Sunday, November 29, 2009

just-in-time planting: garlic

Today I planted Lautrec Wight garlic - due to go in by the end of November as it is an autumn-planting garlic. It called for a soil that won't get water-logged, and I chose three different sites to spread the cloves around: one near the bay tree and herbs (gritty soil), one underneath the sycamore which is hopefully going to be taken down soon (also gritty), and one near the wall of the house (probably on the poor side).

All in all I planted one and a half bulbs, having given half a bulb away, which still left me with about 16 cloves - each of which should grow into one whole bulb. Even with an enormous failure rate I should be able to fend off Dracula easily...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seed and plant list

After much deliberation I have come up with my order for what to grow next year, going back to old favourites like rocket and marigolds, trying new things like Turks Turban squash, and yes - tomatoes from seed (I fall for them every year, maybe this is the year it'll work out).

I tried to only order from one place but some varieties seemed a lot cheaper or more interesting "on the other side". So here it is, my list, including some flowers as well.

Thompson & Morgan
  • Pantheon Bean (supposed to be really good on bad soil and in crappy weather)
  • Mixed Patty Pan squash
  • Turks Turban Squash (pretty if they work out)
  • Patula Nana Single Legion of Honour marigolds (old variety, prolific)
  • Purple Moldovan Wight Garlic (hardneck variety)
  • Jack Flash Silene (not sure about it, may come off the list at the last minute)

  • Crystal Lemon Cucumber (liked them when I grew them in Portland)
  • Super Marmande Tomatoes (grew Marmande one year in London and they turned out well as I remember so super should be even better, right?)
  • Chantenay Red Core 2 carrots (growing carrots on clay...hmmm)
  • Oakleaf Oakley Rocket (can't grow enough of the stuff...)
  • Rhubarb Duo Pack Stockbridge Arrow and Victoria (crumble! yay! eventually...)
I'll probably also grow the white beetroot again (still have some seeds left I think) but wasn't too impressed with the rest of the stuff. Order is going in soon as the garlic should be planted by the end of November.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lost and found

The sky cleared and I took the opportunity to clean up the garden, in readiness for shutting it down for winter. I am still leaving the tomatoes out in the vain hope of some ripening before the first frost. The raspberries are nearly finished too and I need to read up on when I am supposed to cut the canes back. Gave up on the beans.

As I was clearing the patty pan away I found a few that are just ready for a stir-fry and a larger, weird-shaped, yellow thing. Also a stray cucumber and some very green tomatoes, which are now nestling next to a banana in the kitchen.

The thyme has gone a bit crazy. Since I loathe running out after dark and into spiderwebs just to get a sprig or two of herbs, I am going to try drying it. The oregano didn't grow as big but I think it got a bit smothered by the thyme.

With everything put onto the garden compost heap and the canes put away, it suddenly looks empty. Plenty of space now though to put my home-grown guinea pig compost down! Soon, planning for next year.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Full of beans

I have been wondering about the right time to harvest my beans. My usual first reference (Pears Encyclopedia of Gardening: Fruit and Vegetables, Roy Genders (ed.)) is not much help on this matter, only giving a reference to haricot beans: "These are grown chiefly for their beans, which should be dried, first by allowing the pods to hang until the weather loses its summer look [...]". This would have been mid-July then (mind you, this is also the book that attributes the decline of growing jerusalem artichokes to the shortage of kitchen staff willing to clean them). I decided to harvest some and see what they look like, the rest I will leave on to ripen a bit more. Also gathered more tomatoes and raspberries.

A slightly puzzling development on the patty pan front - some are looking like patty pans, some of them have the ridges of a patty pan but are more round and green like a zucchini. I think, since they are open-pollinated, I am getting a cross-breed.

Flowers in the garden are providing plenty of pleasure. The solanum 'Alba' is so pretty along the fence and in the back of the garden the cyclamen are popping through the woodruff. If the sun is out, it's a lovely time of year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

my spider sense

Life is hard this time of year for an arachnophobe like me...lots of webs built exactly where I want to wander and water. I am gingerly picking off the tomatoes, avoiding the giant spider that lurks there. A careful sideways approach to the waterhose reel because another spider has used it as an anchor for a thread. I am trying to ignore the one dangling over my head as I step out the kitchen door. I don't even think about dashing out to get some herbs after dark anymore, instead I plan a minor expedition involving a stick to knock down the webs and a torch. I guess they are very useful...but I just don't like 'em.

A few rays of sun are still about. Raspberries doing very well and I am even getting a little Serrano pepper. My bean experiment is nearing the end, there is a substantial amount of dark purple pods which, I hope, will contain black beans.

The Thompson and Morgan catalogue has arrived and I have leaved through it a bit. Disappointing selection of cucumbers but interesting beans. Need to sit down soon and make a list.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

it's nearly autumn...

Time marches on but my camera doesn't (it keeps running out of batteries). So just imagine a picture of a bountiful harvest, including raspberries, patty pan squash, cucumber and a few tomatoes. In fact, probably your imagination is better than the picture would have been...

The bean pods are turning a deep purple and the beans inside them are now a near-black. Maybe I can recreate a vaguely authentic Mexican dish with them. I used some of the beetroot tops fresh and they tasted more like spinach, very delicious. Too much in one go, so I processed the rest by cutting them up and putting them in the freezer.

More patty pan to come (the other bush now finally has female flowers) and lots more tomatoes hanging on the bushes (I think most of them will ripen on the window sill in the end). Although the garden is still producing, there is the definite nip of autumn in the air. Hoping for a few more nice, sunny days.

Friday, September 4, 2009

finally...another harvest

Finally - some ripe tomatoes (plum, yellow and cherry) and some patty pan squash! I even found some more raspberries.

I pulled a few more white beetroot -- not sure how good they are going to be -- and a cucumber.

Not too thrilled with all of it and intend to make some changes next year:
  • Grow fewer tomatoes, get them in earlier and in a sunnier spot.
  • Patty pan is fine but grows too big and two out of the three I planted only produced male flowers. Maybe see if I can get a variety that is smaller.
  • Dwarf zucchini - give up on them, grow proper ones.
  • Don't grow white beetroot, grow leaf beet instead.
  • The cucumbers have too many seeds and are too spiny for my liking. Look for a different kind.
  • The beans are too stringy to eat as green beans. I'll harvest them later but I think I'll switch back to runner beans "Painted Lady".

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

tree clearing

First the horrific Leylandii to the right was cut down (yay!). Just now I got a letter through the door informing me that the back-to-back neighbours are going to remove the huge sycamore tree over the next few months (and they were kind enough to worry about my particular veggie plot). Hurrah!!! More light, more rain, more veggies. A bit of a shame about the tree but maybe they'll plant something lovely in its stead.


After three weeks away the garden has exploded, or at least it seems that way after a bit of an absence.

The patty pan squash in particular is growing like mad, although it mainly produces male flowers at the moment. The back one has some fruit set but they are still small. It's nearly suffocating the dwarf zucchini, it's absolutely ginormous -- I wished they didn't take up so much room. The tomatoes have set masses of trusses and are doing their ripening as fast as they can in English weather. The raspberries have set fruit -- again! -- great stuff for the first year.

A few cucumbers have appeared with the promise of a few more. Perfect amount, in fact. Trellising them has also worked out pretty well.

Lifted the potatoes which were a bit of a disappointment - the slugs did their damage to the leaves too early. I may be better off buying them instead of growing them myself. Beans are doing great on the other hand - lots to be harvested over the coming weeks.

Need to harvest more lettuce and white beetroot before they bolt. All in all, a wonderful experiment to see what grows well and what doesn't -- and where the best places are to plant things.

Friday, July 17, 2009

first real harvest of sorts

I realise I have been spoilt in Portland: everything grows so much faster there. Nevertheless, my first harvest in London today, apart from picking the occasional mange touts and raspberry.

I pulled up some white beetroot which I intend to roast tonight alongside other vegetables and use the leaves as treats for the guinea pigs and as an ingredient for an omelette. Also a handful of mange touts, a little bit of escarole and a few raspberries.

The potatoes I was growing in a pot had all their leaves chewed off so I decided to lift what was there. Delightful little ones (which I expected with "Mimi") which I think will go very nicely roasted with the beets. Looking forward to the ones that grow in the soil and have escaped snail and slug attacks... Also found a few ripe brambles as I was poking around the garden which is an added bonus.

Speaking of snail and slug attacks, the zucchini haven't been doing so great, especially the far one. I was wondering why that should be -- they get enough water, sun, etc. -- when I noticed that the lower part of the stem -- the bit resting on the ground -- was basically missing. London gastropods are bloody vicious.

Other than that the garden is doing quite nicely: it's warm but also rains a lot, evidence of fruit setting, the promise of more to harvest.

PS. Defensive bamboo sticks successful. So successful that I poked myself tending to the cucumbers.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

First raspberry

The first raspberry ripened and what a whopper it was! It disappeared into my mouth soon after this picture was taken...delicious!

On other news the tomatoes are growing tall and a bit lanky - probably because I mistakenly planted them in a more shaded spot than I anticipated it being (putting the potatoes in the sunniest spot *sigh*). Oh well, I'll know for next year.

I think the last few warm days, plenty of water and the black plastic covering helped the Patty Pan squash a lot.

Rest of veg doing fine. Beets growing (may harvest one or two soon), cucumbers doing their thing.

I swear you can actually see the beans growing if you stand there long enough.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

more news from the front line

Back to the potatoes I see. Need more kebab sticks. Look at that little overgrown bit in the back - doesn't that look nice and private, ideal for a secluded cat toilet?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

update from the front line

Yep, cat moved on to a different spot, this time nearly pooing on top of the zucchini starts. A plastic sheet has gone on that bed now too. Wondering where the enemy will strike next.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mange Tout and Vlad the Impaler

I had my first Mange Tout (aka snow peas) from the garden last night (just in case you think they look anemic, they are a yellow variety). OK, there were only three of them but they were delicious. Can't wait for more.

On other news, I am battling with a neighbourhood cat who insists on pooing in my garden. Not only is it annoying to remove big, foul jobbies at least twice a day (what are they feeding this cat???) but also it's getting close to scratching out my patty pan squash starts. So, last night I finally snapped and decided to cover up the bed with plastic - not only should that stop the fouling but also keep down weeds.

Partial success ensued. No fouling on bed but right next to it (twice!), nearly digging out the beans.

I've upped the ante by putting bamboo kebab sticks into the soil (similar to miniature medieval defences). Hopefully that will stop that in that spot. I fear though that the cat will shift around, finding another place. Maybe I should impale fake cat heads on the sticks. Also considering buying cayenne pepper in bulk. And a good watergun.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


In an effort to keep the neighbourhood cats from scratching out my cucumbers, the snails and slugs from getting to them and also to speed up the germination process (it dropped 10 degrees Celsius over the last few days and it is cool, cold even, at night), I took some take-away containers and bottles and made impromptu cloches out of them. Good results so far - all of the cucumbers and patty pan squashes have now come up.

The zucchini are a bit slow but not far behind. I can see a little bit of green just trying to break through the surface in one place and I am trying the cloche method in another. Rain - finally - last night and a good amount of it. That'll help too.

One of the tomatoes is about to flower. I can see a little mange tout forming (I expected more pea-like flowers so missed it initially). However, my radishes don't appear to want to set a "bulb" and have nearly gone to seed. Probably not enough watering when it was hot. More pretty flowers though until I can harvest something.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

come on, grow!

Update on tomatoes: Managed to save at least one of each but still puny. In the meantime, I bought four plants from the garden centre (Sungold, Sweet Millions, Plum Titania Improved (how so?) , and a beefsteak tomato the label of which I lost cycling home).

Then there is the fruit. Pruned the greengage slightly but still quite a bit of fruit hanging on it. A few small pears on the horizon. Raspberries show signs of blossoms. It will only be a handful but for the first year that is not too bad. Also noticed something that looks like brambles growing wild yet respectfully on one side of the garden.

The other stuff is getting on but I'm getting a bit impatient. Peas are climbing, beans are growing, white beetroots are finding their way. Few more rows of radishes, endive, welsh onion and more beets. With the nice weather though they should go into a growth spurt soon enough. Half of gardening life is waiting - now I am waiting for the zucchini and cucumbers to come up. All in good time, it's only the end of May. In the meantime, I can enjoy some flowers.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I knew it...

I have given up on my tomatoes. Small, spindly - and when I put them out to harden off (hoping for sun to inspire them to so something) half of them were scratched out by a cat. I'll see what I can salvage but I'm afraid not much. Last year this will happen, from now on I am sticking to buying tomato plants.

Other than that, some mange touts are managing to outgrow whatever it is eating them. I sowed some more in the hope that the snails get full first. Radishes are doing great, endive not so much. Some beans have come through but too early to tell if they'll fall victims to voracious predators (I've done a second sowing to fill up the blank spots I left). White beets are now thinned out, they may actually surprise me. Potatoes are huge and dandy. Welsh onions are just...there. More second sowings have gone in, along with the first direct sowings of cucumber, zucchini and squash.

Garden was overgrown by weeds in three weeks of not doing anything much. It's surprising how quickly they can grow when vegetables seem to only struggle along.

One good thing though - when weeding I discovered an ornamental clover I got some years ago from my now 100-year-old great-aunt. I had feared it lost but there it was, small but yet flowering. It meant a lot to me.