My favourite month is here. I love the September skies, especially on a sunny evening. In the greenhouse over the years I have been lucky to keep picking tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers for the whole month and well into October. Unfortunately this year the new greenhouse tomatoes have succumbed to late summer blight. I am really not surprised blight has struck, it’s been wet and humid for a good few weeks, and it only takes 48 hours of 70% humidity to spread the disease. Even with good air circulation the dim light was taking its toll on the plants. No amount of weekly feed or careful watering could make any difference.
This is the first time I have had blight and it is devastating. I never got to try the white opal tomatoes as the plant shrivelled and died, the sweet aperitifs tried to fight it, but towards the end of first week of September the fruits were rotting and splitting on the vines.
We quickly stripped the greenhouse of tomatoes leaving just the black opal, as this tomato showed a lot of resistance and continued to produce healthy fruits for another few weeks, before it too started to split its fruits.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, the sweet peppers are still producing fruit even with the lack of bees to pollinate, a good shake of the flowers seems to do the job. They don’t want to turn red as there is not enough heat though so I have to be content with green ones. It’s been so dismal I think the highest temperature we have had has been 18 degrees Celsius. Nights are chilly too, on several occasions it’s dipped to slightly less than 10 degrees.
My aubergines are thriving, I can pick a fruit (sometimes more than one) from a different plant each week. The last lot of radishes went to seed, so I am doing some more hopefully this weekend.
Things in the little greenhouse are picking up. My carrots have put on a lot of growth, I hope the colder weather will mean that I don’t get any carrot fly. the spinach beet has gone ballistic. It’s so quick to recover when I pick a few leaves for dinner. I have found though it’s best to not let the leaves get too big as they get a bit tough. Unfortunately I’m not the only one that likes the spinach there are a few sneaky green shield bugs hiding amongst the leaves. The basils are still growing, the Red Rubin is especially strong. Does anyone have some suggestions what I can use it for, as it’s too strong raw in a salad, it’s good for pasta dishes but I would like to try it in something different?
On the first of the month I sowed some seeds some have already germinated and I have included a photo (above), but the nights got cold quick so I think that I may have some failures. So far the Californian Poppies, achillea (yarrow) and sweet peas have germinated along with more basil for someone at work. However, I am still waiting for the pansy, godetia, laurentia and kniphofias. I spent ages with the old Dymo labelling machine making up the labels, as the old lolly sticks I used in the summer have run out. That’s after I used them a couple of times on each side. Also woodlice are partial to them and I don’t want them to overwinter in my pots, they can go in the compost bin or rotting hollyhock stumps instead.
The trouble is though this damp weather is starting to cause damping off, my compost seems to be turning a bit greenish. So I think other job for this weekend will be to repot my seedlings in fresh compost and try to water in the mornings instead of early evening. It’s dark by eightish now so it won’t be long before I will be coming home from work and not even going in the garden without a torch. Luckily my auntie has given my a huge candle lantern and candles to see my way.
We are due some more gales and torrential rain again this week. I hope the new greenhouse stands up to it. I was hoping for a beautiful crisp autumn not an early winter!
What are your thoughts on growing Christmas potatoes? A few years ago I planted grow bags in September, by November the weather had turned so bad we couldn’t even get out after work at night to move them into shelter under glass. The leaves finally tore off after a major storm in early December but the potatoes were lovely? I ask as I am thinking of putting them in grow bags again using a red variety, but putting the bags in the big greenhouse from the beginning. Being hit by blight has put me off. I don’t know if the blight virus would still be in the greenhouse or if I will end up with blight anyway because of the poor weather. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
My new Thompson & Morgan autumn and winter, spring bulbs, and seed catalogues have arrived and I have started looking for interesting things to grow in the greenhouse next spring. The problem is I want to grow everything! I make a list and then check my seed box, half the time I have the seeds already, but I have forgotten about them. Like the bellis or rudbeckia . But sometimes an unusual variety or old fashioned plant will romance me and I know I will be on the website placing an order. Then I look at the special offers and end up buying something else. My last order was for Red Hot Poker ‘Traffic Lights’ (kniphofia) which I got, but I also ended up buying grasses. I picked lots of wavy ones. Unfortunately, I have to wait for spring to start the grasses off. I picked the grasses as our broom bushes seem to be dying off. That’s the thing with a garden, it’s never finished and it always evolves.
I am sorry for the slightly short blog this month, I think it’s because of the season drawing to a close. I was hoping to have more interesting things to say, but I’m in a limbo, this year has been nothing like our last few years, although I do like the challenge of these new conditions. What I had planned to write about in certain months had either happened earlier or not at all! But don’t worry I still have plans for the greenhouses in the next few months. Meanwhile I am going to find a new home for the dahlia one of my brothers bought me for my birthday a few days ago. I’ve stuck it in the little greenhouse as I don’t want it to get wrecked in the storm. I leave dahlia bulbs in the ground in the mild winters but this year guess where they will be?
Love Amanda x
So here we are at 1st September, time to survey the successes, failures and lessons learnt this season, with one eye on bigger and better things for 2016 already!
The greenhouse is the most productive it’s ever been. Most of its yield goes straight into my mouth and doesn’t even reach the kitchen! Two out of the three cucumber Mini Fingers (Cucino) hit the ground running this year, one plug failing due to stem rot early on. Growing in minimal space in a couple of old council food recycling bins, their vines are stretching around the eves of the greenhouse to about 7ft. During hot spells they were producing one fruit per day, with dozens of small fruits forming along the stems. As the days have cooled they have slowed in their tracks: I have pinched off any yellowing ones to allow the plants to concentrate their energies into the more robust ones. With no sign of mildew on the leaves I am continuing to feed and water the plants in the hope of an Indian Summer to boost their final production. I made a delicious chilled avocado & cucumber soup, with fennel and green chilli peppers from our garden, so I hope we haven’t had the last of them.
I wanted to compare the merits of cordon tomatoes with bush varieties, so I chose my favourite cherry tomatoes: Sungold as cordon, versus Losetto as bush, three of each. Having fed and watered them regularly, I finally defoliated and topped them off end August, so they could concentrate on ripening their existing trusses. Sungold has three trusses per cordon, each with about 18 fruits. Although slow to ripen, they are catching up now, their fruits as sweet as ever. Losetto is disappointing, the bush method too sprawling for the confines of a small greenhouse, producing a low yield of about two small trusses per plant, reluctant to ripen & not nearly as sweet. Neither type however suffered from splitting or blossom end rot all fruits being firm and equal in size. From now on I shall stick to cordons but use the space to grow more varieties.
Sweet peppers and chillies are starting to produce in earnest. David is a chilli fiend and is enjoying Demon Red and the pretty multi-coloured basket variety Loco, both ready to harvest earlier than their larger cousins. I prefer sweet peppers and purple Tequila doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of flowers and small fruits developing so it looks like I shall have to bring them into our sunroom for some more heat and better light levels, and with such a selection of rainbow colours they are so decorative. I just hope that cats don’t try them!
Courgette Defender, whilst always prolific on the allotment, has been a dead loss in its 12” pot in the greenhouse! After one or two fruits, it succumbed to mildew and only produced male flowers, so I composted it. Although it flowered, the aubergine did not set fruit – weather too dull and summer too short.
On the allotment Climbing bean Colourful Collection sulked at first, refusing to grow until early August, producing meagre but healthy plants. They have produced about 4 portions worth of beans, the green being the most prolific, followed by yellow & purple in equal measure. I would grow them again though as they tasted delicious!
Because I can’t bear to pick blooms from our garden for the vase, I created a flower patch on the allotment specifically for cutting. This summer I transplanted some four year old Thompson & Morgan dahlias from our front garden to join the tree lilies and now have no qualms about cutting them for the vase. But as I do not intend to lift them overwinter they will have to take their chances.
So all-in-all it’s been a modest but delicious harvest which has proved to me that I should concentrate on growing crops that we actually like to eat in future!
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