Planting salad leaves in late summer

It may already be the end of July, but it’s not too late to plant a few salad leaves for this season. Unlike a lot of vegetables, which really do need the whole of the summer to produce a reasonable crop, loose salad leaves are sufficiently fast-cropping to be worth planting in July or even August.

Rocket germinates very fast and is worth planting at nearly any time of year. Throw a few rocket seeds into a pot or into the ground, cover lightly with soil and water in well, and you should start to see seedlings within a week or two. Rocket is actually better started either well after midsummer (so, about now) or well before it (early spring), as around June it will bolt (run to seed) much faster.

Leaf lettuces (lettuces that grow lots of single leaves rather than forming a ‘head’) are a better bet than headed lettuces for late planting, as you can start picking leaves as soon as there are a handful of true leaves on the plant. Lollo rosso is one popular option; as is royal oakleaf. Real Seeds sell ‘Bronze Arrowhead’ oakleaf lettuce seeds. I’ve had great success growing these lettuces at all times of year, and they taste great; however, they do take a while to germinate.

Most lettuces, helpfully, are at least a bit frost-hardy, so you can expect them to keep cropping well into the autumn. You can extend this further by building a cold frame. Last year I had rocket and bronze arrowhead lettuce growing throughout the winter, even when it snowed. The plants outside the cold frame survived, but didn’t grow any new leaves until the spring.

Finally, if you have any pea seeds left over, or can get hold of some, they’re also worth planting late. Some mange tout may yet produce a proper crop (experiment!), but at the very least, you can harvest and eat the pea tops as salad.

How to deal with ants: pt 2

I posted before about eco-friendly ways to deal with ants in the garden. Today I dug up the small box of potatoes I was growing (harvest small but hopefully tasty!), to discover an ants’ nest, or at least a lot of ant eggs, in the bottom of the box.

This was especially irritating as I’d seen fewer ants around of late, and was hopeful that the cinnamon was doing the trick.

On this occasion, I did decide to try the boiling water, primarily aimed at getting rid of the eggs. As the potatoes were out of the box, it wasn’t going to destroy any plants; and despite my reluctance to kill them, I am really not up for hosting an ants’ nest on my 5m x 1.5m balcony.

After the boiling water (a kettle-full over the couple of buckets that the compost had been transferred into), I chucked a watering-can full of cold tap water in as well, in the hope of drowning or scaring away any remaining ants. Or at least convincing them to take their nest elsewhere.

Watch this space for results… [sigh] Unfortunately I think it’s going to be hard to get rid of them altogether, since I have a lot of plant-pots that I’m loathe to dig out altogether; so there’s always somewhere else for them to go.

Tar sands activism today and next month!

I was up early this morning to walk the dog before heading off to smash the Piggy Pinata (link to photos) outside the International Banking Conference this morning. Video here. We handed out a big stack of Never Mind The Bankers newspapers, and copies of the booklet about RBS’ investment in the tar sands, to people going into the conference and to interested passers-by. The conference was looking at ‘reforming the banks’. What they mean is “how do we avoid the criticism (environmental and financial) whilst maintaining business as usual”. What we want is to stop investment into environmental disasters like the various tar sands projects and Deepwater Horizon — which are only the most obvious of the problems that fossil fuel investment causes.

Elsewhere, in the British Museum there was another BP sponsorship protest, with non-toxic ‘oil’ being poured around the Easter Island statue. This is after the Liberate Tate ‘oil’ spill at Tate Britain outside and inside the Tate Summer Party (celebrating BP’s sponsorship). (BBC report here.)

And, of course, Climate Camp 2010 is targetting RBS, the ‘oil and gas’ bank (currently investing in projects including tar sands) that is 84% owned by the public. Come up to Edinburgh in August to join in with the actions!

For more information, visit the Tar Sands In Focus blog or the No Tar Sands website.

Small luxuries

Yesterday evening, whilst picking raspberries and blackcurrants at the allotment, I was thinking about small luxuries.

One of the things I appreciate most about the summer, these days, is the ability to eat raspberries by the handful. I’ve always loved raspberries — we had them in the garden when I was a kid — and for years I could get only the tiny, expensive, and often tasteless punnets that the supermarkets sell. Now there are twenty canes of them in the allotment (ten summer, ten autumn), and more raspberries than I can eat from June till September. A glorious luxury, with the only outlay (I think we’ve long since earnt back the £20 spent on the canes four years ago) the time it takes me to pick them, which is a pleasure in itself.

When I was cycle touring, eighteen months ago, my self-indulgence was that after the sun went down, I would light up the stove again to make a mug of tea, then crawl into my sleeping bag and lie there snugly in my tent with tea, a couple of chocolate biscuits, and an episode of Stargate (I have a fondness for dodgy SF TV) on the netbook. I remember thinking at the time that the only thing that could make the experience better would have been the ability to knit at the same time (the tent, sadly, was too small to sit up in, and knitting whilst lying on my stomach gave me cramp in my hands).

Since I’ve been home, one of my favourite small luxuries is to go to the library, then take my lovely new library books across the Blue to Adam’s Café, and read over a plate of chips and beans with a coffee. Costs around £3, feels fabulous.

It makes me immoderately happy, just to appreciating these little things.