Saturday, 31 July 2010

Do you grow tomatoes outdoors?

Do you grow tomatoes outdoors?  If so do you have any success?  How?

I grew a couple of varieties last year - Tumbling Toms and Moneymaker (maybe also Gardeners Delight).  They all grew well and put on loads of fruit but being this far north the fruit came on too late to ripen before the end of the season.  I tried to start them off earlier this year but they seem to have have arrived at the same point, i.e. end of July and loads of flowers and small fruit forming. I am growing Tumbling Toms again and four bush tomatoes called Amateur.  (see their picture in the post on Potting on Plants)  We seem to have hit another cool and wet period which has 'stopped them' again, so I don't hold out much hope of getting the fruit ripe before they have to be ripped up.  Down south they are,of course, being picked now!
The photo above shows Tumbling Toms in two window box type troughs standing on bricks on the edge of the patio.  They were hung on the fence but had to be moved when I bought my 'greenhouse'.  The photo on the right is a close up of the fruit and flowers - prolific but, as I said, probably too far behind where they should be at this point in the season.

Please tell me if you have any success with tomatoes outside and, if you do, is the secret in the variety, your planting routines or  what.

Slugs and snails and ..... frogs

When we came back from our break and had the front door open to unpack the car - this chap let himself in.  I suspect he lives pretty near the front door as he often leaves a tiny present on the doorstep.  We have quite a lot of frogs and toads in our garden which is pretty surprising as I don't have any areas which don't get fettled by me at one time or another (no peace for the wicked); also I don't have any water in the garden, unless you count the bird bath!  Nevertheless, as I said, I'm pleased to say our friendly slug eaters live here.  We also see the scat of a hedgehog now and again who visits fairly regularly and must do his bit.  I still suffer pretty badly from slugs and last week I found my first snail!  To add insult to injury it was a huge one with brown and orange striped shell.  I do use organic pellets without which the garden wouldn't stand a chance.  I've reduced the population dramatically from that which I inherited in the football pitch outside the back door when we bought the house three years ago.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hacking back the jungle

I suspect the test of a totally obsessed gardener is his/her refusal to go away on holiday at least between April and September.  I've just got back from a week away and the garden looks like Miss Havisham's.  I also managed to arrive back complete with gammy foot and drizzly weather so am doubly frustrated staring out at it rather than tackling it.  I did manage a pirouette (a one-footed balancing act)  in a raincoat and gathered the veg which needed picking.  I know the photo looks remarkably like one I did earlier but the observant amongst you will notice the addition of runner beans and four (!) baby beetroots. I roasted the baby beets (cut in half) and discovered I liked beetroot!  It was sweet and delicious.  I've always hated boiled beetroots as they are either totally tasteless or fusty.  So if there's a beetroot hater out there I'd recommend trying growing your own, picking, cleaning, cutting to reasonable size, rolling in a little oil (I also dusted mine with smoked paprika as they were being roasted alongside some haddock steaks) and roasting for about 30 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade.

This leads me to the real purpose of this note - I thought I might add recipes as I go along.  They will be filed as a page rather than a post and can be found by clicking 'Recipes' on the tab at the top of the page.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Fill the gaps in the veggie garden

When I pull up something like today's potatoes it leaves a space in the garden which the local cats like to use as a toilet so I always try to fill it in some way to prevent this.  Sometimes I cover it with plastic mesh, or poke in numerous sticks but recently I've just cottoned on to a more useful method.  I plant something.

I grow trays of cut and come again salad leaves and drop those all over the place (also to cover gaps).  I thought if I transplanted some of the sad looking plants which have been cut a couple of times it wouldn't matter if they thrived or not, they were just there to 'cover' the loose soil.  So I hack out a lump and separate out a few plants and shove them in.

.... and, wouldn't you know it, they thrive on neglect and up they come!  I know you can keep planting radishes and lettuces and stuff to fill gaps but sometimes it isn't a workable space. It would be a problem trying to dig up the next potato plant with decent crops in the way, but I am going to plant some baby gem lettuces in a tray and move them on as the spaces grow and also plant some more radishes.

Chickens next?

As always I am picking things too soon.  I must be the most impatient gardener.  This is today's lunch.... International kidney potatoes (aka Jersey Royals), Defender F1 courgettes, Purple tepee dwarf French beans, Sutton dwarf broad beans.  The pudding is a rhubarb crumble just literally put together in the dish - made from a bag of chopped rhubarb and a bag of crumble from the freezer.  So the only thing not made or grown by me is the chicken!  Actually something's missing - I intend to go out and thin the carrots some more and that will give me fingerlings (baby carrots) for the summer veggie mix.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Three steps for planting up pots

I planted out four bush tomatoes today.  It is probably too late to get anything off them this far North but I started them very late as I bought a bargain three packets of seeds and pots and growing medium kit from B & Q about three weeks ago; I couldn't resist as it was only a pound and I'd never grown bush tomatoes or cucumbers so thought I'd give them a shot to see if I wanted to do them next year.

This potting on led me to think about how I/we do stuff without thinking about it and how anyone new to gardening might be struggling with the basics.... so...

1. To crock or not to crock?  Most books, programmes etc. tell you to put broken pots (crocks) in the bottom of your pot to partially cover the hole to retain the compost and still allow for drainage.  This instruction came from a pre-plastic pot time of large gardens and people having loads of broken pots around.  It is totally unnecessary.  If you think about it, any plant you buy in a pot is not 'crocked'.  Sometimes I do want to partially fill my pot to save on compost (if the plant isn't going to need all the volume) and I break up polystyrene packaging and use that.  It also keeps large pots lighter to lift and insulates a little.  I also have little bags of small stones/large gravel.  They are made by cutting up a pair of tights and knotting the leg, then filling with stones and knotting again - these are great as they are easy to fish out of the roots when the plants is moved on later.  I also cut circles from left over weed suppressing membrane and put that in the bottom of a pot sometimes if I am using a sandy compost and the hole is large - again you can retrieve this for multiple uses.  That said you needn't do any of this; just simply put in the compost in the pot and get on with the job.   Does anyone else use anything weird or wonderful for 'crocking' or, like me, usually don't you bother?

2. Move from pot to pot with no mess and no guessing.  Sometimes when you're moving a potted plant to to its new home, you put the compost in the new pot, tap out the plant and then discover you didn't put enough in or there's too much and you end up fiddling around with the poor exposed plant going in and out of the pot  several times until you get it right and usually making a right mess doing it. Foolproof method is to judge roughly where you think the bottom of your plant will be in your new pot and fill the compost a little above that level. Compress it gently with your fingertips and stand your plant and pot in the new pot.  If you have an empty pot the same size that's even better  as you won't accidentally bash your plant.  Fill up around the sides of the pot pressing into place as you go and when you get to the top of your inner pot gently remove it.  You will now have a perfectly moulded shape of the plant roots you are about to put in.  Tap out your plant gently and lower it into its new home.  Firm in gently.

3.  Always water well after potting.  You should always allow a space at the top of your pot for watering; don't completely fill the pot with compost.  I work on half to a thumb's length depending on the size of the pot. Watering after potting is essential even if your plant was well-watered before moving on (as it should have been) and even if your compost is moist (as it should be).  It will settle the soil particles around the roots and make sure there's no large air pockets and it will give your plant easy access to a drink while it is in its 'shocked' state.  

Friday, 9 July 2010

Free Plants

I have a couple of dozen lovely baby Aquilegias  (Columbines/Granny Bonnets) for anyone who wants to collect them.  I am in Brandlesholme. They were grown from seed which came from Monet's Garden in Giverny, France.  Just email me at

Hose-pipe ban

First of all the useful stuff... if you click here it will show you a chart of what you can and can't do when a hosepipe ban is in effect. Hozelock

This is another political manoeuvre to demonstrate that someone is doing something about a water shortage.  Closing barn doors after the horse has bolted comes to mind.  Why isn't our high level of rainfall 'harvested' and stored properly?  Just think back to the floods earlier this year and weep over the amount of rain wasted.  Why aren't water companies compelled to monitor and repair their leaking pipes?

So here we are, in one of the wettest areas of the country, experiencing yet another water shortage.  That said - just read the following statement from the RHS:
Domestic consumption of water only accounts for 21% of the overall demand with less than 1% of the total being used in domestic gardens for watering plants, washing cars etc. Professionally installed irrigation systems are highly water efficient, they apply exactly the right amount of water, where and when it is required – no more, no less. The water is applied overnight to minimise evaporation and when installed in conjunction with good horticultural practices such as mulching, provides the most efficient means of watering plants
Gardeners must use the smallest amount of the 'less than 1%' domestic outdoor use, yet we are banned from looking after our plants using a hand-held hose and spray gun or irrigation system whilst Joe Bloggs across the road is allowed to power wash his patio and wash his car. Indeed one of our neighbours washes his car with an open ended hose (no gun) which he leaves to run down the drain between the various stages of wetting, brushing etc.  Infuriating even when there isn't a hosepipe ban.

I have a super-efficient irrigation system in my garden which only waters precisely what needs watering; at its 'worst' it might be used to water all the borders and vegetables (not lawns)   for twenty minutes, twice a week, during the night (no evaporation and wastage).  Generally I manage without using it by using the hosepipe (only) where needed and watering cans for pots.  It is really in place for any time we might be in a hot spell and I might be away and not able to do my selective watering.  Being on a water meter, believe me I am frugal.

I'd like someone to test the allowance for children's water play.  Does this mean you can have a full sized oscillator sprinkler going while children play under it?  Can I borrow some children?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


I'm feeling my way round this at the moment, but I did think that if we recommend (or otherwise) suppliers the information would be scattered around the blog and difficult to find.  it seems sensible to have a page that we can add to as we go and people could find easily if they wanted to.  I've started it off with my initial thoughts on places I've used a few times.  If you look at the top of the blog you'll see where the pages are.  Tell me your opinions of companies you've dealt with and I'll happily add them to the to the 'reviews'.

I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little more as I grow older. -Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592) 

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Anti-cat contraptions

This is a photo  taken in May when I'd just planted the seeds.  I thought I'd share our cat contraptions.  We have problems with neighbours' cats who love to use freshly dug areas of the garden for their loo.  I devised a zillion things last year to keep them off my organic (!) seed bed and none of them were successful.  I had an inspired moment this year and we threaded canes through mesh a bit bigger than the beds and placed them on top.  Plants still get light and rain and can grow four inches or so by which time it is OK to remove the covers as the cats seem to like an open space. They are light so are easy to move about if you want to thin out seedlings or weed and they are easy to store.  They are now standing on their edges against the wall inside my summerhouse/shed taking up about two inches of room.  Again please share your anti-cat solutions.  PS - the bottle is a (free recycle) mini-cloche (!) covering basil seeds.

My Garden

Perhaps I should get the ball rolling by introducing my garden and share anything I think might be useful.

When we moved in three years ago we had fence to fence grass (not a lawn!) on a surface which sloped diagonally from the house top right to the garden's bottom left corner.  The difference in height being well over two feet.  We began with a huge level patio area so we could at least access the side path, dustbins and the rest of the garden without breaking our necks. We dug out a four foot border all round and I began planting.  I know the 'design' is utterly boring but I wanted something really simple to access and not too much area to actually garden as we are now at the retired stage of our lives.  That said the garden has had three planting plans in its three years.  Year one I planted trees and shrubs for least work. Year two, I couldn't be without flowers so out came the shrubs and in went perennials.  As I always want every plant I see I thought it was a great idea to work through the complete colour spectrum starting with the hot colours - reds, oranges, yellows and working my way through the four borders until I finished with the cool colours of pinks and blues and whites. By  year three I decided it looked like a complete mish-mash and it was changed to three borders of the cool colours and a veggie bed.  The hots have migrated to the front garden. It is now the garden's fourth Summer and other than stripping out the East facing bed in April and replanting it I think it might finally be settled and may even be allowed to grow. Him indoors did suggest I just cultivated triffids and be done with it.

During all this chopping and changing even the poor trees have moved position each year, with the exception of the potentially lovely Chinese Rowan which sat and sulked in the boggy end of my garden. The only part of the Rowan which grew was was the canker. This year I took it out and chucked it away!  Well actually I made labels for my veggie bed with it.   If anyone has any ideas for a small tree which doesn't mind its feet in a lot of water for a longish time each year please let me know. Willows are too large other than the Kilmarnock willow and that's too small. Like Goldilocks I'm looking for one that's just right.

Here's some bits and pieces which I hope might spark off some conversations.

We use strips of decking along the edges of the lawn so the strimmer doesn't hack the plants and I don't have to keep edging up the lawn.  It also allows me to build up the soil bit by bit to improve on the rubbish we seem to have.

The chimney pot is the sort that has two parts to it - the top section lifts off (if you have muscles like Desperate Dan).  To fill it I plant up a 12" pointed hanging basket which then just lowers inside the top.  I've fiddled about with all sorts of ways of planting this pot over the years and this is definitely the simplest and most successful.

Incidentally Home Bargains at the bottom of Brandlesholme Road, near B & Q had those baskets for just £1.99.  Bargain!  Check out their garden stuff.

I have two more chimneys which I've painted green but these have six holes around them so have to be planted through those as well as the top.  My other half, or labourer as he is known, cut three strips of wood to fit across a ledge inside the pot.  I then lined the space with a piece of  weed suppressing fabric making a rough shaped bag to put the compost in.  I cut holes in the fabric where the side holes of the pot are and poked plants through.  An easy way to do this (useful when planting hanging baskets too) is to wrap the plant (not the root) in some thin cardboard making a tube small enough to push the through the hole.  Take the tube off on the other side and, voilà, no damage done to the plant.  I took a risk on the May frost and planted them early.  The garden Gods were good to me and they survived. These pictures were taken 11th June so by now they are coming into their own. I'll post a picture in a couple of weeks when they come to fruition.

We also use decking strips to make the veggie boxes.  I wanted four raised boxes rather than a border because I thought the slope might make it difficult, plus I could add lashings of compost and improve the soil/builders rubble.  It has also turned out handy for crop rotation. The beans were terrific last year but there was a bit of a battle with the wind and six foot wigwams. This year I am trying dwarf runner, French and broad beans and petis pois; as yet I'm not impressed.  The small tripod is for three cucumbers. One box has permanent planting.  It has Timperly rhubarb and I plant herbs in part-buried pots to contain them.

And this is what it is all about!  Today's rhubarb pickings. This is my third harvest this year and there is enough here for three puddings for two people.  I washed and chopped and divided it into three.  Put two portions in the freezer and used the third for a crumble.  (Always make double the topping and freeze half of that too).  So whilst typing this I am replete with rhubarb crumble and cream.