Wednesday, September 28

Dead or alive?

In 2006 we planted a couple of figs in large tubs. One was placed in the garden and the other on the allotment and until this year all was well and they were growing strongly.
They stayed outside each winter and each summer new growth appeared.

They didn’t produce any useable figs but we could wait and the plants looked great anyway.
All seemed well until this spring when it seemed that both figs had been casualties of last winter’s big freeze.

We waited ‘just in case’ but there was no sign of any regrowth on either plant and so I decided to give up waiting and put something alive in the pot in the garden. If anything was going to happen and the plant wasn't completely dead, I guessed that by early summer there should be some sign of life 

Before emptying the pot I decided to cut down the stems but as I started cutting I noticed that the stems were green under the bark and the twigs that I'd started to cut back didn’t seem brittle or dead in the centre.

Deciding to give the plant a bit more time I trimmed back the branches to what seemed to be viable wood. I scraped some of the old compost from the top of the pot and freshened it up with new compost, just to give it an added incentive to grow. So was it dead or alive? 

Nothing happened so we figured that maybe it was dead after all. Then, on September 9, as we were sitting by the plant having a coffee, I noticed some tiny green blobs on the ends of some of the branches.
Looking more closely it seemed that some tiny figs were developing on the ‘dead’ branches, which indicated that the plant wasn't yet completely dead. 

Well yesterday the fig looked like this:
Some of the tiny figs have grown bigger and some leaf buds have developed. So the plant is definitely alive. Now I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens next spring but we'll be popping the plant into the greenhouse over winter to give it a better chance - it deserves it.

This plant seems to have been in aestivation* - wonder if it was the drought conditions and the fact that we had given up on it and not given it any water. Maybe the rain broke the dormancy. Anyway the will to live was obviously strong!

As for the plant at the allotment - well that is definitely dead - I think - but maybe I shouldn’t throw it on the compost heap just yet. Well you never know do you?

*opposite of hibernation i.e. sleep through summer

Tuesday, September 27

September Strawberries

Yesterday was our first visit to the plot after our week away in Wales. Our main intentions were to do some tidying up and harvesting of anything that was ready and waiting.

You may remember that we created a new strawberry bed this year using four different varieties to try and extend our strawberry picking season.

Well this has sort of worked - we have been picking strawberries from our Marshmello plants for quite a while now - no real glut just a steady supply. We even had some lovely ripe fruits ready for picking yesterday.
The only thing is that Marshmello is a mid-season variety and so shouldn’t really be fruiting now!- - and fruiting well! We have missed some of the fruits which have gone soft and mouldy in our absence but still have a good sized punnet to take home.
We have had a few fruits from our late season variety - Amelia although some of these plants don’t seem to be thriving (lucky I rooted some runners) - but we haven’t had any fruits from Flamenco our everbearing variety and only one or two fruits from the early variety Marshmarvel.
I know we haven’t mixed up the plants as we were really careful this time to keep the plants separated.

I don’t really know what to make of this other than it is just the plants settling down to their first growing season - a season that has been unusual to say the least.

We also picked a punnet of raspberries, a cucumber, which is likely to be the last, and some carrots - yes we have managed to get some carrots but they are rather small and nothing like the amount we have come to expect!

Saturday, September 24

Back at the reins.

Blogger has been flying solo for a few days as we spent last week 'out of the country' - in Wales. We had never been to Wales before other than a quick tiptoe over the border to buy some streptocarpus plants from Dibleys. Earlier in the year we watched the Michael Portillo series on Great British Railways. He visited Snowdonia and we liked the look of it so, as Wales was an unexplored area of Britain, we decided to spend a holiday there.

This was our holiday cottage in Llanuwchllyn (fortunately we didn't have to be able to pronounce that).
The gate was to keep out our neighbours.
I got the distinct impression that our neighbours were talking about us!
To get to the cottage we had to drive across a couple of fields of sheep which meant jumping in and out of the car to open and close gates. 
From the cottage were views of the Cambrian mountains and the nearby lake at Bala (you can only spot a tiny bit of it from this photo).

Other than the gossipy neighbours the only other sound to disturb the peace was the call of the buzzards. This bird was quite a distance away so the photo isn't as sharp as we would have liked.

We also managed to add three new birds to our photo collection. Again these aren't the most brilliant of photos but our excuse this time was that they were not only very fast moving birds but the photos were taken through very dirty windows of a hide in the RSPB reserve at Lake Vyrnwy and some were taken off video.
Coal Tit

Willow Tit which we didn't notice 'til we looked at the video - we thought at first it was another coal tit!

To sum up our holiday in Wales picturesque, peaceful, mountains, lakes and lots and lots of greenery. We've already decided that we will be back. 

To read more and see more photos of our holiday in Wales visit Martyn's web page here

Friday, September 23

Get up close!

The shrub roses on the plot are still flowering although although the wind has tattered petals there is still some beauty there if you look closely enough.

The dying flowers will be left to form hips.
The bees are making the most of any remaining pollen and nectar supplies.

Tuesday, September 20

Saturday, September 17

We are fruitaholics

We have to admit that we are fruitaholics. As well as the masses of fruits that we grow on the allotment we also have some fruit growing in the garden.

Some is intentionally and some are just happy bonuses.

The newcomers
I’ve already mentioned our success with nectarines/peaches. Half a dozen fruits may not rate as a success for some but for us it was fantastic. The tree was kept in a pot in the garden as we wanted to cosset it and also such fruit grown on the plot would be likely to attract unwelcome attention.

We also have a few strawberry plants - Finesses growing in a tub. These really ended up in the garden as we had set out the new strawberry bed when our main strawberry order arrived and so when Finesse arrived the plants were homeless. The idea of a few in the garden was appealing and so they stayed.
The kiwi Issai that was also planted in a tub in the garden doesn’t really seem very happy. It was off to a great start and has produced lots of fruit but these just aren’t getting any larger. It hasn’t had idea conditions this year but we are also wondering whether it is happy growing in a pot.
The long standing residents
We’ve had a grapevine - Himrod - that has lived in our greenhouse for years. There was a point where it took over completely and had to be severely put in it’s place. Now it is subject to hard pruning every year. It doesn’t hold this against us and produces masses of small seedless sweet green grapes every year. After pruning it is left to just get on with it except for a little cutting back once bunches of fruit have set.
Behind our greenhouse are a couple of apple trees and a pear tree. These are not really trees in the true sense more delinquent cordons. They shouldn’t really be there as we cut down all our cordon trees years ago when we just couldn’t control the woolly aphids that infested them each year. The roots were difficult to remove and so were left and new growth just cut back until it eventually gave up trying. These three, however, just sneakily continued to grow behind the greenhouse until one day we noticed that they were loaded with fruit. 

We know the pear is a Conference and that one of the apples is a Bramley but are unsure what the other apple is - maybe Peasgood Nonsuch. 
We sort of remember which trees we planted but not really where each one was. One thing I am sure of is that they produce fantastic apples.

There are grapes growing on one of the vines planted outdoors on the plot but these are still currant sized even though the photo makes them look fairly mature I doubt whether any will swell and ripen and be fit for picking. Well there's always another year!

Wednesday, September 14

Not what they seem!

For a few years we struggled to grow peppers. The plants managed a meagre crop but these often failed to fully ripen and really weren’t worth the effort. Last year we decided to abandon the idea of bell peppers try growing the long thin or carrot shaped varieties.

We grew two varieties - Jimmy Nardello and Tequila Sunrise. Last year both did well with enough fruit being produced for freezing.

This year the plants have grow well and set plenty of fruit but it is slow to ripen. Jimmy Nardello is now  making an effort to run red but I think Tequila Sunrise - a yellow-orange variety would have liked a bit more sunshine as it is determined to stay green.
Jimmy Nardello
Tequila Sunrise
The peppers look very much like large chillies and I must admit to being a bit concerned about that. The seed catalogue - Plants of Distinction - grouped all their peppers together but described Jimmy as a sweet pepper and confirmed this with a  heat rating of zero.

Although the Tequila Sunrise fruit seem to be conforming to the expected shape some of the Jimmy Nardello fruits haven’t read their brief closely enough and are showing their creative side. 

Sunday, September 11

Progress on one front at least

Just thought I’d let you have a quick update about how things are progressing in the new front flower bed. It's good to see something actually coming together as our other plans have suffered from what Mark from Mark's Veg Plot describes as the domino effect.

The plants that I bought from Beth Chatto, Unwins and Hayloft are growing really well. (See here for a photo taken 13 June) I’ve been really pleased with them and wouldn’t hesitate to buy from any of these companies again although for larger and more advanced plants I’ll use Beth Chatto.
Photo taken July 5 2011
The number of plants that I estimated I would need was about right.

The poppy alongside the dreadful fence shouldn’t be there - it’s a self sown seedling but as it was doing no harm where it was, I left it - many of it’s brothers and sisters were less fortunate. I pulled it up once the flowers had died before it sent thousands of poppy seeds everywhere.

The perennials are growing well - the Michaelmas daisy at the back has been flowering since sometime in April before I planted it  and is still going strong. It should flower in late summer - early autumn. When first planted I hadn't set up any plant supports but have added some since.
My allotment plot neighbour gave me a white campanula which split in two, cut back and planted. It had already flowered and so I didn't expect any more flowers or growth from it this year. Surprisingly though the small piece has flowered.
Photo taken 8 August 2011
I've planted some of the aquilegias that I grew from seed. These are in three groups of three near to the front of the bed and should provide a different leaf and flower shape. Again I don’t really expect them to do much this year but maybe next.
Photo taken 13 August 2011
One blow to my plans has been the revelation that the salvias that I planted may not survive winter. I was hoping that this bed would fill up more next year but if the salvias fail then this will leave large gaps. I've taken some cuttings  as an insurance policy. The ones from the large purple salvia - Amistad - at the back have already developed strong roots and been potted up.

I bought lots of spring bulbs - miniature daffodil, crocuses and tulips - and planted them in gaps between the perennials. The tulips were a sort of pick and mix so I haven't any photos but I bought Czar Peter, Fashion Show WinnerThis should ensure that the bed isn't just a summer feature.
I've also order some Katherine Hodgkin irises.. It's a shame really as I had assumed our local nursery wouldn't have them - but they did and now I have to wait for a delivery when I could have got them planted.
An added bonus was the appearance of a couple of self sown antirrhinums - no idea where they originated from as we have never grown them but they fit in well so maybe I'll grow some next year or I could just let them self seed again.

I've also brought three achilleas and some heucheras (Plum Pudding) back from the plot and planted these in some gaps. The heuchera should spill over onto the paving to soften the edge - well that's the theory. I may have planted too many but they can always be taken out later.
Photo taken 3 September 2011
A problem is that fence - it’s not ours - our neighbour erected it - we look at the back of it and it's not really a pretty sight. It’s only about a metre (three feet high) and so not really high enough for climbers. Maybe once the plants thicken up they will hide it but that will only be effective during the summer months.

What would you do? Bear in mind we can't actually change the fence!

Wednesday, September 7

Well done the reds!

For a few years now we have grown two lots of autumn fruiting raspberries. Allgold - a yellow fruiting variety and Joan J which produces the more usual red fruit. Last year we had considered digging up Joan J and consigning her to the compost heap. The canes never grew very strongly and only produced few fruits.

This year all that has changed - why? Well we decided to give Joan one more chance to prove her worth and she certainly has!

The two varieties of raspberries were growing in the same bed but Allgold seemed to be dominating so we decided to move a few canes of Joan J to see if when she was in a bed of her own she did better.

The result has been much stronger growing plants with a good amount of large lovely flavoured berries and this in just their first year after the move.

Berries are larger and firmer than Allgold. Allgold does produce lots of raspberries but these don’t stand up too well to wind and rain. The berries turn mushy. 

This week has been really windy and although we haven’t had torrential rain it has been fairly wet. Allgold just hasn’t liked it. Up until this week we were harvesting lots of the yellow berries but this week few were worth picking.

On the other hand the red raspberries being produced by Joan J are still firm and perfect.

The Joan J canes that are still sharing a bed with Allgold will be moved next year. So well done the reds!

Tuesday, September 6

Losing their spots

There was a time when goldfinches were rarely seen in our garden. We would hear them flying over but our garden didn’t seem to interest them.

It’s a different matter now as there is hardly a day goes by that that we don’t spot at least a couple on one of the feeders. Recently though we have counted record numbers. Last week we counted at least eighteen feeding at the same time either on the ground or from hanging feeders.

There were only a couple of adults - the rest being young - surely it wasn’t a family group! The young were at various stages in the development of their adult plumage, some just beginning to grow the red face feathers.

We first saw an increase in the number of goldfinch visitors during last winter when they seemed to take up permanent residence on our feeders. Since then they have become a regular feature.

The video clip blow shows just some of the ‘flock’. The ground table is placed below a hanging feeder so that the sunflower hearts that drop from the feeder aren’t wasted. The young goldfinches are joined by a young greenfinch which is also in the process of acquiring its adult feathers.
All the blue and great tits now seem to have matured and most of the robins have acquired their red breasts but some sparrows are still in the transition stage like this young male.

Saturday, September 3

Let there be light

We had a surprise when we visited the allotment this week. I wonder if you can guess a major difference in these two photos.

Photo taken in June this year
Photo taken this week

It's not really anything to do with our plot try looking beyond. For help scroll down.

Does this help?

We wondered what all the noise was about when we arrived at the plot.
It was the sound of chain saws. The conifers along one side of our site were alive with men in orange jackets. Apparently the conifers had become a problem and were affected the electricity supply so they had to have some of the height taken out.

The photo below taken in February 2007 shows how much shade was cast especially during the winter months.
Plots directly under the shade of the conifers had 'permafrost' until the sun rose high enough in the sky to cast some light over the tops of the trees. Even then half of these plots were more or less in permanent shade. Hopefully they will benefit from the work of the chain saw gang!

It's not quite back to the view in the 1980's though!