Posted by: sweetpea | July 21, 2008

Has it really been that long!

I hadn’t realised it had been so long since I last posted, but there is good reason for it.  Backat the beginning of June I attended an interview down in London for a bursary given by the HBGBS (Historic and Botanic Gardens Bursary Scheme) and to my surprise I was offered one of the bursaries…and I was even more surprised when I heard where I’d be based …. wait for it ……. Chatsworth House!  What a fantastic place to be able to spend a year gardening…which is what I’ll be doing.  I won’t have much money for the year, but at least i’ll be spending it learning loads and doing something I really enjoy.

So I have been really busy since then visiting Chatsworth, working out what I’m going to do with all my belongings, working out what to do with my allotment, and sorting out things at work.  I start in September so I still have a fair bit of time to get organized, but I have to admit to being a little stressed.  I am slowly ploughing through my belongings, sorting out things to try and sell, those to give to charity, things to freecycle, and those things that will unfortunately have to go in the bin.  At work I am busy writting instructions for my job and trying to train a couple of people in how to do my job.

Then there is my dear allotment…I have to confess that leaving my allotment is going to be very hard…however as Chatsworth is only an hour from York on the train, and I shall be paying visits to the BF when I can I should at least be able to visit now and again to see how it is doing.  As I don’t know what I’ll be doing at the end of the year I have decided not to give up my allotment, luckily a friend approached me about sharing earlier in the year, so he and his young family are I hope going to keep it ticking over whilst I’m away.

I guess you’d like o know how the lottie is doing too.  Well it is full of flowers at the moment…the last of the foxgloves, calendula, Verbena, chicory, achillea,and of course sweet peas….  My potatoes didn’t really recover after the frost that hit them so I’ve been digging them up by the row to get enough potatoes for a meal…bit of a disappointment.  My peas on the other hand have been the best ever..and so sweet. My courgettes are finally starting to take off, but I think the wind gave them a bashing.  The climbing beans have also suffered so I’m not sure if I’ll get any beans at all this year.  My lemon cucumbers on the other hand are already producing fruit so I’m pretty pleased with them, and my tomatoes are also looking good despite the battering they had from the wind when I planted them.

Oh how I will miss my lottie, but if any of you have visited Chatsworth you will know that they have a huge Kitchen garden, so I will still be able to tend veggies even if they won’t be for my own consumption.  I was hoping to start a blog about my year at Chatsworth, in fact I already have (you should see a link to it on the right) however at the moment I’m not sure how much access I’ll have to the internet so that might be a non-starter…I will however be keeping a diary on my laptop so maybe I can try and upload some every now and again.

Well, that’s all for now, i’m off to spray my tomatoes with some horsetail spray…wonder if it will keep the blight at bay?

Posted by: sweetpea | June 18, 2008

Still leaking!

We had rain last night, so this morning on the way to work I popped to the lottie to see how my repair job had faired.  I was slightly disappointed to find that the stuff I used doesn’t seem to work as well as I’d hoped as some of the connections are still leaking.  I don’t know if this is because they weren’t completely dry when I applied the stuff (although it made no mention of needing to be dry on the tube), or whether maybe they hadn’t had sufficient time to dry before it started to rain.

So looks like I’m going to have to either re-do some of my work, but this time be more thorough on making sure it’s all dry and clean, or think of something else, or maybe a combination!

Any suggestions would be welcome :-)

Posted by: sweetpea | June 17, 2008

Water supply

I’m lucky to have access to a water tap on my lottie site, something I know not all sites have.  It’s great when we have long dry spells as I know I can easily keep my precious plants well watered.  What’s more, I don’t even have to trudge back and forth with my watering can because my neighbours have set up a hosepipe that reaches the tap and all I have to do is connect mine to theirs and hey presto I have instant water.

You’d think I’d be happy with my water supply, but one of my aims with my plot is to try and be as environmentally friendly as possible, which means I cut the grass with shears (can’t quite get the hang of my little scythe) rather than use a strimmer like many of my neighbours.  So when it comes to water, I’d rather take advantage of the fact I have a shed roof and collect rainwater.  There was already one waterbutt on the plot when I took it over, but in the summer it quickly gets used up, so you may remember that last year I set about adding some more waterbutts, 3 to be exact.

waterbutts

I was pretty pleased with my efforts to connect them up to each other so that I could have just one tap for accessing the water they would hopefully contain.  I quickly found out that the seals weren’t watertight, I obviously hadn’t used the righ glue, so I tried using some bathroom sealant.  Alas this didn’t improve the situation much, they did collect some water, but only about a sixth of their full capacity.  In addition to the waterbutts themselves leaking, the connection to the downpipe was also not sealed properly so quite a lot of water was being lost that way, and the gutter was also leaking!

This year I decided I needed to find a solution to the leaking. I did some research and discovered that you can get both indoor and external sealants, I figured the fact I used an indoor sealant was probably half the problem.  So last Friday, I went to our local ‘sells everything’ shop and found something suitable for external use..it contains bitumen.  Tonight I set about applying it once I’d made sure everywhere was cleanish and dry.  Quite a messy job but I think I did a pretty good job. I will connect the downpipe tomorrow and then fingers crossed we will get some rain so I can see whether there is any improvement!  

sealed at last

Posted by: sweetpea | June 16, 2008

My friend Mr Robin

Whenever I’m digging or weeding on my plot, I’m almost guaranteed a visit from my resident robin, although I have no idea if it’s male or female I like to think of it as a him.  Not only does he follow me picking up titbits of food, but if I’m lucky he will also sing a little song for me.  Today was one such day, in fact he spent quite a lot of time keeping me company, and it was interesting to see that he was quite choosy in what he ate.  He wasn’t greedy, trying to eat the big fat juicy worms I unearthed, but instead chose to eat smaller worms and I even saw him eat an earwig (or was it a centipede, can’t quite remember now!).

I’ll leave you with some more photo’s of him as he came really close so I could get some good close-up shots (unfortunately I don’t have a flashy telephoto lens!).

 

 

Posted by: sweetpea | June 6, 2008

Asparagus Beetles

Asparagus beetle (Adult)

Asparagus season will be drawing to a close shortly, in fact I have already stopped harvesting as mine are only in their third year so didn’t want to overharvest.  Now is the time to start keeping a vigilant eye on the leafy shoots for signs of Asparagus beetle.  These little colourful beetles will quickly defoliate your plants sapping their strength and consequently you will end up with a poorer harvest next year.  I usually just squash the little things, which seems a shame as they are quite beautiful, but saddly it has to be done.  You do have to watch though as they have a tendency to just drop off the plants to escape.

As well as the beetles, you also need to keep an eye out for their eggs and larvae.  The eggs are dark brown and oblong, and are stuck on to the leaves and stems singly at one end.  They are fairly easy to spot as they stick out, and I simply rub them off or remove the leaves.  They larvae I have yet to come across so can’t give you much of a description other than the photo below.  They feed for about 2 weeks before they fall to the ground to pupate.

Asparagus beetle (Larvae)

Apparently pot marigolds can be planted to deter the beetles as it’s strong scent will mask that of the asparagus, i have yet to try this so have no idea whether it is effective or not.  I guess any other strong smelling herbs would also do the trick.

 

Posted by: sweetpea | May 29, 2008

First signs of summer fruit

I popped down to the lottie at lunchtime to take some plastic bottles my colleagues have been saving for me.  Whilst there I took down the windbreak I’d put up around the tomatoes, which are mostly not looking too bad considering the battering they took over the weekend, hopefully they will recover.

Whilst there I also checked up on my fruit bushes to see how the young fruit are doing, and I’m pleased to say that there is fruit developing on all, although there is something wrong with one of my goosberry bushes as some of the leaves are distorted, but I’ll figure out what is causing that at the weekend.

In the meantime, here are my fruit…can’t wait until they’re ready for picking :-)

Tayberry

 tayberry

Gooseberry

 gooseberries

Raspberry

 raspberries

Red currant

 red currants

Strawberry

 strawberries

Apparently tomatoes fall into one of two groups (with a third inbetween group for those that are awkward!), they are either Indeterminate or Determinate (or Semi-determinate).  Ever since I started growing tomatoes I have come across these two terms in the descriptions of the tomatoes but never really known what they meant.  I have also known that you are supposed to pinch out the side shoots on some tomatoes but not others, but knowing which ones has always been a mystery to me so I have always just let them do their own thing.

This year I decided that I’d make it my mission to get to the bottom of these two issues, and as it happens they are one and the same, i.e. knowing whether your tomato is a determinate or indeterminate variety will determine whether or not you pinch.

So what’s the difference?

Indeterminate tomatoes are varieties whose growth is pretty much continuous, the fruit trusses being produced from the leaf axils, so if you leave them to it they will just keep on growing.  If you do let them do their own thing you will still get fruit but they will tend to be small and won’t all necessarily ripen.  So these are the types that we need to control by pinching out the side shoots (which by the way can be rooted easily to make new plants).  By doing this we make sure that all the plants energy goes into producing the fruit.  It is also a good idea to pinch out the growing tip of the main stem when 4-5 trusses of tomatoes have formed so that these will have a chance of ripening on the plant before the end of the season.  Indeterminate varieties are also refered to as cordon or vining types and are usually tied to canes or string for support.

Determinate tomatoes are varieties that form compact plants because they have some control over their own growth, they produce many sideshoots, but these will only grow so long before terminating in a cluster of flowers. Because of their nature these varieties do not need pinching out, but the main stem should be tied to a cane for some support.  These varieties are also refered to as bush varieties.

So just to recap:

Indeterminate (Cordon, Vining) need pinching

Determinate (Bush) don’t need pinching

Of the varieties I have grown this year:

Indeterminate – Gardeners Delight, Sunbelle, San Marzano, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant, Purple Calabash, Orange Banana, Principe Borghese

Determinate – Red Cherry

So looks like I have a lot of pinching out to do!

Posted by: sweetpea | May 29, 2008

Horsetail….not all bad!

horsetail

I’m lucky enough not to have Horsetail on my plot but I’ve heard many a tale about what a pain it is to get rid of, including from a friend who has asked me to keep an eye on his whilst he’s away (which reminds me I must pop over to his place soon to pull it up).

However I recently read that horsetail has natural fungicidal properties and can be used to help treat potato blight….so I thought as I will have a source of horsetail this year I’d give it a go this year.

Horsetail Fungicide recipe (taken from Little Green Blog)

  1.  In a large glass or stainless steel pot, mix 1/8 cup of dried horsetail leaves in 4 1/2 litres of unchlorinated water (use water from your waterbut or let some tap water stand for a couple of days)
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 1/2 hr.
  3. Cool, strain, bottle and label. The infusion will keep for a month which is long enough for you to keep reapplying to your crop. Any left overs can be used as a wonderful hair rinse.
  4. To use, dilute the 1 part horsetail concentrate to 5-10 parts unchlorinated water. Spray infected plants once every week or two in dry weather or daily if it is raining.  Can also be used as a preventative measure if there is a threat of blight in your area.

 I find the warning service offered by Blightwatch a useful tool, once you’ve registered with the site and given your postcode, they will send an email alert whenever there is a risk of blight in your area.  I have yet to actually take any action when I receive these alerts other than keeping an eye on my plants and removing any infected looking leaves.  This year though I will use it as a means of knowing when best to apply the horsetail fungicide.

Posted by: sweetpea | May 29, 2008

Quick update on the lottie

Cauli

Thought I ought do do a little update on all things lottie related, so here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to:

  • last weekend I planted out my tomatoes and courgettes. Unfortunately it wasn’t ideal weather being that it was very windy, so most of the tomatoes are looking a little sad, but are starting to perk up again now. I have some spares so I will replace the worst affected ones this weekend.  I did erect a windbreak of sorts but not entirely sure how effective it was. 
  • I potted up my chard and kale seedlings and they are now doing nicely, although still a little slow.  I had to re-sow my PSB as they had seccumbed either to damping off or the heat whilst I was away.
  • My lettuce, spring onion and beetroot seedlings are patiently waiting to be planted out…really should try and get that done this weekend.
  • I’m hoping to erect a fruit cage this weekend with the help of mum, made from some branches I aquired about a month ago.
  • The Broad beans are finally flowering and I can already see some baby pods growing…can’t wait till they’re ready to pick.
  • The peas are finally starting to take off, hopefully I’ll be able to take the netting off soon as it’s supposed to be for the fruit cage!
  • I discovered 2 cauliflowers growing Tuesday night that I didn’t know I had, I thought they were spring cabbages that had gone a bit past it! 
  • My japanese onions are starting to bulk up nicely, and the shallots and garlic is also growing well.
  • The potatoes were hit by the frost a couple of weeks back, but are now growing again so will be ok although a later harvest thatn expected.
  • The nettle fertilizer is brewing nicely but really pongs!
  • I sowed my climbing beans last night in grow tubes, 8 varieties in all including 1 unknown seed I found:
    • Cobra – the old favourite that is such a good cropper
    • Blue coco – a heritage variety I think
    • Borlotto bean Lamon – seeds of Italy
    • Trionfo violetto – seeds of Italy
    • Maroon (not sure of the exact name of this one) – Heritage variety
    • Red Rice Bean – from Jeannine on A4A
    • Blue & White – Heritage variety
    • Trail of Tears – Heritage variety
  • My fence and gate was kicked in the other weekend so I now have to sort that out. I think I’m going to gather the required materials and then get someone in to do a proper jub as the whole front fence is pretty rotten, might as well get the whole thing replaced than keep trying to do a repair job.  This time I’m going to use some metal roof cladding sheets as there seem to be loads being used on the plots and they seem to do a good job of keeping unwanted guests out.

 

Posted by: sweetpea | May 29, 2008

Midwife toad

Common Midwife toad - male

I went on a tour of Goddards NT garden in York yesterday afternoon with the gardeners at Middlethorpe hall and the gardeners and volunteers of Nunnington Hall gardens.  The garden is actually only down the road from me but I’ve never been to visit as it only seems to open during the week.  It’s a very different garden to Middlethorpe, a lot more closed in, and definitely a woodland garden, although there are formal gardens nearer the house with big yew hedges.  Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to take any photo’s, but of course that gives me an excuse to re-visit soon.

One exciting thing we were shown was a colony of Common Midwife toads.  I have never seen these before, and in fact I don’t think I even knew they existed in the UK.  In case you don’t know where they get their names from, the males actually carry the eggs on their hind legs (see photo) to protect them from predators.  When the tadpoles are ready to hatch, the males head into shallow water to allow the tadpoles to move into the water.  They also have quite a distinctive call which sounds just like a mobile phone or alarm.

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