Tuesday, 28 June 2011

more seaweed!

Down to the shore today to collect four sacks of dry seaweed. This has been thrown up by the big tides and has just lain there drying in the sun. When I get round to it I’ll crush it all up fine and use it as a base dressing on next year’s crops. I do like seaweed as a plant food.

I don't suppose many people want to see pictures of seaweed so this one is of the Solway shore looking across to Scotland. Lots of interesting stuff gets washed up along here. I could easily have filled up the car with driftwood. Must get a woodburning stove.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Some gardeners talk about their gardens being a kind of organized chaos. Seemingly haphazard plantings give an impression of natural growth just springing up of its own accord but there is far more thought goes into these things than one might imagine.

My own garden would terrify those folks who like things in neat rows.

On the face of it this patch looks as if all the veggies are fighting for survival.

No neat rows, no crop rotation, just a wild and tangled mass of plants. There’s peas, onions, broad beans, beetroot, potatoes, nasturtiums, marigolds, lettuce, carrots, parsnips and turnips all doing well and promising a bumper crop. In the background the soft fruit bushes mingle with flowering shrubs and the assorted containers have even more plant varieties.

The netting is not very pretty but is essential to keep some crops protected from predators.

The idea of all this ‘wildness’ is to attract as many types of beneficial creatures as possible and,  apart from an aphid infestation on the currnats, I’ve had no pest problems at all so far this year. The plants are generally very healthy and thus more able to withstand attacks by pests and diseases. Around the edges of the garden are lots of undisturbed areas with piles of decaying vegatation which are home to frogs and hedgehogs. They, of course, eat slugs and snails, as do the many birds which nest in the vicinity.

Companion planting of onions and carrots close together does seem to deter root fly and the marigolds and nasturtiums also seem to play their part in keeping some of the nasties at bay. Close spacing means that weeds are not a problem either once the crops get established. So, no digging, very little weeding, what more could you ask for?

Another view, complete with dog and more containers. Herbs grow along the front to get maximum sunlight.

Marjoram, mint, rosemary and summer savoury with a young gooseberry bush behind.


All this luxuriant growth comes about as a result of a very healthy soil which has taken five years to achieve but which is easily maintained if you recycle and compost as much waste as you can.

I realize this kind of arrangement will not be to everyone’s taste. Some folks like neat rows of the same plant and get excellent results that way. I like my chaos, it works for me and I feel comfortable with the idea that I’m not in a constant battle against nature.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

fruity progress...

After the gale force winds we had in May I was unsure about how much of a fruit crop I would be harvesting this year. The tree fruits suffered badly from wind burn of the leaves and there was a severe thinning of the little fruitlets. But all is not lost. You’ll see from the pics that I should be having a fruity summer and autumn!!
cherries are starting to get their first blush of pink
Apples. Not sure of the variety but this tree has consistently given us 50lbs. plus each year
The conference pear was badly hit by the winds but it still has some fruit
Blackcurrents ripening
Redcurrants almost ready
The strawberries, being ground-huggers, were largely unaffected by the weather and we've had quite a few pickings. When we get sick of eating them I'll start on the jam-making. I'll try not to make so much jam this year and may have a go at making fruit smoothies. These can be frozen and then if you blitz them they end up like a kind of sorbet. (he said hopefully, having never done it before)

Thursday, 16 June 2011


I was wondering today how many people still grow lettuce in straight rows. When I started this particular garden five years ago lettuce was one of the first crops that I decided was more effectively grown in containers or simply dotted about the plot. As I mostly grow loose-leaf types this is easy but I even have cos and other hearting types growing in pots or interspersed among other veg.

Lollo rossa, my favourite. It looks like a plant pot with an afro haircut!
Webbs wonderful. You can just pick the leaves or wait for it to heart up
Endives. Not quite lettuce but close enough
Romaine Ballon. A huge cos type lettuce with heads weighing up to two pounds (1kg)
As well as the varieties shown above I also grow Winter Density and A.Y.R. for use in the colder months. Some of these survived last winter in the unheated greenhouse when outside temps dipped to -18 and then they perked up in February to give us a very early crop. 

I tend to eat a little bit most days, either in a sandwich for lunch or as a garnish. The loose-leaf types are much better for this as you can just keep picking off leaves over a long period so you don't have to sow more than you need. I have a strong suspicion that more lettuce gets wasted than gets eaten because people sow far more than they can cope with. Sowing individual seeds is a bit of a faff as they are quite small but it's quite easy with a bit of practice and if you grow in pots it's the only way.

Here's another interesting fact. When I was a young chap I went out with a student nurse called Lettuce. I wonder if she grows her own veg?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

weeds fighting back

Spent the morning weeding in the jungly bits of the garden. I like the wild areas because they are a refuge for all sorts of creatures but they do keep trying to encroach on the cultivated bits, hence the need for an occasional foray with sickle and secateurs. A particularly vicious and vigorous bramble bush decided to fight back and not even heavy duty leather gloves could keep out the spines.

A lush crop of weeds means a lush crop of everything else but they might as well earn their keep instead of just being a nuisance. I cut top off a 5 gallon plastic drum and filled it with perennial weeds then covered with water. They can stew in there for a month to make a liquid feed then the smelly remains can go on the compost heap. There was quite a lot of goose-grass and nettles, both of which are edible, but I’m not that desperate for food. I have made nettle soup in the past and it was very tasty but as it was very warm today, a nice salad was more appropriate.

The plot has now got to the stage where we can harvest something every day. Today it was cos lettuce, spring onions, radishes and potatoes. Oh, and a few nasturtium leaves as well. I also couldn't resist the temptation to pick a broad bean pod. Not quite ready yet but they should be perfect in a week or so.

Today's picture is my tattie barrow. It contains five Carlingford second earlies and once they're out I'll put another crop of something in there. Probably lettuce but I have a couple of courgette plants looking for a home.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Picked the first of the outdoor strawberries today and they were delicious. Not sure of the variety as I have three different types to give a decent season but they were big and juicy. These have had some high potash tomato feed as soon as the fruit got to a reasonable size and also my infamous seaweed concoction. Something seems to have worked.

The elderflower champagne has been bottled and is fizzing away nicely. In fact I had to release the caps to let out some of the gas. If anyone is making this stuff and using corks in glass bottles be prepared for corks flying round the room and sticky fizz all over the place. It really does produce a lot of gas!

Had some baby carrots with our tea tonight. During the winter we are obliged to buy carrots as I don’t have enough space to grow large amounts and the difference in taste is amazing. Shop-bought ones still taste of carrots but it’s the sweetness of the freshly pulled ones that you have to taste to believe. I’m growing a few more containers of carrots this year but unfortunately not enough to keep us through the winter months.

Just had a thought. As the potato containers are emptied I could re-use the compost for carrots....but then I’d have to find somewhere to put them because the tatie ground is going to be home to leeks and possibly winter cabbage. Hmmm, some serious thinking to be done. My wife will say forget the leeks but, being a northern lad, I can’t do without leeks. It would be like asking an Italian to forgo his pasta!!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

flaming June????

At the moment June is turning out to be very much like May. Cool with winds and heavy showers and not a great deal of sunshine. The soft fruits are ripening but only slowly and I’ve noticed a lot of wind-burn on the apple tree leaves. Whether this will have a detrimental effect on yields we’ll just have to wait and see.
gooseberries slowly ripening
I picked just under two pounds of goosegogs which I'll freeze as I really didn't fancy fruit pie or jam making today.

I’m still making small successional sowings so that we have a continuous supply of fresh produce. Today I’ve sowed more carrots, beetroot and lettuce and have planted out two cabbages to fill gaps left by stuff we’ve already harvested.

Several tomato plants have set fruit which is swelling nicely but the lack of sun is really unwelcome at this time of year.

Having sterilized some brewing equipment (plastic bucket and wooden spoon) I was determined to pick elderflowers this morning but it was chucking it down so I’ll wait till the sun comes out. I have the fizzy pop bottles ready and waiting to be filled with elderflower champagne then we’ll be sipping our home-brew as the sun sinks slowly in the west after a glorious summers day. (dream on....this is Cumbria. You’ll be sat outside in your plastic mac)

During the winter we get thousands of geese on the marshes and the local wildfowlers are allowed to take certain species. Interestingly it is illegal to sell a dead wild goose but we got a couple of dressed birds from a neighbour last winter and put them in the freezer. For today's main meal we had goose breast with home-grown new potatoes, baby carrots and cabbage. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

container update

The recent rain and cool weather have meant that I haven't been spending most of my time keeping the containers watered. All the crops are growing away nicely as the pictures show.
beetroot and parsnips
lollo rossa lettuce
There's lots of other stuff storming away including the first fruits on the greenhouse tomatoes and lots of flowers on the sweet peppers. Blackcurrants and gooseberries are ripening so all I need now is more sunshine and less creepy-crawlies.

Friday, 3 June 2011

crows and buzzards

Sitting in the garden this evening I watched two crows harrying a buzzard that had strayed into their territory. Crows in particular seem to really resent the presence of buzzards and will always have a go at them. The buzzards, being larger, are not really bothered but usually leave as they seem to prefer an easy life. After all, what could be better than lazily circling round and up on a thermal and just watching the world below.

Harvested more new potatoes and a cabbage for our evening meal. (we didn’t just have spuds and cabbage, that would have been very dull!).
a home-grown cabbage
The cabbage and lettuce seem to be doing exceptionally well this year but I think potato yields are down on previous years. We had a very cool and overcast May which must have set them back after the sunny April.

What has suffered badly from the weather is the tree fruit crop. The storms of a few weeks ago have caused a lot of wind-burn with many browned and curled leaves. The fruitlets have also dropped in their hundreds, far more than the traditional June drop. But that's gardening for you. Never two years the same and you never know what sort of crop you'll get till you actually harvest it.