Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 31 August 2012

Last Call For Winter Salads

Raddichio and Rocket - I'm experimenting with a modified square foot style approach for salads in pots ready for picking. All my winter leaves will be added to this arrangement when I've potted up my module sowings
The August Bank Holiday always signals my noticing the nights are drawing in and we've even had frost mentioned in the weather forecast this week (yes frost! In the balmy south-west! In August!).

So now's a good time to plan ahead and make the final salad sowings to see us through the winter months. It's a bit of a race against time, because the ever decreasing daylength and temperature means it's important for sowings to have sufficient time to grow enough leaves before they effectively grind to a halt in October/November.

There's still time to sow the absolute winter stalwarts until mid September: peppery land cress, rocket (I prefer wild), lamb's lettuce and winter purslane. These usually resist whatever the winter throws at them, even when they're left outdoors.

The 52 Week Salad Challenge means I'm also trying some new tastes for this year in the shape of various oriental leaves. I was impressed by everyone's reports of Mizuna doing well at the beginning of the year. I've grown it before but it's tended to remain neglected and overrun by weeds up at the allotment. By shifting my salad growing to home this year means I can keep a closer eye on it and actually pick some. This will be going into my coldframe alongside sowings of mustard ('Red giant') and komatsuna.

I've also sown some 'Bull's Blood' beetroot for their leaves. It might be too late, so we'll see. Turnips for leaves can be sown until mid-September so I'm applying the same thinking for my beetroot!

There's quite a few salad mixes which can be sown year-round for baby leaves, so it's worth looking at your packets to see what possibilities you have in store. I'll be keeping these on hand for emergency windowsill growing should any of my crops fail in the coming months.

Do you have any favourites to add to the list?

NB BBC Breakfast News reported earlier this week the price of iceberg lettuce is 65% up on last year, so now is the perfect time to join the 52 Week Salad Challenge! As well as the above ideas on what you can sow now, my  52 Week Salad Challenge Page has lots of information to help you on your way :)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Things in Unusual Places #12: Cats

Seeing cats have a bit of a reputation re their wildlife catching habits, I was surprised to see this rather ironic looking bird bath at my local garden centre recently.

Ahhh, but these are fluffy little kittens, I hear you cry, what harm can they do?

Judging by the expression on this one's face, quite a lot. It looks like it can't wait for its next meal ;)

Monday, 27 August 2012

Right Plant, Wrong Place: Blackberry

We've had an invasion from all quarters at VP Gardens recently which has crept up unnoticed until now. This summer's wet weather has kept me indoors a lot more and it's only in the past couple of weeks I've found lots of enormous brambles coming into the garden over the trees and shrubs. The pictured blackberries have come in from the neighbours behind us and there's quite a few more out front coming over from the public land next door.

The reason why I've noticed now is because we've been feasting on the blackberries, which is what makes it the right plant. However, it's beginning to take over the garden somewhat which makes it wrong place. I'm going to have to call upon NAH to squeeze himself behind the fence to do some major chopping work pretty soon, especially as the pigeons have also found the feast on offer and I don't want to have to dig up lots of mini bramble next spring.

When I was at Karen's recently, she mentioned de-thorned bramble is an excellent alternative for willow weaving. Now I love willow weaving, but being torn to shreds ripping out the bramble I have been able to get to doesn't really put me in the mood to give it a go this time.

What's crept up on you unnoticed in your garden this year?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Salad Days: Of Pesky Pests and Dread Diseases

When I began the 52 Week Salad Challenge earlier in the year, it was safe in the knowledge we were starting at the most difficult time for growing salad leaves and that things would get much easier as the year progressed.

Then came the drought that was March and early sowings failed to thrive. That was followed by the record deluge of April, May and June, which is still making itself felt from time to time. So it's a super bad year for slugs and snails, who've feasted and gorged themselves on my lettuces until I had nothing left but tiny stumps. Later sowings are now thriving - after a number of torchlight searches and removals of offending critters -  thank goodness.

After a slow start owing to the unseasonally cool weather we've had for most of the year, other pests and diseases are now beginning to make themselves felt. Flea beetles are adding their characteristic tiny holes to my rocket; cabbage white butterflies are laying eggs on my mustards and as for vine weevil, I've found some adults cheekily crawling around the old Belfast sinks I'm using in my shiny new salad area.

So what's to be done? I'm ignoring the flea beetle as they don't spoil the taste of the rocket leaves. One of the beauties of growing in pots is they can be lifted to eye level and butterfly eggs easily found and removed. The adult vine weevils have been squished with a satisfying crunch and as you can see I've invested in some nematodes so their offspring don't gain a hold in my pots.

Luckily I haven't suffered the ravages of pigeonsrabbits or aphids and as I'm growing mainly outdoors I haven't seen much in the way of glasshouse whitefly or red spider mite. I was worried my earlier indoor growings would suffer from sciarid fly (aka fungus gnats), but happily they didn't appear.

Ant nests are decimating some of my pots, though they haven't discovered the ones containing my salad leaves. This is probably because these pots aren't left alone for long, unlike their flower filled cousins.

Disease wise, I haven't seen much in the way of mildew yet, although it's ravaging through my Sedums. I think this is because I'm picking my salads like Charles Dowding showed me back in February. This allows for greater air flow around the leaves and I'm also picking when fairly young - probably before mildew can grab hold of the leaves.

I've had a bit of tip burn on my lollo bionda lettuces, but I picked the leaves off before I realised what I had and could photograph it ready to show you. Naturally the new leaves are in glowing health, so we'll have to wait and see if it develops again . It's thought to be due to a Calcium deficiency, though I've seen a recent research paper which seems to dispute this.

How are your salads faring? What pesky pests or dread diseases are you seeing this year? NB the links in this post will take you through to advice pages for each pest and disease mentioned, in case you need to find out more.

Update: we had a very interesting #saladchat on Twitter yesterday about differences in slug damage on red and green lettuce, thanks to a Comment left by Annemieke recently. This is worth a post in its own right, so watch this space...

It's also that time of the month for you to add your Salad Days posts to Mr Linky below. New contributors are always welcome :)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

When Penpals Get Seedy

I may have received a number of items in brown envelopes at the weekend, but happily they're not of the dodgy kind, though they are distinctly seedy :)

It's all down to Carl and Mel who've organised the fab Seedy Penpals scheme.

I've played 'pass the parcel' before over at Allotments4All, but this is a more personal  and cheaper way of exchanging seeds as there's no ginormous parcel to pass on to the next person in line.

Effectively I have 2 penpals: one who sends me seeds and the other I send seeds to. We have a discussion first about gardening experience and style, plus any preferences or dislikes, so the seed sender can pick out the spare packets in their stash which fit the bill. My selection is winging its way to Amsterdam - a place firmly in the affections of both NAH and I as we honeymooned there.

Seeds will be exchanged twice a year (in February 2013 next time) and we'll be blogging at the end of each month about how we're getting on with the seeds we've received.

My seeds arrived on Saturday from Joanna over at Zeb Bakes. They're a mix of herbs, veg and flowers; some which are familiar and others are completely new, like the Danish pickling cucumber and root parsley. I was also pleased to find some seeds from Special Plants as I was over at Derry's with Victoria last week :)

Most of the seeds will have to wait until next year, though I've sown the bulb fennel straight away. As my garden is south facing, I can get away with it and it'll be great to add an anise flavour to our salads in the coming months - from thinnings, frondy foliage and bulbs.

I'm amazed at how starting The 52 Week Salad Challenge has taken me in some unexpected directions this year. Discovering new blogs both near and far (including Carl, Mel and Joanna's); connecting with food bloggers who've come up with some wonderful salad combinations; and learning how to bake sourdough bread have all been a surprise and a delight.

Above all, it's the community and sharing - embodied in unselfish acts like Seedy Penpals - which have been most uplifting.

Thanks for my seeds Joanna - I hope I can do your gift justice :)

Monday, 20 August 2012

And the Winner Is...

I've consulted my trusty terracotta pot, and the winner of my yummy Yeo Valley competition is one of my twitter entrants, @Miss_Beehivin aka Zoe Lynch :)

Fate must have taken a hand because Zoe's latest post on her blog describes how to make damson gin: very fitting as the prize is helping to launch Yeo Valley's limited edition damson and plum yoghurt.

Thanks to everyone who took part. This turned out to be my most popular competition yet and I'm so pleased the prospect of a plum or Discovery apple tree inspired so many of you to leave a comment about what your choice of tree would be.

As well as looking at Zoe's recipe, you may also like mine for damson jam - it's my most popular blog post of all time :)

Update: Zoe's already planning on what she'll do with her tree :)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tried and Trusted: Lettuce

The current potted salad leaf selection available at the back door
For anyone starting to grow their own, the choice of seeds on offer can seem mind boggling. Even narrowing the options down to just salad leaves can still be a bit daunting, especially if the grower is used to the limited choice of varieties available at the supermarket.

So it's been great to see your successes mentioned on Salad Days or tweeted to #saladchat because I'm definitely seeing a number of tried and trusted varieties being mentioned again and again. I thought I'd compile a couple of posts with your recommendations. It's especially pleasing to do so as I can at last acknowledge some of the great contributions I've received via #saladchat.

Lettuce forms the basis of many salads, so today's post is confined to their varieties. I'm sure there's something new for everyone to try. NB The Constant Gardener has put together a great guide to the types of lettuce available which is a useful read. I'll cover recommendations for other types of leaves and herbs in a future post.

Top Bloggers and Tweeters Recommend:
  • Australian Yellowleaf - 'very pretty, slow to bolt, easy to grow and the kids love growing them coz they get absolutely huge'
  • Balloon - 'We have grown a brilliant lettuce this year called Balloon, which is a good name for it!'
  • Bronze Arrow - a Heritage Seed Library variety
  • Dazzle - like a Little Gem, but with red tipped leaves
  • Freckles - 'a speckly Cos style lettuce and I love it because being a Cos the leaves are really versatile and being spotty its fun to look at.'
  • Green Salad Bowl - 'my favourite lettuce at the moment... ...I do have occasional germination issues but the flavour, ease of harvest and the eventual growth rate all make it a winner for me'
  • Iceberg - 'I love their crunch and sweetness.' and 'it may be a bit passe these days but its hard to find anything else with that wonderful crunch and wrapped around a spring roll with a sprig of mint and a chilli dipping sauce there is truly nothing better.'
  • Little Gem - a smaller, sweeter tasting variety with plenty of crispness
  • Lobjoits Cos - large, deep green crisp leaves
  • Lollo Bionda - crisp frilly leaves
  • Lollo Rosso - crisp red frilly leaves
  • Marvel of Four Seasons - aka Merveille des Quatre Saisons, Red Riding Hood, or Besson Rouge: a French heritage variety (pre-1885) available commercially
  • Oakleaf - 'any variety, great to pick leaves off as you need them, the variety of colours makes them attractive to grow in a group and they taste great in a salad.'
  • Pinokkio - a crisp and sweet cos type
  • Red Salad Bowl -  'I have been picking the leaves for weeks now, it just seems to keep on growing and it looks so pretty.'
  • Relic - a red 'deer's tongue' heritage variety available commercially
  • Rubens - quick growing and slow to bolt
  • Tan Tan - 'is a little gem type from Unwins. It's resisted the slugs very well.'
  • Valdor - one for the winter
  • Winter Density - another hardy variety for winter salads
  • Add your recommendation(s) in the Comments below
NB 'Drunken Woman' deserves to be grown for its name alone ;)

Supplier, sowing, growing and tasting notes to follow when I've put together a factsheet :)

With many thanks to the following contributors (covering growing in the UK, Holland and Australia):
Update: The following recommendations were made in the Comments (hurray - we now have a contributor from the USA):
  • Can Can - 'fantastic non bitter taste, and crops for ages, - also although non slug resistant, they only go for the outer leaves, so you can still pick layer after layer of clean hole free leaves' (via @Plantpassion)
  • Black Seeded Simpson - 'it's been great for me and a wonderful flavour (it's an heirloom variety, go figure)' and 'I grew 'Black Seeded Simpson' in the Spring, and it was wonderful! I plan to grow it again for my Fall garden' (via The Constant Gardener and Lea's Menagerie)

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

GBBD: Busy Bees

If the embedded video above doesn't work, then try this link instead.

The bees seem to be much busier than usual in my garden this month. Perhaps the rainy spring and summer means they're trying to make up for lost time.

They're so busy, even NAH noticed. Not only that, he then fetched his camera to take a short movie of them on my Echinops - thanks NAH :)

Note: if anyone buys any Allington honey from our local farm shop over the next few months, you could be getting a taste of my garden :)

It was interesting to see that honey bees were almost exclusively feeding on the Echinops and ignoring the other delights on offer. Elsewhere, various species of bumble bees were gorging themselves on the DahliasEryngiums, Echinacea, perennial sunflowers and lavender but were curiously absent from the Echinops.

Further close observation is required to see if this was a one-off event or a distinct preference...

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, 13 August 2012

How to Clean a Patio the Easy Peasy Way...

  1. Grow some 'sentinel conifers' in the wrong place for 12 years
  2. Eventually get around to getting a man in to remove them
  3. Ask him to leave a massive pile of branches so you can make lots and lots (and lots!) of mulch
  4. Have the wettest spring and summer on record so you can't shred the branches straight away
  5. After several months, finally get the patio cleared of all debris
  6. Et voila! 
The difference to the naked eye is even more marked than the camera picked up yesterday. I'm pondering whether it's covering up the patio, the acidity from the wet branches or both factors which have cleaned the black lichen from the slabs.

Just in case we have another 'wettest drought on record' with its accompanying hosepipe ban, it's worth remembering this approach doesn't use any tap water ;)

Friday, 10 August 2012

Travellers' Salad: Places to Visit

Some rather fetching salad leaves seen at Easton Walled Gardens at the end of June
Holiday time is the ideal time to discover some new gardens, so I thought I'd highlight some of my favourites from both near and far which you might like to include on your itinerary.

Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire was a first for me this year and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The garden has many good things, but seeing this is a post for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, today I'm highlighting their rather good kitchen garden.

The Organic Garden at Holt Farm in Somerset has become a firm favourite of mine since my first visit last year. Go there for lunch and you get to help yourself to loads of fresh organic salad from the large bowls on offer.

A garden in the rain in February isn't usually the best way to see a garden, but I fell in love with West Dean Gardens when I went there last year. There wasn't any salad on view at the time, but I'm sure there's plenty there now, especially as this is the home of the Totally Tomato Show.

In fact anywhere with a walled kitchen garden is bound to be a good salad bet. The one at Chatsworth a few years ago was a surprise (and delightful) discovery for me and I'm enjoying seeing the one at Tyntesfield come back to life. The National Trust and Garden Visit websites will be able to highlight more if you're holidaying in a different area. Don't forget the NGS too - I've made a couple of great salad garden discoveries when visiting via this scheme.

Garden Organic at Ryton will teach you lots about organic growing techniques as well as showing off salad varieties you might like to try from their Heritage Seed Library.

If you're thinking of going out for a celebratory meal, then a number of top restaurants have their own kitchen gardens to ensure their supplies are seasonal and at their freshest. I've had the good fortune to try the Manor Hotel at Castle Combe for Wiltshire magazine. My friend Threadspider has gone one better: she's also been to Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.

Just a few ideas for starters. Have you made any salad discoveries on your garden visiting travels?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Unusual Front Gardens #12: Canalside

Just like Dr Foster, NAH and I went to Gloucester in a shower of rain yesterday. A few seconds after I took this photo, it was hammering it down and we had to run for shelter.

Wherever narrowboats have a permanent mooring, it's pretty much guaranteed their roofs and other outside areas will sprout a host of various pots and containers so the owners can grow a few herbs or salads for dinner, or lots of flowers to sit alongside the colourful traditional canal art usually painted on each boat.

At Gloucester Docks the pots have been transferred canalside (we're at Victoria Basin) to provide a colourful walkway instead. I learned later that the residents were winners in the Street Regeneration Competition in 2007, held as part of Gloucester in Bloom. It's good to see they've kept going :)

Friday, 3 August 2012

Travellers' Salad: Seattle Farmers' Market

Some of the salad on offer in Seattle last year - we know Arugula (on the right) as rocket

I've found the best way to get an insight into real life whilst on holiday is to do what the locals do, especially if it involves visiting the local market. So when we went on the Seattle Fling last year, I was pleased to see a trip to a farmers' market was on the itinerary.

It proved to be a great way to spend a Sunday morning and I was struck at the time by the huge amounts of fresh salads on offer, with many of them sporting flowers, as shown in the picture above. In fact, Nasturtiums were picked out on the 'season's best' blackboard at the market's entrance. Would that happen here? Probably not.

The pictured leaves were already bagged up for sale, but elsewhere another stall had a huge queue of people waiting to buy salad by weight from enormous bags of pre-mixed leaves. The mixes on offer were very imaginative, often including herbs and flowers and with much more variety than the standard three or four different leaves we usually see in the supermarket.

Farmers' markets promote local producers and food. In the UK, there's often a rule about the maximum distance the produce can travel for sale (e.g. 50 miles). A neat touch at the Seattle market was a map showing exactly where each producer was located (click to enlarge if interested). Much of the food was organic too. The market there (and often in the UK) also ensures there's a variety of stalls so that customers can choose from a wide variety of produce rather than it becoming solely the province of baked goods or sausage makers.

A blog I've been enjoying immensely this year (a fantastic 52 Week Salad Challenge discovery) is PopcornHomestead which gives an insight into the farmers' markets in Japan. It's made me even more determined to visit this intriguing country.

Do you have a Farmers' Market near you? Does it have salad for sale and if it does what's it like? Which markets have you visited on your travels? How do they differ to the one(s) at home?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

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