Tuesday, 31 May 2011

larch cottage

No gardening today as I had a trip out to Larch Cottage Nurseries at Melkinthorpe near Penrith. To describe it as a garden centre would do it a great injustice. It is another world, a magical place which I like to think is frequented by real gardeners rather than somewhere to pick up the latest 'lifestyle' items.

To give you some idea I've included a few pics.
about half-way down the main path as it disappears into the distance
young conifers, including many rare and unusual species
More trees. I have a thing about trees
Flowers and herbs. I went specifically to get some potted herbs from their extensive selection.
Some of the architectural items to give your garden a classical theme.
There are lots of hidden corners - just like the secret garden.
If ever anyone reading this blog visits Cumbria then I would heartily recommend a trip to Larch Cottage. Even if you don't buy anything it's worth it just for a wander round and the Eden valley is a beautiful part of the world.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Planted out the climbing beans today as they were really getting too big for the pots they were in. It’s still quite windy here so I’ve fastened them to the poles to give them a chance to start climbing rather than being blown about.

The first lot of broad beans now have pods up to 3inches long although the plants are a bit battered after the recent gales. Thankfully the later sowings are not as tall and have survived the weather...so far.
young beans
With last night’s meal we had the first of this season’s cabbages. I plant them closer than recommended but pick alternate ones as spring greens, leaving the rest to heart up. I’m also making sowings of a fast-maturing calabrese to go in the gaps once all the early cabbages are harvested. That way the ground isn’t standing idle. So far the debris netting is performing its task of keeping out the cabbage whites from my brassica crop although I did find some tiny catterpillars on cauliflower seedlings in the greenhouse.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

potting and pottering

A weekend of potting and pottering, mainly in the greenhouse. The wet and windy weather has meant not much could be done outside apart from securing anything that might be blown over. I like pottering. It’s something I’m really good at and it’s so relaxing, especially with the radio playing some gentle piano music in the background.

All the aubergines and peppers are now in their final positions in the greenhouse, along with tomatoes and cucumbers which just leaves two melon plants which are being a bit slow. I’ve never grown melons before so this is a bit of a learning curve but I can’t imagine they’ll be that much different to courgettes and cucumbers.
I've been willing this melon plant to grow but it's ignoring me

I’m convinced now that tomato plants wait until my back is turned then throw out more side shoots. I went round yesterday nipping them all out and lo and behold I’m doing the same again today. In previous years I’ve potted up these ‘armpits’ to get extra plants but I’ve been told firmly ‘We DO NOT need any more tomatoes’ so I’m bowing to she with the steely glare. (hope she doesn’t read this)

The herb patch in most English gardens will contain the usual suspects: mint, parsley and chives but we should really be a bit more adventurous than that. I have basil, marjoram, rosemary and sage growing in containers and this year I’ve added coriander, hyssop, lemon balm, summer savoury and tarragon and I’ve been re-potting herb seedlings this weekend. Most herbs are quite happy growing in containers and the advantage is that they can be brought inside during the winter months.

And talking of containers I’ve got 124 at the last count. That’s probably it for this year but nothing’s certain in gardening. As the first early potatoes are tipped out I find I have a surfeit of compost so I might as well fill a tub and grow something in it, even if it’s just more lettuce. If we don’t eat it my neighbour’s hens will and we get fresh eggs in return.
Lettuce doesn't need any special treatment. Just bung it in a pot and watch it Grow
Parsnips and beetroot in tubs

Thursday, 19 May 2011

asparagus no more

Today I dug up the asparagus bed because half of the plants were dead and the survivors were performing poorly. I don’t know what the problem was but I suspect the severe cold of last winter had a lot to do with it. I’ve decided that an asparagus bed is an expensive luxury unless you have a good sized plot and can afford to have part of it out of production for several years. In the meantime the space will be home to another bean wigwam and some container veggies. I have the materials to build a decent cold frame there but that will have to wait till later in the year.

We have no frosts forecast for the next few nights but I’m reluctant to put out the climbing beans because there are very strong winds on the horizon which won’t do them any good before they get properly established.

The first lot of broad beans are now showing small pods so I gave them a potash feed to help them along

We love to eat fresh peas straight from the plant so this afternoon I sowed more peas to follow on from the sixty or so already coming along. I’ll do another sowing in mid June and hopefully we’ll have fresh peas right through till the first frosts.

Today's pic shows some celery plants in a big square pot. I have three pots of self-blanching celery but I do find it gets quite stringy unless picked early and watered well. We get  some small sticks for salads and have some as a steamed vegetable but much of it ends up as soup flavouring.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

more blackleg

Another potato plant lost to blackleg. I noticed one of the plants was looking a bit sickly with curled and yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Closer inspection showed blackleg at a fairly advanced stage with rotted stems which just pulled away from the soil with no effort. It would have to be a Lady Christl which is the best tasting of all the first earlies I’ve tried. That makes four plants lost so I’m thinking infected tubers from that particular stock pile. If anyone else is growing Lady Christl I’d be inclined to give them a careful check to make sure they’re still healthy. No other varieties I’m growing have been affected.
blackleg infected potato haulm

But the day wasn’t all doom and gloom. We had our regular treat of fish and chips at Silloth and they were fantastic. Well worth the drive.
Criffel and the Scottish side of the Solway from Silloth

And when we got home I indulged in a little bowl of home-grown strawberries.

I've just completed my ritual evening inspection and all my little veggies are now tucked up for the night so I can relax with a beer. Unfortunately it's not draught as the nearest pub is three miles away. One of the few downsides to our rural idyll.

Monday, 16 May 2011

aphid infestation

There’s a serious aphid infestation on the growing tips of my blackcurrant bushes and I’ve had to resort to the spray gun. I wouldn’t normally do this as even the relatively harmless insecticides are still pretty indiscriminate. Trouble is I’ve seen very few ladybirds about this year and as they are the natural predators of aphids the little bugs are getting the upper hand. The bushes have plenty of fruit on them but I’d rather they didn’t spend their time being gobbled by greenfly, etc. The aphids can also carry more serious viral diseases so that’s as good a reason as any to get rid of them.
the underside of the curled leaves is crawling with little beasties!

The new potatoes are coming thick and fast at the moment.  This pic shows more than 2.5 lbs of Maris Peer from two plants in a large pot. They are a second early and should have been left longer than 12 weeks but we needed some taties for tea!

A lot of stuff in the greenhouse is sulking at the moment due to the cool weather and lack of sunshine.  Some of the tomatoes have their first flowers but the peppers, cucumbers and aubergines are just sitting there refusing to grow. I know they'll pick up when the weather improves but sometimes I find myself willing them to get a move on.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

leeks, to trim or not to trim?

A showery sort of day but still plenty of time to get things done outside. Anyway, I’d still rather be outside in the rain than stuck indoors. I have some young leeks which have really outgrown their pots so I separated one lot and put them out into dibbed holes in a small patch I had been keeping for more peas.

There’s quite a bit of folklore attached to leek planting. A lot of people say plant them out when they reach pencil thickness but I’ve never let mine get to that size. Some say trim the roots and leaves before planting while others say it’s not necessary. I do trim any long straggly roots as it makes it easier to get them into the holes and I also trim the tops to stop them blowing about in the wind before they get established. I also tend to ignore conventional spacing recommendations and grow them much closer together. These techniques work for me as you can see from the photo.

I’m a keen recycler so I took the compost from one of the potato tubs that was finished, mixed in some fresh, added some BFB and planted out another courgette with some lettuce round the edges. You should always try to get two crops from each lot of compost if you can, especially if you are buying commercial stuff.

Sowed more spring onions in small pots. These will be planted out as clumps whenever and wherever a space becomes available. We usually manage to have spring onions for much of the year by doing it this way with successional sowings. The later sowings can be left in the pots and brought under cover during winter to give an early crop next year.

It’s been quite cool today but not so cool that the bees couldn’t go about their work. Here’s one hovering near a rhododendron flower cluster.
We are surrounded by hills here, even though the Solway plain is very flat. Skiddaw, seen across the estuary to the south, often wears a cap of cloud

and if we look upstream we can see the Pennines in the distance to the east and we also have the Scottish border hills to the north
O.K. geography lesson over for today now back to the garden. The main potato patch is looking quite healthy but these are second earlies so it will be a while before any will be lifted.
The onions in the tub are in a space left by one of the diseased plants I removed and I don't like to have unproductive ground on the plot.

Just to illustrate how quickly things are growing now these pics show a tub of Lollo Rossa lettuce. There are just eight days between the two photos but the plants have bulked up enormously.

Friday, 13 May 2011

the rest of the garden

The vegetable plot is coming into production with all available space now taken up with growing plants so I can turn my attention to the rest of the garden. I must admit that I tend to neglect everything that doesn’t produce food so I’ve had a spell today trying to remove a heavy growth of couch grass from around some buddleia and azalea shrubs in a far corner. It was also starting to encroach on the soft fruit beds but that wasn’t my motivation. I'm going to have a go at reproducing some of the azalias and rhodies by layering them so I've been clearing round them and will peg down suitable branches later this month.

Then there’s the back and front lawns to cut. An onerous task but it does provide compost and mulch material. Trouble is the lawns produce far too much cut grass so half of it goes into the green recycling bin.

I bought some native wild flower seeds a few weeks ago and have been sprinkling them around in small patches I've cleared around the edges of the garden. They won't get any special treatment, just like in nature. If they survive and bloom it will add a splash of colour and hopefully attract beneficial insects. With a bit of luck they'll self-seed and just get on with what they do best, leaving me to concentrate on food production.

Dodging the showers I managed to get some potting done in the greenhouse and all the tomatoes are now in their final positions. After doing a few swaps with a friend I now have five varieties: Alicante, Black Cherry, Costoluto Fiorentino, Roma and Shirley. Two cucumbers and a courgette are also storming away which only leaves the peppers and aubergines to be potted on when they get a bit bigger.

We had more new potatoes for tea today: Pentland Javelin which gave a better yield than the Lady Christl but the flavour was nowhere near as good.

I had two plants growing in a 15 inch pot and they gave me over 1 kilo when I tipped them out. Probably with more space they’d have given more but a lot of my container poato growing is still a bit experimental. I’m recording a lot of details to find the best combination of potato variety and container size.

Away from gardening for a minute I saw a guillemot down on the estuary today. We get the odd solitary cormorant but this was the first time I've seen a guillemot. They breed in colonies on cliffs but the nearest cliffs are on the other side of the Solway in Scotland so it must have been having a day out.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

wind and water

I've had a break for a couple of days and what do I find? the rain has brought everything on dramatically, including the weeds. One big advantage of rain for the container grower is that it relieves you of the job of lugging full watering cans around the place.

It hasn't just been rain up here in Cumbria. We've had some very strong winds which have battered the tatie tops and broad beans so I've been doing my support act with sticks and string. I've also had to tie some of the asparagus ferns to canes to stop them whipping around.

But it's not all bad news. I picked some strawberries from the greenhouse this afternoon. Only four so not enough to go round so I ate them all. The hanging basket is another of those useful things that got washed up on marsh. I'm tempted to buy a couple more and grow more strawbs in the greenhouse next year. Oh, but then I'd have to share ;-)
We had more new potatoes for tea tonight. Just under two pounds of Lady Christl from two plants. Not a lot but you don't grow first earlies for the yield. It's all about the taste.

As a warning to those thinking of putting out tender plants too early I offer this pic of some young french beans that I left outside the greenhouse for a couple of days. We've not had any low temps. so I suspect this is wind burn.
It's my own fault and I'm sure they'll recover but going from the comfort of the greenhouse to the great outdoors too quickly has certainly upset them.

Friday, 6 May 2011

infected potatoes

There's always something isn't there. I inspected the main potato crop today and found three rather sickly looking plants with what looks very much like potato leaf roll virus. The leaves are a pallid yellowy-green and the plants are half the size of the uninfected ones.

While it is not usually fatal to the plants it does result in greatly reduced yields so I'm just going to remove them and dispose of them carefully. ie. not on the compost heap. What is annoying is that I make a point of only buying certified seed.

On a lighter note last night's rain was very welcome. I now have one water butt full so if we get a few more heavy downpours I should be OK water-wise for a few days at least.

The annual war against the cabbage white butterflies in now under way and I've covered the brassicas with debris netting. Not a pretty sight but I spent far too long last year picking-off caterpillars when I could have been doing something more productive.

Here's some Primo cabbage inter-cropped with lettuce although the lettuce seems to be coming off rather badly in the growth game. The close spacing of the cabbage is because this is miniature variety and only produces a small head - perfect for just two people.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

first strawberry

Last week I had the first new potatoes of the season and today it was the first strawberry. As you can see it's a big ugly thing but it certainly tasted like a strawberry. Oddly, all the others on the two plants are much smaller and still green. These are in a hanging basket in the greenhouse and the little sticks are to keep the fruit off the compost.
It's been a funny year so far with everything much earlier than last but, of course, if we get a rotten summer all the gains will be lost. My experiments at getting early crops by starting things off in the greenhouse are paying dividends but it could all have gone wrong if the weather in April had not been so kind. I'll probably do the same again next year but will invest in some sort of heating just in case.

At the last count I had 105 containers with growing crops in them and I've yet to pot up most of the tomatoes and all the peppers, cucumbers and aubergines. This has only been possible because I make my own compost.

Last year I bought a big tub of pelleted chicken manure and one of BFB and these are the only commercial fertilizers I use apart from some tomato feed for the greenhouse crops. I do make a lot of seaweed tea, nettle tea and various other smelly concoctions and gather wood ash from various burning operations hereabouts. I really like the idea of a closed system where very little is brought in from outside and as much kitchen and garden waste as I can get hold of is composted. I'm even now recycling the compost from the first container of potatoes that I emptied last week. With a little added BFB it's now home to some lollo rossa lettuce transplants and when they are finished it's going on the compost heap. I can sometimes get three crops from the same compost but potatoes are very hungry and there is not likely to be much left when they've finished feeding!