Sunday, 26 April 2015

Aims for 2015

I've been thinking about all of the ways in which our garden is making us happy and I thought I'd try to organise said happiness into a list of all of the things I'd like to get from it this year. So here are my main aims, in no particular order. Did I miss any?

1. Make condiments (ketchup and mustard at the very least)
2. Save at least £250 on fruit and vegetables by using our own produce
3. Eat at least one thing from our tiny garden every week from May onwards
4. Dry and store my own garlic
5. Make ice lollies with our own fruit
6. Make jam with garden fruit
7. Make at least one botanical cocktail using garden produce
8. Carve our own pumpkin for halloween
9. Serve Christmas lunch with our own carrots, parsnips and brussel sprouts
10. Dry and store my own herbs

Saturday, 25 April 2015

White mustard (homegrown)

I love mustard. And one of the things that I can't wait to make this year (as well as ketchup) is my very own mustard. There are just so many potential variations! Lemon juice or vinegar? Whole grain or smooth? But before all of that comes the mustard seed, my fastest growing crop to date. This weekend I moved it from seedling pots to one of my vertical garden hanging baskets. Now all we do is wait!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

I've bean trying to learn from past mistakes

Last year I decided to try to grow peas and beans in recycled shopper bags. It didn't really work. The bags didn't hold their shape and so the bean and peas couldn't scramble up the supporting canes properly. My harvest was pretty minute but what I did get was utterly delicious. So with that in mind, I decided to try to do things properly this year. The bags were out, deep vegetable planters with proper bean supports were in. I've got six planters and six varieties of pea and bean. I started some of them (the borlotti beans for example) in root trainers but I sowed the others (mainly snow peas - shiraz and golden) directly into the ground. Or rather, Mr Garlic did (as I can't get my stupid knee scooter into the stupid side return). And they're starting to germinate! In fact they're starting to look really healthy. The horrible slugs have taken a few but not that many. I'll put some more copper tape around the planters when I can but until then, I will enjoy seeing the stems reach for the skies!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Romanesco broccoli: A bad idea in the making

Have you ever started something and thought, halfway through, what a bad idea it was (by which time you were too advanced to go back?). This year I decided to plant some winter greens. I've got so little space in my tiny urban garden that I usually only grow soft fruits and summer vegetables but this year the blackthorn bushes were irritating me by growing at a snails pace in their raised sleeper bed and so I rashly decided to fill their raised bed with broccoli, leeks and a bit of kale. So I planted some romanesco broccoli seedlings and set about removing the top layer of (cat deterrant) gravel on the bed. Halfway through, I knew this wasn't going to work. The soil is just too full of stones now. And the useless blackthorns have put out surprisingly wide webs of roots. And I don't have the patience. So I bunged the lovely broccoli seedlings in and hoped for the best. A few days later, they had established themselves rather well but they're all stuck together in clumps and after I've thinned them out, there are going to be very few left. Gah. The whole thing was a stupid idea. 

Broccoli seedlings looking puny and thirsty before being watered in

A couple of days later

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Zombie plants: Back from the dead!

Amazingly, some of the pineberries that I planted in my hanging bag are coming back to life. Better still, they're actually starting to fruit! It's important to cover the plants with straw or glass over the winter to protect them, as they're rather fragile and delicate. I failed to do so, being occupied with the GarlicBaby, but they've somehow still pulled through! Incredible plants, I'm very impressed (and eager for them to mature!). Spurred on by this, I checked out the rest of the garden and was amazed to see that both the "Jenny" kiwi plant that got completely gobbled up by caterpillars and the rhubarb I completely forgot that I had planted have both come back to life too. God I love spring...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ask not fig whom the bell tolls...

It finally happened. I was so thrilled by my Brown Turkey fig tree as it produced so many overwintering figs, you know, over winter. And as we're having such a warm snap at the moment, I thought I'd pop it outside so that it could enjoy some of this lovely bright sunshine. So I popped it in the garden, left it for a couple of days and then went out yesterday after the morning's rain and basically watched it die. 
It's sort of withered. The leaves and fruits curled up and died! Poor, poor fig. Another one for the failure list I'm afraid. What a shame. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Slow sloes

I am so frustrated with my blackthorn bushes. I bought them from one of those "Send a tree as a gift" places as a gift for someone that couldn't make the Christmas party that I intended to hand them over at. So into the beds they went (and into some mulled apple juice went the accompanying sloe gin). But they're absolutely awful. They're growing at a snail's pace and occupying an entire raised bed as they do so. Last year I got cross and stuck in the peony that I bought at the Chelsea Flower Show sell-off. And this year I think I'm going to make the bed useful. It was supposed to provide me with lots of lovely fat sloes so that I could make South West London Sloe Gin but so far they still look like rubbish twigs in the raised beds. So I'm going to plant something in with them. I haven't decided whether it'll be kale or broccoli yet but it'll probably be one or the other. Stupid slow sloes. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Sow many plans, sow little time

On Easter Monday the lovely Mr Garlic helped me to do a whole morning of gardening. Because I'm stuck on the knee scooter with a broken foot (and my stupid scooter doesn't fit into the side return), he was wonderful and shuttled back and forth with bags of soil and bean shoots and all sorts of other things whilst I sat and planted more seeds. I planted dill, sweet basil, borlotti beans, various squashes, leeks, broccoli and pumpkins and a couple more of the gourmet red peppers that failed last time. It's always messy because I'm so short of space, but I love sitting at the garden table and sowing seeds, knowing that each one will lead to delicious yields in a matter of months. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Taunting the slugs

One thing I've always been prone to do is put things off. I wait happily for harvest from my main plants, thinking that I'll have nothing until then. And to a certain extent, that's true because I have so little space in my tiny urban allotment garden. But this year I've decided to really try to get to grips with growing as much as possible all year round. So I'm starting off some tubs of spinach and lettuce. There's no space in the greenhouse so they have to grow outside and the only place they won't be in the way is on top of my storage box. But there's a problem. Invertebrates. Hundreds of them slithering all over the place, eyes on stalks waving cheerfully at my produce before they devour it. They are after my harvest. *Mutters darkly*.
For an urban garden, surrounded by loads of other small city gardens on the back of the local Victorian terraced houses, most of which are paved, we certainly do have a lot of slimy creatures. I am inundated by snails and slugs (shudder). I've always tried to garden organically and had some small success with ground eggshells last year but one thing that I really can't rate highly enough is copper tape. I used it last year to thwart the superhero snails that somehow made it through a closed greenhouse door to munch on my tomatoes and it proved surprisingly effective.

So, to the plan. I can't just leave the troughs on the storage box because I'll effectively be providing the slimy invaders with an all-you-can-eat buffet. So instead what I've done, (or rather asked Mr Garlic to do) is to put a ring of copper tape on the top of the storage box. Thus I am able not only to have my salad leaves out in the partial sun, but also to get a psychological one-up on the slugs and snails. I shall taunt them with my lush green harvest! Hah!

It's possible that being stuck at home for a month with a broken foot is making me slightly paranoid. And mad. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

The international language of seeds (or so I'd hoped)

Being a foreigner myself (albeit a bit of a fake one), I sympathise with anybody that comes to the UK and struggles to make themselves understood. Take, for example, my lovely yellow climbing French beans. Or haricots, if you will. They came with a pleasingly incomprehensible instruction illustration.You will laugh, oh experienced gardener readers, when I tell you that I honestly spent about ten minutes wondering what on earth the different coloured dots meant. Eventually I worked out that they must represent different geographical regions and thus be used to indicate sowing / harvesting times in accordance with local weather, but it took me a while to get there. A pleasing diversion from an otherwise low key sowing session. All seeds should come with puzzles!

A tour of the (rather bare) garden in March

I know, I know, it's April now. But today I spent an absolutely lovely day gardening and the plants are all going zoom and growing like the clappers and I wanted to document the garden before the real growing takes place. So here it is, relatively bare but with small signs of growth, seen as if you're looking at the side return and turning 360 degrees clockwise:

Friday, 3 April 2015

Photo Friday: Bare raspberry canes attracting small creatures

I have decided that every Friday I will post an image of the garden, without text. Hopefully it'll become an interesting collection of images that chart the progress of the garden in 52 tiny details every year. This week's is pretty self explanatory. Nobody is immune to raspberry canes!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The mysterious case of the weeds in (some of) the garlic beds

My side return is, by definition, narrow. And the raised beds that I have there (filled with garlic and rhubarb) are currently performing very nicely. I have eight varieties of garlic in there, and three of rhubarb. The side return is technically south facing but it's so narrow that the sun hits it for about 90 minutes a day, no longer. I hobbled outside a few days ago to try to weed the garlic beds as I could see that they were overgrown and I was amazed at the difference in the number of weeds in the two troughs. Do you think the one closest to the camera (and main part of the garden) has more weeds because it gets slightly more sunshine? Or do you think it is because that batch of soil had some weed spores / seeds in it? Curious! 

On a slightly happier note, weedy musings aside, I was almost drooling at the delicious garlicky smell that arose as I brushed the plants during my weeding session. I can't wait to harvest the bulbs! 


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The revival of the rhubarb (or, a Rheum rendition of "I will survive")

Warbled (badly) to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive"

At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Brought home from RHS Wisley (that plant shop outside)
And then I spent all winter long, feeling sorry for myself
In the cloche I'd hide, feeling safer there inside
I took my time, I will survive
For a while there I looked small and dead and seemed to fail to thrive
But now the spring light's here to stay, and Catherine's doubts have gone away, 
The rhubarb is fine, and most certainly alive, hey hey!

It took all the strength I had, not to fall apart
But instead to grow those leaves that are so tangy tart
And I spent oh so many nights, sending roots into the soil
I used to toil, but now I'm back up on the boil
And you see me, some Rheum that's new
I've got great big strong leaves to offer up to delight you
And so just trust in all my growth and wait until it's harvest time
Pies will be fine! As will liquor for sparkling wine!
I will survive! Rhubarb alive! 

Da da da da da daaaaaaaa da dum da dum da dum da da da daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa da dum da dum da dum

(Repeat ad infinitum)

In short, my rhubarb in my side return raised beds is no longer dead-looking but has sprung to life, like a rather slow-moving leafy zombie! That said, the three plants that I have appear to each be progressing along the Lazarus trail to harvest at different speeds. Victoria is doing very well, Timperley Early is doing more or less OK (I can see new shoots so I'm happy even though they're a bit white and rubbish looking) and the Champagne admittedly still looks dead-ish but I'm going to hold out hope for it. The zombie rhubarb will not be beaten!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Potting on

Once the first flurry of joyous seed sowing starts, I find that things quickly settle down to a comfortable rhythm of sowing and potting on. So it was with a big smile on my face that I proceeded to move the first of my tiny sprouts into small pots on the weekend. I think that my "Corno di toro rosso" sweet pepper seeds have failed as they've all failed to germinate but thankfully I've got several other varieties I'll be using as backups. Along with the tomatillo seeds, the "bumblebee" and "sweet million" tomatoes are thriving so here they are in their new homes. It's difficult to describe the pleasure that a small tray of seedlings can engender in me but I will admit to a real fondness for them. I have been known to coo over them as I move them into their new cosy soil beds in little pots. I know that it's weird, but I've always felt like I'm tucking them in, in the same way that planting the seeds in the first place feels like I'm almost affectionately helping them to grow. I don't anthropomorphise my plants, although I do tend to natter away at them, but in this one instance, I feel very involved in them! Anyway, hurrah, small pots are finally going into production!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Gardening for the disabled

Last month I mentioned that I've cleverly broken my foot (to be exact, I've sustained a Lisfranc fracture which is a horrible thing that takes months to recover from). This has been difficult enough in terms of looking after the GarlicBaby (who is starting to crawl - eek!) but at least there we've been able to emotionally blackmail various friends and family members into coming over and babysitting the two of us during the initial six weeks post ORIF surgery, after which I'll be put into a walking boot. I've done a little gardening in that time but it's been limited to about half an hour sitting at the garden table with my foot up planting seeds. Today I decided to go out and have a quick weed around the garlic and two things happened:

1. My foot went *poof* and swelled to the size of a respectable melon within about 12 minutes (honestly, there are self-inflating boats which take longer to puff up) which meant that the weeding was cut short and I'm now back on the sofa with my foot raised over my heart and 
2. I discovered that my kneelchair (knee scooter thingy that I use to zip about the house instead of crutches) doesn't fit into our side return. Disaster!

So I sort of manouvered the knee scooter as close to the two big raised beds where I'm growing garlic as I could and hung / leaned precariously off of it whilst I nabbed the biggest weeds before admitting defeat. 

Help! What am I going to do? Not only has my stupid foot meant I had to miss the Edible gardening show and that I'll be in a cast at the Chelsea Flower Show, it's also going to mean that I'll be in a cast until late May at the absolute earliest. Which means I need a knee scooter. Which means my whole side return is inaccesible! Argh! Stupid kerb. Stupid foot. Stupid lisfranc injury!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The leaning tower of seeds(a)

My tiny front garden has always been a problem, not least because it's been paved over and used as a driveway. Parking in London is a problem, and so having our own driveway does make life much easier. I've planted bulbs and wildflowers in large troughs lining the driveway and finally moved the birdfeeder from the back garden to the front. I'd much rather have it in the back garden but now that it's been cat-proofed so that the cats are stuck in there, I didn't think it'd be fair to lure the birds in to be pounced on. So I've left it in the front garden and I'll just have to cross my fingers that nobody steals it. We have something of an infestation of what Emma the gardener calls "Two-legged rats" in my part of south London. Hopefully nobody will deprive the birds of their seeds by snaffling our feeder. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Maintaining bush plants in pots (or, a recipe for happy gooseberries)

I have a certain fondness for gooseberries, something that I think is shown by the fact that I've squeezed five bushes (two green hinnomakis, two red hinnomakis and a trusty old invicta) into my tiny space. They're marvelous things, gooseberries, useful for everything from a liquor to liven up fizz through to pies. They're one of those fruits that I think are a brilliant idea to grow in small spaces because they're hardy but also grow an expensive crop so you're maximising what you save on fruit as well as enjoying tastier produce. I grow my gooseberries in containers because of the size of the garden and they've done rather well (even if they were decimated by caterpillars last year). But one of the things that always concerns me about growing soft fruit in pots is the quality of the soil. Although I've got them in nice large and roomy wooden troughs, the soil does start to get that dull, brittle-looking quality to it every so often. So today's job in the garden (wobbling perilously on my knee scooter because of my hateful lisfranc injury) was to prune back the long dangling spiky arms of the gooseberries and to work in some good quality compost to invigorate the plant as it starts to leaf again. Container planting is difficult at times because the soil can get really tired but working in well rotted manure and compost always works for me!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Enthusiasm for seeds must be genetic...

I am a total geek when it comes to seeds. One of the highlights of my shopping year is when the seed catalogues come out and I can sit down in the evening with a glass of wine and a stack of them to pore over and covet. Once they actually arrive (cue much joyous "THE SEEDS HAVE ARRIVED" capering about the place), I get almost as much pleasure sorting the packets into my little seed box, which allows me to sort them by month sown. See? Geek. But I'm delighted to say that this kind of delight in seeds appears to be genetic! I was sorting my seeds near to GarlicBaby when he was playing on the floor and he was absolutely captivated by the packets. Admittedly he's captivated by most new things that he thinks he'll be able to eat (recently this category has included insects, cats tails and our dining room table) but he had an absolute blast sitting in a pile of packets And shaking them about like toys. Get 'em hooked when they're young is what I say! Horticultural brainwashing starts young...

The first seedlings have sprouted!

Last week I was in a rush to take the GarlicBaby to the local aquarium. I was putting the babyseat into the taxi when I turned my ankle on an uneven bit of pavement and broke my foot. Apparently I have a Lisfranc injury, which is pretty appallingly bad when you consider that it happened so quickly. I'm in a hard cast now (and slowly going out of my mind with boredom) so it was with enormous joy that I noticed that my first seedlings are sprouting in the greenhouse! Look at that! Tiny shoots of joy and happiness. I am taking great care of my tomato, pepper, aubergine and tomatillo futures. I've been placed under house arrest too, until my hard cast comes off. So it's with incredible eagerness that I await the warmer and sunnier weather because I'm calling my tiny city garden part of home and going to try to spend as much time out there as possible. Of course, I can't carry anything anywhere because I'm on crutches, but I'll have to demand that Mr Garlic bring me soil and seeds and pots. I'm determined not to miss the sowing season!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Gift guide: Presents to delight urban gardeners

I have been perusing the internet a lot lately in pursuit of practical (read: boring) things. And so I thought that today, for a change, I'd share a little wishlist of fun presents that any gardener would enjoy. This has absolutely nothing to do with any birthdays that may, or may not be rapidly approaching. This gift guide is completely impartial. See? I'm completely straightfaced. 

The practical gift: You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail 
I'm such a fan of the You Grow Girl blog and I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Trail's book!

The joke gift: Heart and star mould kit
Just because it makes peppers and tomatoes into heart and star shapes. Surely no further explanation is needed?

The equipment gift: Raspberry support and support frame
Canes may not work particularly well but they'll do for now. Proper raspberry supports would be extremely useful!

The social gift: A Big Green Egg Barbecue
Our old barbecue rusted right through and I love the idea of an Egg. They're compact, efficient and would camouflage well!

The innovative gift: Wally pockets
Because when you only have a few square metres, you have to grow up as well as out! 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Horticultural day out: Butterflies at RHS Wisley 2015 review

RHS Wisley is one of the loveliest gardens with reach of London. And the Butterflies in the Glasshouse exhibition is one of the nicest wildlife exhibits I've ever seen. As per usual, when we reached Wisley and decanted GarlicBaby into his pram, we were surrounded by a sea of other parents with their own prototype humans. The only good thing about being turfed out of bed at 7am by an infant every day is that you generally don't have to queue for attractions because you're there as soon as they open. We managed to get into the glasshouse where a variety of beautiful, exotic and enormous butterflies fluttered about in a jungle-like atmosphere. It was extraordinary. Even very small children like GarlicBaby (at seven months old) were captivated by the lovely and fragile creatures as they pranced and flitted about. The butterflies looked no less the worse for having been shipped to Wisley from a farm on Belize. Indeed, they were jaw-droppingly amazing to see up close. If you haven't been, go now, before they're all gone. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

And so it begins...the first of the seeds are sown!

Bring on the spring, that's what I say. This past weekend was gloriously...well, grey. But on Friday afternoon the sun shone strongly and the cold, crisp air inspired me to get out into the garden with a sponge to clean up the greenhouse. I find that boring chores are much more likely to get done if I hold off on something I really want to do. In this instance, the chore was scrubbing out the greenhouse and the fun task was the planting of the first seeds of the year. They look a bit puny sitting all alone in the greenhouse but it was lovely to feel that the planting year has officially started. Bring on the sun of 2015. My peppers, aubergines and tomatoes need to grow. Last year I planted everything far too late which, coupled with the fact that I abandoned the plot when my own little bean arrived, means that I didn't get much of a harvest. So I'm starting everything off as early as possible this year to give it as much time to grow as possible. Winter tasks like pruning are never laced with excitement like the planting of seeds that you can watch for germinating shoots!