The greenhouse casualty

There’s no easy way to break this sad news, so I will just come out and say it like it is. We’ve had a death in the greenhouse.

Let me explain…

Earlier in the summer, I bought a melon plant from our local ‘cheap and cheerful’ garden centre. It was a complete impulse buy, and being only 50p, it jumped into my trolley all by itself. It sat on the corner of the greenhouse staging, and soon began winding itself around the canes I’d provided, and popped out quite a few yellow flowers. On returning from our summer holiday, we were delighted to find that it had actually gone the whole hog and produced a melon. True, it was only about the size of a tennis ball, but it was healthy and strong, and we had high hopes for it.

To make sure it didn’t get too heavy for the plant, I’d carefully put it in a net bag (which originally had oranges in), and hung this from a hook on the greenhouse frame.

A couple of weeks ago, to my utter dismay, I discovered that the leaves were not looking as perky as they once did. Over the next couple of days, one by one, they shrivelled up and died, and I was left with no choice but to cut my losses and harvest the fruit. Although tiny, it was perfectly formed, perfectly ripe, and tasted blooming delicious!

Turning my attention to the cucumbers, these appeared to be suffering the same fate. Out of the three I planted in a grow bag, two had shot off and scrambled up the canes swiftly becoming fine specimens and bearing fruit. One had always been the runt of the litter, and had seemed to take ages to become established. That seems to have changed now, as the first two are slowly dying, and runty is looking strong and healthy, but has still never produced any cucumbers.

I can only think that even with the regular doses of comfrey tea the melon and cucumber plants have sucked the last drop of any kind of nutrient out of the soil, and are now saying, “blow that… it’s time for a rest”. I’m wondering if perhaps less plants in the grow bag, or indeed a larger pot for the melon would have made all the difference.

Next year I’m going to try out a new idea. I’m planning to cut the bottoms off a couple of large pots and cut a pot-sized circle in the top of the grow bag. Apparently, you then position the pot on top of the hole, fill it with soil, and ‘Voila!’ the growing space is doubled. According to the stuff I’ve read, this also helps with keeping the plants nice and moist. With any luck, the plants will stay healthier for just a little bit longer, and we’ll be enjoying cucumbers way into the autumn.

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Leafing through my gardening book earlier in the year, I came across a plant that would seem to be every gardener’s dream come true.

It’s not edible, or strikingly beautiful, but it contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus (or in layman’s terms, nutrients that plants LOVE).

The secret is all in the roots. Apparently they go really deep, and mine up a load of good stuff from way down in the soil, which is then stored in the leaves.

You can then do a number of things with comfrey leaves:

  1. Lay them on the soil around plants: they will gradually rot down and release food into the soil
  2. Chuck some in the compost bin: a two or three inch layer will give the bin a quick blast of energy
  3. Dangle some in your water butt: it turns the water into a miracle juice that’s a quick pick me up for tomatoes, cucumbers and beans.


I was sold! I imagined the day when the compost bin was a veritable furnace of energy, the tomatoes were tripping on nitrogen intake, and I’d have a never-ending supply of comfrey tea in the water butt. Added to that, the little flowers would attract bees and insects – I’d be a fool not to!

My book said to look for a variety called Bocking 14, as this one apparently won’t seed itself all over the place and you shouldn’t have to spend the rest of your living days digging it up.  A quick rootle round on the t’interweb turned up a supplier, and the plants arrived shortly after.

The blurb said to put it in a spot where it wouldn’t be moved about, and it was advisable to wear gloves when handling… at this point I did wonder if I was purely introducing a posh nettle to the garden.

A location was swiftly found, and the plants went in a spot at the back of the veg plot. They’d be nicely out of the way of any ‘brush past’ incidents, and they could stay there forever to mature into fine old specimens.

After the plants had established themselves and started to grow with gusto, I decided to make some of that there comfrey tea. Donning my gloves, I pulled a load of the larger, lower leaves off and with a piece of garden netting, made a giant teabag to hang in the water butt.

After a couple of weeks, it was beginning to work its magic. The water was coming out a greeny colour, and everything I’ve watered with it seems to be romping along. The only downside is that it smells like a wrestler’s armpit. There’s a certain breathing whilst watering knack to be deployed, but that’s a small price to pay for miracle juice.

Comfrey tea and a scone anyone?