May in the Garden Smallholding

 

May has been another dry and hot month in the main, watering continues to be a chore and a must. It has also been a rather busy month for planting, potting on and sowing, with the occasional harvest. Certain crops have excelled in the unseasonal heat whereas others have struggled a little. Chillies, cucumber and tomatoes have been particularly happy in the soaring temperatures, I have tomatoes almost ready for picking in the greenhouse and small chillies and cucumbers forming already.

Leaf miner insects have been a problem on my beets and chard, I check the underside of the leaves daily and rub the tiny white eggs off. Not so much of a problem with the beets, but the chard is not very appealing to say the least. The fruit garden has been a bit hit and miss, gooseberries are doing brilliantly in their new shady spot while the strawbs and summer raspberries have resented the lack of rainfall. I will have fruit to pick but not nearly as much as I had hoped. I’m continuing to sow carrots, beets and radish at weekly intervals to avoid a glut. I began harvesting peas this month, they’re coming along well, producing lots of big pods.

I think my favourite part of May goes to sowing beans. There is something quite satisfying about sowing bean seed, perhaps it’s the colours and patterns? Some of them (such as dwarf bean) are so pretty. Beans don’t take very long to germinate provided they are watered enough and placed in a warm spot, runners grow so fast you really have to keep an eye on them.

Charlotte potatoes are in flower now, the haulms are not nearly as tall as last years. I’ve stopped pulling rhubarb this month, a little earlier than I would have liked but I feel the whole plant needs to rest, it suffered a bit with the heat. The herb garden is looking lovely, the green and bronze fennel really steal the limelight, soaring high above the other herbs with their dainty foliage dancing in the slightest breeze. Chives have flowered profusely this year, they really are happier in the ground rather than in a pot. After waiting more than a month for the asparagus seeds to do anything, only 6 germinated out of a possible 18. Needless to say, I will be nurturing these little feathery fronds for some time to come!

I also started sowing squashes this month, I’m quite excited about the pumpkins this year because I have oodles of space at the allotment for them. Hopefully I will have a few to use for Samhain / Halloween celebrations. I have spent quite a bit of time at the allotment lately, I’m writing another blog to keep a record of my achievements and failures.It’s due for updating soon so I must get my skates on. If you fancy a peek into my first year allotmenteering, or would like to follow my progress on a regular basis, you can find my blog Allotment Plot 4 here http://allotmentplot4.wordpress.com 

Don’t forget to leave me a comment so I know you’ve stopped by!

Pinch out Broad Bean Tops

My broad beans are flowering and beginning to form small bean pods lower down on the plants. I spent a few minutes yesterday pinching out the tops. Pinching out broad bean tops helps to avoid an infestation of black bean aphid, it also encourages the plants to direct their energy into forming nice big pods of beans rather than putting on more top growth. It’s easy to do, just pinch the very tops off with your thumb and forefinger once the lower pods are approx 3in long. If you see clusters of black dot like creatures, often with a sticky substance covering them, this is black bean aphid. Pinch the tops off as normal to try to bring the problem under control.

If you’re a wildlife nerd like me, you might be interested in another way of knowing if your broad beans have black bean aphid infestation – keep an eye out for black ants on the plants. When feeding, black bean aphid secrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew. Ants ‘farm’ the aphids, milking the honeydew produced by the aphids as well as moving them to the fresh new growth. Apparently the sweetest honeydew is produced by aphids eating the youngest, freshest leaves – that’s probably why broad bean tops tend to get infested so easily.

Once you have pinched off your broad bean tops don’t throw them on the compost heap, try eating them instead. They can be cooked like spinach or add to a stir fry –  just make sure they’re not infested with black bean aphid first!

Henniversary for Becki Hen

This is Becki, she’s an ex battery hen and I’ve had the pleasure to know her for 2 whole years. Her story is a funny one in the sense that she was never meant to end up staying here in the garden smallholding, alongside another hen called Hope. I was a rescue co-ordinator along with a friend of mine called Becki for Little Hen Rescue during one of their biggest rescues to date – 10,000 hens rescued over a number of weeks from a farm closing down.

Becki and I rehomed some of these hens from my garden. A few of the hens were just too poorly to rehome straight away so we kept them back to be collected by a person who fosters hens and looks after them until they’re healthy enough to be rehomed. One of the hens caught my attention immediately, she was dying. We saved her life there and then. I eventually named her Hope and she bought a ticket to stay. I couldn’t just take one (not ideal for introductions to my flock) so Becki hen got a ticket to stay too. At the time Becki hen was a poorly girl with a very sore leg, my friend Becki noticed her amongst the hundreds of hens roaming around so she gently scooped her up and put her somewhere quiet to be given some one-to-one care. So that’s how Becki hen got her name.

Becki hen looks so different now, her leg completely healed although she will always have a slight limp. Sadly Hope passed away last year but I will never forget her. Happy 2 year ‘henniversary’ Becki hen!

Fingers Crossed for Good Gooseberries

This time last year I was having Gooseberry troubles. I had 2 Gooseberry bushes at the time, both different varieties with varying levels of mildew resistance. Mildew wiped out the fruit on one of the varieties called Careless, the other variety, Invicta, was doing OK. Or so I thought. Eventually it also succumbed and gave up, along with any thoughts of making Gooseberry Fool or anything else remotely scrummy.

I decided to give Invicta a second chance and quickly got to work, cutting away all diseased branches and removing the spoilt fruit – whilst poor old Careless went straight on the bonfire. It seemed harsh but if it’s going to cause problems and not deliver then it doesn’t deserve a place in my patch. Early this year I moved Invicta to a very shady spot, pruned the centre and side shoots to open it up and gave it a stern talking to whilst shaking  a box of matches at it! 

It’s looking great at the moment and fruiting well, fingers crossed. I’m on the look out for other mildew resistant varieties. Any recommendations?

Radish – Taste the Colours of the Rainbow

I thought I’d share a glimpse of some freshly pulled Bright Lights radish. Unfortunately not all the colour range is shown in the photo, its been a struggle to get  to them before my family rip them from the ground! But there are lots of lovely colours from white through to deep plum purple, they’re easy to grow too producing nice shape roots.

I’m not too keen on the yellow ones, I don’t know why but each yellow root is rough skinned and extremely hot, perhaps the drought we have been experiencing lately has something to do with it? Hmm not sure. I’ve tried pulling them at different sizes but each yellow one disappoints. Oh well, this won’t stop me from growing them again – for the popularity and surprise/fun factor!

Sowing and Potting on Tomatoes

I started sowing tomatoes in February (earlier than I usually do) and more again in March. I’m growing Alicia Craig and cherry variety Gardener’s Delight, thanks to the continuous beautiful weather my urge to sow tomatoes in February paid off  – the plants have their first flowers and a couple of small fruits. At the moment they are inside the greenhouse with the door open during the day to allow for pollinating insects to do their bit. The March plants are smaller but really coming along well, they need potting on again so I shall crack on with that over the weekend. I will probably grow a few plants outdoors too but they won’t go outside until the risk of frost is over.

I use deep modules to sow tomato seeds, a warm sunny windowsill normally works well for germination. I transplant each seedling into a small pot once the first set of true leaves appear, then I grow them on in a warm spot until they need potting on again into larger pots. When potting on tomato seedlings I plant deeper than they were previously, I find this encourages a better root system which helps with watering during the summer months and generally a stronger plant all round.

Due to a combination of unseasonably warm weather and sowing tomatoes early, I just might be eating  home-grown tomatoes earlier than usual this year. Fingers crossed!

Book Review – Reader’s Digest Gardening/Allotment Book

I was asked by Reader’s Digest to review one of their gardening books titled ‘Food From Your Garden & Allotment’, since receiving the book I have struggled to put it down. As an avid reader and vegetable gardening book collector I’m shocked this book was not already part of my armoury. The book covers 5 colour coded sections which are packed with essential information on everything you need to know and perhaps didn’t know about growing, preserving and cooking food raised from your back garden or allotment plot.

  • A Basic Guide to the Kitchen Garden
  • Growing and Cooking
  • The Food Growers Calendar
  • Pests and Diseases
  • Home Preserving

Each of the above sections contain detailed and precise information over a vast range of  topics with handy techniques, in-depth explanations and illustrations. Section 1 teaches how to plan your kitchen garden, know your soil type and tools, weed identification and techniques covering how to sow, transplant and prune. Section 2 is packed with a fantastic A-Z guide to growing herbs, fruit and vegetables including tips on how to harvest, prepare and cook each crop for the table. Section 3 covers the growing seasons and what you can expect to be growing and harvesting, with handy seasonal recipes as well as easy to follow lists of jobs to complete for each growing season to get your kitchen garden off to a flying start. Section 4 covers pests and diseases, each with an A-Z guide and clear illustrations. Section 5 really is the jewel in the crown for me, there are not many grow your own books that cover preserving to this level. I was very impressed with the at-a-glance guide to freezing produce, outlining clear information on exactly how to prepare each fruit/vegetable for the freezer. There are recipes galore for jam making, bottling, pickling, relishes, vinegars, chutneys, jellies, wine making and much more.

The photography is stylish, (which is probably one of the first things that I tend to notice and appreciate with gardening books) format, writing style and step by step guides are straight forward to follow. The book would be enjoyed and useful to the beginner, enthusiast and professional, covering a wide range of topics from garden design and handy techniques to in-depth explanations of growing many different crops. The information this book contains will probably be all you need to help get started with growing and cooking your own grown produce.

If you like interesting recipes you won’t be disappointed with this book, I’m certainly glad it’s part of my book collection.

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