Monday, 17 August 2015

Tomato Update

As usual, I've grown a range of tomato varieties this year, all lined up across my patio. They're barely ripe yet - I'm still waiting on four out of the five varieties to redden - but it's looking like a pretty good crop on the way!


The first variety, nearest my door, is Skykomish, an open-pollinated variety from Real Seeds that is supposed to be blight resistant. Unfortunately it's the least vigorous of the lot, hasn't grown very tall, and has the least fruit on it (fruit set seems poor) - and it's always had a few sickly-looking yellowy leaves! The fruits are a real mix of sizes, but there are a few nice big ones so hopefully it will be worthwhile in the end...


The next is Indigo Rose, the black tomato bred to be very high in antioxidants (anthocyanins, like in blueberries). The dark leaves and black fruits look rather dramatic and prompted lots of questions when I had friends round for a barbecue, but the plants have always looked rather stressed, with curled leaves, no matter how I've cared for them!


Whatever the problem is, it hasn't stopped the plant producing an abundance of fruit on looong trusses. They look black from any distance, but if you peek underneath, where the sun don't shine, they have green patches, and it's these I'm watching to check for ripeness - they should turn red eventually...


In the middle is Angelle, my trusty favourite from seeds saved from hybrid supermarket toms. I used to save the seed from year to year but they got more and more susceptible to blight with each generation, so I've started again from the hybrid this year. They're performing as well as before and are the most vigorous (and tallest) of the bunch, with huge trusses of small plum-shaped toms - and they've been the first to ripen!


We have a few Angelle plants in a plastic greenhouse on the allotment too, and under cover they ripened even quicker - we've had a few harvests from them now while we're only just about to start picking the ones at home.

Next in line is heirloom Amish Paste, a great tom for cooking (though I like it sliced as well), with vigorous plants and huuuge fruits!


I've had my first-ever experience of blossom-end rot this year with these - my watering habit must have slipped! - but thankfully only lost one truss of fruits, and I've been extra careful to water well since to prevent it from happening again. Blossom-end rot is caused by a lack of calcium, but it's rarely actually a shortage of calcium in the soil; more often lack of good transport through the plant's system, due to a shortage of water.


Finally, Dr Carolyn, another Real Seeds heirloom which I love, and they're doing really well. They're not as productive as some other varieties, but they're delicious!


I had the dreaded notification from Blightwatch at the weekend that my area was experiencing a 'Smith period' - perfect conditions for blight to develop - so I'm watching them carefully now for any signs. I'm disappointed that we've reached this stage already and I've harvested so few ripe toms so far - I think I need to choose an early variety or two next year so I can start picking sooner. In the meantime, I've cut a lot of the leaves off these plants to try to speed ripening - really I should have started this sooner so that air circulation around the plants was better when the conditions for blight struck. I've taken off everything below the first truss and leaves which crossed over and touched each other a lot, and I've taken off leaves which shaded the fruits a lot.


It's only been a day since I did it and I'm sure I can see new tinges of colour appearing already, so hopefully it's working! But when blight does strike, I'll be ready to pick lots of the toms green and use them in chutney, green chilli and whatever other green tomato recipes I can drag up!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Wildflower Lawn

We don't have a very big lawn in our garden, but it still managed to be a lot of trouble - it had become infested with couchgrass and lots of weeds, and was always trying to escape its brick boundary and creep across the paths. So last year we decided to turn it into a wildflower lawn, where 'weeds' could be at home, within reason, and we wouldn't have to worry about keeping it looking tidy and even and flawless.


We covered it up with black plastic for a couple of months in the late summer, to kill off the exisitng growth. That seemed to work fine for the lawn itself but the couchgrass, dandelions and creeping buttercups still kept going, so it's been a battle since then to get rid of all the weeds, and I spent a couple of weeks in April hoeing regularly to cut down any new weed seedlings.


We bought a low-flowering seed mix from Wildflower Lawns and Meadows which contains 26 different flowers including buttercups, daisies, agrimony, selfheal, ragged robin, camomile, creeping thyme, cowslips, clovers, yarrow, fox and cubs, wild orchids and more, as well as a mixture of grasses. It's supposed to have a very long flowering season, to be tough enough for light traffic, and to reflower rapidly after mowing, which will only be needed around once a month. And of course it'll be wonderful for bees and butterflies!


After much weeding, hoeing and raking, I scattered the seed about two weeks ago and we've been keeping it watered to help things germinate. The first seedlings are beginning to show now - I hope they are the seed I sowed and not other things which were already in the soil! (Of course, some of the old 'weeds' were species which are also in the seed mix, so it's not all bad!)


There are some tough older weeds rearing their heads again too - obviously I missed a few - so it's going to be an ongoing task to weed out docks and couchgrass for a little while...


Though I'd really like to be using the lawn this summer, I think it's going to take quite a while to grow strongly enough to walk on. But I'm sure it's going to be worth the wait and look lovely when it's established!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Tater Time

We've had some early potatoes growing in sacks in the garden for a few weeks now - I've been gradually filling the sacks to cover the growing shoots and protect them from frost, and we should have our first new potatoes by the end of the month. I've made three successional sowings, three weeks apart, to spread the harvest out.


But we've only just planted our maincrop potatoes on the allotment. As with seed-sowing, when I was new to growing I used to be anxious to get this job done as soon as we hit March, but these days I take a more relaxed attitude; it takes about two weeks for potato shoots to appear so they'll be arriving in mid-May and I suspect they'll be safe from frost by then.


Our three chosen varieties - Pentland Crown, King Edward and Sante - have been chitting on the bathroom windowsill for a good long time now, and all have healthy chits which should get them off to a good start. They have a full bed to themselves in our crop rotation - space for about 60 plants - and had we to remove a few forgotten carrots and parsnips, as well as quite a lot of dead nettle and chickweed, to clear the area. Then we raked some home-made compost over the whole lot, divided the bed into three, laid out the seed spuds in two double rows, and used trowels to plant them all 4-5 inches deep.


I'll be sure to hoe this bed over the next couple of weeks to get rid of any new weeds, and then in a few weeks time when all the shoots are up we'll earth them up, but otherwise we'll just leave the spuds to do their thing now until they die off again in August or September. Easy-peasy - just the way I like it :-)

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Seedlings Update

When I first started growing things, March was the month of frenzied seed-sowing, but now, having had a few years experience, I've chilled out a bit and a lot more happens in April. That way I don't have so much trouble looking after young plants and protecting them from frost, and plants don't get pot-bound and unhappy in their containers. So yes, with those digging and structural tasks out of the way, April has been largely about seed-sowing and caring for baby plants.

At home I have several trays of tomato, pepper, squash and cucumber plants to look after. They live outside on sunny days and all over the kitchen table and floor overnight. It's a bit of a chore but hardens the plants off thoroughly and allows them all the light they desire, and it's only for a few weeks.


The raised bed is looking great, full of salad veg seedlings including lettuce, mustard, spinach, watercress, komatsuna, kohlrabi, carrots, radish, turnips and spring onions - it'll be a salad bar all summer, and there'll be space for pepper plants here too. Despite my fears and the poor performance last year, I'm seeing no growth problems at all so far - hooray!


The plastic greenhouse is full of seedlings too; chard and perpetual spinach, kale and cauliflowers, dill, leaf celery, achillea, cerinthe, stock, snapdragons, cosmos and marigolds.


The cerinthe seedlings are so pretty!


On the plot, parsnips, beetroots and turnips have germinated and I gave them a good hoeing between the rows yesterday to keep the weeds down. Soon I'll sow swedes and calabrese in this bed too, and plant out young celeriac, leeks and cauliflowers.


The bindweed in this bed and our perennials bed is bad, but all I can do now is keep pulling it and hope it gives up eventually! You can see below there are a few gaps among the broad beans. Not sure why... But I think I'll resow them next time I'm down there - it's not too late! I'm a bit ashamed to say I forgot to put insect-proof mesh over my carrots again, having failed last year too. I couldn't bear to see the carrots split and deformed from carrot fly again, and carrot fly are no doubt laying eggs by now, especially thanks to this mild spell! So I've hoed out all the seedlings and will resow them in a new location at the weekend and put the mesh in place straight away!


We've sown the flower bed with hardy annuals now too (cornflowers, vipers bugloss, ammi majus, bupleurum), though loads of tiny weed seedlings are coming up too and it's going to be a job to know which seedlings to weed out and which to keep!

April has rushed by but I'm glad it's nearly May - the month of planting-out! By the end of May the house will be seedling-free again and I should be able to stop worrying about cold nights and spring hailstorms!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Busy, busy!

Winter and early spring are great times for gardeners to do all sorts of non-growing jobs, like developing new areas and working on paths or buildings. I had a long list of these this year, and a long session on the allotment on Monday finally allowed us to finish up all but one of them. Just in time I'd say - 'early spring' is most definitely over now we've hit April!

We finally finished digging over what was previously our strawberry bed, which will be our flower patch this year and hopefully bring looooads more beneficial insects to the plot, as well as giving us flowers to cut and give away. I planted out the corncockle, calendula and clary sage I raised at home over winter, and I'll sow lots more here in a couple of weeks...


We've also planted up the herb patch round the pond and fruit trees. The focus here isn't on culinary herbs, as they're much more useful grown at home where you can grab them easily as you need them, but on flowering perennial herbs for insects and some herbs which I'd like to try drying for tea - lemon balm, camomile and peppermint. I've also popped a few perennial and self-sowing flowers in; some poached egg plant and primroses, an oriental poppy and an echinops. Maybe I should call it my 'companion plants patch' instead of my herb patch.


There's still a bit of work to do to get rid of the last of the grass in that corner by the pond... But it's so good to have this area looking nice again after it got swamped with grass and then we mulched it with manky cardboard over winter!


When we moved our compost bins last summer, there was a lot of good compost in the bottom that we just couldn't use at the time, so it's been heaped up in the place where the compost bins were ever since - we even grew our beans late last summer on the temporary raised bed it created...


...but now we've levelled the ground and moved the pile to this year's potato bed, where it will help build the soil. Our greenhouse will go in this spot this year. I hope the people on the next plot sort out their compost pile soon - it's a bit of a battle to stop it falling onto our plot, and there are brambles growing in it which keep finding their way into this bed.


While we were on the plot I also took the opportunity to sow some more seeds: I scattered some dill and parsley seeds in some carefully-chosen corners, and sowed beetroots, turnips and parsnips in rows in our roots bed, a foot apart, and covered with sieved compost.

 

Do you like my new plant labels? They look a bit industrial, but I was desperate to find something that would last for years, instead of perishing in the sun or rotting in the rain or just getting kicked about and lost in the dirt, and I hope these are the answer. They're from Amazon - I tried to find another supplier but couldn't - by a company called GardenMate. The permanent marker is supposed to last all season, and I'll be able to clean it off with a solvent cleaner to reuse them. That's the theory, anyway...

I'm happy that we have some broad beans on the plot at last, after a bit of a battle against mice eating the seeds! These were actually sown at home in a big seed tray at the beginning of March, and planted out this week. There are a few more sown direct here too, and covered with the same mesh to try to keep the rodents off this time. I have half a feeling I'm going to go down there and find little holes chewed right through the netting one of these days!


At home, I've sown lots more seeds, including celery, basil, dill, perpetual spinach, pea shoots and some more flowers; sunflowers, achillea and cerinthe. After a manic March, I think I've just about caught up with myself. The only things remaining are to clear and dig over the old asparagus bed, which is small and shouldn't take too long, and plant out my poor sweet peas which are getting desperate for some space and some support! Poor things!


I'm glad it's April now and the weather must warm up a bit more soon. I feel like I've got a bit of a holiday coming up over the long Easter weekend, and I'll probably get stuck into some more sowing: courgettes, squashes, brassicas and beans are next, as well as the bulk of the flower patch, getting the greenhouse sorted - and it'll be time to plant potatoes before we know it!
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