Friday, 27 May 2011

The effects of the lovely rain

Yesterday, in South London we had the first real rain showers since I think late April when we had a big thunder storm.

This morning I wondered through the garden at breakfast time (as is my morning ritual) looking for any new shoots and new signs of life/flowers when I stumbled upon the strawberries.  These strawberries arrived through the post as bare root plants last Friday with only little stumps where the leaves would sprout from.  Two days ago I gave them a little feed from the worm farm and yesterday mother nature decided to help me along too with some wonderful bursts of sheet rain.  All in all both of these have had a marvelous effect on these lovely strawberries. 
The interesting thing about rain water is that plants always look so much better after natural rainfall rather than from tap water.  Especially London water with its hard, lime scale.  Sure they need the tap water when nothing's coming from the sky, but there's something in the rain that just adds pure vitality to plants.

Ever the optimist, I am now even starting to hold out hope for some strawberries in around a month's time.  Maybe a little more rain please?  I shall keep you posted...

In the meantime, I shall continue to be grateful for yesterday's rain as the garden is looking even more lush than earlier this week.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ricard's Lodge School Gardening Club - The Garden in May

At Ricard's Lodge School there is a school gardening club and edibles plot.  The girls have been growing all their edibles from seed and its proving quite popular.  They started their efforts back in March and its really starting to look like something special now.

The garden is looked after by the girls in Year 7 and volunteers which include myself, Joyce, Juliet, Belinda and Jill. 

It is really starting to come together and this week we harvested our first crop - lovely lettuces!

I came with sunflowers, Belinda came with worm feed from her home wormery to feed the crops, Juliet and Jill brought support canes and Jill came armed with some knee pads for some speedy weeding.

 Joyce tried to loosen up the ground at the back of the wall.  The ground really is solid with lots of stones and no rain for weeks has made this bit of ground rock solid.

Belinda diluting the worm feed.  1/3 worm feed to 2/3 water.

Juliet supporting the beans

Jill making sure everything is thoroughly watered.

Can't wait til the next gardening club!

The garden's starting to look lush again

Lately I've been feeling like the garden's starting to take shape and look like a well populated edible garden again.  Through the winter months I only had chives, rainbow chard, rosemary, sage, garlic and a trough of carrots/parsnips I  planted last spring.  Now as I stroll through my garden having a nose at what's going on its starting to feel... well like I have company again!

The tomatoes are starting to come along

the strawberries are making an appearance (these arrived just last week from bare root stock)

the french beans are climbing away,

the peas are flowering (I really like raw peas!).  I've counted 6 flowers so far and they've grown another foot since my pea blog 10 days ago.

the turnips are sprouting,

The pepper plant has lots of flowers.  (I think this is a capsicum judging by the leaves, it just sprouted from some soil and last year I grew both chillies and capsicums)

the tops of the potatoes are huge and look like they want to escape the potato bag I planted them in!

.... it really feels like my edible garden is starting to happen.

I am currently eating chard salads, radishes and making tea from the garden (mint and lemon verbena).  My cooking is being flavoured with chives, basil and coriander.

Every day I water and I look out for anything new - seeds that have sprouted, any new leaves, flower buds, etc.  I like this habit as it also means I spot the pests early and the aphids are enjoying this time in my garden as much as I am - squishing fingers at the ready (I garden organically).

I'm experimenting with turnips for the first time this year.  They came in a lucky dip seed packet from the Heritage Seed Library.  Normally I wouldn't choose them as my parents didn't grow this vegetable on the small holding when I was a child so it just isn't a habit in my family to grow them, but as I had some seed it was too good an opportunity to grow some and try it for myself.

Last week I sowed some Kai Lan seeds.  They came highly recommended by Mark Diacono and are perennial.  I am currently very interested in perennial edibles, especially plants that have ornamental appeal as well as the essential edible appeal.  I am always inspired to try new edibles, but the ornamental factor is inspired by my day job in my local garden centre.  The punters like things that look pretty.  If you have discovered any good perennial edibles lately, please do let me know as I love to experiment.  Even better if they can be grown in pots :)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The virtues of growing Chard

I feel the need to extoll the virtues of chard as it is such a great vegetable for the hungry gap while you wait for the other crops to get started.

It looks good too.  Very lush looking leaves and if you invest in the "bright lights" variety they even add beautiful coloured stems to the garden.  They can even be mixed in with the ornamentals for their richly coloured stems and their proud bouncy looking leaves.

They are a biennial and survive our cold winters.  So while nothing else is growing in the garden the chard will still be soldiering on.  They do prefer a sunny position but if you are short of space they will grow in the more shady areas of your growing space.

For the kitchen, the leaves can be eaten young (when about 2 inch long) in salads or they can be allowed to grow bigger and steamed a la spinach style.  In my container garden I am growing them in a rectangular trough and am going for eating them as a salad crop.  Every 3 days I have a fresh crop  of cut and come again leaves to make into a delicious salad - Now that's what I call reliable!!  And they are jam packed with lots and lots of vitamins, even more so if you eat them within minutes of picking.  I like to mix them with chopped salad onions.  I recently tried them in a fritatta and they worked really well (here's the recipe Fritatta with chard).

They grow incredibly happily in small containers making them a patio gardener's best friend.  Last year (the first time I sowed some seeds of chard) I grew them in a recycled portabello mushroom container and they are still growing strong (germination April 2010).  This was my first introduction to this eager lush vegetable and I have never been disappointed!

Working on the One Pot Pledge stand for Garden Organic a few weeks ago, children had the choice of potting up rocket or chard and the majority chose to pot the chard to take home with them.  So that just goes to show it's not just me, kids love it too!

Some chard recipes:
Chard and Calendula Salad
Chard Fritatta

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Peas Please!

I am impatiently waiting for some pea flowers because the arrival of flowers means the promise of pea pods and I do love fresh peas straight out of the pod.  So does my boyfriend but he won't be able to compete with me to eat the fresh peas this year as he will miss the season - more peas for me!

I have loved eating raw peas out of the pod from childhood when I used to hide in the middle of my father's pea patch feasting on the peas straight out of the pod.  I bet I left a bundle of discarded pods in my wake!

As I am so impatient for peas (and many other crops) I keep a gardening diary.  I've been keeping a gardening diary for 3 years now and I really need them!  They help manage my expectations.  In my diary I record date of sowing, date of germination, date of first flower, date of first fruit and I also record quantity of yields per edible. This year I have started to record the temperature and whether sunny/rainy.  It can all have an impact on the growing season.

In my impatience to see pea flowers yesterday I hit my 2010 diary - pea flowers first sighted on 22nd May... that's just over a week away.  Not long now and I'll be devouring my own pea patch.  I will try and not eat all the pods of the Heritage Seed Library variety or I will be letting them down!

The varieties I am growing this year:  Duchy Originals - Ambassador F1, Heritage Seed Library - Purple Pod, Real Seed Early Dwarf Pea Hatif d'Annonay, Mic's Peas (Mic Linz my neighbour's saved seed). All seeds sown 25.03.11