Monday, 22 May 2017

Harvest Monday

This past week has actually been very fruitful. I'm still mainly getting herbs and leaves (spinach and rosemary and parsley) and although I'm really looking forward to getting some actual fruits and vegetables, I'm still really enjoying being able to wander out to the garden and harvest these greens whenever I like. Once again I forgot to photograph the rosemary, but I hope you'll believe me...! The rosemary was just enough for a roasted leg of lamb for a lunch party, but both the parsley and spinach hauls were pretty large so I'm going to say £1.40 for the parsley, £0.85 for the rosemary and £1.50 for the spinach. So this week we've saved £3.75. It won't be much of a boost for the pension, but frankly I couldn't be happier. I feel like I'm being paid to indulge in my hobby!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

How to release ladybirds with a toddler

Ladybird in situ
The day the aphids came back was a dark one. There they were, hordes of them swarming and pulsating all over my innocent strawberries and mint. I was beside myself in rage and frustration at their sheer numbers (previously I've always pulled aphids off by hand before their populations reach critical levels) as it was clearly too late for me to get rid of them alone. And then lo, out of the house wandered my husband, a king amongst men, who announced that he'd bough me a present of ladybirds. That's right, 100 live ladybirds were winging their way (hah!) towards me, along with a couple of ladybirds houses that I could apparently try to bride them to stay with. Two year old GarlicBoy was thrilled at the idea of a couple of boxes of insect "pets" and chattered happily all the way home from the post office about them. This is one project that I can heartily recommend that you do with a toddler or small child. It benefits your garden, teaches your child about insects and the food chain and encourages wildlife to flourish in your immediate area. And children find them charming!

Ladybird house positioned near at-risk plants
You will need:

Learning about ladybirds
- A book about wildlife / access to the web (the RSPB has quite a nice fact sheet on ladybirds)
- Some ladybirds (as it's May, we bought ours online as fully grown adults and they arrived in the post which was both cool and surreal)
- A fridge
- Plants, ideally covered in greenfly, blackly or aphids
- A water source outside where you're going to release them

As always I’ve used the directions [ADULT] and [CHILD] based on what I did with my son. However you know your child best so please think about their own capabilities before embarking on any of our projects. Never leave a child unsupervised. And please do tag us on social media if you post photos of your projects, we’d love to see how you get on!


[Before they arrive]: Make a point of reading about ladybirds and looking at pictures so your child knows what they are
1. When your ladybirds arrive handle the box very carefully. They'll look dead but will soon perk up once released. [ADULT] Place them in the fridge in a padded envelope for about half an hour to calm them down after their journey. 
2. It was pouring with rain when we released ours so we didn't need to worry about water but if it's dry, they'll be parched so [BOTH] put some water on the leaves of the plant you're releasing them onto so they have something to drink. 
3. Early evening / dusk is the best time to release them so that they have time to bond to your garden and decide it's a good place to stay rather than buzzing off to find more food in the morning. 
4. [ADULT] Open the box and gently pour the ladybirds on to the plant that you've chosen for them. You'll find that they perk up quite quickly and start wandering about hoovering up horrible bugs. Older children might be able to do this if they can be gentle. 
5. [ADULT] Retain one small ladybird and encourage it to walk onto your finger (by placing your finger in front of it as a ramp - they're fragile so don't try to pick them up with your fingers as you will damage their wings). Allow your child to look at them up close and have them walk on their fingers if they like, reiterating that they mustn't stroke or touch the little creatures. 
Looking for ladybirds
6. [BOTH] Help your child to release the ladybird onto the plant and watch it scurry about. You can then look for ladybirds for the next few days (99 of ours appear to have left us, the ingrates, but we have one solitary remainder!) and talk about what they're doing and how they're providing pest control. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

I've lost the losetto

Suspiciously similar seedlings
In hindsight, I should have known that putting two types of tomato seedling (the tumbling "Losetto"and the climbing "Magic Mountain" in case you're interested) together in a large pot separated only by a seedling tray was a mistake. It was perhaps inevitable that a cat would jolt the pot onto the floor causing them to get mixed up but the heavens opened and I fled inside, abandoning the seedlings to their fate. So now I have a bunch of seedlings that all look alike that I've had to apportion, almost at random, into hanging baskets and raised beds. I suppose I'll only know if I got it right once they start to grow, but what a shame to have replaced my (ragged, hole-ridden, snail-mangled) basil if I've gotten the raised bed ones wrong!
Hanging tomato basket. Is it a tumbler? Who knows?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Come on courgettes!

By far, the biggest lesson I've learned this year whilst starting to grow as much edible food as possible, is that growing from seed is best. It's cheaper, more reliable and more satisfying than growing from plugs. I know I keep on banging on about this but I've been so very disappointed by the quality of the seedlings I've bought. They've all come by post and many of them haven't been sent by courier so a lot of the time, what actually arrives here is an anaemic, wimpy looking seedling with slightly shredded leaves. The difference between these pale and hunched over seedlings and the ones that I grew myself from seed is really obvious. I recently planted three courgette seedlings. They're "Patio star" courgettes, a variety I've had success from before when growing from seed, but they look absolutely puny. I don't have a huge amount of hope for these but as it's late May already I think it's too late to start from seed if I want a decent crop. It just goes to show, laziness doesn't pay! I'll do the best I can with these seedlings this year but next year it's seeds all the way.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Argh! Aphids!

Vile pulsating aphids - look how many there were!
The other day I was busily getting ready to plant out a few tumbling cherry tomatoes when a greenfly landed on my hand. I absent-mindedly swiped it off and suddenly focused. A greenfly! Where had it come from? A quick glance around the garden revealed two culprits - my hanging bag of strawberries and pineberries and my David Austin rose. Both of them were absolutely heaving with repulsive pulsating fat greenfly and aphids. Usually I remove aphids by hand when I first find them to try to maintain their population at a reasonable level but I'd missed the boat here. Every single stem and shoot was absolutely carpeted. So I panicked. I have always tried to garden organically and I'm ashamed of myself for what I did next. I ran to the garden centre and bought some bug spray. I tried to get a natural version but still, it was a spray. My strawberries are no longer organic. 
Blackfly. Boo!
I am genuinely so sad. I've removed the few aphids that had spread to other plants and the infestation appears to have been beaten but I think I've got to plan ahead. This calamity did make me grateful for my husband though. The wonderful man wandered outside when I was busy bustling about with and said he'd bought me a present. He'd bought me some ladybirds and a couple of little houses to encourage them to hang about and eat the aphids in my garden rather than wandering off to help other people. I am a very lucky woman. Until they arrive though, I'm going to have to really pay attention to my plants, I found a load of blackly underneath my pumpkin leaves the other day. Horrible things. Hurry Mr Postman, please bring my ladybirds!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Leave the spinach be

Like millions of people my age, I remember the magical boost that spinach gave Popeye. Although we've since learned that it's not quite the powerhouse that the illustrators would have us believe, it's still extremely good for us and is something I regularly add to our everyday meals. 
It's such an easy thing to stir into almost anything you cook / prepare (we love the baby leaves in salads) so I was really pleased when my spinach wall planters sprang into life with bushels of massive glorious leaves. As it happens, they went from teeny seedling to large leaves in the two and a bit weeks that I spent in the US on holiday and so I missed harvesting the glorious little leaves. However, I've now taken off the whole crop to use in a soup and am hoping that when it grows back that I can start to harvest the small and delicate leaves. I think I was too hasty in planting it out, even though spinach is supposed to be available in the UK as of March though, take a look at how ragged and patchy the leaves are! I know that snails are responsible for some of the holes but I think the rest might be leaf miners. 
Leaf my spinach alone leaf miners!
Gardening is starting to feel a bit like a defensive pastime, I never imagined I'd have to consider netting my cool weather leaf crops! I've never minded a couple of snail holes or misshapen harvest items but leaf miners aren't fun, I'm going to keep a weather eye on the next crop! I'm going to order some Neem oil so I can have it ready and waiting...

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

How about a Jalapeño?

So far this year I've had a couple of horticultural failures, one of which was a cucumber plug. I'd already decided not to use plugs again but rather to grow from seed. I've been so disappointed with the quality of the seedlings. I've bought them from three of the biggest suppliers in the UK yet almost all of them have been pretty rubbish. They're been anaemic-looking, ragged around the edges and weak. Frustratingly, one of my cucumber seedlings has keeled over completely. 
Missing cucumber from right hand collar
What a waste of money. However, at least I've now got space for my chilli pepper Jalapeño plant. But then again it was also grown by a "by post" producer and is weak with floppy leaves and an anaemic stem. So it hasn't really grown, and it's just sitting there, in the rain Collar Of Doom, looking feeble. I hope it'll pick up, chillis are something that I love and use a lot of and they're brilliant to grow in small spaces. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Wall, I have good news and bad news

Some time ago I planted up some vertical garden planting bags with mint and strawberries with the intention of fastening the bags to the only empty wall space in the garden. However it turns out that the bags, once planted, are far too heavy to hang on the wall properly, and the bags rip when put up. 

The result? I have a lovely big sack of strawberries and pineberries hanging (more or less) on one of the sunniest walls in the garden. But the downside is that I also have a hanging bag of mint that's frankly far too heavy to put on the wall but as it's exploding with herbs I don't want to throw it out. So at the moment it's just sitting on a chair outside, not hanging but just taking up space, and I have three more that I'd planned to plant exotic salad in. But given that I now know they rip under their own weight, I think I'm going to have to order some more smaller, rigid wall planters and put those up in the spaces I planned to hang the big bags. I'll have less growing space than I was hoping, but it'll be stable. In the meantime I'm going to try to work out something so that I don't have to waste my bag of mint and the other bags I wanted to plant. Maybe a mobile rail or something? We shall see. But in the meantime, wall strawbs! Hurrah!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Counting (on) strawberries and pineberries

I've toyed with gardening for years but lately I find myself obsessed with my garden. I wander the patio, chatting with the seedlings and glorying in every extra centimetre that my plants grow. Extra leaves are cause for jubilation and I drag my poor husband into the garden and demand that he admire every emerging fruit. One of the few good things about having a tiny garden is that I get to know every plant and so I can tell when something has grown. So far, so enthusiastic hobbyist. But recently I find myself looking for quantifiable successes. I was getting ready to hang some of my wall planters filled with strawberry and pineberry plants and I suddenly realised that I had a lot more tiny green berries that I'd originally thought. 74 that I could find to count and I suddenly realised that I'd turned a corner and far from being a hobby that helps me relax, I am suddenly looking for an outlet for my competitive urges. 74 berries starting to ripen! Surely the odds are that some will be decent looking? Perhaps I could find a country show with a fruit class to enter? Maybe I could enter various categories? And next year perhaps I should plan my growing around fruits and vegetables that can be polished...? The sky is the limit. Bring it on berry plants, I've got plans for your produce.
74 potential strawberries (or wineberries, who knows) in the making

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The grass really isn't greener....

So there I was feeling all smug about having a real patch of actual grass that worms could tunnel underneath, that GarlicBoy could feel between his toes, that I could feel good about. 
And then I cut the grass a couple of times and came to the conclusion that I couldn't ignore it any more. I had bald patches. It didn't look too bad when the grass was a bit overgrown but the bare patches of earth got really swampy and muddy when it rained and it looked very sad when it was trimmed. So I called the builders back, pointed out the the turf hadn't taken and they promised to re-seed the garden whilst I was on holiday. What I came home to has turned out to be a salutary lesson in being careful what you wish for. My poor poor patch of grass is gone, hopefully to return in a month once the seeds have germinated. 
Sad sad patches of nothing
In the meantime I'm suddenly stuck with a load of raised beds filled with seedlings that need my care and protection from the weeds making their way through from next door and no way to get to them without killing the new grass. What should I do? I'm currently investigating the possiblities of using a ladder as a bridge but I have to admit it makes me very nervous. Oh, the price we pay for our smugness. Thank you for this lesson in humility karma, I get the point, please stop now!
Look! Beetroot seedlings being bullied by weeds! Argh!