Sunday, September 23, 2007

So where was I?

Somehow the summer took over and the garden got relegated to second place. I've still been working in the garden, but mostly just to weed, tidy up and harvest stuff. We have had a remarkable butternut and gemsquash harvest. Great raspberries and blackberries. Nasty apples. A good crop of strawberries.

Today I harvested some lettuce leaves for salad, picked the rest of the gemsquash, almost all of the butternuts, bar a few that were still green, and one giant courgette that got away from me.

My courgettes didn't do well at all this year. They got mildew. Next year I plan to grow more courgettes, start them off earlier and keep them at home in the warm until it's time to go outside.

Today I planted the rest of my Rainbow Chard seedlings so I now have two beds of that. And four rows of Bordeaux spinach. I need to take down the greenhouses and clear up those beds so that they're ready for more lettuce plants.

Plans for next year? More butternuts! They cost 3 euros per kilo in the shops and we love butternut. The gems were great too, but we may have had too many. More courgettes please. The kids want more peas and I want more sweet peas.

Onions and garlic were good this year and so were the shallots. I intend to plant a gooseberry bush and to try again with the red raspberries. I planted two this season and both died. The autumn raspberry (a yellow one) did wonderfully. I'm hoping it will repeat the event next season.

The tomatoes on the balcony did really well, but next year I'll be growing them in the greenhouses I got from the Lidl.

And for this autumn?

  • There are three very old blackcurrant bushes that need to be removed from the garden.
  • The rhubarb crown that was in the garden when we took it over needs moving, and the new rhubarb plant that I planted this season needs to be cossetted a bit.
  • The compost heap needs to be turned.
  • The plum tree has lost all it's leaves and needs pruning.
  • The strawberries need to be moved to a different bed. The one they are in receives too much shade in summer even though it's sunny in the spring and autumn. I might fill up the space with raspberries. Or plant the buddleias that I bought for that spot.

Before I forget, another success in the last few months was my propagation! I propagated some herbs from cuttings and managed to grow some more rosemary plants, thyme, lavenders and oregano.

Thankfully I had taken a cutting of my purple sage just before the kids stood on the original plant and crushed it so I have a new one of those too!

Finally, I have one word that means a lot to me. Worteldoek. I hate weeding and I don't like getting my feet dirty.

Worteldoek is a permeable plastic membrane that you cut into and plant your plants through. I will be using worteldoek over my entire garden next year.

It keeps the soil clean and warm and keeps the vegetables from lying in the dirt. The slugs don't seem to like it much either.

So here's to worteldoek and the end of the summer.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Flooding, Greenhouses and Rose Arches

Just been up to the allotment to find that some of the localised thunderstorms we have been having localised themselves directly over the Nesserlaan! Gah!

I took some pictures. First here is the flooding:


This area of the garden has consistently flooded. I have two options here as I see it. I can move the sitting area from the other side of the garden down to here and have a squishy sitting area or I can raise the beds by importing a whole lot of sand and soil and improving the drainage. I'm leaning toward the first option purely because it will be simpler to have the chairs and table at the entrance where I can put all my things down as I enter the garden.

Also, I won't be able to leave my mobile phone lying under a pile of branches on the table at the end of the garden and completely forget it, like I did two weeks ago, and only remember that it was lost once it had started raining!

We put up an archway for the thornless blackberries and will be planting a climbing rose, one of the David Austin ones, to keep the blackberries company. My idea was to make a wider path, which sort of stepped sideways into a patio area to cover the flooded area. I could put my potplants in that section too.

Here's the archway:

Archway for the blackberries and the planned new climbing rose.

See the flooding on the pathway too?

I also bought some portable greenhouses that were a special offer at the Lidl. My neighbour spotted them in the Lidl newsletter and called me to take a look. At 25 euros each they are quite sturdy with a metal frame and a plastic cover. They have windows on three sides so you can open the plastic to allow the air to circulate. Inside the plastic is another zipped netting area which forms the window. These are they:

New plastic greenhouses

They are placed at right angles to cover the beds of ailing tomatoes and protect them from the wind and storms that are expected the next few days. When they are used properly they will be placed over beds that are the same dimensions as them so that they can easily be moved from one to another.

I think these will be perfect for next year for my tomatoes, sweet peppers and a melon plant. The plastic should keep any blight away from the plants and the whole structure will keep wind damage to a minimum. I'll be able to use the greenhouses to protect early crops from the birds too, like my peas and early lettuces.

Butternut & Gemsquash Update

Thank god for squash! If it wasn't for squash I'd have virtually nothing on my allotment now. We have harvested about 20 Rolet gemsquash so far and have been very pleased with ourselves. It's been years since I had gemsquash! The kids are not convinced that it's a good thing though.

The vines are very vigorous and have spread to cover the entire area that they were planted in and almost completely covered the compost heap. The vines and leaves are prickly so the slugs don't like them, although the slugs do seem to get to the flowers if the flowers are trailing on the soil.

The butternuts were very sad when it rained so much. Valiantly doing their best they had actually put out blossom and produced one fruit each. Two weeks ago I put them over black plastic groundsheet (worteldoek) and my goodness, what a difference. The new flowers that they are producing are the size of my doubled fists and the plants have renewed vigour.

Next year I'll be planting all my squash through groundsheet. The straw that I had put under them seemed close to useless with the amount of rain we've had and the difference in the warmth between the groundsheet and the straw is phenomenal. I am hoping to harvest at least three or four butternuts per plant and I have five plants. That should keep us going a while.

I'd like to try some other pumpkins next year, maybe Futsu. Butternut is always something we'll plant though - perhaps not in the same quantities, but nonetheless, it's a favourite around here.

Tomato Update

Weeks since I updated on the garden, but first I'll do an update on the tomatoes.

The Orange Berry cherry tomatoes are ripening. The few that I had on the allotment ripened first, but have very poor yields due to the excess rain we had (and are still having). But, hey, I got a few and everyone said I wouldn't harvest anything!Each Orange Berry plant (at home in containers) has set about five trusses with about 8 fruits per truss.

They are colouring quickly and today I removed most of the foliage to make them ripen a bit faster. I probably wouldn't do this if they were in a greenhouse or at the allotment, but here at the apartment they look a bit untidy on the balcony so I'd prefer to get them ripened and removed.

The Orange Berry's were sown on 3 March. My opinion is that I might plant a couple next year, but probably not because of yield or ease of growth. They are somewhat sensitive to the salt content in the soil and suffered initially from purpling leaves because of mineral deficiency and then yellowing leaves because of the too much salts from the tapwater. Finally they succumbed to powdery mildew.

This tomato really needs good ventilation and to be watered with rainwater and not tap water.

Orange Berry Cherry tomato

The Ildi tomatoes, sown on 11 March are doing amazingly well. They have heavy trusses of fruit and very extensive growth. They are the tallest of all the tomatoes I have grown this year. They are very vigorous with strong basal growth and don't seem to be affected by the same issues as the Orange Berry. So far there is no powdery mildew and the leaves haven't shown any signs of purpling. There is some yellowing to the lower leaves, but it's not nearly as pronounced as on the other variety. I'm looking forward to seeing how these trusses of fruit ripen.

Ildi tomato

The Red Pear is also a moderately vigorous plant, but a poor bearer. Despite having flower trusses that are similar to those of the Ildi it has more limited trusses of around 8 fruits per truss. They are heavy and definitely pear shaped. The plants set about 5 trusses each, and the basal growth was poor. I'll have to wait and see how it tastes before dismissing it as a replanter.

Lieven's F2 (Ida Gold x Whippersnapper) which I got from Patrick is an awesome little tomato! The one I have is determinate and a low growing bush form. It is absolutely covered with tomatoes. So far this one seems a keeper. I hope that it's a reproducible cross!

Lieven's F2 tomato

The Carrot-topped Tomato is another keeper. The plant is also low growing and has set heavily with large tomatoes. The feathery leaves managed extremely well with the high winds we've had this season and the plant suffered virtually no wind burn at all. One of the fruits has windburn but considering the carnage amongst some of my other plants this one is definitely a winner.

Carrot topped tomato

The other varieties I have in pots are:

Black Pineapple
Black Prince
Gardener's Delight
Costoluto Fiorentino

The Tigerella has set a few fruits and the Gardener's Delight has several trusses. The others are still a little way behind. The Black Prince and Black Pineapple are very strong plants with very firm stems. Quite different to the bendy-stemmed cherry tomatoes. I don't expect much from the Costoluto Fiorentino as I think it really has to be in a greenhouse to protect it from the elements. The Tigerella and Costoluto Fiorentino were sown on April 15, so almost a month after the cherry tomatoes. I don't have photos of these because it's just started to rain!

Unfortunately all these varieties were on the balcony when we were battered with storms so they suffered quite a bit of wind damage. They're doing their best, but they need more shelter. I had three currant tomatoes from Patrick too, which have been placed at the allotment. Since yesterday they are covered in portable greenhouses so it will be interesting to see if that makes a difference to their production.

Next year I think I will use pots for propagation for all of my tomatoes but I'll use the portable greenhouses set up at the allotment to house the tomatoes in. Any varieties that I grow at home will need to be dwarf or determinate varieties that will fit onto a staging against the wall. I'd love to hear recommendations of any varieties that fit these requirements.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Water misery ....

My garden was underwater for about a week.

In the one half where I have raised beds the water was able to drain away more easily, but the other half is still completely soaked and the earth has started to smell terrible as it rots.

The potatoes were in that area and they became infected with potato blight, so between the smell of the wet ground and the rotten potatoes it's terrible!

The potatoes, cauliflower, kohlrabi and lettuce are a loss. Luckily I took my shallots and onions out before the flooding and, although small, they are adequate. The tomato plants are struggling along. No blight on them, but they look very unhappy - a sickly yellow colour.

Leeks and carrots are ok. Beans and sweetpeas (lathyrus) are drowned.

The only plants that really seem to like the water are the gemsquash (Rolet) which are clambering everywhere. They are more vigorous than the butternut squash which are also struggling to keep up with the water damage. The fruit trees and bushes have done extraordinarily well with a ten kilo harvest from my plum tree and several kilos from the berry bushes. The plums were early and the apples look as though they will also be early.

Today I plan to put black semi-porous sheeting under my butternuts so that they can grow across the sheeting without the leaves rotting. Hopefully it will make a difference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Since I last wrote lots has happened ...

Veg from the garden

I dug up our first potatoes, which, though tasty were not quite ready. We may have to take what we can get though because they are suffering from 'holheid'. Not sure what it is in English but the centre of the potatoes has a little hole in it and the potatoes are glassy. Ick. The very small ones are ok. Not entirely convinced about this Novella cultivar. It was a bit tasteless. The potatoes do wash up nicely though and the skin is all but removed with a quick brushing.

The garden got flooded. We had localised floods two weeks ago just before I went to London and most of the garden was underwater. Most of the plants seemed to do ok. The teepees for the peas didn't withstand the wind and the pea plants have since been removed.

The shallots were almost ready so I took them out. We reaped a fair amount of shallots for very little work and they're really tasty, with firm flesh and a purple tinge to the skin. I will definitely repeat the shallot experiment for next year. I purposely planted them close together because I like small bulbs. Nothing worse than half an onion/shallot in the fridge making everything else smell funny.

The cauliflower is forming heads! This is the same cauliflower that shares a bed with the kohlrabi and which I feared had club root. The cabbage in the bed next to it has no club root. I'm baffled. I'll let these ones form their heads and then pull them out and see what their roots are doing. Next year I'll try in a different portion of the plot.

The garlic has a little bit of rust, but nothing on the scale of what I've been reading about.

The strawberries are forming runners. I think we got most of the fruit that we're going to get off the yellow raspberry and the currants are probably lying on the ground now after the horrendous windstorm we've been having all day. I should have harvested them last week. I spent four hours at the allotment and didn't even get half of what I wanted completed.

The apples and plums are hopefully thinning themselves in this wind and the blackberries have put up an amazing framework of stems for next season. All the manure I gave them in spring has obviously worked wonders. I have woven them through a fence I made with wire and poles, and I hope that it holds. I have to work on a system for cutting down the just fruited stems.

How do other people do this? Do you just remember which ones just fruited, or do you mark them some way or another?

On the balcony my tomato plantation is doing wonderfully! My tomatoes are now about 5 ft high and each plant has more than 10 trusses of blossom. The first few trusses on each plant have set fruit and they're looking wonderful. The orange cherry cultivar is very strong indeed and is rampaging all over the place, whereas the gardener's delight seems more restrained. I can see a very big difference now in the planting dates of the seeds. The orange cherry was sown on 3 March and most of the others were sown a week later. Orange cherry has trusses of fruit that are much closer to ripening than the others.

I think for an early crop, and if one has a greenhouse/sheltered area the first week in March is a good time to plant. Of course, it all depends on the weather. Three years ago in March we were under 2 ft of snow.

Patrick gave me a whole lot of tomato plants which are doing pretty well. They've got two sets of blossom on each plant. I used the method of transferring the plants to their final pot/planting out area when they had their first flowers just opening, as per Joy Larkom.

The other side of the balcony, and sadly, still in windowboxes, I have my sweet peppers. I just didn't have enough room/money to get big pots for them. They're rather cramped, but quite pretty and even if they don't bear it will have been a good experiment. They have lots of flowers. I think if I can keep them damp they should bear, but otherwise... oh well. I will know for next time.

The basil is growing nicely, but I learnt something this year - don't plant individual basil seeds, plant a whole 4 inch pot full! I intend to take soft cuttings of my lavender, thyme and rosemary this week to try and establish some new plants.

I had my first sweetpeas from the garden which scented the living room beautifully. The gemsquash and butternut are romping away madly and have filled up their bed/rows between the potatoes. The dwarf bean plantation was augmented with some more plants raised at home. The borlotto didn't come up at all, but the contender did well.

It's time to think of what to plant for winter crops. I will be planting more salad leaves, seeing as all my summer lettuces drowned (and the slugs with them I hope!). I have spinach, swiss chard, autumn planted garlic, overwintering broad beans and peas. Leeks are obviously a must.

I need some more soft fruit bushes. I'm thinking of a gooseberry to replace the one redcurrant that is ill. I tried a wonderful red gooseberry that was just amazing. The current strawberry bed in front of the apple tree will be moved in autumn to be a bed adjacent to the other one with strawberries in and the rest of that area will be for soft fruit.

I'm now working in a flowershop which gives me the capability of buying plants at reduced prices like this chocolate cosmos, which has been calling my name repeatedly this week. They really do smell like chocolate!

So, lots to do, and possibly a development for our family that includes a summer house, 250 m2 of land and a greenhouse, all less than 5 km from our home! Just financial logistics to work on ...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Too too hot

It's 35 degrees out there and we're melting. I visited the allotment this afternoon at lunch time as we have a busy week and it's the only time I could go. I can't help but feel that the water I gave the plants probably all evaporated!

I asked about the redcurrants on my plot and apparently the plants are 17 years old! No wonder their yield is low and they look ill. This winter I'll replace them with other plants. I'm thinking of a gooseberry (kruisbes) and some other raspberries ...