Tuesday 4 December 2012

Start of the month: December 2012 - overview of 2012

This is the final post in this series of blogs on the front garden. I started the series in January and am now almost full circle. It's been interesting experience photographing and blogging about the front garden throughout the year and seeing the changes month by month.

In January I set myself a list of plans and potential yields for 2012, viz:
  1. Plant some perennial kale in the back half (closer to house) of the central bed. This will yield food and give winter interest. 
  2. Obtain yield from strawberries, broad beans, garlic and tomatoes, plus ongoing yields from herbs (sage and rosemary). 
  3. Investigate costs of removing prunus, concrete fence, and practicalities of putting in hazel nut hedge.
  4. Continue training the pear tree espaliers. 
  5. Photograph the space at the beginning of each month and track how it changes over the year.
So how did I do?

1. Perennial Kale: I did plant some perennial kale, Daubenton, which I obtained from the Heritage Seed Library. The young plants didn't have it easy... I started them off well, planting the seeds in modules, then planting them out in April. The wet spring and then summer meant they got attacked by slugs. In August they picked up when we got a bit of sun (yay), then sadly went downhill in September when they were attacked by caterpillars of the white cabbage moth. I admit that I wasn't particularly diligent looking after the poor plants, ongoing back problems did rather limit my gardening. But by November they were making a come-back and are now looking quite healthy, if a little small (see November post for detail).

I've not actually harvested the plants yet, as it is only now that the plants are established enough that I think I can start picking the leaves. So I cannot report on the taste yet. However, I can say I'm very impressed with their resilience to pests, and others how found this too, as Emma Cooper reported on her blog a little while ago. I can also report they look lovely in the sun and give the front garden some winter interest, so that's half a tick for this plan!

Verbena bonariensis, nectar for butterflies, and the seed heads will then feed goldfinches

2. Obtaining yields: I grew and harvested in the front garden this year: broad beans, strawberries, garlic, tomatoes, sage and rosemary. I had a great crop of broad beans and made several meals from them. The strawberries grew well, then were destroyed by the rain and slugs before I could eat most of them. We did get a couple of desserts out of them, so I'm happy. I did harvest some tomatoes. Between the lack of sun and the problems with blight, it wasn't a great year for tomatoes. However, I did notice that I did get to harvest some from the tomatoes in the front garden, unlike those at the allotment, all of which were destroyed by blight. So not having all your tomatoes in one bed...

The garlic did ok, but not as big as previous years, all that wet weather again. Overall, I'm happy with the yields. Given how little attention the front garden got I feel I did rather well for minimal effort. I still have kale to pick and the rosemary is a plant that just keeps on giving.

Calendula petals, frequently added to salads

3. Cost for removing prunus etc: Ok, I have to admit to not doing anything on this one. This is mainly because I knew the cost would be more than we can afford, so I've been put off investigating it. Move on, nothing to see here...

Pear Beth, the frame developing nicely

4. Training pear espaliers: tick! (see November).

5. Photographing and blogging about the space each month: I originally aimed to blog the 1st day of each month, but that proved to be a little tricksy. So I then went for 'start' of the month, which I figure can cover quite a few days. Some months I didn't make it at all. But I have blogged most months, so I'm happy with that. Not sure if anyone else is, but I am!

Heleniums - still flowering after several months and many bunches picked

So did I achieve what I set out to achieve at the start of the year? Well, I'm not sure it matters now. I'm actually quite pleased in general how the front garden has come along, I've got quite a few yields from it. Not just food yields, but through developing it I've met neighbours and had interesting conversations. I've even noticed a couple of other people in my street and nearby have recently built some raised beds and are growing some veg in their front garden! I've planted for wildlife as well and have been rewarded with visits from birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. I've picked many bunches of flowers for myself and friends.

Goldfinch eating seeds off the teasels

Most importantly, I've enjoyed the space and how I've interacted with it. It's productive both as a food space, an attractive space, a wildlife space, and as a social space.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Start of the month: November 2012

The front garden definitely has an autumn-winter feel. Mainly winter, since autumn passed us by. Though so did summer, and much of spring. Maybe it's just been one long winter for the last year?!

The garden hasn't had much attention in the last month or two. I've had lots of problems with my back so gardening has been limited to absolute essentials, such as getting the garlic in at the lottie. However, despite the lack of attention, it doesn't look "too bad". I'm pleased that the raised bed structure with the paths holds it own even when I'm unable to tend the front garden much.

I've had a couple of surprises. My Daubenton (perennial) Kale was starting to do well again in August, but then I did notice that it was seriously attacked in September-October by white cabbage caterpillars and they were looking like on their last legs. But as you can see from above, the cold weather has saved them and they are growing well again.

Heleniums shading the kale

They are not as big as they should be at this time of the year, as they are shaded by the large patch of Heleniums in front of them. It does show kale will grow in shade, but of course, much slower. I'm planning on moving plants in this bed so that the obelisk/heleniums will be at the 'back', closest to the house and so reduce the shade they cast. Then the plants can make more of the sun with the space in front.

The other lovely surprise was that my Clematis Cirrhosa Freckles has just started flowering!

I love this clematis. It flowers in the darkest part of the year and is so pretty with it's maroon freckles and the way it nods gently in the wind.

The pear trees (Beth, below) have grown quite a bit. You can now start to see some structure with two levels of espaliered tree, plus the central stem is getting quite tall. I'll prune this all back in January to continue to develop the structure I'm looking for. Hoping next year I might get some fruit!

It's looking a tad untidy with the leaves all over the place, but I don't mind.

I love the colours as they fall and break down, these leaves from the flowering Cherry tree. I will collect them up to make leaf mould once my back is better.

In the meantime, rather than thinking of them as 'untidy', I'll enjoy of them as lovely 'leaf-snow' colours on the ground.

Friday 26 October 2012

Getting the garlic in

In probably a first for me, I've got my autumn sowing garlic in before the end of October. I believe the benefits of sharing the plot with others is already paying off. Recently joined by friend Manishta, and new to lotties Ilana & Will, we had a bit of a working party a couple of weekends ago. Gosh we got a lot done! This included clearing one of the beds of weeds etc so it would be ready for planting the garlic.

So when I went down to the plot today, I didn't have to do any preparation, I was able to immediately start planting!
Spacing the garlic out first

I always space the garlic out first before planting. This allows me to see what fits in and adjust the space if needed. Of course garlic needs a certain amount of spacing. I must admit I don't tend to follow the spacing rules per se. I have so many varieties that are of different sizes, I seem to be able to get away with planting a bit closer.

I also use the zig-zag pattern (left) to sow, as this enables you to fit in a bit more into the space than you might otherwise.

Once spaced out, I then put them in the ground, not too deep, just deep enough to have about an inch of soil on top of them once covered.

Garlic clove in the hole, root end down.
Then cover with 3-4 inches of soil (or 1-2 if on heavy soil)

By the time you finish, all you have is a neat bed with some labels one size and sticks in the middle, viz:

Garlic planted

The sticks mark out the boundaries of the different varieties. I could use string to demarcate them more strongly, but this has always worked in the past so I don't tend to bother. But might be useful if you are new to growing garlic and making sure you know where each variety is.

Now they are all bedded in and apart from weeding, and watering next year in spring/summer, that's it for the garlic until I dig up the wonderful bulbs next July/August.

Garlic is such an easy crop to grow. You can plant autumn sowing garlic throughout autumn. I'll confess that some years I've been quite late, into late December, and still got a great crop. So if you haven't tried growing garlic, I highly recommend it. You can even grow it amongst your flower beds or in pots (about 3 cloves to a 10 litre pot). For not much effort you generally get great results.

Saturday 22 September 2012

First crop of Apple 'Charles Ross'

Very pleased with the first crop

I am very excited as today as I finally got my first crop off Apple 'Charles Ross'*. I first planted it as a 1-year old maiden in 2006, so it's been six years to get to the first crop. And yes, those of you who know apples will be thinking "it should have cropped before now". This is true, but I think because we moved in 2009, and I dug up the tree to bring it with me, it then needed time to settle in to it's new home at Gwenfar's Lottie.

Apple 'Charles Ross', 6 y.o. tree

I did actually get a couple of fruits growing on it last year, but they fell off before they were ready for picking.  As you can see from the photo of the tree above, the poor thing has taken on a bit of a lean to one side. Yes, I need to stake it! I should have done this before now, and the above is proof why staking is important.

I thinned the tree in June, when it had more fruit than the above photo, so I did something right... It clearly worked as the apples are a good medium-large size, as expected for this variety.

Fine specimen on the tree

Charles Ross is a dual purpose variety, so can be used for both eating and cooking. We have done an eating test and did enjoy it. It has a sweet-tart flavour and is a crunchy, solid apple. We concluded that you can eat it fresh, but thought it would taste even better cooked.

Inside the apple

So Kevin threw together a really simple dessert. Sliced apples (with skin), cooked in butter and golden syrup  until the apples are soft and the butter/syrup is bubbly, then serve. Add some cream to be extra decadent. The result - delish!

Kevin's golden apple dessert

Although a dual purpose apple, I suspect we will mainly use this as a cooking apple. It held together well when cooking, and its sweet-slightly-tart flavour makes an excellent dessert.

So, was it worth the 6-year wait? You bet!

*1-yr maiden, on M26 rootstock, purchased from Walcot Organic Nursery.

Monday 17 September 2012

Garlic offer

Those who know me are aware that I have a bit of an obsession with garlic. This is in part, due to the fact that I love garlic, but also because I'm allergic to onion, so use garlic as a substitute in cooking.

I was fortunate to be given some unusual varieties of hardnecks several years ago, by Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots (on a visit to Oxford from The Netherlands) and have been keeping the best each year to sow again each autumn. During this period I have whittled down some of the choices from the original collection of 15 varieties (Garlic varieties 2010). One, Irkutsk, was so very very very strong (add more verys) that the flavour 1/4 of a clove in an omelet stayed in our mouths for 3 days!

Garlic drying in the sun at the allotment

Garlic Varieties 2012 (pdf)
In updating the Garlic document I have also updated the URLs for each variety that I could find, and added personal comments about growing the individual variety. I've kept the info about the garlics that I'm no longer growing in case they are of use to others. Please remember that what I like and grow, and how it grows, will be different to your experience and tastes. So for the ones I no longer grow, the reasons are specific to me.

Garlic prefers drier weather than we have had this year in the UK and I noticed that the bulbs were not as big this year compared to other years. Some varieties did better than others, ie. Persian Star and Georgia Fire did well, whereas some of the Susan Delafield bulbs rotted from all the rain (though those that did well were good).

Garlic offer
I've been asked by a couple of people if I would consider sharing some of the unusual garlic, including the lovely Dennis & Teresa from @HortusLudi. These are all Hardneck varieties. Hardneck garlic does not store as long as softneck garlic does. In my experience, hardnecks have a stronger taste, but don't store as long, whereas softnecks have a mild-medium flavour, but can store for more than 6 months.

Due to the smaller size of the bulbs this year, I have only kept the very best for each variety to plant and pass on, so I'm unable to give away whole bulbs. There are 3-4 cloves in each packet. Here is a list of those I'm making available:

Estonian Red (3 packets)
Georgia Fire (4 packets)
Music (4 packets)
Persian Star (4 packets)
Rosewood (2 packets)
Silver Rose (4 packets)
Susan Delafield (3 packets)

This offer is available to people in the UK only* (due to postage costs) and will be available on a first come first served basis. You can ask for several packets of different varieties, but note that if I get a lot of people asking, I may have to limit how many people can have, so put your choices in order of preference.

If you would like to receive some of these garlics, leave a comment below with your contact email and your garlic preferences. You can also contact me via Twitter @GwenfarsLottie.

UPDATE 18:15pm: blogger comments playing up, so if it doesn't work, email me jgp [at] cooptel.net.

Finally, I'm no expert on growing garlic, just very enthusiastic! So ask me questions if you like and I'll do my best to answer. Useful information on growing garlic in the UK can be found on the Garlic Farm (Isle of Wight) website.

*If you live in Oxford, I'd be grateful if you could pick them up direct from me.

Saturday 11 August 2012

What's flowering at Oxford Botanic Gardens

I'm rather lucky to live on the doorstep (just over 1 mile away) of Oxford Botanic Gardens, and it's great to be able to drop in and see what is currently in bloom. Here is a couple of plants whose flowers took my fancy today...

And it is always worth taking a seat to enjoy the views...

From the water garden, looking back towards Magdalen tower

Thursday 9 August 2012

Trying to keep on top of the lottie

I'm in the rather fortunate position of having a few days off and sunny weather coinciding. A rare treat this summer of which I'm trying to make the most of the opportunity.

Gwenfar's Lottie - producing food, but massively over run with weeds...

So today I decided it was time to pay the lottie some attention. I haven't been particularly regular this summer. Not just because of the weather, but because work comes first and I've been very busy, and then I'm tired, so garden and lottie come last. I'm really struggling with energy levels over the last few months, so have actually given up one of my part-time jobs (I had two) and am taking some time out over August & September to rest and hopefully rejuvenate, AND spend some time gardening.

I confess in the last few months I've several times thought about whether I should keep going with the lottie. I love the plot and the community, but I'm struggling to keep both home garden and lottie going. Then I read Helen's Dear John post to her lottie this morning. She too has been struggling, though has different issues to myself. Her thoughts were really helpful in making me think more seriously about what I should do.

I decided that before I think any further, I should go and visit my plot and see how I feel. So I spent a couple of hours down there checking it out and doing some work.


Like everyone else, the mix of wet and humid weather had meant a massive weed explosion on the plot. My strawberries are getting covered in couch grass, the asparagus bed (right) is looking tatty, some asparagus is ok but some has died and it needs lots of weeding. The peas (next bed to asparagus) are doing well - lots to pick, but need more staking(!). That bed also has broad beans, which I should have picked but didn't (had no time to get there the last few weeks), so the crop is going to seed. I can and will save the seeds, but it's a shame to have missed out on such a good crop of beans.

Tomato, sunflower & french bean bed

In the bed which has a mix of tomatoes, sunflowers and climbing french beans, it was crowded with all kinds of weeds. The sunflowers are looking great, and I'm going to cut a heap tomorrow to bring home, which should give some more light to the tomatoes behind them. Some of the tommies were completely destroyed by blight and I had to pull them out. Some had mild blight attacks, so I've tidied them up, cutting off any effected branches and will see how they go. I have some fruiting tomatoes, so maybe with luck they'll go red over the next few days and I'll get to eat my first tomatoes this year.

It was nice to see the climbing french beans (soissons - for drying) doing well. Last time I was at the plot they were looking like giving up, so it was a lovely surprise to see I didn't lose them all and those that remained are doing quite well.

Pumpkins, courgettes & sweetcorn bed

The corn is short and though flowering, I don't expect any crops unless the next two months are warm and sunny (unlikely...). A couple of my courgette plants have managed to fight the weeds and I was able to pick a couple! Marrows of course, so will make some of VP's lovely courgette & brie soup with them. Sadly, but not surprisingly, no sign of any pumpkins yet.

The one bed doing really well, is my brassica bed with an agricultural mesh cage. This is some of the brassicas, post weeding:

Dwarf curly kale, brussel sprouts & purple sprouting broccoli. I am very pleased with the health of these plants. The benefit of not such a great summer is that brassica's love it, as I learnt from Charles Dowding's excellent Winter Vegetables book. I highly recommend this book; both very practical and incredibly inspiring.

After about 2 hours I was feeling wiped out and decided to stop and come back tomorrow. Thinking about it on the way home and when undertaking the desmellification process (having a shower..!), I realised two things. One: that I do love being at my lottie. Two: it's just too much space for me to cultivate at the moment.

So, do I give it up, or are there other options? I've decided to try other options first, and am going to see if I can find a couple of people to share the plot with me. Although still being developed, there are 3 rows with 5 beds each (the last row still in process of being made up). Under black plastic is space for a shed, small polytunnel and grass area with small open fire (that's the plan I've been working to, anyway). I could keep the strawberries (separate beds) and the row with the asparagus, and maybe I could find two people to take on the other two rows with 5 raised beds each? We could all share the future shed and polytunnel etc.

I like this idea as it would reduce how much space I have to cultivate myself, but not have to give up on having a lottie entirely. I think it would be fun to share the plot too. I love growing veggies, and though I can grow some at home, it's a smaller north facing garden (apart from the south-facing front garden) and there is limits to what I can grow there. I'm thinking particularly of heritage (in general) potatoes, brassicas (which need lots of room), plus carrots and parsnips and extra legumes.

Share the plot with me?

So, that's where the thought process has got me so far. I need to check with lottie committee sharing would be ok - I think it should be but don't want to assume. Of course, whether I could find people to share with me is another matter. What do you think? If you are in Oxford, do you want to share Gwenfar's Lottie with me?