May VII: Drowning slugs in beer to save young plants…

Each May I wonder how well my plants will survive the return of slugs to the garden. I keep my plot clean and tidy, but I cannot force neighbours to do likewise. As a result, the north and eastern boundaries are jungles with trees and hedges, ivy and creepers. A ditch dug to create a space between the vegetable patch and the jungles does not always suffice.

However, this spring, trouble appears limited to the boundary beds near the hedges and two small beds closest to the jungles. The four main beds have seen no pest atacks in May, suggesting that the composting is creating better soil, my skills in creating healthy young plants are improving and the use of biodynamic calendars may also help.

Still, this May I started to see both ends of my 3 metre rows of early carrots being nibbled, starting in mid May. Half my peas were also decimated in what is called a gardening cock up: seeds failing to germinate in March meaning the second sowing was shaded out by rapidly growing broad beans in May. It is a stunning example of pests attacking shaded plants but not those in sunlight.

I therefore set up 5 beer traps last week, one in the pea bed and two each in the small beds (one at each end of the carrots, one near cabbage and one near broad beans.

In a week, I have murdered 40-50 slugs and the carrot munching has subsided and no further pea damage has occurred.

However, happily established cabbages suddenly fell foul to slugs as soon as the beer trap was set.

It is not therefore a guarantee of safety, rather one string to the bow in fighting slugs.

May VI: home made bean seeds germinate superbly…

May has seen me germinate the climbing bean and dwarf bean seeds I made last summer.

The results have been stunning.

29/30 Cobra bean seeds sown on 6th May germinated within 7 days and the plants were so vigorous, I potted them on before planting 20 out in the garden on 23rd May.

The Cupidon dwarf beans sown on 15th May showed 36/36 germinating within 5 days:

Of course, the ultimate test of seed saving is the quality of crop produced.

But early signs suggest that saving your own bean seeds is well worth it.

May V: First Harvest of Foremost First Early potatoes grown in pots…

Back in late February, I planted four single tubers in black pots with the aim of harvesting one pot a week in the month of June.

This week saw the first Blight Alert issued, courtesy of 2 days of unusually warm and wet conditions.

This morning I saw the odd brown patch on the odd leaf, so I did a test harvest of one pot to see if the crop was ready.

The result:

1.92lb from just over 30 tubers.

About five minitubers had not developed fully, suggesting continuing growth would have increased yield, however in general, the size of the first early potatoes was perfect.

Having sown around 25th February, a harvest on 19th May is an 83 day harvest, a day shy of 12 weeks.

The pots were kept inside until shoots emerged around the spring equinox, after which they lived happily outside (as we did not have a single frost from then on).

The conclusion is that new potatoes can be eaten in May in NW London, provided the pots remain indoors for four weeks to initiate growth.

May IV: making soup from excess radishes…

This year, by sowing more radish than before, it has of course been a bumper harvest in May. We have had far more than the 12 a day necessary to feed three, so somehow, the excess radishes needed using up.

The radishes to the left in the feature image were left to grow for seven weeks and the roots are about four times the usual size I harvest for salads.

So I did a bit of reading and had a go at making onion, radish and potato soup.

Ingredients:

1 good sized onion, chopped

2 rashers back bacon, sliced

1 medium sized potato, sliced

12 large radishes, sliced and leaves, sliced

Olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, dill

1 pint of stock

Preparation:

Soften onion, crushed garlic and bacon in olive oil on low heat for 3-5 mins, then add the chopped radish roots and leaves, mix thoroughly and let the mixture sweat for 3-5 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and dried dill, add the sliced potatoes and the stock, bring to simmering point and leave on low heat for 15 minutes.

Liquidise and serve either imediately or after leaving overnight.

 

A fine way to avoid putting unwanted radish on the compost heap….

May III: optimising carrot germination using vermicompost….

Having started a wormery three years ago, I now have some 3 year old vermicompost to use.

Last year I put a spoonful of 2 year old material into my tomato pots – they seemed to like it.

This year, I am trying to grow carrots for show in polypots, so I decided to see if vermicompost aided germination or not.

I filled two polypots with standard garden centre MPC, watered it to saturation, then I spread a very thin layer of vermicompost on top. I placed 3 Sweet Candle seeds in each of 12 locations (8 around the outside in a ring and four equally spaced inside). After a thin covering with vermicompost and a quick water, the two bags were left in my lean-to propagation module on the bottom shelf.

With seedlings emerging after 14-17 days, the bags came out to live in the open and I could score the outcome.

Of 72 seeds sown, >60 germinated into healthy plants, a rate of over 85%.

I have often read about the great germination qualities of vermicompost.

Now I have seen it in action…..

May II: the garden in mid-May…

The garden is now in its ninth week of unusually dry weather. A couple of sharp showers gave the occasional decorative touch, but watering has been necessary for five weeks now.

Most vegetables are performing well, but the onions are not. Whether it is disease, drought-caused or otherwise, is unclear. It is the first potential failure of the season.

The chard is about to finish and has been less abundant than in wetter springs.

However, as the feature image shows, the potatoes have all progressed rapidly and the first earthing up has taken place. The warm weather has meant regular watering of the  first earlies grown in pots, with half a gallon per pot given on hot days.

 The carrots sown on 31st March and April 9th have done well, with the latter currently having radish harvested from the rows:

The parsnip have also germinated well and are also ready for the radish sown at the same time to be harvested.

Lettuce are doing well and should start harvesting in the next 7-10 days:

Beetroot roots from the mid February Boltardy sowing are now visible and the April sowing has been transplanted after radish:

Spinach is being harvested along with turnip tops and spring onions, providing plenty of greens:

Broad beans are now 5-6 feet tall and the first pods are just setting. The potted plants for seeds have a few pods further on:

Peas are in the ground, but not yet really accelerating. Finally, asparagus harvest is in full steam ahead mode.

Comfrey is ready for its second cut:

In modules, cabbages are progressing well at 4 weeks and tree cabbage/perpetual spinach is healthy at two weeks:

Both leek sowings are doing well at 4 weeks and two weeks:

Finally both chard and May beetroot have germinated well.

Despite the late April cold, both apple trees have set fruit beautifully:

All in all, things could be a lot worse, especially as heavy rain is finally expected over the next 36 hours.

May 2017 I: an experiment making my own seeds…

Over the past 3 years, I have started making my own seeds for a few vegetables. These have been:

1. Tomatos and Chili peppers – these are easy and are made from fruit you have picked from the plant, so there is no time pressure.

2. French Climbing Beans and dwarf beans – these are also easy and these crops are not usually requiring to be pulled before seeds mature in pods.

3. Broad Beans and Peas – although these are easy, there is usually acute pressure to pull up the plants after crop harvest to plant out a second crop.

So, this year, I have put four broad bean and pea seedlings into 30cm pots to allow seeds to mature away from the garden.

As the pictures show, the plants are doing well for early May, with the broad beans flowering and the plants climbing the pole rapidly. It will be interesting to see how well seeds from plants grown in pots perform when put back into soil in 2018.

The other experiment I am trying this year is growing onion seed, this year progressing six Kelsae plants in pots:

The scapes are now forming well and should turn into seed heads in a month or two.

The proof of the system’s worth will of course be in 2018….