Monday, May 30

The waiting room is full to bursting!

Journeys to transport plants to plot have been severely delayed due to the wrong kind of rain and high winds meaning our plant waiting room (aka cold frame) is full to bursting point.
The wrong kind of rain is the spits and spots that we have had when ‘proper’ rain was promised meaning that the ground remains arid and those plants that made an earlier trip to the plot have been battered and bruised by the strong winds that hurtle across our site. We haven’t really wanted to plant out our carefully nurtured plants in such unwelcoming conditions and so they wait!

The really dry earth also means stakes just won’t hammer in to the ground far enough to erect a support framework for our raspberries. There’s been just enough rain to penetrate a few centimetres  - enough to make sure that weed seedlings are fully supplied with enough moisture to grow.

The winds have meant that I haven’t yet managed to mulch the strawberry plants which need doing before we erect the structure to support the netting. So our ripening strawberries are at the mercy of the birds!
Once normal service is resumed I anticipate quite a bit of overtime getting things planted out.

We also have plants waiting in the first class waiting room (aka the garden greenhouse). All the plants that I ordered for the front garden have now arrived. The penstemons have been potted up for a few weeks now and could be planted out. 

The dark leaved dahlias are growing on a little in pots,
and the salvia collection arrived last week and is growing well.  (Mark have you noticed that one is called Lara!)
Also waiting patiently are the dahlias grown from seed
and with a whole array of other flowering plants. There would have been more but somehow we have lost about half a dozen packets of seed and wouldn't you know it most were ones that I specially wanted to grow. None are available in shops and it’s too late to send for more seeds so it's a case of try again next year - I bet they'll turn up once it's too late to sow them!

Then we have excitement in the VIP - Very Important Plants - lounge (aka the indoor growing garden in a spare room). You may remember that I mentioned that I was going to try growing cyclamen from seed and didn’t really rate my chances of success. Well … wait for drum roll and pause of expectation … the ones being grown as pot plants germinated a little while ago – well 6 out of the 8 seeds have which is 6 more than I expected. 
So why haven’t I mentioned this before? … well I was waiting patiently to see what happened to the cyclamen coum seeds. Until yesterday there was no sign of them at all but then I spotted a tiny leaf and looked closer to see that there was evidence of one or two more shoots shyly peeping from the vermiculite.
I've circled some as they are not easy to spot even in 'real life'

The wind has died down now and it has actually rained a little this morning so maybe we'll manage some planting this afternoon - fingers crossed!

Can't comment?
I've had problems commenting on blogger posts and know others have the same trouble. After writing a comment you are told you are not signed in and asked to do so - you do - it asks again - and again - and if you are allowed to comment your comments are posted as Anonymous. I only seem to have this problem if I use IE as my browser - if I use Google Chrome (not sure about FireFox) it works fine. Are we innocent victims of browser war?

Thursday, May 26

Empty Nest Syndrome

The nest box is now empty - the chicks fledged yesterday morning between 6:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. so we missed the live event and had to content ourselves with an action reply! We had intended setting up the video camera to catch the action from outside but the birds were too early for us!

Only three chicks actually fledged as another chick died on Tuesday evening. I think our problem has been a bossy big chick. It pushed the smaller ones out of the way when food was offered and also pecked at its siblings especially very small ones. I'm guessing that the three to fledge were all the ones that hatched first although even then there was quite a size difference. I am also assuming that maybe one egg didn't hatch as we never saw 8 chicks all at once and we didn't see another dead chick.

We'll have to watch TV again now! The latest video clips are available from the link on the sidebar but be warned the last one is about 5 minutes long - I did cut the drama down as much as I could but I wanted to show how hesitant the chicks were.

Monday, May 23

One woman's weed is ...

Which of these would you say was a  weed?
And the answer is ... ... A. Yes it is - and it had to be weeded out. I know it’s a potato but it's a ‘volunteer’ from last year’s potato crop, probably one of those tiny tubers that are missed when harvesting. Not only is it possibly carrying blight but it was growing in our new strawberry bed and it wasn’t welcome there. So potato plant or not – it was a weed!

B are self sown speedwell – a weed or not? Well if it had been growing in our strawberry bed the answer would be undoubtedly yes but it’s growing in the grass under our greengages so it’s allowed to stay. It doesn’t mind being strimmed or mowed – it just pops back again. So to me this is just a really pretty wild flower and allowed to stay.
Other ‘weeds’ in our strawberry patch were self sown poppies. Loads of them seed all over the plot along with cosmos and sunflowers. Some seedlings are left where they are and others are transplanted just to see if cross pollination has created an interesting colour but if they germinate in a place where I don’t want them – then however pretty they may promise to be they are weeds and are dealt with accordingly.

We had lots of coriander seedlings growing in the strawberry bed – no doubt arriving courtesy of the tubs of compost transferred from the garden greenhouse. Although I love coriander and had just sown lots of seed in pots in the greenhouse, this lot of choice herbs achieved weed status and were pulled out!

French marigolds have self seeded under our pear trees – they will be allowed to stay and may be transplanted when they grow a bit bigger. It will be interesting to see what their flowers are like.
We started with just six poached egg plants (limnanthes if you want to give them their Sunday name). Now each year they self seed and create a carpet of yellow under our roses. Not only do they look lovely but they also attract hoverflies which hopefully will gobble any greenfly. After flowering, and spreading the seed that will form next year’s carpet, they disappear. They are allowed to stay unless they inadvertently stray into a vegetable bed. Then that will be another story.
Chives are another prolific self seeder from one plant I have ended up with enough to create a chive border around my newly planted herb bed and also have plenty left to give away. The bees love them. In the past they have been left to do their own thing but I think I need to be a bit stricter with them from now on.
We often have different varieties of self-sown lettuce popping up unexpectedly. This one was in amongst the onions. It was doing no harm and so was left to provide a free addition to our salads.
Another self seeding salad plant is red mustard. We grew this a few years ago but now it has become a weed cropping up all over. Sometimes we may leave it to grow but not if it is growing in the wrong place.

Spot the weed in this photograph. It’s grown rather large by weed standards. The hawthorn by the greenhouse was deposited by a bird a few years ago. I decided to have a go a training it into a tree and now it provides a bit of shelter and shade to the plot greenhouse.

From plot to garden

This poppy arrived outside our garden greenhouse – another ‘weed’ but a pretty one that is doing no harm and so can stay along with the self sown fern and what I think is a self sown hardy geranium. All are growing in places that you would never be able to plant successfully.
Another self sown fern – I think there are several here really – are growing in the tub which houses our dead tree fern. If I tried to grow ferns from spores I don’t think I’d have much success but these are growing happily and are true to the parent plant which is in a nearby pot. Maybe the fern stump will have to stay as it provides an effective backdrop to the weeds!

Close by is a self sown aquilegia – this time in the tub in which is growing a palm. I’ll leave this alone too – can’t wait to see what colour it is. The jury is out at the moment on whether this will end up being a weed or a choice garden plant!

Less welcome is the black violet that seeds itself everywhere. It grows in tubs, cracks in paving in fact anywhere it can and once it grows is quite difficult to uproot. It’s pretty and is allowed to stay in some parts of the garden but in tubs it has weed status! Forget-me-not, cyclamen hederifolium and alchemilla mollis share the same status. I only ever bought one of each – come to think of it I don’t think I bought a forget-me-not. Unless I have forgotten!

Then there is the plant I wish I’d never planted. Bought as an alpine, linaria muralis is a thug which once planted as a tiny plant is impossible to get rid of. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a pretty little baby that grows into an adolescent tear away. I’ve just have learned to try my best to control it and where I can’t - just live with it!

One definition of a weed is that it is a plant growing in the wrong place. I think I more or less agree with this but here’s one plant that is the exception to that rule. Another bird sown weed appeared in our garden and could have easily been pulled out at an early stage. I didn’t recognise it as a weed that I knew so left it – just to see what it grew into - I’m really glad that I did. I ended up with a lovely daphne – growing in the wrong place but in this case – who cares?

School web resources
By the way if you work in a school you may be interested in the free garden related web resources that I have produced here If you are a new gardener some of the vegetable resources may interest you too.

Saturday, May 21

Weeding according to need.

Our carrots were treated to their one and only weeding of the season. At this stage of their growth they were in danger of suffering serious competition from the weeds, which had relished the watering as much as the carrots had, so it was important to redress the balance and make sure that the carrots were the dominant species.

To be honest the weeding was very rough and ready – it was more a case of ripping off as much top growth as possible and as many roots as would come up easily without disturbing the young carrots.

As regular readers will know we grow our carrots under enviromesh to protect against carrot fly. There’s not much point giving this protection if we keep removing the mesh to weed so from now on the carrots will be one their own. As it was most of the weeding was down with the top half of me joining the carrots under the mesh and occasionally being pinned down under the mesh by our house guest when she sat on the mesh whilst I weeded under it. (I better explain that our house guest is four legged and furry).

Experience has shown that once the carrots start to grow strongly that they can hold their own against weeds. The only reasons to weed the carrots more often would be to make the bed look tidier or to stop weed seeds spreading but as this is covered it is out of sight anyway so should not be the subject of any complaints.
I also weeded the onion bed but here a completely different method was employed. This time I wanted to remove as much weed growth root and all as I could. Once the weeds become too large it is difficult to remove them without uprooting the onion bulbs and onions can rot at the base if the weeds trap too much moisture and restrict air circulation, (too much moisture now that is a joke at the moment!)

I have a different method of weeding under the fruit trees. I really don’t want to start digging about around the roots of established fruit bushes and trees so whenever I have few minutes to spare I hoe off the tops of the weeds. In dry weather the tops soon shrivel and die. Most of the weeds are annuals but any perennial weeds will eventually give up the ghost after being repeatedly given this treatment.

For tall, thick growing crops - for instance once the potato tops or brassicas are well grown we tend to pull out the weeds once they have become visible above the crops. If we have time we will weed underneath too if we feel things are getting out of hand.

As for potatoes earthing as well as helping prevent potato tubers from being exposed to the light also keeps down the weeds.
On the plot the basic principle for weeding is whatever is best for the plants - if weeding is going to damage the plants them we leave them. Of course in the garden it is entirely different as we want the garden to look at its best - fortunately as most of our planting in the garden is fairly permanent we don't have as much of a battle with weeds. Haven't you noticed that recently dug soil soon produces a new crop of annual weeds as digging brings the dormant seeds to the surface. Chickweed seed can lie dormant in the soil for 40 years so what chance do we have of winning the battle against it?

Nest cam update
We think we have five surviving chicks some are looking very fluffy and cute now but I am a bit concerned that one doesn't appear to be thriving as much as the others.

Dahlia update
We thought all our dahlia tubers had rotted over winter but on clearing the pile of straw we found that the tubers that were left planted under the pile rather than those that were dug up are now producing shoots.

Wednesday, May 18

What's been spitting on our lavender

We always have lots of cuckoo spit on our lavender plants. When I was a child I used to think it actually was a cuckoo that was spitting on the plants and thought what a dirty habit the bird had.
My photography challenge for yesterday besides trying for more bee photos was to take a photo of the creature responsible. It’s quite a tiny creature and being green like the plant leaves can be a challenge to see. On top of that when its foam blanket is removed it moves fairly quickly.

I did manage this shot of the frog hopper beetle larva. The larva produces bubbly froth from an unmentionable part of its body to protect it from predators and stop it drying out while it sucks juices from the plant.

So why did the poor cuckoo get blamed for the ‘spit’ well apparently it first occurs around the same time as the cuckoo is heard. A rather poor case for the prosecution!

I guess it’s one creature that is happy for us to have missed the promised downpours. Not really any rain of any value to the ground yet here which is why yesterday on the plot we got plenty of exercise lugging around cans of water!

Bird Cam update
Sad news – at least one of our chicks has died as we saw mum take it from the nest. I suspect at least one more may have also died. I guess this is the downside of watching a nest!

Saturday, May 14

Is not just us being busy!

Whilst we have been busy, weeding, sowing seeds, digging, clearing and planting the bumble bees have been busy on the far more important task of pollinating the flowers on our fruit.
Well OK I know they really only pollinate accidentally as it’s the nectar and pollen that they want to get hold of but it is a very happy accident for us.
The tayberry growing by our shed patio is loaded with flower and while we were sitting having a coffee break we couldn’t help but notice all sorts of shapes and sizes of bumblebees visiting the flowers. I have tried to learn how to identify each type by using an identification guide but find it just too much like hard work to learn a name that is probably unpronounceable anyway. To me they will just remain large, small, or stripy bumblebees – except that is the one with the red bottom which I know is a red tailed bumble bee – see that one is easy.
Just to add to the complication there are cuckoo bees that aren’t true bumble bees. They don't collect pollen as they don't have any grubs to feed. Like their namesake they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees! I think I’ll stick to just enjoying watching and photographing them. I’m sharing some photos that I managed to take – bees are not the most co-operative of subjects to photograph – maybe someone with more inclination to identify the species may tell us which bees they are.
It’s amazing how taking a photograph makes you notice things that you hadn’t before – for instance I never realised that tayberry flower buds had spines – but they do!

Update on nest box cam
The chicks are growing fast keeping the parent birds very busy - as busy as bees. Inside the nest cup is very crowded so I expect the chicks to venture further into the nest box shortly. If you are interested in having a peep click on the link on the blog sidebar.

Dahlia update
I was asked how are dahlias had fared through last winter - well the short answer is not well - Martyn has more on his blog here.

More information
My full May diary is available on my website here and latest photo album is here

Monday, May 9

Ring a ring a ... tomatoes?

Another landmark activity - we are beginning to plant our tomatoes into their final growing places and it seems that for a quite a few years we have been doing it all wrong!

I was browsing a gardening forum where the general consensus was that you should only grow two plants in a grow bag and not mix varieties in each bag ... oops. We do both and will carry on doing so this year too as it has always worked well for us! We don't mix different growing types but the varieties are mixed. The moral is to find what works for you - gardening has never been an exact science.

We don't grow any outdoor tomatoes as they always seemed to be attacked by blight. The year before last even the ones growing in the plot greenhouse were blighted. When our site was more or less derelict then we never suffered from blight at all but now the plots are fully occupied it is a real scourge - no doubt the high density of similar crops is ideal for it to spread. 

We are repeating the method used last year in the garden greenhouse which is to use giant grow bags and ring culture. 

The plants are planted in the inner ring which is topped up with grow bag compost. Its a bit like having a plant pot on top of the grow bag so give the roots more room to develop. Water and food is applied to the outer ring which means that this should go directly to the roots and avoid wetting the leaves too much.

We tried a do it yourself method in the plot greenhouse last year but it didn't work as well and so we have invested in more rings and will use them on the plot too.

We will grow the small fruited tumbling tomatoes in large tubs - the ones grown like that last year were really prolific.

I wrote about the varieties that we were growing this year in an earlier post but in case you have forgotten (and why on earth would you remember?) a list is available here. It also has the date we sowed the seed and how? All had the benefit of a spell in the Indoor Light Garden.

Saturday, May 7

Frosty reception

If you visit Martyn's blog you will have read about the frost damage on the plot last Wednesday night.

Our kiwi had her leaves badly scorched. I don't know whether this will have put paid to any opening flowers or not as it is hard to tell whether the flower buds have been affected.

The same thing happened to the kiwi  last year too and she recovered to flower but last year the buds were later appearing. At least we know that the plant will produce new leaves and recover.

You never know it could be a blessing in disguise as our reluctant male may decide to flower and catch up with her. Then they can get together and who knows what may happen.

In the garden the miniature kiwi Issai has been unaffected by the frost. The allotment is more open and tends to suffer from frost more than the garden.

I read a little more about Issai and found some people refer to this type of plant as a kiwi berry as the fruits are smaller and smooth skinned. The fruit is said to be sweeter too. I wonder if we will get any fruits this year?

Friday, May 6

Exciting News

We have babies in the nest box!

We don't know whether these babies are boys or girls but at last count we think we have sixso far.

Yesterday the female blue tit seemed to be shuffling uncomfortably on her nest and when she moved we caught sight of a nestling.

It took us by surprise as we weren't expecting any hatching 'til next week. We eventually counted three chicks yesterday and six today.

They already gape when a parent bird enters the nest with food. The male is toing and froing regularly bringing in ting grubs or greenfly that he is hopefully clearing from our garden.Updated video clip from yesterday can be viewed from the link on the sidebar. Apologies for the blurry images but the more movement the blurrier the video becomes. Live video is fine.

 What a day yesterday was - it even rained a bit and Martyn also had a close encounter of his own with some garden wildlife that gave him quite a shock as he explains in his blog here (This link may not have been working earlier).

Wednesday, May 4

It's a girl!

I mentioned in my last post that one of our kiwis had lots of buds but that we were hardly likely to have any fruit - even though we had originally bought a male and female variety - as only one of our two kiwis has ever flowered. I wasn't sure whether the one that was flowering was a male or female so I emailed Victoriana Nursery Gardens to ask if they could tell me how to identify which sex I had.

I had a quick response - apparently the centres of male flowers are all yellow (just stamen) and the centre of female flowers have white filaments (styles) in the centre. Fortunately I had taken a close up of the flowers last year so I can now say conclusively that our flowering kiwi is a girl.

Maybe as in the human species males develop slower than females so maybe our other kiwi will flower eventually!

As the one flowering is female then it must be the variety Hayward now she just needs a suitable mate.

We could buy a boyfriend for her but if we did he would probably take several years to reach maturity. Alternatively has anyone's got a boy kiwi and can send us some pollen so we can carry out artificial pollination? We could create the first kiwi dating agency!

One new fruit tree that is getting us really excited is our nectarine - Fantasia. We bought it last year and planted it in a large tub which is positioned by the greenhouse door. It was out all through last winter's freezing conditions and we worried that it might have died but you may remember I mentioned in an earlier post that it had flowered ... well ... we think that some of the flowers have set fruit. Unless we are totally mistaken there looks to be some teeny little nectarines developing. As a frost was predicted for lat night the tree was covered in fleece which spooked the dog when she went out late last night - I think she thought she had seen a ghost! Fingers crossed that the fruits don't just drop off! And if they don't grow off they grow a little bigger.
Bird Cam update
Things are progressing along the same line in the nest box and we have started a new web cam page for May (follow the link on the blog sidebar) - the female is still incubating and turning eggs and the male popping in and out to feed or preen her. Not expecting any new action 'til some time next week.

We have hedgehogs back too and will post some video/photos of them later. (That is when we take some).

Sunday, May 1

Firmly planted ... and watered

Besides weeding, watering, sowing, pricking out and clearing over the past couple of weeks we have been doing quite a lot of planting. One reason that we have been holding off is that the ground is just so dry even well down.

The other reason was I was hoping all the perennials that I have ordered would arrive before I started planting. I still have a couple of lots of plants to come but the plants were begging to be released from their pots and so I had to bite the bullet and get started. Hopefully when the other plants come I will have left appropriate spaces for them.

To combat the dryness each planting hole was filled with water before filling in which should provide water where it is needed to the roots and encouraged them to branch out into the surrounding soil.
Also still growing in pots were the fruit and nut bushes that came from Victoriana Nursery.

The cobnut and Japanese wineberry have been planted on the plot again in water filled holes. Both seem to be coping well.
Our plot neighbour Joe is a bit of a fanatic when it comes to growing things from seeds found in the fruit he buys and he had previously given us a cobnut that he had grown. This is of unknown origin so we don’t really know what to expect but as I was told that the Kent cob from Victoriana was semi self fertile it seemed a good idea to plant them together and hope that they get along. Our original cobnut wasn’t ideally situated for this, so after being well watered it was dug up and planted alongside the newcomer. So far it seems not to have noticed that it has moved.

The Japanese wineberry has been planted alongside a newly created pathway so that we can easily pick our crops of berries (hopeful as ever). It will be given something to climb up shortly but is presently managing to stay upright helped by a cane.

As I mentioned in an earlier post we decided to plant a thornless blackberry to grow up the same structure as the wineberry and I asked if anyone had a recommendation for which variety I should choose. Tanya from Allotments 4 You commented to say that she liked Loch Ness and so we set about searching for this at our local nurseries – no luck! There were plenty available online so as we were impressed by the plants we received earlier from Victoriana we decided to order from them. It wasn’t the cheapest supplier but we felt we knew what we would be getting. Another good quality plant arrived and is now planted on the plot. So Tanya the test now is will ours taste as good as yours?

I intend to plant a border of alpine strawberries along the front on these two plants but again the dry conditions puts me off moving the plants.

That leaves the kiwi Issai – we have decided to keep that in a tub in the garden so we can keep a closer eye on it. I was going to plant it alongside the kiwis already planted on the plot as a way of pollinating them but apparently Issai won’t pollinate other varieties so it stays in the garden where we will have a ready supply of fresh mini kiwis (hopeful again!)

It too needs some sort of support structure maybe some sort of obelisk! Maybe not quite as impressive as those that Bilbowaggins has a Bag End – I think they’d be a bit too big for the pot!

Talking of our plot kiwis – one of the plants is covered in buds whilst the other has absolutely none!
So it looks as though we will have a pollination issue again. Unfortunately the kiwis were planted when we were less organised and so we aren’t sure which varieties we planted or which plant is male and which female. We think one is Hayward which should be female but we don’t know whether it’s this one that flowers or not. Anyone know how I can tell a male flower from a female. Does the female have no pollen or stamen?

We have also planted up some of our vegetables using the hole of water method. We planted some broad bean plants and the cabbage plants that had managed to survive the mouse attack.  All are so far doing well!
Just as a footnote a couple of unhappy events on site:
It appears we are being plagued by a thief – some plot holders have had their greenhouses raided – young vegetable plants being grown on have been stolen. We hope that this isn’t going to become a trend. It is really upsetting to have plants that have been nurtured taken especially when young children have grown them. When young plants can be bought fairly cheaply at garden centres! We are fortunate in that we can grow our plants on in our garden greenhouse but I really feel for those who have become victims.

Unhappy event number two may serve as a reminder or warning to other gardeners. One of the plot holders on site was clearing away parsnips that had started to regrow and has suffered severe burning to his arms caused by the sap from the leaves so be very careful when dealing with parsnip tops. A similar problem can occur if you use a strimmer on a sunny day wearing shorts. Sap from the grass can react with the sun and also cause burning to the skin. Apparently sap from celery and carrots can also cause burning in sunny conditions.