Thursday, 19 April 2018

A chemical attack?

[A very topical subject, this...!]

One of the "Foremost" potato plants I am growing seems to have been the victim of a chemical poisoning. Not Novichok this time, but probably Clopyralid weedkiller.


As most readers will know, some of the potatoes I am growing at home in large plastic tubs are ones that I rescued from my new plot at Courtmoor Avenue last Autumn. I think it's possible that this one had been contaminated with weedkiller before I brought it home, because all the others (and the seed tubers I bought at the Potato Day I attended in January) seem to be OK. If the weedkiller were the soil / compost I'm using, I believe they would all have been affected. Look at these two side-by-side. One of the plants seems fine, but the other displays the "fern-like" and "spoon-shaped" foliage so characteristic of this type of chemical damage.


This year all my container-grown potatoes are in a mix of home-made compost and soil taken from a decommissioned raised bed.  Apart from the one seen above, they all look OK so far.


Long-time readers of my blog will possibly remember that a few years ago (2014) my garden suffered severely from weedkiller contamination in commercial compost, but I don't think any of that is still with me. I made strenuous efforts to avoid any of the affected material getting into my compost bins, and in any case I empty them completely at least once a year.

If you grow vegetables but also have a lawn, be VERY careful if you use any proprietary lawn-care products. In particular, never put grass clippings from a treated lawn into the Green Waste, because it will end up in the Municipal Compost and go on to devastate the crops of some other unsuspecting gardener!

I'm hoping the contamination in my garden is limited and a one-off, but I'll be keeping a very careful watch on my plants!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Supporting Broad Beans

Broad Bean plants can be very floppy and I think they benefit from some support. If left to their own devices they often get very tangled, and sometimes fall flat on the ground, where they can become wet and start to rot. Another reason why they are best kept upright is to give bees better access to the flowers. I have tried various support systems over the years, but I have concluded that the best method is to stake each plant separately. This of course is only really practical if you have a small number of plants. In this raised bed in my garden I have a total of 20 plants - 5 each of 4 different varieties - and this week I have staked them. They were getting too tall for the net which has been covering them since they were first planted out.


Each plant has its own 5-foot bamboo cane, to which it is lightly tied with soft green string.


Some varieties of Broad Bean grow quite tall, so longer canes might be necessary for these, though of course most people pinch out the tops of the plants once pods begin to set, because this helps to reduce Blackfly infestation.

The net which had been protecting the Broad Beans has now been re-deployed to the Parsnip bed, which has gone from this...


To this...


Up at the Courtmoor Avenue plot I have used the same staking technique for my Broad Beans, except that the canes have been substituted with some rather rustic sticks taken from the apple-tree prunings.


I can see that the apple-trees are going to be a very valuable source of materials for one thing and another. This makes me happy, because it is good to work in harmony with Nature whenever possible and little bits of wood will be much better for the planet than plastic or even bamboo imported from the other side of the world.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Stocking up with Brassicas

Over the last few days I have been busy pricking out a lot of little seedlings, most of which are brassicas of one sort or another - cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts etc. These are destined to be planted out at my Courtmoor Avenue plot in due course. I'm revelling in the feeling of being able to expand my horizons and grow a lot more plants than usual!


I had sowed the brassica seeds quite thickly in a collection of 8-inch pots, and what I have done now is to move them into separate 3.5-inch pots. In the course of doing this I have discarded any that looked weak, but even so I have ended up with about 50 little plants.

I have two different types of green cabbage (Greyhound and Golden Acre), one type of red cabbage (Red Drumhead), one type of cauliflower (All Year Round), two types of Brussels sprout (Cromwell and Evesham Special), and a few of Kaibroc (a hybrid of broccoli and kailaan).


When pricking out young seedlings like this you sometimes find that they have quite long, "leggy" stems, and it makes sense to bury the plants almost up to their first set of leaves. This will provide the plant with greater stability and make it less vulnerable to damage, as well as encouraging it to produce more roots.

A Brussels sprout seedling, buried up to the level of its first pair of leaves

The green cabbages will hopefully mature by early Summer, to be followed by the red cabbage and sprouts in the Autumn, and the cauliflower in late Autumn or early Winter. The Kaibroc grows much more quickly and I hope to be able to harvest some by late May or early June.


While I was in the mood I also pricked out some of the Leeks - though not all of them because this is a fiddly and time-consuming job!

Leek seedlings prior to pricking out.

Leek seedlings moved to individual pots

I still have a load of onions to do as well, but I'm not sure whether I should prick these out into individual modules, or just plant them out direct. What would you recommend?

Onions "Ailsa Craig"

Over the last week or so lots more of my shallots have sprung into life. I said previously that I would be happy if as few as 15 of my 45 shallots sprouted, so I'm very pleased to be able to report that so far the tally is 24. The others may well follow, I think.


Here's a view of all (no, most) of my seedlings. Do you think I'll have enough?


Now that this lot is sorted out for now, I really must get round to sowing more seeds. I didn't want to do this before our short holiday in Seville, but now that we're back I want to sow Parsnips, Beetroot and beans of various sorts, and before long it will be time to do the cucumbers and squashes. This is the busiest time of year in the garden!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A visit to Seville

It's a long time since I posted anything about "travels", which is a bit remiss of me, considering that my blog claims to be about "Gardening, food, cookery, family and travels". Today, I offer you a few words about our recent trip to Seville (Spain!).

The purpose of our trip was threefold: to explore a little of the historic city; to meet our daughter Fiona and her family who were touring southern Spain (Granada, Seville, Jerez); and to enjoy a bit of Spring sunshine. We succeeded on the first two, but failed dismally on the third. The weather was atrocious - cold and very wet! At least the accommodation was good. We jointly rented (via AirBnB) an apartment very close to the famous Real Alcazar gardens. In fact the apartment shared an ancient wall with the historic gardens:

The balcony of the AirBnB apartment, looking over into the Alcazar gardens

View of the apartment balcony (centre) from inside the Alcazar gardens

On our first full day in the city we all did a guided tour of the Alcazar (castle or fortress) and the cathedral. It was a private tour - just the guide and six of us (Jane, me, Fiona, her husband Juan and their two children).  We felt this was so much nicer than being in a huge gaggle of 'miscellaneous tourists'.

According to Wikipedia: "The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace in Seville, Spain, built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville." The architecture of the site is exceedingly complex - a mix of Moorish and Christian styles, closely interwoven - often deliberately so. The Islamic elements all use non-permanent materials (e.g. brick, plaster), and deliberately avoid things like stone, because apparently only Allah can achieve the perfection of permanence. Curiously, the Islamic architects had no qualms about using permanent materials that were already in existence, such as "recycled" Roman stone, whereas they would not use newly-quarried stone.

Mixed Islamic and Christian architecture in the palace of King Peter of Castile (1334 - 1369)

This is the Puerto del Leon (Lion's Gate).


Here is in the room in which the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci etc were discussed and approved. The painting illustrates the men, the types of ship they used, and the saints that were said to watch over them.


This is the Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens), featured prominently on Monty Don's recent TV programme Paradise Gardens.


This is the subterranean pool, lit and cooled entirely by overhead vents. It must have been a haven of cool tranquillity in the sweltering heat of the Summer (though it was distinctly chilly at the time of our visit!).


To be honest, I felt that the gardens of the Seville Alcazar were a bit underwhelming in comparison with the buildings. To me they seemed too formal and lacking in colour and variety of texture.


However, the saving grace was that almost every piece of 'hard' structure was covered in exquisite tile-work:

14th-Century tiles. Notice the unicorn!

Our guided tour moved on from the Alcazar to the nearby cathedral, dominated by the soaring tower of La Giralda, originally the minaret of an Islamic mosque constructed in the 12th century, but subsequently adapted into a Christian bell-tower after the city was recaptured from the Moors in 1248 during the Reconquista.


We found the cathedral very impressive, in terms of its size, its sheer opulence and its historical significance. This is a view of the ceiling with its vaults:


And this is the tomb of Diego, son of Christopher Columbus - some of whose remains reside in a very impressive casket borne by sculptured figures representing the four kingdoms of the united Spain: Castile, Leon, Navarre and Aragon.
.

The day after our visit to the castle and cathedral, we walked to the Parque Maria Luisa, a huge park allegedly inspired by the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. We had tried to visit this on our first day, but it was closed due to the dangers of falling trees / branches posed by strong winds! Without a doubt, the centrepiece of the park is the Plaza de Espana - at first sight a very imposing royal palace, though in reality an artificial one created for the huge Ibero-American Exposition in 1929.


The front face of the lower levels of the semi-circular building is comprised of sumptuously decorated alcoves representing all the cities of Spain, arranged in alphabetical order. As in so many other parts of Seville, the primary artistic medium is the glazed tile.


There was even an early 20th Century "Tourist Map" of the city, made of ceramic tiles!


With two young children in the party, we didn't want to devote too much time to looking at old buildings, so after a short stint on the park's play equipment, we took taxis to the Triana district in order to visit the market.


The Triana district has two markets, one of which has evolved into what most people would call a Food Court, consisting primarily of cafes and bars, but we visited the other one - the place where real local people buy real ingredients. I love visiting this sort of place!


We stopped at a little café to have some coffee and ended up staying there a couple of hours and eating a wonderful lunch prepared from ingredients fresh from some of the other market stalls. The café proprietor was exceedingly helpful. He said basically "Have a look at the market; if you see something you want to eat, come back and tell me. I will go and buy it and cook it for you." And he did! We ate vast quantities of meat and fish... (with me avoiding the latter, as ever).


Unfortunately the latter part of our stay in Seville was marred by persistent heavy rain, which was very unconducive to typical tourist activities, so we spent a lot of time indoors - mainly eating and drinking. There is no shortage of nice tapas bars in the city...

When the time came to head back to the airport we experienced a few moments of anxiety when we found that the city centre was blockaded by stationary taxis whose drivers were staging a strike. However, we did eventually make it to the airport in a pre-arranged chauffeur-driven car, although the journey took much longer than anticipated.

We loved what we saw of Seville. There is a lot to see and much of it is very conveniently situated in a smallish area, making walking from place to place a viable option when the weather is OK. Maybe we need to go back some other time, when the weather is better???

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Problems!

Hello Everybody, I'm currently having big problems with my blog, which appears to have been hacked or infected with a virus or something - although my anti-virus program shows my computer to be clear.


If any of you are having any issues with opening my posts or with being unable to see the photos, please can you leave me a Comment and let me know what you see?


Jane, who is also an Author on my blog appears to be unaffected, so maybe this is to do with my Blogger Account?


By the way, this particular post deliberately includes no photos. Thanks!


Update at 1530 on Sat 14 Apr: The problem is now SORTED! It turns out to have been that my anti-virus program was being over cautious and interpreted some changes in Blogger as being a threat. Some changes to settings have resolved the issue. My thanks to those people who tried to help via comments.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Planting onions and shallots

Last weekend I planted some "Long Red Florence" onions at my Courtmoor Avenue plot. Using a technique that worked well for me last year, I have been growing them in modules, each containing about 3 or 4 plants, and I have planted them out as blocks - without separating them into individual plants.


I made a sort of ad-hoc raised bed without edges for these plants. I raised a ridge about 30cm high, just like I have used for my potatoes, but this time I tamped the soil down very firmly with the back of a spade.


I placed the clumps about 8 inches apart, allowing the plants ample room to develop.


This is a photo from last year, to show you what I'm hoping for:

A clump of "Long Red Florence" onions (immature)

I was also able to plant the first half-dozen of the Shallots I rescued from the neglected plot late last year.


I put them at the end of the row of onions. If enough of the others sprout, I'll start a new row for them. As I've said previously, although I have 45 Shallots, I'll be happy if only 15 of them actually sprout! I just need to grow enough to be able to harvest a decent amount at the right time, and store them properly as my "seed-bank" for next year.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Earthing-up my potatoes

As most readers will know, I habitually grow my Early potatoes in large pots, inside some plastic mini-greenhouses.


With the benefit of this protection, the potato plants grow much more rapidly than if they were in the open air.

First Earlies "Annabelle" and "Juliette", covers temporarily removed

A couple of days ago I judged that these first ones were ready for earthing-up (known in the USA and some other places as "hilling").

The stems of this vigorous "Annabelle" plant were already standing up a few inches above the soil surface, and it is this that makes earthing-up desirable.

Before earthing-up

The actual tubers (potatoes) that you harvest from a potato plant grow on things called "stolons", which come out from the base of the plant, underneath the surface of the soil. It makes sense to ensure that they have a good depth of soil in which to develop, and earthing-up has the effect of stretching the stems, which theoretically allows for the formation of more stolons. You could achieve this by planting the seed-tuber quite deeply, but if the emerging shoots have a long way to travel before reaching the light they may become weakened. Because of this, when growing potatoes in containers I usually earth-up in two stages, though this is not strictly necessary.

Here is the same plant, after another couple of inches of nice rich home-made compost have been added to the pot. The leaves are still exposed. but no stem is showing now.

After earthing-up

This pot has two "Annabelle" plants in it, and they are clearly ready for the treatment too.


Here they are afterwards, nearly buried again:


If like me you grow your potatoes under plastic or glass, don't forget to check them frequently to make sure their soil / compost is still moist. Potatoes hate dry soil, and if they don't get enough water they will inevitably produce a poor crop. Growing them in compost rather than soil helps with moisture-retention. The presence in the compost of plentiful organic matter also helps to prevent the tubers getting the disease called Scab.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Protection! Protection! Protection!

My garden is very prone to damage by animals - cats, foxes and (apparently) badgers. To be honest, I have never seen a badger in my garden, but I know that they are common in my area and some of the major excavations seem too big to have been made by a fox. But whoever the culprits, the long and short of it is that I cannot risk leaving newly sown seeds or young plants without protection.

Over the years I have acquired an extensive armoury of "protection hardware", and most of it is deployed at present, so I thought it might be worth showing you some of it.

One of my most valuable bits of kit (not in the monetary sense), is my set of four tunnel cloches. Here you can see two of them covering my little chilli plants. On this occasion they are protecting the plants against the wind, but they have lots of other uses too.


At present the other two are covering a recently-sown row of Parsnips. Another row is protected with some pegged-down plastic clematis netting. Notice also the mini-greenhouses at the left of the photo. Inside them are some potato plants in large pots.


This is the raised bed in which I sowed my carrots last week. It is protected with fine mesh material, which is aimed at keeping out the Carrot Root Flies, but of course it will also deter the animals.


Another bed is protected with a 5mm mesh net, originally marketed as "Anti-butterfly netting". This bed, which contains 20 Broad Bean plants, is particularly vulnerable because it is on the direct path to the hole under the fence which the animals use to get into my garden.


Yesterday I sowed some Radishes and Lettuces in another bed, and of course I covered them - in this case with another anti-butterfly net. There are very few butterflies about at this time of year, but I seriously doubt whether any of the local cats would be able to resist the temptation to dig in that finely raked soil!


Most of the structures you see in my photos here are constructed with aluminium rods joined together with the "Build-a-Ball" system.


Since over the years I have built up a collection of rods of varying lengths I can build a structure of just about any height or length that I want. Most often the vertical rods are just pushed into the soil of the raised beds, but it is also perfectly possible to build a free-standing structure, like this one, which was used as a fruit-cage.


This is the final item I want to show you today - truly a weapon of last resort!


Yes, that's right, just some sticks (in this case prunings from a Buddleia bush). Totally unsophisticated, but surprisingly effective - at least in the case of cats: I don't think they would deter a badger...