As of last week I have been feasting off the strawberries in containers in our front garden – although sadly, the ****ing snails are feasting off them too. I make a point of doing a “snail check” every morning and evening, and any that I find get unceremoniously chucked into the shrubbery on the other side of our front path. I don’t use slug pellets (don’t want to cause harm to local bird/cat life), so the snail checks are the price I pay. But the strawberries are worth it. Amidst the strawberries is this fine terracotta strawberry planter, which I’ve planted with… Tumbling Tom tomatoes. My neighbour from three doors down gave me the planter – he doesn’t have time to garden right now so I’ve promised him some of the fruits of my labour. (In case you’re wondering, the two tomato plants growing out of the top of the planter are Gardener’s Delight.) All my tomatoes are doing OK a week after being potted up. None of them have flowered yet though – don’t think we’ll be eating any home grown tomatoes till August.
Today was the first day I put my tomato plants out to harden them off. They’re just getting two hours today, to ease them in gently (last year they got a bad case of windburn from having been left outside from 8 am to 4 pm, in blazing sunshine). Given that there’s still nearly another week before dear old Thanet District Council collects our ghastly eyesore old bed, I thought I’d once more put the upturned divan to good use, by pressing it into service as a shelf for the tomatoes:
Handy tip: to speed things up each day when you put your toms out for hardening off, keep the pots in old washing up bowls or something similar that has reasonably high sides. The pots are secure when you lift the bowls and carry them outside, and won’t fall.
|On to the tomatoes. It takes a looong time to pot up this many seedlings. The ones on the left in the yoghurt pots are Brandywine; the ones on the right are Gardener’s Delight. Large yoghurt pots make excellent pots for seedlings – just create some holes in the bottom first (I use one end of a skewer, held in a gas flame, to melt the holes – the plastic is less likely to crack that way.)|
|I then had a brainwave about what to do with that leaky, defunct water butt which had been lying in a corner. It’s now been pressed into service as a plinth for one of my containers – see pic. The great thing is that the container is now at chest height so I won’t have to bend down to pick those baby spinach leaves when they finally grow. (No backache!) To stop the water butt from toppling over, I’ve crowded some other things around it – namely, a heavy ceramic pot and an old aluminium dustbin, which is no longer needed as a dustbin ‘cos the council have given us wheelie bins.|
|The rectangular white thing on the ground is a polystyrene fish box, which I’ve planted with some of the strawberry runners that survived the winter. I adopt a “survival of the fittest” policy with strawberries – pot up the runners into small pots early in the autumn, then leave them outside for the whole winter. Then pot up into bigger containers – like the fish box – in the spring. Last year our strawberries were delicious; it’s just a shame there weren’t more of them! I’m hoping to remedy that this year.|
In keeping with my resolution from last year, I held off planting any tomato seeds until today, April 1st. Hopefully I won’t thus be stuck with a load of indoor seedlings that have gone leggy due to lack of sunlight. Although we’re getting some nice sunny days, it’s still quite cool and I’ve noticed that my spring onions (planted a good couple of weeks ago) still haven’t come up, presumably due to low temperatures. Well, I hope it’s due to low temperatures and not seed failure lol.
Anyway, tomato varieties planted today were: Gardener’s Delight (of course), Mamande, Moneymaker and the Brandywine seeds that I saved last year. Fingers crossed that they come up, because I’m already salivating at the thought of Brandywine tomato, mozzarella and basil salad. Long wait for that though. I will be splashing out on some more Tumbling Tom hanging basket tomato seeds, because they were so gorgeous last time.
Haven’t done any other gardening other than a massive tidy-up a couple of weeks back (and planting of the aforementioned spring onion seeds). The next project will be to transfer the contents of the barrel in our front garden into a galvanised dustbin, which is no longer needed for its original purpose because dear old Thanet Council has given us wheelie bins. The barrel has come to the end of its life – its wooden bits are rotting and it’s no longer an attractive thing at all. Maybe I will have more success at producing a viable courgette crop using the dustbin than I did with the barrel.
I have learned a few things this year which I will be taking on board for next year’s gardening activities, and I thought I’d put them in this blog because that way, I’ll be able to find the list! So, here goes:
1. When it comes to planting tomato seeds indoors, don’t do it too early. Early to mid-April will be fine – it’s only people who grow their tomatoes in a greenhouse or conservatory who can get away with doing it earlier.
2. This year, I am really kicking myself for growing the Gardener’s Pearl variety of cherry tomatoes as opposed to Tumbling Tom, as I did last year. Although the Tumbling Tom seeds were humungously expensive, the fruit were DELICIOUS. The Gardener’s Pearls are OK, but bland – better for cooking than eating.
3. Use big containers for courgettes – buckets with a 14 or 15 inch diameter, at least.
4. Two varieties of courgette which seem to be happy with container living and give nice yields are One Ball and Golden Zucchini. I don’t know if the fact that they are both yellow has anything to do with it. Just mulch ’em regularly with home-made compost and water them generously.
5. Boot fairs and charity shops are great places to buy cheap plants if you don’t want to grow everything from seed.
6. Order a bulk lot of compost early on – litre for litre, it works out half the price of the titchy little bags.
7. Planting dried peas in a container (yes, those dried peas you get in supermarkets) gives amazingly good results – a small but steady supply of pea shoots and tiny mange-tout.
8. A top tip from a man I know who lives around the corner and also grows veg: plant nasturtiums near your runner beans. Any blackfly will eat the nasturtiums and leave the beans alone. EDIT: don’t bother with this one – he reckons that the nasturtiums were what encouraged the blackfly in the first place, and has since got rid of them. Result: no more blackfly.
And finally, here is a picture of Lottie standing guard among the elephant garlic:
Step 1: use a big enough container. That’s the conclusion I’m coming to anyway, ‘cos so far, we’re doing quite well on the courgette front. OK, so a few of them have succumbed to the dreaded blossom end rot, but the majority are ripening into nice, healthy looking fruit. The buckets I’m growing the Black Beauty and Golden Zucchini in are 14 inches (35 cm) in diameter. Of course, there are other things I’ve done differently this year – like buy young plants from a shop, rather than growing them from seed. So you can’t really call it a scientific study lol. As far as yield goes, the Golden Zucchini is doing much better than the Black Beauty and Golden Ball. I will definitely be doing Golden Zucchini again next year.
…are the varieties of the three courgette seedlings I bought at a local charity shop yesterday – I will be planting them in suitable containers this week, with a mulch of home made compost! I told the man who sold them to me of my singular lack of success when growing container courgettes in the past. “What size container did you use?” he asked. I made a gesture to indicate 12 inches or so. “Ooh no, that’s not big enough”, he said. You need something really big for a courgette. Really big it is then. See if that makes a difference.
|In a post a few weeks back, I extolled the virtue of using old colanders as hanging baskets for my Tumbling Tom tomato plants. The colander I’m using is about 9 inches in diameter and not particularly deep, which is probably the reason for the slight yellowing around the edge of the leaves. The Tumbling Toms I’ve been growing in bigger, deeper baskets are all doing better, despite the fact that I’ve planted more than one to a basket. You live and learn! On the subject of tomatoes, the first of the Gardener’s Delights are ripening. And I’m starting to get decent-looking courgettes again, after a lull of several weeks. My runner bean leaves are still looking rather starved (see my post of 25th July), so I’ve invested £6.99 in some Miracle-Gro slow release granules, which – from the list of ingredients on the jar – look as though they contain every trace element/nutrient known to man!|
Went to local boot fair this morning and picked up six metal hanging baskets for £2.50! These will be fab for the rest of my Tumbling Tom tomato plants.
Weather is hot and muggy at the moment – if you lift the lid of our compost bin and poke your head inside, it must be all of 40 deg. C in there. At least. I have been doing a bit of research on compost, and it’s surprising the kind of things that will compost down quite happily – old wool and cotton clothes, human and cat hair, urine, cardboard egg boxes/loo roll cores… Actually, the latter are essential to provide a bit of “brown waste” to balance out the “green waste”, which is all your vegetable peelings, grass clippings etc. Having both types of waste ensures that your compost rots down consistently and ends up with a lovely crumbly texture and beautiful smell, rather than being all slimy. It might seem strange to wax lyrical about home made compost as I am here, but it really is fantastic stuff. As long as you’ve got a patch of soil to put your compost bin on, and ideally another patch of soil next to it, then it really is a worthwhile investment. Why is it good to have a bit of space next to your compost bin? Because it’s a great place for burying the nearly-useable-but-not-quite-there compost that you find in your bin when you “turn” your compost every few weeks in the summer. Stick some old carpet on top, leave for a fortnight and let the worms finish the job.
Mistyhorizon over at Hub Pages recommends using spent compost – mixed with a bit of sand – to grow carrots. That’s something I will definitely be trying next year. I’ve had a singular lack of success with container carrots so far, but I don’t think there’s anything to lose by giving it one more go – particularly as I won’t be shelling out any cash!