I had missed the fact is was a bank holiday weekend until someone mentioned it on Thursday at the Pre-school door so what a bonus weekend! It was the perfect opportunity on Saturday for an impromptu meal outdoors at our new table with fresh salad from the garden.
We bought our garden furniture a few weeks ago as ordered by my husband from The Garden Furniture Centre. I really recommend it, it was reasonably priced and was delivered and put together by a lovely Polish lad. Picture the scene…my husband is working from home so he can be there for delivery should I be on Pre-school run. Nice polite Polish lad turns up in van, 6′ 5″ husband wonders out wearing fluffy ‘comfy pants’ (ie old joggers that are about 2 inches too short) to deal with delivery. Polite Polish lad walks into garden carrying HUGE box with massive table on his back, my husband pottering behind eating a one of the kids ‘Fab’ ice lollys. I then do lots of manic “for God’s sake help the poor man” gestures as husband looks at me confused. Long story short the furniture was delivered, unpacked and all the rubbish taken away in recored time by the nicest most polite delivery man, I was impressed, I rushed out with big tip which he seemed genuinely delighted to be given. We have waited a few years for decent garden furniture and it makes a big difference to how we use the garden, having a table that seats us all and guests.
Yesterday we sat outside and ate the first salad leaves from the garden, along with a bean salad (containing our own broad beans) and potato salad with lovely spring onions ‘North Holland Blood Red’ which have been growing since last Autumn (I sow these every few weeks wherever a space appears). The salad leaves are grown in apple crates and are cut and come again so that I can keep trimming the big leaves off and have a continuing supply. Below are Lettuce Cos ‘Green Oak Leaf‘, Lettuce ‘Reine de Glace‘, Mustard ‘Red Frills‘ and Mibuna. To add a pretty touch I grow Viola Tricolour ‘Heartsease’ in a pot to add to salads or freeze in ice cubes for summer drinks. Once I have lifted the 3 apple crates growing garlic I will also sow salad in these.
I have taken in the lesson to grow what you eat and also to grow things that taste infinitely better home grown than bought, so for the first time I am growing sweetcorn. They say it looses it’s sweetness every minute after picking so you can never get bought corn that tastes as good as home grown, the main problem is that corn is wind pollinated with the male flowers at the top showering pollen down onto the females below, so they need to be planted in a block and need quite lot of space (and full sun!). You can also only plant one variety (if planting a supersweet kind) as cross pollination causes the ears of corn not to develop properly. I decided to plant ‘sweet nugget’ (I also fancied strawberry popcorn, which looks just like a strawberry and is intended for popcorn by putting the whole cob into the microwave) which went into 15cm pots in april in the greenhouse. They hate frost so you cannot plant them out too early but they also hate root disturbance (and the roots were coming through the bottom of my pots) so I decided to plant them out a last week.
To make the most of the space I decided to try the ‘Three Sisters’ planting method. This is (my translation) of a Native American way of planting and involves planting corn, beans and squash together. Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb, beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot and also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing moisture loss. Apparently.
Corn needs to be planted 40cm apart and ideally in a block of at least 4 rows by 4 (so 16 plants). As my raised beds are only 120 wide I am chancing it a bit by planting 12 corns, 3 rows by 4…we’ll see if I can get away with it. Once the corn is about 30cm high I am going to plant a couple of beans next to each corn and a single squash ‘turks turban’ underneath.
I am already panicking re-reading my info to write this post as everyone says you must have a minimum of 4, by 4 or you will get bald areas on the kernels. Humm…Anyhow, I will have to remove the cloches soon as many of the corn has reached the tops and I don’t want to hinder the growth, so we’ll see!
ALL CHANGE. The kids are in bed and I have been reading a few gardening forums, the general chat is that it doesn’t work here in the UK. The main problem is that the beans grown quicker than the corn and also climb about so much that it makes everything difficult to pick. I had already realised that you are better to plant a bean you plan to leave to dry but I guess the Native Indians probably let the whole lot dry and I want to eat my corn fresh, so instead I am going to just plant corn and a single squash, that way it has a better chance. It’s a lot to give up a whole raised bed (I only have 4 for veg) so I prefer to improve my chances.
Long post, no photo…hope you haven’t fallen asleep!
I decided last week to move as much as possible out of the greenhouse, partly to provide more light but also to get everything settled outside before June, as we are away a lot and I will be relying on our generous neighbor to water the garden. I checked the weather and although it looks a bit wet the temperature is forecast to stay warm. I am a bit naughty for cutting corners, I should harden off most plants by placing them outside during the day or using a cold frame (which I don’t have) for 10 days or so, but instead I use cloches and cross my fingers! I moved out the tomatoes (san marzone & sungold ), courgettes (defender & soleil) and rather bravely the sweetcorn (sweet nugget). The sweetcorn has been covered by large individual cloches which I will keep in place until June. It’s a bit of a pain lifting them each day to water but I would rather that than loose the crop. The tom’s and courgettes have just been dumped outside in sheltered sunny spots to fend for themselves.
Still in the greenhouse are aubergines (slim jim) and squash (gem/rolet, butternut harrier f1, turks turban, organic sweet dumpling, buttercup & crown prince) which I will move when they are a little bit bigger and the weather more settled, along with tomatoes (brandywine & tigarella), aubergines (violetta di firenze), melons (edonis) and peppers (red topepo rossa) that will be grown entirely under glass.
I drafted this post a week ago and since we have had some pretty awful wind and rain. I rush out every morning (after kids breakfast etc) to check that the sweetcorn is still alright and so far, so good! Also, a quick note on germination. I am having problems germinating the courgette and squash seeds, I now have 4 courgettes (which is plenty, I was aiming for 6 but I think that would provide a glut so 4 is better) but only 1 of the squash has germinated, despite my adding new seeds every week as I get impatient. It looks like a couple more are on their way, but if not I will sow new seed direct outside next week.
Sweetcorn under cloches
Now that the tulips are gone the borders are all about Alliums and the colours green and purple. I have lots of ‘Purple Sensation’ which create beautiful pom poms throughout, if I could only plant one Allium it would be these. I leave the seed heads in place after they have flowered, as they add great winter interest, but remove some before they brown and rot to dry in the greenhouse and then spray gold or silver and throw them at the christmas tree (they stick without needing to be tied on).
I also grow alliums:
Along with these and flowering at the moment are Geranium ‘Philippe Vapelle’ (as below), Delphiniums ‘Black Knight’, Cerinth Major ‘Purpurascens’ (also growing in the cutting garden) and providing a splash of colour at the back honeysuckle ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ which doesn’t have a scent but is a fantastic bright orange colour.
I have just picked the first broad beans from a sowing last September. I planted 2 beans per bucket (drilled with holes) of ‘Super Aquadulche’ in John Innes 2 compost and after they germinated in the greenhouse put them outside, in a sheltered spot for the winter. I did a second sowing in April, direct outside in more buckets of compost (this time I am trying 3 beans per bucket – we’ll see how they go) that should be ready for picking early summer. Next year I hope to find a good scarlet broad bean so I can maybe grow it among the flowers as I think they will look great. Today’s handful are going into a noodle soup for dinner, along with some pak choi ‘Mei Quing Choi’ that is also ready to eat (in fact yesterday I planted pak choi seeds ready to replace any that I pick in an old gutter laying alongside the raised bed so as to keep an ongoing supply throughout the summer).
Also ready in the garden are spinach ‘Bordeaux’, mixed salad leaves and the rhubard is still going strong.
I potted up the tomatoes last weekend as they were getting a little big, although they are all still in the greenhouse waiting for the final frosts before I move half outside. This year I am growing:
In Greenhouse – ‘Brandywine’ x 2, ‘Tigerella’ x 2
Outside – ‘Sungold’ x 2, ‘San Marzone’ x 2
As mentioned in an earlier post, I lost most of my crop last year to a late frost and ended up buying this replacement of seedlings from Sarah Raven and they were fantastic. I couldn’t throw any away and with the few of my own that survived the frosts I ended up with 13 plants – yes 13!! There was a lot of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, sweet relish etc made, believe me.
I start my tomatoes in February in the house. We are lucky to have glass for two walls of our kitchen so this allows for lots of light and an early sowing. I sometimes plant them in jiffy 7’s but this year I used small pots. I then move them up into larger pots and plant them deeper, up to the first leaves (the seed leaves) so they can form more roots. I brave moving them to the greenhouse (unheated) quite early but keep them covered with small cloches and keep an eye on the weather.
Finally (around the end of April) I pot them up into buckets or large pots with John Innes No 3 compost. They are already quite big now and although I haven’t started tying them in, the canes are in place for support and they have been potted into their final buckets. I have started to pinch out the side shoots (which form between the stems at an angle) to stop the plants using up extra energy. Once they form their first flower trusses I will feed them with a tomato fertilizer once a week and I will tie them onto the cane as they grow.
After they have formed about 5 or 6 trusses of flowers I will pinch out the top to stop them growing any further and give the fruit that forms a better chance. Then we will have a plentiful supply of tomatoes for most of the summer.