Monday, 26 April 2010

Baby peaches and the brassica patch

I went to the shop meeting on Thursday night, and we sampled the jams and chutneys we'd got from Reedy's the day before.  The hot plum chutney was good, and the tomato and chilli one was pretty tasty too.  I've been tasked with finding gardening products for the shop.  My initial ideas include organic liquid seaweed feed, organic slug killer/deterrent and some exciting vegetable seeds and some wildflower seeds too – the condition being they aren’t already available to buy locally.

After the meal I met up with 2 friends and we went to a local oriental restaurant called Moutai.  I had spring onion pancakes, kung po (very tasty and full of cashew nuts) and noodles.

On Friday morning a man came to measure up for some blinds in our front room.  I'm sick of the voiles and my plants aren't getting enough light during the day.  So they're coming to fit them on the 17th May.

I pinched out the first side shoots on the tomato plants.  They've got hairy stalks now and already have that lovely homegrown tomato smell, even though they're still only about 4 inches tall.

The weather has been really dry and sunny for at least 2 weeks and I think we're due for some rain.  I picked loads of dandelion flowers off my lawn, but the next day about 20 more appeared!

We got a takeaway from Akash on Friday night, a Desi Biriani and Pakoras.  I got a bottle of Tiers III Rioja to try but it was very disappointing and tasted like vinegar, despite being quite expensive.

On Saturday I did a bit of weeding at the allotment - the mares tail is rearing its ugly head in the top greenhouse.  We nipped into town for some bits and bobs and I got a wire hanging basket for out the front.  I also got 2 more bags of multi-purpose compost.  I made up 2 hanging baskets of dwarf sweet peas in the greenhouse.  Next year I need to remember to sow the dwarf sweet peas directly into the hanging baskets as this will mean a more even distribution of plants.  Another note for next year is to sow a lot more sweet pea seeds into each pot.  I've only sown 3 sweet peas per pot - but other people seem to be sowing lots more into pots - maybe about 8-10 per pot.

Some more lessons learnt for next year - if you can sow it outside - do, it saves hardening off.  And start off peas and broad beans sooner - as they don't need to wait until after last frost before planting out

I repotted the thyme from a tiny pot into a big terracotta pot, which I think it will love.  I also sowed some more sweetcorn in the last of the large peat pots.  I've used up all the Lark seeds now.

The cabbage, kale, sprouts and 2 nasturtiums have left the greenhouse and are being hardened off. 

My Mum's got a baby blackbird nesting in her back garden.  Its parents are backwards and forwards feeding it all the time and she can see it from her kitchen window.  On my way into work the other day I saw a greenfinch or a green wagtail, and from my bedroom window I saw a goldfinch.

We sorted the brassica patch on Sunday.  I dug it over and limed the soil, and planted the first row of plants that were donated by Lynne.  I had to compost a few of the plants she gave me as they'd got white insects and eggs on the back of the leaves.  We netted the patch and gave each plant a cardboard collar to stop root fly.

The leeks can go beneath the brassica patch, but I still need to find somewhere for the swedes and turnips - we might not bother with turnips, but I do like swedes, so I need to squeeze them in somewhere.

I noticed the Blackthorn tree has really come into blossom now.

The damson has also produced some leaves.  And some baby peaches have appeared on the peach tree.

To be honest, on Sunday I wasn't really in the mood for the allotment, plus it started raining so I came home.  I started knitting a stripy hat for my friend's baby.  I also want to knit myself some Noro socks.  I've got bad circulation in my hands and feet, I think it might be Reynaud's Syndrome, because if I wash myhands in cold water my fingers go white!  And often my feet get really chilly, so I think a pair of hand knitted woolly socks would be perfect for me.  The Noro yarn comes in some really cool colours too.  Here’s the one I ordered:

Which knits up like:

Then I went to tea at my Mum's - she made scampi, salad and new potatoes and we had pineapple and coconut yogurt for dessert.

I borrowed Joe's Allotment by Joe Swift (off Gardeners’ World) and I read it all, it's pretty useful stuff for any allotmenteer, and I definitely learnt some new things from the book.

I'm still logging all my seed sowing in the 'In Tune with the Moon 2010' book/diary.  It's full moon on Wednesday so I hope the clouds shift in time for a nice photo of the moonrise.

As for next weekend, well it's bank holiday and we are hoping to pave in front of the shed at the allotment which will give us a bit of a patio area to sit down on and chill and maybe have a BBQ at some point.  

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Digging trenches is hard work!

On Friday I made a red lentil dhal from the Modern Vegetarian recipe book by Maria Elia that my sister bought me for Christmas.  

This was accompanied by a bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja 2005 Reserva - reduced from £7.99 to a fiver, and very nice it was too.  Really smooth.  There was some dhal left for the day after, and the flavour improved and got spicier with keeping.

Finally, all the potatoes are in.  It was a lovely sunny day on Saturday so Chris was up at 7am and dug over the un-dug patch of land just below the top greenhouse - this hasn't been dug in years.  I went over it again to pull out any weeds he'd missed.  Len gave me some potato planting advice, dig a trench a spit deep and a spit wide, then place the chitted seed potatoes 12 inches apart with a little manure around each one and some slug pellets.  Digging trenches is very, very hard work if you're out of practice, I was wiped out in the evening.  Lifting the soil to form a trench works wonders for your shoulder muscles.  Better than a work out at the gym, and we'll have lots of lovely homegrown potatoes in a few months.

On Sunday, I was back at Brookside Nursery getting some compost as Aldi had sold out of organic multi-purpose compost and organic grow bags.  I was disappointed because Aldi’s were really cheap and I should have bought them earlier, but I'll know for next year. So instead I bought two Leverington grow bags (the traditional grow bag), and one New Horizon organic peat-free grow bag.  I got one large bag of New Horizon organic peat-free compost too.  I'm going to trial the New Horizon products to see if they're any good. Obviously, I would rather use peat-free and organic compost, but not having used it before I didn't want to risk an entire tomato crop failing.  Whilst I was there, I stocked up on some more cheap plug plants for hanging baskets, including a scented geranium for only 69p.  Yay!  It smells lemony and spicy.

Chris mulched the strawberries with some straw and they look a lot happier.  I hope we get loads of juicy strawberries in summer, and I might even be able to make some jam.  The gooseberry plants have lots of leaves on them now, as well as the blackcurrant bush at home, and both are starting to bud.  The blackthorn has some leaves on it too, and I spotted the first of the white flowers on 21st April.  I'll make some sloe gin (or brandy, seeing as gin is my kryptonite) in September.

I redug what I hoped was going to be the brassica patch.  It's the piece of land at the top of the plot where all the rubbish and weeds used to be dumped.  It's absolutely full of weed roots and twigs and despite digging it over twice it's still full of weed roots and twigs.  So I can't put the brassicas there, I need a plan B.  I think the squashes or more potatoes can go up there instead.  The brassicas will have to go where I intended to put the leeks and root vegetables, which means I'm stuck for somewhere for them to go now.  It's a complex jigsaw of crops.

I planted the small salad leaves and lettuce plants off Lynne in the central raised bed.  Chris planted carrots (Autumn King 2, St Valery, Nicky’s Nursery Carrot) and parsnip (Tender and True, White Gem) seeds in each of the small beds in between the raised beds.

The sweetcorn that I'd sown in tiny peat pots had started to grow out of the pots, so as a trial I planted all 7 of them in the bottom greenhouse.  It was either that or let them suffer and become pot bound.  I've got some more seedlings coming on in the larger size of peat pot, and I'll sow some more at weekend so that we've got a successional crop.

After all this digging, I'd worked up a bit of an appetite so I went to my Mum's for homemade fish pie for tea.  Mmmm.

I took the day off work on Monday and sowed the peas (Hurst Green Shaft) in the toilet roll tubes I'd saved.  I also sowed all the beans – runner (Prizewinner Stringless), broad (Imperial Green Long Pod), french (Blue Lake, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Cobra) and borlotto, more squash (mixed squash, Crown Prince) and the free BBC 'Dig In' Black Beauty courgettes.  I had to stop halfway through and go into town for some plant pots because I'd run out!

The runner bean seeds were my favourite:

Here are the seeds I've sown so far this year:

I repotted the tomatoes and cucumbers that had become cramped.  The nasturtiums are thriving and are pretty big now.  The variegated one is my favourite (Alaska), it has super cute stripy pinwheel style leaves.

The tomatoes are doing well, as well as the cucumbers.  Two of the melon Emir seeds popped up but have turned brown so I'm not sure if they've died.  This might be because I took them out of the propagator too early, or left them in too long.  I'll need to resow some more.  However, there are still two melon Emirs that are growing well and a watermelon too.  The melon Bastion haven't appeared yet.

The greenhouse at home and propagators are now full to the brim, unless I start putting things on the floor.  My next step is to plant out the sweet peas and make a few hanging baskets and hang them in the greenhouse.

As for the flower garden, the primula denticulatas' globes are now fully formed and they look amazing.

The forget me nots in the front garden are flourishing, and I picked myself and my Mum a tiny little vase each.

The sweet peas are still hardening off but I'm getting a little tired of bringing them inside every night and taking them out every morning.  Time for planting out asap, but I need to get some trellises first.  Roll on the last frost and then all the annuals can go out into the big bad world.  The seeds I sowed outside in the back yard are starting to come through including the large pot of wildflower window box mix.

Chris made a bird table for the back garden.  The first person to get a photo of a bird on it wins a prize!  He also made a garden caddy for his Mum's birthday to match the nest boxes he's already made.

We went to visit the pickle and chutney makers, Reedy's, on Wednesday after work.  We're hoping to stock their products in the shop, they do a really good range of stuff and I was dying to try the rhubarb chutney and the hot plum chutney.  They gave us 6 jars to take away and sample at Thursday night's wider shop group meeting.

Finally, did I ever mention my obsession with Paperchase's 'Food Friends' range?  I went a bit mad last year and bought loads!  I've also got an umbrella and a large tin (not pictured).

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Baking, veggie chilli, more seeds, down at the allotment and a lovely wildflower

I baked some yummy chocolate chip muffins on Friday. I would have posted a photo, but they got eaten before I had chance to snap them! I used Mary Berry's recipe from her Baking Bible book. Which is, by the way, the best baking book I own, and I own a few. If you only want to buy one baking book then make it this one. The recipes always turn out as expected, and she covers most types of cakes in there, it's well set out, with lots of lovely pics. Mary Berry is the baking queen.

I also made a lovely vegetarian chilli. I used a tin of organic ratatouille, which I fancied trying, frozen peppers (I usually buy fresh, but they're pricey and sometimes get wasted, so I'm guessing frozen will work out better in the long run - cheaper, less waste), chopped tomatoes, red lentils, onion, garlic, cumin seeds, fresh coriander, smoked paprika and sweet paprika. Served with tortilla wraps, rice and sour cream. It was really good. I used one of the Ring of Fire chillies I pickled last year. Crikey, the pickling hasn't dampened their heat much, they still blow your head off! They're too hot really, so I've gone for milder chillies this year, but I had some Ring of Fire seeds left from last year, so I've sowed a few for this season. Whilst I do like things spicy, there is such a thing as too hot!

We washed this down with a nice bottle of Rioja red wine. I'm searching for an affordable, rich and deep flavoured red wine that doesn't taste like vinegar. This was the best out of recent trials, but still not perfect. It was oak aged, which we could taste, so I'll try a non oak aged Rioja next. I don't really like buying Australian, American or African wines because it seems like a long way for a bottle of wine to have to travel to my table, carbon wise. So I'm hoping to find a nice European wine to settle on as a favourite.

I helped my other half fit my Mum's new fence panels on Saturday, which were pretty heavy.

My DT Brown seed order arrived. I think DT Brown is now my favourite seed supplier. They are cheap, have a wide selection to choose from and the seeds germinate and perform well. Conversely, I think Thompson and Morgan is now my least favourite seed supplier as 3 sets of seeds from them have germinated very poorly this year and will be going back for a refund. 

I sowed some more seeds on Saturday - hot chilli mix, bullhorn pepper, nicotiana sylvestris and lime green, verbena bonariensis, aubergine (second sowing due to slug damage), cosmos, anagallis . Further to the photo in Alys Fowler's Edible Garden, I sowed some black tuscan kale 'cavolo de nero' seeds, which I had to buy on eBay. I also sowed the squash seeds for this year - marrow, rouge vif d'etampes pumpkin, hunter butternut squash, mars pumpkin, atlantic giant pumpkin. And I sowed some seeds to grow outside - spinach, lettuce (sativa, little gem, reine de glaces) and some mixed leaves.

On Saturday afternoon I took a short break with the Guardian and enjoyed sitting out in the first warm sunny day of the year. I might be able to wear my new Native sunglasses soon!

On Sunday morning we went to the local flea market and I bought 2 Delia cookbooks for £1 each and a DIY book for 50p.

Down at the allotment on Sunday I planted the redcurrant bush next to the row of gooseberries. It was hard going digging the hole because the soil is full of compacted broken bricks and stones which are really hard to extract. But the bush is in there now, so we've got a fruit crumble and jam destined path full of gooseberries, redcurrant and brambles now.

I got my blusher brush and pollinated the peach tree by hand, as it's in the greenhouse and not many insects get in there. I saw a baby elephant hawk moth caterpillar hanging from the peach tree. It was the size of a normal caterpillar (the one I saw last year must have been fully grown - it was the size of a cigar).

I weeded too, mainly docks. I put some slug pellets down near the radish seedlings, because it looked like a few had already taken a beating. I also dug up the last of the leeks, about 10 of them, and dug over the patch.

Later on I sowed the mixed morning glory seeds from DT Brown, after soaking them in tepid water for 24 hours. They looked so pretty in the catalogue. I also split up the Shirley and Moneymaker tomato seedlings as they were getting cramped.

The bloody slugs have eaten some cabbage seedlings and one sweet pea so I laid down some organic pellets and went on a night time torch search - I didn't find any slugs, but the pellets under the sweet pea had gone the following day. I'm sorry slugs, but I've got to protect those baby plants. Slugs or plants. It's a choice I've had to make, and I'm sorry slugs, I really am.

'You Grow Girl' by Gayla Trail finally arrived on Monday night. It took a while to come as Amazon had to order it in for me. It's a cool book, very girly and fun. Noticeably Canadian, but there's some new stuff in there and I would recommend it, just because I love reading about gardening from the point of view of a young woman like myself.

My foxgloves gardening gloves came and they were the wrong ones - they sent me foxgloves grips so I have sent them back. Gutted! The grips have silicone pads on the palms - not that great seeing as I was buying them to protect my hands without losing sensitivity.

I saw a lovely little wildflower at the allotment and I took its photo so I could identify it when I got home. I asked a fellow allotment holder if they knew what it was and they said 'no, but it's definitely a weed'. A weed?!! It was certainly NOT a weed, but a beautiful wildflower. How could anyone call it a weed?! No wonder our wildflowers are disappearing if people class them as weeds. They're the flowers that are meant to grow in our country and I wish there was more of them as our wildlife needs them. A weed to me is something that takes over an area aggressively. Anyway, it turned out it was a common dog violet. My camera battery died after taking the pic, so there's not many photos in this post sorry.

But I did take a nice photo of a ladybird!

My other half was feeling crafty again and put his woodworking skills to good use and fitted us a custom TV cabinet, finished the floor to ceiling 3-door cupboard and made a horse (a thing joiners stand on/lean on) and a carry box for his nails and screws. Hence a lot of hoovering and sweeping up of wood dust for me.

We nipped in evil Homebase on Sunday (to buy for wood for the aforementioned items) and I spotted some bargain pansies and cordyline on the ill plants shelf for £1 each.  So I've brought them home to try and nurse them back to life. I like playing plant doctor.  Last year I bought a really wilted and floppy poppy for 10p, but all it needed was a good drink and some TLC and a few weeks later it was pumping out lovely orange poppy flowers.

I've put the first lot of spencer sweet peas outside to harden off. Some of the sweet peas in the toilet roll tubes have grown little mushrooms inside them. I'm bringing the sweet peas in at night time and then they go back out again in the morning. I'll keep this up for just over a week then its planting out time for them. They were taking up too much precious space on the greenhouse staging. This weekend it's time for the peas, broad beans, and french beans to be sown.

We're still checking out new suppliers for the eco shop. We're booked in to visit the local chutney, jam and pickle maker's business on the 21st April, so I'm looking forward to that. We get to sample some of their stuff. Yay! Hope I get a freebie to take home. I fancy some kind of chilli affair or maybe a damson jam. Or even chilli and damson would be good.

Hemp milk has come highly recommended, but is not currently available to buy locally, so I'll see if we can find a local-ish supplier for the shop.

I've still not eaten Mr and Mrs Duck!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Going potty with more Easter seed sowing!

It was Easter so I got an extra day off work, and my Mum bought me "Mr and Mrs Duck", which are so lovely I can't bring myself to eat them.  They've got bonnets on!!!!

We went to Brookside Nursery on Good Friday and I found a new section of the garden centre I hadn't been in before that sells lots of little plug plants for cheap prices.  To my delight I managed to buy some lysimachia and helichrysum for only 49p each.  I'd been trying to find seeds of these but not had much luck (perhaps they're propagated from cuttings rather than grown from seeds?)  Anyhow, they've been potted up into larger containers now and they're destined for my hanging baskets.  I also got some ivy, verbena, and other hanging basket trailing flowers. Chris bought lots of fuchsia plug plants and splashed out on a large blueberry bush.  Plug plants are so cute - and so cheap!

Chris got busy with the obligatory Easter DIY session and fitted a new floor to ceiling cupboard next to the front door, and made 4 bird nest boxes for his Mum's birthday.

Lots more seeds got sown this weekend, mainly ones for the front and back gardens, I used up a full bag of compost.  Varieties included cat grass (for my cat Mr French - he loves having a chew on all the plants in the back garden. In fact, I daren't sow foxglove or delphinium, as they're toxic and I'm sure he'd probably have a a graze on them), cornflower, borage, lots more sweet peas (the ones I got free with the Gardeners' World magazine), nemophila, teasle, valerian and Nicky's Nursery wildflower window box mix.  I put these in pots outside rather than sowing direct, so I hope they'll all be OK.  I'll move them into the soil once they're a bit bigger.

The primulas in the back garden and doing well - the purple drumstick is ahead of the white one.

I sowed more nasturtium jewel cherry red and some more microdot black eyed susan.  I also sowed some melon seeds and popped these in the propagator, along with 6 pots of sweetcorn, this time 2 seeds per peat pot (and the correct larger size of peat pot this time, rather than the silly small ones I used the other week).  I'll remove the weaker seedling in due course.

The nasturtiums' roots had already started growing out of their pots, so I got these repotted into bigger pots on their own.  They're vigorous growers and smelt peppery when I repotted them.  I love nasturtiums, they remind me of my childhood.  Some of the tomato seedlings were beginning to look cramped, so I repotted these too.  I pinched out the top of my spencer sweet peas.

Something has eaten four of my aubergine seedlings and there's only 2 left, so I'll need to resow some more seeds.  I'm guessing it was probably a slug so I put some pellets down in the greenhouse.  I hope no more seedlings get eaten!

On Monday I got round to a job I'd been meaning to do for a while, creating a small cacti garden in a large terracotta pot, which I think looks cool, but maybe a bit too symmetrical, so I might see if I can break it up a bit with a small succulent or something.  I guess it will look less symmetrical as it grows.

A new word entered my vocabulary this weekend - pelargoniums.  I was fascinated to learn these plants come in scented leaf varieties, and I remember my parents having a lemon scented pelargonium as a child, and rubbing its leaves to release the smell.  They come in a wide range of fragrances, including cinnamon, orange, peppermint and rose.  I found a supplier of bare rooted small plants online, they're £3 each but there's a minimum order of £10, so I'm not sure if I really need four of them.  But I would love to order them.  I guess I could give some away as presents, and they propagate easily from cuttings so I could use them to make lots more plants.  I think I need a few houseplants that aren't cacti and that flower and smell nice.  I shall ponder a little longer on this one.  I dreamt about pelargoniums last night, the word seemed to be stuck in my head.