Monday, 30 June 2014

Harvest Monday: 30/6/14

Look! Mangetout!
The "beanbags"
One of the blogs that I read is the lovely Daphne's Dandelions. And so now that I've finally got some of my plants to start producing things I can eat (more than just herbs that is), I have decided to pluck up the courage to join her link party on Harvest Monday's. So now every Monday I'll be posting the harvest of the previous week. 

This week, the harvest was somewhat small. Less of a harvest than a scraping. But still, something I was enormously proud of. We managed a tiny side serving of sugarsnap peas and mangetout peas from the garden! Peas and beans haven't really gone well for me this year. I thought they'd be the perfect crop to squeeze along the side return to use that part of the garden, but I planted them too late and didn't give them proper support with the result that they've grown to be straggly and vunerable to snails. I suspect that this might be the only harvest I get from them this year and that next year I'll need to rig up something more robust than the shopping bag containers I used this year. 
"Golden sweet" mangetout, "Shiraz" mangetout and "Sugar Flash" sugarsnap peas
The three types of pea and mangetout that I pulled together from the garden to have with Mr Garlic's excellent chicken kiev (I'm lucky to be married to an excellent cook) were "Golden Sweet" and "Shiraz" mangetout, chosen for their unusual colour, and "Sugar flash" sugarsnap peas. The taste was extraordinary. We topped off the serving with some normal mangetout bought from our supermarket and the difference was incredible. The fresh mangetout, picked not twenty minutes before being steamed, were sweet and juicy enough to make me shiver. The supermarket mangetout, by comparison (hitherto one of my favourite vegetables) were dull and lacklustre, lacking both crunchiness and sweetness. There is no comparison really, food harvested from your own garden, however small, is better than bought! I am well and truly hooked. 50g of our own harvest is better than none!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A rose by any other name: Golden showers

I have exactly two non-edible plants in the garden. One is the Peony I managed to buy on the last day of the Chelsea Flower Show 2014, and the other is a climbing yellow "Golden showers" rose (well hellllooooo confused google searchers....!).
When I was younger, my mother, who was an avid gardener, walled one of our gardens in beautiful dark leaved roses. In the summer the dark green backdrop would be splashed with huge blobs of vibrant yellow blowsy roses that seemed (to my young eyes at least) to be the size of dinner plates. They were beautiful. And I've always retained a deep affection for yellow roses. So when I was planning the layout of our edible city garden it was hard to justify any space at all for non-edibles but I couldn't resist a single climbing rose. Hopefully by next year it'll have covered a considerable amount of our ugly fencing. For now, I was just enormously thrilled by the appearance of my first flower! And to my delight, it is just as huge and frilly as the ones I remember. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Harvesting home-grown food: Tayberries

The Buckingham Tayberry is a lovely and vigorous plant. I erred on the side of caution when it came to planting up my soft fruit raised beds. I wanted to plant fruit that I love to eat, that would save us money and that I know tastes better fresh. So I went for a whole row of raspberries (my favourite fruit). But given that the Tayberry is a hybrid mix between black raspberries and loganberries, I wanted to try one of those. I now wish I'd gone for a full row of Tayberries rather than just the one lone cane. So far it's shot up in height and I can well imagine it'll reach its 2mx2m eventual size. Apparently next year I can hope for a yield of about 20lbs (a jaw-dropping 9kg) of fruit from it but it's started off well this year already. 

It's thriving against the south-facing fence I'm growing it next to and it has already started fruiting. I actually bought the Tayberry as a bit of a risk as I'd never tasted the fruit before. But several of the enormous berries were ripening nicely a couple of days ago so I harvested them and we enjoyed a couple of them. The taste is delicious, well-rounded and tangy with a lingering raspberry and citrus aftertaste. If it crops considerably more than the raspberries, I might remove the raspberry canes next year and replace them with Tayberries!
It's hard to come up with a way of serving 2.5 Tayberries in an elegant fashion. So I didn't really try. But they were amazing! Next stop, jam, I hope. That's if enough of them ripen at the same time that is.
30g - a princely first harvest
Serving suggestion only

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Death on hairy stems, or, the sad demise of the Japanese Wineberry

The first plant when the trouble began
When I decided to grow a couple of Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) plants in my tiny city garden, I was hoping for oodles of the sweet red berries, picked fresh from the bush in August. And the plant itself seemed so pretty, with bright red, unusual and hairy stems. However, I'm not quite sure what went wrong. Planted in full sun in my south-facing garden, they should have thrived and indeed they initially sprouted any number of leaves and flowers. 

And then it all started to go wrong. First one started to look
The first plant really starts to get ill
pretty peaky. The leaves curled and dried out, the branches started to droop and the plant looked really sorry for itself. I posted on twitter, searched the web and contacted the nursery I'd bought it from, desperate to find a solution. Nobody seemed to know what was wrong. I scoured the leaves for aphids or other bugs and found none. I checked the soil around the plant to ensure the roots were getting enough moisture and it was fine. I assumed I'd just been unlucky with a dud plant. But then a couple of weeks later, the other one started to sicken. 

The second Japanese Wineberry becomes seriously sick

Given that they were in a raised bed with a blueberry plant and a climbing rose, I started to worry that whatever was wrong with them might spread. And so it was with some serious regret that I removed the plants. I replaced them with a couple of other plants, a second blueberry that wasn't doing very well in a partially shaded pot, and a Jostaberry. They appear to be settling into their new home very well, but I'm really sad about the Japanese Wineberry. Maybe I'll try again next year. For now, it was my first urban gardening failure, and quite frustrating because I don't know what happened. 
Replacement Jostaberry and Blueberry

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

How to plant Pineberries in hanging baskets


The pineberry (I chose the "White Dream") is a funny sort of fruit. It's the sort of thing that one might expect to find at the tea party given by the Mad Hatter. They're expensive too, at £3.99 for 125g, so they seemed to be a good fruit to try to grow from scratch. I chose to plant them in hanging baskets with a normal strawberry so that I could give them lots of special care and attention and so far it appears to be working.

How to plant strawberries and pineberries in hanging baskets

You will need: 
- One hanging basket for every three plants
- Pineberry and strawberry suckers
- A rich compost mix (I used John Innes potting on soil and farmyard compost)
- Hanging basket liner (moss)

1. Cut the liner to fit inside the hanging basket
2. Fill with the soil / compost mix
3. Gently (they're fragile!) transplant the suckers into the soil
4. Water on a regular basis (I used a DIY drip feed irritation system made from an old water bottle) 

Pineberries in a hanging basket after about a month

Monday, 23 June 2014

Living space vs gardening space: How to divide a small urban garden

Whilst I want to grow as much of our produce as possible, I also want to ensure that our tiny patio garden is somewhere we have space to relax. One of the problems with living in the city is how little space there is overall and dividing it up between practical and relaxing areas. I've managed to do this partly by planting on shelves or in raised beds, but also by using the side return as a place to store plants when we have guests or we just want a relaxing weekend enjoying our very small garden. By tidying all of our pots away, we managed to make the garden change according to our needs. So voila - what do you think of how tidy it looks? It's very satisfying being able to have a BBQ (a Portuguese Sardinhada in this case) and to know that all of our lovely crops are still growing away hidden in the background. 

Pots on shelves and hidden away in the side return

Voila! Space made available for the sardines on the grill!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

DIY watering system (drip - feed from soda bottles)

When planning the garden, one of the things that worried me most about planting in pots was how easily they dry out, especially on hot days. It's not good for root structures to get completely parched as the plant stems start to collapse inwards. So my initial thought was to purchase a rainwater butt and to set up a drip feed irrigation system using hosepipes amongst the pots and raised beds. However, my garden was simply too small. However hard I tried, I couldn't find space for the rainwater butt without losing valuable growing space. But still, what I really needed was a system that would feed the roots of my plants and not allow them to dry out. And ideally the solution would be cheap. 

Enter the humble soda bottle, stage left. I'd seen watering spikes for sale on Amazon but wanted to avoid having to spend £100 (I have a lot of pots) if possible. So I decided to try drilling holes into the caps of water, soda and fizzy drink bottles instead. Mr Garlic wasn't overwhelmed with happiness at being showered with three months worth of empty bottles when he opened the larder, but it was worth it in the end. 

How to make a drip watering system out of soda bottles

You will need:
- One bottle per pot / plant (washed out, labels removed) with the lids
- A drill and small drill bit
- A safe place to drill into

1. Drill a tiny hole into the cap of each bottle and replace the lid
2. Cut the bottom off of the bottle. For the 500ml bottles going in small pots, I took the whole of the bottom off. For the 1.5l bottles going near the bushy plants in the raised beds, I cut half off to help slow evaporation. 
3. "Plant" the bottle, with the lid about two inches under the surface of the soil near the plant you want to water.
4. Fill with water every time you water the garden to get a slow drip straight on to the root of the plant

Make sure that you check the bottles regularly to ensure that the water level is going down. If it slows or stops, check that the hole hasn't become clogged with soil. 
1.5l Diet Coke bottle by a plum tree
This solution should keep your plants watered for a couple of days and will help to keep them healthy and encourage roots to spread deeply and properly rather than just watering the top couple of inches of soil which encourages plants to have shallow roots. It also avoids the plants missing out on water that might otherwise evaporate from the top of the soil and will allow you to go away for the weekend without worrying that your plants will wither and die in your absence.
500ml bottle in a hanging Pineberry basket

Friday, 20 June 2014

When aphids attack: How to build an organic defense

Disgusting: Aphids colonising the plum tree
The other day I was out in the garden and pottering about with a cup of fresh mint tea making a mental list of tasks that needed doing when it occurred to me that the fan-trained Marjorie's Seedling plum tree that I planted in a raised sleeper bed appeared to have rather lumpy branches. There were tiny green lumps lining the new growth. A closer inspection sent me panicking in the direction of the garden gloves. Aphids! My poor plum was literally crawling with aphids! 
The cats had recently declared open season on ladybirds despite my discussions with them about how ladybugs are our friends because they eat pests (yes, I'm the kind of crazy cat lady that lectures her feline family on the pros and cons of eating different garden bugs). And I knew that aphids spread terribly quickly. An adult aphid can give birth to hundreds of others and if you reach critical mass, say goodbye to your garden. 

Rogue aphid on a raspberry cane
Clearly action was called for. But I was loathe to reach for pesticide sprays or even a washing up liquid solution. And whilst I love the idea of buying boxes of ladybirds and releasing them, I wanted to try to prevent the spread immediately rather than wait for the post. A quick check of my other plants shows that with a couple of exceptions that had escaped the plum and fled to the raspberry canes, the aphids seemed to be concentrating on the plum tree alone for the moment. So I tried the most direct route to get rid of them that I could think of: picking them off by hand and squishing them. 

Watery graveyard for aphids
Disgusting doesn't even come close. It was a horrible way to spend a couple of hours And depressing to boot. But I have to say, it worked. I put the dead aphids into a bowl of water and washing up liquid (along with a few shoots so densely infested that I didn't think I could pull the bugs off individually) and to my amazement, it worked. The aphids haven't really returned and maintaining a watch appears to be protecting my plants in an organic way, which is to say, without having to resort to using sprays and chemicals. 
The aphid-free plum tree

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cooking with home-grown produce recipe: Low-fat creamy salmon and parsley lemon pasta

As I mentioned yesterday, I've only really be able to harvest herbs from our garden so far. However, I've been using them as generously as possible. This is a recipe I like to use for a really fresh, easy and creamy salmon and parsley pasta that's really quite low in calories. 

Serves two adults / Takes one hour to prepare

- Three unwaxed organic lemons
- Two posts of sustainably sourced salmon (about 300g)
- Pasta of choice (I went for spaghetti but this recipe works well with most shapes)
- Five cloves of garlic, crushed with a knife
- Large handful of flat-leafed parsley, washed and chopped
- Six shallots, finely chopped
- Small tub (about 300g) half-fat organic creme fraiche 
- One tablespoon olive oil
  1. Pre-heat the oven to Gas mark 7 / 425F / 220C and put a salted pan of water on to boil
2. Place the salmon on a sheet of aluminum foil. Wash and quarter the lemons. Put two of the lemons on top of the salmon and wrap the parcel. Put into the heated oven for thirty minutes. 

3. When the water comes to a rolling boil, throw in your pasta.

4. Ten minutes before the pasta is ready (see packet instructions), gently sweat the garlic and shallots in the oil in a frying pan over a low heat for five minutes until softened and transluscent. Remove from heat and blend with the creme fraiche and parsley to make a sauce. I actually do this whole process in a thermomix (see below) but it's just as easy in a pan. I love being able to reach out of my kitchen window to get the herbs!
If using a thermomix, chop the shallots on Speed 7 for 5 seconds. Add the garlic and saute for four mins at 90 degrees. Then add the parsley and chop at speed 7 for 5 seconds. Add the creme fraiche and stir for two minutes to mix it all together.

5. Drain the pasta and mix the creamy sauce through thoroughly. 
6. Remove the salmon from the oven and squeeze the heated lemons onto the pasta and sauce and mix in. Gently shred the cooked salmon and mix it into the pasta. Season to taste.
7. Divide between two warmed bowls and top each one with two quarters of washed lemon.
8. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

What exactly qualifies as a harvest?

Chives, primrose, buckleaf sorrel and mint
When I think of a harvest of home-grown produce, I think of flat baskets brimming with vegetables. I think of pretty china bowls overflowing with fat, lucious sweet berries. I think of happy people climbing ladders in orchards to pick fruit. However, I started late this year. It's already June and although we use our own herbs several times a week in our cooking, but I'm anxious to get to the point where I can start harvesting "real" food from our garden. So far my pepper, tomato, courgette and other plants are proving reluctant to oblige.

Lemongrass, golden marjoram, mint

What do you think? Can you count herbs alone as a harvest from the garden or is it nothing without actual vegetables and fruit?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Planting a garden for cats (or cat-friendly planting in the garden)

I always intended to make our garden as edible as possible. So much so, in fact, that everything in it apart from one "Golden Showers" RHS climbing rose is in itself, or produces, something edible. Edible for humans, that is. Our cats love the raspberry canes and like to rub up against them and sleep underneath them, but there isn't a huge amount else for them to nibble on.

So when it came to trying to decide how best to use the side return, it occurred to me that whilst I wanted a herb garden and a row of beans and peas, I needed to think of the cats too. Our urban outdoor space is so small that we've left it paved as a patio. It's a far cry from the lawn and wildflower expanse I hope to have one day but you deal with what you get in the city. So the poor cats have nowhere soft to sunbathe.  
My solution? To plant three very large planters with cat grass and other edible cat goodies. The cat grass (avena sativa) really surprised me. It grows about an inch a day and even pruning it with kitchen scissors on a strict weekly basis barely keeps it in check. I also planted catnip (nepata cataria) with a lot less success. The cats crushed the small shoots by rolling on them and those that survived being bulldozed got gobbled up very quickly. So at the moment, the "cat beds" (as we call them) are just that. Large beds of tall grasses that the cats love to stretch out on for a sunbathing session as well as to snack on. It's lovely to see them so happy and cat grass is very easy to do. Every cat lover should grow some!
Dahlia hiding in the cat grass

Monday, 16 June 2014

Weed-proofing raised planters organically

Inconsiderate neighbours are irritating at the best of times. We have a couple of particularly bad ones. One of them rents his house out and has let the garden become so overgrown with ivy that the weeds actually reach underneath the foundations of our house! So when I wanted to put some small raised beds in our side return, I knew I'd have to be quite vigorous in avoiding weeds. But as I'm trying to garden organically, I didn't want to have to resort to chemicals. So here's a quick guide to weed-proofing raised beds: 

1. Buy some raised beds and a couple of rolls of woven weed-proof membrane. It needs to be woven so that it will allow water to drain away from the beds (otherwise you'll end up with raised ponds).

2. Cover the bottom of the beds with a trimmed layer of the membrane. I attached mine using thumbtacks
3. Line the inside of the bed with the same membrane. Without this double layer, soil will fall through the bottom and particularly insistent weeds  

4. Fill and plant up as per usual. In my case, these planters were to go in our side return for the cats so they're filled with cat grass. might be able to punch their way up
The planters finished and in the side return