Back in the Saddle. Wellies. Whatever

November 14, 2021

So for a blissful two days between Transport Day at COP26 and the arrival of my next last-minute job with an insane deadline I had … some actual spare time. Or at least what was left over of my waking hours after I’d started to tackle the massive list of admin tasks that had been filed under ‘after COP’ over the last couple of weeks. Naturally, the garden beckoned.

roses in pots

These days the gardening people advise you to do a lot less in autumn – digging, cutting back and tidying away for the winter is all somewhat frowned upon, and who am I to argue with that? But I did have one thing I wanted to get sorted ready for spring and that was preparing a permanent home for my instant rose garden, which I had been gifted in the summer.

Rose in bloom

With the little rose I’d moved earlier this year still flowering away happily, and November be damned, I decided it could do with some pals so I spent a nice afternoon clearing out the worst of the weeds (even as the podcast of Gardeners’ Question Time I was listening to was telling me that exposing soil to the air was a complete no-no in carbon terms). The next step will be to cover it in manure and compost for a bit, and hopefully I can move the roses in the new year.

New rosebed

As so often with the garden, as soon as I was out there to do one job I started to realise all the other tasks that needed doing. Like raking the cut grass off my ‘meadow’ (which I probably should have done two months ago, but hey ho), and emptying my potato bags. For yes, despite deciding not to grow potatoes this year after getting a bit of trouble with blight, I did inherit a couple of bags for growing potatoes in from some friends who were downsizing. I filled them with the soil that was left over from excavating the sitooterie bed, and then added a few volunteer potatoes that showed up in the greenhouse over spring, and then pretty much left them to get out of it.

Potato bags being emptied

From this minimal amount of effort, I have harvested a fairly minimal amount of potatoes, but it is at least an amount larger than none. In what has been a neglectful gardening year, I’m taking that as a win.


Pride Goeth

June 11, 2020

OK, I’ll confess it. I’ve been seeing a lot of fresh new eager gardeners starting up during the lockdown period. I’ve seen their questions, shared with them their joy at the first shoots, commiserated with them over their setbacks, even dispensed a little lofty advice. After all, I remembered when I was a new gardener, negotiating the perils of slugs and damping off and all the ills that befall young veg shoots if you’re not careful. If you’re not, say, someone who’s been growing veg for over a decade now and – despite the usual catalogue of minor mishaps – managing to get some decent results.

Behold, for example, the lushness of my potato plants in the greenhouse.

lush potato plants

This is a trick I learned from a fellow gardener (indeed, the garden inspection committee) who likes to throw a few early potatoes in under glass to get the first news a good few weeks before the outdoor ones are ready. With a nice early variety you can have them dug up and eaten in time to get the slower starting greenhouse plants in for the rest of the summer. In this case, our tomatillos have been knocking on the door for a while, wondering when they were going to get their feet into the soil. Given the potatoes had started flowering it was time to start harvesting and reap the benefit of my years of experience.

Behold, if you will, the magnificence of my potato harvest.

very few potatoes

In fact, this is actually an improvement on the original – the first plant I dug up had no potato tubers on it at all. I blame the insane weather – it turns out that if the soil is too warm, then potato plants don’t bother setting tubers. You would have thought the chances of this being a problem for us was exactly zero, but not so, given all the sunshine we had in April and May. I’ll probably still file it under ‘nice problem to have’, but it just goes to show, there are no surprises the Weather Gods won’t spring on the the unsuspecting gardener, however much they think they know.

Meanwhile the rest of the veg patch is looking almost as if I know what I’m doing…

… but we know better now.


Out with the Old, In with the New

March 31, 2020

Gardening at this time of year always reminds me of the apocryphal resolution of some town council in Scotland somewhere to 1) build a new prison, 2) save money by using the bricks from the old prison in the new prison, and 3) to house the prisoners in the old prison until the new prison is built …

Veg plot in March

The focus at the moment is getting everything planted for the coming season but the old season isn’t finished yet – and at a time when access to fresh veg feels like a luxury I’m not ready to cut it off before it’s done. The purple sprouting broccoli is just getting into its stride, the kale is still hanging in there, the Swiss chard is gearing up to produce a final flush of leaves before it bolts for good, and the leeks … well the last remaining leeks are doing a convincing impression of spring onions. With the weather warming up and the days lengthening, they might well have plumped up a bit more before they bolted too but like time and the tide, seed potatoes wait for no man so today they got eaten, ready or not to make room for the spuds. ‘Baby leeks’ are totally a thing, right?

very small leeks

I’ve also been taking the chance to plant some of the hardier flowering plants I have been raising from seed. There’s still a lot of garden to take back control of, and I’m generally too tight-fisted to buy actual plants from a garden centre (village plant sales are another matter) but I have great difficulty in walking past a display of seeds without some seductively illustrated little packet ending up in my basket. Not all of these are successful, and my failure to find a plant labelling solution that remains legible after a few months means that those that do grow often end up as mystery plants before they are planted out, but I’m pretty sure that these are my white foxgloves (we have plenty of the normal pink ones) which I planted underneath our wedding anniversary birch trees while catching up with the latest government announcement on the radio.

foxglove seedlings

There’s a weird disconnect involved in doing something as generally pleasant and hopeful as planting out young plants, while listening to the daily announcement of the coronavirus death toll. I can only hope that by the time they are in flower (if indeed they do flower), the memory of this time will seem like something from the distant past.


Springiness

April 16, 2019

April seems to have been a month of easterlies up to now – bringing dry, cold weather rather than the traditional showers and – in my case at least – a welcome tailwind when climbing the hill to home. Indeed yesterday, in a boisterous hat-snatching gale, I could actually feel it like a hand on my back and my legs were suddenly very very good indeed. This made the fact that I’d had to pedal downhill on the way in worth it.

Even a withering east wind hasn’t quite managed to hold back spring, though. There’s a sudden surge of greenness everywhere (except on the big trees, which will hang on a while yet, I imagine). And today the wind relented and it got more mild (complete with the return of the April showers, possibly a good thing given our water butt is almost empty*). I even managed an hour or two in the greenhouse, potting on seedlings. I was pleased to note that my greenhouse potatoes were finally putting in an appearance after over a month

potato shoots

As, er, are the last of the stored potatoes, which I’m going to have to summon up the courage to investigate and deal with before we end up with a thriving, if cannibalistic, potato patch in our utility room.

potato shoots

And another green shoot popped up in the post this morning. This year’s PoP t-shirt is a zinger and you should definitely buy one.

Pedal on Parliament t-shirt

In other news, it’s harder to make a cow costume than you might think.

* Note to the Weather Gods – you didn’t hear me say that, OK?


What Lies Beneath

September 5, 2018

So today (once our current hare had deigned to stop sunning itself in the back garden, preventing me from going outside & enjoying the sunshine myself) I thought I’d have a look and see how this year’s potato crop was shaping up

Pretty well, actually

digging up potatoes

Yup, very nicely indeed.

potato harvest

This is the initial* haul from the second of my three potato beds – the first had the first earlies in it (plus a fine crop of mushrooms) and we’re still only half way through those. I may need to upgrade my pototo storage solution so we can keep them through the winter and still have something to eat come Brexit.**

Meanwhile, in tenuously related news, the final chapter seems to have almost closed on our local stretch of the gas pipeline project with the mysterious pipe-and-bag arrangement now replaced with a much more engineering-y manhole cover, and the land returned to the cows.

manhole cover

Given the rate that grass grows around here, it’s already hard to imagine that there’s anything beneath this field but stones and soil, were it not for this warning sign (and incidental Gaelic lesson) and final loose ends which I have no doubt will be dealt with in the fullness of time.

pipeline warning sign

We’ll update you on this story as soon as we have news. I know, you can barely wait.

* Fellow gardeners will know that harvesting potatoes is a Zeno’s Arrow sort of an affair, with each dig yielding a few more, but still leaving enough in the ground to be a complete nuisance for years to come.

** Kidding ***

*** I hope.


Full Disclosure

August 21, 2018

So, I’ve shown you the other half’s greenhouse, and someone else’s garden altogether, but what of my own veg gardening? Are those raised beds still proving so wonderful?

Well…

veg plot in August

To be fair, August is always a bit random on the gardening front as the accumulation of any spring and summer neglect comes home to roost in spades, but I’ve never grown an additional mystery crop of mushrooms in my potato patch before:

mushrooms in potato patch

Any mycologists out there?

mystery mushroom

I’m more or less resigned to the fact that cabbage whites will come and infest my brassicas. In the past I’ve tried netting them, picking them off, and just ignoring them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a lot to completely kill off purple sprouting broccoli. Hopefully, enough plants will survive to put out spears in the spring, after the caterpillars have been killed off in the winter. This year, I’ve cut off the worst of the leaves and stuck them, caterpillars and all, in the compost bin, which probably only means that the caterpillars will have worked up a good appetite by the time they’ve finished crawling back round the house to the veg patch.

caterpillars on broccoli

Interestingly (for a certain value of interesting) the broccoli is quite badly infested with the yellow-and-black caterpillars of the large white, while the cavolo nero right next to it has a much more limited number of the green caterpillars of the small white. Any entomologists care to weigh in?

In other news, my sole squash plant has turned into a sprawling giant which has quite overwhelmed the beans I had optimistically hoped it would share its raised bed with, annexed the fennel bed next door, and is currently conducting a hostile takeover of the not-yet-cultivated mixed bramble and willowherb patch next to the pond. Normally, my money would be on brambles winning any sort of territorial battle, but this time I’m not so sure. The only thing it’s not doing is apparently producing any squashes (but then again, I thought that about the pumpkin last year).

squash plant

On the other hand, despite all this, we’re still getting plentiful potatoes, chard, kale (some with added protein) and giant beetroot. And the peas, which should have been over and done by now, are having a new lease of life and are merrily producing new shoots, flowers and pods. Obviously, what they’re not doing is using any of the supports I helpfully supplied for them, which means they look terrible and picking the peas is a challenge, but August peas of any kind are a bonus so it’s worth the effort.

peas

How does your garden grow?


What a Difference …

April 6, 2018

… A bit of sunshine makes, with spring finally making a guest appearance yesterday, and apparently now settled in for the week.* It wasn’t exactly ‘taps aff’ in Bigtown, but I felt a bit overdressed in my hat, scarf and winter gloves when I cycled down for the paper and discovered that everyone else was in their summer clothes. What can I say, they’re a hardy bunch. There were even other cyclists out on the country roads (I was deep in conversation with myself, plugging up the hill on my way home, when I was startled by a cheery voice saying ‘nice day for it!’ just at my right shoulder. Turns out other cyclists actually maintain their bikes to the point where they can silently sneak up on people …).

I didn’t technically have any time for gardening yesterday, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get on with the earth moving project that the raised beds have turned into. I was only going to clear away the soil and tackle assembling them later, but I got the bit between my teeth and it turned out to be pretty straightforward in the end.

assembled raised beds

Assembled raised beds. That small cairn of stones in the foreground is the inevitable result of doing any digging around here …

Today I was going to start filling them, ready for the potatoes which are waiting chitting on the windowsill, but the rain came down just as I had met my last deadline of the week and was ready to head out to do some muck shifting at last.

potatoes chitting indoors

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain inside the greenhouse so I did some binge planting instead. Now all I have to do is assemble and fill the other eight raised beds before everything starts climbing out of the pots unassisted.

seeds planted in greenhouse

That should be easy enough, right?

* I actually thought my Met Office weather app might be broken when I looked at it this morning and there was no forecast for rain/sleet/snow/plagues of frogs for the whole week, just a row of white clouds and more-or-less normal temperatures for the time of year. Surely some mistake?


First Find your Veg Plot

July 6, 2017

We needed potatoes tonight, and the first of the earlies were likely to be ready. There was just one problem …

overgrown veg

I’ve been neglecting the veg plot recently, it’s safe to say. There’s just too much other garden to be getting on with, not to mention all the other things I’ve been doing and so I’ve been letting the hares keep on top of the weeding, without, it must be said, a great deal of success.

Fortunately, most of what’s in the plot this year is stuff that can just get on with things themselves, like broad beans

broad beans

And potatoes of course.

First potatoes

First crop of new potatoes. Very satisfying

Mental note to self: next year, plant the earlies right by the entrance to the plot, instead of deep in the back corner.

veg plot found

By tradition, all home grown veg is nothing less than delicious.

potatoes being cooked

And these were no exception.

 


What Lies Beneath

March 25, 2017

So, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to discover how the manky pink carpet experiment has been getting on.

carpet-covered veg bed

Well, as it happens, due to a rare confluence of events that meant I was not required to be in a random Scottish city this weekend, combined with a slight lull in the immediate pressure of POP preparation (but there’s still time to contribute to our crowd funder, just saying), and a day promising sunshine and light winds, gave me the perfect (indeed, possibly the only) opportunity to find out. In fact, I would have been hard pressed not to spend today out in the garden, given the gloriousness of the weather.

potatoes chitting

So far this year, my entire preparation for growing veg has been a half-hour trolley dash through potato day (top tip: label your seed potato bags before you pick your potatoes, and then put them in alphabetical order for maximum efficiency), and chitting my seed potatoes. I knew that the carpet hasn’t been down long enough to properly deal with the weeds or let the organic matter break down, but spring waits for nobody, and I decided to open up the first bed and put my first and second earlies in today.

veg bed uncovered

If I’d been hoping that underneath there had been a magical transformation into wonderful friable rich soil, I would have been disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything in gardening these past few years it’s to manage my expectations, so I was just pleased to discover that the grass it had covered up wasn’t just sitting there unscathed. There are still some clumps hanging in there to deal with, and a lot of the coarser plant material hadn’t broken down yet, but there was also a fairly healthy population of worms. So the carpet has saved me a lot of digging, although I suspect come later in the season when I’m battling the weeds that did survive, I will wish I’d been more patient

Fortunately potatoes have a fierce determination to grow and will do so even in a light-proof plastic bin so I suspect they will manage anyway (that said, I note that last year I was still putting potatoes in at the end of April, which might explain why we had such a rubbish crop – I had forgotten that. Clearly you can push even a seed potato too far.)

Anyway, given that I haven’t even bought any seeds yet, he rest of the bed can remain under the carpet for now, hopefully mulching down into something marvellous. Meanwhile the now-spare carpet has been moved up to where the fruit cage will be, which is currently about 50% nettle roots by volume. I don’t think we’ll be planting our raspberry canes there for a while …

potatoes planted

What with all the digging, lugging about of heavy stuff and general hard labour, I feel a bit broken now, but it does feel good to have got started for the season.


Man Bites Potato

June 10, 2016

potato plants in greenhouse

‘It’s not so much the space they’re taking up,’ the other half said, as he enquired when I’d be digging up the potatoes in the greenhouse. ‘It’s that I’m worried they might grab a leg as I squeeze past and have me for supper…’

potato flowers

It’s true that the potato plants in the greenhouse have grown almost obscenely luxuriant, including even the flowers, but fortunately the one I dug up this afternoon didn’t appear to have any half-digested gardeners among the tubers

first potatoes

So we had them for supper instead. They were, naturally, delicious and happily non-exploding (and I note that we’re precisely one day earlier harvesting our first potatoes than we were last year).

potato harvest

Along with some lettuce, which is already getting out of hand.

lettuce plants

Note that this very close-cropped and selective shot is the pretty much the only angle from which my veg plot looks even mildly well tended. A friend came up to visit this morning and saw the worst, but hopefully she will spare my blushes.