Friday, 27 February 2009

Tomatoes in the Big Issue

For those of you reading in Britain the Big Issue (a magazine sold by and to help homeless people) has a guide on growing tomato seeds this week so buy it if you get a chance. It also has a fascinating piece on people who plant veg and fruit in public places so anyone can benefit from them.
I have had some pea casualties. I planted them out before the snows and put them under plastic tubs which were too flimsy as let cold in. I have put some pea seeds in existing pots of shrubs and will see if they germinate.
Here's my hexagon of herbs. The long stick things are the bronze fennel that has died back. I like chewing the seeds - they are anaseed flavoured- good for stomach upsets. The bay is in the middle and golden marjoram behind it. The golden margoram is low at the moment but will bush back up lovely and goldy limey coloured. Lemon balm on left needs cutting back and it spreads like made but the bees love it so good for encouraging insects in to pollonate the plants. You can't see the purple sage but it's they - lovely colour when it gets going.
Lavender on left - I love it. Some people use it with lamb instead of rosemary. On right of lavender is the rosemary - lovely with lamb and in stews.

Thursday, 26 February 2009


I've got quite a few herbs growing in my garden and no i did not take the advice of growing it near the back door so it's easy to get at in the winter. I thought the walk would do me good though a couple of times in driving rain I have regretted it but not for long. Garden isn't that big. I've got rosemary, sage, bay, bronze fennel and caraway thyme and golden marjoram.
I had some parsley growing in a pot but it finished some time ago. I miss it so have just sown some in a pot indoors. I sowed some seed thinly in an old ceramic pot in multipurpose compost. Watered it with hand hot water as parsley likes heat to germinate. Then I put pot in clear plastic bag blew into it and tied it like balloon(homemade propagator like I've described before). Hopefully they'll germinate if they dont I'll just try again. If you are using old ceramic pots etc that don't have any drainage holes at the bottom put old broken tile, plate,cup in bottom so mud sits on top and has something for water to drain into. Used stones when couldn't find broken plates - not sure if this spreads diseases. I suppose if you wash stones first it's ok.
Seeds are different - some don't like to be buried but just sprinkled on surface and left uncovered. These tend to be ones that are fine almost look like soot. Most like to be covered with fine layer of soil. Some have thick skins that need to be nicked with a pen or safer still soaked over night in water. Now you'd think how does nature cope with that. Well of course it does -sometimes ice cracks them but more commonly I think the fruit or veg is eaten by an animal- stomach acid works on the seed then they come out the other end and if they've landed in a hospitable place they are ready to start to grow. Will try and get pictures of herbs tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

hold on it's coming

Even though it's a grey day you can still feel spring coming. It's a bit warmer than before and there's that excitement of things to come that are just waiting under the surface. I always loved autumn but love spring too now especially as lately our warmest sunniest weather has been in the spring.
I love the the purple of these crocus -looks like silk. They have shut up till the sun comes. Funny how flowers do that. I wonder why.

I know it looks a mass of dead twigs but i love it. Hard to believe in a few months time it should be a mass of leaves and pale pink flowers. I love this Clematis montana -it's transformed the view from my kitchen.

Had to stop blogging for a minute as barefoot children appeared and had to investigate-

Barefoot children
paddling in impromptu

not wee thankfully. I have turned into a door that the kids are knocking on so bye for now.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009


I've got two tulips in bloom in my garden- can't believe it! i always thought you get daffodils first then tulips. My daffs are still just coming up- apart from one that has a bud. Has spring got all mixed up or do some tulips come out this early normally? Sorry about the state of the photos. Can't work out how to get them portrait way up. Quite like the fact you can't rely on stuff happening in a set order. Suppose i should be worried but i guess if we are messing up the planet Nature will find a way to sort us out.

Monday, 23 February 2009

sunny saturday

wasn't saturday gorgeous? my in-laws came to visit and i took them to the allotment. as my arm is still plastered i couldn't do much but thanks to the sun there were plenty of allotmenteers to catch up with. my father in law kindly barrowed lots of manure to my second plot while i chatted to fellow allotment holders that I hadn't seen in ages. learnt that you came start off leeks in pots inside so that you can get a crop of leeks earlier and also give them more chance to get thicker. last year wasn't a sunny summer so leeks bit weedier than should otherwise have been.
One gentlemen had followed the advice given on gardeners world by an allotment holder to plant onions in lines at the top of mounded up earth and they seem to be doing better than the ones not planted in this manner. so energising to be out in the fresh air in the sun and so frustrating not to be able to dig! never mind my father in law has volunteered to come back and dig.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

kew gardens

Just had a lovely day at kew gardens. This witchhazel looked stunning. There's not much colour around at this time of year so it is so very welcome. It has a beautiful fresh smell. The flowers are like cheerleaders' pompoms but with a dark heart. There are reddy orange ones too and they have a more spicy intense fragance.

There were various displays of orchids and air plants in different glass houses. Yes air plants - they don't need any soil just a moist environment. So weird just to see a living plant drapped like tinsel over a tree's branch. There was an arch(bit of it in picture)entwined with pitcher plants -looked beautiful and evil at the same time.
Visited the aquarium under the Palm House. If i was a designer I'd pinch ideas off the fish as they have some mad patterns. Beautiful bream- I stood and had a nice chat with it - I think it's used to more company. It seemed weird that we eat creatures that are so kissable. I'm not a vegetarian and can't see me giving up meat but no harm in thinking about it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Very excited have got my seed order from Plants of Distinction. My friend introduced me to them as they do lots of different and some heirloom varieties. Got some brilliant broccoli from them last year - it's a variety called Parthenon F1 and the heads on them were a really decent size and very tasty. I love broccoli and this was almost perfumed it was so gorgeous. My friend grew Cucumber Passandra F1 last year and said it cropped really well and the fruits eren't ever bitter so that another one I'm doing this year. I will grow these as well as Cucumber crystal apples - these are round cucumbers and are delicious as long as you pick them when they are no bigger than duck eggs and while they are still yellow and not turned orange. They taste almost like melon - the kids love them and one friend who hates cucumbers loved them. Also got some purple dwarf french beans - first year doing these so will let you know how I get on.

The other seeds I've ordered are from Thompson and Morgan - get a discount if order via allotment. So I await more goodies. Can't wait to start sowing but bit early yet. Cast due to come off 4th March - can't wait for that as well.

It's great the days getting longer can't wait for evenings pottering, sowing and planting.

Monday, 16 February 2009

sun, plastic and onions

Loved the sun today. Hubby and kids on holiday so we all went to the science museum. Great exhibition of plastic - how can something so wrong look so great. There were massive ribbons of red plastic hanging down and kids chased each other through it like it was some weird forest. There was a big sign that scientists are trying to find a way to make plastic out of plants so it can biodegrade I suppose. Then we headed out to Hyde park lovely winter sun so delicate. Lots of walking and tea and biscuits - perfect day.
Too muddy for digging still- maybe ill dry out during the week. Need to get some onion sets as can start planting them now. These are the type of onions you can store. Wonder if it's too late to get some raspberry canes. We all really love them and have been planning for two years to get some but not got round to it yet....
Need to do a bonfire at the allotment have lots of bindweed roots to get rid of. I love the smell of fires. Round here you can only have fires from end October to end of March or is it the 1st -better get on with it anyway. Saw some cherry blossom the other day in someone's front garden - that can't be right can it?!

Friday, 13 February 2009


I took some cuttings from my rosemary bush and penstemon and potted them 7th October 2008. I'd been meaning to do it earlier in the year but hadn't got round to it. Best time to do rosemary is in August but I thought I'd give it a go and thankfully they are doing well. Penstemon seem ok whenever but correct me if I'm wrong.

For the cuttings I prepared some three inch pots filled 1cm. shy of the top with cuttings compost ( I didn't have any so mixed bit of sharp sand with multipurpose compost). Armed with a plastic sandwich bag and secateurs I set out to the the rosemary bush and penstemon plant in my garden. I looked for new growth on the plants -i.e. still flexible and green rather than brown and rigid and from the rosemary took cuttings about 8-10 cms long and from the penstemon 10-12 cms long. Pop them in the bag to keep them fresh.

Then I prepared the rosemary cuttings first using sharp secateurs to trim to under a leaf node(basically cut them to just under a pair of leaves). Then pull off the leaves of the bottom 1cm of the cuttings. You can use them in your dinner if you like. Then stick in five cuttings round the edge of one of the pots. You are meant to use a dibber to make a hole for them but I usually forget and just shove them in. I watered them so moist but not waterlogged. Then I get a label write the plant and date on it - actually managed to do that this time and that's how I could tell you when I took the cuttings. Then I turned the pot into a homemade propagator by getting a plastic bag and putting the pot in it, blowing into bag and tying it up like a balloon. Some of them I just put the bag over the top and the label stopped it flopping and tucked the ends under the pot - they did fine too. Keep them somewhere light and frost free.

It's the same principle for the penstemmon but the cuttings are a bit longer. Again trim to a leaf node but this time strip off bottom 2 cms of leaves and carry on as above.

Cuttings are great as they are cheap and are also the only way of propagating bred cultivars. Plants that have been crossed to get a particular plant may not be grown from the seed of that plant as I think they can end up reverting back to the characteristics of just one of the parents.

When the cutting have grown some new leaves (2 months?) you can take off the plastic bags. Then keep compost moist. I'm not sure when they get to a decent size but will keep you updated on the progress of mine.

Anyway have a good weekend. Enjoy the sun! I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

are you ready for ...crop rotation

On Tuesday I mentioned crop rotation and I will now attempt to tackle it. The purpose of rotating your crops is to help prevent the build up of pests and diseases and to stop the soil getting robbed of the same minerals repeatedly. Traditionally the ground would be divided leaving one section fallow(that is with no vegetables growing on it) but nowadays land is at a premium and we want to use it all.

I am going to descibe a three year crop rotation scheme. Divide your plot into three sections and your plants into three groups. Each year, each group will be moved to the next section. I am going to set out below which group I put which plant in. You only need to pick up a few gardening books to see that there is not whole scale agreement on which plant falls into which group. Anyway that's one of the things I love about gardening - it doesn't pretend there's only one correct answer all the time. So I'm just going to put down what i've done on my allotment.

In Plot A I grew:-
Potatoes,carrots,beetroots,parsnips,garlic, onions,shallots, leeks,lettuce,tomatoes, courgettes, marrows,courgettes,marrows, pumpkins cucumbers,

Peas, french beans,runner,beans,broad beans,sweetcorn,swiss chard,lettuce,peppers

Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, kale,broccoli,calabrese.

Just goggle Crop rotation or look at any good vegetable gardening books for where other vegetables fit in.
So basically start off in year one ABC then move each section on one space=BCA then third year =CAB till following year go back to ABC. Hope that makes sense.
In a small garden it's not really practical to rotate stuff. You can get away with stuff in the same place usually for a couple of years- but I wouldn't risk it with tomatoes. Just put tomatoes in growbags or long tom pots so it doesn't matter where you place them. I know someone who grew potaoes in strong refuse bags. More socialising today so bit tired so will sign off.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

no not crop rotation yet

Sorry have had a busy day today - had two social engagements in one day. Rarely does this happen. Yes - once upon a time i went to work and had to talk to people all day but that was a long time ago. I need some quiet and sleep before I am able to talk about crop rotation.

However I did go in my garden again. Judging by the squelchy sound underfoot I should have aerated my own lawn instead of just doing my friend's. The Clematis armandii has lots of buds which is great as it didn't flower much last year. This was all the more galling coz I bought my friend one at the same time and she kept telling me how well hers was doing and that it had flowered three times during the year and it's only meant to flower once!! It's a great clematis as it has lovely glossy big leaves and is evergreen. There are also signs of daffodils coming up. It was good to sit in the sun and listen to the birds singing. I wrapped a blanket round me. I had done some writing so deserved a break.

Monday, 9 February 2009

lets talk about............manure

Vegetables are divided into three groups - Roots, Brassicas and Others.

Usually manure is applied in Autumn but life sometimes gets in the way. Not all crops need manure, infact it badly affects the performance of some. Carrots for example don't like too much fertility, manure makes them fork and gives you multi legged vegetables that are impossible to peel. The best thing for carrots is a mix of sand and compost. I didn't have time to fill up the whole bed with sand and compost mix so I cheated last year and when it can to sowing time used a big dibber and made a hole the size my ideal carrot would be, filled it with compost/sand then sowed couple of seeds in each hole at recommended depth. It worked brilliantly - had decent sized carrots for once. The other way you can do it is to make a trench and fill it with compost sand mix then sow as recommended on packet. The other plants that don't need manure are beetroot, chicory, jerusalem artichoke, parsnip, salsify, scorzonera, marrow, peppers, tomato, cucumber, onion. These are all root vegetables or are grown with root vegetables.

For brassicas dig in well rotted compost or manure preferably in Autumn but if not early spring. By manure I mean well-rotted stable manure - to put it bluntly it nolonger looks like poo but is crumbly and doesn't stink. Brassicas include cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale. Lime before planting as helps prevent clubroot. They like firm soil so push the ground in firmly with the heel of your foot around seedlings when you plant them.

Others includes beans, peas , sweetcorn, celery, , lettuce, swiss chard, okra, spinach, globe artichokes.

For potatoes I just add the manure when I am planting them. not sure if that's what you are emant to do but works for me.

So plan what you are putting where and then make sure you have manured the bit for the brassicas and others.

I will endeavour to explain crop rotation tomorrow if I haven't put you off. I want to get a hacksaw to my plastercast but will not.


Can sow peas now if you like - just check packet to see which variety ok to sow now. They need some cover this time of year as it's a bit cold for them. If you are sowing outside make sure the ground isn't frozen or too wet. Once you sow them cover with cloches - can be bought or make some at home using old plastic drinks bottles cut off tops so you can push them in over over seeds(make sure you know where you put seeds). Or easier still start peas off at home. Collect old toilet roll or kitchen roll tubes cut in half. Find an old plastic container to stand them up in. Can use packaging from fruit etc as long as have enough height to stop tubs falling over. Fill tubes to 5 cm short of top with multipurpose compost put couple seeds in each one then cover with compost nearly to top then water them. In late March you can plant them out - no need to remove tubes they will rot away. I have containers in the garden and like to put the peas in with the shrubs then they can climb up them for support(not sure if this is good for shrub but mine have been happy so will carry on regardless). Otherwise you need to put twigs in -twiggy banches of hazel suppose to be very good as they help keep the birds away. Peas need protection from them straight away so use above, or short stakes or plastic mesh. Harvest peas regularly otherwise they stop cropping. Pea roots are great as they fix nitogen so leave them in the ground after harvesting.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

snow, prints and vegetables

So lovely to make it to the allotment yesterday. kids weren't keen to go but once we got in there they loved it. the snow on the pavements and roads near us had turned to grey slush so they (and us) were so excited to see the allotment still blanketed in white snow. round the trees the snow was pockmarked with zillions of dots and then the kids found some alien and animal footprints. Here are the pictures from the allotment:-

I've still got leeks (in foreground) they are brilliant coz the cold doesn't bother them at all and you can just harvest a couple as and when you need them through the winter to early spring. Behind them the dark green plants that look like they've got tens of mad waving hands are Black Tuscany kale. Unfortunately I have found out i prefer curly kale so will grow that next year instead. Fortunately my neighbours guinea pigs like it and again just break off some leaves as and when required.

This picture looked a lot better in my memory than it did when i downloaded it. Anyway it's one of my brussel sprout plants given to me as seedlings by another plot holder. With brussels you harvest them from the bottom up breaking off leaves as you go. As you can see we are near the top now so not many left but still nice to have some veg off plot.

I love brussels even the shop ones and these taste much better.

Some rosehips.

Think these are monkjack(?) deer prints but not sure. Drop me a line if you know what left these tracks.

Couldn't see how the broad beans were doing as they were buried and didn't want to damage them looking for them. Garlic stalks were sticking up on plot number two -forgot to take photo. Snow had left onion stalks buried.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

snowdrops, winter jasmine and dreaming of seed sowing

Had a good dance to Daft Punk in my kitchen. Set me up for the day. Wrapped up and ventured into the garden and here are pictures of my finds.

Carmelia buds
red nosed
And eager for spring

snowdrops hidden
till cover blown
by intrepid sun

Last rays of winter jasmine thanks for your brightness
in the dark winter

You can start sowing tomato seeds if you are going to grow them indoors- for outdoor tomatoes I'd wait till mid to late March before sowing. I did tumbling tomates year before last and was impressed. Last year Red Alert did well but italian plum ones did not do that well as not enough sun but the ones i did get made lovely sauce. Tomorrow will share pictures of snowy allotment as finally made it today with my family!!!!Hoorah!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

pots,pliers and plastercasts

I have started to save up used washed yoghurt pots and packaging trays (like tomatoes come in from the supermarket) as cheap containers to sow seeds in in spring. also if you've got any old plant pots give them a good scrub to get any traces of soil off and sterilise them in the dishwasher or in a bucket of sterilising fluid. More snow here doesn't look like I'm gonna get to the allotment-argh. I was going to try and change my plastercast as it is so uncomfortable. Now do I risk getting to the hospital and getting stranded there by the snow. Harbouring fantasies of getting pliers to plaster to make more room but just know it would go horribly wrong so i am going to be a good girl and get the bus up there. Hoorah snow how changed to rain- how sad I think that's a good thing. It's a sign of the times is now going through my head now who sang that.......
If we don't get another load of snow I've got to go to the allotment tomorrow. I have been missing it but has been too treacherous and icy to risk with my broken wrist. My friend said it was really magical over there with snow everywhere. The allotment is surrounded by huge trees and is a really lovely peaceful place even without snow . Time always slows down when I go over there. I want to go and check on my broad beans that i sowed in November and the garlic and japaness onions i planted about the same time. They have all sprouted but i want to make sure my broad beans haven't been nibbled. My neighbours had his got at but he didn't know by what - nothing usually bothers the broad beans at this time he said. I'm not an old hand at growing vegetables so don't know. The japanese onions don't store well so will be using them as soon as they are ready(May?) and will plant some types that do store in Spring.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Alternative universe

See above photo of chitting potatoes.
Did nothing garden related today as had to go up the hosipital to have my plaster changed. This involved sitting in a series of six queues and time took on a whole new meaning. Met some nice people. got a blue plaster. when i got back into the outside world it was all a bit fast for me as it was all runnng on normal speed which seemed really fast after the hospital. no time for usual 10 cups of tea so have accidentally detoxed- it hurts.

Was thinking about container gardening for people with limited space. Runner beans, dwarf or climbing french beans in pots. herbs and garlic in pots, tomatoes in pots or hanging baskets(cone shaped ones better as deeper slower to dry out). Whatever you choose make sure you like eating it. Runner beans flowers look lovely so can train them up fences etc. If you prefer french beans to runners then chose a climbing french variety.

Going to try writing something for MuseMugger community I have joined

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

3rd February

The two things I love best(not counting my family or dancing) are gardening and writing. As I've broken my wrist ice skating at gorgeous Somerset House I am reduced to writing about gardening while I heal. I am one of those sadists that love digging. It fills me with calm and sweeps out all those annoying conversations that swill round my head endlessly. Writing is another way of dealing with them but is harder work.

Anyway vegetable growers -this is what I've got round to so far.

1/Have ordered seeds.

2/Started some peas off inside lean-to in toilet rolls filled with soil.

3/ Have started chitting potatoes in readiness for planting in allotment in March/April.

Chitting potatoes.

Incase you've never heard of this(I hadn't before I got the allotment) it's when you put potatoes in egg boxes in a light frost free place and leave them to sprout. They need to be rose side up so just look at either end and see which side has most eyes (like dots) and put these at top. If you've got loads of potatoes ask at butchers for egg trays. Chit them starting January or February. The jury is still out on whether potatoes do better chitted or not so don't stress if you don't get round to doing it. Will try and post picture of this tomorrow.