Tuesday, 28 May 2013

May....the end of spring - what spring?

It's a while since I've written. I've been doing things in the garden with various levels of success and failure, but was also ill with a nasty bug which took two weeks to get over. I was basically going to work and falling asleep as soon as I got home.

We've had a very cold spring too with unsettled weather due to the polar jetstream moving south of it's normal position. The wind has been a problem and long range forecasts are predicting another poor summer due to there being less Arctic ice which in turn affects the path of the jetstream. So we'll have to make the most of whatever good weather comes our way!

Things are definitely behind last spring, I'll try and illustrate this using the Californian lilac blossom:
May 2013

May 2012

Even though spring 2012 was not overly warm, the difference this year is notable. There is some blossom coming now on the tree (not clear in the photo) but it is mostly covered in not yet open buds. Perhaps we'll get there in June! I'll upload a picture when it does. Elsewhere, some things that like warmth are struggling after a great start indoors. The tomatoes are one example, while the early potatoes, leeks and peas are doing well considering. The raised bed pictured below has been netted because of cats. I've got loads of photos for this month, here's a few:

Early Orla potatoes growing well in the foreground.

More potatoes also growing here is a purple flowering green manure phacelia, will be nice when it flowers.


At the moment we're harvesting salad leaves, spinach, peas, broccolli leaves/flowers and radishes like this one.

Cucamelon, exciting new plant that grows small melon shaped cucumberish fruits!  Looking forwards to those.

An unusual bouquet of broccolli flowers!

Inca berry plant - another new venture - thanks to James Wong.
The next few months should be the most interesting as more flowers will start to come on the vegetable plants such as courgettes and beans, as well as the dahlias, phacelia, marigolds and asparagus peas and there will be more to harvest. I'll close with apple blossom and some of the flowering border in the back garden and my new wooden bench, which is where I sit when I've done enough. :O)

Bleeding heart flowers

Apple blossom (Cox)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Stormy weather

Poor beans after the storm :O(
Beans a few weeks ago, making big leaves. Too big as it turned out!
Well, I thought last week was a good time to plant, but the winds turned into storms. Definately the worst wind we've had here in the 16 months of living here. The peas clung onto their sticks for dear life and did very well but the beans were stripped of almost all their leaves and are looking very sorry for themselves. Never mind, they should recover and I've planted more indoors. The meddlesome wind also threw the cold frame across the garden, lifted Holly's trampoline and pushed it into the fence and banged the tiles on our roof up and down all night! But I am grateful that it's warmer at least, we've only had one frost in the past week.
First pea pods!
Purple sprouting broccoli is ready!

With the warmer nights, things are coming to life outside, the pea plants have made two pods, the potatoes are peeping up above the ground, while salad and spinach are germinating in the raised bed and the broccoli is ready to start harvesting.

Inside I have planted more dahlias, beans and asparagus peas. I have also got some skirret seeds which I want to try, this is unusual in that it is like a sugary parsnip (though much thinner and oddly shaped), however like parsnip it is difficult to germinate so I've put them in the same cupboard as the hot water tank.

This weekend we've been luckier with the weather and grateful for some sun, I've been out digging up the bed which is earmarked for the quinoa. Have also planted some Phacelia (green manure) which is a attractive purple flowering plant beloved by bees. You are supposed to dig it into the soil before it flowers to enrich the soil, but I probably will find that quite hard so as it's my first time growing it, I'll let it flower and dig it in later even if it does mean less goodness.

Who needs the gym when you can dig? This bed is earmarked for the shallow rooted grain, Quinoa. Should be interesting later in the year when the grains develop as I've bought a colourful variety.

It's quite interesting looking at the rate that some plants grow, I've been impressed this last week with the dahlias and the peas, but the courgette plant wins for monster growth.
The pictures below show it shortly after it germinated last week (why oh why did I plant it in the propagator?) to this weekend in its new pot. 

We're having to net or cover a lot of the new plants because the local cats think our raised beds are giant litter trays, including our cat Rain! So my next job is to research good organic cat deterrents. So far I've watered with a garlic, onion and chilli concoction, will see if that one works, it's certainly smelly.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Peas, Beans, Beet and Carrot all planted out!

Last weekend I didn't get much done in the garden because it was my parent's 70th birthday, but that's worth mentioning here, because it's quite an age to reach. Although both have suffered ill health and my father has only recently had heart surgery, we made it out for a little family meal, minus my sister's family because she was ill .

It's not warm yet, but with the temperature above freezing for the last few nights and the peas and beans beginning to flower indoors, I've decided to start spring myself. Today I planted out the peas, French beans, beetroot and carrot seedlings into the raised bed. After that I sowed some seed (spinach, more peas, assorted salad leaves, salsify, parsley and basil) directly into the raised beds in the hope that it will be warm enough for them to germinate outdoors.

It's supposed to be quite warm tonight (10 degrees celsius) so it's the ideal first night outside for the plants. I've been gradually hardening them off by putting them outside so that it won't be too much of a shock. Unfortunately the slightly warmer weather has brought stronger wind so I've had to put a fleece over the French beans tonight as they have big leaves and are more likely to get damaged.

The peas and beans who started life on my bedroom windowsill are now outside at last!

You may have noticed that I haven't sown a huge number of plants in one go. This is because I've decided to aim for:
1) Successional sowings rather than one big planting. By planting a new batch of seeds every month, there will be no gluts and a longer season of produce
2) Variety, I want to plant more than twenty different crops this year (some being new to me and unsusual too) and so will have a smaller number of each sort.

To help protect the new plants from slug, snail and insect attack and hopefully also from marauding cats who use the beds as a litter tray, I've made a garlic spray. This is easy enough to do with a few cloves of garlic cut up and crushed into water and left to marinate. It smells very strong, let's hope it works!

Rain our cat, has been asked to guard the garden and not use the raised beds as a litter tray!
The purple sprouting broccoli is coming on well and will soon be ready to harvest. I've enclosed it in a cage of netting this year to prevent cabbage white butterflies from laying their eggs on it. Last year it was completely decimated by them and they ate all the nasturtium too. This year it's our turn to have some broccoli!

Last week there was an unusual bird visitor to the peanut feeder. It was a very hungry male Siskin which stayed for ages on the feeder, so I got to take quite a lot of photos. This was probably a bird that was migrating to breeding grounds as they winter here but they don't breed here. It may have been heading for Scotland or Northern parts of Europe, but it had a good fill of peanuts before leaving!

I also have a photo of House Sparrows sunbathing from last weekend. They had just taken a dust bath on what was probably the most spring like day we've had. That's the life! I also made the most of the sun that day by cleaning my car, it wasn't quite warm enough for me to sunbathe! It was still very cold at night at that point with frosts almost every night.

It's late at night now and it is raining, but so far at least, the wind hasn't been too bad. It's time for me to take a book to read in bed as my feet are cold. Goodnight :O)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Potatoes now planted in the lawn beds

Brrr, the coldest March in 50 years has ended and now it's April... and still cold. Have got some photos of birds visiting the garden for food though with my new camera.

Blue Tits love the peanut feeder

The Collared Doves visit every day

The Robin is now a regular visitor

Plans to plant out seedlings at the end of March have had to be put on hold because of the cold. However I decided to go ahead and plant the early potatoes anyway, in the hope that by putting a black sheet over them, the soil will be kept reasonably warm and the frosts will be over by the time they come up through the soil in about a week or two. It's a risk, but if it stays cold I'll just have to invest in more cloches or a polytunnel! I've also put black sheets over the two new raised beds in order to kill off the grass, which will make digging easier.
Potatoes going in, planted 27 in all.
There are also some radishes, spinach and salad leaves growing quite slowly outside at present, due to the cold. Indoors the beans and peas have gotten quite big on the window and the Electric daisies and Quinoa have germinated. Now that it's April, there's a whole load of seeds to plant but I'm going to have to wait until we get some April temperatures!

Beans and peas waiting to be planted out

Ah well. To keep the seedlings healthy in their limited space, I've been watering them with left over tea bags, including camomile tea which is useful for limiting fungal growth (a common problem indoors with limited air flow). They seem quite healthy anyway.

During the snowy weather last week, one of our shrubs in the side garden snapped under the weight of the snow and was in a poor state, so Gavin pruned it right back and did the same to the overgrown evergreen next to it. This helped open up some space and we discovered a tree by the fence that we didn't even know we had! It was good to do this as overgrown shrubs really crowd out the light in a small garden.

This picture shows the scruffy corner where one of the overgrown shrubs had snapped in half and took a nosedive.

 And this shows the area after a some serious pruning. There's the new tree in the corner, not clear in the photo as it's quite slender and without leaves. Not sure what it is yet, but will identify it when it comes into leaf. This area could also have potential for growing some more of our edible crops, though as it's east facing it'd have to be plants that don't mind some shade.

Writing this has reminded me that I need to move some of my seedlings out of the propagators now, as they need more space.
Let's hope it gets warmer soon!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Winter's last Hurrah

I'm having a bonus day off work here ahead of my two week Easter holiday, thanks to the snow that fell late last night and hasn't stopped falling since. The school where I work was closed by the snow, so I didn't have to go to work, though I do feel sorry that the children in my class didn't get their fun day at swimming and toy and games day in school. I was going to go head to head with some of them on Mario Kart, but ah well, there's always the summer end of term!

The daffodils photographed again, now laden with snow

Front garden looking wintry

The seedlings are doing very well on the window sills, and the Dahlia yams I planted last week have begun to germinate. Nothing will be going outside just yet though, even if the pea plants are outgrowing their pots already. However, I do have some spinach and salad leaves growing slowly in the cold frame under a fleece, poor things!
Peas and French beans are going strong

Dahlia yams coming up (planted 15th March)

The new blue bird table and the feeders have been very popular today with the snowy weather. There has been a constant stream of visitors all day, mainly blue tits, sparrows and blackbirds, but also two collared doves, a coal tit, a great tit and a robin. I tried to take some photos, but the zoom on my camera is too modest so I won't post the rather poor photos on here. In fact the camera really needs to be replaced as its flash no longer works either, so I have today, ordered myself a new Fujifilm bridge camera which was reduced in price and has a 30x zoom. Compared to my current 3x zoom, this is going to be great and I can't wait to try it out on the unsuspecting wildlife when it comes!
Progress in the garden... well I noticed Gavin (raised bed builder extraordinaire) had some rather nice wooden beams in the garage and I hinted that they would make good raised beds, but he was already planning to build an olive press for his place in Spain with them. However, I came home from work one day this week to see new raised beds in the garden made from the wood, so a raised bed building fairy must have visited. I should have photographed them before they were buried in the snow, but here's the bigger one anyway. These are lower than the ones at the back of the garden because they will be for more shallow rooted plants and I wanted some aesthetic balance, with lower structures at the front and higher at the back. Not much lawn left now!

Feeling generally optimistic, even if it is a slow start to Spring. It's the school holidays - hurray :O) I've already written over 1,400 words today on my book and there's lots of potential to get things moving now... or to learn patience perhaps while winter persists.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother's Day and the garden

More daffodils are out this week even if it is cold!

It has been snowing again today and after a taste of Spring, the cold is back. The forecast for the rest of March is colder and drier weather than normal which is similar to the last two years. Perhaps the weather isn't helping but I've been feeling pretty down this weekend. I made myself go out in the cold just to do some repotting. Felt a bit better after my fingers had made contact with soil and my daughter Holly always cheers me up. Today I read a chapter of 'The Power' by Rhonda Byrne, that always really helps me to 'police' my thoughts more, and to put some effort into creating positive thoughts, because thoughts turn into feelings without us even noticing. Hopefully the sun will come out for us all soon.

'Every single second is an opportunity to change your life, because in any moment you can change the way you feel. It doesn't matter what you have felt before. It doesn't matter what mistakes you think you may have made. When you change the way you feel you are on a different frequency....When you change the way you feel, your life changes.'
(Rhonda Byrne 'The Power').

Thinking ahead, I've plans for removing more of the front lawn especially since I've ordered some adventurous (but easy to grow) seeds recommended in 'Homegrown Revolution,' by James Wong. I'm going to be growing Dahlias both for flowers and edible tubers, Cucamelons: a small fruit that tastes of both cucumber and melon, mouth numbing Electric Daisies, Quinoa, (prized superfood which grows easily here), Callaloo: colourful spinach like plant and quite a few more. I have a mixture of fruits, root vegetables, edible flowers and greens to try and am going to have to make some more space. So it's goodbye to the mossy old lawn, except perhaps for some mossy lawn pathways. I wonder if the popularity of this book will really revolutionise what we grow on our windy island? It makes sense really, as we eat things like quinoa here, why not grow them?
It's Mother's Day today, so after being served jam crumpets in bed by my daughter, Holly, I've indulged myself in a bit of creative writing. I'm trying to get my second novel into shape and with about 25,000 words written it's on its way. I've changed my mind a few times, but think this one is working. I've just had a lovely lunch of sweet potato and chilli soup from a recipe I found on the internet, it's a delicious combination of sweet and spicy. I'd rather like to try growing sweet potatoes too, there are now varieties that can be grown here in the UK.

Next up is a visit to my Dad who is recovering from a major heart operation and my mother who had a heart surgery 4 years ago. With those odds, I really do need to grow my own food and eat as healthily as possible (sorry Mum and Dad!)

Yesterday, I did make some progress with the garden project. Braved the cold and potted up the beans, peas and some of the tomatoes as they were outgrowing the propagator. They are making excellent progress and there is not much window sill space left. Hopefully these should be planted out in the Easter holidays when I'll have two weeks off work and will be hoping for good weather to hang out in the garden!

Now it's time to play the All American Rejects really loud while I get up and get dressed, it's 2.30pm after all! ;0)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Spring has arrived

Young plants are coming up on the window sills, it's lovely to see seeds turn into life. Everything planted indoors has germinated well: broccoli, beetroot, carrots, leeks, peas, French beans, tomatoes. The potatoes are chitting well too, with some small, healthy green shoots now showing.
It has been a cold week of pleasantly calm and dry weather, though with plenty of frost overnight so the seeds planted outside haven't germinated yet. This is the first wave of planting. Some of the more tender vegetables will be planted next month.

French bean shoots, with beetroot and peas in the background.

Carrot, broccoli, tomato and leek seedlings.
While researching front gardens which have been dug up for food, I found James Wong's website and was really intrigued by his adventures into growing unusual edibles and edibles that you would never think could grow in our cool, wet and windy climate. I already knew that you could eat nasturtium flowers and leaves, but I didn't know that Dahlia tubers were edible or that you can grow certain types of melon here. Or that there is also a small kiwi fruit that hails from Siberia, can survive down to -35c and has an edible skin. Inspired by reading his blog and looking at pictures of his rampant, jungle like front garden, I now wonder if I would have been better buying purple carrots instead of orange ones and whether I have space for a patch of electric daisies, whose small yellow flowers will give your mouth a shock and a bit of a local anaesthetic (useful for toothache)! Some of the unusual root crops such as New Zealand yams, Skirrett and Queensland Arrowroot could be a viable alternative to blight ridden potatoes. Like many last year, my potatoes suffered with blight and as I had to pull them up early to save them, the yield was paltry. According to James, there are no records to say that potatoes suffered from blight in the first 100 years after they were brought to the UK. It was only later that pests and disease began to establish a hold. Similarly, his unusual crops are easy to grow and blight free.
Perhaps then, biodiversity is the key. We are growing too few varieties in a climate that could support much more. The less variety we grow, the easier it is for pests. Monocultures are a pest paradise, unless of course sprayed heavily with chemicals that then have to 'evolve' and grow stronger to deal with stronger pests. By growing more variety in my own garden I hope to attract natural predators and also to confuse some pests by planting aromatic plants near those targeted by insects.
I've made a list of 20 varieties that I'd like to try, (though I may not have room to try all of these this year):
Salsify, Borage, Electric Daisies, Emir Melon, Asparagus Peas, Dahlia Yams, Purslane, Quinoa, Wild White Strawberries, Queensland Arrowroot, Callaloo, Skirrett, New Zealand Yams, Peruvian Earth Apples, Sugar Leaf, Sweet Potato, Inca Berries, Chickpeas, Cucamelons, Microgreens.
Some of these plants are beautiful ornamentals, so I'm really pleased that I can grow plants that are both useful and easy on the eye. More about these soon!
In the meantime, here's the link to James Wong's site:
Today it's been lovely, sunny and spring-like, if a little on the cold side. We've moved the pond to the new wildlife corner, along with the rocks and boulders from the front garden. The rocks provide useful hiding places for insects and amphibians. I've also made a small animal house, with hedgehogs in mind, out of bricks, rock and wood. Three sedge (carex pendula) have been planted, they are very small at the moment, but this plant comes with a warning because once established it spreads like wildfire. The area already looks much better, although it isn't finished. The next task is to plant some flowers that are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects, I'm thinking of Borage and Phacelia which both have attactive blue flowers.

The above picture shows the shrub in the wildlife area being pruned last weekend.

This is how the wildlife corner looks today after the pond was moved.

Above left: Phacelius which I hope to grow in the wildlife corner (it is also a good green manure) and to the right, a picture of the hedgehog house.