Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Halloon Germination Update

Yesterday, I wrote about some Halloon seeds that I had managed to get hold of from a "Growing Exotics" training session by Garden Organics Sowing New Seeds Project.

This morning I was really shocked to see that the seeds have germinated already.  The funny thing is, I hadn't actually got round to watering them and I was thinking - I must really give them a water to start them off.  To be fair the compost I used was ever so slightly damp and that must have been enough to start them off.  I will take note that the slightest bit of water works wonders!!

I wonder how they will grow... I know they are an edible, suspect that they are a salad type leaf with a bit of spice but at this stage it is still all a complete adventure!

Do you know anything about Halloon?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Growing Exotics

Bengali Chilli
Last month, my Master Gardener training was on growing exotics and I was completely seduced to trying to grow all sort of new and unusual vegetables.  The training consisted of a morning training session followed by an afternoon walking around Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses and seeing the sheer variety of exotic crops being grown there.  It really lifted the lid on a whole new world of growing possibilities.
Hungarian Hot Wax

Following the training, I was bursting with enthusiasm to grow all sorts of things but I'm rather limited in space and don't have access to a green house.  No matter, there are still a lot of things you can grow outside and on windowsills.  The main new additions are my ever increasing collection of chillies.  I was already growing Real Seeds Nigel's Outdoor Chilli, Cherry Bomb, Hungarian Hot Wax and a Bulgarian Carrot.  After the training I added a Bengali Chilli and a Cashmere Chilli to my collection kindly given to me from the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses.  If you have experience of growing these, please tell me how they grow and taste as this is a new project for me.
Bulgarian Carrot
I have now got to the stage where I need at least one chilli plant growing at any one time.  As and when I lose one, I will germinate another.

Apart from increasing a passion for growing chillies, I also got hold of some Halloon seeds and some Fenugreek.  I sowed these seeds this morning and am intending to grow them on sunny windowsills throughout the winter to brighten up meals with their flavoursome leaves.  Watch this space to see how I get on!

Garden Organic's inspiration for the exotic flavour of my latest training was inspired by their sowing new seeds project which is currently running in the Midlands.  The project has uncovered many varieties of exotic crops that are adapted to the British climate through allotmenteers and home growers cultivating and saving seeds over several generations. Here's some information on the project http://www.sowingnewseeds.org.uk/

The Chelsea Physic Garden is also growing exotic crops with their spice garden.  Some of the plants they are growing are turmeric, ginger, black pepper, mustard and chillies to name but a few of the variety of plants currently growing in the exhibition bed Chelsea Physic Garden Spice Garden

Are you growing any exotic or unusual edibles? 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Asparagus Peas

One of my new experimental crops I'm trying for the first time this year are Asparagus Peas.  They have these lovely deep red blossoms that result in a very interesting looking peapod.

Researching on the web, they are a sort of poor man's asparagus as they are said to have a similar flavour and consistency and don't require a trench or a 3 year wait for the first harvest.  Just cook in butter with a little salt.  I'm not sure they taste like asparagus, but an interesting pod nevertheless.

Their seeds are sown directly in their growing position late May.  I planted them at the base of my peas so that I had something new to take over when the peas died back.

I've had a reasonable yield from them if compared to the pea harvests, but I think they are more suited to a larger plot than grown in a container.

However, in their favour, they have continued to crop when other harvests have dwindled in our not particularly disappointing British summer.

A very interesting novelty crop to experiment with as the pods look so interesting and the flowers so pretty.  It's always fun having something new to experiment with in the kitchen.

Maybe a good one to try with children as they can be sown outdoors, are quick to germinate and have their curious looking pods.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Community Gardening

City dwellers often find frustratingly long allotment waiting lists and for many getting an allotment is just a pipe dream.  In my area, allotment lists are 8 years long.  But there are other gardening opportunities for those with no space of their own...
Another option is to find wasted spaces of land near you and find out who owns it.  You  might be pleasantly surprised who will be willing to let you turn a disused space into an edible oasis.

You can also try asking your Council.  According to the Landshare site:
"Did you know that your council has a legal duty to provide you with an allotment? You just need a group of 6 council tax paying residents and to make a written application".
I garden and mentor at the Bramford Community Garden which is situated in a public park in Wandsworth.  Here's more information about the garden Bramford Community Garden
Sowing the pictorial meadow

Bramford Community Garden is a Transition Town Wandsworth initiative and they have been growing on the site since August 2010.  In the garden there are edibles, ornamentals and even a few areas of a pictorial annual flower meadow.  So I guess you could call it an ornamental edible garden (it's about 50/50 of each).  We don't have designated areas that we garden but rather, all garden the beds together, weeding, planting, etc and share out the produce.
They are now receiving very positive feedback from the local community who see the garden develop.

Gardening at a community garden is a lovely experience for many reasons.  Here are some of mine:  
  • In big cities, many people don't have growing space so it provides more opportunity to grow your own and garden
  • Gardening is good for the soul and can be stress relieving, therapeutic and an escape from the hustle and bustle of a busy working life
  •  There is nothing that beats cooking and eating food you've grown yourself, its worth so much more than its equivalent value in the supermarket and always tastes amazing fresh from the earth
  •  Meeting new faces and making friends in your community - the social aspect of gardening in groups
  • Share out crops to take home
    Pictorial Meadow
Shaping the herb spiral
 I joined the garden back in February 2011 when they requested help from a Master Gardener through Garden Organic's Master Gardener Programme and since joining I have inspired the idea of building a herb spiral which we all built by moving lots of compost onto a bed to create the spiral and planted lots of herbs and a great big horseradish back in April 2011.  I also donated and planted a few large perennials which would have never succeeded in my small garden (globe artichoke, rhubarb), brought the garden many seedlings which I propogated in May and transported over in an interesting fashion on my bicycle!  And I continue to bring ideas and inspirations of growing and cooking your own food.
Freshly completed herb spiral

In return, I've made some really lovely friends with people who have similar interests in wild life and eating seasonal garden produce.  I've also had quite a few extra veggies to take home and cook with.  For me, the really amazing benefit has been the opportunity to grow the larger perennials, to participate and experiment in larger scale garden projects and have another garden to compare my home experimentations to.  What's in season at the Bramford Community Garden is not necessarily the same as what's in season in my small garden.  I find the community garden is usually a few weeks ahead of my garden which is interesting as my home garden is south facing and sheltered and the community garden a north facing garden which is highly exposed.  However, it is always good to have some comparisons to draw from.
Established herb spiral

If you would like to come and garden at the Bramford Community Garden please email me.  It would be great to have more growers to garden with us.

If you don't live in Wandsworth, there could be a community garden near you.  Take a look at Hugh's Landshare  site.

    Friday, 12 August 2011

    Zapallito de Toscana

    I'm growing a fabulous squash in my garden.  It's called Zapallito de Toscana and I got hold of the seeds from Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library.

    They were easy to germinate.  Well, easier than the courgette seeds.

    They were strong seedlings.  I could tell that they would be feisty growers!

    I planted these two seedlings out into their final planters with a courgette plant.

    They are the perfect squash for a small garden as they grow in a bush style rather than the squash that like to crawl all over your garden.  They just need a decent depth of soil (like the planter in the picture).  They also would grow very well in potato planters.  Anything which allows them a good depth for their root run.

    They are hungry feeders with a good appetite for water too.  Give them water whenever its not raining and feed them once a week with the richest feed you have (I feed mine with worm tea from my wormery) and in return they will reward you with many squashes.
    One of the major benefits of this squash is even if you have a glut, you don't need to eat them or cook them all up at once as you would courgettes.  As they grow bigger they form a hard skin which means they can be stored and eaten into Autumn.

    Another benefit is, when harvested they will have grown their seeds to a large enough size to be able to save them.  Just be sure to pollinate the fruit yourself to ensure the seeds are actually a Zapallito de Toscana.  In order to do this, I check the flowers at breakfast time and have a look for any open female flowers.  Once I've found one I hunt for an open male flower from the same plant or exactly the same variety, in this case another Zapallito de Toscana.  I pick the male flower and remove all the petals.  I brush the stamen (the male sex part of the flower) over the stigma (the female sex part of the flower) and then leave the stamen inside the female flower.  I then use an elastic band to shut the female flower to ensure no pollinating insects can get into the flower.  Once the flower starts to die away I move the elastic band on to the base of the fruit so that I can identify a fruit that I have pollinated.

    The benefit of pollinating a squash plant is that it will ensure that the seeds you save will produce the squash you want.  Squashes cross pollinate very easily and you will probably get a mix of all the squashes with open flowers on a given morning being grown in your street or allotment.  You can never be sure what you will get.  Although, the experimenter in me would like to grow one of these insect pollinated ones just to see what I would get!  

    So there you have it... Zapallito de Toscana...

    1.  Great for a small patio garden due to its bush growing habit
    2.  Grows fruits that can be eaten straight away or stored for later use
    3.  Easy to save seed from (once pollinated by a gardener)
    Squash recipes:
    Courgette Humus
    Good Summer Roast

    More squash inspired garden blogs:
    Gem Squash, the intrepid explorer
    Passion for growning cucurbits

    Monday, 1 August 2011

    Gem Squash - The Intrepid Explorer

    This year, I am trying to grow gem squash for the first time.

    I was inspired to try growing them by some South Africans that I got into conversation with about 2am one morning.  We got onto the conversation of my passion of growing veg - a conversation that seems to occur rather regularly!!  Then they told me about a squash that was very readily available in South Africa but very difficult to find in the UK and they loved the taste of it.  They got the laptop googled "gem squash" to show me pictures of the squash.  Their enthusiasm for this vegetable inspired me and I added it to my seed wish list for this season's planting.

    So now I have this lovely cucurbit growing in my back garden.

    Its quite a small cucurbit plant.  The leaves are relatively modest compared to its neighbours. It is a cucurbita pepo and shares the same latin name as the courgette which is also a cucurbita pepo.
    The gem squash germinated really easily with all seeds germinating.  It did try to keep them at around 18-20 degrees centigrade during germination and the soil moist not wet as cucurbit seeds do have a tendency to rot very easily if kept too damp.

    Out of the 6 that I germinated, I kept 2 and gave the other 4 away to the community gardens I support through my Master Gardener volunteer role. 

    I did notice early on that they were developing into rather small squash plants but soon they were clambering all over the place, and started to crawl up my landlords shrubs.

    I was very proud.  I love opportunistic veg!

    But this morning I noticed something even better...  The most gutsy out of the two plants has started to climb the netting on the garden fence.  Fantastic!!

    I am really hoping that eventually they will start to climb the sunflowers... but we will have to see

    I am really looking forward to cooking with their fruit, but until that time, they are certainly going to keep me very entertained with their climbing habits!