Garden diary 18.08.2012

In an attempt to keep better track of what happens in the garden, a new weekly note-to-self.

Planted:

  • 1.5 rows of turnips in SE bed.
  • 2 rows pak choi in SW bed.
  • 1 row chard in NE bed.
  • Handful of mustard greens in NW bed (I think… it was only yesterday and already struggling to remember!).
  • Mint cuttings and nasturtiums in box on front doorstep.
  • Nasturtiums in box by back door.
  • Strawberry runners into a little pot.

I made labels from takeaway cartons with permanent marker for all of these except the mustard greens.

Harvested:

  • Two courgettes.
  • Handful of chard.
  • Handful of salad leaves a couple of times.
  • Handful of baby carrots.

Other:

  • Moved tomatoes from polystyrene box to SE bed by fence, as they weren’t doing very well.
  • Pulled out a bunch of gone-to-seed rocket to make room for turnips and chard.
  • Misc weeding.
  • Moved chilli pepper from living-room windowsill to outside back door in hope that it will do a bit better.
  • Sorted out water butt / drainpipe diverter which wasn’t functioning at its best.

To do over next week:

  • Water plenty during the hot weather!
  • Thin out lettuce some more before it goes to seed.
  • Dig/set in border of long west bed properly.

The Garden Project: August update

Suddenly there is sunshine, after what felt like weeks and weeks of rain and grey skies. Here’s a quick roundup of things in the garden:

  • Fruit:
    • Two apples on the tree (I took a couple off when they first appeared, to reduce the load on the tree in its first year[0]).
    • A handful of raspberries, and the autumn raspberries flowering.
    • A handful of strawberries from three troughs.
    • Two rhubarb crowns transplanted from the allotment are doing well after wilting heavily at first.
  • Salad veg:
    • The bronze arrow-head lettuce has gone spectacularly to seed, with flower heads that are several feet tall. I’m hoping it’ll self-seed cleanly, but I’m not sure if there’s anything else around that crosses with it.
    • The rocket jungle, though extensive, is getting a bit too peppery as it too goes to seed. I may hoick some of the plants up as there really is a lot of it. It’s also self-seeded into the gaps between the paving slabs.
    • The misc lettuce still cropping happily in the salad bed.
  • Other veg:
    • The courgettes have started cropping and we’ve eaten the first couple.
    • The chard hasn’t really germinated terribly well. There are a couple of plants but I was hoping for more. Intending to replant for an autumn/winter crop.
    • No sign at all of the pak choi. Again, I’ll try replanting.
    • We had a reasonable crop of peas but those have gone now.
    • The tomatoes are growing away happily. The ones in the self-watering containers are doing noticeably better than the others.
    • The turnips doing well and we’ve already eaten the first row. Intending to plant another couple of rows for a late-summer crop.
    • There are plenty of carrots but they’re not growing all that fast. I’ve always struggled with carrots!
    • Very few beets germinated from the row I planted. Given the close relationship between beetroot and chard and the poor germination rates for both, I’m wondering if the conditions were just bad for these plants. (Alternatively, I may have had old seed as I’ve been using up seed from older packets.)

Things to plant in the next month:

  • Turnips.
  • Chard.
  • Pak choi.
  • Perhaps some winter cabbage or lettuce?
  • Rocket, except I won’t need to deliberately plant that as it’s happily planting itself.

[0] We bought it as a 3-yr-old tree; if it were actually a maiden I’d have removed all of the fruit in its first year.

The Balcony Project: plants for north-facing spaces

The next stage in the balcony planning is a little research on plants that will do well in north-facing areas. Given my other requirements, I’m most interested in edibles, and perennials or self-seekers (for minimal ongoing maintenance).

It’s a good idea to remember the difference between different types of shade: ‘open’, ‘medium’, and ‘deep’ shade. I have open shade (north-facing, but nothing much overshadowing it) which makes life a little easier.

In a small space it’s even more important than usual to consider height as wel as ground space, and I have a small area of wall and a railing available. Here’s a few potential plants:

Climbers and shrubs

  • Oregon Thornless blackberry: can be grown in a pot (2′ square x 2.5′ deep, ideally) and carefully trained up a trellis. It would need regular maintenance not to overrun next door’s balcony. But I do like blackberries, and in a pot it would be less of a menace than they are in the ground. It flowers on one-year-old wood.
  • Kiwi vines: will fruit in the shade, and could grow along the railing. I’d need a male and female plant, so one at each end. However, they would block the view through the railings onto the river, which is really valuable to me.
  • Honeyberry: prefers partial shade, so in that sense ideal. However, you need two plants (male and female), and they grow to 5′ so need a half barrel sized pot per plant. I think it’s either this or the blackberry.

Flowers

  • Plumbago: perennial, butterflies love it, but not edible.
  • Violet: edible, perennial, one of my favourites anyway.

Herbs, greens, etc

  • Mint: that old favourite for shady areas. I don’t actually use it much in cooking, but mint tea is nice, and mint, apple juice, vodka and ice is a lovely summer cocktail. Smells great on the balcony, too. I have a plant in the garden so would be easy to propagate.
  • New Zealand spinach: a new one on me. Perennial, best started from transplant, and needs blanching before cooking so realistically probably wouldn’t get used.
  • Chard, beets, other leafy greens: if they’re on the balcony, they won’t be readily harvestable for the kitchen, so we’re unlikely to use them.
  • Peas: in theory the above would also apply, except that raw peas fresh from the pod taste fantastic, so could be eaten on the spot.
  • Salad greens: could be eaten on the spot, so might be worth it, especially as the baby gets bigger and might be in and out of there more. Planting in partial north-facing shade might give some resistance to bolting and mean we get a midsummer crop, which is not possible in the south-facing and very warm back garden. I have plenty of salad green seeds so may try this out.
  • Alpine strawberries: very very tasty. Definitely try these next year.
  • Rhubarb: shade-tolerant, can be grown in a pot, but we already have it in the garden and it is quite large.

I did also find a list of some other shade-tolerant edibles, but they all seem a bit big for my purposes.

Now I have the list, the next step is to construct a plan. Watch this space…

Tip o’ the hat to: the Savvy Gardener on gardening in the shade, and Life on the Balcony on shade-tolerant fruit.

Garden update

Despite the erratic weather, things in the garden are moving on happily. A quick list (no photos this time, may try to add some tomorrow):

  • Apples on the apple tree! Research suggests that as this is a 3-yr-old tree, I should thin the apples a little but don’t need to remove them all. So am hoping for at least one apple from the tree this year.
  • Tomatoes now planted out. Two in a polystyrene tub, two in the back of one of the raised beds, three in self-watering containers, and I will see which do best. My bet is on the SWCs. They’re all up against a west-facing fence so should get plenty of sun.
  • The broad beans have all come out now. A middling harvest; the ones in the raised beds did fine (although hard to get at the ones at the back for harvesting), but the ones in the polystyrene tubs did quite badly. I think they really need more space for their roots.
  • Peas are growing away merrily and have just started to flower.
  • Turnips also doing very well; thinned out last week and nibbled on a few of the thinnings raw.
  • Rocket heading rapidly to seed, so very very peppery.
  • Lettuces doing great and I really must eat more of them for my lunches!
  • Nearly none of the beets or chard have come up. I am wondering if the seeds were past it? Will get new seeds to plant for chard to overwinter, anyway.
  • Courgettes flowering but not yet any female flowers, only male ones. That quite often happens initially, so I’m happy to contain myself in patience.

I have a spare half-bed that I’m not sure what to do with; and a squash in a small pot that badly needs to go down to the allotment as there’s no room for it to do well in the garden.

Allotment weeding with a baby

We already solved the problem of taking the baby to the allotment (and to lots of other places). This weekend for the first time I managed to get something done while I was there, too, rather than just telling doop what to do.

After a false start when Leon insisted that this was NO GOOD and he wanted MILK instead, I got him snugly up on my back & started clearing dead asparagus. Shortly after that I had sleepy baby breathing in my ear.

Untitled

With Leon in the allotment 1

All the potatoes are at last in, only a month late (although half of them did go in last month, and are already poking above the cardboard mulch). We have, from north to south (1.5kg of seed potatoes each set):

  • Orla (1st early, planted mid-April, to lift early July)
  • Lady Balfour (west of the apple tree) (maincrop, planted mid-April, to lift late August/early Sept)
  • Amorosa (1st early, planted mid-May, to lift early August)
  • Arran Victory (late maincrop, planted mid-May, to lift mid-Sept)

Not sure how well the Amorosa will do, given their late start, but if all goes well then we’ll have a nice spread of potatoes to harvest over the summer/autumn.

The final bed, in the south, will have butternut squash planted in it when the seedlings currently on the window-sill are a bit bigger. I should also think about a late summer catch-crop for the Orla bed.

Peas and beans

I planted most of my broad beans last November/December, in two of the raised beds. One lot were planted in the polyculture winter veg bed, and the second lot in the bed next to it as a block on their own. Both sets, particularly the larger block, are doing very well now, and the flowers are starting to turn into small beans. A few more beans, planted at the same time in a polystyrene box, are a bit less vigorous — perhaps because their roots are more shallow? I’ve also planted a second batch in early March in another polystyrene box and those have just begun to emerge. With luck I’ll get a second later crop from them.

Broad beans taking up half of a raised bed, in front of a fence
The broad bean jungle

In further legume news, I planted some snow peas at the back of the broad bean block, thinking that they could use the beans as a support to grow up and around. However, the beans are so jungly that I can’t see much of the peas, so that may not have been such a smart move. On the other hand, I may find lots of happy peas when I finally get to them. I’ll venture into the bean jungle to investigate when I start harvesting beans.

Hopefully the spring pea plantings, in two more polystyrene boxes (one by the west fence, one south of the raised beds), will be more straightforwardly successful. So far they’re looking good, and I’ll soon need to find some sticks and/or string for them to grow up.

Finally, I have some sweet pea seedlings from my mum in pots on the patio, which may not be food-productive, but will hopefully make it even nicer to sit there once they get going (and if we ever see the sun again…).

Salad plantings

Also on my March planting list were green salad leaves. All of my preferred green salad leaves are cut-and-come-again types; from a permaculture perspective, that’s a more productive use of the soil as you can keep harvesting throughout the season rather than only getting a once-off harvest then returning to bare earth and having to replant. So I planted sorrel, endive, and rocket, to replace the rocket that’s been growing in the winter veg bed all winter and which will bolt soon.

I was also very pleased to discover a couple of bronze arrowhead seedlings (presumably self-seeded? I’m not sure!) springing up in the pot of my satsuma tree. Bronze arrowhead is one of my favourite lettuces, but I discovered too late that I was out of seed this year. I’ve transplanted the seedlings into the salad veg bed, as they and the satsuma want rather different water conditions, and they’re doing well.

Nothing is growing terribly fast yet, but as of a couple of weeks ago, this was the March-planted corner of my salad veg bed:

You can just about see the seedlings — sorrel and endive in the centre, rocket around the edges — between the cherry blossom fallen from next door’s tree; and the bigger and healthy-looking bronze arrowhead lettuces.

Last week, I planted the April batch of greenery in the next corner of the bed: a different type of oak leaf lettuce, and a batch of Mystery Mixed Lettuces from the Real Seed Company. I’ll be interested to see what I get from those!

The Garden Project: quick-win vegetables

So, we planted one side of our new garden with grass already. On the other side (the eastern, and thus west-facing, side), the first quick win was to move the pots of tomatoes and herbs from the old balcony. The west-facing fence was ideal for tying up the tomatoes, and it immediately made the space look more garden-like.

My parents also brought along four or five large polystyrene tubs (from frozen food deliveries) and some bags of compost, so I used those to plant a few turnips and some rocket and mustard greens, all of which do well in late summer. Another good quick win.

My intention is to construct a bunch of raised beds, as the ground underneath the paving slabs is compacted London clay, which hasn’t been cultivated at all for at least a century or so.[0] Instead of trying to improve it enough to grow directly in it, it’s easier to put compost on top and let the soil underneath improve gradually. (It’s also safer, as we don’t know what the ground might be contaminated with, other than certainly lead, like any other patch of inner-city ground.) However, I want to think about the placement of these for a bit, and observe the flows (of sun and frost) in the space, before I do anything too much.

I decided that a single raised bed would be OK: at worst, it would be manageable enough to dump all the soil out of it next spring and relocate it. So I turned a deconstructed pallet into one raised bed, and took out the paving slabs and weed matting under that area. That left me with about an inch of sand, and compacted London clay underneath. I stuck a fork into it all a few times, then dumped some half-rotted leaves and about 100l of old compost/new compost/’soil improver’ (cheap from the Southwark waste recycling centre) on the top of it.

In deciding what to plant, I took the polyculture annual veg approach I learnt in a session on the EAT course. There’s a limit to what will do well planted in late summer, but I started off with a few kale and broccoli raab plants, which by now have a few small edible leaves. A couple of weeks later, I planted a few transplanted turnips (success: middling), some chard, and a lot of rocket and other mixed greens. The salad seedlings are coming up well now, and in a week or so I’ll be able to harvest the first baby chard leaves.

In late September, I planted a row of spring cabbage towards the back of the bed — it may be too late for these to do well, but we’ll see; I might get lucky with the weather. Later this month I’ll plant some garlic around the edges (good for keeping the pests off), and in November, some broad beans wherever there’s a bit of space.

It was definitely worth the effort – even if I end up having to move it in the spring – to have that bed already in place and seedlings growing for the winter. It feels something like a proof-of-concept, or perhaps just a promise to myself that there will be a lot more of these by this time next year.

[0] The house was built in the mid-1990s, on land that used to be occupied by a warehouse, which was there from at least the early 20th century; we’re not sure exactly when it was knocked down, but at best the land will have just been derelict for a bit before the estate was built. Prior to the warehouse, there was either housing, or possibly boat-building, going on in the area.