Sunday, April 30

Matriarchal society aphid style

We have begun our battle with the battalions of gardening saboteurs. The slugs and snails have munched their way through lettuce seedling and the mice have dug up the sweet pea seeds.

The next battalion to move in will no doubt be made up of some members of the 500 species of aphids found in Britain. Commonly called greenfly they actually come in an array of colours, green, pink black, white and no doubt other colours too. Many are visible on our plants and other lurk underground feeding on roots.
At this time of year eggs that have overwintered hatch. The hatching is well timed to take advantage of the emergence of tasty new shoots. In also coincides with the time that the birds are hunting for insect food for nestlings, just one good reason for not resorting to spraying. Early greenfly colonies on our roses are made short work of by our garden allies. We often see birds foraging for aphids in the branches of the fruit trees on the plot too.
The newly hatched aphids or nymphs are all females and are just smaller versions of their mothers. As with other insects as the nymphs grow they shed their skins. A week after birth they are fully mature and capable of reproducing. They do this without any need to mate. In some species aphids are actually born already carrying another generation.
The females can give birth to five live young each day for a period of about thirty days so it is easy to understand why infestations build up so quickly. If all offspring survived, a single female could be responsible for a line of aphids 27,950 miles long,

If a food supply is no longer capable of sustaining the colony, it triggers the production of winged females. These individuals are not capable of strong flight but can be carried long distances on the wind. When they land on a suitable food supply they will start a new colony.
The cycle continues all summer until temperatures fall. Around October, winged males are produced. Their only purpose is to mate with winged females. Once mated the females deposit eggs in a safe place to overwinter and so the circle is completed until the following spring when it all starts again.

Aphids belong to the bug family and feed by piercing the plant with a feeding tube through which they draw sap from the plant. Feeding aphids can cause leaves and buds to become deformed and they can also transmit viruses and disease from one plant to another.
Aphids ingest more sugar than they need and any excess is passed out through two tubes at their rear end. This sugary substance or honeydew causes plant leaves to become sticky and forms an ideal feeding site for sooty mould which coats the surface of the leaves with a black fungus. Although the fungus doesn't harm the plant it does stop light reaching the leaves and prevents the plant from producing food.The overall result of an aphid infestation is a weak and struggling plant.
Aphids do have an unlikely ally. Ants love the honeydew produced by aphids and will protect aphids from their enemies so that they can maintain a flock of honeydew producers. Some ants even farm aphids but that's another story. 

Fortunately we have many allies in our war against aphids so we need to take care that our attempts to control aphids don't inadvertently harm our garden friends.
If you are interested I have written on aphids in a little more detail on our website here.

Wednesday, April 26

Feeling blue

Tuesday, April 25

The Salad Garden Book Giveaway Winner

The winner of The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom book giveaway is ...


Sorry that there couldn't be more winners. Karen can you email your postal address so that I can pass this on to the publishers to arrange delivery.

Monday, April 24

The root of the problem

Parts of our plot are affected by club root that affects members of the brassica or crucifer family. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to control. The disease thought to be related to slime moulds and has plant, fungal and animal characteristics. How scary a thought is that?

Club root affects all members of the brassica family including weed's such as shepherd's purse and crops such as oil seed rape. It is spread by infected plant material coming into contact with soil and releasing spores. The spores produce things called zoospores that can swim short distance through moist soil in search of brassica root hairs and so the infection begins resulting in the root of the plant swelling.
The  roots can then no longer support the plant and so it cannot take up moisture and nutrients and so becomes weak and often dies.

Once infected the spores can lurk in the soil for twenty years or so waiting for a suitable host plant. Most gardeners would find it impossible to avoid planting any sort of brassica into a patch of land for twenty years and when if they did self sown susceptible weeds playing host.

We know that our soil has been infected for years but in our early gardening days we used a dip on young plant roots that gave some protection. Unfortunately this was one of the gardening products that became unavailable and now there is little that can be done to treat cub root infested soil. Adding lime can help as club root doesn't like alkaline soil nor does it like well drained soil but as our soil is heavy clay this isn't something we can easily control.

Our option is to raise club root resistant varieties of brassicas. There are more varieties being developed but to date there doesn't appear to be a club root resistant variety of sprouting broccoli.

We also buy brassica plants early and sometimes late in the season. These are from well respected sources and should be club root free but are not varieties that are resistant to the infection. We've tried to plant these in beds where club root hasn't appeared to be an issue in the past but the disease is quite difficult to prevent from spreading. This year we are trying a different tactic and growing the bought in plants to a larger size before planting out.
The hope is that this will give them more of a chance against the disease.

Last week we did have one pleasant treat and cut a rather splendid cauliflower from a bed in which the rest of the brassicas failed to thrive. 
This - Aalsmeer -isn't advertised as a club root resistant variety so were we lucky of does the variety have some level of natural resistance? The roots didn't seem affected by the disease.
There are one or two more plants that may produce heads as they look to be growing strongly.
We do try in our battle against club root but I do wonder whether the battle is weighted against us succeeding. There seems to be so many ways that club root spores can affect soil and, other than growing plants under laboratory conditions, very little we can do to prevent it's spread.

As well as the cauliflower we also harvested a few leeks.
It's an amazing thought that next year the seedlings sitting in our greenhouse will be gracing our dinner plates.
To end a plea - if there are any plant breeders out there can you please develop a club root resistant variety of sprouting broccoli?

I am linking to harvest Monday hosted on Dave's blog Our Happy Acres

Friday, April 21

Greenhouse update

Past experience has made us cautious gardeners. This means that we often lag behind when it comes to seed sowing. Germinating seeds early isn't a problem but as we don't heat our greenhouse, keeping the seedlings healthy after germination is a problem. We find that seedlings grown later that don't suffer being checked in their growth often catch up with those raised earlier. 

That said you may think that many of the things in our greenhouse at the moment are on the small side but it works for us.

Unlike many we don't sow our sweet peas overwinter nor do we grow them in tall modules but it works  for us to sow seeds in spring in standard modules. Most of our sweet peas are now at the pinching out stage.
We did, however, have one set back in that a mouse or mice decided to raid the seeds as can be seen from the photo above - bottom right. Incredibly some seeds survived but it meant I was missing four varieties and so although it was a bit late to be sowing sweet peas, I bought replacements. Most of the original sweet peas seeds were saved by covering with lids and thwarting the foraging rodents. Lesson learned for the future.
Some seedlings are ready for pricking out top right photos above are various brassicas, lettuce and spinach. On the top left are the leeks which have a bit more growing to do before they move to the plot. The seed trays on the bottom row are mainly sown with flower seeds.

You may remember our well travelled perennials which have now all been planted up in batches and are growing well.
We also have three new dahlias shooting. All of these are destined to live in the recently cleared perennial/cut flower bed at the allotment.

Some plants that have overwintered in the greenhouse are springing back into life. The pelargoniums in the bottom two photos are actually in the summerhouse and not the greenhouse. The top right photos is a delospernum.

One osteospernum is even flowering. In the pot on the right below are osteospernum and verbena.
The other photos show a lavender, a banana that having been cut down is now regrowing, a tub of mint and a fuchsia. All the above will move outside once the danger of frost has passed or at least a keen frost is a less likely event.

We have one bag of potatoes growing in this greenhouse that should produce out first crop. More potato tubs are planted up in the plot greenhouse as well as out on the plot.
The grapevine that if allowed would swallow up the greenhouse now has leaves. It will soon be necessary to curtail its growth.
If you are wondering whether we have still held off sowing tomato seeds, the answer is no. These were sown and placed under the grow lights in a spare bedroom.
We have two of these set ups in which the tomato seedlings have germinated along with aubergines, cucumbers, courgettes, melons and achillea. Still to germinate are peppers, alpine strawberries and some other flower seeds.

I have already posted about the peach, apricot and nectarine trees that live in the greenhouse.

Wednesday, April 19

Apple Blossom Time

By the way if anyone missed my book review of Joy Larkcom's updated version of The Salad Garden there is a free copy to be given away. You must be resident in the UK and register interest by making a comment on the post here.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, April 17

Jumped the first hurdle

Once the blossom fades on the stone fruit that live in our garden greenhouse, there follows the wait to see whether my bee activities have been successful.

The apricot was the first to flower but after a very floriferous year last year it only produced flowers on two branches. It is, however quality and not quantity that is important and so far it looks as though the few flowers that were produced are going to provide us with a least a taste of apricot. Some small fruitlets have already been shed but the remaining babies are swelling nicely.

The peach and nectarine flowered together and both produced a mass of blossom and so it was a mammoth tasks playing the bee role. No doubt I missed lots of flowers when wielding my pollinating brush but early signs are that some fruits have set.

The tiny peachlets are difficult to focus on but I have given it a go.

If the cluster above all start to swell I will have to bite the bullet and select just one to keep. I really will have to force myself to thin some fruitlets.

The nectarine is at a similar stage.

I do find it strange that baby nectarines are long and thin.

I may have to ease some of the dead petals from some fruitlets to prevent any rotting. Then it will be a case of waiting to see whether any of this promise will yield fruit. We don't ask for much just a few treats will satisfy.

By the way if anyone missed my book review of Joy Larkcom's updated version of The Salad Garden there is a free copy to be given away. You must be resident in the UK and register interest by making a comment on the post here.

Thursday, April 13

Book Review- The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom

When you see the name Joy Larkcom on any book cover you know that it will be good and this book is no exception.

This isn't the original book that Joy wrote over 30 years ago for which she received great acclaim but a totally updated version. The range of salad ingredients and the ways in which the modern day gardener grows them is reflected in this revised version. Incidentally all the images shown here can be viewed at a larger size by clicking on them.

The list of contents gives no indication of the depth of material in the book so I have included a snippet from the appendix.
The main section of the book deals with the salad plants which are divided into groups.

The information provided is extensive and is best explained by giving an example so let's take lettuce which happens to be the first thing covered in the book. The section starts with general information and a description of types of lettuce. There follows information about the various methods of cultivation and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Next up is watering and sowing for succession. Information is then given about varieties and their suitability for different uses. Finally the section covers the pests and diseases that lettuces suffer from.
The section entitled Finishing Touches covers herbs, edible flowers and wild plants or weeds.

The Garden Practicalities section includes siting and design of the salad garden, improving the soil, composting, saving and storing seed, growing from seed, weeding, watering, crop protection and lots more.

Towards the end of the book are pages covering sprouting seeds.
There is a short section on salad making including a few recipes.

The appendices contains a chart which plans a succession of salad ingredients throughout the year.
So to sum up this is a very comprehensive book and easily earns its place on the bookshelf of any keen salad grower. I have to say though there is one omission. I love raw cauliflower or broccoli in a salad and neither are mentioned but I will forgive this.

If you like what you have read and think this book may be for you then I am pleased to say that the publishers are  offering a copy of The Salad Garden as a giveaway. To qualify for the giveaway draw I'm afraid that you must live in the UK (unless you have a friend in the UK who will post the book on to you). Please register your interest by making a comment on this post. A name will be drawn at random on 23 April and the lucky winner announced on the blog.

Wednesday, April 12

Is it spring or summer or what?

Monday, April 10

A busy weekend of planting

Last weekend we were busy making the most of the summer-like weather. I even managed to survive with only one thin jumper.

Some time was spent preparing beds and other general maintenance work but for the most part we were planting. Not that we have a lot to show for it as much of the planting is still below ground.

Another bed of potatoes has been planted through weed control fabric.

The second lot of 'invisible' work was direct sowing of two narrow trenches of Onward peas.
The hazel twigs placed on the bed are to cut down on any animal foot-marks or dust bathing birds disturbing the seeds. It won't deter any hungry mice or weevils though. Once the peas are through - ever hopeful - the twigs will be used as supports.

Shallots, onions and broad beans all planted in module cells have been waiting in the cold frame to be planted out. 
The warm, sunny weather during the last couple of days meant that the broad beans suddenly put on a growth spurt and so they are a bit taller than I would have liked but hopefully - there's that word again - they should soon perk up.
The onions and shallots were at just the right stage for planting - the compost held together and the roots were not yet pot bound. Four varieties of onions and two of shallots were planted.

There was some space left at the end of the rows and so these were planted up with sets. The remaining sets are destined for elsewhere.

Incidentally the autumn planted onions are romping away.
In the greenhouse we have some fairly large brassica plants which could be planted but we are considering potting them into larger pots to build up a stronger root system before surrendering them to the possibility of being struck by club root.

In the greenhouse other seedlings are in early stages of growth.
On the left from the top are, green and red cabbage, rocket, spinach, lettuce and mustard seedlings. Then there are the early brassicas - cabbage, calabrese and cauliflower. On the right are leeks with sweet peas below. The sweet peas seeds were attacked by mice and so there are some gaps in the cells.

I mentioned in my last post that we had a trip to Norwich on Friday. On Thursday we had another trip to Northampton. During Thursday Royal Mail had attempted to leave an order of perennials but instead of leaving them where we requested when ordering, they took them back to the depot. Apparently it is against their rules to leave things. This meant an early morning 5 mile journey to pick up the plants which we then had to carry in the car boot to Norwich and back. As the plants were tiny plugs we had to take a tray and water them before our journey. Had they been left on Thursday we would have had chance to pot them on straight away. We were not happy bunnies.

There are 144 plantlets - too many to pot up individually and so these are being potted in groups of the same variety into largish pots.
These are destined for the perennial bed on the plot.

Just to end, Martyn posted a video that he made of our plot in full blossom. Just in case you missed it I am posting here but be warned as it is 10 minutes long.

We filmed this weekends plot activity too but this is still in the 'editing room'. When it is published we will post it on our video blog.