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The Garden – 2011

The garden has been a bit different this year. The harsh winter killed a great deal of our crops leaving the garden really rather desolate after the thaw. Then we thought we were going to move house (the less I talk about this the better) so we were late planting this year’s crops. Read the rest of this entry

Blooming Baskets

Hanging baskets don’t have the best reputation. They can sometimes be considered naff with their garish trails of bright flowers that sometimes look like they have been thrown together (don’t get me started on their fake counterparts) but you don’t have to plant your hanging baskets with pansies and fuchsias; All of the baskets in our back garden contain either fruit or vegetables. Planting fruit and vegetables in hanging baskets can be a great way of growing-your-own in limited space.

Tomatoes – This was the the first vegetable we attempted to grow in baskets and the Tombling Tom variety works best. Just be careful of blight which can ruin your whole crop.

Strawberries – We’ve planted many varieties over the years and all have worked well apart from the white alpine strawberries we tried last year. The advantages of growing strawberries in hanging baskets is that they are not as accessible to pests (apart from birds) and because they are hanging the you don’t get the problem of the strawberries going soggy on the ground. To help protect the strawberries from birds cover the plants in netting.

Pea shoots – Last year discovered this gem and I have Alys Fowler to thank. You don’t need fancy peas from the garden centre. Plain and simple Bigga dried peas from the supermarket will work just as well. You simply sprinkle the peas over the soil and cover with a thin layer of soil and keep watered.You are able to grow them in baskets as you are literally harvesting the plants for their leaves rather than the peas. You can however transplant the plants once they have grown too much for the basket and grow in to fully fledged pea plants.

Salad leaves – Perfect as they are literally cut and come again. I prefer to use packets of mixed salad leaves for variety. Growing salad leaves is far easier than buying packets from the shops as in our case we struggle to get through a packet of ready prepped salad before it goes off.

Herbs – Most herbs that don’t grow too tall like mint and thyme work well in hanging baskets.

When growing in hanging baskets make sure the basket is well drained but also don’t get waterlogged. We usually line our basket frames with a husk/moss layer (watch the birds pick this out during the nesting season) then a thin plastic layer with a few holes to allow the water the drain through. Also balance the baskets on a bucket to stop them rolling around while trying to fill them with the compost.

Have you tried growing anything unusual in hanging baskets?

A Taste of the Unexpected

I’ve been a fan of Mark Diacono for a while. He runs UK’s first climate change farm, Otter Farm, and is head gardener at River Cottage. His River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch is a well used book in this house so when I saw Mark was writing a new book it went straight on my wishlist. After helping Issy at Fennel & Fern with a project she offered to send me a copy of Mark’s new book, A Taste of the Unexpected. Trust me, I do get sent some not so great free stuff from various companies and I choose to not inflict these on you but this book is not one of those.  Not only does it have fantastic photography, by Mark himself, but great content.

The main theme of this book is to not grow boring everyday things you can can easily buy, but to try rarer plants that are more or less impossible to buy; A concept we have been loosely using on our garden for the last year or so. It was great to see some plants featured that we’ve tried to successfully of unsuccessfully grow recently. As the book is full of great tips we may attempt some of the plants again next year with hopefully better results. Each plant in the book is not only accompanied with growing instructions and tips, but also recipes. We are yet to try any of the recipes, but they certainly look good. Some of the plants featured are not suitable for our garden due to size, but we will certainly bear them in mind for our future, hopefully bigger, gardens. I will admit that I find a large amount of gardening books quite sleep-inducing, but this book is anything but and I hope it becomes as well-thumbed as River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch

As our garden winds down for the winter we look back and see what worked and what didn’t work. Sadly Romanesco didn’t survive the caterpillar onslaught of Summer ’10 but the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is fighting on through and hopefully we’ll have a harvest in the new year. The white Alpine Strawberries finally fruited and while the vine still hasn’t shown any fruit it gave some vivid green colour to the garden. The overall winner of the garden this year has been peas. Easy and delicious. Next year, as inspired by Mark, the plans include: Egyptian Walking Onion, another attempt at Romanesco, Daylillies and Szechuan Peppers.

Garden Update – August ’10

There has been a definite theme for this month in the garden – rain and more rain. While this means the BBQ and Tandoor have been left unused it does mean the garden is beautiful and lush. August has really been the peak for crops in the garden with peas being by far the best crop this year closely followed by the beetroot. The various types of carrots we’ve grown have also fared well being grown in old floristry buckets. We harvested the first of the white pattypan last night and when roasted they are delicious and have an almost buttery taste. The plant has been more manageable that the Blue Ballet Squashes from a few years back. I’m not the biggest fan of squashes but this is one that will not end up in a cake! The alpine strawberries are very slowly getting there.

Somehow I’ve managed to kill my Borage plant. Yes the plant that runs rampant in the majority of places I’ve managed to kill. It shot up impressively, bloomed a few flowers but then the remaining buds never opened, the plant turned yellow and keeled over. I’m not sure if the plant just felt swamped in the big pot with the other herbs.

After 3 years of planting sweetcorn we’ve given up as our garden just isn’t suited to them. The Romanesco is getting savaged by caterpillars and there is no sign of the beautiful bright fractal covered vegetable but we’re not going to give up on it. Oh, and the less we talk about Asparagus Peas the better. On the brighter side the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is looking good and should bring some much needed colour in the winter months.

The harvest from the garden is slowly coming to an end and it is being cleared ready for some winter crops. I’m always surprised as to what we manage to achieve from such a small plot. While we are not self-sufficient it has certainly cut down on the amount of veg we’ve had to buy. Nothing is as good as eating freshly picked peas or carrots.

Garden Update – July ’10

Weather wise we’ve been quite lucky here with a good dose of sun and rain. When I went into the garden this morning, tentively  I may say due to a mouse-shaped furry friend I’d spotted, the way that the overnight raindrops glistened on the plants was beautiful.

Not sure the Pot Marigolds they are keeping away the pests but the almost day-glo orange of the flowers have really brought some colour to the garden.

Nothing beats the eating sweet, delicious peas straight from the plant. The peas certainly seem to be the success of the veg plot this year. Most of the peas are being eaten by us before the reach the kitchen.

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants are doing very well. The butterflies seem to be ignoring these plants and are heading straight to the Romanesco Broccoli that is slowing being eaten by caterpillars.

The grapevine is giving the garden a glorious wall of green for the 3rd year in the row. However still no grapes. Does anyone know what we have to do to encourage the vine to bear fruit?

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