Monday, 19 November 2012

Quinoa Quest

I have recently started volunteering at the wonderful site that is Urban Veg, a whole acre within the gorgeous Winterbourne Botanical Gardens.

With so much space and a patch of ground that needs a crop, I was inspired to suggest quinoa, rainbow quinoa to be exact.  I know Real Seeds can provide the seeds, I've never grown it before (so there's the adventure of growing something a bit different) and the idea of this multi coloured super food crop is both beautiful, nutritious and something I'm really eager to try.

So far I've been asking a few friends who've grown it before what they're experiences are.  Fiona (Viveka Gardens) said that it was OK to germinate but went really leggy before planting out despite putting tin foil underneath their pots (to try and counteract the leaning towards the light effect).  Fiona blogged about Quinoa earlier in the year.

At the Urban Veg garden on Sunday, we pondered over the instructions - puzzled as to why Realseeds suggest sowing seeds as late as May on the seed packet.

We wondered whether the reason was due to daylight sensitivity, after all they originate from the Andes.  Cool in temperature but quite close to the equator.

From my many recent twitter discussions (thank you to all who shared their experiences) I think it may be to avoid planting out very leggy, pale seedlings.

However, the scientist in me wants to run an experiment of planting a few seeds weekly from March (to test which is the best time to sow in the UK) and then plant out the best seedlings in final growing position in late May/early June depending on how favourable the weather is next summer.

In any case, when I start growing quinoa I'm sure my vast experience of growing chard will come into play as it is a fellow chenopod favouring similar growing conditions and an alkaline soil.

Any quinoa tips would be massively appreciated  before we venture into our very own quinoa experiment next Spring.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Preparing the garlic bed

Its way way time to plant my garlic.  I usually aim to do this in October, but we had a holiday away in Singapore and with the nights drawing in its hard to find time in the garden.

However, we had it today.  There was pleasant sunshine, if a little cold but a fair autumnal day all the same.

So I set myself to the task of preparing the beds for garlic and shallots.  I decided upon the spot where the peas grew this summer.  Some of the pea plants had not quite given up the ghost, but it's time for the garlic all the same.  Its unlikely the few flowers I spotted would materialise into peas.

Interestingly this year, peas were the most surprising of my veg plot survivors.  I planted them in April, they took a long time to appear as the ground was not warm (I thought the birds were stealing them but I'm pretty sure now it was the ground temperature preventing them from germinating) and then from July through to late September they just kept producing peas.  Usually the heat of July kills them off but as we had such a cool summer, they survived through the summer into autumn.  But today it was time to turn the soil to its next occupant.

The old pea shoots were added to the wormery for my worms to chew their way through and turn into wonderful worm casts.  Then I started to weed the bed.  The soil that the peas had been inhabiting now looks incredibly rich and loamy.  The weeds were easy to pull as the ground is nice and moist.  As I was weeding away, it made me think how much we get to know our soil from weeding.  The aromas, the weeds that succeed there, it tells us so much.

And what weeds was I finding in the soil today?  Well as the veg patch was a grassed over patch of earth some 6 months ago, there was plenty of grass.  There were also a few docks and their long tap roots and buttercups.  There was also the aroma of mushrooms and interestingly a strong aroma of carrots being pulled.  I have never planted anything from the carrot family there so can only assume that there was a wild member of the carrot growing away happily until I chose to weed.

I was not surprised to smell mushrooms as my garden seems to be full of them at the moment.  As to what kind, I have no idea as yet but I am eager to find a local mushroom foraging course and as soon as I know more I will be able to share. 

If you know of any Midlands based fungi foraging walks please do pass the details on to me.

As with usual gardening sessions in November, I started to lose the light and my fingers and toes started to get very cold so I only have 2 sections out of 3 prepared for my garlic and shallots but I am hoping for another fair afternoon tomorrow to get those bulbs planted in.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The wormery method of seed sowing

Whilst visiting Fiona Law in London recently I made her laugh with one of my latest gardening anecdotes so I thought I would share it. 

In my garden in Birmingham I wanted some poppies to grow, but they didn't seem to want to grow where I wanted so I tipped the seed into my wormery.  I later distributed the worm compost around the garden and I found that the poppies just started growing where the positions were right for them.  (i.e. in the recently disturbed soil on the veg plot!)

So I guess if you are struggling to grow any seeds and you have a wormery, chuck them in with your veg waste and they will grow in your garden in their favourite growing position!

I also use this "chuck it into the wormery method" if I think seeds are passed their best and won't sow.  My original thinking was that it is vegetable material that the worms can make use of.  I often find the seeds I have given up on germinating grow randomly around the garden.

I love plants self seeding in their chosen position - a little chaos in the garden of your favourite friends is a good thing in my book.

A Weekend in London meeting fellow Grow Your Owners

I recently went to visit fellow gardening friends in the big smoke that is London.  It's funny going back after living there up until 6 months ago.  Forgot how everything seems closer together - the streets are narrower and you are in much closer proximity to people on public transport than in more roomy Birmingham (or my version of living in Birmingham at least).

Despite London's crowdedness, there's lots of amazing urban gardening going on, brilliantly joined up by the wonderful  Come on you brummies with green projects - just start posting your projects and events on this brilliant website and we'll all be joined up in Birmingham too.  

I went to see two London projects, the Lambeth Poly and Transition Town Wandsworth's Bramford Community Garden

The lead for the Lambeth Poly is Fiona Law AKA for three days a week is the brilliant South London Master Gardener Coordinator - an essential link and support to the garden army of South London Master Gardeners (and I should know as I was a very enthused and passionate Master Gardener until I moved to Birmingham last April!)

The Lambeth Poly "is a community initiative to grow skills, food resilience and social enterprise."  This is the first project and the vision is to have more polytunnels in the area supplying salad leaves and stir fry leaves to the local community, run by the local community.  The aim is to have more of these polytunnels in other areas of Lambeth.  This really looks like something that could be done in other cities/urban community areas around the UK - especially Birmingham.

Whilst catching up with Fiona and sharing news, I gave her some seeds I'd saved from my garden that I thought may make a useful addition to the Lambeth Poly offerings.  Well one to trial at the very least - one of my favourites: Kai Lan.

Later on I caught up with Miranda, the powerhouse behind Transition Town Wandsworth's Bramford Community Garden.  We shared news and she updated me on how Bramford Garden is going.

I updated Miranda on the Lambeth Poly and she suggested the idea of a pop up greenhouse or a poly tunnel on wheels for vacant areas not being used - ingenious!

Some of you may remember that I used to blog about Bramford Garden from time to time as I mentored at the garden and got my hands dirty there every Sunday until I moved away to Birmingham.  Happy days and happy memories so I really wanted to go back and see how the garden's was going. 

Of course there was lots going on in the garden.  The globe artichoke I planted well over a year ago flowered this summer.  I planted it when I didn't have a garden with sufficient room to grow one of these beauties.  The flower was so beautiful Bramford Gardeners didn't have the heart to harvest it!  Miranda was concerned that it was dying off but the only part that had dried up was the flower stalk.  Like a good perennial, it had divided and there were fresh green shoots at the base.  I was so pleased to see it - all those feeds of worm tea from my wormery had naturally paid off.

I was also really pleased to see the rhubarb.  I also planted this on site as my garden was too small.  They'd had a good harvest from the rhubarb about a month after my departure to Birmingham.  Another plant that really benefited from lots of worm tea feeding.

Actually my parting gift to the garden was a few bottles of worm tea!!

There were lots of cabbage growing and looking so healthy in the garden.  Naturally brassicas are doing great all over the country as they are particularly suited to our climate.  There were also really lovely flowers growing at all the edges and the compost had really come along.

I'd brought some saved Kai Lan seeds for Bramford Garden too so I planted them in one of the beds.  They can take their leaves as cut and come again and if they forget to harvest the leaves, they'll get some lovely white flowers that can also be eaten or left to fully go to seed and allowed to self seed if they want some more new shoots.

They have a few new garden members, one of which is Mustafa who seems to really love gardening.  A recent convert I believe.

Naturally, at the end of the gardening session, any harvested veg was divided out between gardeners so I had some lovely potatoes which came back with me in my rucksack for my kitchen stocks.

I really miss being involved with all of these gardening projects and going back reminded me how involved I was and how much food I used to get from gardening and mentoring local growers in Wandsworth.

I have recently been to see the Urban Veg garden at Winterbourne House and Gardens and have high hopes for involvement in that project.  It will be a project that I can bring all the lessons learned in London through working with school gardens and community gardens and build on that knowledge further.
And I am really looking forward to my future visits to London to share stories and experiences of growing in these two cities.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Astounded by Peas

Its Friday night, most people when they finish work would be enjoying a nice glass of wine and relaxing... except for the avid gardeners of Birmingham - I would guess that quite a few wandered over to the new Urban Veg garden at Winterbourne Botanical Gardens to have a nose at the new project.  Its an amazing space.  I can't wait to see how it develops and I had a lovely chat with the Birmingham Organic Group.

Such beautiful edible pea flowers.  Easy to see their relation to sweet peas
Arriving home in the dark and still with the glow of having seen such beautiful vegetable specimens I thought I'd wander over to my veg patch.  With the recent rain the patch is looking very lush and I'd weeded recently so it looks good - just lush lovely veg.  (We won't talk about the winter squash with pitifully small fruit for the moment!)

I was particularly impressed to see that the peas are very much alive and still producing.  Other things have performed poorly but I've never known a summer before when peas haven't died off in July.

The purple coloured pea pods in this picture are the HSL Purple Pods

Its especially the purple peas that don't seem to want to give up.

A delicious flavour to have at this time of the year when I wouldn't ever expect it.  Thank you for surprising me peas!

They are called purple pod and I first got hold of them from Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library. This is the second year I am growing them and this year they were from the seed I'd saved from last year.

I shouldn't be so surprised I suppose, the sweetpeas are still looking lovely and fresh in the autumn garden with their delicate fragrance.

Has any veg surprised you this season?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

From the garden today

I love this time of year when you get all this coming into the kitchen after pottering around the garden in the sunshine

Square foot gardening

A few months back when I was planning my veg plot I spotted an article about square food gardening in the Gardeners World magazine.  I was really inspired to try this and so divided my plot into 50cm2 squares.

Square 50cm2 gardening doesn't have the same ring to it but I'm a girl from the metric generation.

I grow something different in each of the squares depending on size.  I stick to crop groups for each square which lends itself to lots of space for crop rotations rather than big spaces being taken up for one crop type.  It can get difficult having most of the garden in favour of the tomato family (solanaceae) and the winter garden favouring brassicas and onion family but square foot gardening makes it all easier.

Generally I grow 4 varieties from a specific crop group - but it depends on the size of the mature plant.  For example rhubarb, squash and globe artichokes have their own 50cm2 square to themselves.  For roots I grow 4 types of roots in a square, the radish square is 3 different types of radish and some turnips, the onions have a slightly different take as I grow a few carrots in between the onions to help beat the pests. 

I think this method is more pleasing to the eye than rows, especially once the crops get established.  It has a higgledy piggledy view to the on looker (perhaps because of the close planting) but once you get up close you can see how everything is in its own individual zone.  It almost has a potager look about it.

Its easy to weed as well and as everything grows closely together you don't get so many - just a bit more weeding at the start while crops are establishing themselves. 

Interestingly in the mollusc invasion we had which accompanied the intensely wet weather - I didn't notice so much damage in the area where the square foot gardening method really took off.  It mainly took off with the plant groups heavily suited to our temperate climate. 

The mediterranean types didn't develop and so the weeds have dominated there - I've also had the most slug and snail damage in these areas.

Another method I tried in my new garden was the 3 sisters method.  I was growing squash at the base to suppress weeds and store moisture and these were grown at the foot of the beans.  I also grew sunflowers for the beans to climb but whilst the sunflowers were establishing (or desperately trying to survive in our disappointing weather) my boyfriend built climbing frames for them.  This was not the summer for trying such a thing.  The squash didn't grow big enough to over shadow the weeds and the sunflowers I was using in place of sweetcorn just got nobbled by the voracious slugs.

On a happier note, the squash are finally starting to grow now and I see the promise of baby fruit on some so all my efforts and feeding are (fingers and toes crossed!) not lost on my pumpkins and winter squash - they may still have a chance.

Have you tried any new planting methods this season?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Kale not Tomatoes!

A few weeks ago I pulled up some tomatoes.  No, they weren't blight infested... They were just really small.  I didn't think they'd do anything in the current position and crops that don't crop just simply are not pulling their weight.

Bless them, it's not their fault we're having a cool, wet summer.  Its just not the right conditions for them to do their thing.

I wasn't completely ruthless.  I didn't have the heart to chuck them in to the wormery for future plant food - I transplanted them into pots which I placed on the patio near the house.  Its a sheltered spot and a suntrap (when we get it) and are looking a lot happier in their new home.  At present I have hope I may have about 5 tomatoes from my plants!

And what did I do with the new found space in my plot?  The space left was 50cm x 100cm rectangle and I've planted kohl rabi, several varieties of kale, rapini (a bit like kai lan) and some welsh onions.  The welsh onions haven't arrived yet but all the brassica seeds have germinated in lightening speed (a few days - I was just excited by their speediness!)

They are all still babies at the moment but I'm sure these babies will grow into plants pretty soon.  Especially if we get the week we're forecasted - another rainy one coming after our last week's heatwave.  And as I write the drizzle is starting.  Enjoy you little beauties.

On the rest of the plot the rat tail radish and kai lan are both doing well already - both brassicas of course so that will by why.  The kai lan hasn't really made it to the stove as it is so sweet and lush, it's been grazed on on the plot!

This is the first year I'm growing on a veg patch in about 5 years (it's a different mindset in a container garden) so I've started to think about what will be finishing when and what other winter crops I can sow in the new spaces.  Veg that is coming to mind is cavalo nero (this was a good friend through winter last year), garlic (any good varieties that grow the flowers you can recommend?), broadbeans, tree onions, maybe some mustards and winter salad... 
I've already been growing leeks through the summer.  I have a good feeling about the patch in winter and spring, possibly because I only started this patch in May (after deturfing in April) and I have a feeling the patch will be looking much more established by early autumn.  Hopefully the soil will start to improve also.  It's a loam soil but I think the grass that was growing on it when I arrived had depleted resources from the soil somewhat.  The beetroot, chard and carrots are small and not doing well and the radish were quick to bolt.  I've been regularly feeding with worm tea from the wormery as a feed but its not giving as much ooomph as it usually does and so my concern began.

Any soil tips?  Maybe some green manure over patches in the winter - but which ones?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Radish Pods - HSL Rat Tail Radish

This year I've been experimenting with radish pods.

About 2 years ago, I had some radishes that went to seed, gave a stunning show of flowers and then grew seed pods which I couldn't resist trying.

They had a wonderful flavour - fresh like a garden pea but with that hint of peppery radish flavour.  It was a wonderful flavour - it soon became a regular in our salads.  The radish variety was just your common garden breakfast radish.

Now when radishes go to seed I don't worry - there's a wonderful treat to follow - both for the eyes (the beautiful radish flowers) and followed by those delicious pods.
Browsing through my Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library catalogue I've selected the rat tail radish on several occasions (a radish cultivated especially for their seed pods not their roots).  But they are too damn popular - I always get my second choice radishes instead.

Last summer I was volunteering at the Capital Growth Regent Park Allotment Garden and saw a magnificent specimen growing in their Heritage bed.  I asked about it and mentioned I'd never been able to get some seeds.  Amy kindly offered for me to help myself to the dried pods to save some seed.  And this is the first year I have had the opportunity to grow them.

Things taste sweeter when you've had to wait - and they taste wonderful with that peppery flavour, crisp freshness and a satisfying crunch.  Even my chilli addict boyfriend loves them.

They've grown brilliantly in our disappointing summer but they are a brassica after all which love the wet.

If you like radish I think you'll LOVE Rat Tail Radish!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Successes and poor performers in a challenging summer

Despite the long awaited sunshine we have even enjoying this week, we have had a rather challenging year garden wise so far this year with many commenting "what summer?"!

Which got me thinking - what is doing well in this cool, wet summer?

We are a good few weeks past the mid year mark so I thought now would be a good time to reflect.

So my stars of the patch so far are definitely all the beans (broad beans, peas, French beans) these were slow to start and were impacted by the lower than usual temperatures but perhaps not so much by the lack of sun and they would have certainly enjoyed all the rain once the temperature was warm enough.

Parsnips also are doing well, as are the Egyptian walking onions and the globe artichokes have been steady. Kai Lan is quite happy in these conditions, as are salad crops and the HSL rat tail radishes have done really well whilst adding a lovely floral display if you like that kind of thing!

Of the low performers it has to be the tenders - I am still waiting for the big luscious leaves of the squash plants and the flowers haven't made an appearance yet - that's the ones that escaped slug and snail fest! And I've been feeding those squash lots of worm tea feed but I think the rain washed most of it away! Beets,chard and carrots have been incredibly slow growing and I don't think I'm going to get a tomato glut this year!!

It will be interesting to see what the top performers will be in August after they've all settled after our current heat wave.

How are your veggies faring?

Monday, 9 July 2012

We have crops! Broadbeans to the rescue!!

Finally a moment of elation this growing season!!!

We have broadbeans big enough to cook with!

Its the first year I've grown these and last weekend all of a sudden I noticed there were pods big enough to eat.  I meant to check them with my taste buds there and then but gardening jobs distracted me.  But tonight was the night I finally checked them and as soon as I started to open the furry jacket to try one I got nostalgic smells from childhood.  No doubt my father grew them for us when I was a child on the small holding.

Here's a pic of the first beauties I've brought into the kitchen - there were more I could have harvested but would like to savour the others fresh in another meal.

I grew them in a sack container in 50/50 vermicompost/spent compost mixture and the seeds were planted last October.

After many knock backs and trials and tribulations this season my passion for gardening is rushing back in leaps and bounds - even in a year as tough as this it really is worth all the graft.  There's nothing better than eating something you've grown from seed, fed with your homemade compost and your homemade fertilizer and finally savoured in your kitchen. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

How do you protect yours?

As the weather has been so challenging lately, I thought it might be a good time to write about ways to protect plants.

So far this year, my garden has presented to huge challenges that I didn't really have the experience of dealing with before.

You see pigeons didn't really seem that interested in a small patio garden in South London with high fences and winds didn't seem to be that much of a problem either.

But now I have a much more exposed garden up in the Midlands - I thought a larger garden would be the answer to a lot of my previous limitations - I can now grow roots in open soil along with many other opportuntities.  However, I did not anticipate the challenges. 

There are 2 main challenges with being more exposed, the first being the neighbourhood birds and the second being the weather.  The weather is so challenging to work with this year not just in my garden but the country as a whole.  Its mostly wet and windy.  It is the opposite extreme to last year.  We have to try and work with it, whatever it is ... but it does not look like we are getting much of a summer this year!

When the forecast mentioned another rainy storm with high winds was coming this week (this will be the third or fourth so far this year) my thoughts went straight to how do I protect my plot?  The birds have also been pinching young tomato fruit so I need to think about protection on 2 fronts - pest and harsh weather.  The tomatoes are now in a tall fleece tent kindly built by my boyfriend and the heritage peas are under netting - that should stop those pesky pigeons eating my peas!  The fleece should help the tender tomatoes along in this years cool climate.

To bring the seeds on to germination, I've learnt this year about putting fleece down.  The idea for this was when I saw agricultural fields covered with rows of clear plastic and I thought that they must have done this to warm up the soil to speed up germination.  Well the fleece worked a treat.

So far the squash are under cloches or upside down plant pots in harsh windy weather.  The main issue I am having with these is a common one - snails.  Snails is something I have plenty of experience with!  The other issue is that they are finding it too cold.  One cucumber plant has completely perished.  I'd been wondering why the leaves were looking yellow - this time I don't think it was a lack of nutrients but that the plant was completely perishing.  When the squash look big and strong enough I shall be removing their cloches, but not before!

To protect against bird damage, I've been thinking of making willow weave cages to fit over the tops of my plants.  I have a plant in the garden which grows branches very similar to a willow tree so I need to learn this skill.

Last year, I built a kind of a fleece tent around an aubergine that was struggling in our cold summer last year and that worked a treat.   Perhaps this year I will make the cages and then if necessary drape the fleece over the top of that.

What methods of ingenuity have you found to protect your plants?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

June Storms

Recently we've had some pretty changeable weather to deal with.  We've had a 10 day summer inbetween lots of unseasonally cool days, followed by lots of rain and then an intense windy storm.

I hope you all fared better than me with the storms!

Prior to our 10 days of summer, I had put fleece over all my germinating seeds to stop the birds from eating them before they got a chance to sprout.  And then the sun came.  With high temperatures averaging 26 degrees C.  The week before we'd had temps around 12 C.  I took the decision to keep them veiled with their fleece as I thought the sun might scorch them and I think I was the only person waiting for that heat wave to end to unveil my little beauties!

And it really did feel like unveiling my patch!  All of a sudden the areas I'd planted were fully populated with seedlings of salad, roots, onions, radishes (including baby rat tail radishes), leeks and the peas finally germinated.

On Jubilee weekend I decided its now June - I can start planting the tenders out.  Naturally I made some bunting with some ribbon, old scraps of blue/white/red cloth and my sewing machine so the whole weekend was not just dedicated to gardening but I did find myself (inbetween watching the Jubilee celebrations on TV) trying to make a start on planting the tenders out. 

I planted out 4 sunflowers, 12 french beans and 4 winter squash.  I didn't have quite enough time to plant out the tomatoes and the remaining winter squash and sunflowers.  I also left some flowers to plant out later.  They were all residing in my plastic greenhouse.

Then the rain came down, and it carried on coming down all week ending in a great big finale of a storm on Friday with very high winds.  I came home to find the greenhouse flat on the floor.  We were devastated!  We love tomatoes!!! 

I rescued all the seedlings one by one, my boyfriend helped me with the carnage.  It was hard work as I'd just come down with a cold and cancelled a weekend to London where I would have been helping my friends at Transition Town Wandsworth's Bramford Community Gardens with their Open Squares event. 

I moved them all the rescued seedlings into a shed, safe from the wind and naturally lost a few squash and some sunflowers - surprisingly all the tomatoes escaped unharmed.

Yesterday, I inspected the veg patch after the winds and all the supports were fine - naturally my boyfiend had done a sterling job with the plant supports a week earlier.  I only had one casualty on the plot - one of the winter squash had perished in the Friday storms.  Luckily I had germinated two of this italian pumpkin variety and this was one variety that had not perished in the greenhouse calamity.  So despite all the drama, I think the population of veg with all the heritage varieties amongst them had lucky escapes.

(I do realise in the grand scheme these are small problems in contrast to the people in Wales who had their homes completely flooded)

However, after all the doom, gloom and vegetable carnage, yesterday was a pleasantly sunny day with the elder flower in bloom and the blackberry bushes budding up with their flowers of promise.  So it was a day of planting - all the tomatoes are now in the new, slightly more secure home of the veg patch (that is providing we don't have another blight epidemic this year and with recent weather patterns this is highly likely!)

And today we are blessed with another sunny day - I really hope it follows true to the forecast today as they are predicting light showers in the evening.  If it remains I shall be planting out all the remaining seedlings currently in refuge in the shed and any seedlings that haven't made it will be laid to rest in my wormery to help those who made it with nutritious worm tea and worm cast!

I do hope the weather's going to start to be a little kinder to gardeners - it must be really challenging for those of us who are just starting out.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Gardening with Birds

Birds, birds, birds...  I have to admit they were here first...

I have a bit of a dilemma with the birds in my garden. 

Here's my story....

I prepared my veg patch by deturfing it, turning the soil, raking the soil, feeding the soil and then I thought I was ready to plant the seeds.  I was a bit behind in sowing as I only moved house at the beginning of April - we were about mid April at this point due to the work I had to put in before reaching this point.  So I sowed my seeds and waited for them to pop out of the ground.  After a week I would look at the soil everyday waiting for signs of life but couldn't see anything.  I waited another week continuously checking the soil and then I saw it... the resident magpie was eating my pea seeds!  A day or two later the pigeons were completely grazing on the plot and had probably been grazing on my seeds the whole time when I hadn't been looking.  On inspection, I could see little holes all over the place, probably where they'd squeezed their beaks in to get at those no doubt delicious seeds.

I have to admit, they were here first and they live in the tall trees surrounding the garden.  The birds in question are magpies and pigeons.  To be honest, if I was a bird and someone exposed the soil and started planting edible things into it, I would see it as a snack source too.  Its probably a lot easier to get at the seeds in the exposed soil of the veg patch than scratching around on the lawn.  Who can blame them? 

So now I am game planning how to grow veg with birds around.  I am new to dealing with them as a pest and I don't want to think of them as a pest but would like to live in harmony with them and get to eat my veg all at the same time.  Someone else pinching my veg makes me very upset!

The Soil

I am new to growing direct in garden soil.  Prior to seeing my grazing neighbours visiting the snack shop that is the veg patch, I was worrying over whether the soil was not soft enough and easy for the seedlings to poke through and make their home. 

When my father came to visit he checked the soil (with a very cool PH/water probe) and confirmed that it has an excellent neutral PH (erring little on the acidic side but only very slightly) and it also has perfect water content - not too little, not too much.  I guess the garden being on a bit of a slope is helping with this drainage and the West Midlands rain is also making a good contribution! 

The soil looks nice and loamy to me.  I didn't get as far as the jam jar and water test but it feels nice, smells nice, lots of big worms in the soil.  I've fed it a little with worm casts (which probably introduced a few tiger worms into the soil also).  But I still had this paranoia that the soil just isn't soft enough for new, delicate seedlings to establish, so I've put a thin top layer of peat free compost for them to germinate in.  Maybe this was just paranoia and the only reason I didn't see much germination was that they'd been snacked on - but there's not much time to get things going now so I want to throw every chance at these seedlings to establish! 

Row divisions - Square Metre Gardening Method

I am sowing incorporating a little bit of inspiration of square metre gardening but on the scale of things in my plot. 

My plot is divided into 6 x 50cm wide rows and I'd already decided to split each row into 4 sections making 4 x 50cm2 sections per row making ideal sections for growing large crops like squash for example. 

When sowing the smaller crops like roots, spring onions, radishes, salad, etc I've divided each section into 4 making 4 x 25cm2 in each of my sections.  So for example in a root section I should have a 25cm2 of carrots, 25cm2 of beetroots, 25cm2 of salsify and 25cm2 of parsnips.  I will be blogging on this in a month or two so watch this space for progress!

The Protection (from grazing birds)

I've been looking for methods online and spotted on the RHS website placing fleece over the seedlings while they establish.

I'll keep you posted if this works.  In the meantime I have placed an order with Organic Gardening Catalogue for some bird repellants which use sound, sight and feel to dissuade them away from the veg patch. 

I also need to raid the CD collection for some that I will never think of listening to again!
I'm new to gardening with birds and I'm learning day by day - do you have any tried and tested methods that work for you?

Monday, 14 May 2012


I find May a tricky month.  She toys with us... gives us warm days but with lots of unpredictability to boot.

I've been reading fellow bloggers saying let May dance through your garden and that its the real start of growth in the gardening year, but for me, impatiently wanting to get my seedlings planted out... it's the month when I've suffered for my impatience the most.  Perhaps those bloggers were thinking of the cottage garden display rather than their veg patch!

If I were to think of a month I find exciting as a gardener it would be March.  You see the lush green shoots popping up everywhere but I'm not brave enough to plant my tenders out just yet because in all likelihood there are more frosts to come.

And the place I got bitten with May's unpredictability?  In London.  London's supposed to be free of frost by May, well certainly after the 15th May, but I've suffered windy weather which saw me making upcycled cloches out of plastic bottles.  Despite my ingenuity I was too late with one of my tenders - the wind snapped the main stem off a poor squash seedlings which killed it rather swiftly and left me with only one survivor.  I've also found temperatures dropping by 5 - 10 degrees in the latter half of May, again this was in London where it is supposed to be warm enough to put things out.  So many a fretful gardening experience in May.

I'd say err on the side of caution and wait til June where ever you are - unless you are feeling really brave.  I've had too many fretful times in the month of May.

I can't wait til June when I'll be finally planting my tenders outside.  However, I've recently moved 129 miles in a north westerly direction so I will try to be very restrained and wait until after the 7th June to get my veg plot fully populated.  Ah impatience, I know her so well!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Squash Fantastic

Look at these monsters!  Zucca Lunga di Napoli (Franchi Seeds) - guessing they're going to make some massive winter squashes...

 These are slightly more polite in size but still eager to have more space for their roots - Zucca Berretina Piacentina (Franchi Seeds)

One of my HSL favourites from last year - Zapallito de Toscana (from saved seed so I hope they didn't cross polinate with anything else I was growing last summer)

And another superstar from last year's growing - Gem Squash.  Again, saved seed but I'm more confident that they will be true to type as I was more attentive with their pollination.  The fruit are absolutely gorgeous stuffed with goats cheese and slow roasted tomatoes and baked Stuffed Gem Squash Recipe

And look the Gem Squash loves me back! This one's baby leaves grew in a heart for me - how sweet :)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Project New Veg Plot Continues

Half a month on from my last post about the new garden and the veg plot has been fully deturfed and the rhubarbs been slightly thinned out!  (It was a very scrummy rhubarb crumble)

We then had that really harsh wind storm and I thought the next door neighbour's eucalyptus tree was going to come down on our garden, it was being whipped around like it was a bendy twig.

I was very relieved I hadn't planted anything into the veg patch by then or I would have been watching my poor veg being destroyed by the winds from the upstairs window or worst still traipsing through the wind and the rain with all manor of contraptions to try and save my poor veg.  This has happened before, sometimes during rain storms in the middle of the night and now I don't plant my beloved squash until after the 1st June for that very reason!

As quickly as the wind and rain came, within about 6 hours they abated and the following morning we had a really warm spring day with sunshine and temperatures in the plastic greenhouse reaching nearly 30 degrees.

This was most definitely a gardening day!!  I turned all the soil in the veg patch to loosen it up and get some air in and added all the worm casts my wormery to offer (and some bits that weren't strictly quite ready to use!) to add a bit of nutrition to the soil.  I dug this in to the upper layer of soil and then raked the whole bed.

With time I won't dig the patch so much, using spent roots to rot into the ground and add their own nutrients and not digging were possible.  However, this patch of ground has been grassed over for what looks like a considerable amount of time, certainly a few years so my thoughts were to initially loosen the soil ready for the population of veggies that will soon find their home there.

I then popped in for a cuppa and a sit on the sofa.  All that exercise had made me tired!  But I was still in gardening mode and on a roll so I didn't want to stop when I sat down for a rest.  I reached for a pad of paper and drew up a plan.

The plot is roughly 4m x 2m and can be neatly divided into 6 rows.  There are planks conveniently stacked against the fence at the end of the garden which I will use to make my paths.  Each of these rows I will divide into 4 squares (about 50cm square).  I got the inspiration for this plan from the square foot gardening idea.

Today its windy and rainy again but I'm itching to plant some peas, carrots and spring onions and get this plot started!!

Maybe the surface needs to be raked once more before I'm completely ready... Patience is a difficult thing when you're itching to have your own crops growing in your back garden!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Project New Veg Plot

As regular readers will already know, I recently moved to a new home in South Birmingham. 

My new garden is absolutely huge in comparison to my 4m x 4m patio in London, but its been fairly neglected in the last few years of tenants!

Its got plenty of shrub planting and I'm lucky enough to have inherited some good edibles - an apple tree (that's not been pruned in years and years), a rhubarb and a very sorry looking globe artichoke.  I was surprised with the globe artichoke as I thought left to their own devices I thought they made sister plants - but maybe it just hasn't had much love.  It'll be getting plenty of worm juice now that I live here!

The veg plot is totally grassed over and at the top of the garden.  It's not the sunniest position of this south west facing garden but most parts probably get a good 4 hours of sunshine and this may be extended in the mid 3 months around midsummer.

At present, as we had so many waste cardboard from moving house, we've placed this over the grassed areas to try and start to kill the grass a little before a big clear up job this weekend when my boyfriend and I will both work on removing the grass and exposing the soil armed with garden forks to remove the grass so I can start planting lots of VEG!!!!

I am also working my way around the garden gradually pruning the trees and the shrubs.  Some branches of the apple tree could take our eyes as we walk on the path, so I removed all these low growing branches.  Looking forward to a proper prune job with ladders with my Mum this coming autumn.  There's also a lot of fir trees that need taming.  I think I've even got a bay tree hidden at the back, but there are other overgrown shrubs and firs in the way so I need to make a closer inspection.

The front border nearest the house also needs a lot of love and pruning.  The bed has completely grassed over but I'm thinking of replacing the grass with something like low growing chamomile.

Can you suggest an interesting low growing perennial to replace the grass at the bottom of a flower border with something more interesting?  Preferably edible or herbal :)