Thursday, 26 May 2016

Lettuce

Lettuce is one of those plants that has sometimes had a bad press. It is often perceived as dull and boring, but it really isn't. There are loads of different varieties, with many different colours, shapes and textures to amuse the eye, and let us not forget that Lettuce is usually the heart of most good salads! Even if you didn't want to eat them, many Lettuces are hugely ornamental and look just as good as flowers in the garden border.


I have grown lots of different Lettuce varieties in my time, and as with other crops I have identified a few favourites that I grow again and again, but I'm always eager to try some new ones. Over the last couple of years I have exchanged seeds a couple of times with a friend called Dominka in the Czech Republic and the Lettuce seeds she has given me are amongst the best I have ever grown. They just seem to like the conditions in my garden. The ones she has sent me are Cervanek, Devin, Dubacek and Redin. Here are photos of those for you:

Cervanek

Devin

Dubacek

Redin

One of my favourite Lettuces is Fristina, a deeply-serrated green one. I think one of the reasons I like it is that it reminds me of Curly Endives (which I love, but struggle to grow in the Spring / Summer).

Fristina

This is Little Gem, one of the most widely-encountered Lettuces in our country. You see millions of them on sale in the supermarkets, but it's still a very popular one with home gardeners - me included.

Little Gem

Little Gem is a smallish Cos or Romaine type. Its outer leaves are usually discarded in favour of the crunchy inner ones. The specimen seen in my photo is an immature one, and the heart has not yet developed.

This next one is Tom Thumb, a very compact (small!) variety, well suited to small gardens like mine. It is one of those grown from seeds kindly sent to me for review by Marshalls. It is officially a Butterhead variety, but the heart is very dense, and the leaves are quite robust - almost like Little Gem, actually.

Tom Thumb

In the photo of Tom Thumb, above, you can also see a couple of seedlings of Ice Queen, which have been grown from seeds gifted to me by my chilli-growing friend Chris. I have yet to harvest any mature ones of this variety, but they look promising.

This one is "Yugoslavian Red", grown from seeds sent to me by another new friend - Elza, originally from Bosnia, but now living in the Netherlands. Again, I haven't had any mature ones yet, but it looks like a very handsome Lettuce.

Yugoslavian Red

If you want dramatic looks in your Lettuce, try this one - Amaze. It is a red Gem type, something like Little Gem. It has deep red outer leaves, but the inner ones are light green, verging on yellow.

Amaze

By the way, all the Lettuces pictured above are growing in my garden right now. Only a few of each or course. With Lettuce there is only so much you can eat, and it doesn't lend itself to preservation, so it makes sense to sow little and often. That way you always have some available, without having a glut.




I also want to make mention here of another favourite which I am currently not growing - Webbs Wonderful, a big Iceberg-type Lettuce. This one has a special significance for me, because it is the one that my Dad always liked to grow. Its size is a problem for me; with its outer leaves on it's about two feet across, so I can never squeeze many into my little plot.

Webb's Wonderful

Of course, the outer leaves are always removed, leaving the dense crunchy heart inside.


Webb's Wonderful

As you will have gathered, I like to grow plants from seeds given to me by friends, sometimes as part of an informal seed-swap. I'm not really sure why, but it's something to do with the "social" part of  using the Social Media, of which blogging is a significant element.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Re-potting Leeks

My Leek seedlings have been growing very slowly indeed, something which I attribute to two factors: poor compost and over-crowding.



The seedlings in two of the three pots seen in the photo above were sown on March 5th, and yet they are still tiny. The ones in the pot on the right were sown a month later, on April 5th, so it's not surprising that they are a lot smaller. The "Toledo" Leeks in the pot seen below are definitely suffering from lack of space.




So, I decided that re-potting was called for. I carefully tipped out the seedlings, complete with their compost, onto my potting-bench. As I suspected, the old compost was compacted, wet, clammy and "lifeless". (It was mostly that multi-purpose compost from Wickes). I separated the seedlings and carefully removed the old compost from around their roots, before re-potting them in fresh (and better) compost. This time I used some Levington's John Innes No.2 compost, which has a significant grit content, so it drains better.


I planted the Leek seedlings nice and deep, carefully pushing their roots well down into the planting-holes, and made sure there was about an inch between each one and the next. I found that the pot of "Toledo" seedlings had contained 23 plants, so I distributed them among two pots.



There were only 7 useable plants of "Apollo". For some reason (I think poor compost) many of the seeds I sowed didn't germinate, and several of those that did were really stunted and never grew properly at all. The 7 plants went into this nice tall green pot, recently released from tomato-growing duty, which will allow the Leeks to put down long roots.




There were 16 of the smaller "Winter Giant" seedlings. 11 went in one pot and 5 in another, seen at left in the photo below.




Right, so now I have 46 Leeks, which will be plenty for me. I will probably only have space to grow about 24. They are going to go in between my rows of Parsnips. Having been re-potted like this, I'm hoping they will buck their ideas up and be ready to go into their final positions by about the end of next month.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Growing away nicely

After all the frantic activity during April and early May, we have reached that time of year when most (though not all) of the sowing and planting has been done. All my raised beds are full, and the rest of the garden is crammed with pots and containers of potatoes, tomatoes, chillis etc. Now is the time to step back and let the veggies do their own thing. I like this time, because it means there is little work to be done - just the odd bit of weeding, watering and tying-in - and I can dream about all the bumper harvests to come.


The Runner and French beans are settling in nicely, and beginning to reach out for their supporting canes:


Runner Bean "Streamline"
 The Broad Beans are covered in flowers now. If all those set I will certainly get a good crop. I have seen several Bumble Bees coasting from one flower to the next, so let's hope they have done their job well.
Broad Bean "Robin Hood"

These are my Spring Onions. Not big by any stretch of the imagination, but growing away nicely.






The apple tree and pear tree have a fair few fruitlets on them. They blossomed after the last frost (assuming we have HAD the last frost...), so I'm hopeful that at least a few of them will have been pollinated.


Fruitlets on pear "Concorde"

My "Winter Banana" apple tree is new to me, having arrived in January, and I don't really expect any fruit off it this year, but you never know... It has several clusters of fruitlets, but the June Drop will no doubt account for many of them.


Apple "Winter Banana"


There are loads of little fruits forming on the Blueberries and Strawberries, and I'm already planning how to protect them from the birds as they ripen. I never seem to have enough nets!









Talking of ripening, I now have a few chillis that are almost ripe. They are on the plant I call "Turkey, Small, Red",  Although I thought I had hardened it off all right after spending Winter indoors, this plant shed almost all of its leaves soon after being brought outside (it must still have been too cold), but significantly it didn't abort the fruits:



This is the plant's natural reaction to a traumatic event. In catastrophic circumstances like these (or if severely under- or over-watered) the plant will put all its effort into propagation. Even if the plant dies, maybe some ripe seed will produce a successor?


Most of the plants affected by the Fairy Liquid Episode also lost most of their leaves, but they have adopted a different strategy. With no fruits to bring to maturity, they have concentrated on producing another set of leaves. Hopefully they will make a full recovery and go on to produce their fruits in due course. This next one is an "Aji Limon", saved from 2104, so it is already pretty "senior".


New growth on "Aji Limon"


The chillis I am growing from seeds sown in February are doing OK, despite the constant depredations of the aphids.




 I have tried lots of different ways to get rid of the aphids - including the "Eradicate" product I am trialling on behalf of Herbwise Organic Solutions - but none of them have been very effective. The best way of keeping the blessed things in check seems to be to brush them off with a small soft paintbrush, but this is exceedingly time-consuming, so I'm also frequently spraying the plants with a very dilute solution of the "Original" type of Fairy Liquid, alternating with "Eradicate". I also had some casualties on account of a different pest last week. Two of my chillis were killed by slugs, which is very unusual. With so many other plants in the garden, the slugs normally go for easier targets. One plant was eaten right down to ground level, and the other had its stem eaten completely through! It's a good job I have plenty more.


My salads are looking good too. The biggest Lettuces are just about ready for harvesting. Note to self: harvest the first ones soon, because if you don't, by the time you get round to eating the later ones they will be over-mature and possibly bitter.









What I really want now is some lovely sunny weather, so that I can sit out on my patio (wine-glass in hand) and watch my plants grow!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Harvest Monday - 23 May 2016

Well, the Hungry Gap seems to have closed now, and I have some produce to write about!


Star of the show this past week was the Rhubarb, about which I have written separately:



Of course there have been more Radishes. This batch represents several.



We have been eating Radishes almost every day. As well as eating them in our usual way (as a pre-dinner nibble), Jane used some in a salad she made to accompany a Middle Eastern pilaf.


Lettuce, Radish, Mint. Walnuts, Feta


Twice during the week I took another cut off the Baby Leaf Salad patch.



 As previously noted, very few of the Lettuces came up, so it's mostly oriental brassicas - Mizuna, Pak Choi, Komatsuna, Red Mustard etc, with a little bit of Rocket.



Four days after cutting that first batch, this is what the patch looked liked:



As you can see, it was certainly ready for cutting again, so I harvested another big batch:




I say a "big batch", but in terms of weight it is still tiny. However, it's at least as much as you would get in one of those bags of Florette salads you see in the supermarket, possibly two, and each of those is priced at about £1.50. I reckon you can easily get four or five pickings from a salad patch like mine, so in terms of Value for Space Rating (VSR) I think it scores highly. And remember, that little mini-bed is only 18 inches square, so if someone says "I don't have room to grow my own salad", tell them about this!


Incidentally, Radishes are also a good crop to grow if you have limited space. Mine just keep on coming! Here we have "Scarlet Globe" (left), "French Breakfast" (centre) and "Lada" (right). The latter are from seeds sent to me by Dominka in the Czech Republic. Thanks, Dominika, they are lovely!




I'm linking this post to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres, where I'm sure you will be able to read about lots of other beautiful and tasty harvests.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Planting Kale

Kale is not the OH's favourite vegetable when cooked conventionally as "greens", but when made into Kale Chips it meets with approval, and I like it in most forms (kale smoothies somehow don't appeal though), so this year I'm giving it a go.




I have grown four plants of the variety "Winterbor". It is a curly-leaved variety, growing to about two feet tall. Since it is very hardy, it is normally sown in early Summer, for cropping in late Autumn through to early Spring, but I decided to grow it earlier, because I couldn't fit it into my Winter veg plans. With a bit of luck I'll have leaves available for use by about the end of June.


This week I judged my Kale plants to be the right size for planting out, which was convenient because some space had just been freed-up by the end of harvesting of my first sowing of Radishes. I have put the four plants at the corners of the bed which holds the Broad Beans. In due course, when the beans have finished, this bed will play host to my PSB - but that's a long way off yet!



I could show you all four corners of this bed, each with its new Kale plant, but I won't - they all look exactly the same!




As you can see, the Kale plants are currently about the size of the diminutive "Robin Hood" Broad Beans. If the beans were really big ones I might have hesitated about planting the Kale here, but as it is I think they will be all right and get enough light.


I am amazed how clean and unblemished my brassicas (including the Kale) are this year. They are all just about perfect: no slug damage; no caterpillar damage; no Cabbage Root Fly damage. It's scary. I've never had this happen before. I can't think what I have done that might have made the difference. Normally I lose a few seedlings before they reach "adulthood", but this year none of my spares have been deployed. I wish it was always like this! Just a couple of days ago I dutifully applied the usual dose of nematodes, but half of me thinks it wasn't necessary...


This year I'm not growing any Cavolo Nero, which I do usually grow. We have "gone off it" at least temporarily. And in any case, since I have started taking more of an interest in Leeks, I probably won't have the space available. Growing over the Winter this time I aim to have Cabbage, Leeks, Brussels Sprouts and PSB - and of course Parsnips if they last that long.


Changing the subject slightly, my Peas are now growing rapidly. They love the damp, mild conditions.





The first few flowers are visible now:
Along each side of the raised bed I currently have a piece of chicken wire, which is there to deter the badgers from digging up the Beetroot plants alongside the rows of Peas. I think I will have to remove the wire soon, because the peas are beginning to reach out for it, and I don't want to leave it there permanently, otherwise harvesting the peas will be very tricky. Hopefully the Beetroot is now big enough to survive despite the nocturnal furtling-around.



Saturday, 21 May 2016

Planting Tomatoes

I have now moved my tomato plants to their final homes. They couldn't have remained much longer in their little 6" pots without getting root-bound and starved of nutrients.


Tomato plants awaiting potting-up - mostly in 6" pots


The big cordon-type ones are now in 40cm containers - those ones with a water reservoir in the base. For those of you who don't know this, a cordon-grown tomato plant is one that is grown tall and thin, which is achieved by training the plant up a cane or string and by pinching-out its sideshoots. I have provided mine with 5-foot canes.



I decided that since I had 12 of those nice big 40cm pots I would grow 12 cordon tomatoes. All the surplus ones (there are not many this year) will be given away to friends.


This is my list of 12: Larisa, Dynnye, Cherokee Purple, Stupice, Black from Tula, De Colgar, Tigerella, Primabella, Costoluto Fiorentino, Caspian Pink and Ferline x2.


Ferline is a blight-resistant variety, and a heavy cropper, so I grow this one every year now. It has big red, tasty fruits. I like it so much that I'm growing two plants of this type.
"Ferline"

It's interesting to see how different the plants look. This is "Larisa", (seeds from Eddy, in Belgium)currently a rather delicate-looking plant, with deeply-indented leaves. In due course I hope it will deliver some big pinkish-red fruits. This is now also a favourite, but one that I have found hard to grow successfully.


"Larisa"

This is "Stupice" (seeds from Dominika in the Czech Republic), which is a potato-leafed variety with medium-sized red fruits. It is allegedly very early maturing, which is attractive to me, because it might deliver its crop before any blight comes along.


"Stupice"

By rights I should have some pretty good tomatoes this year, because the growing medium in those pots is a very rich mixture. It includes some of the "Sylvagrow" peat-free compost, some of the Norfolk loam (yes, that 1000-kg bag I bought earlier this year is still going), and tons of really rich home-made compost. In each pot I also put a big handful of pelleted chicken manure and one of Growmore general-purpose fertiliser.


Since the home-made compost has lots of worms in it, I'm anticipating that the local badgers will take an interest in my plantings, so I have erected a barrier to dissuade them from any opportunistic snuffling:



This barrier is made of some of the ubiquitous wire shelves from the plastic mini-greenhouses, held in place with bricks. What useful things those shelves are! Whether this barrier will be effective remains to be seen...




In addition to the cordon varieties, I have four plants of bush varieties. They are Grushkova (seeds from Alex in Scotland), Montello (seeds provided by Marshalls), and Maskotka x 2. Again, Maskotka is one of my old stalwarts and I like it so much that I think it deserves more than one plant.






These four have gone into big containers too, though ones which are not quite as good as the ones seen above. For a start, they are not of the self-watering type. The bush varieties don't grow so tall, so I have only provided these ones with short canes, and I will not be pinching-out their sideshoots.


"Grushkova"








After planting these 16 tomato plants, I was still left with six more, which were intended as spares. However, I decided to make a late addition to my line-up. I added "Supersweet 100", grown from seeds kindly given to me by Elza in Holland. This is a cordon variety, but the best I could do for it was to provide a container like the one for the bush varieties, except with a 5-foot cane. It is seen at the left in the photo above.


For the time being, the bush tomatoes are sitting alongside the bed in which I have carrots (covered in Enviromesh, you'll note).




Later on they will be shifted elsewhere (probably up against the house), because I will need that spot for more chillis.


Planting-up the tomatoes is one of the biggest jobs of the gardening year for me, and quite hard work, so I'm glad it's done. However, if things go according to plan, it will have been one of the most rewarding tasks too. There are few things more appealing to a vegetable gardener than a basket of ripe home-grown tomatoes!