Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Update #5

Hey guys, It would seem as though I have abandoned the cause. But no. It's been very slow on the site these pass few weeks however we still have a few crops still growing. The broad beans have been planted out as well as onions and the purple sprouting broccoli. The sweet peppers have finally come to a halt and we just picked the last of the crop. There are now cabbage in the spot where the peppers use to be. Chillies have done well, but have now exhausted their production ability. We managed to get one butternut squash this year and two squash festivals. The tomatoes went mental this season. We had so much more than we could handle. Spring onions, herbs, grapes and carrots were also on the list of crops we harvested recently. We got a good crop of grapes and made grape juice which went down very well.

A few of the veg form the Autumn harvest

Autumn stated and there was a limit to what we could plant. We planted out spinach, broad beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, garlics and onions. Most of the crops we planted are under the polytunnel, for obvious reasons, its been cold and the forecast is that it's going to get colder still. It's been a harsh few weeks. We've had two months worth of rain in the past week, and it's been cold.
Brod Beans Standing up to the cold

Purple Sprouting Broccoli


Salad Leaves

Out in the open there is not much going on, we are experimenting with potatoes. We planted a small area with potatoes to see how they do over the winter months. The spinach are not looking to impressive, they have been in the ground for about two months now but just looking at them you won't be able to tell.
Align CentreSad Looking Spinach

We've got some beet root in as well and they seem to be holding up well. All in all the weather as not been kind to the vegetable world. The only plants that seems to be striving in the recent conditions are the rockets. They have more than doubled in size since the last post and shows no sign of letting up.
We have mixed in a bit of horse manure into the plots and covered them in an attempt to keep the foxes from turning them into their own private toilets. So far it has worked. Just want to shear with you with a picture of the nursery where we are growing some red sunflower, strawberries and garlics
Nursery Area in the Polytunnel

We are also trying out leaf molding, apparently it takes at least a year before we can see the results.
Leaf Mold in progress

I now leave you with images of the site in the run up to winter. Not for the faint hearted!!!
Frozen to death - Squash

Barren Land?/Fox Protection

Monday, 14 September 2009

Update #4

So we are quickly approaching autumn and it's harvest time. This post is long over due and therefore most of the pictures will be a few weeks old, never the less they're still worth sharing.
Lots of food goes to waste in this country these days. Supermarkets, restaurants and and other food stores throw out an astonishing amount of perfectly good edible produce which have either pass their sell by dates, or no longer has that appearance of perfection that the consumers are use to. It amazes me that there are people in the world that still do not have enough to eat, while some of us have way too much. The evidence is in the bins. The picture above is of some vegetables we rescued from a bin behind a health food store, all of which were perfectly safe to eat. This fed eight people and cost nothing.

Now off to May Garden... Update #3 was of what's been going on inside the polytunnel, and so this update is focused on what's been going on everywhere else.
Potatoes have done well, we have had about 12kg so far and there are still four more plants to dig up. We were lucky enough to have had some enormous spuds and they feed us well.
4.6kg of Potatoes

The artichokes are about to go to flower and so we're about to dig them up. They stand at an amazing 71/2ft high and have stood up to some very strong winds over the past few months.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Apples have been very productive this year, the pruning has done wonders. We've had plenty fruits and we have been enjoying lots and lots of fresh apple juice.
The Apple all its' Glory

Apple Picking

Unfortunately we weren't able to keep up with the supply of apples and a few of them rotted.

Our squashes are soldiering on. We have got a few squash festivals growing on the vine as well as one butter-nut squash. I can't make out what's going on with the butter-nut. We keep getting new flowers that begin to form into fruit...but then they begin to shrivel up and then eventually die and fall off the vine. It's a mystery to us all.
Squash Festival

Butter-nut Squash

We've had a good crop of runner beans. We were a bit sceptical at first about the runners, the packaging which the seeds came in indicated that the seeds had expired over a year ago. Fortunately no one told that to the seeds.
First in the race - Runner Beans

The courgette plant is a success story. It was on the verge of non existence but slowly fought it's way back to good health and now provides us with some very tasty veg.
'Green Giant' Courgette

The tomato plants inside the polytunnel have gotten quite large with a lot of fruits on them but the tomato plants outside have been providing us with some big juicy red tomatoes regularly. They have done very well and the poor plants have been finding it a real struggle to support their own weight.
Plump sun ripe tomatoes - My Girl Variety

The onset of colder temperatures have some what slowed the growth of some of the plants . The growth of the second batch of herbs; thyme, parsley and basil have come to a crawl. However we are still able to have fresh herbs for cooking on a daily basis.
Slow growing herbs

Green seasoning..... something I remember my mum making back home. This is the best way to get the most out of your herbs. We got a bunch of thyme, a bunch of parsley, a bunch of chive, a bunch of basil and a bit of mint, blended them all together with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, a few cloves of garlic (grown in the garden), two chillies, some water and a generous amount of malt vinegar. This is green seasoning, Caribbean style. It can be kept in the fridge for up to two months and it could be used for seasoning anything, lamb, fish, even vegetable for stewing or roasting. Plus it saves you chopping up lots of individual ingredients.

We have also planted some spring onions and they had a rough start but are now starting to pick up the pace.

When we first decided to plant out the sweet corn we were told not to expect more than two cobs per plant. Well we had, on average, three cobs per plant, and they were surprisingly sweet. They've come to the end of their time now and the black flies have taken over what little is left.
Sweet Corn
Our nasturtium patch seems to be a heaven for black flies, they are absolutely covered in them. It hasn't been much of a problem though, the black flies have been concentrated on this one patch and it hasn't been affecting the growth of the nasturtiums.
Edible Flowers - Nasturtiums

We harvested quite a lot of carrots, they weren't all straight but they were all tasty and we did get a few monsters. We didn't manage to get any individual pictures of the carrots or garlics, so here is a picture of some of the produce we got this harvest.
Fruits of our labour

The grapes are still on the go. The birds got a few but the netting we casted over the vine has held well and we have been enjoying medium sweet grapes for the past few weeks.

A funny story, the rockets we grew earlier on this year did not do very well. The leaves were tiny and the entire plant was very leggy. We allowed the plant to go to seed and then we hung the whole plant up to dry. We never paid much attention to it and the wind kept blowing it around the garden. A few months on and we now have rocket plants popping up all around the area where the mother plant was hung up to dry, and those plants were not given any attention at all. These plants have somehow done better than the ones we grew earlier on in the year.
So we have come to the conclusion that rocket does better with a little bit of neglect. Strange.

The harvest moon is quickly approaching, signalling the end of a period where the earth is most generous. As the clod descends upon us it is easier to simply retreat to the warmth of our beds but........there's still work to be done. The cold will past, the long days of darkness will past, the days of frozen earth will past and it will soon be time to dig again, and once the warmth and comfort of spring approaches we must be ready to take full advantage.

Finally I leave you with an image of some of the produce we harvested from the garden this summer. Also with the wise words from the Spanish philosopher George Santayana.
"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring." ~ George Santayana

St. Georges' University

I apologise for the length between posts. It's been a crazy few weeks. A lot of running around trying to get ready for University which starts in a weeks time. I have been inspired to start a horticultural society when I go back to University. My inspiration comes from a project that I got involved with over the summer. A few of the students at the St. Georges University in Tooting have set up an allotment on an unused patch of land, the site isn't great but the work they have done there is amazing. I was there when the patch was acquired, it was a long narrow stretch of land covered in black berry bushes. The soil, if you can call it that, was about 3cm of top soil covering a bed of gravel mixed clay earth. It was probably the worst conditions you would want to grow food in. I helped the medical student with the clearing of the site and lay out of the beds. I worked on the project for about a week, lending my knowledge and labour to help get things up and running.
Four months on and the site is nothing short of amazing. When they started, they was nothing but black berries and gravel, lots and lots of gravel. Potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes, courgettes, chillies, strawberries, French beans, sweet corn, aubergines, lettuce, carrots, and cauliflower were some of the produces I was greeted by on my visit to the St. Georges' University Students Allotment site. As a child I remembered hospitals being cold and sterile places, but this small patch of life created by the next generation of medical professionals was very uplifting.

It just goes to show, plants want to grow. The conditions that were presented to the students were not ideal for vegetable growing, but with a bit of hard work and lots of care the outcome was spectacular.

Some of the Produce
They had three different breeds of tomatoes. Three types of squash and a very impressive pumpkin. One of the squash plants was planted in the compost heap and was doing very well. So well that it escaped the borders of the heap and stretched for another three feet. They made three grow beds one of which was predominately squash with some courgettes and french dwarf beans. Another with potatoes, sweet corn, strawberries, and more french beans, and the last one was the smallest of the three beds and was jammed pack with crops. It has pumpkin, carrots, chillies, aubergines, tomatoes, and lettuce. They also had a few crops in pots littered along the pathways beside the beds.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Updates #3

Well I am back in London, what a trip. It took 12 hours to get there, by bus, it was cheap but very tiring. The place I stayed was called New Galloway, near the city of Dumfries in the south of Scotland. It was wet and windy, not the best weather in the world, but when it stopped raining it revealed some of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. I stayed at the house of a friend of a friend, which was situated smack in the centre of a 2000 acres sheep and cattle farm. The scale of "emptiness" was something to behold. It was nothing like the city, no large building, well... no buildings what so ever, I could count the number of cars I saw on the road, during my time there, on one hand. The silence allowed the mind to wander and reflect on what's truly important, the fresh breeze rolling down off the mountain tops cleansed the soul as the eyes marvelled at Natures' comeliness. This trip reminded me of how important the natural world is to man and without it we are doomed. It is important that we do everything in our power to protect and preserve the land, it is where we're from, where we live and where we're going. It provides for us and allows us to survive, so surely it makes sense to strive to live in union with Mother Nature... Isn't it?

Enough about my amazing trip to the luxuriant hills of New Galloway, what's been going on at the May Project during my five week absence? Well first thing's first, the bad news. Foxes in the polytunnel, I am not exactly sure how or when but it seems as though a fox clawed it way into the tunnel. So we now have a brand new polytunnel, barely a month old, with a large hole at the bottom of one side.

"This means war".

The garden looked well, not much weeding had been done but never the less everything's growing well. The 200 litre waterbutt was installed before I left and it has been put to good use, unfourtunately it could not meet the demand for our large garden and it was being filled very quickly and as a result overflowing, A decision was made to aquire and install another 200 litre waterbutt very soon.

Inside The Polytunnel

Most of the plots needed a good weeding as did the polytunnel. Things grow so fast inside the tunnel it's almost hard to believe it's all organic. Remember the bell pepper plants we had growing inside the house before we erected the polytunnel?

8 to 10 week after germination

Five weeks later

The polytunnel has been a huge blessing for us. One of the projects' supporters grows her own as well and had three aubergine plants which she started from seeds in pots and had no space in her garden to plant them out. We offered to take them off her hands and we placed them in the tunnel and they took quite well, no crop yet but not long now.

Transplanted on arrival, approx five weeks old

Seven weeks later

We planted three rows of beetroot in front of the aubergines and they were started from seeds. The conditions present inside the polytunnel allowed them to mature very quickly.

Beetroot: Seven weeks after sowing

We are attempting to bring a bit of the Caribbean to Morden. We managed to get some chilli seeds which are, apparently, a "Caribbean Mix". We started them off indoors and once the tunnel was built they were moved. However, they were only just planted out and some blossoms had already appeared. It would be very interesting to see what varieties they actually are: perhaps the dreaded tiger teeth or maybe the flavoursome scotch bonnet....only time will tell.

Caribbean Mix about three weeks after germination

Transplanted seven weeks later

We also obtained a tokyo hot chilli plant from an internet recycling site called freecycle. You can check out their website which has loads of free stuff on it. We kept it in a medium size pot for several week, it was only once the polytunnel was completed that it was planted out and soon began to flower, and it has already given us a good crop.

Tokyo hot: A week after transplanting

Seven weeks later

In the polytunnel we also have five tomato plants which have grown an impressive 6ft in the last five weeks and had to be tied up to aid ventilation and avoid rot. They are covered in flowers with a few young crops leading the way to maturity.

We grew some green peas last season but we were unable to create a strong enough support structure that would stand up to the heavy rains and high winds. That plus the constant attacks from caterpillars cost us the entire crop, although I think we managed to save one pod. The shame. This time, it seems that both these problems have been addressed and solved. Under the polytunnel we were able to construct a solid support structure by anchoring down very strong plastic netting, using short bamboo canes and plastic coated steel wire, to the ground then streatching up towards the roof securing the netting to the polytunnels' crop bars using twine, thereby providing a climing wall for the pea plants to cling onto. Inside the tunnel it is must easy to prevent or eradicate any pest which may harm the plants.

Seven weeks after sowing

As an experiment, we planted two runners from our 'mother' strawberry plants in a hanging basket and placed it inside the polytunnel. We do not expect to get any fruit, but it will be interesting to see if it survives till next spring. So far it has done well, filling out the enitre basket and has now statrted sending out runners of its' own.

What an amazing tool a polytunnel is, it has made a big difference in the way the garden operates. Crops are maturing faster that ever before and we are most definately seeing a reduction in the number of crops lost to pests and diseases. The fact that plants growing under a polytunnel are sheltered form the harsh conditions that can occur in the 'great outdoors' allows them to consentrate all of there energy on crop production in an environment which has been specifically tailored to the cause.