Wednesday, May 31

May leaves us with a flurry of flowers

Monday, May 29

More of the same

Our harvests are still on the meagre side and restricted to herbs, salads and flowers.

The crops in the raised salad bed are now growing quickly. In here I planted lettuces, Maditta, Tom Thumb and Red and Green Salad Bowl. I also planted Giant Red Mustard. These were all raised from seed in the garden greenhouse before planting in both the raised bed and on the plot as small plants

I directly sowed, Mizuna, Mixed Salad Leaves. Mixed Radish and two types of spring onion, Lisbon and Lilia which is a red variety. I also sowed some Lamb's Lettuce but the seeds didn't germinate.

The salad leaves are growing quickly now and I was surprised to compare the photo taken yesterday with the one taken a week ago.
You may be able to spot the germinated spring onions creeping into the photograph on the left. I think it will be a while before we harvest any.

We did however pull our first small radish - a white one.
The only other harvest was a bunch of cornflowers.
As we went away for a couple of days, these went to my sister.

We still have some shallots left from last year, some of which are beginning to grow shoots so instead of letting them all go to waste I decided to slice some and pickle them with thin slices of cucumber.
On the plot some things just are not going well. Many of the seeds that we sowed directly are just refusing to germinate. At least we don't think they are germinating, it could well be that hungry slugs, or some other creatures, are moving in on them as soon as they show their tiny heads.

We sowed parsnips a month ago on 28 April, four rows of carrots on 1 May, Sugar Snap and Mushy Peas on 11 May. All have only managed an odd seedling.

We usually sow broad beans in modules in the greenhouse but as space is at a premium, we decided to sow some Robin Hood beans direct on 14 May. They were covered with enviromesh to try and deter hungry mice but so far there are no signs of germination.

The same decision was made for hardy annuals which were also sown on 14 May. So far germination has been sporadic. Those sown direct last June had germinated within a week. I know seeds sown at this time of year may take longer to germinate but after the spell of summery weather I had expected something.

It looks like we will be busy resowing unless when we go to the plot this afternoon, something miraculous has happened. We can always hope can't we?

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

Friday, May 26

Early Promise - Plot Fruit

If you want your plot to provide a good return on your gardening expenses then fruit is indeed the cash cow. Soft fruit is very expensive to buy and generally sold in relatively small amounts, however, rather than saving money I would say that our fruit harvest means that we eat more fruit. There is no way we would buy the amount of soft fruit that we use by growing our own.

Our fruit growing isn't labour intensive, the busiest times being when pruning and in some cases tying in and when picking and preserving the harvests. The trees are given a winter wash to try and cut down on overwintering pests and lures are hung to control egg laying moths. We rarely water although at times we do treat the plants to a foliar feed.

At this time of year it is the pollinating insects that are working hard and to good effect.

So here's the picture on the plot fruit front at the moment - as usual some fruits are performing better than others.
Last year was a relatively poor year for greengages and plums. This year the greengages and at least one of the plum trees - Victoria - look to be showing promise of a reasonable crop.
The apples, pears and quince are also sporting lots of fruitlets but no doubt many will be discarded in the June drop. We inherited what we refer to as our apple hedge when we took on that area of the plot some twelve years ago. The trees were overgrown, ties had cut into the bark, the trunks were gnarled and damaged and advice would have maybe been to remove the trees altogether.
They are still producing a good harvest every year and whilst this is the case they will stay put.
The plot cherry has some fruit but each year the tree is devastated by wood pigeons. They shred the leaves which weakens the tree. Another cherry tree that grows on, what was until last year, an abandoned plot is left untouched. Maybe the leaves don't taste as good as those of our tree. Our tree is difficult to net effectively so we are thinking of reducing it to more of a bush shape.

We also inherited a tayberry (that may be a loganberry). It's a thug and usually we miss most of the fruit which is hiding in the middle of a thicket of viciously spiky canes. Last year I decided to go on the offensive and reduced the number of canes that I allowed to grow to an absolute minimum - two or three canes to each clump. At the moment it is sending up new canes for next year and I am only allowing those that I intend to keep for next year to develop. The rest are being cut out. The bees are busily pollinating the flowers which I hope will produce fruit that is more accessible.

The thornless blackberry is much friendlier and is covered in blossom. Each year it supports a bumper crop and it looks as if this year will be no exception.

More inherited fruit bushes were our redcurrants which also produce a good yearly crop. We took down the netting last year so we could tidy up the area. The blackbirds are hoping that we forget to renew the protection as they are looking forward to swooping in and stripping the plants at the first sign of redness.

Last year was quite a poor year for blackcurrants but this year look more promising. As for the whitecurrant, it rarely produces much fruit and those that it does manage to produce are very small. Maybe this will be the year that it shines.

We have four blueberry bushes which produces another fruit that the blackbird is partial to so will also need netting. At the moment the earliest variety is setting fruit and the latest is producing flowers.

Less tempting to the birds are our two cranberry plants. These grow in tubs outside of the greenhouse. They had become very messy and so this year were treated to haircut and fresh compost. They seem to be happier for it.

We have a grapevine growing alongside the shed. It produces grapes each year but they don't manage to reach maturity. Maybe if we have a good summer things will be different.

Another fruit that we haven't sampled yet is the honeyberry. We have four bushes which flower well but I think that we have a pollination issue. We bought four plants as at the time it was recommended that more than one plant was needed for pollination. There also was no mention of different varieties - our plants were sold as honeyberries. They were from a reputable source but honeyberries were relatively new. It now appears that a different variety is needed to cross pollinate but we don't know which variety ours are. Apparently a honeysuckle will help pollination so maybe an early flowering variety will fit the bill. 

The Japanese wineberry has no pollination problem and produced a good crop last year. It's early days yet to be able to tell whether this will be repeated.

Another pollination issue has been with us for several years. We have two kiwi vines - a male and a female. They were bought as a compatible pair but although the female produces flowers every year,  (this year it has excelled in this department), probably due to desperation and the male has never even tried to flower.

I've no idea how to encourage him as I have already tried everything that has been advised. We could buy another male but would it be a suitable pollinator and how long would it take to reach flowering stage?

The jostaberries and gooseberries have plenty of young fruits but will the wood pigeons leave the jostaberries for us. Usually they rampage amongst the branches many of which break under their weight.

The summer raspberries have plenty of bud. Tulameen is a traditional summer fruiting variety. It has lots of blossom and is attracting plenty of bees,

Glencoe - the purple raspberry is also loaded with flowers and bees. The plants in the newly renovated All Gold autumn fruiting raspberry bed are growing well. Joan J is another autumn fruiting variety. These plants were replanted last year and are sporting some out of season flower buds. I must have left some old canes when I cut them back. I'll leave them now. The newly planted black raspberry is looking a bit weedy so I hope that it is concentrating on building up strong roots.

Finally all the plants on our two strawberry beds have survived winter. As the varieties fruit at different times and so as expected some are full of flower and other are just in leaf. The alpine strawberries have lots of flowers too.

Surprisingly most of the flowers survived the frosts that affected our potatoes and are setting lots of fruit.

So far everything is looking promising - we just need the weather and pests to be kind to our plants.

Wednesday, May 24

Trachycarpus wagnerianus (Dwarf Chusan Palm)

Monday, May 22

Mini Harvest

At the moment our harvests are on the small side. They are so small that I haven't really taken photographs of the actual harvests. 

The salad bed/box in the garden is now producing salad leaves that can be cut as required. The leaves are cut and eaten within minutes which is the reason for growing these in the garden rather than on the plot, and so there is really no occasion to take a photo. Here is the source material instead.
The bed has an enviromesh cover to protect against aphids as well as offering protection from birds.
Alongside the salad bed we have various pots of herbs which are also being cut and used as required. The thyme needs a bit of tidying up! (oops sorry that photo isn't thyme it's actually marjoram -  Origanum Vulgare.
The parsley in the photo is last year's plant, more seedlings are growing on to take its place. We have curled and flat leaved parsley along with basil, Corsican mint and coriander under our grow lights in a spare room.
The chives on the plot are in flower now and I don't like removing them so I cut a batch of leaves and chopped and froze them. Once the flowers are over I will cut the plants back to encourage new leaf growth.
Rhubarb is still being harvested. The single stick below was used to make a rhubarb sauce to accompany a pork steak.
The spring onions were a chance find. I was clearing a bed in which I had sown some salad seeds last year and I found a row of spring onions. They are a crop that we suddenly have had issues with when trying to grow. The onions may look a bit shabby but once the outer layer of skin was removed the onions were just fine. This year I will purposely sow some to overwinter.

The large onion was an autumn planted onion that harvested itself as it toppled over and out of the ground. It had grown a flower stem but it will still have some usable onion.

The final plot offering was a vase of cut flowers, mixed cornflowers and sweet rocket. I posted about growing the cornflowers for early flowering here.

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

Friday, May 19

Annual Flower Bed

You may remember that each year I plant up an annual flower bed on the plot. It provides cut flowers and the bees enjoy it as much as we do.
For the past few years I have raised the seeds in pots and planted them out as described in this post. The end result had been fairly successful even though at the planting out stage things haven't looked too promising.

This year I am trying something different for two reasons, the first being that space in the greenhouse is at a premium and, with fruit and vegetable plants taking priority, the seedlings never really had the best upbringing.

The second reason is that last year I tried some direct sowing and the plants seemed to grow stronger. The reason for the first direct sowing was that I wanted to use up the left over seeds so I mixed them up and sowed them in a trench of compost, just like we sow parsnips and carrots. The seeds were sown in mid-June and resulted in an attractive display of much healthier looking plants.
In retrospect I sowed the seeds too thickly and also I should have considered that some varieties would dominated as the cosmos did and hide the lower growing plants. I should have graded the seeds according to the height that the plants would achieve. Overall though it was a success and continued flowering after the originally planted bed had faded.

This spurred me on to try sowing some hardy annual seeds in autumn to overwinter and hopefully produce earlier flowers. I sowed cornflowers, some larkspur seeds that were a couple of years old, calendula and a packet of mixed annual seeds on 15 September and covered with enviromesh. This was more to protect them from being eaten than to offer protection from the weather.

The seeds germinated in a week and by mid October looked like this.
They continued to grow through November.

In March, when the mesh was removed, the bed looked like this.
The cornflowers were doing well, most of the calendula had been eaten presumably by slugs and the larkspur failed which could have been down to using old seed. As for the mixed seeds, there is a mix of leaf types but until they flower I can't say which varieties have survived. The cornflowers have gone on to produce the strongest looking cornflowers that I have grown and they are already providing cut flowers.
I'm standing by the side of the bed to give an idea of the height that the cornflowers have grown. I am five foot one and a half inches (just over 1.56m). I've always aspired to being five foot two).
The mild winter could have helped the plants to survive and it will be interesting to see what happens next year as I plan to repeat the process again, maybe adding some different varieties to the cornflowers which will be a must. Has anyone any recommendations?

The success with self sown annuals set me thinking, that maybe I have been too soft with the hardy annuals, so this year I decided to try the direct sowing method. I sorted the seeds that I had bought into hardy and half hardy. Some seeds of each of the half hardy varieties have been sown inside as an insurance policy. 
The hardy varieties and some seeds from the half hardy types were sown direct in compost trenches on 13 May and some only five days later are already germinating. I've learned for the late summer sowing and have sown each variety of seeds in a patch rather than mixing them together and tried to position smaller varieties in positions where they have less chance of being swamped by cosmos.
No doubt there will be patches in the germination and so indoor sown half hardy annuals will be used to plug the gaps.

As with all gardening it is now wait and see time.

Thursday, May 18

Planting out sweet peas and bed preparation

Wednesday, May 17

Harlow Carr - Alpine House