very rapidly.

Next time I visit the plot I will take with me a spray bottle filled with diluted washing-up liquid, and see if I can reduce the problem. Pods are forming on the Broad Bean plants now, and it would be a shame to lose them at this stage.

Over and above the problems with insect pests, I have a big problem with weeds. Of course this is partly self-inflicted, because I dug over the whole plot during the Winter, which effectively equates to sowing a mass of Annual Weed seeds! The rain we had last Wednesday and Thursday brought the weeds on very rapidly and some of my smaller veg (e.g. onions and shallots) were in danger of being swamped.

Weed-removal in progress

I have been using an Onion Hoe, which is a short, light and manoeuvrable implement, held with one hand, which allows you to easily remove even weeds that are growing very close to the onions.

Here is a clump of the "Long Red Florence" onions, after being liberated from their annoying weeds. You can see that they are just starting to swell.

It's not just the onions that needed weeding - it was the whole plot.

On my next visit I will take my long-handled Dutch hoe and have a go at some of the weeds elsewhere, for instance around the potato plants, and try to dispose of them before they get big. This is a job that will need to be done quite frequently, I think!

Monday 28 May 2018

Anti-pigeon measures

A few days ago I wrote about the pigeons having discovered (and attacked) the cabbages at my Courtmoor plot.

This is a new departure for me. I get plenty of pigeons in my own garden, but fortunately they never seem to show any interest in my plants. They eat the stale bread I put out, and pick up the scraps that fall from the hanging bird-feeder (currently filled with Sunflower kernels, and hence usually occupied by Goldfinches), but they never attack my veggies. Well, to be strictly accurate, they DID attack my PSB one year, but that is the only time they have given me any trouble in all my 27 years at this property!

Even if I don't get bothered by pigeons, plenty of other pests attack my plants, so I have some experience in crop-protection techniques. The trouble is that most of the "kit" I possess is needed in my own garden, which remains my highest priority. I could go and buy loads more equipment, but to be honest I can't afford that, so I will make do with whatever I can put together from any spare bits and pieces I can find.

This is my immediate solution to the pigeon problem:

I have made some inverted V-shape "cages" to cover the cabbages, using the wire shelves from my mini greenhouses, which are currently not in use. Those greenhouses and their shelves have been just SO useful!

For each cage I have used two shelves, fixing them together at the top with a couple of twist-ties.

Obviously these things have open ends, so I have made some obstacles with a few short sticks. I don't expect this will completely prevent the pigeons from nibbling the plants, but at least it will make it more difficult!

I'm almost embarrassed to include these photos, because they show how many weeds there are in amongst the veg! Encouraged by the rain we had on Thursday and Friday, those weeds have really shot up. (This would never be tolerated in my own garden!!) I can see that my next visit to the plot needs to involve a major blitz on them. Fortunately, due to my thorough digging during the Winter, these are all annual weeds, and should be relatively easy to remove with a hoe.

So far, the pigeons have only attacked the green cabbages. There is no sign of damage on the red cabbages or the cauliflowers and Brussels Sprouts, but I think it will only be a matter of time, so I'll be giving this some thought in the coming days.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Good news and bad from the Courtmoor plot

First the good news. The Radishes are being picked in quantity now.

The results of my mixed sowing are readily apparent. Here we see French Breakfast" (long, red with white tip), "Sparkler" (round, red with white tip) and "Cherry Belle" (round, plain red).

I took a big bunch of "French Breakfast" ones to my host, the plot owners, as an early demonstration of my intention to share the plot's produce with them. Before long I'll be harvesting currants and Raspberries for them - a job definitely not suited to the elderly person - though I have to say that on my last visit I did witness Rupert (92?) pruning a tall Pear tree...




Now the bad news. The pigeons have discovered my cabbages.

So far the damage is not catastrophic, but once the birds get a taste for these plants, I expect they will return frequently. My first priority on my next visit to the plot will be to provide some anti-pigeon protection.

I'm going to have to think very carefully about what "hardware" I want / can afford to buy for this plot. My own garden is pretty well provided-for in terms of crop protection, but if I were to apply the same level of protection to the Courtmoor plot it would cost a fair bit, and would be needed all at once. I think I had better have a rummage in the shed and garage and see if I can muster any "second-grade" or superseded stuff that is hanging about, and cobble together something that will do the job, even if it's less than ideal.

Other jobs I have done recently include thinning the Beetroot, as well as weeding it and the nearby Parsnips. Unfortunately the Parsnips (sown Apr 18th) didn't need thinning out, because the germination rate was very poor! In my own garden, my first sowing of Parsnips (Apr 6th) was almost a complete washout - only five came up, out of about 150. After more than a month had elapsed I re-sowed and the second batch (May 8th) are just showing through now. I suppose I was too impatient and sowed the first batch before the soil was warm enough. We've had such topsy-turvy weather this year that it's no wonder the plants are confused.

Saturday 26 May 2018

The Oasesbox irrigation system

A few months ago I was kindly given a set of "Oasesboxes" for review, and now I am putting it into action.

The Oasesbox self-watering planter system is one that I would describe a semi-hydroponic. This is how it works:

The basis of the system is a stout square plastic container (they come in green, grey, black or terracotta colours) which acts as a water reservoir, holding up to 15 litres of water.

Into the container sits a shallow soil / compost tray with a deep cone-shaped funnel in the centre.

The bottom of the cone fits quite snugly over a boss in the base of the reservoir, so that compost does not fall into the water, but water can seep upwards into the compost through capillary action.

The tray and funnel are filled with soil, and your chosen plant is planted into it. Water is added to the reservoir via any of the holes at the top of the sides the reservoir. The plant's roots then grow downwards to the water, guided by the smooth tapering surface of the funnel. Allegedly it can be as much as four weeks before more water needs to be added, but I'm sure the rate of consumption depends on the type of plant being grown. I have put a Cayenne chilli plant in my first one, and the next one will hold a tomato plant.

The design of the containers is such that they can easily be slotted together in various configurations.

I have joined my three together for this photo, but I think I will actually use them separately.

I think the most difficult aspect of using this system will be judging how much water each plant should have. The kit's instructions give some general guidelines, but I suspect it will be just a case of trial and error. It's quite difficult to see how much water there is in the reservoir - maybe they should be manufactured at least partially in transparent material? In the kit's instruction manual there is a page marked out to indicate filling levels. You are supposed to paste this paper page onto 1mm cardboard and cut it into strips which you then use like a dipstick to see what the water level in the container is! This seems far too rudimentary to me, and I'm not sure how well it will work.

Anyway, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" as they say, so it will be interesting to see how the Oasesbox system performs in comparison with my usual growing methods. I'm already thinking that if it works well one big advantage is that it uses a very small amount of compost. Modern commercial compost is not only expensive but also very often of poor quality (let's not mention the weedkiller contamination issue!), so the less of it I have to buy, the better. The big attraction though is the fact that the water in the reservoir should last for quite a while, making this product ideal for keeping plants properly hydrated even when you are away from home.

The triple pack of Oasesboxes is available from the company's online shop, priced at £44.99, and a single one is £19.99.

Disclosure: I was provided with the triple Oasesbox kit free of charge, for review purposes.

Thursday 24 May 2018

Planting Winter Squashes

Right! My Squash plants are fed up with being confined to their little pots, they're going in!

Over the last 10 days or so we have had a surprising (but welcome) amount of sunshine, and I have been tempted several times to plant out the squashes. It's a good job I didn't succumb to the temptation though, because the nights have been very chilly. The temperature went down to just over 3C one night last week. Luckily the forecast shows relatively mild nights (about 10C) for the next 10 days, so I think it will be OK to plant the squashes now. They have been outside for the last 4 nights without any adverse effects...

A few days ago I cleared my embryonic "Pumpkin Patch" up at the plot. I didn't have the energy or enthusiasm to dig it a thoroughly as the rest of the plot, but I did remove all the perennial weeds and raked the soil fairly smooth.

Into this area will go 2 x "Crown Prince", 2 x "Uchiki Kuri" and 2 x "Sweetmax".

Crown Prince (L), Uchiki Kuri (C), Sweetmax (R)

The soil here is very light and sandy. With the recent scarcity of rain it is very dry too - almost dusty. Although I have very little experience of growing squashes, I know that they like rich, moist soil, so a fair bit of preparatory work was necessary. I decided where I would position the plants and for each one I dug a large hole, about 30cm deep.

Into each hole I put two "tub-trugs"-worth of old compost, which filled the holes back to roughly the original ground level.

Having marked the centre of each hole with a stick, I covered the compost with the soil I had removed from the holes, building it up to make a raised mound a few centimetres tall. I will plant the squashes on the tops of the mounds. This is because I have read that squash plants really do not like to have wet stems. Their roots will hopefully be quick to search out the moisture in the compost down below.

I know it's difficult to make them out in the photo, but here are all six mounds, marked with sticks, all ready for planting.


I decided to risk planting some of the squashes, but in my usual cautious way, I planted only 3 and kept the others back, just in case the nights are still too cold for them.

Uchiki Kuri nearest, Crown Prince in the middle, and Sweetmax at the back.

Uchiki Kuri

Since I wanted to delay a few more days before planting the other 3 squashes, I potted them on into bigger pots, because I felt they might suffer if they remained any longer in the small ones. A bigger pot and some fresh compost will keep them in good condition for a while - though they are now beginning to grow very rapidly!