Monday, 17 May 2010

A slightly late Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Apologies for a slightly late GBBD from me this month but time has been in short supply around here. But I did take the photos on the 15th so I still wanted to post even though it's taken a couple of days to get round to it. One of my favourite things in the garden at the moment are these chives with their wonderful buds that look as though they are made from a delicate Japanese paper. 

Chives aren't really a herb I use in the kitchen all that often. I grow them because I love their flowers, as do the bees - red tailed bees in particular seem to find them irresistable. I started off with one pot of chives a few years ago and this has now developed into 4 clumps (by dividing it each time it gets too large) and we also have self seeded clumps of chives all over the garden happily taking root and establishing themselves wherever they land.
I also have several of these flower in the garden. I do not know the proper name for them but I call them bottle washers due to their shape. If you know their name and anything about them I would love to know. I am sure I saw them on someones blog not long ago but I can't remmber whose I'm afraid. I never planted these, they just appeared a couple of years ago and each year they have spread to new locations. Hover flies seem to like them and I think they are pretty so they have been allowed to stay and have earned their space in the flower bed.

The clematis montana is doing well this year. This is probably the most flowers it has ever had. It is about 3 years old but suffered an unfortunate mishap at the hands of Mr Notebook 2 years ago when he pruned it right back to the base - only to find out afterwards that this wasn't a clematis that needed pruning. It struggled last year with only a few tiny flowers so I am delighted this year that it looks to have made a full recovery.

Saddly the apple blossom is now starting to fade but it has been fantastic this year so I'm expecting more apples than I know what to do with. I'm not a great apple fan (or a great cook - and these are cookers) but I love apple trees. I yearn to live in the countryside and the apple blossom makes my suburban garden look all that more country cottagey, I would love it to last all summer!

This week has also seen the first flowers on the tomato plants - all very exciting as it means the sweet taste of home grown tomatoes isn't so far away. Although it has made me realise that I really need to get a wriggle on and get sowing the rest of the seeds I bought which still haven't seen the light of day, especially my sweet peppers which probably should also be flowering by now but are still tucked up in their seed packet!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Fighting Flea Beetle - A Homemade Organic Recipe

After a busy couple of weeks and yesterdays cold and none to summery weather we finally managed a worthy allotment stint this morning. My maincrop potatoes are now in and my slightly belated broad beans are planted - just as some of them start to flower! I think flowering was their plea to be planted out.Unfortunately despite my best efforts only 8 seeds germinated successfully so I'm not expecting a bountiful harvest this year. Mr Notebook has dug over and prepared where the climbing beans will go so next week I hope to get my canes up. This should pscycologically make the plot feel all that more productive! I don't know why but my morale is always boosted once the runner bean canes are in place. Slightly denting my feeling of achievment this morning was the sight of my pak choi. From a distance the plants looked to be bushing up but on closer inspection I found the leaves peppered with tiny holes, almost as if they had been machine gunned. The extent of the damage means there are more holes than leaf - not very encouraging. I think the culprits must be flea beetles.

So once home I poured over my gardening books to find a solution. Apparently they thrive in dry cracked soil, so I presume the long dry April has been ideal for them. I will need to work on increasing the humus content with regular mulching but as an immediate fight against the little blighters, I found this recipe for an all purpose organic insecticide which is said to deter flea beetle, caterpillars and aphids. Whilst I can't repair the existing damage I thought I would give this a try and see if there is an improvment in the situation.
Take equal quantities of  mint, chopped onion, garlic and lavender stems.
Cover them in boiling water and leave to stew for 24 hours.
Strain and then pour into a spray bottle.
And for those of you who spend the summer being eaten alive, the book also reommends the same recipe, minus the garlic and onion, to make an effective personal insect repellent! If you're game enough to try, let me know how you get on!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

How to be mean to beans.

Put bean seedlings into heated propagator overnight to protect from falling temperatures.
Next day have a leaisurely breakfast, it is the weekend afterall. Visit the hairdressers, browse in the shops.
Make the most of the incredibly hot sunny weather and have a nice lunch outside in the sun.
Comment on the heat and how it is far too hot for digging on the allotment. Open the greenhouse door to ventilate (and only now) take the time to remember the beans in the heated propator that is still on, despite the inside temperature of the greenhouse being 30 degrees! Aarrrghh...congratulations you now have cooked plants with very shrivelled leaves; leaves that look like they will never recover.

Feel guilty for being so forgetful and pot said beans up into nice homemade compost, water well and leave in a cool shady place in an attempt to help them recover. They will surely be thankful and you may just rescue them from the brink.

Go for a drink down at the beachside pub, the weather is so glorious it could almost be the Med! Come home,have a BBQ - the first of the year! Always a call for a celebration. Pop open a bottle of wine (or two, or maybe three!). Sit outside chatting and laughing and drinking, watching the stars in the clear sky. Comment on how it's a clear sky but it's been so warm you doubt it will be frosty... remember the greenhouse door needs closing. Comment on how cold it is now as soon as you move away from the heat of the smouldering BBQ. Now (and only now) take the time to remember that the beans you were letting recover from their extreme heat experience are still outside in this cold!

And I like to call myself a gardener?! I am hoping that the healthy root systems on my beans will be my saving grace and that they will ping out some new leaves in a few days....otherwise I may be starting my bean sowing all over again.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

What's sowing and growing this week.

The speed that things are growing at the moment is proving quite a task to keep up with. I love that so much is going on in the garden but there is a small part of me that want's to slow it all down just a little bit so that I can get full enjoyment out of each new thing that has sprung up or burst into flower. Even goings-on in the greenhouse have sped up dramatically in the last few days. The investment of a heated propagator was truly worthwhile, as you can see at the front of this picture, I now have 2 cucumber seedlings and 3 courgette seedlings! Hoorah!! At last. Thank you everyone for your advice and kind words during my moments of cucurbit frustration last week! I think the cold must have had something to do with the lack of success, it would appear these babies love heat. I have only been turning the propagator on at night so as not to cook my precious seeds but so far they all seem quite happy and content.
Also springing up are the climbing beans and some more broad beans. My last sowing of broad beans only produced 4 plants but I now have another 4 peeking up through the soil. The runner beans I am planting this year are Wisley Magic and I am also growing some long purple beans call Blauhilde. I first grew these last year and they were a great success with a fantastic flavour, their purple colour also looks incredibly pretty on the plot.

The tulips have started to flower this week and the borders are looking all the better for the splashes of bright red. It's funny to think that only a month ago this border looked so dull and brown. Note to self: Hydrangea heads need cutting off.

After losing all our pelargoniums over winter we bought all new plugs a couple of weeks ago. These have been taking up alot of valuable greenhouse space and so we have planted these up this week and are hoping they will survive outside. We may have to cover them up at night if frost threatens but the weather here has been quite mild so I am hoping they will be ok.

We have bought a mixture of standard and trailing ones in scarlet and white. I think the bright red should look lovely in this old drainpipe against the white wall in summer.

A couple of weeks ago when I planted my early potatoes I removed a large clump of forget-me-nots that had seeded themselves in the middle of the plot. I bought them home and re-planted them by the shed.

I know they will cover everywhere and I will be in-undated with forget-me-nots next year (and forever more) but I love them and they cheer up what is a rather dull and practical, working area of the garden. Note to self: Shed needs painting.

On the plot the spring planted garlic and onions now have green shoots and I am pleased with their progress considering I only got around to planting them a few weeks ago. This is the first time I have tried planting garlic in spring.I have previously grown it overwinter so it will be interesting to see the results and compare with other years.

I have now planted my pak choi. I am hoping the marigolds will protect from whitefly and the netting will protect from pigeons and butterflies but I fear the biggest enemy for these will be slugs. Thankfully I don't think we have any visiting pheasants like Shiny New Allotment Holder!

Jobs for the weekend:
Plant tomatoes in greenhouse border.
Finish planting potatoes.
Deadhead hydrangeas.
Pot up climbing bean seedlings.
Sow chard seeds.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Grumblings From the Greenhouse

What's a girl have to do around here to get cucumber seeds to successfully germinate?
I wouldn't mind but I never even used to like cucumber all that much. It always reminded me of the thin curled up sandwiches that were always left untouched at childrens parties. Then a couple of years ago my neighbour gave me a plant and I discovered how truly fragrant and tasty a real, homegrown cucumber can be. Last year we planted just 2 seeds and from those we grew two strong and healthy, rapid fruit producing plants. It was so easy. So what's going on this year?  Twice now we have sown cucumber seeds and from this we have only had a success rate of 1. To rub salt into the wound, even this success was short lived. Long and tall and lanky it grew. It didn't look a healthy specimen at all. Mr Notebook even went to the trouble of making it a small wire support (like those usually twisted around gerberas! I kid you not!) in a last ditched attempt to save our one successful seedling. This morning's visit to the greenhouse finds the seedling has given up all hope and lays keeled over in a small and sorrowful heap.

My courgettes aren't doing much better either. To think only a few weeks ago I so proudly posted about my first courgette seedling - well now, let's make that 'only' courgette seedling! What happened to the others? There's no sign of life anywhere. To add to my concerns my 'first' and 'only' courgette plant now has yellowing to the leaves and so I beg you all - help! please help! I do not want to lose this plant. Is this something that I should be concerned about? Or is it normal? What can I do?

On the positive side, things are looking up for my sweet peas. I have been very brave this year and have been quite brutal in my pinching out technique. This seems to have worked and the plants are starting to look quite stocky and strong. I followed the advice from this Sarah Raven video in which she shows how to pinch out and explains how sweet peas need to be rugby players and not atheletes. I like to think I now have rugby players not atheletes growing in my greenhouse! Even if I'm not eating cucumbers or courgettes this summer I should have some lovely sweet peas to sit and look at!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Petals a Plenty

This week the garden is alive with petals. So many things have burst into flower and it seems that everyday brings a new array. Despite this I must come clean and admit defeat because by far the most beautiful sight in my garden at the moment actually belongs to my neighbour. Luckily for me peeping over the garden fence with all it's beauty on display is this wonderful Magnolia tree. And although it isn't mine I feel it is a worthy subject for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

In my own garden there are still plenty of delights. The skimmia buds have burst into flower and fill the air with their exquisite perfume.

The Rhododenron 'Christmas Cheer' is full of candyfloss blooms that are attracting the early bumble bees, although I seem unable to capture one on camera!

The front doorstep is alive with the wonderful tiny purple flowers of Aubrieta.

I love these tiny delicate narcissi which where a mixed batch of drying bulbs languishing in my dad's greenhouse - we just stuck them in the ground when we moved in and hoped for the best.

The Japanese Quince seems to have appreciated last years heavy pruning and addition of supporting wires and is now heavily laden with bright red flowers.

And then lastly I have 2 mystery plants which we inherited when we moved in. Firstly this spikey tree and its heady scented blossom that reminds me of the scent of orange blossom that fills the air of Northern Mallorca. In the summer the tree bears small fruit like tiny plums but I have no idea if they are edible. Any suggestions are welcome. The leaf is much smaller than a plum tree has.

Then there is this tiny delicate alpine or rockery plant which looks dead all winter and then burst into life in spring. Does anyone have a name for this?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Companion Planting

This year I hope to enhance the organic credentials of our plot by being a bit more aware of how plants help one another. I never use chemicals for gardening but that's as far as I have really taken organic gardening.I haven't really investigated how I can encourage nature to help me. Probably the only companion planting I have ever tried is nasturtiums (which worked wonders at attracting the black fly away from my beans) although I only grew these originally because I like the bright flowers and they taste great in salads.
This year I have reviewed my master plan to try to accommodate planting crops together that help one another. I always find working out my crop rotation a bit mind boggling. You see we started growing things in the first year on parts of the plot which were the least overgrown. This now means that a straight forward front to back rotation hasn't really formed and my crop rotation is more just about not planting something in the same place each year.

So this year I am complicating things a little bit further by restricting which plants grow together. So far I have decided that I will grow nasturtiums again, these have so many uses from their aphid attracting qualities to their edible flowers, leaves and seed pods (which make great capers). I will plant these once again near my beans. I have also bought some marigolds from the garden centre.

I have read that  these are beneficial to most crops, I will be planting these between my potatoes and my brassicas. We had a terrible white fly problem last year and so I am hoping the marigolds will help. I have also read that the smell of mint deters white fly but I have yet to decide if I want to introduce mint to the plot as it is quite invasive. I think I prefer to keep this contained in my garden herb patch where I can see it daily and keep a watchful eye on it.
I am hoping to have lots of sunflowers to encourage pollinating insects. The seedlings are doing well so far.

 I will be planting these near the brassicas in hope that the hover flys will eat the white fly. My sweet peas I usually just have in the garden but this year I have grown some for the plot as well and these will be grown with my runner beans which I will be growing next to my sweetcorn because apparently these are happy bedfellows.

Two things that don't get on with beans are onions and beetroot so I am placing these at the opposite end of the plot near to one another and next to my carrots which should also benefit from the onions and garlic. I had originally planned that my courgettes would go next to the potatoes but apparently they do not get on so I have moved them to be next to the brassicas and sunflowers. My broad beans are coming along gradually and will go next to the potatoes and sweetcorn as apparently these things help increase each others yields when grown next to one another.

The only unhappy bedfellows now on my plan may be that the cabbages are a bit too close to the strawberries which can be antagonist although I do not why. Any ideas? Unfortunately my crop rotation dictates that the brassicas must go here so it will just have to be! Maybe they will learn to tolerate each other. I've been finding this whole companion planting thing very interesting so I'd love to hear any things that you practice or know about that will help me garden organically and effectively. There's still just time to change my plan..again!

Companion Planting :
Broad Bean: cabbage,potatoes,leeks,carrots      
Runner Bean: sweet peas, corn                            
Cabbage: potatoes,thyme,mint,sage,beans      
Carrots: sage,leeks,peas,lettuce,onions
Cucurbits: nasturtium,borage,sunflowers         
Corn: potatoes,peas,beans,dill                  
Onions: beetroot,carrots,lettuce,peas
Radish: peas,lettuce,nasturtium,turnip
Potatoes: cabbage,mint,parsely,broadbeans,corn,cauliflower,lavender    

Broad Bean: beetroot, garlic, onions
Runner Bean: beetroot,sunflower
Cabbage: strawberry,tomatoes
Carrots: dill
Cucurbits: potatoes
Onions: beans
Radish: potatoes
Potatoes: cucurbits,peas,radish