Sunday, 22 August 2010

Spring and Summer: Outdoor Fruit & Veg

My last post focussed on the progress of the winter crops in the garden, this time around it's the turn of the spring and summer crops. This year we made good use of the compost we made on site, it was a bit twiggy but jammed packed with nutrients which helped speed up the growth of our vegetable plants. Our compost had been rotting down for almost a whole year and it was made up of a combination of kitchen waste, garden waste, discarded newspapers and old cardboard boxes. We avoided cooked food as much as we could but the occasional left over rice and some mouldy bread were added to the mix. The result was rewarding, and to think all of this could have been sitting in a landfill somewhere just wasting away.
The sunflowers I wrote about in the last but one post had grown very quickly and produced some very lovely looking flowers of different colours.

Impressive Sunflowers (9ft tall)

We planted a variation of vegetables this year. We had squash, lettuce, beans, sweet corn, carrots, swede and potatoes just to name a few. In June most of the crops which were started off in the mini green houses were transplanted out into their final growing site, and by mid July there was very significant growth on the site.
So first there was the sunflowers, which brought levels, colour and, a large insect interest into the garden. We also grow a few squash plants. The first variety of squash we planted was from seeds collected and stored from last year's harvest of the squash 'Festival' we grew last season. The squash 'Festival' is a very fast growing hardy crop and requires a fair bit of space to grow to it's full potential. As mentioned earlier we started the plants off from last seasons seeds in mid April. By June the young plants had outgrown their pots and were now strong enough to be planted out.
Squash 'Festival' in June

A few short weeks on the plants flowered and started to form fruit. By mid July the plants had claimed the entire section to themselves. We had earlier planted some sweet peas on the same site and these were supported by covering a small section of the fence with plastic netting, allowing the sweet peas to wrap their way up the fence. To our surprise the squash also mad good use of this artificial staircase to the skies.
In July

The second variety of squash we planted was the squash 'Straight neck'. Also a fast grower but we found it to be very inefficient. We planted them at similar times to the squash 'festival' but we only got one crop per plant. It is a more compact plant than the festivals and therefore requires less space however the festival variety in my opinion has an advantage in flavour.
Squash 'Straight Neck' in July

We managed to acquire a few red seed corn from Peru and decided to plant them out and see how they did in the UK climate. Our sweet corn were planted in early May and spent their first few weeks of life in the mini green houses. Once they were large enough to handle carefully we transplanted them to their final grow site.
Sweet Corn 'Kelvedon Glory'(left), 'Peruvian'(right)

As well as the new Peruvian corn, we also planted a variety called Kelvedon Glory F1. In July the tassels and silk ears began to form on the kelvedon variety the Peruvian kept growing taller and taller but never formed any tassels.
Corn in July

We attempted four different types of beans this season. Broad beans we covered in previous posts, two different varieties of runners, and French dwarfs. One of the runners we used was 'Borlotta Lingua Di Fuoco'. This variety is easy to grow but is a delicacy for snails and slugs when young. This sample was started from seed in the mini greenhouse in early March and transfered in late May.
Climbing French Beans - June

In July we were able to harvest the first set of mature pods. The plants quickly began to out grow their supporting fame-work and extensions had to be made.
Climbers carrying on

We also planted four French Dwarf Bean plants which were from seeds saved by a volunteer worker on the site from their own growing site. These were sowed in May and were ready for picking in July. We like this plant because it is easy to grow and the yield per plant very high.
French Revolution: dwarfs and runners in July

The final bean type we tried this season was a Peruvian runner. We planted these from seed around the same time as the dwarfs, late April - early May. This is a fast grower but takes a while to begin producing veg. It's late September and we are only just seeing signs of flowers.
Swede is a vegetable which has always interested my. We grew a variety called 'Helenor', very quick and easy to germinate but also very much liked by slugs. We lost a whole tray in the space of two nights. It was advised that the seeds should be sowed directly into the final grow site but we found that It was near impossible to protect the young tender plants form the devastating effects of a visit from the neighborhood slug. We therefore started them off in clusters in medium size pots in the mini green house, where they were better protected against slug and snail attacks. We planted the swedes in April and transfered them in late May.
Swede 'Helenor' two weeks after transference

Not too long after being planted out the plants came under attacks from white files, green flies, aphids, black flies and caterpillars and we though we would loose the entire crop. In July we began to see the emergence of the root tops after weeks of spraying off flies using a insecticide sprayer filled with a light water/washing up liquid mix.This treatment coupled with the arrival of many new predatory insects to the garden had seemed to solve the pest problems.
Swede 'Helenor' in July

This season we planted some onions from seed. The variety we planted was called 'White Lisbon' easy to germinate and requires very little up keep. These were sowed in modules early in the year, February, and planted out once the weather had warmed up. They were planted out in May and were ready for harvesting by July.
Onion 'White Lisbon' - July

Last years' potato harvest was a great success but we did have a small blight problem. This year we went for a blight resist variety called 'Romano'. This is a red potato which boosted high yields and a high disease resistance. We planted them out in March and they have done well up to now. We harvested a few last month (August) and they were formed perfectly with no evidence of disease.
The potato patch before (March) and after (July)

Tomatoes has been a favorite on allotments for a long time. This year we planted a few varieties. Last year we went with the 'Money Maker' and 'My Girl' varieties and were overwhelmed by the harvest. We tried the 'Golden Sunrise' and 'Alicante' varieties of vine tomato. To avoid having a huge surplus of tomatoes at the end of the season we planted in intervals. The first set were planted in late February in the green house then planted out in April. The second set were sowed in late March to early April. These two varieties are easy to grow but require constant watering and pruning. A small tip: The tomato roots love water however the leaves don't, avoid wetting the plant directly.
'Sunrise' in June (above) and in July (below)

Some time ago I was browsing the internet and came upon someone trying to get rid of some hanging baskets on and was lucky enough to acquire them. We then began to brainstorm what we could plant in the baskets. We tried strawberries but to kept drying out. This season we sowed cherry tomatoes, two varieties. The first was called 'Lidl' and the other 'Gartenperle'. They are easy ti grow but as they constraint to a small area they require regular feeding, and it is a good idea to line the bottom of the basket with a less porous material like plastic to help retain moisture. We were not very consistent on the feeding aspect and as a result our yield was not very impressive.
Cherry tomatoes 3 1/2 weeks after sowing

6 weeks later

We like leeks and so we reserved a large area for leeks. We used the variety known as 'Musselburgh'. These were sowed in trays in March and planted out in mid May. Very easy to manage plant with no pest that we could notice.
Leek 'Musselburgh' in June (left) and July (right)

Our new technique for growing cabbages, discussed in previous posts assured that we would be harvesting cabbages this season. In winter we sowed the seeded and once germinated we feed them with liquid fertilizer produced right on site at May Gardens. Our feed consist of comfrey and nettle leaves soaked in water for a minimum of two weeks.
Cabbages in June (above)
and our first head (below)

A few more crops I need to tell you about before we get into whats' been going on inside the polytunnel. The strawberries completed their second season in July and what a harvest it was. We ended up with quite a lot of strawberries and had to freeze some. Our strawberry patch started off with three or four small plants and soon the entire plot was covered with little runners which then anchored themselves to the ground by sending down roots. The first flowers appeared in May and we got our first look at what we could expect. Picking began in June, we had a few pots of strawberry plants which were started from cuttings of one of the original plants.
Strawberries under netting in June

Like the mint plant, strawberry plants are very hardy and spreads like crazy. If you have a strawberry plant which has grown out of control just simply take off a few runners, ones which have already started sending out roots are best, and plant them in large pots and then the mother plant can be cut right back. Strawberry plants are tough resilient plants and only really require protection from the birds and other creatures of the garden as special treatment once they start fruiting.
One of the off-cuts

They said it could not be done. We were told that transplanting carrots is not a good idea, but we are all about experimenting and experiencing. We sowed some carrot 'Autumn King' and 'Nantes' from March onwards. The 'Nantes' we sowed directly into the ground inside the polytunnel in March, more on those later. The 'Autumn King' variety we planted in trays from April in the green houses and transplanted them outside once they were large enough to handle carefully. They respond very well to their ordeal.
Carrot 'Autumn King' in July

The other two fruits we have growing in the garden are also doing well. The apple tree is as productive as ever, the worms are still causing a bit of a problem however there is more than enough to go around.
Ye old Apple tree

The grape vine has also been a success, we cut it all the way back in Autumn and the new growth had began to emerge in mid spring. We managed to harvest some grapes in August and they were lovely sweet.
The Grape Vine in July

And there you have it. That's most of what's happening in the outdoor garden at May Project Garden. We also have a few wild areas where wild flowering plants and grasses grow with minimum disturbance. A large dry wood pile was accumulated over the past two winters, and it serves as a source of endless fuel for our rocket stove.
Our wood pile

And so until next time when we would be looking at the happenings inside the polytunnel, I leave you with a few snapshots of the garden.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Sunshine State....London??

What a summer we have had this year. June has hosted some of the sunniest days in London we have experienced for a long time. Its' been a slight strain on the garden world, with a-lot of the vegetables suffering from thirst. The heat hasn't been all bad though. The number and variety of insects visiting the garden has dramatically increased thanks to the all the flowers popping up all over the garden. We have seen a large number of Ladybugs, of varying colours, we've had hover flies, crickets, grass hoppers, butterflies, bumble bees, wasps and the honey bee population has also increased slightly. We have even seen a few dragon flies roaming around. This sudden explosion in insect activity has been attracting the birds and so the garden is not only a food production site but not has small pockets of wild areas where nature is left to manage herself, and it is fantastic-ly diverse and teaming with life.
Natures canvas, one of the wild areas

So the heatwave we have had in June has been great for the insect world but what of the crops grown in site?

Sun is shining.... The weather is sweet...
Its' been fantastic weather for picnics, BBQ and sun bathing put the vegetables have been put on great stress. We had been mad to water everyday for the first two weeks in June. Temperatures have climbed to 38 degrees in the polytunnel making it unbearable to work inside. The conditions outside have been a bit better, its' been sunny but a slight breeze every once in a while circles around the site and the advantage of being on the hill top is apparent. It has been dry, but despite this the grass had grown to impressive heights and our wild areas seemed to be copping well with the dry spell.

Update #3
Winter Crops
Our winter crops, broad beans, spinach, cabbages, and garlics were all still growing strong. The heat caused the spinach to shoot up and flower very quickly so we had to continuously pick and prune. The red colour of the spinach and the height is reached added some character to the garden and the leaves weren't half bad either.

Spinach in bloom

Two months after the first flowers appeared on the broad beans we had began harvesting and have had a good crop since. We have had black flies trying to attack them this year as well but it seemed like there were more predatory insects patrolling the garden this time around and as a result the damage from black flies was almost un-noticeable. This variety of broad bean is very easy to grown and copes well in all weather conditions, but do not like being wet for very long periods. We planted them towards the end of winter in small pots and planted out in early spring. We also placed a few small canes around the plot and this acted as support against the wind (no need to fasten them to the plants).

Broad beans fully grown

Cabbages are a bit more tricky. In my last post I mentioned that we planted them from seed in winter and then planted out in the polytunnel then transferred some to the outside. This was all just to experiment and deduce the best conditions for growing cabbage. It has paid off. Outside, the plants have taken well and inside the polytunnel the first heads had appear in late May. So I would recommend planting in medium to large pots in late winter and feed well with both compost and manure, plant out in mid spring and continue to feed using a liquid feed if possible and very important do not let them get dry. We noticed that the moment they start drying out they send out flowers.

Cabbages growing outdoors and First head forming

Our garlics had gotten very leafy and kept growing right through the winter and had just started showing signs of flowering in mid June. Again another very east crop to grow. We simply used garlic we bought from the local supermarket and planted them in small pot until they grew about 4 inches and them we planted them out in the polytunnel and waited for then to just start flowering before harvesting.

Garlic soon ready for harvesting

Hanging out to dry
Spring Planting
Spring time is the time for planting seeds and thanks to the polytunnel and the mini green houses we have been able to get them off to a very early start. More on spring planting next time.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Well it's been a while

A great deal has happened since my last post in February. We decided that keeping chickens would not be the best idea at the moment. Finances are very low and we believed that we will not be able to protect them from the foxes.....shame. But it's not all dull and gloom. Since then we have done some upgrades and I think you all will be well impressed. I'll start at the beginning. As was stated in the last post, we are still at war with fantastic Mr. Fox, we bought some wire mesh fencing and erected it all around the plots in an attempt to keep him at bay. I must admit the site now looks a bit more organised but we still would rather the open approach, but there you are, sacrifices must be made.

The camera we had got broken and we were not able to acquire a camera until April therefore all the pictures in this post were taken during April.

Update #1
Outside Plots
We had planted a few crop over the winter period and a few of them made it through to spring. We had some broad beans which had a rocky start due to the brutally cold weather we had earlier on in the year but with a little pampering they recovered and began flowering in early April.

Broad Beans (express)

We also had a few spinach plants which too survived the winter planting and were ready for picking from late March. I would recommend this variety of spinach for winter planting. It requires very little attention and copes with the cold weather quite well. It is a red stemmed variety and can grow up to six feet tall if you let it.

Winter Spinach (mediana)

This next one we were very sceptical about, cabbages. We planted some last season and they all went straight to flower. We collected some of the seeds and were advised to plant them late in the winter season and make sure they were very well feed. So we did and they were looking promising. I am not sure if you all remember but in November I posted some pictures of the Cabbages we planted in the Polytunnel. Well we transferred some of them outside and hoped for the best.

Second Generation of Cabbages

The weather began to warm up in March and we decided to plant out a few crops. We started with Potatoes. We tried something a little different this time around with our potatoes. We dug the holes but before we placed the seed potatoes in we added a small layer of semi rotted leaf mulch. We are hoping that this will act as extra feed for the young plants as they dig there way through the tough clayey soil. It's a bit of a gamble, because there is a possibility that the seed potatoes will rot before they even begin shooting. We shall see.

The new Potato patch

We had a very very wet and cold winter this time around but things began to dry up as April drew near. So we planted out some Lettuce and the Rhubarb sprung back to life earlier on, I see Rhubarb and Apple Crumble in the coming months.


Lettuce fresh from the seed tray

One more thing before we move to what's been happening inside the polytunnel. Strawberries have been producing a large amount of flowers this year and we were expecting a very good crop in late June. (no pictures sorry).

Update #2
Under the Polythene
Our nursery has been upgraded. We have used the two mini green houses we bought from capital gardens and the extra protecting has proven very useful. They were filled with many different types of interesting vegetables and they all seemed to be coming on well.

The Early Development Centre

Before I go on I must mention something that may not make much sense now but will become very apparent later on. If you go back and look carefully at the picture of the old nursery you will see some tallish baby sunflower plants in the back. Well those were planted from some seeds I found in a garden in Clapham a few weeks before the picture was taken. Just keep this in mind for the next few posts.

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli we planted in the winter of 2009 have done very well and continued providing us with very tasty broccoli heads.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli in full bloom

As mentioned earlier we planted some Cabbages in the polytunnel over winter. We have been feeding them with home made liquid comfrey fertiliser and they seem to love it, as the leaves just would not stop growing.

Cabbages (and mint in pots)

Very early on in this blog I mentioned we had a mint plant, well this is one of the most amazing plants I have every seen. It kept spreading and no matter what the weather threw at it it just would not die. We dug it up in March and cut it up into smaller portions and planted them in pots to be planted out at a later date. They all took and began their lives as their own plant. Literally ever node which came into contact with the earth began putting out roots. We had so many of them the only way we could be sure they would not take over the entire garden was to give most of them away. Very hardy plants, I think it was a peppermint, dark green leaves with a purple stem.

We also planted a few Garlic which were from our local supermarket and they did well over winter too.

The Co-operative Garlic

I have a habit that may seem a bit obsessive or even intrusive. I cycle a lot around London and I come across many different types of plants and some are more interesting than most. Example: In Clapham I noticed the oddest looking sunflower plant, it produced deep red flowers, something I have never seen or heard of before (red sunflowers??), so I took a few seeds to try and grow some in the garden. I also found a very nice Lemon Balm bush in Tooting park and decided that it would make a nice addition to the garden. I heard that the bees can't get enough of their flowers. So I took a little cutting (with roots intact) and planted it in the polytunnel.

Lemon Balm

Well that's all for now. The weather has been improving and as a result more activities have been going on in the gardens. I will have more updates for you in a short while. June has seen alot of growth and the heat wave we have had at the end of June running into July has really challenged us. But more on all that next time. In the meanwhile stay blessed and keep digging.