Friday, 30 September 2016

Pumpkin Pi

 I have achieved Pumpkin Pi.

This pumpkin weighs in at 3.14 kilos. Pumpkin Pi.

The variety is Galeuse d'Eysines from Real Seeds. It's slowly developing the funny warts that this variety develops in storage. I have big plans for my Pumpkin Pi. Oddly enough, not pumpkin pie. Nah, I love it roasted, and in pumpkin risotto.

And the smaller one (only 1.11kg) will grace the pumpkin & carrot curry that Kevin is making this weekend.

Update 18th October 2016: From this one pumpkin I've managed to make Pumpkin Risotto for 2 people for 2 nights, and Pumpkin & Carrot Soup for 2 people for 7 nights. Not bad Pumpkin Pi!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Spoonie Veg: garlic

Spoonie veg rating: 1

Garlic, my number one vegetable. I adore garlic and have been growing and saving my own for years. It's wonderful in the kitchen, complementing so many dishes, and it is also very easy to grow. It's up there with Sorrel as being one of the easiest Spoonie Veg to grow.

This post goes into a bit more detail than my usual Spoonie Veg posts. This is because garlic is one of my 'specialities' (the other being potatoes) and I save cloves from each season to grow the following year. But it's also because garlic is so easy to grow and save your own cloves, that I thought it was worth including the extra detail. Just remember I am an amateur, and all information is based on my c. 10 or so years of growing garlic, but isn't expert.

In my post introducing Spoonie Veg, I gave Garlic a rating of 1. That being: 1-2 requires few spoons, 3-4 moderate spoons, and 5 hard, lots of spoons needed in order to grow that fruit, veg or herb.

There are two key types of garlic, Hardneck and Softneck garlic. The main differences between them are:
  Hardneck garlic, Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon: always produces a flower stalk (called a scape), is considered to have a stronger flavour, and has shorter storage qualities (more on that later).
  Softneck garlic, Allium sativum: doesn't produce a flower stalk unless stressed, has better storage qualities.

Otherwise they share the same growing conditions. Like most vegetables, they don't like acid soil, but do like well-draining soil. A lot of people have problems growing garlic in clay soils. At my old allotment in Oxford I was growing on heavy Oxford clay and interestingly found some of hardnecks did ok despite this, for instance, Georgia Fire and Persian Star. Here in Sheffield my soil is the wonderful combination of acid and clay, which is why I have 45cm deep raised beds. These have been filled with compost and well-rotted manure with a top up each autumn. This has worked well with growing garlic and I always get a good harvest.

Depending on the variety you can sow either in Autumn or Spring. I always grow autumn-sowing garlic, sowing October/November. This preference is mainly due to liking to know something is growing in the kitchen garden over winter! But there is also a practical reason, in that garlic generally needs a period of cold (0 degrees and below) to break it's dormancy. A warmer winter can mean you end up with small bulbs, or even just one big clove.

I space the garlic out first in a zig-zag pattern, then push it in so it is covered by about 3-4 inches of soil. If you have heavy clay, just put it a couple of inches. See my 2012 post on Getting the garlic in for more detail about planting including spacing.

Once in the ground, there is very little to do until about mid-Spring. The key maintenance task with garlic is watering. This is key during the peak growing period (approximately April-June) or during a dry Spring. I also give them a feed of comfrey liquid a couple of times during April-June. Also keep on top of the weeds so they don't take nutrients away from the developing bulbs.

If you are growing Hardneck Garlic (most of mine are), then you also need to watch out for the garlic scapes coming up around May/June, as in the photos below. They come up straight then turn into a hook. These need to be cut off as soon as you see them, as otherwise all the energy is put into the scape and you end up with small bulbs. On the plus side, the scapes means you can make garlic scape pesto. I've also use them instead of garlic cloves in a recipe, one scape equals one clove. Softneck garlic does not produce a scape (unless stressed) so you don't need to look out for them.
Garlic scapes. On the left is the young scape just showing, on the right when it's turned into a hook.

The main disease garlic is susceptible to is garlic rust (the same thing leeks get), but this doesn't actually affect the bulb so is only a cosmetic problem. One I never bother worrying about.

You might notice the tips of the leaves starting to yellow a bit from April onwards. Don't worry about that unless the whole plant is dying off. If the latter is the case, it most likely means they need a lot more watering.

Garlic harvest drying in the sun

Harvesting usually starts from July. Basically, once the full plant starts dying back (and not just the tips going yellow), you don't need to do any more watering and you can start to dig up your garlic. Having a chronic illness means I fit digging garlic up around my health. It can mean I might have left them in the ground for too long, in which case they might start splitting. However, I don't worry about splitting as I haven't found it affects the taste or storage qualities of the bulb.

The bulb on the right started splitting

Growing garlic in containers
Garlic can also be grown in containers. I've recently blogged about my experiment of growing garlic in containers, so visit that post if you would like to know more about it. You won't get as big bulbs growing in containers, but I did find that 3 cloves sown in a 10 litre pot will give you the equivalent of 2 bulbs grown in the ground or raised beds.

Harvesting and sorting
Once I've harvested the garlic, I cut off a bulk of the foliage just leaving a short stem. I sort through to make sure I pull out any that are going mouldy. This isn't many, just those that weren't as strong or where water got into clove. I then dry them out for a few weeks.

Garlic drying out after harvesting in my garage.

I then do a second sort through the bulbs and clean them. This consists of cutting off the roots and taking of any dirty layers of the outer bulb skin. At this point you can better assess the bulbs for saving and storage. I separate them out and then allow them all to dry out for another couple of weeks.

Saving cloves to plant the next season
If you have a chronic illness then you might want to skip saving your own cloves, and instead buy new ones for sowing in Autumn. That's what I do with most veg now as I don't have the energy to save all my own seed as well. However, because garlic is my 'thing' and I'm growing hard-to-get varieties, I'm willing to use extra spoons saving these and growing them on the following season.

The following picture shows the garlic cleaned up, with the best ones in a separate bag which I'll use for planting in October/November. And yes, that is pharmacy prescription bags being repurposed as bags for storing garlic.

The very best bulbs that have the most number of outer cloves and clearly have no disease etc, are then separated out for saving. I've been compiling a Garlic Record (see end of post) to compare each variety to past results. For saving garlic, like with seeds, having a larger number of plants in the first place from which to choose those for saving, is best. As I only have a small garden I cannot do this. However, I've been growing these varieties since 2009 and I am not having any problems with a decrease in vigour.

Hardneck garlic isn't meant to store as well as Softneck garlic. The RHS says only until mid-winter. However, I've found that in optimal conditions, my Hardnecks all store just as well as the Softnecks I've grown in the past.

By the end of September latest, I bring inside those bulbs that I have put aside for eating. As for the place I store them, well this might seem a little odd, but I store them in a cupboard in my lounge room (right)! I've tried storing them in other rooms and spaces, but of them all, my lounge has the most consistent temperature throughout the year and the bulbs store there better than anywhere else I've tried.

Where ever you store them, don't leave them in the garage or shed over winter as they will probably start getting mouldy and will rot from the cold and the freezing air quite quickly.

Garlic complements so many dishes. It can take centre stage and be the key ingredient in a dish, or take a step back and work with herbs and spices to bring about delicious and sometimes complex flavours. Garlic is also my replacement for onions, of which I'm allergic (yes, I know, same family). People often say to me:
   Random person: But you cannot cook anything without onions.
   Me: Yes you can, use garlic.
   Random person: But the recipe includes both onion and garlic.
   Me: Use more garlic. 

Garlic is versatile in the kitchen and is one of the easiest Spoonie Veg to grow. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

* * * * *
Unusual varieties and giveaway
Update 18th October 2016: I've now sent out all garlic for the giveaway this year. 

This section is for those of you who are garlic lovers and are interested in growing unusual varieties. As mentioned, I grow 8 different varieties of garlic, given to me back in 2009 by Patrick over at Bifurcated Carrots. I used to grow 16 varieties, but weeded out the ones that were either too strong (almost burn your throat strong) or which didn't grow to good sized bulbs.

The eight varieties I grow are: Georgia Fire, Martin's Heirloom, Metechi, Music, Persian Star, Rosewood, Silver Rose, Susan Delafield. Of these, Silver Rose is the only softneck variety, the rest are hardnecks.

I've been compiling a bit of an imperfect(!) record of the different garlic I have grown since 2010. Below are links to my garlic records. The first is those I am currently growing. The second is those I used to grow but do not any longer, but which may be of interest to some people.

Garlic varieties 2016 (current varieties grown as listed above)
Garlic varieties prior to 2013 (no longer grown: Arno, Burgundy, Estonian Red, Georgia Crystal, Gypsy Red, Irkutsk, Purple Glazer, Solent Wight, Vekak Czech)

I know I have enough garlic to sow and eat for the next year and am able to do a limited giveaway of some cloves the following varieties: Georgia Fire, Music, Persian Star, Rosewood, Susan Delafield.

If you are interested in growing them, I'll be happy to send some to you (UK only). My only ask is that you let me know how you got on with them when you harvest the garlic next summer. Email me which ones you are interested in at: by Friday 7th October.

* * * * *
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on your experience, so don't be shy!

About Spoonie Veg    About Gardening with ME

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Recent Gardening with ME and Spoonie Veg posts...
  Gardening with ME: harvest time
  Spoonie Veg: strawberries
  Spoonie Veg: Sorrel

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Driving Miss Juneberry*

Back in April, after a visit to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, I decided I wanted to get myself an Amelanchier tree. One common name for Amelanchier is Juneberry, another being Service Tree. Here's a reminder of what they look like in Spring.

Beautiful, aren't they.

I have a section of my Long Shady Border that is crying out for some editing (begging for it...!) and have just the place for the tree. I did a lot of research and decided that the particular Amelanchier that would most suit this site would be Amelanchier laevis 'R.J. Hilton'. It's a smaller variety, liking moist acid soil - perfect for the damper end of this border.

It took quite a lot of research and many phone calls to finally find a nursery that sold this tree, one over in Retford, 34 miles away. The nursery owner had an 8ft tree. Excellent. The thing is, we only have a small 3-door car, and they didn't do delivery to Sheffield.

I wasn't to be deterred. I thought about it and came up with an idea of how I might safely transport an 8ft tree home. Carefully wrap it up in fleece, tie the fleece, the carefully position it in the car, with me stuck in one corner of the back seat looking after it whilst Kevin drove.

And that's just what we did.

Me with the carefully wrapped up tree

We then artfully put it in the car.
Back end

Front end

You can see from the front end why i was so concerned about wrapping up the tree. I knew we would have to hang part of the tree out the window and by doing so, the high winds whilst driving up to 50 mph could risk damaging the tree.

Driving Miss Juneberry home:

And that's how you transport an 8ft tree in a small 3-door car.

So what does the tree look like now at home? Well, you have to wait for that. I've finally found a gardener to help me out but he cannot be here until end September/early October, so it won't be planted in the border until then. So you'll have to stayed tuned for the next episode.

*Full credit to J-P over at Next Square Metre for coming up with this in a tweet. It was too good not to nick.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Blogging with ME

Last Monday I was in tears feeling like ME has taken away so much from me and made my life so small. Then two things happened during the week that turned this around and gave me much joy.

On Tuesday I received an email from Waltons Garden Buildings, letting me know they had reviewed my blog and had included it in their 18 Fabulous flower blogs blogpost. This was a wonderful surprise, particularly as I was included alongside garden bloggers I love such as Helen Johnstone, The Patient Gardener, Helen Gazeley Weeding the Web, and Jane Perrone, gardener, garden writer and author of The Allotment Keeper's Handbook.

Then on Friday I got a copy of the October issue of Grow Your Own magazine and found Jane Perrone had included my blog in her 'October's Growing Help' column.

I also particularly liked that both pieces spoke about gardening within the context of having a chronic illness, showing a wider audience that it is possible to garden, if somewhat slowly, when you are long-term ill.

After feeling like I had so little connection to the world on Monday, by Friday I realised that in a small but very important way, this blog helps me reach and interact with people I might not ever meet, but whom I can share the ups and downs of the wonderful world of gardening and horticulture.

Hello world, it's me, gardening and blogging with ME :)

Monday, 5 September 2016

Container grown Garlic experiment

Pot of Garlic with three cloves, back in May

Back in May I mentioned that I was doing a small experiment with growing garlic in containers. This is a write up of the results of the experiment. A post for the garlic aficionado's I suspect!

Growing Garlic*
In my opinion, Garlic is the second easiest crop to grow, Sorrel being the first. I've always grown garlic in raised beds built up from the ground. I plant autumn-sowing garlic in Octover/November and generally harvest July/August. I also add some well-rotted manure on top of them, either straight away if the temperatures haven't yet gone below 10 degrees, or in Spring once the soil has warmed up a bit. Once the garlic has dried, I select the best bulbs to save for growing for the following season. The rest get eaten over the coming year.

Garlic growing in my raised beds

I know from past experience that garlic does need lots of light to grow. The stems/leaves need to get full sun throughout the period of growing in order to get the best from the crop. Two years ago I tried catch-cropping the garlic with Broad Beans. The garlic was ahead of the Broad beans to start with, but the beans soon caught up and eventually totally overwhelmed the garlic. The result was I ended up with very small bulbs.

So I think catch cropping** would only work if you grow smaller crops with the garlic, such as corn salad or peas for pea shoots. These are low growing and shallow rooting, so they won't overwhelm the garlic stems and will allow them to get plenty of sun.
The main maintenance task with garlic is watering. This is key during the peak growing period (approximately April-June) or during a dry Spring. Garlic grown in pots will dry out more than those in the ground, so therefore need more watering again. I also give them a feed of comfrey liquid a couple of times during April-June.

If you are growing Hardneck Garlic (these are), then you also need to watch out for the garlic scapes (right photo, the hook-like part of the garlic) coming up around May/June. These need to be cut off as soon as you see them, as otherwise all the energy is put into the scape and you end up with tiny bulbs. On the plus side, the scapes means you can make garlic scape pesto. I've also use them as instead of garlic in a recipe, one scape equaling one clove. If you are growing Softneck garlic, this isn't an issue.

The experiment
Although I tried growing garlic in pots in the past, I didn't look after the pots and they weren't always in full sun, so I ended up with small bulbs. So this year I undertook an experiment to see how well you can grow garlic in pots. Using the variety 'Martin's Heirloom', I've planted: one clove in one pot, two cloves in the second pot, and three cloves in the third pot. In each case the pot size is the same, a 10 litre pot (283mm/11").
Spacing out the garlic to be grown in pots

These were all sown on 10th January, about six weeks after I had sown the rest of the garlic direct to the ground. The reason for the delay is that I only decided in January to do the experiment! I wasn't sure whether sowing later would have that much of an impact on the growth of the garlic in the pots; I suspected the pot sown garlic would soon catch up to that which was sown direct.

Do note though, Autumn-sown garlic, whether container grown or direct to soil, all need a very coldperiod (0 degrees and below) to break their dormancy. A warmer winter can mean you end up with small bulbs, or even just one big clove. (Thanks to Michelle at Veg Plotting for reminding me of this.)

Garlic ready to be harvested

The results
I harvested the garlic in pots on 4th September. I intentionally left them in slightly longer because they were sown later, though to be honest the garlic was looking ready to harvest a few weeks before. The photo above shows they were well and truly ready to be harvested.

Drying out the harvested garlic

In the following photographs, the garlic on the right is one of the same variety grown in the ground (raised beds), and is for comparison with the pot-grown garlic on the left. Because I wanted to photograph them without soil so you could see the sizes better, the ones on the left have had their skins peeled back more, showing the internal colour of the garlic skin.

Results from the pot with one clove. Pretty much the same size.

Results from the pot with two cloves. One is similar to ground-grown garlic, the other smaller.

Results from the pot with three cloves. One is a bit smaller than ground-grown garlic,
the other 2 are smaller again.

Of the three, I conclude that three cloves in a 10 litre pot will give you the equivalent of two-ish cloves grown in the ground. You get slightly more garlic, even if bulbs are smaller, from growing three in a pot compared to growing two in a pot.

As I mentioned above, I sowed these six weeks later than the raised bed grown garlic. Although they were slower to get going (the first shoots were a nearly two months later than the first shoots of those in the ground) I don't think this had much of an impact on the overall result. I would just add that I think early-mid January is the latest you should sow Autumn-sown garlic. After that, I suspect it would be better to grow Spring sown garlic.***

One final thought: this experiment has been undertaken using hardneck garlic. It is possible that growing softneck garlic in pots might give you different results.

My plan is to widen the experiment slightly by growing two variety of garlic in pots next year. One of these will be Martin's Heirloom again, only this time I'll also add the catch-cropping of pea shoots or corn salad to the pot to see for myself if this has any negative impact.

Growing garlic in pots is fairly easy, the main issues being that you need to water them more in dry weather, and accepting that you won't get as much garlic for your clove as you would growing them in the ground.

If you really want to grow garlic and only have a small space, or like to grow in containers, then I think this is a good result. If you add in the catch-cropping of low growing crops like corn salad or pea shoots, then obviously you get even more for your pot.

*I'll be going into a bit more detail about growing garlic and the differences between Hardneck and Softneck garlic, in my upcoming post on 'SpoonieVeg: Garlic'.

**Great suggestion by Alison Tindale and Chris West on Twitter :)

**I've never grown Spring-sown garlic, so cannot say whether the results of this experiment would be similar or not.