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.

Undone by kinky beans

This is the Hinckley Times article that  came out of my village show blog posts – published there on 5 September 2013…

After all the hype, build-up and preparation, last weekend it was finally here… the Earl Shilton Town Show was upon us. Up bright and early on Saturday morning I shot off down the garden – still in my pyjamas – to harvest my award-winning veggies.

The runner beans were whipped off the plants, the spuds and onions came out of hiding from the shed, and I also picked my biggest marrow, a couple of courgettes, a couple of tomatoes and a mahoosive cucumber that I’ve grown.

I soon found that finding four identical beans was going to be pretty tricky. Laying them out in size order, I discovered that some were too curly, some were odd shapes, and some perfect, but a bit kinky. I straightened them out best I could, and selected the most likely candidates. I then weighed my spuds and picked the four that were most uniform.

Runner beans at the show

Runner beans at the show

I was also entering the 5 a day category – an arrangement of five different fruits and vegetables – so into a basket went my marrow, cucumber, yellow courgettes, onions and a couple of beef tomatoes – I was after a colour explosion.

Off I went to the hall to display my entries, and realising there were some pristine specimens already there, I discovered the competition would be stiff. Returning a couple of hours later after judging had taken place, I eagerly scanned the tables for the results. And do you know what? Instead of the fistful of winning tickets I’d envisaged, my entries had won nothing. Yes! NOTHING at all!

This vegetable show malarkey is obviously a tad more technical than I’d thought, but I had an interesting chat with a chap there who let me in on a few trade secrets. Runner beans and tomatoes should be picked on the day of the show: they can tell if they’re not. There were a good few bean entries, so I wasn’t too disappointed about that one. A closer look at my spuds revealed a miniscule grub hole in the back of one, which obviously hadn’t escaped the scrutiny of the eagle-eyed judge.

5 a day display at the village vegetable show

5 a day display at the village vegetable show

My 5 a day basket – which I thought was my trump card – didn’t win because the entries were judged on how balanced a diet they were (on reflection I had too many curcubits) – and get this – they also looked at the vitamin and mineral content in there!

Oh well. There’s always next year, and as they say, “it’s the taking part that counts”.

Although, I didn’t come away from the show entirely empty handed. After my article a couple of weeks ago, bemoaning my Cabbage White invasion, a very kind man gave me a present. A sachet of organic, natural caterpillar killer that you mix with water and spray on the plants. The caterpillars eat the leaves, and apparently die shortly after – not harming any beneficial insects in the process. As my greenhouse is currently being eaten alive, it was a gift very gratefully received.

The Hinckley Times 5 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 5 September 2013

Vegetable show tomorrow

Well, after a full on grow your own summer, the village show is upon us. It’s tomorrow, folks, and I’ve entered and got my stickers for six categories. My uncles used to show leeks in the North East, but it’s only the second one I’ve entered… and I have to say I’m a tad excited about the whole thing!

I’m going for:

Longest runner bean (in good condition)
I’d earmarked my first born beans for this prestigious award, but although they grew long and straight, the pods have now dried out and the beans inside will be seeds for next year. Not to worry though, I have a couple of fine contenders on the ‘White Lady’ plant which I’ll whip off and measure in the morning.

Four runner beans
We’ve been pretty bean-less at the dinner table of late, as I’ve saved all I can on the plant. I’ll pick them tomorrow, and pick out the four best ones of the same length and look. I may well weigh them all too – you can’t be too cautious about these things. If there was a category for ‘curliest runner bean  or ‘runner bean that’s skinny one end and fat at the other‘, I’d have a few winners for sure.

Four potatoes
Three plants came up in the week, and I sorted them all out into size order. I’ve currently got two sets of four – no harm in having some stunt doubles to hand – under some paper in the shed. I’m aiming to dry out the skins slightly before cleaning them, in the hope that the skins will stick to the spuds and not come off in my hands.

5 a day
An arrangement of five kinds of vegetables you’ve grown. Not really sure about this one to be honest. The plan is to rustle off down the garden first thing, harvest anything that looks half decent, and plonk it in an arrangement arrange it artistically and beautifully.

Cross stitch picture
I’m actually entering this twice with the samplers I did long ago for my two babies. Well, one was actually only finished a couple of years ago (13 years after the grand event) as it sort of got put in a cupboard and forgotten about.

Cross stitch samplers

Cross stitch samplers

So there we are – six entries at 20p each, with a potential of winning £3 forfirst prize, £2 for second and £1 for third. So we could be having a takeaway tomorrow night. Or we could be having non-winning beans on toast.

Wish me luck!

August garden

Some pictures of this month in the garden…

Runner beans on the arches

Runner beans on the arches

Nancy the chicken having a free range around the garde

Nancy the chicken having a free range around the garden

Fusto Fior tomatoes

Fusto Fior tomatoes

Squash plants

Squash plants

I’m not sure how big these need to be – or will get – before we pick them. They don’t look ‘done’ yet though.

Soon to be marrow brandy

Soon to be marrow brandy

I’m growing this as big as I can, and will be making it into marrow brandy.

Runner beans on the arches

Runner beans on the arches

Insects on goldenrod

Insects on goldenrod

Montbretia

Montbretia

Cosmos flower

Cosmos flower

Lazy dog

Lazy dog

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

 

News from Cluckingham Palace

With Her Majesty the Queen dashing around celebrating 60 years on the throne, I bring mixed news from my very own Cluckingham Palace. The good news is that the new hens are all laying; we’re regularly getting four eggs a day, and these are steadily increasing in size. On the down side, the older girls seem to have taken this as a sign to start early retirement, so egg production from Maud and Winnie has ceased. They’re now spending their twilight years lounging around letting the young ‘uns do all the work.

Making the most of the glorious weather last weekend, I was on a mission to have a good old sort out in the greenhouse, and get the remaining tender plants outside: surely there cannot be a frost this late in the year. So, out came the sunshine – along with my shorts, British blue legs and knobbly knees – and I set to work.

The last of the runner beans and all the borlotti beans were planted out, together with the rest of the squash and courgette plants. I also had trays of Antirrhinum (Snapdragons), Cosmos and Sunflowers and am hoping for a swathe of colour in the flower borders this year.

Whilst planting, I noticed that a couple of gaps have suddenly appeared, and it looked like my old friend, the slug was back on the scene. Taking no chances, I’m attacking from all angles, as quite frankly, I’m tired of my hard work being eaten away. At the base of all the new plants went a sprinkling of eggshells and a light scattering of slug pellets for good measure.

I also decided to try something else. I’d heard through one of my gardening contacts that if you put a plank of wood in the garden, slightly raised by stones, the slugs will all be hiding under there come the morning. For the next couple of days I shot outside to inspect my haul, and eagerly turned over the plank. Underneath was a disappointing tale: nothing – nada – zilch – not even a baby one. Although elsewhere in the garden we do have a rather large area of decking – which for all I know is festooned with slugs, but I’m not about to start dismantling it to check.

Deciding to put a few more beer traps in strategic spots, I trotted off back up towards the house. Peering into the fridge, I actually found myself wondering if the slugs would prefer ‘The best beer in the world’ or the one that ‘refreshed the parts other beers couldn’t reach’. Plumping for the latter, I collected together some old jars and set about burying them neck deep near my new patches of plants. Into each went an inch or so of beer, and before long the job was done.

After an entire morning of working in the garden, there was an added benefit. There were a couple of swigs leftover for me to enjoy, whilst planning my next tasks.

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 13 June 2013

The Hinckley Times 13 June 2013

The Hinckley Times 13 June 2013

Climate sparks a growth spurt

 

Salad leaves in tyres

Salad leaves in tyres

They say that everything in moderation is the key. Well, it’s certainly appeared to be the case in the garden. A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of sun… and Hey Presto! The garden has positively burst into life and I am convinced that some of the plants have actually doubled in size the last week or so. On the down side the weeds have also started to pop up with a vengeance. So the first job of the weekend was to whip round with the hand hoe and finish them off whilst they are still tiny and easy to get out. Left to grow, they are nigh on impossible to get rid of.

Broad beans

Broad beans

Elsewhere in the garden though, it’s all good news. The broad beans are romping away, and the brassica bed is bursting with life. In the greenhouse, my courgette and squash plants were looking a tad big for their pots, so I decided to bite the bullet and plant them out. After the disaster with the runner beans though, I’ve erred on the side of caution and planted just half of them out, in case we get a late frost.

In addition, I’ve sowed mixed salad leaves in a tyre, to use as ‘cut and come again’ salad, but cheated ever so slightly. Whilst waiting for the seeds to grow, I’ve bought a tray of living salad from the supermarket, and planted that in there.

I’m also delighted to say that all six rows of potatoes have pushed through the ground and have lush, green leaves showing… which means it’s time to start earthing them up. This is simply covering the green growth with soil, ensuring any potatoes are well under the ground, and won’t be exposed to light. If the light gets to them, it turns them green, and therefore makes them inedible.

Brassicas and potatoes

Brassicas and potatoes

There’s just one tiny hiccup in our garden. We’ve had new raised beds and all the available soil we had has gone in them. So there’s no spare earth to be earthing up with. Luckily for me, our local garden centre sells soil that you bag up yourself, so off I whizzed at the weekend to fetch some for our beds. I have to admit I had a bit of a sweat on after I’d loaded up the bags, manhandled them into the boot, ferried them home and mounded the mud over the spud crop. Whilst I was busy with that, the other half whipped up and down the lawn with the mower.

I read an article in the week saying that gardeners can burn up to 19,000 calories per year. Apparently, three hours of gardening can be the equivalent to an hour-long slog in the gym, and just half an hour of weeding can burn up to 150 calories.

Good news indeed. With all that activity this weekend, we’re surely in calorie credit: That après-gardening ice cold beer positively slipped down – guilt free.

The Hinckley Times 23 May 2013

The Hinckley Times 23 May 2013

My first complaint

Following on from last week’s article, I recieved, via The Hinckley Times letters page, my very first letter of complaint.

The fact I’d put my runner beans in a tad early and the frost got them annoyed Mr Taylor sufficiently to write in about it. Apparently I’m a bit ‘gung ho’ with an ‘Oh dear, never mind’ attitude.

Gardening column was a little gung ho

Gardening column was a little gung ho

I’ll not hang my head in shame. Mr Taylor is completely right… I get excited about putting stuff in, and sometimes – yes – I am impatient, and things don’t quite work to plan. But isn’t that part of the fun of gardening? Mistakes are made, and you learn from them. Then you suck it up, and try another way of doing things.

Mr Taylor also calls for more good, sound knowledge. I thought there were a couple of good, sound messages in there…

  1. Don’t be fooled by a few warm days in thinking that summer’s here – there can still be a danger of a late frost
  2. Don’t do as I did and put stuff out too early – look at it – it died
  3. If you have put things out too early, and a frost is forecast, get out there and cover the plants up at night

The article may have actually saved people their hard earned money – one look at my beans and it would have put them off planting for a good couple of weeks…

I was also quite chuffed to have sparked a reaction – it meant that someone out there actually reads my ramblings and had a strong enough opinion to put pen to paper. I’m calling this one a landmark 😉