Sunday, 29 May 2011

Last few days of May

I didn't think there'd be much to report until I took the camera out this morning, so used are we now to the crops flourishing and growing apace.

In an earlier post I mentioned my experiments with coir (coconut shavings pressed into blocks).  Having seen a 360gm packet of grass seed and coir costs the best side of £20 I decided to make my own.  Commercial growers (tomatoes etc) use custom made grow bags of coir charged with Nu-Gro liquid fertilizer and so I did the same.  A few blocks costing 80p each fill a wheelbarrow when wetted (they swell up to about 9 litres per block).  The results from repairing patches in the grass were amazing and a fraction of the cost of the garden centre stuff.

We have a strip of grass which is dry, dry, dry and mostly shaded so I have made up a couple of wheelbarrows of the grass seed, coir and Nu-Gro and will post the results in a few weeks.  I am convinced it will work really well.  The seed is a parkland mix (not the cheap economy rye grass stuff but not the expensive blended mix with fescues etc either) it's a mix of rye grasses for parkland areas at about £85 for 25 kilos which will last ages.  This was the minimum quantity of this particular seed -

I had to really shop around for a good price on the coir as some suppliers charge way too much. I got mine from

Gherkins doing well and fruiting
Tomato 'Sweet & Neat' - a tiny plant but full of fruit
Garlic 'Illico' - planted in October 2010 some have started to develop seed heads so I have picked them and am drying them out on the slatted greenhouse shelf

A few onions had also developed seed heads having been disturbed a few weeks back when we put extra beds in.  I'll dry these in the greenhouse and use them first.  Not huge plants but a decent size for cooking and I'm well pleased for my first attempt at growing onions.
The dreaded tomato leaf curl - the heavy rain we had earlier in the month affected one tomato plant only.  It's not supposed to affect fruiting so I'll keep feeding and see what happens.  The flowers all look OK.
A neighbour gave me a good tip - run your finger around the onions to clear away some soil to help them ripen
Cabbage ' Greyhound' living up to it's name - these were tiny plants only a month ago.
One of the main brassica beds - growth is amazing as these were small plants less than six weeks ago.  The cabbage have hearted up and are ready already.
Broccoli coming on really well - these were small garden center purchased plants planted out in April and look like being ready by the end of June.
The 'exhibition' carrots - these are looking sturdy and putting on steady growth - nothing dramatic though
Medwyn's mega onions are starting to swell - the leaves are pretty floppy but as I'm growing these outdoors and exposed to the wind and rain I'm not unhappy.
'Navet de Nancy' Turnip
Here is why turnips are suited more for a large plot.   There are only two row in the 90cm wide bed but the leaves shade out the spring onions and carrots I grew either side.  The growth has been amazing over the last two weeks. 
Navet de Nancy Turnip close to being ready to harvest
We have had the best tasting strawberries off this planter for a couple of weeks now and because we used plant varieties maturing at different times should get a good harvest for the whole summer.  I kidded myself I wouldn't need to net them from the birds as this week they've had a little feast off a couple of juicy big ones.
I grew parsnip from seed in this bed over-planted with a row of radish long since harvested (see earlier post) and they're doing well.  Germination was erratic so I reseeded the gaps and these germinated much better as the soil was that little bit warmer.  I've yet to thin this second sowing out. Seed from what is turning out to be a favorite seed supplier - Chase Organics at

Peas are cropping well and becoming a part of weekly diet - I'm watering them well to swell the pods but it's hard not to eat as many as you pick for the table while picking.
The gladioli have finally started to shoot

I planted out the gladiolus corms over the recent weeks, a couple of rows each week to get successive flowers over a longer season.  These are for cutting and using indoors so we didn't want them all flowering together (100 glads anyone?) The odd one has refused to show it's head and one looks a little poorly.  I am spraying regularly as thrips are the danger here.Over the coming weeks as the stems develop I'll be spraying and also feeding with Vitax 301 then 111 then 102 as the flower spikes develop.  Higher nitrogen first, then a balanced feed then a higher potassium feed.

Last weekend I was finally able to clear out the last two autumn sown cabbages, add some compost to lighten the original soil we used and add organic fertiliser and plant out the leeks which had been patiently growing away in their root trainers.  As mentioned in previous posts, the autumn planted cabbages went in far too late (October) and most of them pretty much failed to do anything nearing an edible crop.  The January King tried it's best but needed to be out in the bed by August or early September to stand a decent chance.

I hope the family all like leeks as we've planted out over 60 plants.

I harvested a bag of Lady Christl potatoes, again a week or so early as quite a few of the spuds were really small.  The size of crop per bag though is excellent and this is one I'll do again.  The remaining potatoes are all refusing to say come and pick me just yet but a small bucket from each bag last us ages so there is no rush.

Also planted out this week was the corn which will get the full afternoon sun.
Another cabbage Excel planted out in March almost ready for picking - this is an excellent and reliable variety with a solid heart.
That's all for another week.  Cooler weather over recent weeks and forecast for more to come means growth has slowed a little from the manic stuff we saw in April.  Apart from salad crops that's most of the planting done for this year and we can take things a little more easy with weeding, feeding and watering - oh, and EATING!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Easy to miss........

When we're in the garden it's really easy to miss little details as we focus on the big picture - I captured these in the early morning sun.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mid May update

The radish experiment looks like being both a flop and a success.  I grew some Chinese radish (very spicy indeed) in a 12" pot but they don't like being grown in a group, preferring to be sown in a row so that light gets to the bottom part of the plant.  We picked quite a few roots but to be quite honest there's always a spot somewhere to sow a row and that's what we'll do in future.   It's also easier to thin them that way. I'm not too sure if the hairy roots on the radish is normal but to eat with salad would be a fuss to prep.  Apparently they are great in soups though.  It's been an interesting exercise and a great way to grow a crop on a balcony or if you're short of space.
The 12" pot of radish


A complete lack of patience got the better of me and I emptied a growing sack of Swift and Lady Christl potatoes - it was probably 10 days too early for a larger crop but I was delighted I hadn't spent the past few months growing potato tops and no spuds - there was enough in each bag to feed a good sized family a couple of meals.  The taste? - delicious!
I'll wait now and harvest them when either the plant tops fall over and wilt or the flowers fade.  I did notice the bags were quite dry and so will increase the watering to swell the tubers before harvesting.

Autumn planted broad beans
Harvest number two this week were peas and broad beans.  The autumn sown broad beans are well ahead of the rest and to be fair need a couple of weeks yet.  The spring sown beans will be at least a month or more until ready.

Peas ready for picking in batches as needed for the table

The outdoor tomatoes are growing strongly and starting to fruit.

The greenhouse tomatoes are surging ahead and we've high hopes of some good crops.  I'm feeding a high potash feed (Vitax 102 mainly) but the need for watering has been little as the days have been cool all week.  The greenhouse plants are a good 12" taller than the ones outside and probably 20% stronger.

I took all the spare potted tomato plants out of the greenhouse this week and planted up a couple in the raised border backing the garage wall.  This is Big Boy, the large beefburger variety.  I could take off all fruits to one per stem but will prefer to get more tomatoes even if they are smaller.  They'll probably be a little sweeter that way.

Tomato Big Boy growing outside against the sunny.wall    

Inside the greenhouse I've planted up the gherkins in grow bags, and also a small bush tomato and a chilli plant.

Amazingly the first early strawberries are ripening and the home made strawberry planter seems to be a great success.  The side plants are all strong and growing well.
The first strawberry, promised to Granddaughter No.1
Celery - I'ver search high and low for some decent clay pipes but can't find them locally so I've bought a few plastic ones (B&Q only had 5 so I've used plastic dry lining to create a pipe around the other three)

I'm feeding a high nitrogen feed weekly and giving a small soak of Calcium Nitrate as recommended to stop heart rot.  There's plenty of growth and it is gong to be interesting to compare this with the seed sown self blanching celery next to it. Celery is supposed to be one of the most difficult crops to grow well so it's a challenge I'm looking forward to having a go at. (I've squeezed in a row of radish)

The gladiolus are beginning to sprout and are well protected with slug pellets and bug spray - we've dedictated two whole beds to these as we love these as a cut flower.  Each corm is set on a small bed of gravel and Root Gro and then covered with special bulb fibre for optimal growing conditions and over wintering as I'm not intent on lifting them each year.  I'd need to if we were exhibiting though and they will produce double stems in future years.

Medwyn's prize onion plants are doing well considering I don't have a clue what I'm doing.  The tops are floppy but the plants are slowly putting on new healthy leaf and the onions look strong so I'll keep on doing what I'm doing - watering and feeding.
They are way ahead, bigger and stronger than the other onion plants I got off him earlier.

Autumn planted onions
Autumn planted onions ready to harvest in a month or so - well ahead of normal
We knocked a few onion plants while putting in the last beds and they showed their disgust by running to seed - it only affected 4 or 5 plants so we were lucky but it shows they don't like being disturbed once planted and growing.

A couple of onion 'Troy' went to seed in the garlic bed so I'll look carefully to see if this is an issue with this variety compared to the others.  We're growing about 6 varieties this first year to see what does best.

Early turnips - Milan white
The early turnips have grown really quickly and are ready to harvest - I'll probably not grow them again as the leaves take up a lot of space and shadow out nearby plants - interesting to grow though and really easy.  They are much better suited to an allotment or a garden where space is more readily available as you'd ideally only get two rows in a 900mm wide bed.

I planted out the greenhouse sown corn this week but need to look up what they'll need from now - the bed is in full afternoon sun so if I water and feed well we should get a decent crop from these 20 or so plants.

Beetroot Boltardy
I've picked the first dozen or so beetroot this week but like a twit topped and tailed them before boiling instead of doing this afterwards.  We lost a little colour into the water  but I've learned a lesson.  We'll pickle them today and put into storage jars and look forward to doing the next batch.  I absolutely love beetroot so this is a crop I'll keep sowing during the season.

We must have exceptional weather as just about everything is flourishing - I still think I've planted the brassicas too close and will thin them out.  Next year I will more than likely limit my brassica growing to red and white cabbage and brussell spouts with the odd cabbage Excel which is very easy to grow and hearts up wonderfully.

It's really odd to see how much everything has grown but very, very satisfying.

I'll prepare the bed which had winter cabbage in it later this week and plant out the leeks which aren't doing too badly in the root trainers.  This is a bed that had only the imported soil so I'll incorporate some compost and rotted manure to lighten the texture up.  Onwards and upwards as they say.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The warm weather continues........

The warmest April on record and no sign of the wet May that followed last year's hot April.  No sign of frosts down here either although a couple of nights have been around 6C.  What's great for growing though has been the fantastic light levels from unbroken blue skies.

The radish experiment
I'm not sure if the radish experiment growing them in 12" pots will work.  I had to thin them out again and the business end look a bit leggy.  I think they're too dense and light isn't getting through to the bottom part at soil level.  I'll see what happens over the coming week.

The leeks sown in root trainers are growing, but slowly.  I'm looking for signs of roots at the bottom but there are none yet. We'll have to monitor this and see but I don't know how much growth to expect.

The cabbage Excel planted in the autumn did well and have been picked and eaten.  Lovely solid hearts and a good old fashioned taste.  A must to grow again for sure.

Medwyn's prize onions which I am growing on in larg pots are definitely thickening out but the tops are floppy.  I'm waiting for them to put on leaf growth and so may feed a little more.


Chinese cabbage Wa Wa Sai doing well and hopefully will heart up soon.

Greenhouse tomatoes doing well and I've started a high potassium feed (Vitax 102)

I'm trying a few gherkins and will grow these outdoors in a nice warm bed backing the garage wall for extra heat.  I am holding off for a few more weeks before planting these out but have chanced one in the outside grow-bag alongside a tomato.

The excitement was immense when I saw the first pea pods a few days ago and now the whole run is full of lovely pods.  I think we'll have peas well before the end of June which is when they'd normally be ready for picking.

It seems worth having taken a chance on the weather and planted out early
The mixed brassicas growing nicely
Autumn planted onions bulbing up

Greenhouse sown beetroot should be ready in 10 days
Runner beans doing well and growing faster than the french beans
Most of the potato sacks are full of compost now and I'm feeding Vitax Q4 - fingers crossed on getting decent crops

Two 'surviving' January King cabbages from autumn plantings - maybe we'll get to eat them in a couple of weeks

I've planted two lots of tomatoes and cucumber in the greenhouse using ring culture.  The advice it to water through the middle 'pot' for a couple of weeks, and then feed there and water through the outer ring.  As they are in flower I'm feeding Vitax 102 for extra potassium and help- flower/fruit growth.  The marigolds I grew fom seed earlier in the propagator as they apparently keep off greenfly - so far it's working so we'll see how it goes as we progress through the growing season.

Strawberries continuing to flower and fruit really well.  It will be time to net them from the birds soon though.

Strawberries in the bed

The main problem with shop bought strawberry barrels is growth from the side plants as they don't get enough water, dry up and die back.  The pipes we've put in our home made planters get water deep down and we make sure the side plants get enough.  Alot of time needed but hopefully it will be worth it.  I've started a higher potasium feed as they are in flower and this will help flower/fruit growth.

The attempts to propagate parsnip Pixie F1 in kitchen towel in the propagator failed miserably- not a single one sprouted.  I sowed a row of seed under a row of radish (see earlier post) directly into the soil and they're doing fantastic - typical!.  Germination was only about 60 - 70% but hey, I'm happy.

Just like the peas, I spotted pods on the broad beans a few days back.
A few broad bean plants survived the wicked winter we had and these have sprouted pods but no more than 2 weeks before the others so I really doubt if it's worth autumn planting them.  The loss rate is 80% so I'll wait to plant in spring in future.  The whole bed is doing well though and I can;t wait to do my 'posh beans on toast' recipe (River Cottage).

The garlic seems OK - we'll see.

This is the second outdoor tomato planter I've done.  The traditional date would always be May 20th to plant outside but I've taken a chance and so far so good - excellent growth, plenty of flower and good strong plants.  Again, marigolds will help- keep off the greenfly.

Man U got through to the Champions League final and I'm in the ticket ballot!