Spring is here!!!

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At last it seems that Spring is here but after being on holiday from November into December, all that rain and contracting a virus that laid me low for the best part of February and March, the garden is a mess.  However the recent spell of decent weather has meant the ground is now slowly drying out and I did dig over one of my vegetable plots the other day, incorporating some compost.   The ground is workable if still a bit heavy.

Before I started digging I pulled up the last of the beetroot and made Beetroot and Tomato soup.  The tomato puree had been frozen last year.  The resultant soup was not only delicious but a beautiful vivid red in colour.  I will certainly ensure I have a good long row of beetroot this year.

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A lot of work needs to be done over the next few weeks to get the garden into shape.

I hope to complete my digging this week and put down cloches to warm up the soil before sowing.

Garlic , Onions and Shallots 

In my  blog last year I mentioned that I had sown “Autumn sown” varieties see  www.gardenwithian.wordpress.com/autumn-blues .   I planted  rows of 14 of each and  whilst the garlic is looking good with all showing good growth I have lost 4 onions and as far as the shallots are concerned, a disaster, I only have 4 left !!!  I have never had such a lack of success before and put it down to the excessively wet spell.

Beans

I also sowed a couple of rows but between rotting and the attention of slugs I have been forced to sow them again and hope for the best.

Potatoes

My seed potatoes are in a window to encourage them to sprout, or “chit” as it is called these days. This should ensure quicker growth after planting.

 

Greenhouse

My small greenhouse is still in use as a supplementary log store and will be until well into May.

My other greenhouse will have to be thoroughly washed with Jeyes Fluid before I reinstall the staging and set up my electric propagators.  As I do not have any heating in my greenhouses there is no urgency in starting sowing.   Despite my natural impatience to get started I know from past, sometimes bitter, experience that the last week in March is time enough to start.

The  garden is exposed to the cold North/East winds so early planting out is not recommended, I usually wait until the  last week of May.   Even then I have lost many tender plants in the past to the winds.

 

General

There is much pruning to be done as over the past year growth seems to have been greater than in previous years and shrubs are now getting too large for their situation.

I have an area at the bottom of the garden which I have left to nature.  Having looked at it earlier this  week I realise that it is time for some human intervention to prevent the area from being completely overgrown.   Holly seems to have developed a liking for this patch of ground so some thinning out is required. When I do  start on this I will be careful not to disturb any nesting birds.

I have two prunus trees and one has died and will have to be removed.  The other appears to be in a distressed state also so the same fate may be in store for it. Both trees are quite old so it may just be that old age has overtaken them.

Mystery

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Before I went on holiday at the beginning of November I dug up Cardiocrinum Giganteum bulbs from their nursery bed with a view to planting in their permanent positions about now.  The problem is I cannot find them and have no recollection of what I did with them.  I hope they turn up soon.

 

 

Holiday

I spent my holiday in South Africa, a beautiful and friendly Country, and explored the Garden Route.   I  finish off my first blog of the year with some pictures of flowers I saw there.

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Season’s end

As October comes to an end it is time to reflect on the growing season which has just ended and think of the successes, failures and lessons learned during the year.  It was a strange year with early Spring weather being warm and dry but  soon changing to cold, wet weather with a chill Northerly or Easterly wind predominating until well into June.  Here, in Fife on the North Sea coast, this spells trouble for tender plants.  July continued wet but August and September were acceptable with a few good days.  October has had some beautiful sunny days with cold nights and a touch of frost bringing the growing season for most plants to an end.  Now it is mild again !!

Now the results of some of my crops

Apples

Gathering the Bramleys
Gathering the Bramleys

The apple tree was late in flowering this year but at the end of the day delivered the best crop for many years.  The codling moth spoiled a few but they were still usable. Stewed apples and apple crumble have been regularly on the menu.  In fact, when we had our Charity Golf Day on 29th September, we supplied the Golf Club with apples for the apple crumble which was served as part of the evening meal.  It proved  so popular  they ran out of it on the night. No seconds for anyone !!

Beans

Broad beans did well with just a hint of that pest, black fly, at the end of the crop.

Dwarf French beans were punished by the weather and despite resowing in the gaps the crop was poor although it did improve late in the season when the weather improved.

Runner beans also suffered badly and I resowed them on 1st June and whilst late ( the first picking was 28th August) I did get a fairly good supply of beans.

I have taken a note to wait until into May before sowing French and Runner beans next year, but will I have the patience to wait I wonder ?

Courgettes

They were not affected too badly by the weather and I picked my first tender courgette on 4th July and cropping continued until 10th October.  I comment on the weight produced later in this blog.

Figs

In the tree’s first year of being released from its pot and planted in the open garden it responded with an increased number of figs so that was pleasing.

Leeks

This year all my leeks bolted and as they were not all in the same part of the plot I can only assume it was the erratic weather that caused this.  They are no longer bulking up and are the worst I can remember.

Onions

Underestimating the growth of my potatoes meant onions were planted a little too close to them and were growing in their shadow.  This did not seem to bother the onions too much as I dug up reasonably sized onions at the end of the day.

Potatoes

Planted late and grew well during the season but were affected by blight which meant digging them up before I felt they were ready.  Despite this, I averaged 3.5 kilos per shaw which I was happy with.

Squash

A disaster!!!  Whilst they grew reasonably well having been sheltered from the wind they did not deliver any fruit.  I was given the seed by a friend and whilst he had good intentions I suspect the seed came from a shop bought squash?   I have already bought seed for next year to be sure of a crop.

Outdoor Tomatoes

They grew better than expected until affected by blight which meant I had to remove them to the Council bin.  You can read more of this here.

In the Greenhouse

Cucumber

Was cropping well until it fell foul of stem rot.  It died quickly in the end!

Tomatoes 

My greenhouses are unheated and I picked my first tomato two weeks later than usual but despite this I have gathered a large quantity during the season, the last being this week.  My small greenhouse will now revert to its winter role as a supplementary log store.  Time to sharpen the chainsaw!!

Other Matters

During the summer I conducted an experiment feeding three tomato plants and a courgette with a Comfrey/ Nettle tea and the same number with Tomorite (with added seaweed).   From what I heard I expected the Comfrey/Nettle fed plants to at least match the Tomorite fed ones but this did not turn out to be the case as these results show ;

Comfrey/Nettle fed  Courgettes   3 Kilos            Tomatoes 3.3 Kilos

Tomorite fed              Courgettes  6.3 Kilos          Tomatoes 8.2 Kilos

A clear win for Tomorite by over 2 times in each case !!

In addition the Comfrey/Nettle fed tomatoes suffered from magnesium deficiency and if I try this experiment again next year I will add liquid seaweed to the mix to prevent this.

I also used the Comfrey/Nettle feed on my outside pot plants and they certainly benefitted from this extra boost.

Extra plants

I tried growing vegetables in areas previously unused as another experiment with the following results;

Tomatoes  grown between greenhouse and wall, 9 plants yielding 1.5 kilos of green tomatoes and half a dozen partly ripe Gardener’s Delight before blight struck.  Verdict, a waste of time and effort.  Although to be fair we now have 8 jars of green tomato chutney.

In a small area behind the house which gets a little sun late in the day I planted one courgette yielding 1.7 kilos and one squash which hardly grew and did not fruit.  Verdict, courgette did better than expected.

In the area beside my compost bins, two tomatoes and squash.  Verdict waste of time no tomatoes (affected by blight) and no squash.

My first runner beans had been battered by cold winds before I replaced them. Three of the plants were showing very slight signs of life and instead of putting them in the compost bin I planted them against the wall beside the bins.  This resulted in 2.2 kilos of beans, an unexpected bonus and an example of how some plants can recover from severe conditions and provide some food.

At the end of the day these experiments added a bit of extra interest throughout the season but for me it is not about yield.  It is about the marvel of seedlings emerging from the soil and the strength and energy they show while growing. It is about enjoying all aspects of gardening, keeping an open mind and not being afraid to try something new.  In fact there are times when acting on instinct gives the best results. It is also about being at one with nature.

Soup

We used the glut of courgettes, runner beans and tomatoes to make delicious soups and the freezer is now well stocked to see us through the winter. Runner beans make a surprisingly tasty soup but our favourite is courgette and carrot soup which did not reach the freezer and we enjoyed it over a couple of weeks. Mind you, there are still some courgettes and carrots in the kitchen so I think they will disappear into the soup pot some time soon !!

Teabag Index UK

Three months ago I planted teabags to help with this experiment, for more details click here.  I have now dug them up and they are drying before sending back for analysis.  It will be interesting to find out the results of this research.

Blog

Now that the main growing season is over I intend to have a break from blogging unless something of special interest crops up.  I will of course start again early next year and I hope you will join me then.

Thank you for reading and please leave your comments or email me at summerhousetales@outlook.com.

In the meantime enjoy watching your overwintering vegetables grow!

October days

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After a week of beautiful weather the rain and wind has returned making me a fireside gardener for a few days. Fortunately I can still spend time in the greenhouse but the only jobs there are picking tomatoes and also picking off dead or mouldy leaves.

The tomatoes I had growing, as a trial outside, between the greenhouse and garden wall were affected by blight and had to be removed to the bin. I did manage to salvage 1.5 kilos of  green Alicante which along with some apples were converted into delicious chutney from a recipe passed down by my late mother-in-law. We will allow the chutney to mature for a few weeks and then ENJOY.  I also harvested a handful of almost ripe Gardener’s Delight.

In all the experiment was hardly worth the time and effort but I will persevere with this space as being so sheltered and benefitting from the sun shining through the greenhouse it is worth trying another crop.  I have had very mixed results with sweet corn in the past so I will try a double row of them there next year.

Beans

Runner beans are still forming although at a slower rate than before but there are still plenty maturing.

I sowed my overwintering broad beans on 4th of October before the rain started and as the soil was fairly dry this will encourage them to germinate.

Beetroot

Has done well this year and there are still a few good sized globes to harvest. I will be trying beetroot and tomato soup later this week and I will let you know how it turns out as I have never made it before.

Courgettes 

Are running out of steam and I  see me removing them to the compost heap sometime soon.

Figs

Will they ripen?
Will they ripen?

Some of the remaining figs seem to have realised that summer is over and are ripening quickly. It is always a battle between the birds and me as to who gets them just as they are fully ripe. Lately I seem to have my timing just right. There are still a few left to ripen and I wonder if they will be ready for eating before the last leaf falls?

Onions

Surprisingly the Autumn planting onion sets I planted just over two weeks ago are already sprouting despite the attention of the local cat. I did not expect to see greenery so soon. The garlic and shallots are not showing any signs of growth but hopefully they are forming a good root system.

Other matters

Spring bulbs

were planted today so that is another job out of the way.

Borage

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Borage patch
Borage patch past its best

Has been a tremendous attraction for honey and bumble bees over the summer, being long flowering makes it especially suitable for the bees. It is however now past and I will remove it shortly before it starts dropping its seed as I don’t want countless seedlings appearing. I have seed which I harvested last year and I will sow this in the Spring.

I am always a little despondent at this time of year as cropping is finishing and the only work to be done is what I consider unproductive and don’t enjoy, like clearing the plot, general tidying and pruning . I hope I have cut the grass for the last time but with the weather being wet and mild I might be doing another cut later this month !!.

Autumn reading

I have plenty of seed catalogues to browse during these dark evenings and I am planning the crops and varieties to grow next year. I have a fairly small vegetable plot and crop rotation to minimise pests and diseases is always uppermost in my mind. I tend to stick to varieties of vegetables I know will be successful here but I also like to try something new every year.

In my next blog I will summarise my year of successes and failures. .

Please leave your comments or alternatively email me at summerhousetales@outlook.com. to let me know what you think of my blog.

Enjoy your garden and firm up your planting plan for next year.

Thanks for reading.

Autumn blues

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It is some time since my last blog as I have been kept busy having  decided to go it alone and set up my own site which I am still working on.  Secondly my wife and I organise a charity golf day every year and I am delighted  to say we raised over £10,000 all of which will be used to benefit families affected by cystic fibrosis. see our Facebook Page for pictures and more details.

Now to gardening matters

With Autumn well and truly with us the colours in the garden are changing from green to brown, yellow and red. While the annual flowers start to fade the dahlias still give a brilliant splash of colour in the border. This will last until the first frost blackens the foliage and it will be time to lift the tubers again.

What of the vegetable garden?

Beans

Beans still surviving the colder nights
Runner beans still surviving the colder nights

Runner beans are in full stride and the glut is being dealt with by sharing with friends and making runner bean soup which is a lot more delicious than it sounds. I never think frozen beans are as nice as when fresh so we freeze them as soup.

Leeks

Nearly all my leeks have bolted and I have been busy cutting the heads off to prevent them flowering but I don’t think they will bulk up any more so the prospects for a long season of harvesting is very bleak.  I can only assume the topsy turvy weather in Spring and Summer upset their time clocks !!

Onions

These were dried off on the soil surface and are now hung up in nets in the garage.  I will check them regularly in case any go soft and start to rot.  Over all  I am happy with the crop .

I recently planted my Autumn planting onions, shallots and garlic cloves, they should overwinter nicely in a sheltered part of the garden and mature in late spring and early summer. I applied an onion fertiliser and planted them in shallow drills just covering the bulbs with the tips just showing on the surface. Special varieties are required for this time of year and the ones I am using are;   Garlic – Provence Wight,  Onions – Shakespeare and  shallots – Yellow Moon. Despite having a nice area of bare earth where I lifted my potatoes a local cat decided to ignore it and scrape up my onions instead!!  Once I cleared up the mess I noticed substantial roots had formed on the sets in just a week which suggests they will be well established by winter. I lightly pruned the holly tree and as I replanted  the sets I spread the prickly holly leaves throughout the bed. To date the fear of pricked paws seems to be keeping the cats away.

Courgettes
Are still growing and supplying a plentiful supply of fruit and courgette and potato soup has been a regular part of our diet. It is noticeable that they are not bulking up now.

Apples

Gathering the Bramleys
Gathering the Bramleys

Bramley started dropping two weeks ago and as strong winds were forecast I decided it was time to pick them.  I managed to get most of them using a pair of steps but there were others out of reach.  Reverting to childhood I had some fun climbing among the branches to pick the rest.  This was not without mishap as I got my foot jammed between two branches and it took a fair bit of tugging to set it free.  My wife was standing fussing below and an apple slipped from my hand and struck her on the head.  I was most concerned when I saw the bruising on the Apple, it won’t keep!!! There was no need to go to A&E but I wonder why my wife has put a camp bed at the summerhouse door ?
At the end of the day we had the biggest crop for years. Some had been damaged by codling moth but still usable.

Inspecting the apple crop
Inspecting the apple crop

Figs

Are ripening slowly and we have enjoyed  only three so far. Hoping he rest ripen before the frost comes !

In the greenhouse

Tomatoes

My tomatoes continue to ripen nicely but botrytis (mould) is now appearing on the plants.  I keep removing affected leaves but the cooler nights mean so much more condensation which encourages it. Still I am happy with the crop. Feeding has been stopped and watering much reduced. This sunny weather we are enjoying is speeding up the ripening.

OTHER MATTERS

The affected tomatoes
The affected tomatoes

Some tomato plants outside were showing signs of blight so I immediately lifted them and threw them in the Council bin.  I’m keeping a close eye on the rest of the plants to make sure the blight has not affected them as I want to use them for green tomato chutney.

Jobs for next week

I must sow my overwintering beans. I will put them where the potatoes were and give the ground a light sprinkling of organic chicken manure pellets to sustain them through the winter. The variety I use is Aquadulce Claudia and i will look forward to picking my first beans in late Spring.

Another job will  be to plant Spring flowering like crocus, daffodil and tulip amongst others, in containers. I will leave them behind the summerhouse in a sheltered spot until they emerge when I will move them into the garden. I will place a couple of containers of bulbs in the greenhouse for an earlier display of colour.

Although shorter than usual my tale is over and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Please feel free to leave your comments, I welcome them.

If you have a question you wish answered in depth please contact me by email at summerhousetales@outlook.com.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your garden.

Welcome to Autumn

Summer houseDespite the nip in the air which has welcomed Autumn it still gets quite warm in the summerhouse when there is a blink of sunshine. It is here you find me having blotted my copybook once again!  After a session of weeding I sat down for lunch only to be met by a horrified “look at your nails ! Are you not wearing your gloves out there?”. I explained I was but after heaving around paving slabs when laying a new path I had worn the fingertips through. “That is no excuse ” I was told “Go and give these nails a good scrub or there is  no lunch for you my man !” Ah well so much for the bonus points I built up over the last few weeks, I don’t suppose a nice courgette and potato soup will be enough to get me back in favour.

Now to the garden

Courgettes

They continue to produce in numbers which we use in a variety of ways. My courgette of choice is Defender which is resistant to mildew and a great cropper.

Beans

Runner bean plants
Runner beans cropping well

Dwarf french beans have continued to give pickings but are now on their last legs.

Runner beans have started cropping  and with plenty of blossom will continue to provide tender tasty beans until the first frosts.

Beetroot

Has been the best for years and I had forgotten what a delicious vegetable it is. I had it boiled with a nice piece of haddock and potatoes the other day, simple but brilliant.

Onions

Have been reasonable and I have dug them up and are drying off on the ground until I store them in a cool place in a  few days.

Potatoes

potatoes, beans, tomatoes, courgettes, onion
Some of my harvest

I saw black spots starting to appear on the foliage and fearing it was the start of potato blight I cut off the shaws and dumped them in the council brown bin. It was with some apprehension that I dug the first of the potatoes with a fork. I was convinced they would be wee marbles but no! The first shaw yielded 3.5 kilos of scab free potatoes. Thinking I had just struck it lucky I dug up another shaw with the same result. It may not be a record yield but it suits me very nicely.

I grew Pentland Dell which is a blight resistant variety but I was concerned that the disease might get down into the tubers hence the speedy disposal of the foliage. For more information on blight and blight resistant varieties click on this site.

Dahlias

Anyone  visiting the Dundee Flower and Food Festival could not help but be amazed by the fantastic display of dahlias. It takes months of dedication by the exhibitors to achieve such beautiful perfection. One of their enemies  is the earwig, or as we knew it when I was young, the forkie tailie or forkie for short. These insects can ruin a bloom in a night by eating the petals. I have known exhibitors smear vaseline on the stems to prevent the forkie reaching the bloom. A bit messy but I believe it works. If you are not exhibiting your blooms then try placing an upside down pot filled with straw or scrunched up paper on top of the supporting cane and empty it daily. You will be surprised how many forkies you catch and thus preserve the beauty of your blooms.

In the greenhouse

Tomatoes

They have been prolific over the last two weeks but there are many still to ripen. I know some gardeners remove unripe tomatoes and try to ripen them indoors. I prefer to leave them on the vine until the plant starts to wither. I will however gradually reduce watering and remove leaves to speed up ripening. Hopefully, if we have a month with sunshine, most will ripen.

Other Matters

Comfrey/Nettle  Experiment

To date the Tomorite fed courgette plant has produced 3.4 kilos of courgettes whereas the comfrey/nettle plant only 1.8 kilos. There is no way now that that this superiority will change as the Tomorite plant is still going strong.

Tomatoes, the Tomorite treated plants have produced 2 kilos and comfrey/nettle plants  2.5 kilos. As I mentioned previously the comfrey/ nettle tomatoes started ripening earlier but suffered from magnesium defficiency. In a taste test I gave the comfrey/ nettle tomatoes the edge but I may be prejudiced. Any volunteers to confirm my tasting ?

Plantings in areas not previously in cultivation

Tomato plants with lots of green tomatoes
A row of green tomato chutney

Tomatoes behind the greenhouse have grown well but with only two tiny ripe tomatoes so far I fear there will be a glut of green tomato chutney in the house this year. It is unfortunate but I wonder what the result might have been had it been a good summer?

Squash in the area beside my compost bins is an absolute disaster with plenty growth but not a single squash. Mind you this also applied to the squash in the main part of the garden.

I also planted a courgette at the back of the house which gets little sun but it has so far produced 1kilo.

Runner bean plant over a stone wall
Runner beans hiding the wall

A rather surprising success has been the three runner beans which I had given up for dead and planted them against the wall beside my compost bins. They have flourished and I will be picking beans later this week. They have provided a nice cover for the unsightly wall and some nice colour with the red and white blossom.

Autumn Reading

With the nights creeping in I like to turn to some reading of an evening and a friend recommended a very interesting book, “Creative Vegetable Garden” by Joy Larkcom.  If like me you are bored seeing traditional rectangular plots with vegetables planted in straight lines then reading this book will inspire you to  make your vegetable garden stand out from the crowd. You will find super ideas to fire your creativity with wonderful designs and planting suggestions for a colourful and interesting display of vegetables. There are also imaginative combinations of flowers and vegetables featured.  Well worth reading.

That is my tale for today, please leave a comment or raise any gardening problem you may have below.

I wonder if any of the apples are ripe yet? If one comes away when I give it a gentle twist, then it will be. Perhaps a humble apple pie will be enough to get me back in favour?

Enjoy your gardening.

A poem for a frog

SummerhouseWelcome back to the summerhouse, dear readers. The weather in August has been a distinct improvement over July with a lot of growth and ripening crops. In the greenhouse tomatoes are ripening every day giving plenty to use in the kitchen. My courgette, tomato and rice soup proved a winner and I am building up bonus points which will stand me in good stead when I forget myself and wander into the house with muddy boots leaving footprints all over the carpet or leaving smelly gardening gloves in the kitchen.

In the Garden

Beans

Roots with nodules
Root nodules

The broad beans are gone now and as they are of the legume family (which includes peas) they developed nodules on the roots which contained nitrogen. I have returned the nodules to the ground as they will benefit the next crop. The plants collect nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. When I cut the plants down I found a lot of beans which I had missed at my last picking  but as some were as tough as old boots they were not fit for the dining table. They were not wasted as I made a surprisingly tasty broad bean and red pepper soup which gained me further bonus points. So good I made a further batch of soup for freezing the next day.

I will now lightly dig this area and apply some chicken manure pellets before planting my Autumn onion sets, shallots and garlic. A word of warning here, never apply fresh chicken manure to your plot as this will burn the roots of anything you plant.

Dwarf french beans

I was complaining about how poor these were this year but the better August weather has revived them and I am harvesting them again.

Runner beans

While not quite at the picking stage, plenty of beans are now forming and I will give them a liquid feed to encourage them along.

Potatoes

My wife keeps asking  “When will we be getting some potatoes?” I can’t tell her as the shaws are still green and showing no signs of dying back. I am confident, however, that we will get our first boiling next month. I always  feel the wait is too long when I plant only late varieties.

Parsley

In my blog of 5 August I said it would take at least 3 weeks for the seed to germinate. Wrong!!! Seedlings started appearing after 15 days, quite the fastest germination I can remember. All conditions must have been just right for this to happen.

Dahlias 

Cream, full dahlia flowers
Eastwood Moonlight

In the open garden one of my favourite flowers is the dahlia. It is excellent for garden display and as a cut flower. The sheer number of different varieties, colour and shapes continue to fascinate me. There are over 1600 varieties to be seen at the National Dahlia Selection.  A particular favourite of mine is Eastwood Moonlight, a medium semi- cactus variety. Its yellow colour seems to grow more intense as dusk approaches giving it a lovely luminous quality.

Spring Bulbs

I love seeing a colourful display of Spring flowers in a garden, ranging from the snowdrop and crocus to the daffodil and tulip. There are of course many more. I have just ordered my bulbs on line from Parkers but if you are interested in a more exclusive selection try Bloms.  I will plant my bulbs in containers in October and place them in a sheltered spot behind the summerhouse. Next year when there is 2 – 3 inches of growth visible I will place them in bare patches in the garden to give a display throughout Spring. When flowering is over I will plant them in parts of the garden where I would like to see them the following year.

“Why”, I hear you ask,” do you not just plant them in the garden in October?” The answer is simple; in October I will have no idea where bulbs from previous years are going to appear so to avoid damaging them while digging I plant my new bulbs in containers. This also means I can move the containers around while the bulbs are blooming to get the most pleasing display.

In the greenhouse

Tomatoes

Frogs and toads live in or under my gro-bags and we get along pretty well together. The other day while I was watering a frog leapt out and sat staring at me. I was reminded of some years ago when I got a similar fright. At that time I was visiting the wonderful Maggie’s Centre in Dundee and taking part in creative writing sessions. I was inspired to write a poem about the frog which is just a bit of fun and may not be for the purist but it still amuses me. I hope you do not mind me sharing it with you. For those of you who do not grow tomatoes, Ailsa Craig and Alicante are both varieties of tomato.

Large frog
One of my frogs

Paddy the Puddock in my Greenhouse

I found him one May morning
The grass was wet with dew
In my greenhouse I was working
On that day the clouds were few.
I saw him in a corner watching me in fear
Coloured yellow, brown and golden green
With a mouth that stretched from ear to ear
On his head two black eyes were so keen
We worked well together all that Summer
Between Alicante and Ailsa Craig too
He patrolled the tomato beds like a US Army Hummer
Eating the beasties and slugs until his belly was fu’
A dish of water was always there for him
To prevent his skin from dehydrating
I kept it filled up to the brim
Paddy fairly enjoyed the bathing
It was after sunset one August night
When I stepped across the greenhouse door
A rotten tomato made me skite
I landed on Paddy and squashed him to the floor
It is sad but Paddy has gone now
He’s gone where the good puddocks go
Diving and swimming in that great pond in the sky
I may meet him one day in that garden on high.

06/08

Problems

Tomatoes can be affected by blossom end rot and while I have not been troubled so far this year I did have this problem last year. Affected plants are easily identified by the dark colouring on the bottom of the tomato. This is not a disease just a deficiency, usually caused by dry conditions which prevent the plant taking up calcium. Regular watering and a liquid feed should ensure that later fruit is unaffected.

Other matters 

Comfrey/Nettle Experiment

This experiment continues with the Tomorite treated courgettes excelling by 2.8 kg to 1.4kg of fruit but as I said before their situations are not identical.  If I repeat the experiment next year I will swap them round.

The Tomorite treated tomatoes look healthier and more robust and while they have been later in ripening there seems to be a larger crop. I will report in more detail in my next blog. I have been giving my outdoor pot plants a regular feed of the Comfrey/nettle mixture and the results have been promising with good strong growth and a good number of blooms.

Teabag Index UK

Teabag Index participant collage by Sarah Duddigan (Source: Teabag Index Facebook page)

Sarah, who we are helping with this experiment and will be analyzing the teabags, has posted this collage of participants. It was my intention to have a competition to see if anyone could identify me with a prize for the first correct entry. However, I decided it would be unfair to the readers who do not know me. Suffice to say you will find me if you look for a hat!

Thank you for reading my tale and please feel free to leave a comment.

Enjoy your garden.

Planting teabags

Summer house
Where blogs are written

Welcome to the summerhouse dear readers, but do not fret, I am here of my own freewill and not by compulsion. I found that a steady stream of vegetables for the kitchen capped by making a delicious courgette and red pepper soup was sufficient to get me back in the good books. Note, no red roses required in this remedy !

I find that this is a great place for writing my blog.

Now for my garden:

Beans

Broad beans are more or less finished and  when removed I will replace with Autumn planting  Japanese onion sets, shallots and garlic. I sourced an offer of all three with a free bottle of onion fertiliser from Marshalls.  At the same time I ordered broad bean Aquadulce Claudia, an overwintering variety, for sowing in October to give an early crop of beans next year,

Dwarf french beans Castandel are not doing well, the crop being very poor. This is in contrast to the last two years when they were top performers. No doubt the poor Spring and Summer weather is the culprit.

Runner beans, it is too early to say how they will perform and they have reached the top of their wigwam but so far no beans to be seen despite having been in flower for a week or so.

Cabbage and Kale

Have done very well and are much larger than last year. So far the netting has stopped  the cabbage butterfly laying any eggs, hence no caterpillars. I use collars round the neck of my brassicas when planting out and this prevents attack by the cabbage root fly whose grubs devour the roots. I used to buy these but this year I made my own out of spare cardboard and they have worked well. I will mention this again with an image next Spring .

Courgettes

Are a success this year and while there is a pause in production just now I see many  courgettes starting to form and will ripen during the next few days. Frequent cutting of the courgettes before they grow big ensures a steady supply of tender and tasty courgettes.

Beetroot

Beetroot
Excellent this year

Boltardy has done exceptionally well this year and I am digging up large succulent roots which are much appreciated in the kitchen.

Fruit

Fig

Fruit on a tree
Growing nicely

Over the last four years, as per cultivation instructions, I grew my fig in a large pot but never had more than 3 figs in any year. Last winter, while the tree was dormant, I transplanted it in the open garden and it is fair to say it has flourished with eleven fruits this year.

Raspberries

Have finished fruiting so the fruit bearing canes of this year will be cut out at the base and the young growth tied to the supporting wires to fruit next year.

Strawberries

Did reasonably well but it is now time to cut off any dead leaves and remove any runners which bear the young plants. I might pin a few runners to the ground first of all to get them to root so I  have some more plants for next year.

In the Greenhouse.

Tomatoes

Sungold and Gardener’s Delight are ripening now, especially the former, providing a steady supply. Alicante is still being stubborn and staying green. During a recent visit to St Andrews Botanic Gardens I started chatting to a chap from Forfar who was bemoaning the slow ripening of his tomatoes, he had not picked a ripe one so far! He assured me he was going back home to hang bananas in his greenhouse to speed up ripening of his tomatoes!!! Now,  I have heard of people placing bananas in a bowl  to hasten ripening of other fruits but never in a greenhouse. I am convinced my tomatoes will ripen when they reach the correct stage of maturity. I think I will give his remedy a miss.

What is interesting is that those fed with my comfrey/nettle mixture are ripening faster than the others. This could turn out to be significant  as I would much rather have a smaller amount of ripe tomatoes than be left with a large amount of unripe fruit.

Pests.

Aphids

The garden still seems to be free from aphids. Although I did find a few black fly they were quickly squished and no others have taken their place.

Snails and Slugs

SnailThey have extracted their revenge, pass me the smelling salts!!! I had some salad crops growing in a container on top of my log store and I foolishly did not include them in my garden troubleshooting patrols as I knew they would not need watering. About four days later I looked and the tender green foliage had been stripped to the base, much too late now for my garlic spray!   I left my container and went back after dark and found the rascal shown in my picture polishing off the last of the greenery! Any guesses as to what happened to him? I should have known better than to neglect daily inspections but I will sow some more and pay more attention this time.

Other Matters

Teabag index UK

Experimental pack of teabags
My pack

My Teabag index kit arrived and it was with much excitement I selected 3 spots in my garden to bury my teabags. After planting my last sample I was firming the soil around the marker stick when my neighbour’s head popped over the wall. ” Now I’ve seen it all” he said “Why are you planting lollipop sticks in your grass Ian? You must be daft.”  “I’m not daft ” I replied, “I’m planting teabags here not lollipop sticks”. He raised his eyes to the heavens, gave a sigh and shook his head.

As he was walking away he turned and said ” By the way I notice a nasty smell around here sometimes, when I pass. It must be the drains and I think you should report it to the Council”. I just nodded, smiled and held my breath  as I gave the courgettes some of my comfrey/nettle mixture.

Comments

I apologise to any  readers who have tried to comment on my previous blogs but have been unable to do so. This was due to my settings being wrong but this has since been rectified and is working properly now.

On a similar vein an old friend of mine whose computer skills are limited told me how he enjoyed my blog but why did I have some words in blue? I explained that by clicking on the blue words he would be taken through to further information on that subject. He thought that  was a pretty good idea.

I am glad that we have both learned something new about the computer and blogging this week.

Thanks for reading and please leave your comments as it will now be easy to do.

Enjoy your gardening.

Garlic spray and cucumber wilt

Well here I am again. Yesterday I made more garlic spray, this time to tackle the earwigs and slugs attacking my dahlias. This morning I was accused of smelling strongly of garlic and that I should wash my hands in vinegar to get rid of the smell. I explained that I used the last of the vinegar to make my latest batch of weedkiller. I knew from the atmosphere it was time to beat a hasty retreat and as I left I heard “and don’t bring your gardening  gloves into the house again as you have obviously spilled some of your comfrey/nettle mixture on them”. That’s me in the doghouse again, just as well I have the summerhouse  as a sanctuary.

My Garden

Beans

Runner beans growing against brick wall
The discarded runner beans with a pathetic tomato

Broad beans continue to produce enough to let us have them every day as a vegetable. When I start to tire of them I will freeze a few. Dwarf french beans are now coming on stream and will slot in nicely as the broad beans come to an end. Runner beans are now in blossom so things are looking good for them. If you read my blog of 27th June  you will know that my first sowing became a victim of the harsh Spring weather. There were three plants which had some life about them and being a softie I did not compost them.  Instead I  put them in a corner beside the compost bins. They have responded well in the sheltered environment and in fact have flower buds showing.

Courgettes

I mentioned in my blog of 15th July that I had extended my comfrey/nettle experiment to them and so far the courgette fed on tomarite is away ahead of the comfrey/nettle one having produced 1.76kg of courgettes whereas the comfrey/nettle only .889kg. To be fair the tomorite courgette was bigger, stronger and is in a slightly more favourable situation. We will see how they compare at the end of the season. Who knows the big producer now may suffer from burnout.  

Potatoes

Large potato plants behind a row of onions
Potatoes overpowering onions and leeks

Due to crop rotation I have not grown potatoes for four years or so and I had forgotten how big main crop potatoes grow!  My Pentland Dell is in danger of suffocating some of my onions and leeks! Next year I will grow earlies in another part of the garden (Duke of York is a favourite of mine). They are not so strong growers.

Turnips

“Purple Top”, small turnips, are now finished so to use the ground  I sowed dwarf pea “Meteor”in their place on 14th July and they are growing well. We may have some peas in the Autumn. I spread the residue from my garlic spray along the row to deter the slugs and snails and to date they are unscathed.

Apples

Maturing apples on a tree branch
Too bonnie to thin out

I mentioned in my blog of 15th July that I would wait until after the “June Drop” to thin my apples. Despite it now being August and considering the strong winds, there have been very few fallen apples. They are now looking so good I don’t have the heart to climb the tree to remove any. I am hoping that all the wet weather will keep the fruit swelling until ripe.

In the Greenhouse

Cucumber

Cucumber stem covered in mould
The dreaded stem rot

My one plant wilted and died on 30 July suffering from stem rot. I may have been over generous with watering as they prefer a dry atmosphere whereas tomatoes thrive in a humid one. Very difficult to strike the right balance when both crops are in a small greenhouse.  At the end of the day it did produce 10 fine cucumbers and we are making some cucumber soup with the last one.   When I first tried this soup I was surprised by how delicious it is. I will sow parsley in the empty gro bag as this herb is always in demand in our house. Germination can take some time, at least 3 weeks, so some patience is required. For some reason flat leafed parsley germinates more quickly than the curly leafed variety.

Tomatoes

At last on 2nd August, I picked 5 tomatoes (Sungold) and it was a treat to enjoy a home grown tomato again. I had to wait 2 weeks longer this year for my first taste. Sungold is a sweet variety and is best left until it is orange in colour and fully ripe. Although Gardener’s Delight and Alicante (my other varieties) are still green I am expecting a steady supply of tomatoes over the next 2 months, or longer, if we have an Indian Summer . In the meantime I will continue feeding twice a week. In my last blog I mentioned the magnesium deficiency in my experimental tomatoes and Jessie Roberts has been good enough to tell me that liquid seaweed is also an effective remedy. The use of epsom salts as a cure intrigued me and I was amazed when I saw on the internet how many effective uses it has in the garden.

Other Matters

I have been doing some hard pruning of spring flowering shrubs which after shredding I have used as a mulch among my shrubs and also topped up my compost bins. It should rot down nicely over the next few months. While browsing I came across an experiment entitled Tea Bag Index where tea bags (organic I believe) are buried in the ground for 3 months and then sent back for analysis. This is to ascertain how quickly decomposition occurs in different soils. This is a world wide initiative.  The rate of release of CO2  from this source is of great importance when related to climate change.  If you are interested in taking part in this experiment follow this link  to Tea Bag Index UK. I am waiting impatiently for my tea bags to arrive as I believe an additional complementary tea bag is included in the pack. Now if only I had an electric kettle in the summerhouse I could settle in for the day  with a nice cup of tea and a digestive!!

Thank you for reading and I will be delighted to read any comments you wish to leave. Enjoy your gardening.

Magnesium deficiency and bay leaf sucker

After writing my last blog the great news came through that Planning Permission had been granted for the Tayport Community Growing Space. Being a relatively new member I am full of praise and admiration for the other members of the PLANT team and Peter Duncan, Fife Allotments Officer, who have shown such tenacity, ambition and vision in bringing the project through to this stage.
Thank you all for letting me on board for the rest of this adventure. I am looking forward to the challenge.

Now today’s tale;

I am sipping a cup of coffee (decaff of course) while I look out at the rain. Why am I in the summerhouse on a rainy day? It is quite simple, I was caught in the kitchen diluting my comfrey/nettle mixture!  This is apparently unacceptable conduct !!! Even my plea that it was research for my PLANT Blog fell on deaf ears.

However I must move on to what has been happening in the garden;

Beans

Although my broad beans did take a battering during the recent high winds all beans continue to thrive and seem to be enjoying the wet weather

Courgettes

They are cropping prolifically and we are enjoying them as a vegetable and in red pepper and courgette soup, delicious.

Butternut squash

Are showing no signs of flowering so I have pinched out the growing tip in the hope of speeding them up to flower. The seeds were given to me and I have no idea of the name of the variety . I have sourced “Waltham” for next year from Seed Parade who I use for most of my seeds as they are very competitively priced and liking their Facebook page gives access to more discounts. The seeds are in minimal packaging with no pictures or cultivation hints so are not ideal for an inexperienced gardener.

Leeks

I send my apologies to all citizens of Musselburgh for the misspelling in my last blog. Let’s put it down to a senior moment!

Salads

I am continuing to sow a mixture of salads in containers every two weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh leaves. The seeds germinate quickly at this time of year. I prefer containers as I sow less seeds, thus there is less wastage and I can place them wherever I wish in the garden. It also makes it more difficult for the slugs to get a share.

Tomatoes

Green tomato fruit with pale green leaves
Still green with magnesium deficiency showing in leaves

These are really late this year thanks to the poor summer. I am usually enjoying them by now but they are still green. Hopefully the sun will shine in August or else we will be making jars and jars of green tomato chutney !! My late mother-in-law had a superb recipe which we still use.

In the meantime I have pinched the growing tips out of the plants after 5/6 trusses and this should divert energy to developing the fruit. I have also removed all leaves below the first truss of tomatoes to aid ripening and improve air circulation to prevent the onset of gray mould (botrytis) which is always a menace in cool damp weather.

The comfrey/ nettle experiment mentioned in my blog of 27 June is ongoing and there is no apparent difference at the moment in the crops. What is noticeable however is the comfrey/nettle tomatoes are showing signs of magnesium deficiency in their leaves. The usual antidote is a spray with Epsom salts but I wonder if any of you readers know of an alternative? Please leave a comment if you do.

Pests

Bay leaves damaged by the bay sucker insects
Bay sucker damage

I was puzzled why the sides of my bay leaves were curling inwards, after some research it seems it is the work of the bay sucker. The suggested cure is to remove and destroy the affected leaves or treat with a systemic insecticide. I cringe at the thought of anything systemic being used, especially on leaves likely to be used in cooking. As the bay bush is much too large to remove the affected leaves by hand I found a recipe for garlic spray. I have drenched the bush and it seems to be working.

I think I have created a new herb “Bay leaves with a hint of garlic”, I wonder if there is a market for this?

I have also applied the spray to plants being eaten by slugs and snails, hopefully they will also be deterred.

Weeds

I mentioned vinegar as a weedkiller in my last blog and I did manage to find a dry day to try it again. I added a dash of washing up liquid and sprayed it on the weeds between the paving slabs and on the drive I must admit it was successful in a very short time. Some people add salt to the mixture but this should not be done if you are applying it where there is soil as you will not be able to grow anything there for a number of years due to the effect of salt.

Well the sun is shining again and the garden beckons but I must finish my coffee first. I wonder if I can sneak into the house and heat it up in the microwave without being noticed? Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading and please leave your comments.

Enjoy your gardening.

Lots of apples and strong growing tomatoes

Carder bee
Carder bees visit the glasshouse tomatoes

Sitting in the summerhouse with the evening sun warming my wine I am content. The heavy work in the garden is done and for the next few weeks it is a case of maintenance and enjoying the taste of fresh produce.  I do see some shrubs in need of pruning but that can wait for another day.

This is what has been happening in my garden:

Beans

Broad beans “Bunyard’s Exhibition” are cropping well and we have enjoyed tender beans by picking whilst still young and at their sweetest. I have had no trouble with blackfly this year and as I have pinched out the growing tips to divert the plants’ energy to producing beans I feel the threat has passed.

Runner Beans “Firestorm” and “Stardust” are growing strongly on their canes after their late start and I am optimistic that there will be a good crop.

Dwarf French beans “Castandel “ are in flower and as there are plenty of bumble bees around, they should be fine.

Courgettes

We have been enjoying “ Defender” steamed or lightly fried in butter. I always cut them just as the flower dies off, when I find that they are at their most flavoursome. It is very easy to miss one in the thick foliage and they bulk up very quickly. When this happens they make a very tasty courgette soup. I am hoping that Cathy will post her favourite recipe as I am anxious to try something new.

I have decided to extend my Comfrey and Nettles/ Tomorite experiment to this crop and I will keep you posted as to how it goes.

Leeks

“Musselborough” are relatively trouble free to grow, it is merely a matter of keeping them weed free and not letting them get dry, the latter not a problem so far this year.

Potatoes 

“Pentland Dell” are looking good coming into flower and will be ready to harvest when the foliage starts to die back. If seed pods form I will remove these as they are poisonous.

If you are ever in Northumberland you should try to fit in a visit to Alnwick Castle Garden.  It has a spectacular display of roses, delphiniums and other herbaceous plants. There is also a poison garden which is kept locked and you are only allowed in with a guide. I never realised that so many popular garden plants are toxic. It is almost enough, but not quite, to make me give up gardening!

Digging the first shaws of potatoes is always an exciting job as I have no idea how many potatoes might be hidden underground. The first boiling of home grown potatoes with butter is one of the culinary treats of the year!

 Apples

Green apples on a tree branch
Abundance of apples

Loads of apples this year, in fact too many. I will have to thin them out, discarding the weakest, smallest fruit. I will wait for a week or so before doing this as there will be what is known as the “June drop” when the tree naturally sheds excess fruit, or if it is under stress such as too dry. In this area the drop can be late into July, hence my waiting.

In The Greenhouse

Tomatoes

Pinching out tomato side shoots
Pinching out tomato side shoots

Varieties “Sungold”, “Gardener’s  Delight” and “Alicante” are growing well with lots of fruit set. Watering , feeding , removing side shoots and tying in are jobs that need to be done on a regular basis to keep them growing evenly. Erratic watering can cause the fruit to split. It is too early to judge how the feeding experiment is working.

Cucumber

I have only one plant ,“Femspot” , which is an all female variety and does not need pollinating to set fruit. So far it has produced five juicy cucumbers without a taste of bitterness. Plenty more to come!

In my last blog I was full of praise for the buff tailed bumble bee but interestingly the carder bee seems to be a more frequent visitor to the greenhouse – “carry on the good work please.”

Although there are automatic vents in my greenhouses I leave the doors open during the day in the summer months to prevent overheating and give easy access to the bees and other pollinating insects. At night time I leave the doors slightly open to allow the resident frogs a chance to have a jaunt outside but also to let the air circulate.

I make a point of leaving full watering cans in the greenhouse for at least six hours to bring the temperature of the water up to a point where it will not chill the roots of the plants when used. I feel this helps keep the plants growing well.

Weeds

A dutch hoe and a swoe
A dutch hoe and a swoe

I enjoy my time in the garden but my least favourite job is weeding, especially hand weeding!!  I always leave plenty of room between rows of vegetables to let me use a hoe without danger to the growing plants. While the traditional tool to use is a dutch hoe I prefer a swoe which is a much more versatile version of the hoe. It has more cutting edges and its design lets me get closer to the plants. A bit more expensive than a hoe but well worth it in my opinion.

I had hoped to try vinegar as a weed killer between my paving slabs but no sooner had I sprayed the weeds when a thunder shower undid all my good work. I am waiting for a nice sunny day to try again. In the meantime I suppose I could get down on my knees and hand weed !!

Pests

Most vegetables are strong enough to survive the attentions of slugs and snails now but removing fallen leaves and the like around plants will give them less places to hide and give predators a chance to do their work. Netting cabbages and kale has kept the cabbage white butterfly at bay hence no caterpillars!

I noticed some greenfly on the roses but a quick squish with my fingers and they were gone. So far they have not been a problem. I have seen a few ladybirds so perhaps their larvae are doing a good job for me.

The plants in my previously unused parts of the garden are surviving but not showing much promise of a decent crop but time will tell. The most successful so far are the salads growing with the courgettes.

Well that’s today’s tale over, but where did I put the wine?  Time for a refill I think, I am not a glass half empty kind of guy!!

Cheers

Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment.