2 May 2014

April/May: … Celebrating the start of summer!

Yesterday, despite the rain, was the start of summer. For Celts, the beginning of May is Beltane, an ancient day marked by rituals that herald the onset of the summer months. I like the idea that summer has begun, luckily though it was raining heavily so I resisted dancing around outdoors with flowers in my hair.  Although it isn't feeling too summery today, I'm not complaining as we've had some fabulous warm weather during April which has warmed up the soil and brought sowing and planting out on a bit earlier.

I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying participating in the Garden Share Collective, hosted by Lizzie in Australia; not only can I read what other GSC writers are up to but I'm motivated to get on with doing things in the garden so I have something to show at the end of the month!  I can therefore proudly report that I have been getting on with it this month, helped hugely by being able to get outdoors without a coat!

First up, balcony 'potting shed':


The greenhouse staging that I bought last month is a perfect fit for my tiny balcony, an area less than 1.5 square metres. I also bought a bunch of nifty seed trays at one of the RHS hort shows, perfect for setting up a Cut and Come Again salad bar - a few seedlings will be pricked out to be grown on as individual lettuces.  They're the brown trays in the photo above and have a snap on water tray as part of each unit.

From left: Golden Streaks mustard, rocket, Broadleaf mizuna
So the balcony is looking very productive with seedlings of broadleaf mizuna, salad rocket (arugula), Golden Streaks mustard, Red Russian kale, Bubbles and Saladin lettuce, Lamb's Lettuce (aka corn salad/mache) and watercress. Seeds are taking about 8 days to germinate and they're just left, uncovered, outside on the balcony.  Inside, on the 24th, I sowed tomato seeds (late, I know!) of Gardener's Delight, Sungold, Yellow Pear and Maskotka, only two per module, into an unheated propagator; they all germinated within 4 days and are growing strongly.  In the same propagator, I also sowed cucamelon (a tiny oval cucumber, just germinated) and a range of broccoli as it seems to be the one veg I can't do without. With good germination, I should have 4 summer broccoli, 4 autumn/early winter broccoli and 4 purple sprouting broccoli for late winter/early spring next year.  It sounds a lot of sowing but the veg patch is not huge so, over time, I figured out it's best to sow less and have more variety.

In the Veg Garden:
Peas, courgettes (they finally appeared!), mange-tout, potatoes and a few of the sweet peas that were started on 11th March have been successfully planted out into the garden 10 days ago. I say successfully but I lost a courgette to slug attack; I noticed the nibblings and popped a cloche over the other one and brought the third back indoors (I only sowed three so that we didn't have a glut). A subsequent dusk slug hunt netted over 50 slugs of various sizes in 2 nights! That's the way to do it!

The broad/fava beans sown on 9th March are doing really well and now stand about 8 inches/20cm high. This cultivar (Karmazyn) grew to about 70cm last year so, if the weather holds, I expect to be seeing some flowers by the end of May.

My fledgling Asparagus bed will not be tempting my taste buds this year.  Just one spear per crown has appeared - but at least I know they all survived!  I'll let these grow, cut the fronds down in early winter, mulch and wait to see what happens next spring. I've read that asparagus should be given a bed to themselves, with nothing else growing in it. In my little patch, I need to use all the space effectively so I've resolved that dilemma by placing crops in pots in the spaces between the plants; I can't see why that won't work!

After a long wait, only one of my module sown bush beans germinated. With the temperatures outside rising, I decided to sow a bed of beans outside. The seeds went in on the 20th and there's nothing to be seen yet.  As my blog friend Flighty has been saying "Surely it's too early to plant beans?" I guess he's right!

Several times this past month a few neighbours have come out to help.  Luckily we have different skills: I like planting (and being in charge!), Frank is terrifically good at digging, Karen enjoys weeding and replanting, the children like watering and sowing seeds.  A very complementary set of skills! So, what did we achieve?  lots of raspberry runners have now been removed and the beds dug over, a mature horseradish plant was dug out - a huge job, carried out by Frank - quince and honeyberries were potted up, fennel and sweet cicely moved, another small brick path was laid (by me!) so that I can reach the raspberries easily without walking on the soil, wigwams of canes were built ready for the climbers and dozens of self-seeded ornamentals were relocated by Karen, mostly foxgloves, cowslips, primroses, rudbeckia and day lilies … and, it goes without saying (sort of), lots of weeding!

Clockwise from top left: Strawberries, cherries, tiny lemons, gooseberry bush, raspberries, honeyberries.
I'll write more about the fruit trees in my next 'tree following' post but, apart from the pear trees, the promise of tree fruit is looking very good - including my lemon tree although it will have to be a very small gin and tonic for those lemons!  I'm not sure if the gooseberry bush I planted last year will fruit but it's very leafy and green; there are also a couple of tiny fruits on last year's honeyberry bush; the Physalis (cape gooseberry) is re-emerging; I should get a few redcurrants, the raspberries are about to blossom and there is a sea of strawberry flowers under the fruit trees, around the edges of the raised beds, in one of the raised beds, etc, etc. I grow a variety called 'Rambling Cascade' (from Victoriana Nurseries in Kent) and it's certainly living up to its name. Apparently the runners can be trained up canes, trellises and trees - I might have to give that a try! We certainly won't be going short of strawberries this year! I just hope I get there before the garden pests!

So that's where we are at the end of April.  Going into May I still need to find the time to fence around the veg patch island which Frank has promised to help with.  Crops still to sow outside are beetroot, carrots, salad onions; I have 3 40-cell trays waiting to receive flower seeds and I want to start off some climbing beans and more squash indoors.  Hopefully I'll be potting on my tomatoes by the end of the month and able to start off some basil and other herbs on the balcony.

Till next time, I'll leave you with a glimpse of my veg patch flowers this week - there's a purple theme going on and the lovely tulips are finally on their way out (although I may have a few more to come in May!).  Happy gardening - and congratulations to our host Lizzie on the birth of her baby daughter!













47 comments:

  1. That's an interesting thought about training strawberry runners upwards.. I might have to try that too. Is it just that variety?

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    1. As far as I know Jessica. Have a look at Victoriana Nurseries website http://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/Strawberry_Plant_Rambling_Cascade/ it's their suggestion to train the runners up trees as the runners can be over 6 metres! I haven't tried this myself but will find out more - I feel another post coming on!!

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  2. The seedlings look so flourish, really promising! Hope they will give great yield! Colorful flowers.
    happy gardening!

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    1. Thank you, Endah - It's a nice problem to have to wonder where to put all these plants!

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  3. I'm impressed, you are so organised! It's good that some of your neighbours are getting interested, maybe they will spread the word. You have so much growing, I think you will almost be self sufficient through the summer!

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    1. Thank you Pauline! I felt that I was so disorganised last year and very disappointed not to have tons of veggies in the summer of last year so I've been making an effort. Also, as I say in first para, it's very motivational knowing that an update is needed once a month!! ;)

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  4. A most enjoyable, and busy, post with terrific photos.
    Thanks for the linked mention. Flighty xx

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    1. Ah, you're welcome, Flighty. Always a pleasure. Thanks for nice comments. Cxx

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  5. So much happening. So much work. (I'd like the digging!) There's something very inspiring about neat rows of plants - especially ones on the edge of growing big.

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    1. It's a big garden to manage around work, college, etc so I'm very glad of any help offered. This is such a lovely time of year as all the plants shoot upwards. My mange tout seems to get taller by the day, which the peas would follow suit!

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  6. Well that's been a very busy month. It sounds like all your fruit is doing well for you, and how lovely to have your own lemons. It may only be a small g&t but I bet it will be all the more delicious.

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    1. Looking back, I'm surprised at how much has been achieved - I think the secret is to just keep doing little bits rather than tackling a whole heap at once. It's also been hugely useful to have the balcony space for seeds. I'm thrilled with the lemons, I had some last year but they were too tempting for passing tiny fingers and got picked off. Hoping that the fruit will survive this year!

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  7. Wow you have done so much. I like the look of your salad bar. Raspberry runners are a complete & utter pain to remove & the blinking things pop up everywhere.

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    1. I so agree about the raspberry runners, Joanne. Removing them has been one of the major tasks this year - I'm now on the look out for a suitable barrier - maybe some old roof tiles or similar - something that the roots can't get through! I see the salad bar as I sit at the computer and it keeps tempting me outside to see how big the plants are!!

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  8. Do you follow all the traditions of Beltane? We are also trying cucamelons this year si I am looking forward to seeing whether they are worth the hype!

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    1. Haha! Noooooo! I think cavorting in a naturistic fashion around here would be enough to get me arrested. There's probably a ban on Beltane fires as well! Cucamelon seeds were an impulse buy after hearing James Wong talking about them at the Edible Garden Show - it will be interesting to compare notes!

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  9. Wow, so much is going on, I'm really impressed. And I'm intrigued by the honeyberries and sweet cicely. Such beautiful names! I sowed some (older) French bean seeds, and only a couple have germinated. I struggle with beans sometimes. And I also tried to be restrained with courgettes this year, and the three I sowed haven't come up. I've got plenty of runners though, I just emptied the entire packet into a seed tray. They've been out in the garden for a week or so now, so I'm hoping it doesn't get too cold. How lovely that your neighbours are taking the opportunity to join in. A real community spirit. I hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend Caro. CJ xx

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    1. Thanks, CJ. I love old-fashioned names for plants, it gives them a history. I've now resown courgettes and will probably now have a glut as they all germinated - typical!! And having resown the beans, will now have a glut of those as well! At least we'll eat well in our house, and luckily my son likes veg. I wonder how he'll feel about it at the end of this summer! Hope your beans survive; recent high winds here made me a bit anxious for a while. Cx

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  10. It's certainly feeling a little summery today Caro. Your salad bar looks like it could be very productive - I have oak leaf lettuce under a cloche, which apart from the odd tiny slug, has proved to be a great harvest already this year. Great flower photos at the end of your post. Do I spy Tulip 'Spring Green'? and Cerinthe - which I am growing from seed for the first time this year. I hope mine look as lovely as yours do.

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    1. Well spotted! That is tulip 'Spring Green' - I happened to pop into Sarah Raven's farm shop last autumn and couldn't resist a couple of bags of her tulips. 'Spring Green' is part of her Apricot Beauty collection. If I'm honest, I think these didn't perform as well as my Tesco tulips. Still, worth digging up and relocating to a better spot for next year!

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  11. You have had a very productive month! Hopefully this time next year you will be enjoying your first crop of asparagus., it is well worth the wait! I haven't heard of a honeyberry bush, I am now just off to learn more about it! Sarah x

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    1. I first read about honeyberries when Mark Diacono wrote about them in 'A Taste of the Unexpected'; I loved the idea of having a blueberry type fruit but without the faff of ericaceous compost and acidifying the soil so bought one - before I realised that two are needed for efficient pollination!! Asparagus will definitely be worth the wait - expensive to buy but utterly delicious so grow-your-own is the way to go!

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  12. So many wonderful things going on in your patch Caro, that strawberry is going on my list. Love your salad seed trays, I must sow some more leafy things, though I am already running out of room... Cucamelon was on my list but I forgot to buy seed, maybe next year. Lovely flowers, I only have marigolds and borage so far, but hopefully the cerinthe will flower soon and then self seed.

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    1. I only have cerinthe and borage because they're efficient self-seeders, Janet. I'd have lots of sunflowers, nasturtiums and orache as well if I hadn't been vigilant! Pleased I've inspired you with the strawberry - I love how blogs can bring a range of different plant qualities to our attention! Cucamelon seeds are on their way to you, really hope we can compare notes later in the year! C x

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  13. It's amazing what you can achieve when the coat finally comes off Caro! The balcony 'potting shed' looks a most productive set up. Great that your neighbours have preferences for different gardening activities - it must make the whole experience even more enjoyable. Your talk of slug patrols has reminded me that I must set foot out there now with my torch at hand.

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    1. We've been lucky with warmer weather which always makes me prefer to be outside, Anna. Doing a little bit here and there is a much better way of gardening that saving it all up for one day! I usually end up standing on the spot wondering what to tackle first! I'm still trying to find the ultimate weapon against slugs, will report back when I find it!

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  14. Start of summer? Spring has barely sunk in yet :) you've been very busy and productive!

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    1. No, it has to be summer now that Chelsea Flower Show is in a couple of weeks! ;) I've been chipping away at what needs to be done - and just in time with the weather warming up!

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  15. There's so much happening in your garden and on your balcony just now. 50 slugs is quite a haul... do you 'relocate' them to next door's garden? - not that I would even consider doing this, it's just something I heard about on a gardening programme!

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    1. Unfortunately I can't relocate them as the veg patch is inbetween two blocks of flats. I'm afraid my nighttime haul go straight into the Sluginator where they meet a watery end. (I'm feeling guilty now but, in fairness, I only remove the ones threatening my veg.) I also have a feeling that relocated slugs (like snails) find their way home quite efficiently!

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  16. Welcome! wow you certainly have lots going on in your garden. I am in awe. so nic ethat you have some friends come in to help as well. your little self watering pots with salad green look lovely and healthy. I also like to pick green small before the bugs find them.

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    1. I have a seed addiction and can't resist growing plants so there's always lots to see in the garden - and it gets added to year by year! All the hard work is worth it when you get to eat the garden in the summer!

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  17. Hi Caro - love your blog. Am interested in your balcony greenhouse with staging as am looking for same thing. What make is it? Does it have glass or plastic covering? Thanks, Rachel

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    1. Hi Rachel, thanks - and I've messaged you on Google+ with info on the staging. For anyone else interested, it's a bargain buy from Poundstretcher; bought because it's only 29cm deep and a perfect fit for my balcony! I've just checked and it's out of stock in the online store (link: http://www.poundstretcher.co.uk/products/gardening-outdoor/greenhouse-staging.html) but maybe it will come back into stock! No cover but then I wasn't fussed about that as my balcony is relatively sheltered being tucked into the lee of the building. Hope that helps! Caro

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  18. Beautiful photos! I have enjoyed looking at your blog; thanks for sharing :)

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    1. You're welcome! It's great to see what others are up to in different parts of the world, isn't it?

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  19. How very productive you have been, I feel rather anxious now as I'm a week behind having been away....still....hopefully will catch up.
    It's lovely to see how much you can grow on your balcony, that's the beauty of gardening, all spaces can produce food.
    Shame you didn't get to dance in the rain, next year maybe we both should. Have a wonderful month of gardening....struth....fancy summer being here already.xxx

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  20. hello from another garden sharer from the other side of the world. it's quite astounding (in a good way!) to see all your seedlings in their early pots and trays. what an amazing vegie harvest you will soon have! how lovely too to have friends and neighbours help you out in the garden and to really achieve some gardening tasks much more efficiently and enjoyably.
    this is my first time at your site so i'm off to have a little wander about. lovely to meet you!

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  21. Wow your garden is simply sublime!!! Everything is so pretty, green and colourful, superb effort!! Your tulips are looking great and wow, cape gooseberry? I hope to grow that one day!

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  22. Where is time going? Well yes, I know, in a flurry of seed sowing and weeding and slug collecting. It's very impressive how much you're growing in a small space. I have just resown my beans. The first lot grew way too quickly and it's still quite chilly here. There was no way they'd make it on the plot. It's easy to be a tad exhausted by it all at this time of year but it is good to be growing again. Hope you have a fantastic weekend. x

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    1. I'm replying very belatedly - as you say, it's the constant pressure to keep up with sowing and planting and slug-hunting! (Never mind work, family, etc.) It's all worth it in the summer months - just think of the fresh peas and beans to come! Yum!

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  23. A few years ago I planted some horseradish in one of the raised beds. I knew they are very invasive so planted them in pots, thinking to contain them. Erm, no. The roots shot straight through the bottom of the pots to a depth of what? two perhaps three feet. It was a hell of a job to get them out. I don't envy Frank. Dave

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    1. But did you succeed, Dave? I know that the smallest piece of root left in the ground will grow a new plant! I'm expecting to be digging horseradish roots out for a very long time.

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  24. It all looks beautiful, as usual! The cerinthe are amazing. I've grown some from seed for the first time this year, but they are still just tiny, certainly miles away from flowering - did you plant yours in the Autumn (or maybe they self-seeded...?) I may have to try that later this year!

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    1. My first cerinthe was a few years back and I collected seed to be on the safe side. I needn't have worried, it's self-seeded every year (as has my borage which bees also like) so I'm never without. If we have a mild autumn, yours will flower in the autumn - worth waiting for! Btw, if you don't want it flopping over, surround it with a support to grow through.

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  25. Thanks for the info - the cerinthe went mad when the weather warmed up and are flowering like crazy and covered in bees now! Good tips about the supports and self-seeding, I will make sure to leave some to set seed.

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    1. Hi, You're comment is amazing timing because I noticed today that one of my cerinthe plants is dying off and the seeds are ready to be harvested. Several seeds flew off as I collected the others and I've sprinkled these around the gardens so make sure of another batch of cerinthe in the autumn. Next year's plants!! :)

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Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

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