Monday, December 29, 2008

obsession with poo continues...

A great weight on any gardener's mind is compost and manure. Last year at the community gardens we were fortunate enough to have a great big pile of poo delivered. This year I am not so lucky.

London soil is dreadful. Clay-based, leached out, used as all the cats' outside litter box. Hundreds of years of builders' and tenants' rubble. Pollution from the air. Plain horrible. So it needs a bit of TLC.

I have always kept a compost bin in the back, recycling appropriate kitchen and garden waste. One year I supplemented that with pelleted chicken manure (good but expensive and stinky). What I really need is a big load of good quality top soil or manure but with the only access to the garden being through the whole house this is not going to happen in a hurry. So I am stuck with reasonable amounts of compost.

And then, cleaning out the critters' cage, it struck me that I was sitting on a gold mine - or, indeed, poo mine. Guinea pig manure to be precise. They are herbivores...they poo a lot...their litter is compostable. Hurrah!

But I wondered how good guinea pig manure would be and if I should invest in getting other organic fertilisers. There are, unfortunately, no charts about the nutritional composition of guinea pig poo, however, I found some information about rabbit manure (close enough, I reckon). Surprisingly, it seems to be really high in nitrogen, even higher than chicken manure. Also, good values of P and K. Obviously that will drop as it is mixed with litter.

So, in the compost bin it goes and I look forward to better soil. I <3 guinea pigs.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

a fresh start

Christmas Day 2008 and I have been back in London UK for 3 weeks. It is the middle of winter, mild and surprisingly dry. After the fun of community gardening in Portland, I am keen to start up again here, however, the Hackney Allotment Society has closed its waiting list due to huge demand (in any case, it would have been years before actually getting a plot...). The Olympic site has devoured some other established allotments, shrinking the available space even more. Capital Growth is still in its infancy and seems to be addressed to growing food in your own space (like my back garden).

Therefore, my idea is to start expanding the growing space in my own backyard. I have grown some beans and raspberries, even some tomatoes, before but now I am serious. I started today with a survey of what is the base stock, what could be moved and what will plain not work.

First off, I have my remote outside thermometer back!

It's great to see how warm it is and it also has a minimum and maximum temperature per day facility (handy to know after the fact how cold it got during the night - also note that it's in Celsius which I can actually understand).

Next it's the area just outside the kitchen door, currently full of ivy and fuchsias. It's quite a shaded areas and I also really like the fuchsias where they are, so I think this will remain as it is, with the possibility of trying to fill in a few herbs in any gaps.

To the back on the left, just after the deck, is a large border. In the foreground you can see a sedum, behind it is a dwarf pear tree. The creeping Californian lilac (Ceanothus) has crept out of its bounds a bit. Lovely flowers though. After that comes a weird assortment of "stuff". Dogwood and a lilac tree in the back which don't do any harm. God knows what is at the front. I think I can spot some Bear's Breeches but this area seems have high potential to be redeveloped by shifting items closer together and getting some growing space.

Adjoining this area further along the side of the garden is my Tree of Mistaken Identity. It was supposed to be a Damson "Merriweather" but it turned out to be a Greengage. Still, a fruit tree is a fruit tree so it'll stay. It seems to have struggled along for a few years now, I don't know if it'll ever grow into something impressive. The little knee-high bay tree that I planted some years ago (in fact, probably around the same time as the greengage) has grown into an 8-foot monster. I like it but there is only so much bay a household needs.

And it takes up prime growing space. I may have to investigate if I can propagate it somehow and move it somewhere else. Ok, it may not look like much growing space but that is what I need to extend considerably.

On the right side of the garden, there are quite a number of flowering shrubs. Mexican orange blossom makes do with being underneath a neighbour's Leylandii (the pox on it!) and is lovely whatever the season. Behind is another Californian Lilac, which looks like it's attempting to leave where it is anyway. Behind that a few other bedraggled-looking things, although it may be because it is winter time. Still, another potential area for modification.

Another area on the right is occupied by a cordyline which seems to be enjoying itself. I note that the tenants have already extended this border to grow stuff so I will follow suit.

Lastly, we have the area at the back of the garden, raised and containing an assortment of self-seeded foxglove, cyclamen and more ivy.

Bags of space to grow vegetables, you may think. Well, think again because right above it is this culprit:

A neighbour's sycamore tree. The Bane of my Life. Ok, it is tall and impressive but also cuts off all water when it has leaves. I would have to invest in some serious irrigation to make anything underneath grow.

So that's it. Over the coming weeks I may attempt to actually do something about the state of affairs...

Monday, November 17, 2008

"time lapse" video

I am futzing around procrastinating so I decided to do a quick overview video of my pictures, showing week-by-week progress or lack thereof.

Makes entertaining viewing...

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Witching Day

All is wrapped up and cleared. Pulled up the zucchini plants today, got three little zucchinis out of it still, the last of the harvest. Last week I collected the chard and some collards which are now sitting in the freezer and some very small winter squashes which I am not sure are any good other than having decorative value. It's very strange, weird and spooky. Somehow appropriate for Halloween.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

starting to clear up

The season's end is here. Everything should be cleared by 31 October. I started on that yesterday.

A trip to the garden yesterday revealed no more cucumbers but again a few zucchinis. Harvested all the remaining green tomatoes - excellent as salsa and I will try fried green tomatoes tonight. More carrots. I also removed the few little ears of corn that were straggling, for use as guinea pig food. Only the rainbow chard and collards remain for harvesting. I left a few tiny winter squashes to see if they do something over the next week or so.

I took down the beans and removed all the rest of the plants, which generated an additional compost heap. Unfortunately, I missed the garden clear-up in the morning during which Parks & Recreation got rid of unwanted material with their truck.

Even at mid-afternoon the light is dimmer and the shadows longer. I've really enjoyed having this garden and I will miss it over the winter months.

This morning I had some delicious scrambled eggs (traded with produce from the garden) with zucchini (from the garden), mushrooms, neuf-chatel and spring onions and a side of sauteed Rose Finn Apple potatoes (also from the garden). I haven't really had to buy any vegetables from the supermarket recently (except lettuce for the piggies) and it'll be strange to be doing that again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

first frost warning


Which meant a quick trip to the garden to rescue what is possible before everything dies. Surprisingly, there were some good-sized zucchini and luckily they did not succumb to blossom end rot which happens so often when it gets damp and cold. Tomatoes are not ripening anymore but we harvested lots of green tomatoes for making chutneys and fried green tomatoes. There may be another batch of green beans (the ones that weren't forgotten and therefore grew to monster size) but I think it'll be only a small handful next week. I also nipped off the aubergines at a very small stage but they will be super in some stir-fry instead of being lost to a frost or rotting. Harvested enough large-ish carrots to actually get a taste of them before the guinea pigs get through them, and some more cucumbers. Got about 6 small ears of corn, which have now become the favourite piggie treat, husks and all - just as well, since there is not much on them.

The garden definitely has seen better days. I wonder if I get to harvest a winter squash before shutting teh garden down for the winter, they seem so small.

In the end the predicted frost didn't materialise in our area (although it dipped below freezing just outside Portland) but autumn is definitely here. Getting out to the garden before it gets dark is getting more difficult during the week. It was cold and my fingers started to get numb.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Potato fun

That's what the last batch of potatoes came out as. I also cooked up the previous batch last night which was delicious. The only problem was peeling them because they were so small. If the skin would have been thinner I bet they would have been delicious just cooked as they are.

Well, there's another problem. Labeling. I am pretty sure that none of the potatoes I harvested were the ones I originally thought they were. For example, the first batch I thought was Dark Red Norland probably weren't since they were purple. The second I labeled Rose Finn Apple but I'm pretty sure this isn't the case as the harvest of the third one fits that description much better. I have some variety called 'Butterfinger' listed in my notes but that could just be a Freudian slip. So, to review what I actually think is the case:

First potato - unidentified purple variety
Second potato - Butterfinger
Third - Rose Finn Apple

I can't complain really since I got them free from an anonymous gardener who left them in the potting shed. I have high hopes for the Rose Finn Apple, I hope they are as delicious as they are visually pleasing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

crazy harvest stuff

Managed to nip to the garden in the break between downpours (of course, the weather now is turning nice as it rained itself out). After a week of not going to the garden I expected the worst. And in a way, it came to pass - the cucumbers have followed the beans in snapping the twine. Next year I will consider wire instead. The corn is also leaning, probably because it has been very windy over the last couple of days. Otherwise, the garden is looking surprisingly good after being neglected.

The winter squash are putting their tendrils up the fence - I didn't even know that they are climbers. I keep moving them to the ground but they keep insisting. I guess they win. Continuing to harvest the little carrots, more to come. The guinea pigs love them which means that the humans usually lose out. I also dug up the last batch of potatoes and they are amazing. I mean, what could be better? Come on - Potatoes! Funny shapes! Starch!

This week's harvest was the best yet, so much variety, a little bit of everything and not overwhelming like some summer harvests. Hopefully the weather holds a little bit longer. I will be sad when it all stops.

I bartered some produce for eggs, salsa and hot peppers last week which has rekindled my interest in keeping chickens again. When we didn't know what to do during the zucchini glut we simply had an adapted Greek dish with grated zucchini, eggs and dill (left out the usual flour since Toxicfingers is gluten intolerant). Eggs are so versatile and nutritious. (Hey, Twinkle, if you are reading this - any advice?) year maybe.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Everything's snapped

The beans got so heavy that they snapped the twine they were climbing on. The sunflowers' heads got so heavy that they just keeled over. God, my head feels heavy too...

A few things manage to hang on in there: I now have 4 cobs of corn growing (feeling them indicates that they may contain about 2 rows of corn if I'm lucky), I keep on harvesting nice little carrots (I think Ed Hume's Danvers Half Long are the ones that finally took) and the members of the nightshade family are plodding along.

The first little winter squash seems to have set. I will try and get a photo of it next time I go. It's funny, the "rogue" Kabocha plant that I got collecting seeds from a store-bought squash is doing much better than the fancy Marina Di Chioggia.

I am posting this to recap last weekend when I took the pictures. I haven't been out there for nearly a whole week so who knows what awaits me. It was very hot earlier this week but now it has started pouring. Today, I got my plot renewal form in the post showing that all the plots are taken! Yay for more community gardeners!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

nearly there

It seems the weather has turned now, the days are getting shorter and the production of summer vegetables is slowing down - except the beans. I collared some other gardeners today to pass along the joy. Also a local commented on the non-harvest of the beans growing on the outside of the fence and I told him to help himself which he did with great gusto, stuffing beans into his trouser pockets. I also gave him some tomatoes, just to round off the gifts that keep on giving. I'm actually very happy that finally some people from the surrounding community get some of the produce and the guy mentioned he may put in for a garden next year. I hope so.

The nasturtiums seem to have enjoyed the slightly cooler weather and the winter squash are finally flowering. Not sure what kind of harvest to expect since it's all so late in the year. Still, there may be some lovely mini-squash to enjoy alongside my three ears of corn.

Even though it's starting to look a little bit wilty, there is still some weeks of life left in it, it all depends on the first frost. I wished it would rain, I am getting a bit tired of watering all the time. Still, my harvest was amazing and probably will last at least until my next return or even longer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Hopefully the peppers are turning red quite soon ("Banana" and "Nardello's"). It's really hot for September so here's hoping. One of them has the beginnings of it but nothing substantial across the board. Not sure it was worth it, especially as we seem to eat a lot of peppers.

And now as promised the most recent picture of the garden. The squashes are turning mildewy which signals, to me, the very ear end of the main growing season. Still, plenty of things to harvest and water.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

grandchildren of the corn

Harvesting is continuing apace. Dug up some potatoes which I think are "Rose Finn Apple". I haven't had a chance to prepare them yet but I very much look forward to more home-grown spuds. Definitely something I will repeat next year.

Yes, the corn is flowering and I spotted at least one cob. So there! Ankle-high by Fourth of July does get you something on top of mockery. I just wonder how I should cook this little treasure - or maybe I should just dry it and place it in a commemorative spot to honour its memory and remember not to repeat this farce of gardening. Do I sound too scathing? I like the process of growing it but the return is a bit disappointing so far...

More tomatoes are ripening - "Striped German", "Momotaro" and what I suspect to be another variety of black tomato.

Had delicious stuffed vegetables on Sunday, followed by tomato soup on Monday, zucchini and patty pan squash "quiche" (without the crust) on Tuesday and today it was green beans with tomato sauce on tortellini. Tomorrow I may take a break from vegetables, especially as I managed to palm off - sorry, share - some of them with a friend. Still have the fridge full and with the recent warm weather there is no sign of slowing down yet.

The winter squashes are putting on lots of leaves and even some beginnings of flowers (I definitely planted them too late...), there is another aubergine growing fast (yay for warm summers) but the peppers are still deciding whether they want to ripen. As I was taking pictures my batteries ran out so - again - no picture of the entire garden. Next time, I promise.

Monday, September 1, 2008

tomatoes and other harvests

Let's take a closer look at my tomatoes: Costoluto Genovese provides amusing shapes, it's like clouds or a Rorschach - but get your mind out of the sewer. The other picture shows the variety I am having at the moment - two kinds of cherry tomatoes ("Velvet Red" and "Yellow Nugget"), "black" tomatoes ("Black Prince") and plain old round ones ("Early Girl"?). I am still waiting for my humongous German Striped (gold with pink marbelling) and some other unidentified tomatoes ("Momotaro"?) which are at the moment a hot pink. Remind me to label my tomatoes better in the future...

As previously mentioned, I planted two different kinds of beans amongst each other (that pesky labelling again...). Now that I can see the pods, one is rounder, the other one flatter. I suspect that the round ones are "Kentucky Wonder", the other ones are some "Tuscan" pole beans that I got from a gardening stall at the Earth Day celebrations. I can't really be asked to separate them when cooking so I cannot comment on their respective tastiness.

I love harvesting patty pan squash "Flying Saucer", although there never seem enough (is something or someone getting to them before I do?!?). Almost too pretty to eat.

No picture of the garden today, mainly because there is not much new (unless you count flowering corn...).

Monday, August 25, 2008

...and back to normal Portland weather

After a few very hot days, the damp and cold has settled back in. Not that I am complaining - I don't have to water as much and things still ripen.

A quick harvest on Friday gave me the first beans and more zucchini, cucumbers and greens. In my planting I mixed "Kentucky Wonder" and some Tuscan pole bean variety together, and I can't tell which is which. Not that it matters that much but I will not make that mistake again. The tomatoes are cracking because of the rain and need to be used more quickly once collected. Still, they are delicious. "Black Prince" is not quite as dark as I expected. I noticed just recently that "Velvet Red" has not only furry leaves but also furry fruit.

Having exploited the break in the rainy weather to go camping over the weekend, the garden needed to look after its own for three days. Which meant even more beans, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers for harvesting.

Luckily, 100% of humans and guinea pigs in households polled prefer cucumber over zucchini. I am very pleased with my trellis method, which saves on space and makes the cucumbers grow straighter. Plenty more to go before the summer is out.

The corn is finally starting to flower. At this rate, I will have yummy roasted corn by the time of the first frosts. Good things come to those who wait. I have never grown corn before and it's definitely worth an experiment.

The garden is looking very lush at the moment, helped by all that rain. One drawback is that the moist soil also encourages slugs, which strangely love the "Costoluto Genovese" tomatoes (haven't spotted them on any of the other tomatoes or other vegetables).

PS. Potatoes harvested last week were very nice and stayed a purple colour even after cooking!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Portland sauna

Yet again it is too hot. Too hot for humans and too hot for plants. Everyone and everything wishes for AC. I think I even heard snippy mutterings from the rainbow chard today.

I also decided in my wisdom that today was the day that I would harvest the seeds of the arugula aka rocket. As a consequence I also had to sort out the strawberry plants and their runners that sharing the same area (long story but as reported earlier they were actually growing outside my plot boundary). 100 degree weather is not really ideal for this endeavour. I also dug up my first harvest of potatoes (Dark Red Norland, enough for a small meal, slightly disappointing amount). Nevertheless, I got it done, even though sweat was pouring off me.

Finally the first pepper harvest and others on the way. I've now had quite a few tomatoes but still waiting on more to come. The Velvet Red is a small cherry tomato which I wouldn't grow again - not enough output to make it worth it, although the foliage is pretty. The Momotaro is good and uniform with quite a good taste. The Costoluto Genovese is hanging full and is delicious but sometimes has the tendency to rot at the top of the stem. I am still waiting for Black Prince (which is starting to ripen) and the Striped German.

Lots of different flowers again - a sunflower has opened up, the aubergine aka eggplant is prettier than I ever thought and the flowers on the cucumbers and beans ensure lots of produce to come.

It's in times like this that you notice that the garden sucks up most of your life. Watering and harvesting every day is time-consuming. But then you take what you have laboured for home, cook it, serve it to friends and everything is alright.