Defensive manoeuvres

This year I am attempting to grow red brussel sprouts.  Again.  Last year’s, (Marhsall’s Red Bull) turned out to be green, and were clearly wrongly labelled.  This year I tried again (Rubine from Unwins) and so far so good; they are red!

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Young Rubine brussel sprout plant

I sowed them towards the end of March and pricked them out about a month ago.  Now they are ready to plant in the garden ……. but I know that this is fraught with dangers for these tasty young plants.  Voracious slugs lie in wait to graze them to the ground and cabbage white butterflies will be attracted to lay the eggs of their very hungry caterpillars on my precious plants!

 

Last year we tried quater inch mesh to keep butterflies off our brassicas, but this was not wholly successful as some of them managed to squeeze themselves through the holes.  The picture below on the left shows one lot of protection which was doubly unsuccessful as quite a lot of the leaf grew up to touch the leaves and was thus easily accessible to the butterflies.

But even the brussels in the picture on the right suffered from caterpillar damage as the butterflies simply squeezed through the holes.  Almost as if to spite me they then seemed to become trapped inside the netting.

This is our first attempt this year to keep butterflies off, and they certainly won’t creep through these holes.

However, although we are sure that this will keep the butterflies off we are also worried that it will keep the sun off, it really is quite shady inside the netting.

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View from the inside of the netting.

So ….. we may need to go back to the drawing board.  However, we are hoping that the copper ring will be enough to keep the slugs at bay ….. If anyone has any advice for keeping butterflies off our cabbages I would love to hear from you.

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Taking stock in the vegetable garden

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This shows the relative positions of the plots to each other.  South is to the top and the beehives to the left.

I thought that the first day of a new month would be a good time to take stock and to reflect on the season so far.  There has been nowhere near the slug depredation that I had been expecting.  The main exception to this being lettuce seedlings, as direct sown lettuce have all failed.  However, this has been overcome by starting lettuces in pots, or by buying in young plants.

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For most of the lettuce plants grown in pots it is only the outer leaves which have been damaged by slugs; although occasionally whole plants have been taken.

At the moment I am pleased with the sweetcorn.  Despite being under the plum tree they are growing strongly and the cobs are visibly swelling.  However, many of the interplanted climbing beans in this plot were taken by slugs.

The broad beans are now over.  They performed well but I was pleased to pull up the untidy looking old plants, and reveal the underplanted crops.  On the left below are the broad beans before they were removed, on the right the redbore kale, now able to grow strongly in the light.

The experimental beds have so far yielded some relatively small but useable heads of garlic, one tiny cauliflower and lots of lettuce.  I have not been at all systematic about recording this, and my weighing scales are not sensitive enough to record differences in weight between, for example, different heads of garlic.  Consequently I can only make the vaguest of generalisations about the relative efficacy of the different soil treatments.  My impression is that there was no significant difference between growchar, seaweed meal, a combination of both and nothing.  However, all plots had plenty of organic matter added to the top few inches of soil;  I think this had a positive effect.  The swiss chard failed; perhaps because the paper pots that I used for them prevented them getting their roots into the soil.

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Pasnips seem to be doing well in all four test conditions; I am looking forward to seeing what is going on under the surface when I harvest them.

My experience with the climbing beans also suggests that good quality compost in the top few inches of soil has a positive effect; I believe that the better results with the crop that has not been double dug is because the compost was where the plants benefitted from it most.  However, so far the squash under the double dug beans is looking most healthy; perhaps because is is less shaded than the one under the more strongly grown beans?

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I am a little dissapointed with the brussel sprouts.  I ordered a variety called Red Bull from Marshalls.  So far the plants are stubbornly green, instead of the beautiful colour promised.  Nevertheless, the ones planted in C3 are growing well.  The ones in D4 are doing less well as they are under the apple tree and have significantly less light; they are on the left below; to make matters worse they do need weeding!

The summer broccoli, which is underplanted with lettuces, was bought on a whim from a local garden centre.  They are looking well, although I have not netted them and have to be constantly vigilant for butterfly eggs.

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I adore the colour of these broccoli leaves.

The flower seedlings have nearly all germinated after just a week.  The first (godetia) seedling appeared after just two days!

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Again, I belive that plenty of organic matter in the surface of the soil has helped to create the right conditions for germination.

The mangetout peas have yielded a very light crop.  However, I have also underplanted with beetroot so there is more to come from this plot.  I have also planted a few flowers to help attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

This plot also has a few leeks, they were planted before the ones in B2 and are bigger.  B2 also has lettuce plants and oriental greens.  The oriental greens have been damaged by cabbage fleas beetle, but are still worth cropping.  The lettuces are looking good.

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All in all the season is progrssing nicely!  Next time I shall take an overview of the crops which are not growing in the vegetable plots.

Double Digging!

Early in the year I double dug one of the plots where I planned to grow runner beans.  The other one just had compost worked into the surface.  I wondered which would grow the best crop.

So far the results have been dramatic.  One batch of beans is looking lush and healthy.

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Lots of beans are forming already.

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The other is looking distinctly less healthy, and the poles are only sparsely covered.

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Of course, it is the one that I double dug which has performed so poorly.  Apparantly the compost is better added to the top few inches than burried deep in the soil!  This experiment is not conclusive;  I would need to carry it out several times in different conditions before I could be sure.  However, I wil think twice before I go to all of this bother in the future!  In the meantime I am looking forward to harvesting runner beans before too much longer.

Not so bad!

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I had been feeling a little disheartened with the garden.  I do not enjoy gardening so much when the weather is hot.  Besides, the weeds grow so fast at this time of year.  I felt cross that I had let the garden get out of hand and lost the momentum of earlier in the year.  Then Chris pointed out that actually we are eating a lot of food from the garden.  In fact, in the picture above all of the food except for the veggie sausages was grown by us!  There are tomatoes, potatoes, broadbeans, caulifower, garlic, mangetout peas and kale.  Most days we are eating lettuce as well which has done very well this year.

The last couple of evenings have been a bit cooler so I have been able to get out and do some weeding, and everything is looking a lot better.  I also realised that some crops that were looking tatty were ready for harvest and although looking past their best, were actually doing well.more july harvest 021

Here is some of the garlic just before I harvested it.  I had planted this variety in three different conditions.  When I dug up the first two batches there did not seem to be any difference.  The third batch however, did seem to be a bit bigger.

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The individual heads of garlic on the left seemed to be a little bigger than those on the right.  I bet you are wondering which addtion to the soil had this effect aren’t you?  Was it the growchar?  or the seaweed meal?  or maybe the plot which had a mixture of both?  No! It was the control plot which had no additives at all.  Maybe next year I will save my money and only add organic matter to the soil rather than any other additives!

This variety is Solent Wight, and although the bulbs are fairly small they are quite useable.  The Red Duke of York was a lot less successful however, and most of the bulbs rotted away.  Perhaps they would have done better in a less rainy year or if I had planted them where they were not overshadowed by other crops.  There are so many variables at play, it really is hard to tell which factors are the most significant.

Transformation

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Do you remember this big pile of soil in the middle of the lawn from when Chris was digging out the slabbed area in front of the compost heap?  Well, it has been transformed…

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Although not in the strictest sense part of the productive garden, since this bed is going to be filled with flowers to attract bees and other polinators I am including it here.  I have raked it to remove roots and stones and break up clods of soil. I added several bags of rotted manure, mainly to try and improve the texture of the soil. Chris then used a drag to create a gentle even mound.    the pattern on the surface is created by raking sand into the top layer to help me to divide the bed into even sections.  There are four thin paths to the Christmas tree stump in the centre which I plan to use as a support for sweet peas.  Yesterday I sowed each section with different mixtures of seeds which have been chosen for their desirability for bees.  I am hoping that the next few weeks will see an even bigger transformtion as the seeds germinate, grow into mature plants and eventually produce a riot of colour which will be buzzing with butterflies, bees and other insects.

More preparation

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500ml seaweed meal ready to be applied to half of the plot.

I’ve been continuing my preparations ready for the growing year ahead.  However, I am trying to be a bit more systematic and scientific about it than I was last time when I put everything that I had on the plot.  This time I prepared two plots.  Each was divided in two and half had no additive and the other half had either 500ml seaweed meal or 500g of growchar added.

 

After the product was evenly spread over the soil surface it was worked in with a rake  to ensure that it was evenly distributed into the top few inches of soil.

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Then a thick layer of compost was spread over the top of both plots.  In the foreground you can see some of the stones that were removed from the plot while this preparation was taking place.

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The two plots that I prepared this sunday on either side of the plot I prepared last week.

Lastly both plots were covered with black polythene to keep out the wet and cold so the will be read for planting out and sowing a little earlier.   This preparation means that I will now be able to make a comparrison of crops grown without additives, with the addition of seaweed meal, with the addition of growchar or the addition of both.

Over enthusiastic sowing

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I knew that there had to be a reason for the sports supplement!

Last year I bought myself a little paper pot maker.  It is used to turn strips of newspaper into sweet little paper plant pots.

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The idea is that the young plants can be grown in these biodegradable pots which can then be planted straight into the garden without any root disturbance at all.

At this time of year one is warned not to be too enthusiastic when it comes to sowing seeds.  They are likely to be ready to plant out too early in the season when it is still cold and inhospitable outside.  Looking after them indoors becomes increasingly problematic as light levels are too low and plants become forced.  Moreover, they keep growing and taking more and more space on crowded windowsills and in greenhouses.

So what have I done?  Sown seeds of course!  As well as the Rainbow Swiss Chard in paper pots I have planted sweetpeas not to mention all of the seeds that I sowed last week.  Sadly I put them in the airing cupboard but did not keep a close enough eye on them; I failed to remove them as soon as they germinated!

These poor seedlings have had the worse start in life!  They are yellow and drawn and will be very susceptable to damping off and other fungal diseases.  Fortunately I think that only some of the seeds have germinated so far. I hope the ones that were slightly slower to germinate will be a little healthier, otherwise I will have to sow some more!

Feeling Chilly!

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Today was definitely colder than when I took a picture of the same view a week ago!  I reckon that is a sprinkling of snow on the beds, but Chris thinks it is just a heavy frost.  Either way, we didn’t let it stop us getting on in the garden.

Chris pruned the last of the fruit trees.

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That was a bit of a cold job today, but he was really pleased to get it done.  The ones that he was doing today were two of our espaliers which had started to send up lots of shoots which meant that last autumn it was a bit of a stretch to reach all of the fruit!

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They look a lot more manageable now; there are plenty of fruiting spurs so fingers crossed for a good crop next year.  In the foreground is the Jonagold which has never cropped heavily.  Perhaps because it is in the only part of the garden where there is a tendency for the soil to become waterlogged.

Because there were only 11 cloves in the Red Duke garlic that I planted last week I sent off for some more.  I thought that I would try a different variety to compare with Red Duke so ordered Solent Wight.  This time there were over thirty cloves in the same weight of garlic.  I planted those today as well as the last few broadbeans.  I had to order more of those seeds as well as I didn’t have quite enough.  I am hoping that in only a few weeks I will be able to plant both the garlic and broadbeans into the plot.  My Dad planted his broadbeans in the autumn and they are aparantly already a foot high!  It will be interesting to see how much sooner he is able to start picking his broadbeans than we are.

 

 

 

Looking a bit bare!

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I wouldn’t usually leave my plot so empty over winter.  It is not good for soil to be left unprotected by plants during the winter months as heavy rain can leach out many of the soils nutrients.  However, the two nearest plots were until recently full of strawberry plants.  The third plot along is now mainly full of strawberry runners (with a few bearded irises planted out at one end).  The furthest plot away had been full of tulip bulbs which I have only recently got around to digging out. I had left it too late to plant anything to over winter so that plot too is empty (save for some rhubarb at one end).  However. it is exciting to have such a blank canvas!

My son brought me a book called ‘One Magic Square’ for Christmas.  It is about growing crops on a square metre of land. I have divided my beds each into four separate metre square beds and am really looking forward to trying out some of the planting plans in this book.

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Slugs: Trouble to Come!

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Looking around the garden yesterday I could not help feeling that there may be trouble ahead!  Compare, for example, the picture of a young Herb Robert plant, above, with the chickweek trying to grow near by ….

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The Chickweed, which clearly tastes much nicer than Herb Robert, has been munched by slugs: it has all but been defoliated!  The Sweet Williams planted out in the vegetable beds have also suffered …

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I compared the growth of the seeds that I sowed at exactly the same time and from the same packet  in two different places…

On the left we have apparantly zero germination (next to a volunteer purple toadflax plant which I will allow to grow on).  On the right we have the overcrowded seedlings in a large container.  One reason for the difference might be the relatively cold wet and heavy soil compared to the free draining coir compost.  However, close inspection of the soil from time to time reveals tiny stalks of the seedlings that have dared to put their heads above the surface, only to have their leaves immediately grazed off by the hungry slugs!

All of this will obviously have implications for the year ahead as I plan to grow tasty crops rather than Toadflax and Herb Robert, which I have no more desire to eat than the slugs have.  To help reduce losses to slugs I have several strategies planned.

  1. As far as possible I will sow in pots and not put the plants into the ground until they are less tender and tempting.  By then they should also be robust enough to cope with a little nibbling.
  2. I will use barriers such as copper rings to protect the most valuable and vulnerable plants.   Although these are expensive they do last for a very long time.  (My lovely dad bought me some for my birthday last year: he knows me very well).
  3. I will regularly remove slugs from the plot.  Firstly, by visiting late at night with a torch in hand to catch them red handed.  Secondly, by laying traps such as pieces of board which I can then lift to reveal the slugs hiding during the day.
  4. I will grow a variety of crops intermingled rather than too many mono cultures. A whole plot of lettuce is likely to attract an army of slugs: a few lettuces grown amongst some onions might not get noticed.
  5. I will use ‘sacrificial plants’ that I know are loved by slugs to tempt slugs to eat them, rather than my crops.  These will also make night time visits more profitable as I am likely to be able to collect a lot of slugs from one place.
  6. Apart from my traps I will try and make sure there are as few places as possible for slugs to hang out by clearing up piles of rotting leaves and other places where they like to be.  Of course, the deep beds we built nearly 20 years ago and which are surrounded by a brick path and wooden boards make such a lovely home for our slimy friends so this might not make too much difference!
  7. I will encourage hedgehogs, birds and frogs into the garden who I know enjoy snacking on slugs.
  8. Lastly, I will try not to get too stressed by the inevitable losses and accept that slugs are a part of a gardener’s life!