Friday, January 30

.. and cucumbers.

Last year I won a packet of Mini Munch cucumbers in a competition run by Jo over at The Good Life. We'd always grown the ridge cucumber - Burpless Tasty Green in the past and most years this has done fairly well. I'd always considered that mini cucumbers were tricky to grow and the seed was expensive so a chance to try some for free was such a good opportunity.

We decided to increase our chance of success by giving the plants a bit of protection. Three plants were planted in rings placed on the top of compost filled, large, square tubs and the plants allowed to sprawl about. 

The cold frame lid was left open (at the setting shown below) and the plants were fed as we would tomatoes but otherwise given no special treatment. One advantage however was that the 'fruits' would be close at hand to harvest fresh.
The Burpless Tasty Green cucumbers were planted as usual.
Usually, Burpless provides us with a good supply of cucumbers - so much so that we end up giving lots away, but not so last year. From six plants we only picked 9 fruits - none of which were prize specimens.

From half as many Mini Munch plants we picked twice as many, albeit much smaller, fruits. However, although small the fruits were juicy and crisp. As a result we are converted to the mini varieties. Jo kindly sent us another packet of Mini Munch this year and we are also going to grow a second mini variety Cucino which like Mini Munch can be grown outdoors or in a greenhouse.

Fingers crossed that we do as well with them this year. Thanks, Jo for showing us the light!

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Thursday, January 29

Minding your peas ...

Compared to beans we don't get as big a harvest from our garden peas and once the peas are produced the length of the harvest is relatively short so we stagger sowing and grow a few different varieties.
We sowed our peas directly into the ground which we have found far more successful than growing in pots etc and planting out. This way seems to produce much stronger, healthier looking plants. We sow the seeds in a shallow trench and like for many other crops plant through weed control fabric.

We are also very generous in the amount of seed that we sow to allow for some loses due to poor germination or hungry pests.

Once the small plants have reached a reasonable size hazel twigs are pushed between them to offer support. The twiggy branches offer plenty of opportunity for the tendrils to catch hold. The spent plants are also easier to remove from the twigs than they are from netting.

One pest which always tries to attack the young plants is the pea and bean weevil that bites notches in the leaves. Judging by the amount of weevil damage we suffer on both broad beans and peas our plot must be home to a whole army of these creatures. If the seedlings grow quickly enough they can usually outgrow any damage.
Out first pickings are eaten fresh and often raw but there comes a point when the plants need stripping before the peas spoil and at this stage we have a harvest for the freezer.
Last year our sowing of Ambassador peas was a total failure. The seeds just did not germinate. We bought a packet of Misty from the garden centre so we could resow the row of failed Ambassador seeds. As Ambassador is given an excellent write up we are trying it again but it had better perform this time. Kelvedon Wonder will again be our early sowing and Onward our mainstay. We hope to give more space to peas this year and so have bought a bumper pack of Onward.

We will also be growing the mangetout variety Carouby de Maussane again this year. These provided us with the pea experience before the garden peas were ready to pick.

Wednesday, January 28

Can you identify these birds?

Tuesday, January 27

Garden Birdwatch - the resuts

We chose Saturday morning for our watching hour. One of us was posted at each of the windows that look out over the side of the house where all our feeders and bird tables are situated. This is the site of the main bird activity - it's impossible to cover all angles with just the two of us.

The blackbirds didn't let us down and as usual were waiting to be fed.
They also patrol under feeders when other birds are feeding and collect the titbits that fall down. Every tiny scrap is searched out from amongst the leaf litter. Along with most of the other birds blackbirds  are also partial to uncooked pastry scraps that is if the magpie leaves any after grabbing a beakful and making off into the trees.
The blackbirds tolerate each other as long as an acceptable distance is maintained between them. Too close and a beak-off is initiated. They also seem to take turns at the choicest areas. I guess some sort of pecking order is in play, however challenges do take place and squabbles break out. These, however, are not as raucous as the quarrelling of the starlings,
The tiny blue tits will take food from anywhere but generally can be fairly confident that they will have the peanut feeder more or less to themselves although if the weather is really bad other birds will provide competition.

At the other end of the scale are the comparatively huge woodpigeons who unlike the starlings can be surprisingly delicate feeders, especially considering the devastation they can cause in the allotment.

We had decided to try a second count on Sunday morning to compare results but it was unusually quiet and so we gave up. Even the blackbirds were reluctant to make a group appearance - they did come but in ones and twos only.

When I went online to submit our results I found that last year's results were still in place. Comparing them I found the two sets of results were very close

I would guess that the numbers of starlings and sparrows are higher than our count suggests but they are scattered and constantly on the move or hidden amongst the tree branches and shrubs and so very difficult to count.

On other days we have counted three robins but in the count only saw one at a time. 

Goldfinch numbers always seem to drop off at this time of year but during the breeding season we have had a whole flock or 'charm' and have counted up to 14 at a time.

All this leads me to think that I may do a count once a month, just for interest, to see how the situation changes from month to month.

As part of the count we are asked about other garden wildlife but I find the questions difficult to answer. You have to state whether you see the chosen creatures, daily, weekly, monthly, less than monthly, don't know or never.

So what is the correct answer for the frog which we see daily when lots are splashing around in the pond spawning but none now when they are hibernating?
I 'ticked' less than monthly - how can it be more frequently for animals like the frog and hedgehog that hibernate and disappear over winter?

NB: Photos not taken during the count

Monday, January 26

Peculiar Parsnips

We managed a visit to the plot to replenish our vegetable supplies and to give the fruit trees their second dose of winter wash.

The harvest was more or less the same sort of thing as we have had for a few weeks now.
That savoy cabbage was probably our largest. I always thought that they grew much bigger than this but ours are quite small. It's not that the plants didn't grow well as they we really healthy before winter set in. 

On the other hand what about that parsnip at the back?
I think it has decided to compete with that carrot I posted about earlier this month. It sustained a flesh wound when being extracted and has a patch of canker but it will scrub up nicely and go down a treat. 

PS Would you believe it but our plot neighbours have had some glass taken from their greenhouse - who does that sort of thing? It's unbelievable isn't it?

Sunday, January 25

Snowbird's Questions answered

About a couple of weeks ago Snowbird over at Gardens and Wildlife nominated my blog for an award and posed a set of gardening related questions that she would like me to answer. Flighty,  Garden in a City and Elaine have already answered so I thought that I had better sort myself out and add my answers. If you don't want to read all my answers maybe you'll enjoy the photos.
1. What is the worst injury you have sustained while gardening/plotting? In-depth gory details please….
I don't know whether this counts as an injury as such but at one time rough grass grew under our redcurrant bushes. One day I was picking the fruit when I felt something on my foot. When I looked down a gathering of angry wasps were having a sting party. I had inadvertently placed my foot over the entrance to their underground nest and they were not happy. Picture the scene - I was trapped under the netting and was most definitely not going to abandon a full punnet of redcurrants. 

I managed to escape from under the net punnet in hand thinking that wasn't too bad and wondering what all the fuss about wasp stings was about when the full effect kicked in and my views changed. Luckily I didn't react as badly as a plot neighbour who had an allergic reaction when stung.
2. How would/do you deal with wet, slushy, soggy leaves fermenting on the lawn that refuse to be raked up?
When the leaves are newly fallen we use a lawn mower to 'vacuum' them up. Any that arrive during winter are left where they are unless they constitute a slip hazard. The few that are on the lawn are left for the worms and blackbirds to deal with. Ones left on the garden and on paths little-used in winter are almost permanently foraged by our many blackbirds.
3. Have you ever had an invasion of Bamboo trying to colonize your garden? If yes, how did you get rid of it?
We once had four bamboos planted in the garden and all have been removed but one particular plant refuses to leave. We have hacked at it, cut canes out at ground level with the suckering roots attached but it clings on regardless - so anyone with the know how feel free to let us in on the secret.
4. Do you have any irrational fears/terrors re an animal or insect? If yes, how/when did it begin?
I used to have when I was a child - the usual creepy crawly thing, but thinking back I don't think I was really frightened. I think I was behaving how I was expected to and it was fun really. Now I find mini-beasts fascinating although I would draw the line to having them crawling over me. I also hate touching slugs but its's not really a fear. I have a rational respect for anything that may harm me so would keep my distance from anything that would fit into that category.
5. Has anyone else  ever danced barefoot in the rain  or hugged a tree?
No to the rain but I've hugged plenty of trees. When I was teaching I took my class on residential visits where we stayed in the Dales - or similar places - for a week. One activity was to go into a wooded area. A partner would lead you blindfolded to a tree and you had to take in as much information as you could about the chosen tree before being led away and the blindfold removed. You them had to find 'your' tree. We called the activity Tree Hugging,
6. Do you believe that the moon can influence the growth of plants?
The moon is supposed to affect any object made up of mainly liquid including us so I guess it affects plants but how or if it is a beneficial effect I don't know? I have an open mind to these things but I'm not going to start going out at midnight and planting under a full moon.

7.Do you have a favourite flower legend/story/superstition?
Sorry can't think of one so I guess that the answer is no.
8. Have you ever used a plant medicinally? And I’ll have NO stories of magic mushrooms or Belladonna mind!!!
Nothing I have made or gathered myself other than rubbing a dock leaf on a nettle sting.
9. Which is the most important to you, house or garden?
Both are equally important, I wouldn't buy a new property if I didn't like both or should I say see potential in both.

10. Do you constantly talk/complain about the weather to anyone who will listen?
As Martyn collects data we do discuss the weather quite a lot at home and also it affects our day to day plans. We complain about it when it spoils our plans, prevents us doing something or ruins something in the garden but mostly we see the changing weather as a photo opportunity.
11. What is the most you have spent on a plant over the last year?
We've spent quite a bit on plants this year but each hasn't individually broken the bank, I can't remember how much it was but I'm guessing that last year the climbing rose White Cloud was the single plant that we spent the most on.

I'm not going to pass on the award as I know some people don't like them and I'd also find it really difficult to decide which blogs to choose but feel free to add your answers to any of the questions in the comments (especially if you know how to get rid of bamboo that is inconveniently growing where digging it out isn't an option and it is close to other plants that I don't want to kill).

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Friday, January 23

The French can climb too

Last year after reading all Mark's (Mark's Veg Plot) enthusiasm for Cobra - a climbing French bean we decided to give it a try. We were impressed.

We like to grow a mixture of runner and French beans. In the past the runners have been grown up canes arrange teepee or wigwam style.
Often this method of support makes picking a bit difficult as the beans mass together at the top of the frame and also the beans inside the structure are well hidden and difficult to access. Maybe if we planted less plants and spread the canes further apart this would be less of a problem. Anyway we decided to try out a different method and arrange the canes in a sort of tent formation.

As you can see in the photo above we also employed our new best allotment friend - weed control fabric.

This set up was very successful. Not only was it easier to harvest beans but the arrangement seemed to stand up to the wind better - although I should have attached some canes as cross pieces along the sides of the frames for a bit more strength.

Last year as usual we grew three varieties if runner beans. Our total yield was just short if 38kg

Each of the runner bean varieties produced what we considered a good harvest considering that the discrepancy may be in part die to out inability to keep on top of the picking.

To be honest we probably don't need three varieties but we like to have a variety of flower colour.

If you don't have a vegetable area I think these plants would fit into an ornamental garden well.

The climbing French bean - Cobra had a smaller yield but the beans are smaller and we felt this was good. 

I've decided to compare the harvest of the dwarf bean harvest for 2013 as to be honest we rather neglected picking the dwarf beans last year (2014). This was for the same reasons as we will only be growing climbing French beans not dwarf varieties.
  • The yield per plant is better
  • The beans stay cleaner
  • Slug damage is reduced
  • Less beans twisted as a result of touching the ground
  • Easier to pick
We still wanted to have some purple and yellow beans.
We've found a yellow - Corona d'oro - and a purple - Cosse Violette - variety. As well as producing a variety if coloured beans these should also produce different coloured flowers.
Let's hope that they are as good as Cobra.

Wednesday, January 21

Getting ready for the RSPB Birdwatch weekend

Join in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend - click here for details

 Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Tuesday, January 20

Sweet smell of success

Up until last year we had always bought mixed packets of sweet pea seeds on the grounds that we just wanted to be able to pick plenty of flowers for the house not the show bench.

A group of us in our site are members of the NSALG and one of the benefits is that we can order from their special discounted seed catalogue. On browsing the catalogue I spotted a collection of named sweet pea varieties selected for perfume which were very reasonably priced and so I decided to order a pack.

In most people's eyes we maybe sow sweet pea seeds rather late - early April and planted out the young plants at the end of May.
As the photos show we grow squash in the same bed as the sweet peas and these intermingle. You may have also noticed we also plant through weed control fabric. I'm not sure whether either or both of these factors help retain moisture but last year we enjoyed a long flower production period. The first bunch of flowers was picked on 14 July and the last bunch picked on 23 October.  
The only downside was that one of the varieties - Beaujolais, a dark purple variety - only produced short stems.

This year I have decided to select individual varieties. I've chosen 9 varieties so I should end up with the same number if plants as last year. I've tried to find a good colour range which are recommended for cutting and where most have good scent. One or two may not have strong perfume but my theory is that as I pick a mixed bunch the highly perfumed varieties will make up for those with little perfume. My selection is as follows:
Candy King - deep pink
Claire Elizabeth - white with pink edge
Gwendoline - pale pink
Diamond Wedding - white
Blue Velvet - deep blue
Black Diamond - dark maroon
Millennium - red
Linda C -blue
Noel Sutton - blue/purple

Sunday, January 18

What you lose on the swings

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had cut down on the number of tomatoes in our garden greenhouse where in the past they have been a dominant feature. This had a beneficial effect on the sweet peppers and aubergines which as a result had more space and received more light. They were probably also given a bit more TLC too as they were less easily overlooked. In the past bell pepper crops have been small and we have resorted to the smaller carrot shaped peppers which seemed easier.

Last year most of the pepper plants were grown in large pots, (they are actually old florists buckets with holes drilled in the base), on the wide staging at the far end if the greenhouse
By most standards our crop wouldn't be considered large, we were satisfied. Maybe if we had harvested more at the green stage other fruits would have had the chance to develop.
This year we are growing King of the North and Redtop which is described as "Particularly sweet and very early for unheated greenhouses" (Maybe it's not too late to add Orange Bell)

We will be growing aubergine - Jackpot again this year. These are compact plants from which you can pick the fruits when quite small or leave them to grow larger. The aubergines were grown in large pots and placed on the staging.
We were concerned that the first lot of flowers didn't want to set fruit but eventually they 'came food' and we harvested 24 fruits again not a huge harvest but pleasing to us.