Saturday, 22 November 2008

Planting trees in Morden Park

Spent a sunny couple of hours in a windchilled corner of Morden Park on Saturday helping to create a new woodland area.
Despite the bitter north east wind, Stephen and I cycled to meet Cheryl (my niece), and join lots of volunteers of all ages at the event, which was organised by Trees for Cities.
We were planting out mixed English woodland plants - oak, holly, yew, blackthorn, hawthorn and dogroses - and then piling a thick layer of woodchip as a mulch on top. Work was under way when we arrived and almost finished by the time we left at about 1.15. As well as the task in hand, there were face painting and other creative activities for young children and a band to entertain us. Stephen made a beautiful batbox from recycled wood, which brought back to install on the allotment.
Thank goodness some delicious hot soup and rolls were provided - very welcome, especially after a couple of short snow flurries - most unusual in November.
Our parting gift was an oak sapling to bring on at home and plant out in a year's time. All in all, a really lovely event to participate in and a happy memory to share!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Homeopathy for gardeners

I'm feeling very happy today - Surrey Organic Gardening Group has asked me to give a talk next Friday night on first aid homeopathy for gardeners. I find Gardening, organics and homeopathy go together very well for many people and I'm always glad to share experience and knowledge.

I had a great conversation last night with Mo, the Secretary of the group who is a huge enthusiast for homeopathy and we talked about the different remedies and topics I could cover within about 45 minutes. I've agreed to take some remedies with me for people to take home and try.

The talk will take place at 7.30 pm in Milton Hall, Carshalton and is open to gardeners who would like to attend.

Housework vs gardening - no contest

Spent a pleasant hour and a half sweeping up leaves in the back garden yesterday afternoon. I gathered together a big bag of mixed leaves and grass residue, as I used the scarifying rake ( the one with lots of thin metal tines) over the lawn. The end result was a pleasing combed over effect for the grass, which is much too long and unmowable due to the damp.

Why do you suppose I find the simple chores in the garden so much more enjoyable than those in the house? I can't imagine blogging about hoovering the stairs, for instance, or washing the kitchen floor - and don't even think about cleaning the bathroom. Yet they have the same elements of not thinking very much or allowing my thoughts to drift as I labour.

Admittedly, it was a beautiful autumn day, with reddish golden light falling across my west facing garden and gradually turning rosy as the sun went down. But I could have enjoyed that from the bathroom or back bedroom upstairs.

I suppose the air was crisp and cold, making a pleasing contrast with the hot cup of tea I sat and enjoyed half way through my task. And it helped to clear my head, which has been somewhat stuffed up with cold this week.

Maybe the difference is that indoors tasks have to be done week in week out merely for maintenance of reasonable living conditions. Or perhaps I just have to adopt a different philosophy towards housework, after all there is satisfaction in restoring order indoors as well.
But don't worry, I'm not about to start writing about the household stuff as well!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Firework cucumbers...

We found a couple of cucumbers last weekend when clearing the area around the piano* ready for fireworks! This was most unexpected, especially after the frosts and snow of the half term week; they were not protected by a greenhouse or any other cover except shrivelled up leaves.

They tasted great, though the smaller one was stunted and a little squishy at one end.

Things have slowed down on the gardening front this month - my homeopathic practice has been busy and I had three days away in Yorkshire with a friend, Liz, over half term. We travelled up early on Wednesday morning through snow around the M25 and Hertfordshire; so unusual to see it settled over trees still clothed in leaves. We wrapped up like polar bears in the car as the heater wasn't working!

We stayed at Liz's cousin's peaceful house in Baildon; it had a beautiful terraced garden with glorious beech hedges. We found wonderful autumn colours everywhere, including coppery bracken over much of Baildon and Ilkley Moors, and a welcoming log fire at the Cow & Calf Hotel at Ilkley, where friendly staff encouraged us to stay and relax for the afternoon following a delicious lunch.

We enjoyed the dramatic reds and oranges of Japanese maples, and more subdued browns pinks and dark reds of the beds at
Harlow Carr, the RHS garden just outside Harrogate, but were chilled to the bone by the bitter wind. We recommend the book section of their lovely shop; a cushioned, heated windowseat provided a splendid outlook over the garden, and warmed us up before our long cold drive home!
*area round piano - see photos in July postings. Alas, I haven't organised autumn plantings to dress it up this year...

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Last of the autumn sunflowers...

All these flowers from just two plants grown from seed! They have enjoyed the warmth and September sunshine over the past few weeks.

Raised beds from discarded decking

Spotted some decking in a neighbouring skip recently and harvested it to make some posh raised beds on the allotment. The decking was only put up about three years ago, so the wood is in good nick.
Paul started on Friday and ruined a peaceful Sunday morning sawing and hammering - he worked really hard! As a result, there's now a small boundary fence (just two planks wide) half way round the first bed, which will run all along one side of the plot (about 12 metres by one and a half). It will take a lot of compost to fill it even half way.
The plan is to plant garlic and onions in October and some broad beans in November; these should all be ready to harvest in late May/early June. We'd like some asparagus and rhubarb too, but haven't ordered it yet - in any case, this won't be ready to eat next season.
If you're wondering about the hole under the planks, it was probably dug by a fox.

Stevie helping last Friday...

Off sick from school, but it was a warm bright day so he accompanied me and his dad on our mission to clear the allotment. Needing no lessons in how to enjoy a warm sunny day in the garden, he had just finished taking some lovely new pics for the blog - including a new profile photo of me in the sunflowers, now that the runner beans are finished!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Lovely roast parsnips yesterday...

Picked the first parsnips of this season at the weekend and they were delicious with roast lamb yesterday. Even the peeling was a pleasure, they smelled so sweet and parsnippy!
Work began on the strawberry bed on Saturday. I've decided to move plants into a new area as they've been there about three years now. At this stage of the year it's very difficult to distinguish the new plantlets from old, after the August rain and recent sunshine all the plants are entangled.
Also a little frustrated that new plants I potted up last month are so well hidden ( to prevent the foxes digging them out) that I can't see them myself and I've ripped two of them apart! This is why I should have potted up more than I need...
My runner beans have finished, I think it must be due to lack of watering, as my neighbour allotmenteers are still picking. (you can see Bill's beans behind me, above). Mine had no flowers on 10 days ago and so naturally no more beans to pick this weekend. I've taken down the frame and piled up the plants to dry for a bonfire, the earliest I've ever cleared them out. Courgettes are also finished now and we picked the last of the cucumbers.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Growing great spuds in a wet summer

Just for a change this is not about my own allotment - after last year's washout, when my allotment was waterlogged and all my spuds rotted in the ground I decided not to bother growing them this year.

George told me a couple of weeks ago that he'd had a disappointing crop this year; he blamed it on the great pesticide in horse manure problem, which has affected many gardeners around the country this season. He and Bill lost broad beans and other crops due to poisoned compost which adversely affected and deformed growth. Perhaps I should be grateful that I didn't have any manure to use this year and last!

Bill was digging up his spuds late last week and found all very badly afflicted with little black slugs -he had to throw away a large proportion of the crop as they'd been spoiled.

But Charlie has had a great crop this year, and he puts it down to soot! He has a coal fire (you don't find many of those in south west London) and when the chimney sweep makes his annual visit, Charlie keeps the soot for his allotment. When he plants his potatoes, he sprinkles in fertiliser and a handful of soot around each spud. As he was harvesting the spuds today, some of them have the soot around them as they've grown into it. and almost none are affected by the slugs or indeed the huge quantities of rain we've experienced this summer.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Now the brussels sprouts won't get away...

I've lost most of my previous winter greens to the wood pigeons, so decided to create a "cage" earlier this summer.

While the plants were young, they did much better than the uncovered ones on another part of the allotment. The latter were chewed to bits as usual, with only about half of them surviving (compared with 100% of those in the cage). However, the uncovered plants which survived seem to have caught up and are flourishing after the wet summer. I'll follow up to see how their crops compare.

This was my first attempt at carpentry since making an abstract sculpture in my first year at high school. I used some old bits of wood and at least half a pound of nails, then wrapped the whole thing in chicken wire. Also used one of the shelves from the mini greenhouse across the top. It took nearly a day to put it together, so I don't think I'll be taking up woodwork as a living anytime soon!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

First sweetcorn

Picked our first sweetcorn from the allotment yesterday afternoon about 5.30 - by eight o'clock they'd been barbecued and eaten, how fresh is that?
Paul commented that his tasted of broccoli, Stevie said his was like brussells sprouts - but they were teasing! We all enjoyed the sweetest corn we've ever tasted, slightly browned and caramelised in a good way on one side. Yum...

Monday, 18 August 2008

Cooking with courgettes

We're in our fourth week of ample courgettes from the allotment and the kids are not keen on them. Made a gorgeous quiche on Saturday which included ham and sorrel on a lovely cheese pastry but Stephen really couldn't finish it as there was too much of the evil c-veg.
However, there is a lovely recipe by Jane Baxter for courgette chocolate cake which Stevie helped to make last week and which was very moist and delicious. Despite including nearly a pound of grated courgette, every morsel was eaten within a couple of days. It was great as a pudding with custard, but also just as a piece of cake with a cup of tea.
You can find the recipe on the Riverford Organics website. We're planning to make it again this week!

Beth Chatto on Woman's Hour this morning

Beth Chatto was the subject of a Woman's Hour special on Radio 4 this morning, as charming and delightful to listen to as her garden is to visit. One of my favourite places, Beth Chatto's is just outside Colchester on the road to Clacton, and we usually visit in July on our way to visit Mum.
Beth described it this morning as her private garden, which she loves to share with her many visitors; certainly whenever I've seen her, she's been talking to one or other of them and seems happy to share her considerable experience.
On Woman's Hour she talked about the changes in how we garden and the plants available to grow today and described how the garden, and her ideas, were developed over the years. She was clearly original, and a creative rebel, perhaps; in her early days she was chastised by an RHS judge for exhibiting a wild flower, stinking hellebore, at one of their winter shows.
Beth developed the garden and nursery on unpromising land, in partnership with her late husband, over nearly fifty years, and it is beautiful. The water garden provides a cool break near the end of our two hour journey from SW London, and the innovative dry garden, planted on gravel and never watered except by the rain, always includes some dramatic plantings. A lovely, airy tea room has recently been added and her nursery sells many unusual plants. It's well worth making a special trip.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

First cucs and tomatoes

Hoorah, home from holidays and picked our first cucumbers and tomatoes today, thanks to Julie, my good friend from round the corner who watered everything in our absence. The essential quality of a gardening friend is that they should enjoy eating sufficiently to keep everything producing, so there is still plenty to harvest on our return. Courgettes, runner beans and french beans were plentiful and I'm delighted to find my butternut squashes thriving after feeding them horse manure before we left. Lots of weeds, naturally, which I'll sort out later this week.

We've been in Devon, where it has rained every single day of our holiday, but still we had a great time and lots of good local foods. Staying near Totnes, we found huge choice in the town of small independent shops selling locally sourced veg and organic produce. We've brought home beautiful cheeses from Sharpham Dairy and local dry cured bacon. Fab Totnes traditional english sausages from the butcher at the bottom of the high street, where there are also two greengrocers, a fish shop and a baker. Then there was delicious carrot cake and cashew nut banana loaf from the Seeds Bakery,which sustained us through a seven mile walk in the rain; a rich fruit bread from Common Loaf, who have a stall at the Friday market, and at least two other wholefood stores, one at the bottom, one at the top of the high street, plus the Riverford comes to town shop which sells organic fruit and veg and cooked products (their chicken quiche which is prepared on the premises is to die for). Totnes is a centre for alternative lifestyles, but one wonders how they all survive and prosper when the local high streets here in south west London seem unable to sustain traditional independent specialist food stores. Thank goodness for our home grown veg, and the weekly veg box from riverford, which at least brings a little of Devon to my doorstep every week!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Vibrant crocosmia

Desert island veg

If I were stranded on a desert island, a pocketful of runner beans would be my veg of choice. They would be so easy to grow, providing there were plenty of showers to water them. They look beautiful and are a wonderful source of nutrition.

I love potatoes, but I feel I'd be much more likely to survive a long swim to the island with a few beans in my pocket. I suppose a small packet of tomato seeds would be even more portable, but they don't appeal to my eye or my tastebuds as much as a plateful of runners.

You can see I'm peering through runner beans in my photo at the top of the blog. And here's a picture of Stephen, who took the photos on my allotment during an INSET day last week.

Of all the veggies on my allotment, the runner beans give the best value for my eyes and my plate. What would you choose?

Slugs love marigolds...

As I discovered last week when I cleared a bed of love in a mist (which were sadly looking more like love lost in a brown cloud) and planted out some bright little red/gold marigolds. Well I hoped they would be, they were just in bud when they went in, but by the following morning they had gone. So I'm back with the slug pellets again this morning as I planted out the last tray from my greenhouse, in hope they will look good by the time I get back from holiday next week.

I've also discovered that foxes love plastic pots. Last week I spent a couple of hours clearing half the strawberry bed and potting up the runners for new plants next year. I returned a couple of days later to find all the pots ( which I'd sunk into the ground) dug up, compost and plants scattered all over the place. So this morning I've nearly completed weeding the bed and replanted some of them. Fingers crossed...

The foxes are part of the reason I no longer label the seeds I plant on the allotment. They pull out all the little white labels, so it's a complete waste of time. They also leave frequent gifts in the form of chewed shoes and gloves stolen from local residents gardens and back door steps.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

My piano update

I'm so glad Stevie took the photos last week! After the heavy rain yesterday the pelargoniums looked really sad and bedraggled this morning so I've had to prune them. Hopefully they'll be back to their former glory later this month...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Coffee grounds and eggshells? I don't think so...

Raining as I write which (naturally) brings out the slugs and snails again. There do seem to be more of them about after the very wet summer last year.

A couple of recent pieces referring to the coffee grounds technique of keeping them down prompts me to ask, how? As this is another respect in which I've failed to maintain organic standards this year.

I started the season well, my garden has in any case quite a residue of eggshells from the compost heap but my family get through a dozen a week, so supplies were not difficult. I upped my consumption of fresh coffee to three jugs a week (normally just one on a Sunday morning) and diligently sprinkled the grounds around the newly planted salad leaves and cosmos as I planted them out. I also spent a couple of evenings clearing out the little buggers, throwing snails over the fence onto the concrete drive or into the wood along the railway cutting behind the house. I dropped the slugs into salt water.

I felt really smug as I'd given the birds a free run on this juicy food source and for about a week afterwards, I didn't lose a thing. And then I realised by the end of the second week, that my salads weren't growing and by the week after that, the few leaves that emerged were somewhat ragged, a quarter of the cosmos had disappeared, and lo the snails and slugs were back.

I cannot bear to lose so many plants to them. So I've succumbed to the dreaded pellets. But I still don't win the battle. I can cope with the empty snail shells all over the flower beds. I feel guilty, but I can cope. What I cannot bear is the slime trails and dead bodies scattered all around.

I used beer traps over a number of years, but in the end I found disposing of the contents too disgusting. I don't mind bugs, worms, spiders, insects. But I feel squeamish around slugs. I can't bear to touch them.

I suspect that the compost heap also contributes to the problem, as it's absolutely full of 'em. I don't believe they're just eating, I'm sure there's breeding and egg laying going on too in the warm and damp interior. But I can't bear to look.

So, I'm looking for slug and snail contraceptives ( prevention being better than cure). I'd like to have a clean and effective, simple and cheap method of keeping them off my plants. (Copper bands are quite expensive). And I suppose, advice on whether and how coffee grounds work in other people's gardens. Is my technique at fault? Am I supposed to dry them out before use perhaps?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Rampant artichokes

A free gift of a bag of Jerusalem artichokes with my Riverford vegbox earlier this year prompted me to plant several of them in early spring.

I can't believe how tall and spreading they are! I had a vague memory of Carol Klein enthusing about them as plants on her growing veg strand of Gardener's World last year, and seeing them in flower, but don't remember them so big.

When they were planted out, I alternated them with a row of carrot, now completely overwhelmed, and parsnip, which are peeping out from underneath the artichoke leaves (see above).
I wonder how many tubers each plant will produce? And whether the parsnips or the artichokes will flourish best in such close quarters?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Trying and failing to garden organic

My usual methods of gardening organically have been sadly lacking this season. this morning I succumbed to the blue non-organic plant food to perk up the sweetcorn, which is looking a bit pale, and help the squashes and courgettes.

It began with a shortage of manure for composting on the allotment last summer. I don't know whether the local stable which brings a load regularly for the site, gave up or came less regularly, or whether a couple of new tenants enthusiastically carted it all off, but I only managed about three barrow loads, and wasn't even able to mulch round the strawberries as I did the previous year.

As a result my supply of home made compost was even thinner on the ground than usual. Does anyone else have a problem with generating enough? Most of the kitchen waste from our family of four goes in, I usually add the smaller weeds and other vegetable matter after harvesting, and bits and pieces of cardboard, newspaper. There's usually enough for my garden at home but pathetic amounts for the allotment.

I've been collecting some from a local smallholding, where it used to be piled up in front of a couple of barns next to the road and sold at £1 a bag, but since he's moved it to a massive field at the back I've got doubts about the stuff going in to it, last time I visited there were huge piles of garden fences and all sorts of chemically treated stuff scattered around.

Anyway, any suggestions for local sources of good stuff in NE Surrey/S London borders gratefully received.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The idea of the Scattered Gardener occurred this beautiful June morning while on my allotment, in the furthest reaches of South London. I found some wonderful lettuce and "cut and come again" salad basking in the morning sun, waiting to be picked for my lunch. I haven't grown such a good crop of these before and I think it's because this is the first year I've given them their own space, rather than interplanting with other things. Or perhaps because it's been a cool wet spring.

Remember what a washout Easter was? It just poured with rain all weekend - so if I'm honest, it's been hard going clearing all the winter weeds and digging over before planting.

Still after lots of work over the last couple of months, I'm nearly there. And although I feel proud of my efforts and results, when I look round and see what my neighbours are achieving, my small plot is frankly, a bit skanky. Bindweed all through the strawberries (now yielding just a couple each time I visit, though I picked a large punnet every week through late May and June). And though I've had my allotment for a few years now, still about 20% is (nearly) untouched. I've had to cut back the weeds in this "wildlife area" four times already apres le deluge and I'm being threatened with eviction.

Meanwhile the other allotment holders seem to be able to keep theirs well managed and beautifully productive. Bill's sweet peas this year have to be seen and smelled to be believed, George's parsnips are lined up like a military parade. Charlie's raspberries are a labour of love; he takes them home by the box every day to his wife, who eats them all summer through.

So I'm the scattered gardener. I scatter seeds around my allotment in patches rather than lining them up. I dig it a bit at a time and plant whatever's coming along in my mini greenhouse ( a bit of an experiment, this, I only bought it this year). When I get to 4/5 of the allotment dug over, I have to give up digging to weed and water the crops that are growing. And I cheat - I have an organic veg box delivered most weeks, as despite my best efforts my allotment fails to present me with enough veg and fruit to feed my small family.

But I love it! My lettuce at lunchtime was luscious and all the better for being home grown. I get lost in the digging, the weeding and watering; sometimes I listen to the radio, mostly my mind drifts to other things, a problem that needs resolving, an idea, a dream, or thoughts of my dad, who loved his allotment and his garden too. The allotment site is beautiful, surrounded by willow trees and rich with birds and other wildlife, including slow worms, who sometimes colonise our compost heaps, enjoying the warmth. What better place to spend a weekday morning in the middle of the summer?