Hope you are all well and enjoying the summer, soon it will be a time for Harvest Festivals and Halloween. I can’t believe how quickly August is going. I apologise for the lateness of this blog as I try to get it out in the middle of each month, but we went on holiday. We got on an aeroplane and flew to sunny Scotland! We spent five days there and it was fantastic.
Our greenhouses are at their best thanks to my brilliant friend Rachel who kept an eye on things. All the plants survived our mini break and we are still picking a steady stream of aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, radish, spinach, beet, lettuce and basil. I have given away bags of tomatoes to work colleagues as well as to family and friends. I have eaten fresh food every day since the end of July and it really does taste wonderfully sweet. It’s also quite interesting to have a salad consisting of four different colours of tomatoes, bright reds of a mystery cherry tomato, yellow sungolds, dark skinned Black Opals and orange Gardeners Delights. In a few days I shall be photographing and eating my first Green Zebra ones. I can’t find any White Opals, I am wondering if this is why I have some unexplained Cherry Tomato.
Currently I have a massive flying ant problem. Ant Powder is doing nothing, thankfully the sparrows are trying to help, but if anyone has any ideas on how to combat them organically I would be hugely grateful. Sticky traps seem to help but I don’t want the bees to get stuck by accident.
Slugs and Snails seem to want to torment me at the moment. The number I have pulled off the glass outside is ridiculous. They seem to want to crawl up the glass and through the windows then slide down the canes. I even found a slug chewing a hole in the peppers and wood lice crawled out of a hole on the other side of the pepper. Do woodlice bore holes in them? I’m not convinced it’s them as I saw earwigs in there too. Earwigs nip pretty hard if you upset them.
On returning we spent two hours in the large greenhouse removing woodlice, picking produce, tying up stems, picking out side shoots and also cutting the very tops off the plants again. There are hundreds of blooms on the tomatoes and I don’t think the season is going to allow for them to turn to fruit. Because of the damp and humid weather here, there is a high chance of blight occurring. As soon as I spot any sign of it, the plants will be uprooted. Unfortunately we have not had the six weeks of sun that we had last year. I am really hoping for a warm September and a dry October. I am in two minds as to whether or not to grow Potatoes for Christmas. Two years ago we had the worst November storms and the crop really took a battering. They did supply us with potatoes but it was too wild to and dark after work to properly take care of them. I am reluctant to overwinter them in the greenhouse as again there is a good chance of blight.
Talking of big greenhouses, when we were in Edinburgh we visited the National Botanical Gardens. The place is massive. It took us five hours to walk around it, but I don’t think we even covered it all by then! It’s best to speak to the reception staff for the seasons highlights and to pick up the maps. It’s free to walk around the Garden and only £5 per adult to go into the glass houses. We had a 2-1 voucher so it really was value for money. However, I would gladly have paid an entrance fee for the Gardens if they charged, as it really is magnificent.
There are ten greenhouses in all. I have included a photo of the Victorian entrance and a picture of most of the greenhouse and its plan. It’s worth visiting just to see the giant Water lilies in flower. I could talk for hours about our trip away, but apart from the Botanical Gardens it would have nothing to do with plants, unless I can include, whilst out walking near Arthur’s Seat, that I never knew, once a Thistle has flowered it seed heads are super soft. I was slightly alarmed when my Uncle Ronnie picked a thistle and said rub it under his chin. I dare you to try it the next time you see one.
Looking on the T&M website, I realise I haven’t got long to enter the Fuchsia and Sunflower competitions, I can see there is a category for unusually shaped veg, I wish there was one for massive peppers. The biggest one I have grown so far this year is eight inches. Can you beat that?
Meanwhile in my little 6 x 6 greenhouse, the spinach beet and carrots are growing rampantly. We have seen temperatures in the high teens so nothing has bolted. The pots of foxgloves are ready for pricking out and the new basil plants can be split and put into individual pots for winter cooking.
Soon it will be time to bring the Christmas cacti, the spider plant and money tree back into the house once the nights start to draw in. I plan to start sowing my winter crops in early September but for now I’m happy to enjoy the last of the late sun, and plan another mini break, I think I would like to visit The Eden Project next as we have seen both the Welsh and Scottish Botanical Gardens. Is there an Irish National Botanical Garden? When we go to Europe it always astounds me how big geraniums can grow, and I love to see all of their native plants. Once in Ibiza I saw a field of poppies growing amongst the cereals and it was just beautiful.
Until next month,
Love Amanda xx
As daylight starts to dwindle from the June solstice onwards, thoughts are more of growing and harvesting than of sowing. Yet the later summer months, August and September, alongside those of early autumn, are still bright enough for growing a handful of hardy crops.
Lettuces, quick-maturing and tolerant of cool temperatures, are a good example. Certain varieties can be started now for a late autumn or early winter harvest. Others, like the well-known “Arctic King” or the cos variety “Winter Density”, can be sown in September and October for lush spring pickings.
I’m gardening in a ruthlessly small urban space. I have about fifteen pots, a metre by half-a-metre raised bed, and a mini greenhouse. Most of that space is now standing bare. So in this blog I want to share some advice about the lettuces I’ll be starting from seed. The hope is for a harvest before, and soon after, the year’s end…one that also makes use of all those leftover plastic pots!
What & When to Plant Lettuce
There are four main types of lettuce: cos, butterhead, loose-leaf, and crisphead. Cos and crispheads – the most popular variety in the UK is “iceberg lettuce” – both form tight hearts and take longer to mature. The butterheads, so named for their waxy leaves, and loose-leaf varieties tend to be quicker growing and can often be harvested in as little as ten weeks after sowing.
I’ll be growing cold-weather tolerant butterhead and loose-leaf varieties for a late autumn crop (October through November), and winter varieties of crisphead lettuce for an early to mid-winter one (December through February). Other slower growing varieties, like Robinson’s, Winter Gem, and aforementioned Arctic King, can be planted now and will mature in time for spring.
Lettuce for a late autumn crop (Oct-Dec): Any cold-resistant, fast-growing butterhead or loose-leaf. I’ll be trying Tom Thumb, All the Year Round, Marvel of Four Seasons and Valdor. I’m also going to see how Lollo Rosso fares.
Lettuce for early/mid winter crop (Jan-Mar): Crisphead varieties able to withstand cold temperatures, like Robinson, Match and Winter Purslane.
Lettuce for an early spring crop: Slow-growing and cold-hardy: Arctic King, Winter Gem, Winter Density.
Lettuce in cloches
Because I’m mainly growing outdoors, I’m a little wary of the colder weather that can set in from September onwards. My simple home-made cloches are comprised of bamboo canes and polythene sheeting held together by twist ties.
I think a lot of people hear the word “cloche” and immediately think of an overly-expensive contraption. Making one at home is a simple task. Otherwise, you can buy cheap “tunnels” online. Equally, I’ll be adding some netting to protect against birds and caterpillars. Monty Don recommends it…so it must be right!
Growing Lettuce Indoors
If you’re growing indoors, on a north, west or east-facing window sill, then you obviously don’t need to worry about either cold or pests. Make sure to water regularly, as the need is greater indoors.
Getting the Soil Just Right
They like it moist, fairly nutrient-rich (but not overly so), and non-acid. I’m using the old soil in my pots so I’ll be adding about a third of fresh compost, a few handfuls of vermiculite and perlite to assist with moisture retention and drainage, and a half-strength slow-release fish, bone and blood-meal fertilizer. After about eight weeks (six weeks is normally given), if you haven’t added any fertilizer, you will need to start a feeding regimen. Remember that, because of the waning light, growth will be slower. Use a slightly more dilute version than usual.
Composted manure, because it’s high in nitrogen, which is responsible for stimulating foliage growth, is also a good alternative to compost. A high nitrogen medium will be an obvious benefit to any plant grown for their leaves.
All of that said, if you can only get your hands on is a bag of multi-purpose compost that will do the job. I’ve grown lots of plants, including lettuces, using the simple bagged compost from B&Q. My main worry is about is about not having the roots stand in cold water, as the roots can freeze.
Lettuces with tight hearts (the crisphead and cos types) should be harvested in one go by pulling. Loose-leaf and butterhead varieties can be harvested with a “cut and come” approach, in which leaves are snipped off about half an inch above the soil level, from which new growth emerges. With later-season growing, I’ve found it’s not always a good idea to take this approach, because light levels won’t stimulate much additional growth. I find it better to let the whole plant grow as big as possible then harvest in one go.
It’s been a busy summer, what with the new shed roof terrace, the beach hut themed patio makeover and the plans for our new front garden.
This is the first year that the greenhouse has really been used to its full potential; it’s a veritable salad factory! Our 8ft x 5ft greenhouse is home to 2 cucumber Mini Fingers Cucina, 3 bush tomatoes Losetto and 3 cordon tomatoes Sungold, along with 15 varieties of chillies and sweet peppers, a spare courgette Defender from the allotment, an aubergine and some of last year’s leftover strawberry runners. Despite cramped conditions, good housekeeping and regular attention has resulted in an early and abundant crop of cucumbers, several promising tomato trusses and dozens of peppers; even the aubergine has 4 flowers on it – beginner’s luck perhaps. Having said that, the tomatoes are trying to climb out of the skylights and the cucumber vines are being suspended across the entrance on string! I’m looking forward to harvesting the produce to make my favourite Gaspacho soup.
The emphasis on colour has shifted somewhat from the main body of the garden, now that the towering tree lilies have finished flowering, to the basket and container displays on the patio. Begonia Apricot Shades Improved combined with lime green and black ipomaea foliage is a winner, blooming away through drought, rain and wind, no deadheading needed. The two hanging baskets of Petunia Peach Sundae just keep on flowering; daily deadheading and the occasional haircut keeps them compact and good as new. A couple of extra plugs crammed into the window box are the perfect match for the pastel striped bench beneath, although sitting on it is out of the question now that they are trailing over its back!
Calibrachoa Ruby Buttons, although slow to get going, is flowering away in a hanging basket brightening up a neglected corner. Bidens ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop’, selected to hang above abutilons megapotamicum and Kentish Belle, has produced an abundance of vigorous ferny foliage but very few flowers, although they are starting to bud up now, better late than never. Fuchsia Eruption hasn’t stopped flowering for weeks and needs no maintenance other than the occasional feed and regular watering. Pots of begonia Glowing Embers are having a tough time due to Fred our oriental cat’s tendency to treat them like a running buffet, so perhaps they will have to be displayed in hanging baskets next year instead of ground level. I find begonia tubers really easy to overwinter so I see no reason why these ones can’t be rescued at the end of the season.
But surely one of the most striking additions to the garden has been the planting scheme for the shed roof terrace. I’ve been able to indulge myself with all the plants that I have never been able to grow at ground level due to slugs & snails and heavy clay soil: echinacea, helianthus, red hot pokers, heleniums, rodgersia, interwoven with tall grasses – and bubbling up through them all is Nasturtium Jewel of Africa, tumbling down the sides of the shed almost to ground level, a froth of huge marbled leaves and fiery flowers! And all from one packet of seeds. That’s what I call value for money.
As for the new front garden, watch this space…..work should start in September.
“Amanda…is…water…the Triffiods?” Yells Mark through the glass. I can’t hear him let alone understand what he’s on about. I’m down by the patio tying in a sunflower, its way over six foot and I have to stand on the steps. He is in the greenhouse with a watering can.
“What?” I shout back. “I can’t hear you”
He says, coming out; can in hand, “Shall I water the Triffiods?”
He means my Aubergines. During the last few days they have gone huge. The leaves are bigger than my hands and the purple flowers are opening. I grew seven seeds as my brother and auntie wanted some plants and then changed their minds, asking for just the harvest instead. I don’t believe in throwing things away and gardening friends had already made their plant choices so I hastily dug the four extra ones into the border next to the sweet pepper. I was saving that border for my cucumbers. I have grown aubergines in the old greenhouse and even this variety, but they have never grown this big a leaf before so early. I can’t wait to see how big the fruits might be. Usually they are normal aubergine size, I am hoping for something that looks like a baby seal this year.
My mum visits, she’s in the greenhouse inspecting the tomatoes, she asks what have a done to them. I haven’t done anything to them, other than the usual tie-them-in, pinch the tips, and feed them every ten to fourteen days. They too have shot up and Mark has had to pinch the tops as they have reached the roof as I can’t reach. The trusses on the bottom have fruits that are turning red, with about six to eight trusses on the stalk are at various stages of bud, flower, or tiny fruits. I ask her what she means, she says because her tomatoes are not that big yet. To be fair hers are outside in pots. The Gardner’s Delight are the strongest and most aggressive, they respond well to cutting and tying and I have even started to remove some of their lower leaves. The Sungolds whilst slower than last year are quickly catching up. The Black Opal and White Opal plants are forming flowers. The Green Zebra is my slowest tomato, but it seems happy enough.
Packed in between the aubergines and pepper are radishes. I recently read that the hotter the soil, the hotter the radish will be, I’m getting a bit worried as it’s baking in there some days, apparently you’re not meant to grow radish in a greenhouse in the summer months for this reason. Have you grown anything in the wrong season or in the wrong place by mistake? They were meant to go outside but the weather has been so temperamental I sort of forgot about them and now they are going so well I don’t want to disturb them. They take twenty five days and I wrote about them last month so they should be ready to harvest I don’t want them to go woody.
In the little greenhouse my onions are finally done. The turnip seedlings died because it got too hot, and for some reason the cucumbers have failed again. They appear to have rotted at the stems but I cannot see how as they were not overwatered. I usually go round with a mini fork to scrape back a little soil to see how wet it is underneath before watering. I did not damage the stems. There are no pests in there and everything else is thriving. Someone said to Mark that cucumbers don’t like the heat, but someone else said to me cucumbers love the heat and humidity. I did not keep the small greenhouse humid or excessively hot, so I have no idea what went wrong.
The basil trial is well under way. Both the Lemonade and Rubin germinated well. The Rubin was showing faster growth, but the Lemonade soon caught up. They are ready to go into bigger pots before replacing the Radishes in the large greenhouse. It’s really hard not to just tear a leaf off and munch on them as they smell delicious. The Rubin smells like fresh deep basil should, but the Lemonade one smells like a lemon, basil and something sweet but not sugary. It’s really hard to explain, I would say the best thing to do is buy a pack and grow it for the scent alone.
However, my pride and joy at the moment is an olive seedling. I bought the seeds about three years ago and each time they have not germinated. Not that there is anything wrong with them seeds I just don’t think we have had enough heat. This year however I might be lucky. Mark did say “An olive? Do you know how big they grow?” Yes I do, I have been to Italy and Greece many times. They are slow growing. I think it will be many years before it becomes a beautiful gnarled tree, I do not expect any fruit from it ever as this is Wales – but if I can have an olive tree then I can have a little bit of the Med right here at home.
Next month we are visiting Scotland and our guesthouse is next to the Royal Botanical Gardens I have a two for the price of one ticket and I cannot wait to visit their glasshouse. We were hoping to visit Jimmy’s Farm in Ipswich where T&M have their trial garden but as I have several hospital visits in non-local hospitals and not a lot of annual leave left we are not able to go. I know the farm is open on the weekends but as it’s a six hour car/train journey from home I would ideally need time to rest before going back to work. I am looking forward to the photos that I hope people will post on Facebook of their visit though.
Now who can I ask to look after my Triffods whilst we are away?
Until next month.
Love Amanda x
I’m writing this from the best seat in the world, well maybe not the world but definitely the best place in my world. I’m on the bench in the front garden surrounded by the warm setting sun, bird song, the bumbling of bees and an occasional rustle of wind through the poppies, lupin and corncockles. On each side of the bench are pots of nicotiana and linaria, and hanging baskets of violas, pansy and fuchsia. I have a cup of cinnamon and hazelnut coffee and a small bowl of cherries, what else does a girl need?
It’s hard to believe its June already, we have reached the summer solstice. It’s a year since my dad passed away, and the greenhouse and garden have kept me from being too downhearted. I have harvested my potatoes and can proudly say that T&M were 100% correct in saying you get a bigger harvest from their potato grow bags than from other larger ones. I harvested almost double the weight from putting single potato in each of the five bags than I did from a large bag with five potatoes sown in it. I used Charlottes for both types of bags. I also grew a large bag with five redskin potatoes which were either a Rooster or a Desiree just to see if there would be any difference in the bigger bags, but again although each spud was bigger I had less volume overall.
In the small greenhouse there is a steady turnover of radishes, peas, amaranths zinnias and the Aloe Vera’s waiting to be moved to bigger homes outside. Terri kindly sent me some Basil Lemonade Seeds and I cannot wait for these to grow. Its zesty lemon flavour should taste amazing with strawberry jelly and fresh strawberries set in it. It may even taste great in a glass of water or frozen in ice cubes on a hot summers day. My next trial will be to compare how well Lemonade grows to Basil Red Rubin.
Now is the time to start off foxgloves undercover for next year’s display. I am off for a week so will be sowing Foxglove Alba, as well as raiding my seed box for late summer sowing plants. As I discovered, gardening makes you think ahead, but sometimes there is so much to do, that I forget to look ahead and then look at seeds in my box in September that says sow April to June. Although the way the weather is here I can probably get away with sowing them in early July. Last year we had six weeks of constant sun from the 10th of June, this year it’s looking more like six days altogether if we are lucky.
Thinking ahead, I am looking for veggies I can grow in the greenhouses from November onwards. I am wondering if spinach, beet and possibly turnips are any good in the greenhouse. Have you any suggestions or have you growing any winter hardy veg in the greenhouse? We get some cracking winter sunshine and the last few years have been very mild.
In our “mahoosive” greenhouse, as my mum calls it, I have fruit and flowers on nearly all of the tomatoes, even through lack of sunny days they are about four feet. The only two that are a bit slow is Green Zebra and Black Opal, the Sungold, Gardeners Delight and White Opal are rampant. I have also put half dozen radishes into a spare corner of the greenhouse as the soil was bare where an aubergine inexplicably gave up the ghost. They are sprouting well, fingers crossed for tasty treats. There is a family competition on as my Uncle Derek has produced radishes the size of golf balls that taste amazingly sweet. I do not plan to compete with that. Do you have friendly or fierce competitions with family or friends, or grow anything unusual in your greenhouse? I would love to know.
As the months progress, I am learning so much more about the differences between my greenhouses. Firstly I understand my smaller greenhouse as having it for a number of years, I understand its capabilities. One thing that is clear though, it gets a lot less sun than I originally thought. I know it’s a great place to germinate seeds from January to early November. I know I can grow tomatoes aubergines peppers or chillies in its border and get a tasty crop with just watering three to four times a week. Secondly, the big greenhouse and I are only just getting acquainted. I realise that I chose to write a blog about my journey with this one from start to finish, but I hadn’t a clue what I was letting myself in for! So I apologies to you in advance for accidentally killing any of my plants or getting things wrong or dodgy photos, but I am only halfway through my journey and the road is a bit bumpy.
Whilst the greenhouses are almost side by side, the door to the big one is on the longest side of the small one so the aspects are completely different. It is ten foot, stretches from North to South so the sides get the sun from East to West the whole day. Also due to us being at the top of a hill our neighbours gardens both next door and opposite roll away from us, so the bigger greenhouse is about a foot or so on higher ground than the other one meaning the sun takes longer to go behind our bungalow giving it a distinct light advantage. The borders are a lot wider so I could have planted a bit denser which would have reduced the need for almost daily watering as I have too much bare soil. This will be rectified by the basil but it’s useless for lettuce as it’s far too hot in there. I was watching Monty Don’s Small Garden Big Dreams the other night when I realised I had a hot house instead of a greenhouse. Maybe next year I could try watermelons they like the heat don’t they?
It takes me a lot longer to complete my tasks in here not just because of the size of it, but because I spend ages thinking about light & heat, pollinators and just looking at my plants. I consider what I would like to grow, do I have the time to grow it now, or is it something for winter or even next year. I’ve even been known to take my I-Pad and a chair into the greenhouse and listen to the T&M radio pod casts whilst simultaneously writing my blog on the pretence of just checking the greenhouse. At the end of the evening I say goodnight to my plants and hope no one else hears me. It’s funny how I can totally switch off in there, and sometimes do my best thinking too. I do not regret in any way buying a second greenhouse. The only thing I am worried about is you reading a blog from someone who appears to not have a clue, but with six months to go before the end of the year, and with help from T&M’s customer service, online videos and guides and Facebook posts and their customers comments, I hope that I can learn loads more about my new greenhouse, and share it with you.
For now, Happy Gardening until next month.
Love Amanda x
After living without any outdoor space of my own for 5 years, last year we moved and I gained an empty balcony. A blank canvas. When you live without any outdoor gardening space you realise just how much you previously took it for granted. I had never been a gardener, despite my mother avidly encouraging me through my youth. However, spurred on by the gift of some blueberry bushes and the notion of ‘feeding off my (rented) land’ I decided to give growing a go.
After hearing tales of how difficult growing veg could be, and knowing little about the ‘correct’ growing methods I started out with low expectations, perhaps I’d have a tomato or two by the end of summer.
I started from seed, nurturing them on the windowsill. A few days on, a rippling on the soil surface and the breakthrough of greenery caused a grin to adorn my face. The pure pleasure of watching something grow from next to nothing is one of life’s simple satisfactions.
A few factors influenced my plant choices; what couldn’t I buy from supermarkets (purple carrots), what was expensive to buy (mangetout), what tasted significantly better fresh (runner beans), and what could I fit on a balcony! Many venture into growing-your-own with tomatoes so I threw in some seeds. Far, far too many seeds as it turned out when I had around 50 tomato seedlings to try and re-home! A learning curve…
A learning ‘curve’
Of course I made many errors, none were detrimental. I remember exclaims from my boyfriend’s mother, “You didn’t harden off your tomatoes?!”. ‘Harden off’ meant nothing to me (for novices and others not ‘in-the-know’ this refers to the process of acclimatising your plants to the outer world). As a result my tomatoes grew slowly, but they still fruited. Nothing lost, some more knowledge gained.
By the end of summer, we had enjoyed plentiful runner beans, mangetout and tomatoes. They tasted incredible, perhaps enhanced by the knowledge of where they’d grown and what they’d been exposed to. There’s something incredibly rewarding about stepping outside and harvesting your crop to eat then and there. No more than a few paces between plant and pan.
Mangetout, purple-podded peas, runner beans
If you think you don’t have enough space, think outside the box. Even a windowsill can flourish with chilies, herbs, lettuce leaves to name a few. If you think you can’t grow anything, try it anyway, maybe it’ll work. Get inspired by what others do, I watched a TED talk on growing salad in a New York apartment with no space using vertical, hydroponic platforms. Incredible!
So, one summer on I’ve learnt what did and didn’t work for me. Carrots can’t just be plonked in soil and expected to grow as a single straight root, they need more care and soil preparation which at the moment I don’t have time for. Shelling peas didn’t give me a good yield, I got approximately 30 peas from a whole summer – it wasn’t worth it, especially compared to the mangetout yield which kept us going for weeks. So this year I’m eager to try more – sweetcorn, peppers, courgettes, broad beans. Maybe they’ll work, maybe they won’t.