Goodbye greenhouse

This week I’ve made a groundbreaking discovery. I don’t actually need a greenhouse. Yes – true… after a couple of years of pottering around and potting up in my old one, my new house doesn’t actually need one at all!

When I first moved to the new pad, a greenhouse was definitely on the must-have list, so I bought a second hand one which my brother in law very kindly helped me to dismantle and bring home. This has sat in bits in the garden since, although I did spend a frustrating and head-scratching afternoon assembling all the side panels.

Then a visit with my friend to some open gardens last weekend changed all of that. The gardens were part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) where villagers open up their pride and joys, all in the name of charity. Off we trotted to the Cotswolds, hoping to be inspired and delighted. And inspired I most definitely was. Within these gardens were riots of colour, sweeping lawns, grand water features, rambling climbers… and hardly any of them contained a greenhouse.

So I decided that that’s the way my garden would go. Old, rambly, cottagey… you get the picture. The main priority is to fill the garden with lots and lots of flowers, and the vegetables can be put in alongside them. I think it will look marvellous.

The greenhouse is now sold on to its lucky new owner, and I’m itching to dig up some big borders. I have to say at this point that when I mentioned the demise of the greenhouse to said brother in law, he fixed me with a steely gaze that could have actually burned the retinas off my eyeballs. He clearly remembered with fondness the long sweaty afternoon getting the thing down. I did a bit of emergency grovelling, and I think he’s over it now…

Meanwhile on the plot, the two surviving runner beans (out of 12) are SPRINTING up the canes, and I’ve already spotted the first red flowers beginning to form. I may plant some bean seeds at the bases of the empty canes to try their luck for a late harvest. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

However, I’m delighted to say that the French beans all appear to have avoided any slug damage, and they are looking thick, healthy and lush. An added bonus, as I’ve never had any luck with Frenchies in the past. The rows of broccoli are also doing well, as are the leeks.

French beans

French beans

On the down side, the cabbages, cauliflowers and turnips are looking decidedly sorry for themselves. Although I’ve managed to cut down the slug population a little, the ones I have left are definitely sneaking out for a midnight snack still. There lies my slight dilemma. Do I cut my losses and have all the ropey-looking stuff out, or do I leave them in to act as sacrificial veggies?

Because if the slugs are eating them, they’re staying away from my good stuff for now.

Runner beans are up to speed

As the world went slightly hysterical over the coming of the new royal baby, I was having a smug little moment to myself down on the patch with my own little arrivals.

After runner bean-gate of a couple of months ago… you know the one… I put them out too early… they got clobbered by Jack Frost so I had to plant some emergency ones…yes, that’s the story…

Well, I am delighted to be able to tell you that not only have these grown almost to the top of the arches, but I have beans dangling in abundance all over them. When the plants do reach the top, I’ll pinch out the tips to encourage sturdier growth further down. I have three varieties in all – White Lady, Pantheon and a rather startling little number called Selma Zebra. This was an impulse buy heritage variety, and I’m so glad I tried her. The flowers are a gorgeous pink colourand the beans are mottled with purple. I’m pretty certain these will not be ‘available in a store near you’ any time soon, and I will definitely be leaving a few on the plant to dry for next year’s seeds.

Selma Zebra runner beans

Selma Zebra runner beans

As two of the Pantheons are almost a foot long already, I’ve tied a bit of string around their stalks. This signifies that these beans are definitely not for picking: I’ve earmarked them for the ‘Longest runner bean’ category in the Earl Shilton Town Show at the end of the month. With a good couple more weeks of growing time I think they are in with a fighting chance.

Elsewhere in the garden, the greenhouse is flourishingand we’ve harvested the first couple of cucumbers already – which were sweet and delicious. The tomatoes aren’t yet ripening, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

I read in the week that a sprinkling of crushed egg shells around the base of tomatoes and cucumbers can give the plants a good boost of calcium. This apparently can help them reach their full flavour potential and also helps the plants regulate their water intake, preventing conditions like splitting and blossom end rot. As egg shells aren’t something that are in short supply around our house, I decided to give this method a whirl, and whizzed out to put a generous handful of shells around each plant. This, together with regular feeds should make for a bumper crop.

The tomatoes I planted in the upside down planters are also doing remarkably well. I have to admit I was dubious about these at the start – it’s just not natural for plants to grow upside down – but they appear to be proving me wrong. The plants are healthy and strong, and a good number of cherry tomatoes have started to form on the branches. Very soon it’ll be tomatoes and cucumbers for everyone!

upside down tomato planter

upside down tomato planter

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 1 August 2013

 

Spuds galore

This week I’ve harvested my first crop of new potatoes. The flowers have just begun to form, and yes, I know you shouldn’t dig them up until they have finished flowering, but I just couldn’t wait to see what was under the ground. I was delighted to find enough decent sized spuds to slap around our evening meal: I’m probably biased, but they were truly delicious. Now my curiosity has been satisfied, I’ll leave the rest alone for a couple of weeks.

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

Potatoes, peas and beans from the garden

We’ve also had our first crop of peas. True, there was only a small spoonful each, but they were fresh and tasty and looking at the forming pods, we will be in for a few more.

And that’s not all. Turning my attention to the rest of the plot, it all seems to have suddenly gone bonkers. I’ve got cabbage leaves coming out of my ears, so much so that I couldn’t physically make and store that amount of soup – so the chickens are receiving cabbagy treats. Which they love.

The first tiny courgettes are also beginning to form, as are the broad bean pods. I reckon we will be sampling those in just a couple more weeks. I’m also thrilled to report that some of the runner beans are now as tall as me, and look as though they may burst into flower any time now.

The greenhouse has produced the first tiny tomatoes, and I’ve been watering those and the cucumbers with comfrey tea.

To make the tea, I stuffed a load of comfrey leaves into a couple of old pop socks, tied up the tops and dangled them in the water butt to stew for a couple of weeks. I think the solution is ready to use, purely by the smell of it. Comfrey tea is funny stuff. You think that it’s pretty harmless, but once it’s out of the watering can, the stench jumps up and near on slaps you around the face. But it’s full of good stuff for the plants so I’ll have to get used to the greenhouse smelling like rush hour on the tube. Whilst on the comfrey theme, I’ve tucked a handful of leaves into the top of each grow bag hole. These should rot down gently and give the plants another vitamin hit.

All this feeding and tending is now for a purpose. I’ve had my programme for the Earl Shilton Town Show on 31 August at Age UK. There are loads of categories up for grabs including onions, beans, courgettes, cauliflowers and tomatoes –and that’s just the vegetable bit. There are sections for flower arrangements, home produce, crafts and a whole raft of things that children can enter. Programmes are available from Earl Shilton Town Council, and at only 20p per entry, watch out… I’m going for gold.

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 July 2013

Greenhouse planting

Last weekend I was all geared up for a wriggle round the garden and looking forward to a fair bit of pottering and pruning. However, the weather had other plans. A glance out of the window told me that rain was back with a vengeance.

No matter though… earlier in the week, the other half had returned home brandishing gifts for me. Not flowers or chocolates – even better than that… an assortment of chilli seeds. Seeing that any outdoor jobs were well and truly scuppered, I trotted off down to the greenhouse for a planting session instead.

As well as the chilli seeds, I also sowed some peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers. I’ve also sown a couple of trays of flowers to pad out the borders later in the year: larkspur, petunias and nicotiana.

In between the rain, there were a couple of sunny spells and it was amazing to see the temperature soar in the greenhouse from 14 to 25 degrees in just a matter of minutes. It will soon be time to remove the bubble wrap that’s insulating it, but I think I’ll wait until the end of April when the risk of frost should be much less.

There is further evidence (although sometimes it doesn’t feel like it) that the days are indeed getting longer. Mildred and Maud have finally got their act into gear, and for the first time this year we collected an egg from each of our chickens. True, they were a bit of an odd shape, but still they signify the start of the laying season. It’ll be cakes and quiche all round before you know it…

After the marathon planting session, the greenhouse bench is now chock a block with potential offerings, and I’m now spilling over onto the floor space. The leeks and onions are slowly but surely showing their heads, and the broad beans are positively bursting through the soil, looking healthy and strong.

Beans in toilet roll tubes

Beans in toilet roll tubes

I’ll wait until the beans are a nice manageable size, and indeed the soil outside dries out a bit before planting them into the vegetable plot. The spot I have earmarked for them is a relatively high bit of the garden, so should drain off and warm up over the next couple of weeks or so.

However, the middle part of the veg plot is currently still under water. Sitting on clay and having continual wet weather does not a good combination make. As we lost so many plants last year due to boggy soil, this year we have decided to install raised beds.

The other half has been rootling round on the t’interweb for some likely materials, and will be ordering some packs of pre-treated timber gravel boards very shortly. When they arrive, we’ll be after a long enough dry spell to construct them.

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

Spring

Just nipped down to the greenhouse, and it’s 29 degrees in there today… woo hoo… spring is on its way!

In addition, the following is happening…

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

 

Leeks popping through

Leeks popping through

Broad beans are up!

Broad beans are up!

I’m back

Yoo hoo! Yes, I’m speaking to you… yes, and you too…

After a bit of a lull in the old blogosphere, I’ve finally found the time and the inclination to put fingers to keyboard and ‘ahem’ bash one out.

I’ve had a rest from The Hinckley Times articles over Christmas, as even I can’t bobble on continually about ‘it’s a bit nippy out’. But you know what? After the bleak dreary nights, where all you want to do is light a fire and get your PJs on, I do believe that spring may really be around that corner.

Only the other morning, I looked out to see blackbirds blatantly flirting…nay.. near on cavorting… in the garden, and a blue tit was definitely having a good old nosey in the bird box.

And so, on to the vegetable plot. The garlic and onions I planted at the back end of last year have survived the snow, and healthy new shoots are pushing up through the ground. The broad beans were doing marvellously, right up until the point I let the chickens out for a run around the garden. In amongst all that green stuff they could have found to eat, they happily chomped through the entire crop of beans and left me with nowt but spindly stalks.

No matter, I’ve planted up two varieties of replacements in the greenhouse. Bunyard’s Exhibition as they did well last year, and a heritage variety I’m trying for the first time: Dreadnought. It’ll be interesting to see which are the top croppers. They are all planted in empty toilet rolls, as apparently when it’s time to plant them out, the whole thing goes in. The tube will rot away in the soil, and the roots won’t get any unnecessary disruption. Happy times.

I’ve also planted aubergines, chillis, broccoli, leeks and onions. There was a slight seed-related mishap, whereby a good few of them got wet due to a leak in the shed roof. So I don’t actually know if any will pop up, but for the moment they have the benefit of the doubt. I pop down to the greenhouse every day, peer encouragingly into all the pots, and give them all a ‘come on old chaps’ kind of pep talk.

If nothing startling happens, I may resort to buying seedlings from the garden centre. That’s not cheating is it? Please tell me it’s not…

This one’s for you Edgar 😉

It starts

Yesterday afternoon I recieved an intriguing email, telling me that a parcel I’d ordered would be delivered today. Racking my brains, I couldn’t remember ordering anything, so deduced that either

  • OH had been let loose on Amazon again
  • I’d been online shopping after wine (like drunk texting – never a good idea!)

Anyway, the doorbell went this morning, and sure enough, Mr Postie was there, brandishing a fairly heavy box with my name on it.

Seed potatoes

I could hardly contain my excitement as I brought it inside, and I eagerly set to work ripping through the industrial staples that held the thing together. Spying the contents, I allowed myself a little internal ‘Hooray!’… the new gardening year is well and truly on its way… my seed potatoes have arrived.

Last year, the spuds didn’t do too well. The ones in tyres never appeared, and I seemed to be forever rescuing the ones in the ground from my ever increasing slug population. That’s why I must have decided to hedge my bets and order not two – but SIX varieties to grow this year. They were marketed in the catalogue as ‘Allotment favourites‘, and I reasoned that with some being first earlies, some second earlies and some maincrop, I may just have a chance at success this year… Oh yes!

The varieties were:

  • First earlies – Orla and Lady Christl
  • Second earlies – Kestrel
  • Early main -Balfour and Sante
  • Late main – Cara

Perusing the planting schedule for each kind, it looks as though the earlies go in during February, and the rest are planted in March. I’ll have to label them up well so I can keep track of what went where, so they get dug up at the right time.

I’ve also decided to try something new this year. Half of the Lady Christl are going to be planted in a container in the greenhouse later on this month. Just to see what happens. If I can harvest some super-earlies, I’ll be more than happy. The greenhouse is insulated, and once the temperature really drops I’ll keep it frost free with my trusty paraffin heater. I’ve got an old recycling bag that the council used to take cardboard away in… so will make some drainage holes in the bottom and plant the potatoes in there. Once the weather warms up (assuming they’re growing), it will be an easy enough job to move the bag to a sunny spot outside to finish off. Plus it will make room in the greenhouse for all the other crops I hope to be growing.

So with that in mind, six of the Lady Christl seed potatoes are currently camping out in the conservatory in an egg box. As it’s cool and bright in there, it should provided the ideal conditions for the spuds to throw up little shoots – or chits. These will help the potatoes get established more quickly once they are in the soil.

Lady Christl - chitting

Lady Christl – chitting

What’s your top varieties and top tips for spud growing?

Insulating the greenhouse

As winter is well and truly on its way now, we’ve decided to insulate the greenhouse. This should keep the place warmer, help keep the frost out, and hopefully reduce the fuel bill when the weather is cold enough to dust off our trusty heater. It should also let us grow a few things over the winter that would struggle to survive outside.

Last year I put a small plastic greenhouse inside the big one, and this was great for starting off some early crops. This year I also want to have a go at growing some winter salads and early potatoes in containers, so decided to insulate the entire greenhouse.

Searching online, I found that the best material is bubble wrap. Apparently you can get specialist stuff which is ideal for the job as it’s UV protected. I only found out this little gem of information after I’d already bought a massive roll of packaging bubble wrap. Deciding to give this a go as we already had it, myself and the other half waltzed off down to the greenhouse at the weekend, to tackle the job in hand.

The first thing to do was to have a good old tidy up, so we harvested the last of the tomatoes and removed the plants. The green tomatoes are now between sheets of newspaper in the conservatory to ripen up. Next up we sorted out the pots and temporarily moved the plants on the staging outside, to give ourselves a clear area to work in.

After a fair bit of ‘to me’ ‘to you-ing’ we’d soon lined the inside of the greenhouse with bubble wrap. As ours is wooden, it fixed onto the frame easily with drawing pins (bubbles towards the glass). If yours is aluminium, special plastic fixings are available from most garden centres.

Now the insulation is up, and especially when we’re using our paraffin heater, the greenhouse will naturally produce more condensation. This could potentially be a problem as too much humidity can be a breeding ground for fungal infections. To get around this, we’ll open the door on clear, sunny days to ventilate the place, and keep the pots and plants inside on the dry side.

The last task of the day was to cut off the tops of the now empty grow bags. I planted a crop of winter peas in one a couple of weeks ago, and these are merrily pushing through the soil as we speak. Into the others went some mixed salad leaves, some spring onion seeds and some radish. With any luck we’ll be harvesting salad well into the winter.

The Hinckley Times 8 November 2012

The Hinckley Times 8 November 2012

Tomato splits

You may recall we had ‘tomato-gate’ earlier in the year, where the other half took it upon himself to whip out the stems in the ‘v’. Since then, he’s become a veritable tomato expert, and takes care of all the watering, pruning and feeding of our crop. If he’s nowhere to be seen, it’s always worth a check in the old greenhouse: more often than not he’ll be lying horizontal along the path in there, snipping off the lower leaves to let the fruits have a bit more light.

Although why he’s taken on our tomato crop is still a slight mystery. The tomatoes are romping along, but he  doesn’t actually eat them. Slight amendment – he forces a couple down with a salad now, just so he can taste the benefits of all his hard work, but I’m not convinced there’s any chewing action going on just yet 🙂

There are three varieties we’re growing:  Gardener’s Delight and Sungold for eating and Roma for cooking.

We noticed recently that a few of the fruits were splitting. If  you catch them in time this isn’t a problem – just cut them along the split before serving, and Hey Presto – who’d know the difference? Left a little longer however and they can go a bit mushy around the split. Those ones have gone to the chickens, and Winnie, Maud and Mildred LOVE them!

Split tomato

Apparently the splitting can happen when your watering’s a bit hit and miss. They like a constant amount of water, at regular intervals. If you give them loads then a little bit, then loads again, this can cause them to keep sucking up the water on the inside, and split through the skin.  Apparently.

I’m not convinced. Being a Virgo, the other half has been meticulous in his watering. Some of the plants are even drip fed by an irrigation system hanging in the greenhouse.

We’ve also read that splitting can be avoided by harvesting the tomatoes just before they ripen, and finish them off inside. That looks like a plan: from now on, we’re going to check every day for potential splittage, and bring them all in a touch early.

Our crops look to be bumper, so I think my ‘Cooking with Tomatoes’ book will be out before very long.

Bon appetit!

Bumper crops

After the rain

After yesterday’s rain completely stopped play for lots of gardeners and Jubilee parties, I thought I’d take a few pics this morning. Everything is bouncing along, and hopefully before long I’ll be smugly spoilt for choice at what to pick for dinner.

The spuds are doing well – I’ve run into a slight hitch with the old earthing up business. My rows were a bit haphazard, so I think I may run out of earthing up soil very shortly. Not to worry though – the ones in the tyres seem to be OK. There are three varieties in this bed – International Kidney, Cara and some random ones I found sprouting in a bag in the pantry. It will be interesting to see what I end up with…

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

The rasberries at the back of the bed seem happy enough too – must remember to dig out the netting when the fruit starts appearing. Last year I was beaten to it by the birds.

The brassica bed is romping along, and for the first time ever I have cabbages that haven’t shot off into the sky, but have stayed low, and are actually forming… wait for it… hearts!

I’ve pinched the tops off the broad beans, as I read that it helps stop the blackfly. The runner beans have their first flowers, which I’m sure the tree bees will sniff out in no time at all… We actually ate our first crop of peas yesterday. Picked, podded and steamed, they were delicious. We did have to ration them out though, as a basket of pods produced about a spoonful of peas.

Broad, runner and borlotti beans… in that order

The plants in the greenhouse are also coming along. We have one sickly cucumber who seems to be the runt of the litter, but seems to be perking up a bit now. The tomatoes have flowers, and I’ve been busily picking out the bit that grows in the ‘v’ between the stems. Apparently it’s better for them – I normally start off well then lose interest and they all go a bit mad.

‘Curly’ the runty cucumber is third from the right…