Friday, 25 April 2008

Tagged. And some other stuff.

Hang on, I've been tagged by two different bloggers with two different sets of questions. (Paul and Melanie at Growing Our Own and Simon at The Plot Thickens.) What do I do now?? I don't even usually play these games, but I'm a little tipsy having finished a long hard day's work at 11pm and then fallen into a very large glass of wine, and tonight it sounds like fun. There seems to me to be only one answer; combine both little games into one great SUPERTAG game and continue as usual...

The Rules:
  • Link to the person who tagged you.
  • Post the rules on your blog.
  • Write six random things about yourself. And answer the questions below.
  • Tag six people at the end of your post linking to their blog.
  • Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six things about me:

  • The nickname Nome (started by my Dad when I was too little to fight back, I'm sure) has followed me without my encouragement to every group of friends and every job I have ever had. I never introduce myself as such, and somehow people just pick it up! (Could be worse; Dad also used to call me Splodge...) My real name (though I'm not really used to hearing it) is Naomi. (Is Nome a bad nickname for a young woman to have? I can never quite decide... If anyone spells it with a G, then there's trouble...)
  • One day I will write a blockbuster movie! Or a blockbuster novel. Or both.
  • Watermelon is my new favourite fruit.
  • I love videogames, when I get time inbetween working stupid hours, writing and gardening.
  • I am a qualified pyrotechnician! I never really put it into practice though.
  • My favourite spot is on the shore of Crummock Water in the Lake District. It's so beautiful and peaceful and perfect.

What Was I Doing 10 Years Ago?
Preparing for A-levels. Ugh. Can we stop there? I loathed school.
Oh, and I was also just starting to find my brother's mate Eddie pretty cute!

My To Do List for Today/Diary of What I Actually Did
Very boring I'm afraid. Got up, surfed the net a little, worked my butt off. Tomorrow is pretty much the same, although I don't start 'til two so I'll probably lie in a bit (or a lot) and see if I can find any small non-messy jobs to do at the plot before I go in.

Snacks I Enjoy
If it's bad for me, I probably like it. Top of the list must be chocolate cornflake cakes, but any chocolate bar will do, and chocolate 'Frijj' milkshakes and Coca Cola feature pretty heavily too. Actually, my most regular snack is hot chocolate and white toast with marmite. In the mornings this is called breakfast, but it can also be lunch and is sometimes eaten as a snack late night or, well, anytime really.

Things I Would Do If I Were A Billionaire
I'd have to be very unoriginal and say buy a house with a load of land. Actually, my dream is to buy a load of land, then build the house. Out of straw. I've designed it already - it's all planned out. All I need is the ground to put it on. And ground is far too damn expensive.
Then I'd look after the family too, and give the rest to the people who really need it. No-one deserves bilions of pounds when so many people have nothing at all.

Three of My Bad Habits
1) Spending far too much time on the internet, learning about doing things, talking about doing things or telling others how to do things, rather than actually doing things. Yahoo Answers is my particular weakness at the moment!
2) You read the snacks question right?
3) I almost never tidy up after myself. I don't know how Eddie puts up with me!

Five Places I Have Lived

I've lived in St Albans all my life, and I pretty much believe in staying where I've been put. It's a lovely historical market-town with a beautiful Abbey and park, Roman ruins, lots of trees and historic buildings, and more pubs per square mile than anywhere else! I have actually lived at five addresses here; one town centre Victorian semi with an attic and cellar which were always dead exciting to me as a child, one huge extended sixties-built family home in the posh part on the edge of town (where my parents and brother and sister still live), one modern but gorgeous flat two minutes down the road from them, one modern but scummy flat two doors down from that (!) and now a teeny tiny Victorian cottage (in the town centre again, virtually in the shadow of the cathedral) on a teeny tiny road that was surely only ever meant for horses, with a bathroom and kitchen that I'm sure must have only been built on the back a few years ago, and a toilet cistern still evident in one of the teeny tiny sheds!

Five Jobs I Have Had

1) Various office posts with a temping agency, mostly involving filing and photocopying.
2) Casual work as a theatre technician, getting trained on the job in lighting, sound, stage set-ups, film projection, and general dogsbodying.
3) Drama technician at a school in the middle of building a theatre and applying for special 'Arts College' status. Within a couple of years I was theatre manager and the sole member of staff at the theatre - eek! I booked the shows singlehandedly, I advertised them singlehandedly, I sold the tickets singlehandedly, I ran the cafe singlehandedly, I did the techie stuff almost singlehandedly (lots of willing students in that area at least) and it wasn't long before I'd had enough.
4) Deputy Technical Manager at our local theatre (same place as number 2) - a mid-sized touring house that shows a variety of ageing rock-and-rollers, tribute bands, mainstream comedians, dodgy touring theatre, local exhibitions and movies. It has more downs than ups, in my opinion, but I get to meet more than my fair share of minor celebrities and the hours really suit me as I hate routine. No week is ever the same as the last, and I often work three or four ultra-long days and get a four- or three-day weekend. Whoooop!
Hang on; no five... Umm...
5) Assistant Stage Manager for one month (unpaid) at The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. And some freelance lighting-design and mask-making jobs.


I'll tag
Grumpy Old Teacher (not a gardening blog but he's me Dad!)
Little Gem
and Lilymarlene

Yesterday we spent a couple more hours at the plot, sieving ten buckets of compost onto the new brassica bed (very tedious) and sowing swedes. We really need to empty that compost bin to make room for another year's weeds, so there's lots more sieving to be done in the next few weeks...

As I write this, the 'Wautoma' cucumber seeds are already sprouting! After just four days! I have a good feeling they're going to live up to the recommendations... The courgettes have buds already and the peppers and aubergines are doing really well too. Why is it the tender stuff is all dying to get onto the plot already but the hardy brassicas are being soooo slow??

one row swede 'Angela' (a pinch of seeds every six inches)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The season's first harvest

We finally ate the first Nomegrown produce of the new season on Sunday evening: two generous servings of baby spinach and mixed lettuce leaves (served with jacket potatoes - sadly not Nomegrown).

Today was beautiful so we rushed down to the plot to build another bed.

This one is for winter brassicas (brussels, winter/spring cabbage, sprouting broccoli and swedes) so I can get sowing some swede seeds tomorrow. The brassica seedlings are not really big enough to plant out yet but it won't be long.

Curiosity got blue paint on the cat. Whoops...

Just as I was starting to worry, today I counted seven potato haulms finally popping up. No maincrop yet, but that's understandable.

Since we were last at the plot, we seem to have had an outbreak of dandelions. They were everywhere today and we ran round pulling all the flower heads off before they could set seed - it reminded me of picking them with my Dad when I was a kid to make dandelion wine.

The burgeoning asparagus shoots are looking healthier now. We've only thrown three away (not harvested any yet either mind).

And it seems last year's carrot-growing efforts weren't a complete failure after all: look what I found digging over the new bed today!

Let me leave you with this photo of a snail (on our birdtable, muhahaaa) which I thought was pretty awesome. I normally take the pictures round here but Eddie's new cameraphone takes really good close-ups and he's becoming quite the photographer. I shall have to start making even better use of him!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

April sowings

I'm really feeling the pressure now to dig the last areas of the plot and mark out the rest of the beds in time for mid-May, but after a week of too much work and not enough sleep, I have decided I'm too tired and it's too cold to do any digging today.

But I have got round to sowing some more seeds, and I thought I'd post some pics I took on a flying visit to the plot earlier in the week.

The tiny parsnip seedlings I planted out a couple of weeks ago seem to be enjoying their new home:

The direct-sown lettuces are doing really well - it'll be time to thin them soon I expect. Shown below are 'Little Gem', red cos 'Marshall' and mizuna. You can really see the difference between sowing them out under the sun and sowing them indoors, or even under the fleece cover of my greenhouse. No spindly stems at all on these babies!

The peas are popping up eagerly in their rows:

And the broad beans are growing away well, although a couple of them don't look too healthy. There's no sign of any pests on them and they were well used to outdoor conditions before I planted them out, so I don't really know what's wrong. There are brown spots on the upper leaves, and some of the leaves are curled and underdeveloped. Ah, how I wish I'd sown them back in the winter - my neighbours' broad beans are ten times the size of these little specimens, with none of the health problems mine have had!

The seeds I've been sowing are mostly squashes and cucumbers. I love squashes; they're so easy to grow, versatile in the kitchen and a delight stored into the winter when the only other things we'll be growing (fingers crossed!) are greens and root veg. So I'm growing the same pumpkins we enjoyed last year, the butternut and spaghetti squash that both got pot-bound and failed last year while I was struggling to clear their plot of weeds, and a couple of new types I found on the web and fancied trying!

The first time I grew cucumbers it was a variety called 'Moneta'. The flavour and texture were spectacular, the fruits were huge and the plants were incredibly productive - they were a real joy. Last year I couldn't find the same variety but tried the popular 'Marketmore' instead, and got nothing. So this year I've been searching and searching for 'Moneta' again but to no avail! Eventually I gave up and bought some 'Wautoma' from Real Seeds. The fruits look veeery similar and they come highly recommended for their flavour, huge size and incredible productivity, so here's hoping...

4 x pumpkin 'Hundredweight'
4 x squash 'Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato' (a white heart-shaped Acorn type from Real Seeds - early, long-keeping and delicious, they say)
4 x squash 'Blue Hubbard' (another good storer with a nutty flavour)
4 x squash 'Butternut'
4 x squash 'Tivoli' (spaghetti squash)
4 x cucumber 'Wautoma'
2 x cucumber 'Marketmore'
2 x courgette 'Soleil' (my second sowing, for later fruits)
2 x courgette 'Zuboda' (another second sowing)
12 x celery 'Loretta' (because the first sowing got waaay too leggy on my windowsill and I'm not sure it'll pull through)
12 x mixed chillies (I'm not too keen on hot stuff and I wasn't going to bother with chillies, but then I got a free packet on the front of a magazine and I just couldn't resist. Eddie can be my taster and heat-gauge!)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


I've said before that my home garden doesn't get very much sun - indeed there's one corner that gets no sun at all and is always very damp and dark. I wondered for ages what I could grow there, and suddenly it hit me; mushrooms! Why go out of my way to create shade on the allotment when I've got it right here?
My one previous attempt at growing mushrooms was in one of those 'mushroom kits' in a box in the kitchen. I got a few mushrooms out of it, but all sorts of flies and spiders liked the dark, damp environment and it got absolutely infested with creepy crawlies. The mushrooms got covered in cobwebs and were impossible to clean, and all in all, the experience was so icky I swore never to try it like that again!

So, open air this time. The spawn packet assures me complete darkness is not needed; just plenty of shade. The spawn packet also goes into great detail about how to rot down straw to create the perfect mushroom compost - something I feel I should have been told before buying the product! I have neither the time nor the space to rot down heaps of straw (nor the straw, for that matter), so a bag of farmyard manure from Homebase will have to do (hey, the things are spreading their little white threads even in the packet - they obviously want to grow, right?)

To hold my mushrooms, I picked up a few of these wooden boxes from the market while they were clearing up. I put them on a few thick sticks just to keep them off the ground and allow them to drain when it rains.

I filled them with manure. It's supposed to be to a depth of 6 to 8 inches but this is only about 5. Surely it can't make that much difference...?

The spawn, which appear to be wheatberries impregnated with the white mushroom spores, are spread thickly on the surface of the manure then mixed in to the top 5cm or so and pressed down well:

And then the whole lot is covered with wet newspaper to keep the moisture in:

I'm supposed to leave it like this for 2-4 weeks until the spawn work their little white threads throughout the soil, then remove the newspaper and put a 'casing' layer of peat or subsoil on top. (I went and bought topsoil. Whoops.) Then I sit back and wait for my mushrooms... Do you know, I think this is the most exciting thing I'm growing yet!

In other garden news, I don't know what this rose thinks it's doing, do you?

It was put upside-down in the shop at a crucial stage of new growth is my guess, but it doesn't seem to want to recover and starting growing upwards. I should have checked in the box before I bought it; that'll teach me.
I've trimmed the shoots off and am trying them as cuttings. I don't know much about it but I don't have much to lose either, and a shoot I accidentally knocked off one of the other roses while planting has established itself nicely where I dropped it, so it can't be that hard!

A bad week for seedlings...

Sorry it's been a while; I've been having some computer trouble but everything seems to be back on track now...

It's been a quiet week on the gardening front anyway. I did manage to sow some more seeds direct on the plot at the weekend between torrential rain and hail showers, and this morning I sowed some purple sprouting broccoli in the greenhouse, but that's about it really.

Second row parsnips 'White Gem'
1/2 row chard 'Bright Lights'
1/2 row rocket 'Cultivated' (a variety from Real Seeds that promises a milder flavour and a slower bolting habit - just what I needed!)
1/2 row perpetual spinach
1/2 row lettuce 'Webb's Wonderful'
6 x broccoli 'Extra Early Sprouting Rudolph'

The lettuce and spinach in the greenhouse is starting to look good and I think we'll be eating the first of it this week. This is 11 weeks after sowing:

I'll sow some more as soon as I get some seedtrays freed up by planting out bigger crops; I'll see how much of the year I can keep a steady supply going. I've never yet been any good at successional sowings...

It's been a bad week for seedlings in the garden; the brassicas have been nibbled by snails and walked on by cats, some aubergines and celery have 'damped off', the tomatoes endured a brutal hailstorm when the weather changed suddenly one afternoon, a courgette plant had a nasty run-in with the greenhouse zip, and the snails have mown down ALL of my marigold seedlings! (And that's despite regular applications of the organic slug pellets!) With the exception of the damped off seedlings and the marigolds, things are recovering nicely though. Here are the tomatoes, doing well (though I'm sure seedlings grow slower for me than most people...)

For the record, the 'Costoluto Fiorentino' and the 'Golden Sunrise' grow veeery slowly and I had very poor germination from the 'Alicante' (you'll notice a couple of empty loorolls...). The 'Red Cherry' shot up extremely fast!

On the plot, the parsnip seedlings have settled in well (except a couple that were gobbled by slugs within the first couple of days) and the onions, shallots and garlic are shooting up nicely, both on the plot and in my trough in the garden.

Even the carrot seeds are sprouting! What a rare and wonderful sight for me!

Around January I collected up the seeds left scattered across the site of my favourite nasturtium plant last year. I thought I'd be economical with them and sowed just eight in February, but after weeks and weeks of waiting, nothing happened. Of course they say seeds should be kept cool and dry, and these were out getting wet all winter, so in desperation I bunged the whole lot in a mini-seedtray a few weeks ago hoping at least a couple popped up. Three weeks later, (you guessed it!) I've got a bazillion nasturtium seedlings fighting for space in one tiny seedtray! So I potted them up today too - thirteen of them anyway.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Back to the vegetables...

Anyway, this is supposed to be a veg-growing blog, not a pondlife blog.

Our week off is drawing to a close and there's snow on the ground again, so I think we've done all we're going to until next weekend at least.

As well as the pea-sowing and slug-protection I've already written about, we've dug almost all the beds now (just three remain) and we've built another wood surround for two more beds (courgettes and strawberries).

We've built our bean supports and sown beans at home ready for planting out in six weeks or so when the frosts finish, and I've planted out the broad bean seedlings. Since they're a bit of an experiment for me, I must admit I hadn't really thought about where I was going to fit them in, and ended up sticking them at the end of one of the pea rows, probably crammed much too close together, but we'll see what happens. And if I don't like them I'll just be pulling them up to sow some more sugarsnaps anyway!

I think beans are my favourite crop; they're dead easy to grow and really versatile in the kitchen too. I've picked six varieties this year - all climbers to contend better with the weeds! - and I don't even know if I'm going to have room for them all. I think I may end up with a few bean wigwams dotted around the melon patch, especially as only half my melon seeds have germinated!

14 x runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor'
14 x climbing french bean 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' (heirloom American variety used by the Cherokee indians and apparently the best bean there is; delicious and prolific)
14 x climbing french bean 'Italian Gold' (yellow beans)
14 x climbing french bean 'Trionfo Violetta' (purple beans)
14 x climbing french bean 'Cobra' (good old-fashioned green beans)
14 x climbing french bean 'Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco' (for drying, perhaps...)

Actually the borlotto gave me some trouble. Turns out I accidentally bought two packs; one from T&M and one from Plants of Distinction as part of an offer. But inside the PoD pack were not the pink and yellow mottled beans I was expecting, but long black ones more like 'cobra'. I checked in the T&M pack to confirm my expectations of what the beans should look like, and there has definitely been a mix-up somewhere!

I sowed the T&M ones, obviously, but I wonder what the others are...

The next pressing jobs are to finish the digging and woodwork, finally mulch around the strawberries with some black plastic, sow some squashes and some more brassicas (some direct when the beds are finished) and clear the herb patch ready for planting. It's been a great week though. I hope the sunny weather returns again soon!

Hastings had a good week too; here he is relaxing by the pond:

And here are some pretty incredible bumblebee pictures Eddie took!

A Mystery Solved!

Aha! Those tiny silvery slivers in my pond aren't fish at all - they're chaoborus, of course! Close up they look like the beastie in the picture in the link, but in the darkness of the pond with their silvery shimmer and bulging eyes (really air sacs) at the front, and their horizontal fish-like swimming movements and shoaling habits, I was becoming convinced they were tiny fish. At 2cm long and from the pond surface they really don't look that different to a baby stickleback seen from above (except perhaps for the pointy nose), but they look waaay different from the side - a view I couldn't get in the pond.

They are commonly known as glassworms, and are the larvae of the non-biting phantom midge (scroll down in the link for more pics). Looks like I've identified the things that looked like little beansprouts with their tails hanging down too; it's the glassworms in their pupal stage.

Well, you learn something new every day. I also stumbled across this website which (although in German) has some really amazing close-up pictures. You wouldn't believe such a tiny organism could look quite so spectacular.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Let Battle Commence...

We were very excited the other day to see the first of the asparagus showing its head! This is its second year, so we'll be taking a small harvest. However the slugs are already taking some too, which surprised me as they didn't go for the asparagus last year.

So the organic slug pellets have come out again, and I'm also giving this new product from Victoriana Nursery a try this year.

It's an organic-friendly soil conditioner rich in trace elements, which simply alters the soil in a way slugs and snails don't like and puts them off the area for around nine months. Long term, it also has a beneficial effect on the soil's nitrifying bacteria.

You apply it by dissolving the powder in hot water to make 8 pints of concentrated solution (shown above), then adding a pint to a 2 gallon watering can and watering it onto bare soil. One packet treats an area 20ftx20ft, which means about four-and-a-half of my 8ft beds, so I have applied it to the strawberries, salads patch, onions and carrots, beans and peas, and of course the asparagus (which is a half-size bed). I'll have to get another I suppose, or another two if I'm going to treat the path areas and borders as well.

As well as the asparagus, other signs of spring are coming thick and fast. The fruit trees are unfurling their first leaves:

The salad veg I sowed a few weeks ago are sprouting earnestly:

And the diversity of life in the pond is unbelieveable! I've now seen every type of pond creature you could wish for in there; larvae, nymphs, beetles, worms and other wiggly things. As well as a multitude of frogs, I think I spotted a toad yesterday, and I'm sure some sticklebacks have found their way in (though I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not). The only thing we haven't seen which would be nice is the elusive newt, but I'll keep looking...
Most exciting yesterday was this fearsome-looking damselfly nymph. It's about 2cm long and could eat several tadpoles for breakfast, I suspect!

And if anyone knows what these tiny brown blobs all over the rocks are let me know; they look like some kind of underwater scale insect!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Peas and Bees

Just a quick one to say we finally sowed our peas today. Having discovered last year that bamboo canes alone are completely unsuitable for the task (and having only grown them unsupported in pots before that), we're experimenting this year with a new method which involved tying stiff plastic mesh to some uprights stuck in the ground. I didn't want to use netting as it's so tangly and difficult to reuse, and this stuff should support the weight more easily too. I'm not sure it'll be high enough for the sugar-snaps, so if I can find some more for cheap I'll add another level on top at some point.

1/2 double row pea 'Sugar Snap Delikett'
1/2 double row pea 'Oregon Sugar Pod'

We don't really eat 'normal' podding-peas very much so I don't grow any, though I'm considering it for next year...

I also made a start on sowing some tender herbs now there's room in the greenhouse. The brassicas are all outside now getting some proper sun (and proper cold) and I've moved a couple of the tomatoes into the greenhouse as a bit of a test. They're doing fine so far, though I might bring them in overnight next time frost is forecast...

8 x basil 'Genovese'
8 x basil 'red leaved'
8 x parsley 'Moss Curled'
8 x coriander 'cilantro' (for leaf)
8 x summer savory ("the bean herb", and blackfly-repellent - never tried it before but can't wait to give it a go)

Oooh, and we put up an insect house. It would have been dead easy for me to saw up some canes and hollow stems like I was planning and jam them into a homemade wooden box, all for free right here at home with reused waste materials, but what with so many other things to do it was even easier to buy this one from Sainsburys for £3.99. Damn consumerist society. I hope the ladybirds and solitary bees appreciate my pathetic defeat.

It is nice and shiny.

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