2 Apr 2011

Buddies ...

I'm well behind in the sowing stakes and the weather has been very mild for March (at least in London) so whereas fellow gardeners have got off to a flying start, I'm still drawing up plans of what I can grow in the available space.

I don't have a greenhouse so all my sowing has to be on the kitchen windowsill (not much room), on the balcony (until recently, a pigeon roost) or outside (still a few frosty nights).  So I'm going to unashamedly  show off* some more blossoming fruit:  these are a few of the many fruit buds on my blueberries.  We've got four blueberry bushes in total, growing in huge pots as they like acid soil.

These are second year bushes, and we had a small quantity of fruit last year (briefly seen, before the children swooped) so this year, the nets are out and the hopes are high!

You might like to know...

  • Blueberry bushes are very easy to grow, needing only to be planted in ericaceous soil.
  • Fertilise in the spring, after the leaves have emerged from the buds, with an ericaceous fertiliser, such as used for azaleas or rhododendrons. 
  • Net in the summer as the fruit forms.
  • Prune when the plant is dormant in the winter months.  Fruit grows on second year wood so to encourage a bushy habit and more fruit, some pruning is needed.

(*Please excuse the split infinitive, it just doesn't read well when grammatically correct!)

30 Mar 2011

Thrilled ...

I have to tell you I'm feeling highly delighted today;  Would you just look at this blossom!  This Conference Pear was planted as part of the 'mini-orchard' in November 2009 on a bitterly cold day, immediately after clearing the choking ivy.  After an anxious wait through snow-filled winter days, a few buds proved it had survived its first winter.  Not much else happened in 2010.  After seeing this, I'm tentatively looking forward to eating some delicious home-grown pears from this 18 month old tree later this year.

Stuff you might like to know...
  • The pear trees were supplied on semi-dwarf rootstock so shouldn't grow taller than 10 feet.  (A pear tree in a nearby park is SO tall you couldn't reach the fruit even with a high ladder!)  The planting holes were part filled with good rich compost as the existing soil in the walled flower borders was pretty tired.  
  • Fruit trees should be left for their first year, with all blossom pruned off, so that all energy goes into establishing a strong root system.  
  • Second year trees may need feeding with potassium (for fruit and flowers) and/or nitrogen for growth. I'll use dried poultry pellets for our pear trees which is the organic option.  They'll also benefit from deep mulching around the tree with organic matter (such as leaf mould or garden compost) in mid to late spring but make sure the mulch is applied at least 10cm away from the tree to stop the bark rotting.  This will help to preserve moisture around the roots in the summer. 
  • RHS offers more detailed advice on this topic here.

29 Mar 2011

Funny ...

Of the requests (mostly ignored) that I get for promotional links on this blog, this one got my attention - for all the wrong reasons.

Subject:  Congratulation : Your Blog Have Choose For Featured At Bed Comforter Sets !
This is Shiela (sic) from bedcomfortersets.me.uk
We stumbled on your blog while searching for Bed Comforter Sets related information. We operate the largest Bed Comforter Sets website featuring more than 30,000 blogs. Our site averages 200,000 uniques visitors per month. Based on your blog's popularity and other factors, we have featured your blog at bedcomfortersets.me.uk.
We would be grateful if you could add our details to your blogs main page.

Hmm.  Now, what could I have said to that?  Perhaps:
Dear Shiela,
Thanks for your interest - I think you might have ever-so-slightly missed the point.  Nice bedlinen to comfort my raised beds? Now that really would spoil my veg rotten. ; )
Urban Veg Patch

On another (completely unrelated) note, here's a picture of a rather fetching asparagus shoot that I found in the vegpatch this morning.  Probably should have been picked before now but will be cooked by 7 tonight.

22 Mar 2011

Sunflower Challenge 2011

Last year I encouraged the Veg Patch Kids to grow sunflowers, just for the love of growing spectacular plants.  We planted them in a row against a warm sunny wall where their large yellow blooms nodded gaily at passers-by and drew some very complimentary comments.  (The Veg Patch sits in a 'sunken' garden so the flowers, despite being over 6' tall, were at eye level!)

We'll do the same this year (but, hopefully, with lots more flowers planted).  It's such a fun thing to do with children that nearly everyone does it and, if you haven't got your seeds yet, can I point you in the direction of a Sunflower Challenge that's being run to raise funds for Compton Hospice?  The name will only be familiar to people in the West Midlands.  As this is where one of my sisters lives, I can vouch for this being a very worthwhile cause.  I know it through the annual fund raising efforts of local people;  in my sister's street, a friend and neighbour makes legendary jams and chutneys from her brother-in-law's allotment and sells the lot in aid of Compton Hospice.

For a £2 donation, which buys you sunflower seeds, enter the competition (as a family, school or group) and be in with a chance to win lovely prizes.  Or do it just for fun, knowing that the beauty growing in your garden is making a difference to someone's life.

More info about the competition here - and this is where you'll also find an e-book of sunflower activities to do with the kids, download for free.

13 Mar 2011

The forgiveness of nature

This is what lures me back to the garden:  despite a lack of motivation/time to tend to the veg patch over the winter months, I recently discovered that I've nevertheless been rewarded by a small crop of extremely beautiful, small and tasty Romanesco cauliflowers.  The semi-neglected plants had persevered to produce perfect and stunning little fractal florets, very pleasing to the eye and extremely pleasing to the palate when steamed and served with a light and creamy cheese sauce*.  I felt almost mean cutting them down and eating them after so much effort (on their part) through cold winter months but, given the delicious flavour, will definitely be growing them again.  (Particularly as they practically grow themselves.)

A quick search online tells me that because they're part of the Brassica family, they're known in France as a cabbage (chou), in Germany as Pyramid Cauliflowers and in Italy as broccolo Romanesco (broccoli).  Thereby demonstrating the diversity of the species Brassica oleracea L.  Where would I be without Google?
• • • • • • • • •
* I usually make my cheese sauce by adding a variety of cheeses to a basic Bechamel (white) sauce: a farmhouse cheddar, perhaps some Gruyere or Pecorino but this time I used cheddar with a little bit of Fortnum's Stilton which goes very nicely when teamed with cauliflower or broccoli.

7 Feb 2011

A big pile of ...

Of all the wonderful attractions that North London offers, my current favourite has to be the City Farm. Yep, I just love it.  I'm a simple soul at heart.

The non-urban dweller may not appreciate the full impact of being able to pop in to a working farm on a regular basis with small children.  We smell and hear it before we get there - chickens, geese and ducks wander freely around the yard.  A pair of pigs rootle happily in squelchy mud, horses are saddled ready to be exercised around the neighbouring roads, goats wander over to say hello and sheep nurture their spring lambs in fields under the railway arches.  Three orphaned cows are constantly pestered by crowing cockerels and soon frogs will come to spawn in the pond.

Great stuff, and yes I do know a rhyme or song for every animal (and sing them).  But my favourite view is this:  a great big pile of steaming poo. Isn't it marvellous? (And, yep, there's a song for this too.)

Well, not so much poo exactly as horse manure and stable sweepings which, as we know, will rot down to very useful soil improver. A sight to gladden any gardener's heart and free for the taking (as long as you ask nicely first and then they'll bag it for you, or so I'm told).

I mention this simply to illustrate that in the Veg Patch's third growing year, our thoughts our turning to muck and soil which is just how it should be at this time of year.

27 Jan 2011

It's been a while ...

Well, I'm back.  I've noticed that quite a few bloggers step out for a while in the winter months, being busy catching up with real non-gardening life, I guess.  For me, it's because there's been absolutely nothing to report.  What with the weather having been unforgiving for so long and any good gardening days invariably clashing with my work days.  And do you know what?  It's been quite nice to not have to think about writing up non-events in my online 'diary'.  (News that my gardening catalogues have arrived and I've idly marked a few interesting seeds for the year ahead is hardly riveting, is it? )

I confess I've been giving some thought to letting it all go.  I do try to be upbeat about things but, looking back over the last year, gardening seemed to be fraught with problems to be overcome rather than a source of pleasure.  Looking forward, I can see the same issues waiting for me:  no outside tap for watering, foxes and cats waiting to dig it all up, neighbours helping themselves without helping.  Really, is it any wonder that I long for a nice large back garden to call my own?

• • • • • • • •
P.S.  Since writing the above, my sanity has been rescued by a friendly neighbour who has come outside to support me with tidying up the post-winter veg patch.  My intention was to clear the beds ready for any growers who might be interested but, in doing so - and finding strawberries and herbs springing back into life, I've started to consider what I enjoyed most about last year's growing season and may be here for a while yet - albeit concentrating this year on gardening with the children.  

Here's Archie (a very reliable and enthusiastic assistant) helping with clearing the monster beetroot/s.

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